Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tension Still Exists Between High Art and Popular Culture

There is still an unresolved tension between high art and popular culture, particularly among scholars at universities who want to be taken seriously and separate themselves from the masses. This influences slow acceptance of learning about mass media like movies, television, video games, animation and comic books in schools.

Henry Jenkins (left) felt that pressure and moved from MIT's (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Media Lab to the University of Southern California (USC) where he does serious research with folks from the movie and comic book world.

Neil Gaiman (right) is a writer of science fiction and fantasy short stories and novels, graphic novels, comics, and films. His works include The Sandman comic series, Stardust, American Gods and Coraline. Gaiman has won numerous awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the 2009 Newbery Medal. Some call him a "rock star" of the literary world.

Click on the heading above to see part of a conversation between Henry Jenkins and Neil Gaiman than can be used with students to explore attitudes about art, culture and design.

People Aren't Forgetting Faces Any More

People are starting to notice and remember typefaces. There is a feature length movie being shown around the country called "Helvetica" and it is about that single typeface. There is also a decade old grassroots movement to ban the overuse of the typeface "comic sans".

Comic Sans is a casual script typeface designed by Vincent Connare and released in 1994 by the Microsoft Corporation. It is classified as a casual script designed to imitate comic book lettering, for use in informal documents. Comic Sans is used in both print and webcomics as a substitute for hand-lettering, although many comic artists prefer to use custom-designed computer fonts instead. Many designers feel the typeface is overused and used inappropriately.

The appropriate use of typefaces needs to be part of general visual communication skills learned by all students. This used to be something only learned by professional designers but new technologies have put the tools of type design into the hands of the general public.

Click on the heading above to see a video about the comic sans controversy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Impact of Design is Growing

Here is a collection of data about the growing design industry.

Jobs and employment in many creative industries are growing faster than the labor force as a whole and make up 30% of the work force by some estimates.
Designers are the single largest group of artists, followed by performing artists such as actors, dancers, musicians, and announcers.
Jobs in design have increased 43% in the past ten years.
By 2016, jobs for designers are predicted to increase by another 42%.
There are over 532,000 designers working in the U.S.

There are about 94,000 computer artists and animators working in the United States.
People spend approximately $55 billion annually on video games.
The computer animation industry generates $33 billion annually.

Employment of interior designers is expected to grow 19% from 2006 to 2016.
Median salaries of: Creative Directors–$90,000, Art Directors–$86,505, Multi-media Artists and Animators–$61,555, Graphic Designers–$46,925, Set and Exhibit Designers–$49,330, Producers and Directors–$86,790, Photographers–$36,090, and Film and Video Editors–$66,715.

200,000 people are employed in the film industry.
Wage and salary employment in the motion picture and video industries is projected to grow 11% by 2016.
Animators, film and video editors, and others skilled in digital filming and computer-generated imaging have the best job prospects in future of the motion picture and video industries.

Jobs for photographers have increased 38% in the past four years.

Sources: Americans for the Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Entertainment Software Association

Teacher's Guides from Motion Picture Academy

Since 2000, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, with curriculum specialists Young Minds Inspired, has produced a series of teacher’s guides that explore the art and science of motion pictures. Each guide focuses on a specific aspect of filmmaking, such as animation, art direction, cinematography, documentaries, film editing, screenwriting, sound and music, and visual effects. The guides are targeted toward students in English, language arts, visual arts, science, and communication classes.

In February 2008 the Academy made available: “Costumes and Makeup: Character by Design.” Each of the participating high schools received a 20-page study guide, activity worksheets in English and Spanish, resource lists and take-home activities. It also included a DVD supplement (a component added to the kits starting three years ago with assistance from Acme Filmworks). It features movie clips, production footage and interviews with Academy Award nominees and winners talking about their crafts, their inspirations and their career paths.

This year’s DVD includes highlights from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” “Walk the Line,” “Dreamgirls” and “Marie Antoinette” for costume design, and “An American Werewolf in London,” “Dick Tracy,” “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and “Pan’s Labyrinth” for makeup.

Click on the heading above to download PDF versions of the guides. Although the material is copyrighted, you may make as many photocopies as necessary to meet your needs.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dora the Explorer's Tween Persona

Mattel, Inc. and Nickelodeon/Viacom Consumer Products, have announced that Dora the Explorer™ is growing up. The companies have introduced a Dora for girls five years and up to complement the earlier Dora aimed at preschoolers.

Many are concerned about this new "sexy" teen version of the popular character and what it has to say about contemporary teen culture and messages about what it means to be female.

“For nearly ten years, Dora the Explorer has had such a strong following among preschoolers, catapulting it into the number one preschool show on commercial television,” says Gina Sirard, vice president of marketing for Mattel. “Girls really identify with Dora and we knew that girls would love to have their friend Dora grow up with them, and experience the new things that they were going through themselves. The brand captures girls’ existing love of Dora and marries it with the fashion doll play and online experiences older girls enjoy.”

As a tweenager Dora has moved to the big city, attends middle school and has a whole new fashionable look. She also has an online world in which girls can explore, play games, customize, and solve mysteries with Dora and her new friends. Adding to the play value, Dora’s online world is interactive with the new doll line.

“Typically, children ‘grow out’ of favorite characters,” says Chris Byrne, content director for aka The Toy Guy®. “Now Dora has been designed to grow up with her fans, opening the door to extended play that is age appropriate, allowing kids to stay involved with a favorite character and maintaining the core values of Dora the Explorer that children love.”

Pulitzer Prize for Photography

Visual Communication, as one of the four faces of visual literacy, often doesn't have the same recognition as visual art, visual culture or visual design. This is partly because people often don't recognize visual communication when they see it.

Photojournalists are visual communicators. They aren't taking pictures to make art (like Ansel Adams), as part of visual culture (like popular calendar photos), or to function as design (like Richard Avedon's fashion photos). They are simply trying to capture moments in time to communicate a news or feature event.

Since the Pulitzer Prize's inception in 1917, the Pulitzer Prize Board has increased the number of awards to now include poetry, music and photography. The Pulitzer Board established the first award for photography in 1942. The award recognizes that photography provides lasting images that chronicle the major events of our time. Approximately 150 photography entries are submitted annually either as individual images or as a portfolio (i.e. series of photographs). The photography jury now offers nominations in two categories: spot news photography (left) and feature photography (right). Each year, the Pulitzer Prize Board - comprised of leading journalists and academics - reviews the nominations and selects the winners.

Visual Literacy should start with basic visual communication and news photography (photojournalism) is perhaps the most commonly seen form of visual communication for most people. Photography should be a basic visual communication skill for all students.

Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 Caldecott Award for Book Illustration

The American Library Association (ALA) announced the winners for the 2009 Newbery Award (for authors) and the Caldecott Award (left) (for illustrators).

The overall 2009 Newbery Award winner is Neil Gaiman for The Graveyard Book. The book was illustrated by Dave McKean and published by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

The overall 2009 Caldecott winner is Beth Krommes for The House in the Night (left), written by Susan Marie Swanson and published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Three books were also named as Caldecott Honor Books:
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, written and illustrated by Marla Frazee;
How I Learned Geography, written and illustrated by Uri Shulevitz;
and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant.

Caldecott Award winner announcements provide a good opportunity for design educators to introduce book illustration to students. Martin Salisbury has a good book called "Illustrating Children's Books: Creating Pictures for Publication" with information about being a children's book illustrator.

2009 Pritzker Prize for Architecture Announced

The Pritzker Prize, architecture's equivalent to the Nobel Prize, award winner for 2009 has just been announced.

The prize went to Swiss architect Peter Zumthor (1943). Zumthor focuses on the atmosphere and details of his works, taking all the time he needs (often several years) in his studio in the Swiss mountains to deliver timeless buildings such as Brother Klaus Field Chapel, Kolumba Art Museum, Swiss Pavillion Expo Hannover, Therm Vals, and more.

Zumthor’s art museum in Bregenz, Austria (right), has glass walls that can serve as billboards or video screens at night.

Zumthor's book,"Thinking Architecture", oulines his ideas about architecture like,

“I believe that architecture today needs to reflect on the tasks and possibilities which are inherently its own. Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence. In a society that celebrates the inessential, architecture can put up a resistance, counteract the waste of forms and meanings, and speak its own language. I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and critically as they can.”

The Pritzker Prize ceremony will take place on May 29th in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This is a good opportunity for design education teachers to introduce students to architecture since the Pritzker announcement will be seen in news media, newspapers, and magazines around the world.

Click on the heading above to see a list of past Pritzker Prize winners.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Key Figures in Industrial Design

DBAE (Discipline-Based Art Education) opened up the field of art education to include art making, art history, art criticism and aesthetics. As we add "design" to our repertoire it makes sense that we should include a bit of design history.

Some key figures in industrial design include Britain's Christopher Dresser (perhaps the first industrial designer), Raymond Loewy (the father of American industrial design) (right), Norman Bel Geddes (left), and Brooks Stevens. There are books, websites, and many other resources available on each of these designers and they are as well known in the industrial design world as Picasso and Rembrandt are in the art world.

Art history today should be called "Art and Design History" and include important international designers like these.

Sketching as a Second Language

According to Bill Buxton (right) sketching is not the same as drawing. Sketching is quick, disposable, plentiful, ambiguous and no higher resolution than is necessary for the task. While someone might say "I can't draw", saying "I can't sketch" is like saying "I can't think". Sketching is thinking visually.

Sketching is as important to thinking and communication as reading, writing, and arithmetic. Sketching is a second language for thinking and communicating visually that everyone should learn.

Buxton's book "Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design" (left) emphasizes the importance of sketching and early prototyping in the development of new ideas. One of the key reasons is included in the subtitle of the book "getting the right design". If we jump too quickly to developing a design it is possible to spend quite a bit of time solving the wrong problem. It is as important to make sure you are doing the right design as it is to get the design right.

Some other books about drawing for designers include "Design Drawing" by Francis Ching, "Drawing for Designers" by Alan Pipes, "Design and Drawing" by Richard Shadrin, "Architectural Drawing Course" by Mo Zell, "Fashion Design Drawing Course" by Tatham and Seaman, and "Storyboard Design Course" by Giuseppe Cristiano.

Click on the heading above to go to Buxton's web site and check out some of the videos of him talking about the ideas in the book.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Imagination + Engineering = Imagineering

Rhonda Counts (left) recently retired from a long career as a Disney Imagineer. She spoke with future art teachers at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania because design (information, products, environments and experiences) is becoming part of the preparation for future art teachers.

Walt Disney Imagineering was originally formed by Walt Disney on December 16, 1952 as WED Enterprises (WED: Walter Elias Disney) to develop plans for a theme park that would become Disneyland. Disney could be considered the father of exerience design. WED Enterprises was renamed Walt Disney Imagineering and has gone on to create new attractions at Disney World and other parks around the world.

There are many good books about the Imagineers (right) that will help teachers see how experiential environmental design could be applied in school settings. Schools could look more like Disney World, EPCOT, or interactive childrens' museums than corporate office buildings. Shouldn't schools be the "happiest places on Earth"?

Imagineers combine an interest and knowledge in engineering and skills in imaginative visual storytelling. Students should learn the skills necessary to tell stories visually using graphic design, product design, architecture, landscaping, animatronics, costuming, and all the other skills employed by the Imagineers.

Second Edition of Kindle Available

Kindle 2, the second iteration of the wireless reading device from, is thinner than an iPhone and, at only 10.2 ounces, holds about 1500 books.

People who use Kindle find that they are reading more because it is easy to carry your whole library with you wherever you are. People who read newspapers on the Kindle enjoy not struggling with the size and cumbersome folding maneuvers of physical newspapers. Kindle readers enjoy being able to look up words right from the Kindle and download new books anywhere in 60 seconds for less than the cost of the printed book. Wikipedia access and a built in dictionary make it easy to answer those questions that come up in your mind while reading.

Check out the Kindle at by clicking on the heading above.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Discovering Visual Mathematics

Visual Mathematics is the study and use of images, objects, places and visual experiences to understand and communicate mathematical ideas. Some highly visual mathematical fields include geometry (left) and topology (right). Many mathematical investigations enter into such complex mental manipulations that they can not be accomplished without the use of computers and visual imaging.

Design educators can contribute to the growth of knowledge and understanding by helping prepare future scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians so that they develop strong visual skills.

For many science, technology, engineering and mathematics students, visual literacy is a foreign language. They are used to thinking and communicating with numbers. In order to help broaden math students' intellectual skills, design educators need to learn and use the concepts and vocabulary of mathematics and show students how to read and create visual images, manipulatives, models, and interactive objects to help them solve complex mathematical problems.

Design educators need to go beyond the aesthetic appeal of mathematical images to helping students understand how visual literacy skills will help them solve increasingly complex problems. As a starter, take a look at some simple mathematical knot problems moving from the trefoil knot (far right) to a true figure 8 knot. See if your students can draw such a knot and notice the visual and mathematical thinking involved.

Click on the heading above to see the math and visualization of a figure 8 knot in mathematics.