30 November 2010

"While the first generation of publications on green design were 'how to do it' guides, written quickly to meet the demand for basic information, the next generation of publications in the 1990s is likely to be more considered and carefully researched, more critical and synergistic, more aware of the full complexity of design and sustainable development in both the developed and developing worlds."

Pauline Madge, 1993

Pictured: The Green Book, 2007

28 November 2010

TEDx Vancouver 2010 - West Vancouver, BC
I got to attend my first TEDxVancouver event and was super impressed by the professionalism and organization that was evident from the moment you entered Kay Meek Centre. Stellar swag, truly tangible interactions and like minded TEDsters made it a day well spent.

These are 5 talks I'd love to revisit:

Josh Fox: Using the banjo to complement a narrative while talking = awesome, skills
Michael Green: Visualizing world housing needs = making information accessible and relevant
FYI: MGB is the firm that made the awesome 5500+ books-changing room space at LYNNsteven
Nardwuar: Crowd surfing to end your talk = using a metaphor to encapsulate your message
Dr. Jack Horner: Science lesson turned into story = reframing education
Rives: Linking history by filtering it through the 4am time slot = brilliant

Bonus track: Mash up by Don Alder and Kyprios

(photo by Kris Krüg)

19 November 2010

Imagine inviting some of your city officials to an amazing dinner. The table cloth, instead of being a mere accessory to beautify the event, becomes a place to actively dialogue with those around you. While you eat, you are visualizing the conversations presented to you on the table cloth.

Could this be a new alternative to local democratic exchange? If Obama can have a state dinner, could the local community do the same and address issues over a meal? We may not have a presidential budget but each community will have vendors who would likely benefit from the opportunity to be included in such an undertaking.

18 November 2010

Because they chose design, some students had hoped that they could leave the writing bit behind. And it is because of this perception that I spend a portion of my day talking to them about the value of writing. Specifically, how to write critically. And I try to demonstrate how this skill correlates to their make/build practice. I do this by drawing a stool: if one part is missing, the whole thing topples.

Here's how I break it down:

IDEA: You should start with an idea. You may have to research to refine this but once you have a question you are responding to or an idea you're going to develop, you have the ability to stay focused and build a paper that people can understand and engage in. The rest of the paper should support this idea.

RESEARCH: An idea gets supported and developed through research. While you may think your ideas are brilliant, someone else has likely considered it on some level. Using their ideas can help bolster your argument but it should be used as a support rather than the primary focus. Be sure to cite it!

CRITICAL THOUGHT: To avoid regurgitating other people's ideas (and plagiarism), take some time to reflect and consider how you might add your commentary to the subject. What is your posture on the topic? What would you do/say differently? Many designers have built stools but when adding their personal reflection to the content, a new stool gets developed.

STORY: Give us a picture or example that helps us relate to the idea in a tangible way. A metaphor or analogy can help but this is by no means the exclusive way to present a story. In some cases, you can add a sketch or diagram to help support your words. In design, this helps a user imagine how they might use your product. In writing, it helps me understand how I might fit into the topic you're discussing.

On top of all this, proper grammar, spelling and sentence structure will only help your cause. These elements could be compared to the nails or joints that help hold the stool together. If you don't use them, you end with individual parts that don't make sense because they don't join together.

I also remind them that design, like writing, only gets better with various iterations and critiques. Inviting others to look at your work is a good way to improve it.

I'd add writing skills to my ongoing list of designer tools:
1. Camera
2. Self-awareness
3. Drawing skills/tools

08 November 2010

write my story
Awhile ago, I started a series of posts about what I thought a new designer should consider acquiring and/or developing in their toolkit. Here's the list so far:
1. Camera
2. Self-awareness
Clearly, I've been a bit delayed but the idea of the toolkit hasn't left me so let's continue.

Next on the list? I'd propose this: Learn how to draw.

While this may seem obvious, I am regularly reminded of how many designers or design students actually don't practice this (and some even have a fear of it). My suggestion to overcoming this? Carry some tools with you so that you can pursue it daily. I don't say this as one who has achieved it (the above image is a drawing I did of a Sharpie pen with my less dominant hand in 2005) but rather as one who has learned that in order to visualize information for people I need to be able to show rather than tell them what I am thinking. Ideas and outcomes don't start on the computer so honing this ability to display concepts will only serve to help you with your work. I was reminded of this today when I listened to this excerpt from a Saul Bass documentary.

Because I needed to be challenged in this area, I took up the Sketchbook Project as a means to remind myself that like learning a new language or any other creative skill, you typically don't just wake up with it. You have to nurture and develop it in order to look back and see some measure of breakthrough. Have you ever heard of Morning Pages? They are a great example of how regular process can help break through some of the clutter. I'd propose the same concept for designers and suggest that the pages are about visuals over text.

And sometimes, it comes down to making sure you are prepared at any given moment. Here are some items that I don't leave home without:

Muji (thank you Michael Surtees)


Field Notes
Spaces For Ideas

And if you need more evidence, watch to this great video where Milton Glaser talks about the importance of drawing.

01 November 2010

I recall my first read of How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul. I was still in design school and on the hunt for justifiable reasons as to why I'd decided to incur more debt in order to shift my career toward graphic design. I recall at the time that I found much solace in the content.

Five years on, Adrian Shaughnessy presents a second edition that has kept its first edition forward by Stefan Sagmeister, which could still hold true today: Graphic design is becoming a wider discipline and is therefore more difficult.

As one who has pursued some of these "wider aspects" since the first edition, I was appreciative of his inquiry into what graphic design is today. Topics in this section include: the changing definition of design, social design, design thinking and ethics (to name a few). While Shaughnessy does not neglect the fundamental questions asked in the first book, he provides a fair assessment of the current state of affairs that is in keeping with the inquiry that many designers are also asking, regardless of discipline. In fact, one wonders if the word "graphic" needed to be included at all.

Shaughnessy acknowledges his fixation with "the look of things" and seemingly laments that our current focus on matters of social consequence may be lacking a certain visual sensibility. I think he makes a fair case about its value but would argue that today many are interacting with a diverse global community that may translate such sensibilities in different ways. Especially when the issues of design aren't about the look of things but rather the survival of things.

Consider a country in crisis: Haiti. Post-earthquake, the look of things becomes seemingly less important because the transmission of accurate information is paramount. A great case study to illustrate this concept:

Three Emily Carr University students were asked by the Red Cross to develop graphical instructions on how to use tablets to purify water. Because these tablets look like pills, the students had to consider how they would ensure that they were used properly (i.e. not ingested). With a critical time line and important message to communicate, I don't think these students were thinking about whether the design was going to be dull or not. Because in this case (and many others), the message actually does matter. And I believe this type of scenario has the potential to become more prevalent in the design community as we consider climate and environmental issues, financial and political markets and our global connectedness to both.

Regardless, one can hope that the future will allow room for a blend of both substance and style and that this becomes a reasonable standard for all designers. In the meantime, maybe being a graphic designer today means that we might be given the chance to save a soul (or two) beyond our own.

Title: How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, New Edition
Author: Adrian Shaughnessy
Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press

Thanks to Michael Surtees for sharing this review copy with me!