Monday, June 30, 2008

Best Cities for Design

An independent survey by RMJM Hillier, a large architectural firm based in New York, ranks cities in terms of how well they are designed for "architecture, sustainability and transit." They ranked urban areas as most affordable, most healthy or "greenest," and named 10 cities that experts considered the best in America for architecture and design and three that almost made the top tier and were considered "cities to watch."

The top 10 were:
1. Chicago
2. New York
3. Boston
4. Los Angeles
5. Portland, Ore.
6. San Francisco
7. Seattle
8. Denver
9. Philadelphia
10. Washington

Among the "cities to watch," are Baltimore, Minneapolis and Phoenix, Ariz.

"Good design makes better communities by boosting the economy, creating jobs and, particularly today, sponsoring environmental strategies," said Peter Schubert, design director of RMJM Hillier. "We conducted this study to see which cities are the most forward-thinking in their planning and development strategies and to applaud those that are doing it right."

In Chicago, architecture and design are such significant parts of the business and cultural communities that "walking down the street, you hear people talking about buildings just as often as you hear them talking about the Cubs or Sox," said Zurich Esposito, executive vice president of the American Institute of Architecture's Chicago chapter. "Studies like this compel us to learn more about what people are doing in other cities - across the country or around the globe. It's all part of learning from each other and creating an international design dialogue."

The firm used 10 criteria, including architecture awards, "green" design and public transit systems, to select the 10 cities that it deemed to be leading the way in design policy and practice. Other factors included the presence of museums and universities with design programs, employees in "creative industries," housing and community design awards and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Editorial Cartooning

Traditional art educators often look down their noses at cartooning because it is not art, but when we add visual culture, design and visual communication to our curricula it opens up visual learning opportunities we have been overlooking even though they are right under our upturned noses.

Political cartoonists, and even many comic strip artists, often have tremendous drawing skills that demonstrate drawing techniques we want students to know and be able to do. Some of them win Pulitzer Prizes for their political insights and drawing ability.

Look, for example, at this cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winning political cartoonist David Horsey who draws for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Look at the attention to detail, figure drawing ability, perspective and composition. There is much to be learned from the observational skills and drawing ability of cartoonists like Horsey, Walt Kelly, Jim Borgman, Bill Watterson, Wiley Miller, Oliphant and many others who occasionally have fun showing off their drawing skills and provide wonderful opportunities for us to learn from the masters.

Click on the heading above to see"The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2008."

China and India Introduce Design Education

Careers like engineering, law, and medicine are popular choices for students around the world, but a subject of study that’s increasingly gaining prominence in industry, but remains neglected in schools is design.

Design is a creative career that provides students a variety of skills and teaches them to think about innovation and new ideas. Design studies includes areas like Animation, Architecture, Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Fashion-textile Design, Product Design, Interaction Design and Visual Communication among others.

China has over 3000 design schools and has revamped all their art colleges and re-trained their teachers in design. Countries like India are going full-speed ahead to increase the amount of design education they offer.

Today the potential opportunities in design are tremendous. Market forces demand designers and they are required in every sector of the economy. Countries like India and China understand that introducing design at the undergraduate level is too late. It has to be introduced in K-12 schools, where it becomes a part of the learning process and encourages right-brain thinking and visual communication.

Danish Design

One of the occupational hazards for designers is that, while millions might easily recognize their work, most people have never even heard their names (except for a few superstars).

For example, most adults are very familiar with Danish Design, often called Danish Modern, but few people, other than designers, know the people who created the designs. Names like Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Borge Mogensen (above right), Finn Juhl and the godfather of the period, Kaare Klint, are not household names for most of us but they are among a dozen or so designers behind the popular Danish Design look enjoyed around the world. With a recent revival of interest in the style, many of their chairs now sell at auction for tens of thousands of dollars.

Students need to know that designs, from type faces to buildings, have names and are associated with particular designers. Having students memorize the names of designers, like in traditional art history courses, is not the point, but students should have design personalized for them so they can find their own personal heroes in the design world and maybe aspire to become like them. Students need to know that designs are done by real people and they could grow up to be designers themselves.

Click on the heading above to see information about some Danish designers.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Librarians Study Video Games

The American Library Association received a $1 million grant from Verizon Foundation to study how electronic gaming can be used to improve problem-solving and literacy skills. The unique 'Gaming for Learning' Project will develop metrics and models for libraries.

The American Library Association (ALA) will launch an innovative project to track and measure the impact of gaming on literacy skills and build a model for library gaming that can be deployed nationally. Funding for the project will be provided by a $1 million grant from the Verizon Foundation.

The announcement took place at the American Library Association Annual Conference in Anaheim, CA in late June, 2008.

"Gaming is a magnet that attracts library users of all types and, beyond its entertainment value, has proven to be a powerful tool for literacy and learning," said ALA President Loriene Roy. "Through the Verizon Foundation's gift, ALA's gaming for learning project will provide the library community with vital information and resources that will model and help sustain effective gaming programs and services."

As part of the grant, the American Library Association will work directly with 12 leading gaming experts to document the use of gaming as a literacy tool and monitor the results of gaming initiatives. The information will be used to build The Librarians' Guide to Gaming, a comprehensive, online literacy and gaming toolbox that will then be field-tested by additional libraries.

The experts creating the best practices during the initial phase are from the following libraries:

Ann Arbor District Library, Ann Arbor, Mich.;
Public Library of Charlotte-Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, N.C.;
Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus, Ohio;
Georgetown County Library, Georgetown, S.C.;
Minneapolis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minn.;
Old Bridge Public Library, Fords, N.J.;
Pima County Public Library, Tucson, Ariz.;
Reidland High School, Paducah, Ky.;
School Library System of Genesee Valley BOCES, Le Roy, N.Y.;
The New York Public Library, New York;
Todd Wehr Library, De Pere, Wis.;
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Ill.

"In today's technology-driven world, where learning does not stop at the classroom, the role of libraries in supporting literacy and learning is more critical than ever before," said Verizon Foundation President Patrick Gaston. "Gaming for learning presents a tremendous opportunity for libraries to further literacy skills in children as well as adults."

Friday, June 27, 2008

Design Police

Here is a fun interactive way to make students aware of type design all around them. The Design Police have produced stickers you can print out and place on offending type examples wherever you find them. In looking for offending type errors to label, students will learn some basic principles of design such as kerning, leading, widows, orphans, alignment, font choices, hyphenation, faux bold, faux italics, legibility, point size, etc.

If you don't know about these things yourself there are several websites that will get you up to speed quickly. Many sites have their own list of "Top Ten Design Mistakes" or something similar.

Or better yet, invite a graphic designer to talk to your students about type design and what the terms mean.

Click on the heading above to get 5 pages of labels you can print out for students to use.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


Three-Dimensional High-Definition Television isn't here for all of us yet but we know it is on the way. It will take some time to get the technology, quality, price, and available content where they need to be but you can be fairly confident that students in our schools now will be watching and creating 3D HD TV by the time they graduate. What will they need to know to create content and design images in this format? How can we help students be ready for the future they will be living in?

The future of media design is in 3D. DreamWorks Animation Studio plans to release all its films in 3-D starting in 2009. This technology has threatened to sweep the world many times over the past few years but new technologies are finally ready to launch the true era of high-def 3D for movies, games, TV and more.

This isn't what we remember about having to wear those red and blue glasses to watch 3D movies in theaters. A new 3D technology called the Vortex Home Entertainment System has a library of 500 current PC based games titles converted to flawless 3D, and even the ability to convert 2D live television into 3D live television, as well as pre-recorded movies on DVD, Blu-ray and HD DVD. Other technologies are sure to follow.

Design Education students interested in media design might want to begin learning all they can about 3D design.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Design for the Real World, Cradle to Cradle

There are two designers who are exemplars in the area of responsible design. Victor Papanek, now deceased, has long been a model for socially conscious design and, among his books, Design for the Real World has been a standard resource. Papanek, an industrial designer himself, begins his book with the line, “There are professions more harmful than industrial design, but only a few of them."

More recently, William McDonough has taken up the standard in his book Cradle to Cradle. McDonough's book, written with a German chemist, Michael Braungart, is a manifesto calling for the transformation of human industry through ecologically intelligent design. Through historical accounts of the roots of the industrial revolution; commentary on science, nature and society; descriptions of key design principles; and compelling examples of innovative products and business strategies already reshaping the marketplace, McDonough and Braungart make the case that an industrial system that "takes, makes and wastes" can become a creator of goods and services that generate ecological, social and economic value.

In Cradle to Cradle, McDonough and Braungart argue that the conflict between industry and the environment is not an indictment of commerce but an outgrowth of purely opportunistic design. The design of products and manufacturing systems growing out of the Industrial Revolution reflected the spirit of the day-and yielded a host of unintended yet tragic consequences.

When designers employ the intelligence of natural systems—the effectiveness of nutrient cycling, the abundance of the sun's energy—they can create products, industrial systems, buildings, even regional plans that allow nature and commerce to fruitfully co-exist.

Cradle to Cradle outlines McDonough and Braungart's new design paradigm, offering practical steps on how to innovate within today's economic environment. Part social history, part green business primer, part design manual, the book makes plain that the re-invention of human industry is not only within our grasp, it is our best hope for a future of sustaining prosperity.

In addition to describing the hopeful, nature-inspired design principles that are making industry both prosperous and sustainable, the book itself is a physical symbol of the changes to come. It is printed on a synthetic 'paper,' made from plastic resins and inorganic fillers, designed to look and feel like top quality paper while also being waterproof and rugged. And the book can be easily recycled in localities with systems to collect polypropylene, like that in yogurt containers. This 'treeless' book points the way toward the day when synthetic books, like many other products, can be used, recycled, and used again without losing any material quality—in cradle to cradle cycles.

Universal Design

Universal design is defined as "the designing of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design," according to the University of Washington School of Architecture and Urban Planning. According to specialists in aging, good universal design is invisible and enhances the quality of life for everyone.

Universal design combines the elements of safety, convenience and comfort in a way that is appealing to everyone, including parents with children, the disabled and the elderly. There are a number of attractive products and design modifications to adapt a home for aging in place or workplace for everyone.

Some changes are relatively easy and inexpensive to make. Others may require the assistance of a professional. Certified aging-in-place specialists have completed a nationally recognized educational program in universal design specifically for the aging.

There is an offshoot of Universal Design called Universal Design for Instruction that teachers should be aware of. UDI considers proactive consideration of everyone's needs in designing learning spaces, courses, and instruction.

There are many organizations, universities, and web resources to learn more about Universal Design. Any Design Education program should include discussion and projects including Universal Design.

Contemporary Chinese Design

Contemporary Chinese design is getting more attention with the Beijing Olympics being hosted in China in August, 2008. Knowing that many students will have watched the Olympics just before returning to school provides another "teachable moment" to call their attention to design in China in general as well as design that went into presenting the Olympics.

Sharon Leece is a Shanghai-based English author who has written three books on the subject that showcase some of the most innovative homes and interior designs in today’s China.

Leece’s three books on Chinese design trends — China Style (2002), China Modern (2003) and China Living (2007), show the modernity and ingeniousness of Chinese design in the hands of contemporary artists, architects, art dealers, decorators and home-owners.

(Right) Art collector Handel Lee’s Bauhaus-inspired house sits well in a rural environment, with its cubist lines, flat roof and smooth facade.

China Living reveals unexpected designs in China and the cover shows the trend-setting Green T House. Among the many stunning interiors featured in China Living, Leece picked Villa Shizilin in Changping County, north of Beijing, as her favorite.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Global Design Education

When teachers try to include some global perspectives in their curricula they often introduce just the ancient forms of other cultures. This would be like representing an image of American culture characterized as cowboys and Indians or the Godfather. When we add design education to the curriculum this easily opens up the possibilities of discussions about contemporary forms in other cultures.

Two contemporary designers who should be included in any design education curriculum are Hayao Miyazaki (left) (the Walt Disney of Asia) and Super Mario Bros & Zelda creator Shigeru Miyamoto (right). These two designers are hugely influential in contemporary culture not only in their own countries but around the world.

There are tons of resources available online on both of these designers. Miyamoto is often called the "father of modern video gaming". Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke was the highest-grossing film of all time in Japan. His later film, Spirited Away, was the first anime film to win an Academy Award. The special features segments on DVDs of Miyazaki's films are useful learning resources.

Global cultures are not all from the historical past - they are living, vibrant, and influencing our lives today.

Serious Games

It has been around for a while but Jim Gee's book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, has helped administrators, teachers, policymakers, and activists recognize the pro-social and educational potential of video-games.

At one time, video-game researchers, like their predecessors who studied such “low-brow” topics as film, television, and radio, confronted an extraordinarily difficult climate among "serious" scholars and found themselves forced to defend the legitimacy of a controversial medium that was associated with prurient content and juvenile delinquency. Even today, academic research on popular media usually begins with a familiar discussion about how this emerging medium “gets no respect.”

After many years of hard work, things are changing. This is an exciting time for researchers who specialize in the study of video-games and other forms of interactive media. In part, this changing climate can be credited to ground-breaking works such as Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen, James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, and Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You. Aimed at general audiences, these books helped administrators, policymakers, educators, and activists realize that video-games have far reaching potential.

As educators and designers, when we encounter greater cultural understanding and acceptance of popular media, we can relax our defensive posture and spend more time on actually diving into popular media as viable creative and intellectual platforms.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Designing Utopia

The idea of trying to design utopia is a non-starter for 95% of the population. It is just too big, too nebulous, too daunting for most finite human brains to even care to think about. Design a shoe or a toothbrush - now that's something I can handle but something that actually works, over a long period of time, for a large number of people, over a large area just makes our brains go tilt.

Designing a dystopia is easy. It is somehow easier for us to imagine everything that could go wrong in the future than it is to think of how it could possibly look if everything went relatively well. Science fiction novels, movies and TV shows provide us with a wide variety of ways things can go terribly wrong but very few, if any, show us a future in which any of us would like to live.

What we have here is a failure of the imagination. There are over 6 billion people on the planet and we have been around for hundreds of thousands of years but no one so far has developed the capacity to imagine a future worth living into. This is a design problem so far too difficult for the human brain to even attack let alone solve.

Designing a utopia is the marathon of mental imaging. It would take a dedicated person willing to train and prepare for a long time to be able to endure the mental discipline and imagination required to even attempt such a venture. If someone started early, training their imagination, developing their visualization skills, cross-training by studying the physical, social and psychological requirements and focusing their attention on the problem over a period of time, they might be able to endure the mental and creative stress it would take just to stay in the game.

Designing a utopian future, like other extreme sports, is not for the timid. Be alert for any students with the stamina and imagination to even attempt to envision a utopia. Encourage them, provide them the coaching and training they will need to survive the mental rigor of such an endeavor. Provide them the staged development and cross-training any endurance athlete must have to succeed. See if, in your lifetime, you come across the one-in-a-million (one in 6 billion?) who might just be able to envision a future worth living into and nurture them.

Bad Design Isn't Inevitable

Everyday images, objects, places and experiences don't have to be ugly and dampen the human spirit.

Bad design education, greed and laziness are the problem. Badly designed, shoddily made, cookie-cutter designs that don't fit our needs or enhance the character of our lives cause a degradation in the human condition. Bad design is the result of a formula-driven approach, where generic designs are slapped onto every project regardless of the need or application.

Our students have an opportunity to shape the design of the future. We need to take charge of the design process, eliminate incentives for bad design and provide incentives for doing the right thing. Design education can help ensure that the world will become a more interesting and fulfilling place to live, work, learn and play.

Good design can add time to a project and sometimes, but not always, add cost, but it results in a more sustainable environment for all. Design education doesn't guarantee good design but it helps us think about the design process and the added value it brings to our lives. Design Education provides knowledge, skills and, more importantly, the attitudes, disposition and character needed to do the right thing.

The world needs good design to create a quality of life worth living for everyone on the planet. Good design requires innovation, empathy, character and courage.

Buckminster Fuller Still an Inspiration

Design Education needs to include the life and work of Buckminster Fuller. Considered to be one of the greatest minds of our time, R. Buckminster Fuller was known for his comprehensive perspective on the world's problems. For more than five decades, he developed pioneering solutions that reflected his commitment to the potential of innovative design to create technology that does more with less and thereby improves human lives.

Fuller entered Harvard University in 1913, but he was expelled after excessively socializing and missing his midterm exams. His "simple aim in life," as quoted in Fortune magazine in 1946, was "to remake the world." He was so prolific that 20 years later The New Yorker billed him as "an engineer, inventor, mathematician, architect, cartographer, philosopher, poet, cosmologist and comprehensive designer." By then, R. Buckminster Fuller had adopted the shorter job descriptions of "comprehensive anticipatory design scientist" and "astronaut from Spaceship Earth."

He designed the Dymaxion™ House, an inexpensive, mass-produced home that could be airlifted to its location. Originally called the 4D House, it was later renamed by a department store that displayed a model of the house. The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan has a Dymaxion House on display. The word "dymaxion was coined by store advertisers and trademarked in Fuller's name. Based on the words "dynamic", "maximum", and "ion", it became a part of the name of many of Fuller's subsequent inventions. The word became synonymous with his design philosophy of "doing more with less", a phrase he later coined to reflect his growing recognition of the accelerating global trend toward the development of more efficient technology.

These inventions included the Dymaxion Car, a streamlined, three-wheeled automobile that could make extraordinarily sharp turns; a compact, prefabricated, easily installed Dymaxion Bathroom; and Dymaxion Deployment Units (DDUs), mass-produced houses based on circular grain bins. While DDUs never became popular for civilian housing, they were used during World War II to shelter radar crews in remote locations with severe climates, and they led to additional round housing designs by Fuller.

After 1947, one invention dominated Fuller's life and career: the geodesic dome. Lightweight, cost-effective, and easy to assemble, geodesic domes enclose more space without intrusive supporting columns than any other structure; they efficiently distribute stress; and they can withstand extremely harsh conditions. Based on Fuller's "synergetic geometry", his lifelong exploration of nature's principles of design, the geodesic dome was the result of his revolutionary discoveries about balancing compression and tension forces in building.

Fuller was a pioneering global thinker. In 1927, at the beginning of his career, he made a now-prophetic sketch of the total earth which depicted his concept for transporting cargo by air "over the pole to Europe. He entitled the sketch "a one-town world. In 1946, Fuller received a patent for another breakthrough invention: the Dymaxion Map, which depicted the entire planet on a single flat map without visible distortion of the relative shapes and sizes of the continents. The map, which can be reconfigured to put different regions at the center, was intended to help humanity better address the world's problems by prompting people to think comprehensively about the planet. In the early 1950's he coined the now familiar phrase "spaceship earth to describe the integral nature of Earth's "living system". Beginning In the late 1960s, Fuller was especially involved in creating World Game®, a large-scale simulation and series of workshops he designed that used a large-scale Dymaxion Map to help humanity better understand, benefit from, and more efficiently utilize the world's resources.

After Fuller's death, when chemists discovered that the atoms of a recently discovered carbon molecule were arrayed in a structure similar to a geodesic dome, they named the molecule "buckminsterfullerene."

R. Buckminster Fuller died in Los Angeles on July 1, 1983.

Former RISD President Moves to Persian Gulf

Former President of the Rhode Island School of Design, Roger Mandle, has been appointed to lead the Qatar Museums Authority in the Persian Gulf.

Qatar is making an investment in education, arts and culture to create a complex of institutions for the 21st century, to speak of the cultural history of their region and its connections to the world. The Qatar Museum Authority aims to create curatorial programs within extraordinary architectural settings, to provide educational programs for Qatar and its region, and to develop platforms for international dialogue and cultural exchange.

As RISD’s president for the past 15 years, Roger Mandle led the school through a period of expansion that has included new educational programs, major facilities upgrades and the development of downtown studios and housing. His previous posts included deputy director and chief curator of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., from 1988 to 1993, and director of the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio from 1977 to 1988.

He has served as a U.S. Ambassador for the Arts, from 1996 to 2002; executive committee chairman for the American Federation of Arts; jury chairman for the National Design Awards; an adviser to the J. Paul Getty Trust’s Museum Management Institute; a member of the Museum Program Overview Panel at the National Endowment for the Arts; and a trustee of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, the Silk Road Project and the group CEOs for Cities, among other affiliations.

In his new role, Mandle will develop a strategic plan for the Qatar’s entire complex of museums, and implement that plan, institution by institution. His duties will range from administration and finance to the direction of the curators to the development of a comprehensive program of education and museum work force development.

He also will oversee the authority’s building projects including the expansion of the existing Qatar National Museum and the construction in Doha of a 484,000-square-foot Museum of Islamic Arts, now scheduled to open Nov. 22.

(The new museum – designed by I.M. Pei – will showcase the Quatar National Collection of Islamic Art, described by the national Tourism Authority as “a world-class collection of ceramics, metalwork, jewellery, woodwork, glass and other items made in countries ... from medieval Spain to Central Asia and India.”)

“In recent years, Qatar has made a truly historic investment in education, arts and culture,” Mandle said. “As much as any place in the world, this is where you sense new horizons opening for people on an almost daily basis. It is an honor to have been chosen to participate in these changes.”

His term as RISD president – the school’s longest since the early 20th century – is slated to end this June, with the current school year. John Maeda, now associate director of research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, has been chosen as Mandle’s successor.

Visit the national Tourism Authority at

Charles and Ray Eames on Postage Stamps

Here is a readily available resource and "teachable moment" for design education. Charles and Ray Eames, the Modern design husband and wife team, have been honored with postal stamps showing some of their designs. They designed chairs, furniture, homes, fabric, children's toys, cards and more.

Now the work of the husband and wife design team is featured on a colorful panel of 16 postal stamps. Objects depicted on the stamps highlight some of the many items created by the Eameses and represent the breadth of their contribution to American design.

The Eameses created high-quality products that addressed everyday problems and made modern design, including their famous molded plywood chair, accessible to all Americans.

The couple was married in 1941 and moved to Los Angeles, where they worked together until Charles' death in 1978. Many of their designs still are in production while the original items are coveted by collectors and museums.
"As Charles once said, 'Eventually everything connects.' They would have particularly enjoyed the extraordinary connections happening through these stamps," said Eames Demetrios, a grandson of the Eameses.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Patriots Dream

Our day-to-day existence is spent in living a life of liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But the ability to do so must be constantly defended from forces that seek to sell off our freedoms for the sake of short-term economic and political gains.

Set aside some time to view this video of Bill Moyers speaking at the National Conference for Media Reform that reminds us of the responsibilities we each have to defend our way of life, not from outside forces, but from forces of greed right among us.

Moyers says, " Democracy without honest information creates the illusion of popular consent while enhancing the power of the state and the privileged interests protected by it.

Democracy without accountability creates the illusion of popular control while offering ordinary Americans cheap tickets to the balcony, too far away to see that the public stage is just a reality TV set.

Nothing more characterizes corporate media today – mainstream and partisan – than disdain towards the fragile nature of modern life and indifference toward the complex social debate required of a free and self-governing people.

This leaves you with a heavy burden – it’s up to you to fight for the freedom that makes all other freedoms possible."

I will leave it to you to see how this helps rekindle our twin desires to improve the quality of our lives through sustainable design and the transformation of education in the 21st century. From my point of view, Moyers effectively reminds us of our responsibilities and the ideals with which we decided to become educators and designers in the first place.

Click on the heading above to watch the Moyers video.
Go to for a transcript of his speech.

Cities Create Design Centers

More and more cities are creating design centers to remain competitive in the new global economy. Architects and planners are working together to create city design centers as a major part of the economic development plan of many cities.

Paris has one. Copenhagen has one. San Francisco just opened one and Baltimore and Cleveland are thinking about developing design centers as they seek ways to improve the quality of architectural design and urban planning in their cities. The idea is to create a place where people can learn about and discuss design issues in a forum that's not possible at present.

Baltimore, like many cities, has many different organizations whose members care about architecture and urban design issues, including the American Institute of Architects, Neighborhood Design Center, Urban Land Institute, Baltimore Architecture Foundation, Citizens Planning and Housing Association, the local chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects, Baltimore Heritage, Preservation Maryland and even virtual communities such as the EnvisionBaltimore listserve. Design issues are also important to college students at Morgan State University, the University of Maryland, College Park and Maryland Institute College of Art, among other campuses.

But, as in many cities, even with all this activity, there is no central location where people can educate themselves about a pending design issue or planning effort, or see design exhibits the way they can in Chicago or New York.

Some design centers are primarily commercial settings where designers and clients select furniture, fixtures and textiles, but what is envisioned by new design centers is a place for exploration and communication and exchange of ideas. Design centers should be places where the next generation of architects and planners come together and help map a city's future.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Car Sharing and City Planning

Thanks to Ginny Graves of CUBE (the Box City folks) for this resource.
The Planning Commissioners Journal

What would you do if someone offered you, in exchange for your car, access to a pay-by-the-hour car anytime you wanted it? What could you do with all that money you're spending on car loan payments, insurance, gas, maintenance, and parking? What could your community do with the land for parking spaces and roadway lanes required to support your need to drive your own car everywhere? It's worth considering.

What Is Car Sharing?

Car sharing is a service that provides members with access to a fleet of vehicles on an hourly basis. Members reserve a car online or by phone, then walk or take transit to the parking space where the nearest car is located. In most programs, members are provided with an electronic key card that opens the car door. Typically, members are billed monthly for time and/or mileage.

The precursor of today's car sharing programs can apparently be traced back to a car sharing arrangement developed by a Zurich, Switzerland, housing cooperative in the late 1940s. But the kind of car sharing programs I'll be discussing have their roots in European programs of the late 1980s and early 90s, such as Mobility Switzerland, one of the world's largest car sharing operation -- with a fleet of 1,950 cars in some 1,050 locations, and more than 73,000 members.

American car sharing began in Portland, Oregon, in 1998. Over the past ten years, car sharing has taken off, with estimates of some 250,000 car share users today in the U.S. and Canada.

Car sharing is usually run by either for-profit operators, such as Zipcar; or by non-profit groups such as San Francisco's City Car Share, Philly CarShare, or Chicago's I-GO.

Click on the heading above to see the Planning Commissioners Journal.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Helvetica: The Movie

Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It looks at the proliferation of one typeface as part of a larger conversation about the way type affects our lives. The film is an exploration of urban spaces in major cities and the type that inhabits them, and a fluid discussion with renowned designers about their work, the creative process, and the choices and aesthetics behind their use of type. Helvetica encompasses the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day. The font Helvetica celebrated its 50th birthday in 2007.

Interviewees in Helvetica include some of the most illustrious and innovative names in the design world, including Erik Spiekermann, Matthew Carter, Massimo Vignelli, Wim Crouwel, Hermann Zapf, Neville Brody, Stefan Sagmeister, Michael Bierut, David Carson, Paula Scher, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones, Experimental Jetset, Michael C. Place, Norm, Alfred Hoffmann, Mike Parker, Bruno Steinert, Otmar Hoefer, Leslie Savan, Rick Poynor, Lars Müller, and many more.

Click on the heading above to learn more about the movie.

Design for Social Change

With a new focus area on innovation, The Rockefeller Foundation teamed up with the design firm, IDEO, to explore new avenues for social change. One promising area is design and how the design industry can play a larger role in the social sector. They created a How-to Guide and an accompanying Workbook written for design firms that are interested in joining in the conversation.

DESIGN PRINCIPLES -These are the guiding principles for working with social sector clients.

1. PROVIDE VALUE - Demonstrate the Value - Cause Transformational Change - Mind the Gap

2. BE FOCUSED - Stay on Target - Conserve Energy

3. SET UP FOR SUCCESS - Train Appropriately - Optimize for Impact - Know the Players - Demand Skin in the Game

Click on the heading above to read the IDEO + Rockefeller Workbook and IDEO + Rockefeller Guide

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Design Science

In Don Norman's recent book, The Design of Future Things, he mentions the concept "design science" and points out that design is an interdisciplinary field, which often combines, art, social science, engineering, and business. Engineering has more formal methods that aesthetic approaches tend to resist. Norman calls for a “science of design” because he feels that more rigor is needed in the intelligent systems he describes in his book.

The tradition in universities had been that art majors would take a foreign language instead of extra math courses and get a B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) rather than a B.S. (Bachelor of Sciences). For anyone interested in design, it is important to also take additional science and math courses in order to design with the technical knowledge required in fields like architecture, product design and game design.

Schools are still trying to figure out the right balance of technical knowledge and aesthetic sensibilities necessary to produce the designers of our future. My guess is that traditional art programs need to err on the side of including more science, math and technology in their programs than we have in the past.

Click on the heading above to see more of what Don Norman says.

Women Design Cars and Trucks

Female car designers are still few and far between. Chelsia Lau has been a chief designer at Ford since the '90s, and Nissan's Dianne Allen was lead designer on their Titan pickup. But that may be slowly changing. At the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in New York, Lincoln introduces Joann Jung, Amy Kim and Jennifer Hewlett (right), three rising design stars who worked on the MKT Concept (above).

The Lincoln MKT, Ford’s self-proclaimed “Lear jet” of the highway, was designed by the three-woman team of Jennifer Hewlett, Amy Kim and Joann Jung. They are all under the age of 32. The three said they wanted something sexy and bold and wanted attention paid to the little things that add a touch of style, such as detailing on the door handles.

“When you go out it’s all about the details,” says Kim, 26, and Jung, 31. “It’s all about the shoes and the ear rings and as women we pay much more attention to those details.”

One can't help but think that cars might work better for everyone if there were more women involved in designing them.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

World's Fastest Computer

Another breakthrough in computing technology was announced with the unveiling of the Roadrunner. While it has very pragmatic applications in research, the future implications for massive computing power for virtual simulations is of potential interest to designers.

Scientists unveiled the world's fastest supercomputer on Monday, June 9, 2008, a $100 million machine that for the first time has performed 1,000 trillion calculations per second in a sustained exercise. The Roadrunner is twice as fast as IBM's Blue Gene system at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which itself is three times faster than any of the world's other supercomputers, according to IBM.

The technology breakthrough was accomplished by engineers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory and IBM Corp. on a computer to be used primarily on nuclear weapons work, including simulating nuclear explosions. The IBM and Los Alamos engineers worked six years on the computer technology.

In addition to its main employment in simulating nuclear explosions, officials said the computer could have a wide range of applications in civilian engineering, medicine and science, from developing biofuels and designing more fuel-efficient cars to finding drug therapies and providing services to the financial industry.

To put the computer's speed in perspective, it has roughly the computing power of 100,000 of today's most powerful laptops stacked 1.5 miles high, according to IBM. Or, if each of the world's 6 billion people worked on hand-held computers for 24 hours a day, it would take them 46 years to do what the Roadrunner computer can do in a single day.

Some elements of the Roadrunner can be traced back to popular video games, said David Turek, vice president of IBM's supercomputing programs. In some ways, he said, it's "a very souped-up Sony PlayStation 3."

"We took the basic chip design (of a PlayStation) and advanced its capability," said Turek. But the Roadrunner supercomputer, named after the New Mexico state bird, is nothing like a video game.

The interconnecting system occupies 6,000 square feet with 57 miles of fiber optics and weighs 500,000 pounds. Although made from commercial parts, the computer consists of 6,948 dual-core computer chips and 12,960 cell engines, and it has 80 terabytes of memory housed in 288 connected refrigerator-sized racks.

Technology Teachers Provide Art Lessons

ISTE, the International Society for Technology Education, has produced a book of art lessons for technology and art education.

NETS•S Curriculum Series: Visual Arts Units for All Levels presents 20 classroom projects that use technology in support of visual art in the curriculum.

According to the promotional material:

"It offers 20 classroom projects that use technology in support of visual art in the curriculum. They run the gamut of artmaking approaches including drawing, painting, design, drafting, and printmaking,
as well as sculpture and three-dimensional design.

Author Mark Gura has designed these projects to be flexible and easily modified to fit a wide variety of grade levels and individual classroom needs. Most involve ancillary reading, learning, and research and engage the student in reflection, analysis, and criticism.

NETS·S: Visual Arts Units for All Levels/ is more than a compilation of art projects; it is an entirely new method for engaging pupils across multiple disciplines, topic spaces, and interests.

A well-chosen image has always been an important tool for instruction. While rooted in the most basic and ancient of human needs and behaviors, art is as relevant today in the information age as it was in the print and pre-print eras, perhaps even more so. Some of the skills covered in these units are working with graphics files (such as selecting, saving as, converting, importing), creating slide shows, hyper linking multimedia, digital animation, and virtual reality, among others. The projects described in this book are designed to be flexible and can be modified to fit a wide variety of grade levels and individual classroom needs."

Design a Theme Park

Designing a whole theme park seems like it would be a huge project. John Ramirez, animator and story artist, designs theme parks on the side.
(click on the heading above to see more of his work.)

Have your students design a theme park. They can work individually, in groups, or as a whole class, designing different parts of a theme park, doing drawings to show what it would look like, making a model of it to show others how it would work, and even turning a classroom or hallway into a theme park.

When John was a high school student he and his classmates (with the help of their teacher, Dave Master) used to turn several art rooms in their school (Rowland High School) into colorful environments like a theme park. They worked with inexpensive materials like cardboard but the exhibits looked very much like an actual theme park. They figured out how to do special lighting and even how to make some parts move. Thousands of people would come on Open House nights to see the students' work. The exhibits would be done in the spring and stay up all the next year until new exhibits were designed the next spring. This is where he developed his skills in designing real theme parks.

Cesar Pelli Designs for Las Vegas

Architect Cesar Pelli is not known for being a flashy designer but he is doing a project in Las Vegas that may be headline making.

A resort casino, scheduled to open in late 2009, will be named ARIA and include a combination of striking architecture, sustainable design, high-end service and spectacular amenities. The two curvilinear glass towers, with the use of natural elements including foliage, wood and stone, ARIA’s 4,004 guest rooms, including 568 suites, is designed to deliver corner-window views from every guest room.

Throughout the grounds, visitors will have access to a $40 million public Fine Art Program encompassing a multitude of styles and media – ranging from sculptures and paintings to large-scale installations – will be one of the world’s largest and most ambitious corporate art programs. Famed artist Maya Lin is creating an approximately 133-foot silver cast of the Colorado River, which will be her first work of art displayed in Las Vegas. Jenny Holzer will create an LED signs spanning more than 250 feet. Additional artists represented in the Fine Art Program will include Nancy Rubins, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Frank Stella, Henry Moore and Richard Long, among others.

Gensler, the world’s largest architectural firm, was chosen to lead the design process for the whole complex called City Center, managing seven “star-chitects,” 90 interior designers and hundreds of consultants.

Chicago-based architect Helmut Jahn was chosen to design the Veer Towers,

RV Architecture, LLC, led by principal Rafael Viñoly, was chosen to design Vdara Condo Hotel that would complement the nearby resort casino properties.

New York’s Studio Daniel Libeskind2 is the exterior architect of The Crystals, a faceted-roof retail and entertainment district at the heart of CityCenter. Libeskind became a household name in 2003 when he won the World Trade Center competition and was named master plan architect for the site. Other celebrated works include the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Denver Art Museum’s Hamilton Building.

For The Crystals interior architecture, New York’s Rockwell Group will introduce a series of striking environments designed to invite and engage, intrigue and relax. Noted for designs of cultural, hospitality and retail projects, Rockwell’s celebrated work includes the Elinor Bunin Film Center at Lincoln Center, the Kodak Theatre, sets for Broadway’s Hairspray and the W New York.

The Singularity is Near

The Singularity is Near, A True Story about the Future, based on Ray Kurzweil’s New York Times best selling book, will be a full-length motion picture slated for theatrical release in Spring 2008

As the movie's web site says, "At the Onset of the 21st Century, it will be an era in which the very nature of what it means to be human will be both enriched and challenged as our species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity."
(Click on the heading above to read the rest.)

If you haven't yet read the book, the movie will be a good chance to get caught up on some of the most mind-bending events that are about to take place (in the next 25 years.) The way the term "Singularity" is being used here is the idea of a self-improving smarter-than-human-intelligence, particularly an Artificial General Intelligence, and the attendant perils and opportunities.

One way to get a crash course in the latest intellectual activity by some of the top minds in the world would be to simply Google each of the names on the list of people featured in the movie and read about what they are doing. These people are among those who are shaping the way we will live and think in the future. Grasping some of their ideas will transport you quickly from a 20th century mind to place you firmly in the 21st century.

Monday, June 9, 2008

A Basic Starter Curriculum for Design Education

If you would like to develop a curriculum to teach design education and aren't sure where to start, here is a basic framework upon which you can build all future lessons, This is a simple 4 X 4 set of units and lessons.

Start with one unit in each of four areas:

1. Design a piece of text or information. You and your students can chose whether this is a poster, a page, an ad, a two-page spread, a three-fold flyer, a small publication, a website, or other piece of information that requires selecting and laying out type, graphics, and images. A popular version of this assignment is to design a CD cover.

2. Design a useful object. You and your students can chose to design anything from a chair, shoes, appliance, tool, utensil, etc. Students might not all be designing the same thing. Be sure to design the object itself rather than to decorate an existing object.

3. Design a space or a place. This can be a building, a park, an interior, a neighborhood, a city, a stage set, etc. There is often a real space or place that is being designed (or should be re-designed) in the community. If at all possible, use a real place students can visit.

4. Design an interactive experience. This could include a toy, game, video game, theme park, festival or anything where the user is part of the design.

With these four lessons you have the basic structure of the world of design. Now take each of these lessons and break them into four major activities.

A. Develop the idea or intent for the project. Spend a whole class period on coming up with ideas for each unit. Practice brainstorming, concept development, do a charrette, do a deep dive. Don't give the project to the students - teach them to find and identify design problems. Teach them empathy.

B. Visualize some solutions. This requires some research and a lot of sketching. This has to be done visually so that the ideas get from inside their heads to paper where others can see them. Be sure to have the students come up with many ideas. Pin them up so everyone can see them. For designers, this is the fun part - they never want to stop with just one good idea. Designers love to look for even better solutions.

C. Create a prototype. From all the ideas, decide which has the best possibility to fulfill the criteria, specifications, or need of the problem and create a model or prototype. Prototyping is an essential component of the design process. This will usually take several class periods.

D. Make a Presentation. It is important for students to get practice in presenting and defending their ideas in front of others. This might be a presentation or it might be what is called a "crit", a formal critique by clients (teachers) and peers. A good test of a design is to see how users actually interact with it. Does it really work in real life?

So this is a simple framework of four units each with four lessons - a starter set of sixteen lessons for any level of design education that introduces students to a spectrum of topics, methods and processes in the design world.

Click on the heading above to hear David Kelley from IDEO talk about designing.

Colonies in Space, the Moon, and Mars

Here is the introduction to a design lesson from the website To see the whole lesson click on the heading above.

Your team has been asked to make a proposal to put a colony of 600 humans somewhere in our solar system as a test of whether it might be possible to someday do large scale colonization.

The colony is to be self sufficient - you will only be allowed to bring enough materials to start your colony. This means that, once your colony is built and working, it must provide everything the colonists need. Other than what you brought, whatever is in the station must be made new, fixed easily, grown or recycled. It is a long way to Earth. Replacement parts, food, etc. cannot be shipped due to the high costs, $100,000 - $1,000,000 per pound, depending on your location. So - once your colony is operational, you are on your own.

You will have limited ability to travel close to your location in space (2,000,000 miles or 3,225,800 Km round trip) using shuttles, but remember you cannot supply your colony from earth or any place more than 1,000,000 miles or 1,612,900 Km away. The colony may be put on any other planet or moon, or may be put in orbit around the sun or a planet or moon in our solar system.

This is not a science fiction project because people in our schools right now will actually be doing this work during their lifetimes. Several countries are scheduled to have their own colonies on the moon before 2025.

Business Knows the Value of Design

Design is good business. Companies around the world are realizing that their survival today depends on better design. In New Zealand a group called Better by Design has been formed to help New Zealand become more competitive in the world economy through better design. Not only individual businesses, but design districts, cities, regions and whole countries are realizing that becoming "design destinations" is one of the best ways to secure sustainable economic prosperity and improve the quality of life for everyone.

Schools need to be as smart as the businesses and cities that surround them. Like businesses, schools need to be competitive not just on cost and quality but on design. Adding design education makes schools more relevant to students, parents and communities.

Click on the heading above to learn more about Better by Design.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Do a Lesson on Concept Design

Concept designers are the people who dream up not only all the objects but the look, the mood and texture of the worlds we see in movies like Iron Man and Indiana Jones. In industrial design (the world of planes, trains and automobiles) or entertainment design (film, television and video games), concept designers literally draw the images that make up the visual worlds we see.

Concept designer Scott Robertson launched Design Studio Press to showcase pen-and-ink renderings, private sketch books, intricate character design, cartoons and paintings -- in both computer and traditional forms -- done by concept designers. He has published Concept Design 1 and 2 as well as many other books showing examples of professional concept designers' work. (Click on the heading above to go to Design Studio Press' web site.)

In film, concept designers may be called in before there's even a script to visually articulating the desired characters, environments, vehicles and props. Have your students play the role of concept designers by giving them a basic idea for a scene and have them draw the way they think it should look.

I had an 11 year old tell me that when he saw the trailer for the upcoming Narnia movie it wasn't how he had envisioned it in his own mind. He then proceeded to describe an equally brilliant concept for the characters and settings that had come to him when he read the book. Even young people can (and do) create concept designs from ideas and stories they read.

Cooper-Hewitt's Design Education program in Edutopia

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's program for teachers called "City of Neighborhoods" is focusing on the redevelopment of New Orleans after the destruction brought by Katrina and was recently covered in an article in the June 2008 magazine "Edutopia" put out by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Programs like this, and the Cooper-Hewitt's recent exhibit "Design for the Other 90%", are excellent examples of the importance of design in shaping the future of our world. This perspective shows that design is not just "decorative arts" or popular fashion but is part of shaping the quality of lives and potential future of the planet.

Amazon's Kindle redesigns reading

Guttenberg's press was not just another piece of technology. It transformed the development of the history of Europe.
There have not been huge changes in the technology since then but Amazon's new electronic book called Kindle is one version of a long expected addition of digital technology to the act of reading books, magazines and newspapers.

If print technology has any staying power at all in the face of digital technologies like the Internet, movies, television, cell phones, digital video, YouTube, etc. then it is probably going to be in the form of something like Kindle.

Click on the heading above to see a video about the features of Kindle.