Emmanuel Quartey

Curious about cities, patterns, media, and marginalia.

Music is so weird.

You don’t think about a musician for years, and then you catch a snippet of a tune and something goes off in your chest like a delayed detonation.

I don’t remember exactly what was going on in my life during the period when I was really into this song, but based on the conflicting emotions it triggers, it appears that I was both deeply sad, and occasionally very happy.

Wonder what La Roux is up to these days.

(Source: Spotify)

Giving Shape to Things

Shape is a short 6 minute film about design.

I keep re-watching it.

The film beautifully articulates how tiny design decisions - size, texture, even placement - can have a cumulatively profound impact on the spaces generated around us.

This is one of my favourite scenes.


It’s remarkable how the placement of a single window can completely transform the character of a room.

Another favourite scene.


In this section about how our tools shape how we learn, a teacher’s hand-drawn illustration of the solar system comes alive.

Imagine seeing this the first time you learned about the planets.

Imagine that breathtaking fiery sun swirling right in front of your younger self, and then having the hologram zoom into Earth, your continent, your country, your city, and then the roof of the building you’re in. 

I sincerely believe that being able to dwell within concepts (instead of keeping them at arm’s length like we do with books and videos) would have a profound impact on how we learn.

(Bret Victor discusses the idea of turning rooms into active learning/making spaces in his talk, Seeing Spaces. Also, see the Oculus Rift.)

My one qualm with Shape is that it reinforces the “single genius” narrative of creative work.


In the scene above, the universe around the character warps and changes as he walks down the corridor. It puts me in mind of the controversial urban planner Robert “Master Builder” Moses, who is both celebrated and reviled for imposing his idea of order upon New York in the mid-20th century.

My worry is that someone watching the video could come away with the mistaken belief that design interventions must be adversarial to surrounding context. I find that the the things I recognize as well-designed were a result of someone embracing constraints and making smart, intentional compromises. 

Quibbles about that subtext aside, this film is a great reminder that we dwell within fiction.

The world is a made thing - an amalgamation of explicit decisions as well the sometimes unforeseen consequences generated by those interventions. Those who are awake to the tools (specifically, those who put in the effort to acquire and master them) are able it give it shape and form.

How DHL differentiates itself from FedEx and UPS

Interesting Bloomberg Businessweek story about DHL’s strategy for competing against FedEx and UPS: 

…the foray into domestic-only shipments strayed from DHL Express’s core competencies of international freight and logistics. The company now focuses exclusively on moving packages to and from the U.S., a business that offers higher margins and not the “pennies on the dollar” that domestic-only packages usually average.

If you have papers that need to get to and from some of the world’s dodgiest locales—Syria, Sudan, Cuba, or North Korea, for example—the German post’s network is a safe bet to get them there. Parra says Uncle Sam is the company’s largest customer, followed by major global shippers such as Amazon.com (AMZN), Dell, Apple(AAPL)Covance (CVD), and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)

I’m fascinated by supply chain and logistics companies. The more I learn that nailing distribution is a pre-requisite for success, the more I admire these companies who’ve made it their business to choreograph complex webs of objects and infrastructure.

It’s always interesting to discover the stories that organizations tell about themselves. Apparently, DHL wants to make it so that when you think international freight, you think DHL.

A gut check says they’ve largely succeeded. As a child growing up in Ghana, the only international courier logo I remember seeing on the streets was DHL (I was surprised when I saw my first UPS truck last week). I also suspect that their How We Made It In Africa blog is one of the most overlooked content marketing success stories on the continent.

I wonder what FedEx and UPS consider to be their core differentiation.

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