Thursday, May 17, 2012

3D Printing is a New Paradigm Comparable to the Gutenberg Press

3D printing technology is the new frontier of digital fabrication. Designers can create an object on the computer and then print it out in a tangible 3D form. It allows a greater range of visual forms because one is able to "grow" a form rather than fabricate or put it together. 3D printing is most often an additive manufacturing technology combining design with material science and computer science.

True paradigm shifts are rare so the comparison of 3D printing in 2012 to printing texts with moveable type developed by Gutenberg in the 1440s suggests a big revolution. Neri Oxman (left), from MIT's Media Lab, constructs forms (right) using 3D printing technologies (along with colleagues Joe Hicklin and Craig Carter and the help of Objet and Connex). She believes the comparison of the importance of 3D printing to Gutenberg's printing press is justified. She says that the impact 3d printing will have on making in the 21st century is comparable to the effect that the printing press had on reading and writing, beginning in the mid 15th century.

Watch this video of Neri Oxman talking about 3D printing and her new show of 3D printed objects at Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pessimism and Fear Threaten Our Future

There is a tendency for pessimism and fear to be used as excuses for not designing and creating the future we would like to see. Designers are eternal optimists who know that the future is not set and will be whatever we create.

A new book by Peter Diamandis (on right) and Steven Kotler (on left) called "Abundance" (right) documents how much progress and hope there is in the world despite our tendency to focus on the negative. The subtitle of the book is "The Future is Better Than You Think." Infant mortality and maternal death rates have dropped dramatically, we are living much longer, violent crime rates are declining, etc., etc.. There is an increasingly significant rise in global standards of living despite the important advances that still need to be made.

If we know the world is getting steadily better it makes a big difference in the actions we take than if we think things are getting worse. Ongoing successful innovation is still necessary to address world problems and we can not sit back and wait for a better future. We must design and create the future we want.

Watch this video to hear Diamandis and Kotler talk about Abundance.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Animators Amplify TED-Ed Teachers' Lessons

What would education be like if designers worked with schools and teachers to amplify the curriculum through the design of images, objects, spaces and experiences? Animators, architects, exhibit designers, game designers, graphic designers, film makers, and others could all contribute to transforming education for the 21st century that has relied for too long on words and numbers as the primary communication tools.

The non-profit foundation behind the TED conferences has launched a YouTube education channel called TED-Ed. Consisting of animated videos less than 10 minutes long, the channel is an "invitation to teachers around the world to submit their best lessons."

After an entry has been accepted, staff will work with the teacher involved to compress and refine the information. Once the educator records the lesson in its final form and uploads it to TED's servers, it's assigned an animator who gets to work on making an engaging yet informative clip. Each lesson includes captions for the hard of hearing and an Interactive Transcript that lets you click on text to jump to the relevant point in the video.

"Right now there's a gifted educator somewhere out there delivering the life-changing lesson. The TED-Ed team hopes that anyone that's passionate about education will help us find that teacher, capture that moment, and amplify it the way it deserves to be amplified."

At launch, the channel consists of seven lessons on subjects ranging from Alien Life to Symbiosis, and that count will increase with time. You can get involved by suggesting a lesson, an educator, or an animator — and you're welcome to put yourself forward too. The idea that students everywhere will be able to benefit from the concise and engaging lessons is certainly encouraging, and we hope that the service will be as popular as the videos uploaded from TED's conferences.

Click on the heading above to go to the TED-Ed YouTube sight.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What If Schools Were More Like Interactive Museums?

Imagine a time in which design is part of K-12 education and schools begin looking and feeling more like interactive museums. Students would learn from, and help design, exhibits that help them learn about everything from the universe to the human brain.

The Mind Museum in Taguig City (the Philippines) (left) just opened on March 16, 2012 and promotes learning while having fun. The 12,500-square-meter space has over 250 interactive exhibits, an outdoor Science-in-the-Park, and a Botanical Garden.

Designed by Lor Calma & Partners architect Ed Calma, the massive building looks like a spaceship but was actually inspired by cellular growth and structures, which is one of the many topics featured inside the museum. The building itself is an exhibit, with a solar reflective exterior, natural wind ventilation and rainwater flow drainage.

When visitors walk through the Human Brain exhibit they see which areas light up when you sense, feel or think. The Light Bridge (right) connects the Atom Gallery to the Universe Gallery.

Many of the exhibits are original, and were designed by Filipino artists, scientists and engineers, including faculty and designers from the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines and the University of St. Tomas.

Click below to see a promotional video about the Mind Museum and imagine what it would be like if schools received the same kind of attention.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Concept Artist for Star Wars Dies

Ralph McQuarrie (right), the concept designer who helped director George Lucas visualize the "Star Wars" movies, died Saturday, March 3, 2012 at the age of 82. McQuarrie's conceptual designs were the basis for some of the iconic characters of the first three movies such as Darth Vader, Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO.

George Lucas said, "When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.'"

McQuarrie also helped to create concept designs for the original Battlestar Galactica TV show, along with the movies "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." McQuarrie's conceptual work on the 1985 film, "Cocoon," won him the Academy Award for Visual Effects.

Even though, among designers, McQuarrie is an iconic hero, and millions of people love his creations, the public may not know his name and many probably have never seen his original paintings. McQuarrie was a concept designer who's work is produced for the Pre-Production stage of a movie (before the cameras roll) to help others see what the film could look like. While his name features prominently in the credits, most people don't stay in the theater long enough to see who actually made the film they've just seen.

Click on the video below to see concept paintings done by Ralph McQuarrie for Star Wars. Notice the vast number of paintings he produced for the films. One of the reason it is difficult for others to match his talent is that few people do as much work as he did.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Industrial Designers Hold Regional Conferences Across the Country

The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) holds regional conferences each spring in locations across the country. The Regional Design Dialogues are in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Seattle. Their 2012 international Design Conference is in Boston in the fall.

IDSA is primarily for working professionals in industrial design but it also does a lot of work with college students studying to become industrial designers and the institutions where they are studying. IDSA also helps students and teachers in K-12 schools who are interested in industrial design.

The Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) is the world's oldest and largest, member-driven society for product design, industrial design, interaction design, human factors, ergonomics, design research, design management, universal design and related design fields. IDSA organizes the International Design Excellence Award (IDEA) competition annually; hosts the International Design Conference and five regional conferences each year; and publishes Innovation, a quarterly on design, and designBytes, a weekly e-newsletter highlighting the latest headlines in the design world. IDSA's charitable arm, the Design Foundation, supports the dissemination of undergraduate scholarships annually to further industrial design education.

The Society has local chapters in 27 different locations, all providing opportunities to meet other designers, learn and get inspired. There are 16 special interest groups or IDSA Sections representing diverse topics from Design for the Majority to Materials and Processes, Ecodesign to Young Professionals. IDSA has roots that reach all the way back to 1938, before the age of plastics and at least 30 years before the age of electronics and at least 50 years before the age of CAD in any form! Product design or industrial design was certainly a different profession back then.

IDSA has a small national staff based in the Washington, D.C. area which supports the member-driven activities of the Society.
Click on the heading above to explore the IDSA website and learn more about industrial design.

Can You Spot the Fashion Designers in This Picture?

When we teach fashion design in K-12 schools we are often concerned that fashion design will be more well received by the girls in the class than the boys despite the fact that many of the leading fashion designers are men. We have certain stereotypes about the kinds of people who choose fashion design as a career.

The design team Costello Tagliapietra (left) might cause students to rethink their stereotypical images of fashion designers. At Fashion Week 2012 in New York City, this unique team presented their line of form-clinging cheery-looking dresses that are sensitively responsive and flattering to the female form (right).

Jeffrey Costello and partner (and husband) Robert Tagliapietra, based their new line on a set of watercolor paintings of chrysanthemums that Jeffrey had been doing. Layering the designs and, using color, they created a depth that works in juxtaposition to the fabric's draping of the body which creates a kinetic feeling to the clothing.

Anyone who has a sensitivity to color, fabric and the human form can become a fashion designer. There is little significant difference relating to gender, race, appearance, body type, or any other distinguishing characteristics. What is most important is the quality of their designs.

Fashion Week takes place in New York City at about this time every year so February is a good time to do a lesson on fashion design with students.

Click below to see a short video of the Costello Tagliapietra runway show at Fashion Week 2012.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Designers are Included in NEA Arts Issue on Innovation

Several designers are included in the latest issue of NEA Arts (left), the quarterly magazine of the National Endowment of the Arts on the topic of Innovation.

Interviews include:
Julie Taymor (right), director, costume designer, and set designer for the Broadway production of "The Lion King" for Disney. She works in design fields such as movies (NEA uses the more elite term "cinema") and Broadway theater design.

Fred Dust is a partner at the world famous design firm IDEO with a background in architecture and industrial design.

Chris Miller is a story artist for Dreamworks Animation on such projects as "Shrek" and the animated film "Puss and Boots" currently in theaters.

Josh Neufeld designed the cover for the issue (left) and made his comments in the form of a graphic novel (or as regular people would call it - a "comic book".)

The Brooklyn-based cartoonist, Neufeld, very nicely delineates the difference between Art and Design. In his comic book page he has a character saying that the role of the Artist is to be an "irritant forcing society to take a look at itself critically." This is important work performed by artists. It is different from the role of Designers who look at problems in society and actively work to solve them. Designers employ innovation to make the world a tangibly better place for others.

Neufeld's cartoon cites the work of other cartoonists such as Scott McCloud, Chris Ware and Art Spiegelman.

Click on the heading above to go to the NEA Arts issue on Innovation.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Visual Communication and Design Complete a Visual Literacy Curriculum

All students, not just visual thinkers, need to learn to create and understand diagrams, pictures, photos, illustrations, maps and charts to learn any subject matter. Steve Moline, author of "I See What You Mean: Visual Literacy K-8" sees visual literacy as fundamental to learning and to what it means to be human. In Moline's view, we are all bilingual. Our second language, which we do not speak but which we read and write every day, is visual. From reading maps to decoding icons to using concept webs, visual literacy is critical to success in today's world.

The first edition of I See What You Mean, published in 1995, was one of the first books for teachers to outline practical strategies for improving students' visual literacy. In this new and substantially revised edition, Moline includes dozens of new examples of a wide range of visual texts--from time maps and exploded diagrams to digital tools like smartphone apps and "tactile texts." In addition to the new chapters and nearly 200 illustrations, he has reorganized the book in a useful teaching sequence, moving from simple to complex texts.

The kind of visual literacy Moline describes is Visual Communication is complemented by Design Education represented by resources such as the Design Dossier series by Pamela Pease for children 9 and up (grades 4 and up). Children experience design firsthand in this interactive series that engages a variety of learning styles and develops creative problem-solving skills. Books in the series focus on a wide array of design disciplines, ranging from architecture and interior design to film, animation, and environmental design.

In The World of Design (right), kids explore line, color, shape, texture, pattern and composition, and questions including What is design? and How does the creative process work? Insights from top contemporary designers and fold-out timelines help kids understand how design affects their everyday lives. A project at the end of the book challenges kids to put what they learn into action.

Click on the heading above to learn more about the Design Dossier series by Pease.

Hedonistic Sustainability Means Having Fun While Doing Good

The presentation by Bjarke Ingels (right) at last year's TEDx East conference in New York City is now available on-line. Show this video to your students so they can see how a young architect can teach us to be playful and have fun while doing serious work that helps people and the planet.

To better understand Ingels' ideas we have to know what a "program" is in architecture. Architectural programming is the research and decision-making process that identifies the scope of work to be designed. Architects and their clients identify the scope of a design problem prior to beginning the design, which is intended to solve the problem.

In the 1980s and 1990s, some architectural schools dropped architectural programming from their curricula. The emphasis of the Post-Modern and Deconstruction agendas was instead on form-making. Programming and its attention to the users of buildings was not a priority to them. As a result, several generations of architects have little familiarity with architectural programming.

Some of the advantages programming offers include:

1. Involvement of interested parties in the definition of the scope of work prior to the design effort
2. Emphasis on gathering and analyzing data early in the process so that the design is based on sound decisions
3. Efficiencies gained by avoiding redesign as requirements emerge during the architectural design process.

Part of the problem with school architecture is that the program identified by the architects and administrators is often more about economy and safety while the program sought by teachers and students is more about motivation and learning. Too often architects see the school administrators as their clients rather than the students and teachers. Places like Pixar, IDEO and Google know that spaces designed by and for the people who work there rather than for the owners and bosses, helps make them insanely successful in the real world.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Pixar Story Inspires Animators

The documentary film, The Pixar Story, came out in 2007 and tells about the creation of the animation production company Pixar from Luxo Jr. in 1987 to Cars in 2006. Pixar, of course, went on to continue producing hit animated films like Ratatouille (2007), WALL-E (2008), and Up (2009).

Pixar is a CGI-animation production company now based in Emeryville, California that has earned twenty-six Academy Awards, five Golden Globes and three Grammys. It was started by Ed Catmull (left), Steve Jobs (center), and John Lasseter (right).

The Pixar Story is a must see for any student or adult interested in CGI-animated films produced since the cel-animation techniques made famous in early Disney movies. The documentary tells the trials and tribulations of becoming the top animation company in the world and what it takes to stay on top.

Imagine being Pete Doctor, a first-time director, trying to match the incredible early success of Toy Story 1 and 2 and A Bug's Life. Docter directed Monsters, Inc. in 2001 which was also incredibly successful so the young Andrew Stanton was called up to keep the string of successes going. He directed Finding Nemo in 2003. Brad Bird was next and he directed The Incredibles in 2004. How long could Pixar keep this up?

This documentary (available online and through Netflix) tells this gripping story in the words of the people who were actually there creating it.

Watch the beginning of The Pixar Story.

Creating Spaces for Design in Schools

As more schools add "Design" to their art and technology programs, classrooms will need to be rethought to accommodate the needs of the design curriculum. Some new considerations include:

1. An Ideation Lab (right) - plenty of space for white boards, foam core, post-it notes, and markers for teams to collaboratively generate and clarify design problems.
2. A Visualization Lab - spaces to brainstorm, draw, post, share and discuss possible solutions to design problems. Drawing tables, computers, tracing paper, places to pin works up for group discussion and revision.
3. A Fab Lab - workshop spaces to make prototypes by cutting foam with hot-wire cutters, sawing wood, building structures, making architectural models, etc.
4. A Presentation Room - a boardroom-like space to present and critique ideas for discussion, evaluation and implementation with interactive white boards, projectors, presentation easels, etc.

Make Space : How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration (left) by Scott Doorley & Scott Witthoft, is a new book based on the work at the Stanford University and its Environments Collaborative Initiative. The book explains how space can be intentionally manipulated to fuel the creative process and then offers over 120 specific strategies that can be employed in endless combination to foster collaboration, creativity and innovation.

Click below to see a video of the creation of the cover for the book.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Designers Nominated for Oscars

While the general public clamors for the Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director Oscar nominees, designers look at categories like Best Animated Film, Best Cinematography, Art Direction, Set Design, Costume, Makeup, Special Effects, Editing and the other categories for designers and visual thinkers.

The nominees for Best Art Direction this year include a sure winner - Laurence Bennett for "The Artist" (left) - and a strong contender in Rick Carter for "War Horse" (right) who was also nominated for "Avatar" and "Forrest Gump" in previous years.

Movies are a visual medium requiring strong visual communication skills and should be part of a comprehensive visual education program whether approached from production, history, criticism or aesthetics. The Academy Awards nominations in January and awards ceremony in February provide an excellent opportunity to highlight the design of films and the film designers who are among the best in the world.

Many people mistakenly think that watching movies is a passive activity compared to the active thinking associated with reading but recent brain research proves that old way of thinking is wrong. Visualization is an active function of the brain which calls upon long-term memory and predictive abilities activated in numerous locations in the brain.

Have your students look at the list of Oscar nominees and research nominees in each of the design categories. Who do you think will win? Who do you think should win? What can we find out about their past work and how they go about their work?

Click on the heading above to see the list of other Oscar nominees.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Understanding Design is as Important for the Customer as the Designer

Most students will not become professional designers but they need to know something about design simply to be wise consumers and informed citizens. Media Literacy is the name of the field of study that looks at how images and ideas are presented in the media and how we react to them. Design is the field of study in which people learn to use visual communication to create and communicate ideas.

People look at advertisements showing super-models who have been expertly made-up and then Photoshopped and feel inferior and inadequate. Our sense of self-esteem is undermined by our unfair comparisons to these "ideal" examples. People can exaggerate, boast, lie, and deceive with images just as they do with words and numbers.

Click on the heading above to read an article by a photographer who calls himself Darlo D. who compared the images of fast food in advertising with the actual food you get in real life (left and right). There are some regulations to protect consumers from false advertising but the best protection is to be educated about the role of images in our lives and their power over the way we think and behave.

We are quick to blame media designers for being unethical but we must look at our own attitudes that allow them to influence us. Many people deny that they are fooled by media portrayals but we are still accustomed to think that someone driving a big car is more powerful and successful than someone in a smaller car. A recent study showed that a person holding a large soft-drink was perceived as more powerful than someone holding a smaller soft drink. That's our problem not the media designer.

Media designers provide the stories we like to hear. If we want to see changes in the future we need to change the stories that we carry in our heads.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Visual Communication Helps Us See the Unseeable

Scientific animators combine their passions for science, art and computers into rewarding careers. Scientific animators work with computer software similar to that used to create special effects and animated films in Hollywood but, instead of creating creatures and explosions, they use research data to bring molecules and cells to life on screen. Drawing upon dozens of research papers, scientific databases, microscopy data and other resources can take months to show how a molecule or cell moves or interacts (right).

Visualization can be a research tool used to develop, test and refine biomedical hypotheses, not just a method of communication. Scientific animation is used by the drug industry, publishers, medical schools and teaching hospitals, and even for lawyers involved in malpractice lawsuits that require visuals as legal evidence. Medical-device, biotech and pharmaceutical companies use animations about their latest products in sales, marketing and educational materials. Visualizations also end up in museum exhibitions, classroom teaching tools, digital textbooks and documentaries, and on journal covers and websites.

Illustrators and animators working full-time earn about $52,000 at the start of their careers, $65,000 in mid-career and up to $150,000 as seasoned veterans. Many animators also work on a freelance basis with incomes between $79,000 a year up to $250,000.

Drew Barry (left) is a medical animator and winner of a MacArthur grant. Having a background in design and visual storytelling is essential for scientific animators. Some basic training in lighting, color and composition to enable visual expression through drawing or other media is key to success. Employers tell whether an animator has the necessary skills by looking at their portfolio, website, or demo reel, which often showcases only about a minute's worth of animations.

Watch the video below to see Drew Berry's presentation about scientific visualization at a TED conference. While you're at the TED site also look at related presentations such as that by scientific illustrator David Bolinsky.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ten Principles of Good Design from Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer who was chief of design for the influential electronic devices manufacturer Braun for almost 35 years. Rams and his team designed many iconic devices ranging from record players to furniture to storage systems.

Dieter Rams is associated with the memorable phrase “Less, but better”. He used graphic design, form, proportion, and materiality to create order within his designs. His work does not try to be the center of attention, rather he allows his work to become part of the environment through precision and order.

Here are his famous "Principles of Good Design":

1. Good design is innovative: Innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
2. Good design makes a product useful: A product is bought to be used and has to satisfy certain functional, psychological and aesthetic criteria.
3 Good design is aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being.
4. Good design makes a product understandable: Design clarifies a product’s structure and at its best, is self-explanatory.
5. Good design is unobtrusive: Well-designed products are like neutral and restrained tools that are neither decorative objects nor works of art.
6. Good design is honest: Good design does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
7. Good design is long-lasting: Good design avoids being fashionable so it lasts many years and never appears antiquated.
8. Good design is thorough, down to the last detail: In good design nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance and it should show respect towards the consumer.
9. Good design is environmentally-friendly: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment, conserving resources and minimizing physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
10. Good design is as little design as possible: Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

Dieter Ram's work has been a big influence on others such as Jonnathon Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple. Phaidon publishing released a new book on Dieter Rams in June, 2011 called Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible – with a foreword writen by Jonathan Ive.

Click below to watch a clip about Rams from Gary Hustwitz's film "Objectified."

Car Design is a Star in Mission Impossible

Movies provide good opportunities to point out the role of design in our lives. BMW's state-of-the-art hybrid, and other models, are prominent in Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol starring Tom Cruise (left).

In the latest Mission: Impossible film, Tom Cruise’s character, Ethan Hunt, says to his team, “Wait until you see the car”. The reference is to the i8 concept, a next-generation supercar from BMW, which helps Cruise and co-star Paula Patton race through Mumbai traffic. The car’s appearance highlights the BMW brand’s return to Hollywood after a hiatus of more than a decade.

BMW’s role, its first in a big-budget film since a Z8 roadster was cut to pieces in the 1999 James Bond feature The World Is Not Enough, is a reminder that Hollywood is now a mandatory destination for marketers. With DVRs and on-demand programs allowing consumers to skip television ads, becoming part of the content is key for brands to get noticed.

The winged-door i8, a plug-in hybrid that accelerates to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in 4.6 seconds and can get 78 miles per gallon, will be introduced in 2014—but gets center-stage placement in the film. At the movie’s European premiere at the BMW Welt product showcase in Munich on Dec. 9, the i8 was prominently displayed at the end of the red carpet. The automaker is believed to have spent $10 million promoting the film.

Click on the video below for a heart pounding clip about the movie.

Auto Companies Have Eyes on Design

Auto Shows are coming to major cities to showcase the latest ideas in auto design. One of the most famous is the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) held each January in Detroit, Michigan. As part of the show, this year running from January 9-22, 2012, there are awards presented for auto design called the EyesOn Design Awards. The 2012 award winners will be announced on Tuesday, January 10, 2012 and can be watched live on the site by clicking on the heading above.

EyesOn Design Awards honor the most significant automotive designs on display at NAIAS 2012 as determined by the North American and global leaders of design from automotive manufacturers, along with academic chairs of transportation design programs and design leaders from other fields.

These awards recognize the skill and creativity of today's most gifted designers in the areas of Aesthetics and Innovation, Concept Implementation, Functionality and Spirit of Industrial Design. Awarded in production and concept categories, the EyesOn Design Awards are coveted by automotive designers as validation for exceptional design, as determined by the leaders of their field.

Presented by the Detroit Institute of Ophthalmology (DIO), the EyesOn Design Awards serve as an extension of the DIO's annual EyesOn Design automotive exhibition held each June to honor and celebrate the past, present and future of automotive design. In addition to recognizing major design achievement in the automotive industry, funds raised by both EyesOn Design events support the DIO's mission to assist and educate the visually impaired, help preserve vision by public and professional education and support research related to the eye.

Click on the heading above for more information on EyesOn Design Awards at the North American International Auto Show.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Saving the World Through Compassion and Discernment

In preparation for making meaningful New Year's resolutions I just read an important book I recommend to all my friends of any religious, agnostic, or atheistic beliefs. I am not a Buddhist myself but the fourteenth Dalai Lama has a new book out called "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World" that is wise, considered and surprising.

The first surprise of course is the title, "Beyond Religion," coming from someone who is considered to be one of the World's great religious leaders. The book shows that the Dalai Lama is more of a universal spiritual leader than simply a spokesperson for his Buddhist religion. The message of the title is that the problems facing the planet will logically require a more universal viewpoint that goes beyond the limited beliefs and practices of any one religion.

A second surprising argument is that ethical and moral values do not require religious faith. Ethical and moral actions exist outside of religious faiths as well as in them and these values can and must be learned and assimilated by anyone regardless of religious training or not.

Other surprising elements include the Dalai Lama's statement that if science finds new knowledge that calls into question ideas put forth in religious teachings, we must be willing to change our minds and adopt the new knowledge. This enlightened approach is not held by many faith-based religious adherents so it is worth reading about how he has arrived at this startlingly sensible stance.

The main message is that we must actively engage in compassion and empathy toward everyone and everything on the planet if we ever hope to see peace on Earth. And secondly, we must practice discernment because the right path is not always clear and uncomplicated but requires thoughtful decision-making in which either course of action might have positive and negative effects. Practicing careful discernment is the only way we can determine the better path.

Click below to hear the Dalai Lama's ideas voiced by the actor Martin Sheen. I wish us all compassion and discernment in the New Year.

Holographic Television May Be Coming Sooner Than We Think

Holographic imagery, while successfully demonstrated decades ago, is taking a long time to become technically and commercially viable so people have understandably become skeptical about claims for holographic television appearing any time soon. Although claims for holographic TV have long been touted as the next big thing in the distant future, a Leuven, Belgium-based R&D lab for nanoelectronics has come up with a process that might bring holographic images closer to realtime (left). They already have images approaching the futuristic holography popularized in the Star Wars movies (right).

Researchers believe that holographic images are the answer to resolving the eye strain and headaches that go along with present-day 3-D viewing. The research lab Imec, says “Holographic visualization promises to offer a natural 3-D experience for multiple viewers, without the undesirable side-effects of current 3D stereoscopic visualization (uncomfortable glasses, strained eyes, fatiguing experience).” They hope to construct the first, proof-of-concept moving structures by mid-2012.

Researchers at MIT have also said they are closing in on holographic TV by building a system with a refresh rate of 15 frames per second, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) completed a five-year project called “Urban Photonic Sandtable Display” that creates realtime, color, 360-degree 3-D holographic displays.

Although the technology is developed enough for scientists to know holographic TV is possible if not inevitable, there are many details to be worked out concerning things like frame rates, angle of viewing, resolution and color-correction.

Click on the video below to see the future of holographic television.

Perception is a Powerful Activity

One of the biggest drawbacks to successfully transforming education and enhancing student learning is a persistent but mistaken idea that visual thinking is not as important to human learning, thinking and communicating as are reading, writing and mathematics.

Many people maintain a mistaken idea about the role of visual perception in human learning. For example, many people mistakenly think watching a movie or looking at a picture is a passive activity while reading is more active. Students are often admonished for watching "too much" TV, movies, videos, video games or other images but are seldom told they are reading too much. This is because of a story we have mistakenly told ourselves that the brain is more active when reading than when looking at something. This is a bad story that has held back learning for generations.

Current scientific evidence shows that rather than being a passive state, perception is an active process fueled by predictions and expectations about our environment. Memory is a fundamental component in the way our brain generates expectations and predictions that precede perceptual experience.

Recently, researchers in the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Oxford showed how Long Term Memory optimizes perception by varying brain states associated with anticipation of spatial localization in the visual field by devising a method for integrating memory and attention. The scientists used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to trace a neural network involving a number of areas of the brain likely to be active in the predictive use of memory in the visual cortex (the occipital lobe shown in dark blue on left).

Click on the heading above to read about the research showing how long term memory and perception are intertwined.

Visualizing a Stone Age Ancestor

Strong visualization skills are important in science as well as art. Using scientific tools and strong visualization skills, two Dutch reconstruction experts, Adrie and Alfons Kennis, have created a new version of the appearance of a stone age man referred to as Ötzi based on examinations of a mummified body found in the ice and knowledge of what the faces, hands and skin of modern-day people who live mostly outdoors look like.

Ötzi, named after the Ötztal Alps in Italy where he was found, was a weather-beaten and muscular man who died 5,300 years ago. Ötzi the iceman is Europe's oldest natural human mummy and has been reconstructed more accurately than ever before, based on data obtained from CT scans, X-rays and DNA analyses. Ötzi died in a high mountain pass in Italy and was covered by ice. He was buried for millennia until two German hikers found him in 1991.

Ötzi stood 5 feet 3 inches and was around 46 years old when he died after being wounded in the shoulder by an arrow. The Kennises chose to portray Ötzi bare-chested to show how muscular he was, though in reality he was dressed for the harsh weather of the Alps when he died, wearing animal hide, a cap and an insulating grass cape.

Click on the video below to see part of a documentary showing how Ötzi might have lived and died.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Wishes from Dreamworks

I just received my online Holiday Wishes card from Dreamworks Animation and thought people might enjoy seeing some of their favorite animated characters from six of Dreamwork's animated films wishing us all a Happy Holiday.

Dreamworks SKG was founded with three divisions - Film production headed by Steven Spielberg; Animation headed by Jeffrey Katzenberg; and Music headed by David Geffen. The music division was closed in 2005. The company was founded following Katzenberg's resignation from Disney Enterprises Inc. in 1994. At the suggestion of a friend of Spielberg, the two made an agreement with long-time Katzenberg collaborator David Geffen to start their own studio. The studio was officially founded on October 12, 1994 with financial backing of $33 million from each of the three main partners and $500 million from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Click below to see the video greeting card from Dreamworks Animation.

James Gurney Integrates Science and Illustration

Art teachers are often looking for ways to integrate the arts with other subject areas. With the addition of design to the curriculum there is no need to make up superficial ways to integrate with other subject areas because integration is a natural part of the process. An illustrator like James Gurney (left), for example, integrates science in a variety of ways even in his fantasy illustrations of dinosaurs in his popular "Dinotopia" book series (right).

Gurney's knowledge of real science is so strong that he is often called upon to provide illustrations for Scientific American magazine. In addition, he applies scientific principles of visual perception in his work to gain the most compelling visual effects. Our eyes are often fooled by the variation in colors seen in shadow, sunlight, or different colored lights. Gurney has made careful studies of these effects.

Click on the video below of Gurney talking about creating an illustration for Scientific American. In the video he describes his process for doing an illustration depicting a 90-million-year-old scene of dinosaurs becoming trapped in mud. Students should be aware of the amazing amount of background research Gurney does to create his illustrations. In art class we often jump right to the finished product without the research, preliminary studies and exploration necessary for high quality results. If students are interested in scientific illustration, James Gurney is one of the masters.

What Will the Future Bring in 5 Years?

For the past six years, IBM has been issuing their 5 in 5 reports that present their vision of what technologies will mature in the next 5 years and become commonplace.

Their list for 2011 (left) includes innovations that have the potential to change the way people work, live and interact during the next five years. This year's five in five are:

Energy - People power will come to life; in addition to smaller, longer life batteries we will capture more of our own movements, the water in home pipes, bicycles, and ocean waves to convert it into useable energy.
Security - You will never need a password again; Biometric passwords like retinal scans and voice recognition will become more common so we don't have to remember a dozen different passwords.
Interfaces - Mind reading is no longer science fiction; Keyboards, the mouse, and voice recognition will be joined by another way to interact with computers - tapping into our own brain waves and transforming them into commands.
Access - The digital divide will cease to exist; 80% of the 7 billion people on the planet will have access to technology in the next 5 years.
Analytics - Junk mail will become priority mail. Our devices will gather and use information without our having to ask for it. Booking events, changing our schedules based on the weather, and even online purchases will be done for us automatically based on our known desires and preferences.

The IBM 5 in 5 is based on market and societal trends as well as emerging technologies from IBM's research labs around the world that can make these transformations possible. You can find earlier predictions online to see how accurate they have been in the past.

Click on the heading above to see IBM's video announcing this year's 5 in 5 forecast.

'Tis the Season for Gingerbread Houses

Building gingerbread houses for the holidays provides an opportunity to introduce a bit of architecture education. It is not the best example because most people see gingerbread houses as objects (3D) rather than enclosures of space (4D) so there is a bit of mis-education by confusing 3D product design (a gingerbread house) and 4D spatial design (an architect's model) in people's minds.

There is a term in architecture called "gingerbread" which refers to elaborately detailed, lavish and often superfluous embellishment on Victorian houses popularized in the late 1860s and ’70s (right). After the Civil War it was fashionable to have every surface of buildings decorated with fanciful hand-carved wooden latticework to signal affluence. There was later a general reaction against that practice when architects like Louis Sullivan decreed "Less is more."

When we talk about gingerbread houses at the holidays we mean the baked cookie variety in which any style of architecture can be attempted from William Van Alen’s art-deco Chrysler Building; Charles and Ray Eames’ modern Pacific Palisades Case Study House No. 8; Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House; to Buckminster Fuller’s Geodesic Dome. Click on the heading above to see these examples.

In the example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater (left), the brick façade is depicted with stacked SweetTarts and creating the unsupported cantilevered decks is as much a problem in gingerbread as it was in the original. (The secret in both is concealed i-beams with sufficient tensile strength.)