Friday, August 29, 2008

Big and Enduring Ideas

When I launched this online magazine in March, 2008 I wrote about my ideas on learning, education, complexity, and the future. (go back to March in the Table of Contents on the left).

Lately I've been mainly reporting things I think are interesting about design education in K-12 schools but the motivation for teaching design in schools still goes back to those big ideas upon which all of this is based. Designers are the ones who will make the future meet its potential and the designers of the future are in our schools today.

There have been four major resources I've relied upon over the couple of decades I've been thinking about this - the TED conference, Wired magazine, books published by John Brockman, and Ray Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near".

I went to the TED conference when Richard Saul Wurman (shown fourth) was still running it. The registration fee went from $3000 to $6000 so I love that the presentations are available online for free now at Wurman started a tradition of collecting the greatest minds in the world and letting them talk for only about 15 minutes so that questions and conversations could take place between sessions.

I began reading Wired magazine starting back when Kevin Kelly (far left) was the editor. I noticed that Wired in many ways was a print version of the TED conference. In the magazine and in books he wrote, Kelly presented the people, ideas and events that are shaping the world.

And I also read lots of books published under the management of John Brockman (second from left), the publishing agent who encouraged and helped the Digerati and the Third Culture geniuses write and publish their ideas about the universe, genetics, robotics, and complex systems in language that could be understood by general readers. Check out his site at

Ray Kurzweil (third from left) wrote an important book called "The Singularity is Near" that shows how much of the amazing stuff presented in all these venues will become a reality by the year 2040. Then he wrote another book called "The Fantastic Voyage" to help us all live long enough to see it happen. Elementary students today will be about 40 years old when the world will be transformed in the ways these men are predicting.

These four men and, in the case of Kelly and Wurman, their successors at the TED conference and Wired magazine are helping us all find our way in the world of the 21st century.

Click on the heading above to hear Kevin Kelly talk about why all of this is important.

It's the Design, Stupid!

Until now, people have thought about design as a matter of making something look pretty, or as the last stop in a the creation of a new car or appliance. Today, the potential of design is to create mind-blowing innovation around the world and people have a growing hunger for all things design.

A 2007 survey by Kelton Research for Autodesk (ADSK) found that when seven in 10 Americans recalled the last time they saw a product they just had to have, it was because of design. The survey found that among younger people (18 to 29 years old), the influence of design was even more pronounced. In Britain, a recent survey by the Design Council found that 16% of British businesses say design tops their list of key success factors. Among "rapidly growing" businesses, no fewer than 47% rank it first.

The growing demand for design is shaped by a profound shift in how elite society makes its living. Creativity in its various forms has become the No. 1 engine of economic growth. The creative class, in the words of University of Toronto professor Richard Florida, now comprises 38 million members, or more than 30% of the American workforce.

Usually when people hear the phrase "innovative design," the picture that comes to mind is some object like an iPhone, a Nintendo Wii or a Prius. Most people visualize some kind of technology product. Yet products are not the only possibilities for design. Design is rapidly moving from images and objects to include systems, organizations, and experiences. Design drives innovation, innovation powers brand, brand builds loyalty, and loyalty builds profits. If companies want long-term profits, they don't start with technology—they start with design.

Click on the heading above to see a complete story from BusinessWeek.

How Do You Re-Design an Icon?

David Butler became the design director for Coca-Cola almost five years ago. There are few companies with a richer design heritage than Coca-Cola. Butler had previously been director of brand strategy at the interactive marketing and consulting firm Sapient. He says Coke gave him "the Post-it Note mandate: We need to do more with design. Go figure it out." He wrote a 30-page manifesto laying out a design strategy for the company. He has learned the most effective way to implement design strategy at a company as large and complex as Coca-Cola: avoid the word "design" as much as possible.

"If I'm at a meeting with manufacturing people, I'll say: 'How can we make the can feel colder, longer?'," he says as an example. "Or, 'How can we make the cup easier to hold?'" In other words, he talks about the benefits of smart design in a language to which those he's talking to can relate. Based on several recent brand redesigns—including the new Coke identity work that won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions awards program in June—and innovations such as an aluminum bottle (left) and a new family of coolers, this approach seems to be working. Butler leads a team of 60 designers—a mix of graphic and industrial designers, some poached from companies such as Apple (AAPL), Nike (NKE), MTV (VIA), Target (TGT), and Electrolux—at four centers around the world. All are focused on what Butler describes as a "fix the basics" strategy.

Click on the heading above to see a complete article.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

MIT's Henry Jenkins Shoots Down Myths About Video Games

Henry Jenkins is a professor at MIT who has been studying video games for quite a while. He says that a lot of the prejudices people have against video games no longer have any basis in fact. For example, people want to blame video games for the rise in crime rates. To start with, crime rates are not rising - they're going down so if you want to mistakenly correlate violence and video games you would have to say they help decrease violence. (Of course, that's not necessarily true either.)

Here are 8 myths Jenkins shoots down:

1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.
According to federal crime statistics, the rate of juvenile violent crime in the United States is at a 30-year low. Researchers find that people serving time for violent crimes typically consume less media before committing their crimes than the average person in the general population. It's true that young offenders who have committed school shootings in America have also been game players. But young people in general are more likely to be gamers — 90 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls play. The overwhelming majority of kids who play do NOT commit antisocial acts. According to a 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's report, the strongest risk factors for school shootings centered on mental stability and the quality of home life, not media exposure.

2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.
Claims like this are based on the work of researchers who represent one relatively narrow school of research, "media effects." This research includes some 300 studies of media violence. But most of those studies are inconclusive and many have been criticized on methodological grounds. In these studies, media images are removed from any narrative context. Subjects are asked to engage with content that they would not normally consume and may not understand. Finally, the laboratory context is radically different from the environments where games would normally be played.

3. Children are the primary market for video games.
While most American kids do play video games, the center of the video game market has shifted older as the first generation of gamers continues to play into adulthood. Already 62 percent of the console market and 66 percent of the PC market is age 18 or older. The game industry caters to adult tastes. Meanwhile, a sizable number of parents ignore game ratings because they assume that games are for kids. One quarter of children ages 11 to 16 identify an M-Rated (Mature Content) game as among their favorites. Clearly, more should be done to restrict advertising and marketing that targets young consumers with mature content, and to educate parents about the media choices they are facing. But parents need to share some of the responsibility for making decisions about what is appropriate for their children.

4. Almost no girls play computer games.
Historically, the video game market has been predominantly male. However, the percentage of women playing games has steadily increased over the past decade. Women now slightly outnumber men playing Web-based games. Spurred by the belief that games were an important gateway into other kinds of digital literacy, efforts were made in the mid-90s to build games that appealed to girls. More recent games such as The Sims were huge crossover successes that attracted many women who had never played games before… In his book Killing Monsters, Gerard Jones argues that young girls often build upon these representations of strong women warriors as a means of building up their self confidence in confronting challenges in their everyday lives.

5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.
The military uses games as part of a specific curriculum, with clearly defined goals, in a context where students actively want to learn and have a need for the information being transmitted. There are consequences for not mastering those skills. That being said, a growing body of research does suggest that games can enhance learning. In his recent book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Gee describes game players as active problem solvers who do not see mistakes as errors, but as opportunities for improvement. Players search for newer, better solutions to problems and challenges, he says. And they are encouraged to constantly form and test hypotheses. This research points to a fundamentally different model of how and what players learn from games.

6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.
On April 19, 2002, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Sr. ruled that video games do not convey ideas and thus enjoy no constitutional protection. As evidence, Saint Louis County presented the judge with videotaped excerpts from four games, all within a narrow range of genres, and all the subject of previous controversy. Overturning a similar decision in Indianapolis, Federal Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner noted: "Violence has always been and remains a central interest of humankind and a recurrent, even obsessive theme of culture both high and low. It engages the interest of children from an early age, as anyone familiar with the classic fairy tales collected by Grimm, Andersen, and Perrault are aware." Posner adds, "To shield children right up to the age of 18 from exposure to violent descriptions and images would not only be quixotic, but deforming; it would leave them unequipped to cope with the world as we know it." Many early games were little more than shooting galleries where players were encouraged to blast everything that moved. Many current games are designed to be ethical testing grounds. They allow players to navigate an expansive and open-ended world, make their own choices and witness their consequences. The Sims designer Will Wright argues that games are perhaps the only medium that allows us to experience guilt over the actions of fictional characters. In a movie, one can always pull back and condemn the character or the artist when they cross certain social boundaries. But in playing a game, we choose what happens to the characters. In the right circumstances, we can be encouraged to examine our own values by seeing how we behave within virtual space.

7. Video game play is socially isolating.
Much video game play is social. Almost 60 percent of frequent gamers play with friends. Thirty-three percent play with siblings and 25 percent play with spouses or parents. Even games designed for single players are often played socially, with one person giving advice to another holding a joystick. A growing number of games are designed for multiple players — for either cooperative play in the same space or online play with distributed players... In this way there are really two games taking place simultaneously: one, the explicit conflict and combat on the screen; the other, the implicit cooperation and comradeship between the players. Two players may be fighting to death on screen and growing closer as friends off screen. Social expectations are reaffirmed through the social contract governing play, even as they are symbolically cast aside within the transgressive fantasies represented onscreen.

8. Video game play is desensitizing.
Game designer and play theorist Eric Zimmerman describes the ways we understand play as distinctive from reality as entering the "magic circle." The same action — say, sweeping a floor — may take on different meanings in play (as in playing house) than in reality (housework). Play allows kids to express feelings and impulses that have to be carefully held in check in their real-world interactions. Media reformers argue that playing violent video games can cause a lack of empathy for real-world victims. Yet, a child who responds to a video game the same way he or she responds to a real-world tragedy could be showing symptoms of being severely emotionally disturbed. Here's where the media effects research, which often uses punching rubber dolls as a marker of real-world aggression, becomes problematic. The kid who is punching a toy designed for this purpose is still within the "magic circle" of play and understands her actions on those terms. Such research shows us only that violent play leads to more violent play.

Click on the heading above to see the original article on the PBS Video Game Revolution site.

From Retro to Emerging Designs

1. Retro (far left) 2. Conventional 3. Contemporary 4. New 5. Emerging (far right)
These are five states we find ourselves at different times in our lives. Like these products we are either out-of-date, conventional, up-to-date, on the cutting-edge, or early-adopters.

One of the problems with education is that schools, teachers, and students are inescapably and perpetually out of phase with each other.

School systems (standards, curriculum, textbooks, tests) are generally in either a retro or a conventional state. We teach and test knowledge about the world as it existed about 10-20 years ago. One study found that up to 90% of what is in some textbooks is no longer true.

Teachers are usually in a conventional or contemporary state. We teach what is currently known and generally accepted (nothing too controversial) and add things that have occurred since the textbooks were published even though we know it won't be on the test. We're on average only about 5-10 years behind the times. We start using colloquial sayings right about when our students stop using them.

Students are living in a new or emerging state. They experience new things before teachers and are early adapters of emerging ideas. They live in the "new" era and take the "emerging" era in stride. As they adapt to the new, rather than noticing all the new ideas and skills they are learning, the only thing we seem to see is what they aren't learning of the old.

The phones above symbolize (from left to right) the (1) retro, (2) conventional, (3) contemporary, (4) new, and (5) emerging states. We never really know which way the future will go for sure but the phone on the far right is embedded in a flexible material and can be wrapped around your wrist like a bracelet. With the passage of time these will, of course, migrate to the left as the "contemporary" and the "new " are replaced with the emerging ideas.

Democracy and Design

After the controversy over Palm Beach County’s infamous “butterfly ballot” (left) in 2000, there was talk about improving ballot design so that voters wouldn't miscast their votes again. Two election cycles later, a study has found that ballots around the country are still far too confusing and that poor design and instructions have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters in the last several federal elections.

The problem of badly designed ballots — which affects all kinds of voting technology, from paper ballots to electronic machines — is likely to be important this fall because there will be many first-time voters, and many jurisdictions have introduced new voting technology.

The butterfly ballot in Palm Beach County, Fla., was one of the great debacles in election history. It was so confusing that it was hard to tell which hole to punch to cast a vote for a particular candidate. Many people intending to vote for Al Gore accidentally punched the hole for Patrick Buchanan or punched holes for both Mr. Gore and Mr. Buchanan, which disqualified their votes.

The Palm Beach Post’s postelection analysis found that the butterfly ballot ended up costing Mr. Gore far more votes than the 537 by which he lost Florida — and the presidency.

The controversy should have led to sweeping reforms, but it didn’t. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law lists 13 ballot problems that show up around the country in election after election. One is creating a layout in which it is unclear what hole voters need to punch — or where they need to place a mark — to cast a vote for a particular candidate. Another is placing more than one contest on the same screen of a computer voting machine, which often leads voters not to vote in one of the races. Making matters worse, the instructions that accompany ballots are often confusing.

Click on the ballot above to see a larger version.
Click on the heading above to read an article about the ballot design problem.

Rotoscoping and Animation

There are many simple ways to do animation with tools readily available today. You don't need a movie camera or a video camera because a regular digital camera that takes still pictures and a computer works great.

There is a great site that tells you everything you need to know to do a form of animation called "rotoscoping". Some examples of rotoscoped movies you can get on DVD include "Waking Life" (left) by Richard Linklater (2001) and A Scanner Darkly* (right) by Richard Linklater (2006).

Rotoball is an international collaborative animation project created by high school art teacher David Gran in Shanghai, China. Students are invited to create a 15 second entry for this project. A 15 second animation can take over 2 months to create in school settings. It can involve drawing 75-100 frames of animation. The segments get pieced together with other student work from around the globe to make one movie. Each entry has the "rotoball" entering from the left, transforming, and exiting to the right.

Click on the heading above to go to the excellent Rotoball site and go to the "How To" section to learn all about it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Don Norman on Sociable Design

If you haven't finished reading Don Norman's current book, "The Design of Future Things," you better hurry up because he has another one on the way. His forthcoming book will be about "Sociable Design". Here's what he has to say:

"Whether designing the rooftop of a building or the rear end of a home or business appliance, sociable design considers how the design will impact everyone: not just the one, intended person standing in front, but also all the rest of society that interacts. One person uses a computer: the rest of us are at the other side of the desk or counter, peering at the ugly rear end, with wires spilling over like entrails. The residents of a building may never see its roof, but those who live in adjoining buildings may spend their entire workday peering at ugly asphalt, shafts and ventilating equipment.

Support for groups is the hallmark of sociable technology. Groups are almost always involved in activities, even when the other people are not visible. All design has a social component: support for this social component, support for groups must always be a consideration.

Sociable design is not just saying “please” and “thank you.” It is not just providing technical support. It is also providing convivial working spaces, plus the time to make use of them.

Sociable technology must support the four themes of communication, presentation, support for groups, and troubleshooting. How these are handled determines whether or not we will find interaction to be sociable. People learn social skills. Machines have to have them designed into them. Sometimes even worse than machines, however, are services, where even though we are often interacting with people, the service activities are dictated by formal rule books of procedures and processes, and the people we interact with can be as frustrated and confused as we are. This too is a design issue.

Design of both machines and services should be thought of as a social activity, one where there is much concern paid to the social nature of the interaction. All products have a social component. This is especially true of communication products, whether websites, personal digests (blog), audio and video postings mean to be shared, or mail digests, mailing lists, and text messaging on cellphones. Social networks are by definition social. But where the social impact is obvious, designers are forewarned. The interesting cases happen where the social side is not so obvious."

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Seoul Design Olympiad

As another indication of the growing importance of design in the world, Seoul, Korea is trying to market itself through the power of design. The city hopes to contribute to its economic prosperity and standing in the world by identifying itself as a world center for design. They are sponsoring the Seoul Design Olympiad which is a series of world-wide events including a conference, a competition, a festival and an exhibition.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government announced the 1st Seoul Design Competition with the theme, "Design is Air" which addresses ubiquitous and sustainable city life of the future.

Seoul is changing and developing quite rapidly and the citizens of Seoul are realizing the advantages of this change through constructing new subway lines, repairing road systems, implementing a new bus line system, designing new contemporary buildings, and creating more green parks around the city.

All this is being done under the motto of a "Clean and Attractive Global City."

Seoul, the Korean capital, is making a tremendous effort to change its landscape from one that's plain and practical to one that is environmentally friendly and is a convenient place to live.

The international design competition is open to the entire design community including architects, industrial designers, graphic designers, engineers, landscape architects, urban designers, lighting designers, strategists and students.

Click on the heading above to see their website and to see the logo in animated form.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Computer Animation Getting Better

As computer animation gets better our standards keep rising. We are pretty critical of how stilted and unrealistic today's animations of real people still are even though they have made incredible progress. The fully animated films with life-like characters released in recent years are absolutely stunning but still haven't captured that illusive quality that consistently makes the characters seem real. Like a person with a slight accent, we can still see instances where characters give away that they aren't real. The fully-animated "Beowulf" (right) is amazing but still not fully convincing. Animation companies often play it safe by not trying to get too realistic - like in "Wall-E."

Industry insiders predict that by 2020 (I hope to be around to see it) they will have perfected animation to the point that it will be indistinguishable from live actors. If you are skeptical take a look at the latest version and think what animators can accomplish in another 10 years.

Click on the heading above to see Emily in action. I'd say they're getting pretty close.

For the Love of Paper

Graphic Designers love paper! They cherish the look, feel, texture, thickness, surface and character of paper. They love the subtle ways type and images are influenced by the type of paper on which they are printed.

In art classes, when we want to teach something about paper we like to have students make hand-made paper and sometimes create hand-made books. We love things that are hand-made.

Designers couldn't possibly hand-make all the paper they use for the multi-million dollar printing industry for which they design, so making paper is not an activity they would spend much time on. There is so much more to learn about paper and so many varieties of paper, inks, and images to print that making hand-made paper only scratches the surface.

Here are some topics relating to paper of interest to designers:
Metallics, Quadtones, Stochastic Printing, Protective Covering, Enhancing Color, Embossing, Retouching, Digital Variables, Understanding Ink, Prepress, Printing.

Check with your local graphic designer to find out where and when the nearest "paper show" will be taking place.

Click on the heading above to see one of many websites devoted to paper.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I.D. Magazine Announces Student Design Winners

The issue of I.D. magazine hitting the stands in September 2008 includes the winners of the Student Design Review.

I.D.’s only mandate for student design review submissions is that projects must be the result of assigned academic work, but this year’s jurors added a few caveats of their own. Entries were judged for “thoroughness, content, and execution”, and they should “answer a social need”. They rewarded projects that provided small delights, like a strange yet captivating video that offers a sadistic take on a traditional Korean children’s song, and emotionally evocative objects, like an automated calendar that slowly feeds into a paper shredder, leaving each day in tatters on the ground. “In an alienated world, this kind of mark-making seems more and more necessary,” juror Allan Chochinov said. “Leaving traces, leaving evidence… These are literally signs of our times.”

The moderator for the judging was Sarah Verdone, a freelance writer based in New York and a frequent contributor to I.D. Her work has appeared in T: The New York Times Style Magazine and Design Week. She has written about design and pop culture for Paper magazine for more than 15 years.

Jurors included Kip Kotzen, the sales and marketing director of Areaware, a New York–based design company. He began his career as a literary agent before following his passion for design to work first with the Eames Office and then managing the New York retail store for Vitra.

Allan Chochinov is a partner at Core77, a New York–based network serving a global community of designers. Chochinov is editor-in-chief of,, and, and he writes and lectures on the impact of design on contemporary culture. He teaches in the graduate design departments at Pratt Institute and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

Marina Zurkow creates psychological narratives—in the form of multi-
channel videos, multi-screen computer pieces, cartoons, and interactive mobile works—about humans and their relationship to animals, plants, and the weather. She has exhibited at The Sundance Film Festival, Walker Art Center, and Eyebeam, among others. She teaches at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

Click on the heading above to see the winners.

Designing Sensual Interfaces

Chris Woebken is a student at the Royal College of Art in London who creates innovative design and media concepts.

In one of his inventive video works, a man sits in front of a computer screen. On the desk, rather than a typical QWERTY keyboard, is a pile of linen seeds—some loose, some formed into blocks. His hands quickly sort the tiny grains and then feed a piece of paper into one of the blocks, the particles sucking it in like an ATM card. This scene, from Woebken’s short film “Nanofutures: New Sensual Interfaces,” explores a “what if?” scenario for possibilities in nanotechnology and “organic electronics.” (The seeds simulate something called “smart dust”—basically, tiny sensors that can communicate with each other wirelessly.) With New Sensual Interfaces, Woebken proposes technology at a micro level, demonstrating that in the future, nanoparticles will behave like cells, assembling and multiplying to create products built from the same basic units of information.

This will seem like simply fantasizing an imaginary science fiction scenario unless you do some reading about the incredible potential of nanotechnology. Some incredible ideas are more possibly real than we imagine. Watch how the pile of linen seeds is reconfigured to make a call, print a document, and finally send items to the trash and save some work on removable storage.

Click on the heading above to see the video.
Check out Chris' work at

Four Ways of Looking at a Hat

Reader's Digest, of all places, has an article called "Four Ways of Looking at a Hat" which is a good way to look at the difference between art, visual culture, design, and visual communication. Hats can be rare, unique and idiosyncratic - like a work of art. They can be iconic pieces of visual culture like the Stetson. Hats can be functional pieces of design like a high-tech helmet with a Helmet Mounted Display System (right). And they can be used as visual communication like the religious symbolism of the Muslim hijab.

Certain hats communicate jobs, roles or responsibilities like a fireman's helmet or a policemnan's distinctive hat. Other hats communicate membership in a cultural group like a baseball cap worn backward or sideways. Other hats are works of designers and still others are works of art.

Just about anything can reflect different ways of looking - as art, visual culture, design, or visual communication. Have students select any image (a drawing?), object (a shoe?), place (a building?), or experience (a gathering?) and see if they can find visual examples showing in some forms it is a work of art, a piece of visual culture, an example of design, or a basic form of communication. There will be some overlap but, with some effort, there are usually examples that can be found that strongly represent each of these roles. Art and Design Teachers should look at all four ways of thinking about images, objects, places and experiences as part of a basic visual education. Art is not the only role of visual education and, often, not the most relevant.

Click on the heading above to see the Reader's Digest article.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Computer is Not a Typewriter

Designers know this but many new to graphic design still treat a computer as if it were a typewriter. Graphic designer Robin Williams has written a couple of books to help us break old habits held over from the days of typewriters.

In the days of typewriters the possibilities for changing text were limited. To make letters look bold-faced people sometimes went back and typed over the text again. They couldn't change the size of type, use bold-face or italics so ALL CAPS, and underlining were standard conventions.

Too many people still format text documents as if they are working on typewriters. They use double spaces between sentences, they indent paragraphs with tabs or, even worse, spaces. They use too much or not enough space between lines, or they use double dashes instead of em dashes.

Robin Williams, a best-selling author of computer books who focuses mostly on design and typography, looks at the kinds of mistakes that everyone makes: the wrong kind of quotes and apostrophes (using smart and dumb quotes in the wrong places), spacing (within and between sentences as well as between lines), tabs and indents, widows and orphans, hyphenation and line breaks and much more. Each of the chapters in her books (above) reads like the Strunk & White Manual of Style, telling the way things should be.

Unlike grammar and usage rules, which can be questioned and disputed, typographical rules are pretty much hard and fast. They all have one goal: to increase the readability of texts. WRITING IN CAPITALS, FOR EXAMPLE, MAKES TEXTS MORE DIFFICULT TO READ. Using fixed-width fonts do the same; today's computers are designed to work with proportional fonts, and these, too, increase readability, allowing words to be displayed in lines with better spacing. The type of fonts used—serif or sans serif—also affects readability and the way readers navigate through texts.

Here is a quick review:
AVOID USING ALL CAPS. IT IS TOO HARD TO READ. Use a larger type-size and or bold-face instead of CAPS.
Don't underline text. Use italics instead.
Don't use two spaces at the end of sentences. With proportional type and automatic kerning this is no longer necessary or acceptable.
Don't go overboard and use too many typefaces in one document. Stick to two typefaces (one for text and one for headings) that go well together.
Use 3-4 levels of type size for Headings, Sub-heading, body copy, and quotes.
Avoid typefaces that look like brush-lettering or hand writing unless there is a specific need for it.
Use well-chosen and appropriate photographs to clarify content.
Use colored fonts for headings if appropriate.

Contemporary Character Design

The organizers of a German conference called "Pictoplasma", now coming to New York City, say our visual culture is being taken hostage by a new wave of characters, abstract and reduced to minimal distinguishing graphic features. In the process of an explosive movement, these characters invade digital media, animation, advertising, art, fashion and street art. They playfully quote and remix such diverse phenomena as pop culture, tribal and folklore, brand logos and comics without restricting themselves to any single one of these genres. In such a way, characters speak to observers at an emotional level as well as crossing cultural boundaries.

Starting in 1999 with the world's first extensive inventory, collection and archive of contemporary character design, the Berlin based Pictoplasma project is defining the shape and velocity of this trend. Besides giving the characters a timeless and worthy manifestation through their acclaimed publications, Pictoplasma has been bringing together a growing international community of designers, artists, critics, producers and fans at their annual conferences in Berlin.

Pictoplasma is in New York City in September. Click on the heading above for details.

Packaging, Logos and Advertising

Coca-Cola is a successful company in part because of careful control of their bottle design, logo design, and advertising design.

Coke is credited with one of the most distinctive and recognizable bottle designs (center) in history. Some of the original design criteria included that it should be identifiable by feel in the dark and, if broken, should be recognizable by any piece of the bottle.

The Coca-Cola logotype (right) is basically a stylization of a common pen script of the time called Spencerian script. It has become one of the most identifiable logotypes in the world. (Logo is the term typically used for an image representing a company and logotype is the term for the design of their name.)

While not literally original to Coca-Cola, they helped establish the modern day image of Santa Claus (left) dressed in red and white (Coke's colors) in their advertising campaign with iconic images of Santa Claus painted by the illustrator Haddon Sundblom.

Click on the heading above to learn about other famous logos.

Where Do Typefaces Come From?

You probably have heard of a little publication called Rolling Stone but I'll bet you never heard of Jim Parkinson who designed that famous Rolling Stone logo (left). is a great site providing resources for type designers and teachers who would like to include typography in their art and design curriculum. They also have monthly online newsletter interviews with some top designers (right) that show how they work and provide examples of their type designs.

Myfonts also provides a list of over 2000 type designers with examples of their work. Print out some enlarged examples so that students learn that typefaces have names and are designed by real people. Have students select their favorite logo or typeface and go online to find out who created it and the story behind it.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Playgrounds and Experience Design

Both David Rockwell and Frank Gehry are designing playgrounds for New York City. Playground design moves the typical design of an environment to more of a design of an experience.

Frank Gehry (far right) is one of the world's most influential architects famous for his metal-clad buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain and the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He will be designing a playground for Battery Park in New York City.

David Rockwell (near right), the founder and CEO of Rockwell Group, a Manhattan-based architectural firm, is best known for his work designing theaters, such as the Kodak in Los Angeles (home to the Oscars); high-end restaurants, such as the various Nobus around the world; and Broadway stage sets, including those for "Hairspray," "Legally Blonde" and the coming "Catch Me if You Can." Now the designer of grown-up amusements is focusing on child's play and children's playgrounds.

In September, 2008, Rockwell and his firm will break ground on the Imagination Playground at South Street Seaport's Burling Slip (far left). Rather than slides and jungle gyms it will consist of an open multilevel space with large sand and water features, dams, cables, pulleys and an array of "loose parts" -- toys and tools that kids can use to alter the environment. And on July 9 the architect and KaBOOM! -- a not-for-profit playground builder -- unveiled, in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, his first playground-in-a-box (near left) - a collection of large toys and playthings crafted from molded foam and plastic. These portable sets of building toys are designed to encourage more creative and collaborative play than traditional post-and-platform sets. In this case he is moving object design to more of an experience design.

The Themes of the two parks are:
David Rockwell, Burling Slip: "The feel of a working slip!" Fall 2008.
Frank Gehry, Battery Park: "Where land and sea, history and modernity combine in a refuge!" Early 2009.

Animation made easy?

Edward Tufte said "Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." Computer software places powers that had previously been held only by well-trained professionals in the hands of amateurs. Templates have already allowed non-designers to create their own PowerPoints and Blogs. Now the power of animation has been reduced to selecting from a cast of pre-designed characters, backgrounds, sounds, and music made avaliable free to everyone by GoAnimate.

Animators will hate this because it is pre-designed and hokey. If you are someone who wants to do animation, however, and no one teaches it in school or anywhere else you know of, you will love being able to create real animation stories by piecing together characters and backgrounds to make your own stories. I think the only ones who can rightfully complain about these canned programs are those who provide students another way to learn animation.

Interestingly, this is pretty much the way Saturday morning cartoons are made today. For a program like Blues Clues, for example, they have a library of all the buidings, rooms, furniture, characters, etc. they have ever used and they piece these together to make the weekly show. This saves them from having to redraw the living room every week. Most of the work, as always, goes into writing a good story.

GoAnimate, or something like it, might be a way to get elementary students started in animation if you don't know how to do it yourself. Then they could move on to serious animation lessons like those provided by Acme Animation founded by Dave Master.

Click on the heading above to see an annoying preview of GoAnimate.

Santiago Calatrava - Architect for the 21st Century

I can't help but look at Santiago Calatrava's work and think that this is what the 21st century will look like. Computer modelling and new construction techniques are being used to full advantage by Calatrava in creating designs that reflect our time.

Frank Gehry knocked our socks off as the 20th century was coming to an end and Frank Lloyd Wright had done the same at the beginning of that century. For the beginning of the 21st century it seems that Calatrava is designing the most significant new structural forms in the world.

Look at these pictures of Calatrava's designs for a bridge in Jerusalem (left and right). They are marvels of design and engineering. They are structures that are at home in and evoke the sky and the sea as much as the land.

Like Gehry's work, Calatrava's designs are so startlingly unique that they can't be copied directly because anything done in that style will always be seen as a Calatrava rip-off. The spirit of lightness, whiteness, elegance, curvilinear lines and bird-like forms will surely inspire a new generation of architects however.

Students should be exposed to photos, drawings, models, replicas or anything you can find for them to study and marvel at the works of great contemporary designers like Wright, Gehry, and Calatrava. The next generation needs to see these groundbreaking designs as inspiration and a challenge to try to do something of that grace and beauty.

Click on the heading above to see a video of Calatrava talking about his designs.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Designing Experiences

When architect and stage designer David Rockwell (on right in picture to the left) was asked to design the interior of the new JetBlue terminal at JFK International Airport, he brought in a rather unlikely partner: Broadway choreographer Jerry Mitchell (left). The pair had collaborated before (on Broadway shows like Hairspray (right), Rocky Horror, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

Now, they’re re-imagining airport foot traffic as a choreography challenge, finding ways to move people more smoothly and naturally through the pre- and post-flight experience. This is where what could have been thought of as basically environment design becomes experience design.

"The original design made it hard to understand where you were supposed to go, either entering or leaving," Mitchell told The New York Times. "Traffic diagrams showed a huge amount of path-crossing. I started to think it would be fabulous to eliminate all this crisscrossing and straight edges, which cause anxiety when they go on too long. David asked me what dance patterns I would use, and I said, 'People move easiest in circles: off and on the merry-go-round.' "

Students could look at their own school to see how people move and gather to help suggest ways to improve the experience of students and teachers through the design of the school.

Click on the heading above to learn more about the Rockwell Group. Their many projects will provide numerous ideas for similar projects students could design.