Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Broadway at Times Square Now a Pedestrian Mall

Two sections of Broadway in New York City are now open only to pedestrian traffic as an experiment for the rest of the year. Broadway at Times Square between 42nd St and 47th and a few blocks in Herald Square are now a pedestrian mall until the end of December.

Some business people, cab drivers and tour bus operators are worried about lost revenue and inconvenience but many people seem to think it is a great improvement. During this pilot stage not much is being done to the area except putting out some chairs but, if the idea seems to work, design changes will be made to make the areas function more like a true plaza or mall.

It's hard to believe that one day Times Square was clogged with traffic and pedestrians (left) and the next day the traffic was gone and people were able to lounge in the middle of the street (right).

If a venerable area like Times Square can be completely rethought by urban designers imagine what your students could come up with for their communities.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lego Designs for F.L. Wright's Fallingwater and Guggenheim

The Lego company just announced new designs based on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. One is New York's Guggenheim Museum, and another is an 800-piece design for Fallingwater, Wright's structure in Bear Run, Pa.

The Fallingwater model comes apart like a puzzle so you can go inside the building and see the levels, his use of cantilevers and how the forms play together. The design includes a segment of the site so you can see how the building is anchored in the landscape. There's a booklet that comes with each set to help people appreciate the genius of Wright's designs. The designs use largely standard Lego pieces.

The Guggenheim is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the completion of the building with a major exhibit about Wright and the Guggenheim this summer (through August, 2009). Wright passed away some 6 months before the building was completed. The building has just gone through extensive restoration.

Lego's Frank Lloyd Wright collection will be available in stores soon. The Guggenheim will sell for about $40, and Fallingwater will cost close to $100.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Difference Between Innovation and Creativity

Everyone has a story about an idea they had that someone "stole" and now other people are making money with it. The lesson is that, in design, coming up with an idea is only 5% of the work. Designers use the word innovation rather than creativity to indicate that creativity is just the start - there is a lot of innovative work still to be done to get an idea into a workable, viable realization.

Phil Baker's book, From Concept to Consumer, (right) tells about the work designers do that takes a creative idea to a useful product. These are lessons students should learn in order to be competitive in the 21st century.

Click on the heading above to see an editorial Baker wrote for Yanko Design about the 10 biggest mistake designers make. These include mistakes like:

• Doing everything yourself without calling on resources around the world or around the corner.

• Focusing on patents and worrying about others stealing your invention

Students need to learn the processes and skills that take an idea from its creative spark to a useful design. Along the way they also learn that talent is not as important as persistence and hard work.

Click on the heading above to read Baker's full article at Yanko Design's site.

London Underground Map is Visual Communication Classic

The London Subway Map is one of the most famous examples of visual communication in history but it was turned down at first for being too radical. Of course, in London they call it the Tube rather than the Subway and it's more of a diagram than a map because it doesn't depict geography realistically.

Harry Beck, a 29 year-old engineering draftsman, created the diagram first printed in 1933 by compressing distances between stops in favor of just showing the sequence of stops and connections between the lines. This stylized version cut down on unnecessary confusion associated with early maps that remained truer to the actual geographic distances and arrangement.

The London Subway Map is a good example of visual communication and shows how, when done well, visual images can be as important as words and numbers in communicating important information and ideas. In addition, clear and effective communication can be as important as aesthetic self-expression in art and design courses.

Click on the heading above to see a short video about the history of the London Underground Map.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Mobility and Portability for the Future

It is clear that the present trajectory for mobile devices is some variation of the iPhone or Blackberry-like device you carry with you that allows you to access the Internet with all the power of your computer, carry on voice, text, image and video communication, watch TV and movies, listen to music, watch music videos, play multi-player games in real-life settings, and anything else you can (or can't yet) imagine.

Basically, the direction is to have complete mobility and access to all of your technologies (movies, phone, camera, computer, Internet, texting, etc.) whenever and wherever you are with a device the size of a cell-phone and increasingly smaller.

The latest innovation to enable video, movie, Internet, and computer access wherever you are is a miniature projector the size of a cell phone that you carry in your pocket or purse that allows you to watch and share large screen movies, TV, Skype calls, video-conference calls, PowerPoints, etc. by projecting images onto any surface. Nokia (left) and Microvision (right) are two companies introducing pocket projectors this year.

This basically solves the problem of having miniature devices while needing large viewing sizes. The screen, monitor, page, etc. are no longer needed - you can project all your text and images whatever size you want right from your mobile portal device.

Click on the heading above to see a demonstration and review of Microvision's version of the miniature projector.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Stirring Up Some Controversy

If you have trouble getting students to take the study of design seriously, perhaps exposing them to some design controversies will help them see that design touches on important issues critical to the health, economy and well-being of the planet.

One place to start might be the open debate about the value of "starchitecture" in contrast to concerns about environmental quality, economic stability, and sustainable living.

Over the next thirty years there will be as many buildings built in the world as there have been in all of history and only 4% of the world's buildings are designed by architects. Who's going to design the other 96%?

For the past twenty years the architecture profession has seen some of the biggest names in architecture try to out do each other with extravagant designs while others searched for a language for well built, sustainable structures in the service of humanity.

Frances Anderton, LA Editor for Dwell magazine and host of a radio show DnA: Design and Architecture, took up the defense of the Starchitecture point of view by saying:

There is more than enough room for architecture that inspires awe and wonder, yes, with its excess, and for architecture that modestly serves human needs. Without an architecture of excess, we wouldn't have Versailles, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House, Bilbao, and many other monuments to mankind's capacity for egomaniacal yet wondrous feats of imagination. Without the concomitant human capacity to use architecture to better serve humanity, we would not have had the arts and crafts and garden city movements, the Bauhaus, decades of efforts by enlightened architects to provide housing solutions for the poor, and, today, Sinclair's Architecture for Humanity....

Jack Diamond, on the other hand, says:

The extremes of individualism, and its accompanying greed, have ruined financial systems and left chaos in its wake. And once more this is reflected in architecture. The so-called iconic buildings (more egonic than iconic) were monuments to ego and extreme individualism. The emphasis was on the dramatic exterior: the way the building looked, rather than how it worked. The interiors could be perfunctory or dysfunctional.

Many iconic buildings are a direct reflection of conspicuous consumption. Instead of exploring engineering, electrical, mechanical and materials technologies to determine the most economic systems, there is a flagrant disregard for cost. Excess is celebrated: the highest, most expensive, most dramatic. The pick-a-shape school of architecture. It isn't simply the money unnecessarily spent on construction, but the energy necessary to heat and cool the building, the steel used to build it.

What do your students think about these issues?

Click on the heading above to read Diamond's article from the Globe and Mail outlining some of the issues.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Get Published in School Arts

As the editor of School Arts magazine, Nancy Walkup invites design educators to share ideas and bring positive attention to your art program by getting published. Your principal, fellow teachers, students, and parents will all take notice when you are published. It is one of the best advocacy tools I know.

Since Nancy is currently planning all next year's issues, she offers some possibilities for getting published fairly soon. School Arts is always in need of articles (about 800 words) for middle and high school and ClipCards for every level. ClipCards are very short, no more than 200 words, and they only need one image to accompany them. They are good for lessons that only take one or two class sessions. They follow the following outline: The Art Problem, Objectives, Materials, Motivation, Procedures, and Assessment.

Some themes for next year are The Built Environment and Green Design, but you don't need to think about themes too much. Your enthusiasm for a lesson should be your guide.

Click on the heading above to learn more about School Arts and Davis Publishing.

Students Win Apprenticeships

Chicago has a successful model for getting students into design - develop competitive challenges, help students learn what is needed to solve the challenges, and reward them with apprenticeships in real-world design placements.

The Newhouse Competition is part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s year-round programming for students and teachers in grades K-12 which include student field trips and tours, professional development workshops for teachers and school-based curricula.

120 prizes were awarded to Chicago Public School high school students, from freshman to seniors, at an award ceremony at Symphony Center in Chicago. The Newhouse Competition, now in its 27th year, teaches students life skills including problem solving, conceptual thinking, decision-making, and skills necessary to work in the fields related to the built environment. Student entries, completed in art and drafting classes, include architectural rendering by hand, perspective drawing, model-making, photography and rendering using AutoCAD software.

Judged by members of Chicago’s architectural and philanthropic communities, winning students were awarded paid internships in architecture firms as well as a week-long apprenticeship at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright’s School of Architecture in Spring Green, WI.

Click on the heading above to see more at their website.

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Model for Design Education for Your City and State

The Visioneer Design Challenge put on by the Wisconsin Art Education Association is a model that can be used in your school, city and state to promote greater attention to design education in schools.

The Visioneer Design Challenge uses several strategies that can be implemented wherever you are. The events in the design competition are created and judged by volunteer professionals from the design community so you don't need to know about all these areas yourself. Designers serve as mentors to help students (and their teachers) who haven't been exposed to design before, learn some of the basic concepts and skills of design. The competition is the "tail that wags the dog" by encouraging teachers to include more design education in their curriculum in order to meet the challenges in the competition. The competition itself, since it includes many areas of design, provides an excellent outline for a comprehensive design curriculum. Becoming a Visioneer and joining the Design Challenge is a great motivator for students and generates parent, administrator and community support for you program.

Click on the heading above to see the 2009 prospectus for the Visioneer Design Challenge. It is a template and model with all the details you need to hold a similar event in your school, city and state. Just take it and adapt it to your situation. There are sample registration forms, descriptions of design challenges, rules for entry - everything you need to get started.

Contact if you would like some help in starting an event like this in your area. When you run into a reason why this won't work for your situation give us a call (215-964-2027) and we can help you come up with a solution.

The Amazing Cars of the 1950s

The 1950s were an amazingly fertile time for the design of classic automobiles. The 1957 Ford Fairlane and the 1957 Chevy (left) are still remembered fondly by people of a certain age. In contrast to the big fins and huge size, this was also the time of the smaller classics like the Studebaker and Ford Thunderbird.

Virgil Exner, fired from Studebaker by Raymond Loewy in 1944, went on to become head of design at Chrysler and enjoyed a 30 year career in auto and boat design while never becoming as well known as Loewy. Much of the history of auto design from this time can found in a book (right) about Virgil Exner's career.

There are certain pivotal points in design history and, to be culturally literate, students should know about the influences on our culture of designers such as Raymond Loewy, Virgil Exner and Brooks Stevens.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Telling a Story Through Sequential Art

One difference between art and design is that much art, for the last 100 years, has avoided narrative content or story-telling in favor of non-objective explorations or abstraction. Many areas of design have maintained the traditions of story-telling. Illustration, animation, film, theme parks, video games and a variety of other design fields rely heavily on good story-telling. This separates them from many contemporary fine art conventions.

A good way to introduce students to traditions of story-telling is through sequential art. Sequential art includes comics, comic strips, graphic novels, story boards and so on. Sequential art has been discussed at length by Scott McCloud in his book Understanding Comics and Will Eisner in his book Comics and Sequential Art. McCloud's definition includes a variety of media (even Egyptian hieroglyphs) but excludes art forms such as animation and the written word.

Develop a curriculum for sequential art that introduces increasing levels of challenge for students over time. You might start with a single panel that implies a story followed by three panels that tell a story, up to a page of panels and even, for motivated students, a full 22 page comic.

Click on the heading above to see a good introduction to the mechanics of sequential art by Ian Yates .

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Objectified - The Movie by Gary Hustwit

Following up on "Helvetica", a documentary film about the ubiquitous typeface, Gary Hustwit has released "Objectified", a 75-minute documentary film about the design of manufactured objects which he says is the second of a trilogy of design films. He's not ready to say what the third film will be about.

In May there were showings of Objectified in Toronto, Vancouver, Cleveland, New York City and Philadelphia. There were also screenings in Atlanta, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Wexner Center in Columbus, Ohio. Director Gary Hustwit (right) and designer Dan Formosa from Smart Design appeared in person for preview screenings and post-film Q&A’s in Philly. Objectified’s opening weekend ticket sales in New York made it the top grossing independent film in the country on a per-screen average.

Information announcing the DVD release is expected next week.
Click on the heading above to track the movie's progress on their website.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Zaha Hadid: A Woman to Watch

On the right is a proposal for a 101-story transit centre in Surfer’s Paradise in Queensland, Australia, designed by Zaha Hadid (left) in collaboration with Patrik Schumacher. The as-yet-unbuilt structure is featured in The Complete Zaha Hadid (left), a retrospective of the architect’s work coming out in May 2009.

Hadid, one of the few women to win the coveted Pritzker Prize in architecture, is now gaining more recognition for her designs. There are several books claiming to include "the complete works" of Zaha Hadid but, since she is producing more every moment it seems, you'll just have to look for the most recent version. She will continue to provide opportunities for design educators to show students that women can be players in the design world.

Prince Charles and His Interest in Architecture

When most people think about Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales and future King of England) they probably think about his divorce from Princess Diana, her tragic death, and his second marriage to his mistress Camilla Bowles. The design world also knows that Prince Charles is an afficionado of architecture and an outspoken critic of the Modernist style.

Most recently making the news, Prince Charles is fighting to stop a controversial modern development in London designed by the architect, Lord Richard Rogers, with whom he famously clashed 25 years ago. In 1984, Charles publicly attacked the architect’s proposed extension to London’s National Gallery as ‘a monstrous carbuncle’.

Now he is attacking a proposed design by Rogers for living units on the Chelsea Barracks site in London. The Prince has written to the Emir of Qatar (the developer) urging him to reconsider the Modernist Chelsea design and to look, instead, at a classical design by one of his favorite architects, Quinlan Terry.

Some architects object to any non-architects (Prince Charles, Brad Pitt, IDEO) being given a forum to express their public opinions about architecture just because they are well-known in some other field. For design educators, this provides an opportunity to introduce architecture and design concepts to those who might not otherwise find interest in the topics.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Star Crust 10 Billion Times Stronger Than Steel

OK, this is a stretch for those trying to figure out what neutron stars have to do with K-12 design education but try to wrap your head around these new findings.

Research by a theoretical physicist at Indiana University shows that the crusts of neutron stars are 10 billion (with a "b") times stronger than steel or any other of the earth's strongest metal alloys. Exhibiting extreme gravity while rotating as fast as 700 times per second (yes, per second), neutron stars are massive stars that collapsed once their cores ceased nuclear fusion and energy production. The only things more dense are black holes, as a teaspoonful (yes, a teaspoonful) of neutron star matter would weigh about 100 million tons (yes, ...well you get the idea).

Because of the intense pressure found on neutron stars, structural flaws and impurities that weaken things like rocks and steel are less likely to strain the crystals that form during the nucleosynthesis that occurs to form neutron star crust. Squeezed together by gravitational force, the crust can withstand a breaking strain 10 billion times the pressure it would take to snap steel.

OK, every once in a while I run into someone who feels that science is taking the magic and mystery out of our world. I'd say there is plenty of magic and mystery still remaining. We are not even close to understanding the complexity of the universe and it will be some time before any of the magic of real science is gone. We still have a ways to go to become even a Level 1 Civilization in the face of our own star's impending demise.

Presentation Zen

PowerPoints are not likely to go away anytime soon despite being too often boring, badly designed, and trite.

Garr Reynolds tries to do something about this in his book "Presentation Zen" (right). He compares the presentation styles (left) of people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and provides pointers on how to improve presentations through better design.

Just because PowerPoint has made it easy for the untrained to use powerful presentation graphics tools does not mean that we should continue to use these tools without learning a few basic principles of good design. Since we now have the tools at our disposal, presentation design should be part of everyone's education in schools. Whether it be PowerPoint presentations or traditional posterboard presentations for the science fair, students should know basic visual communication skills with type, images, and graphics to improve the clarity and creativity of our visual communication.

Click on the heading above to see the Presentation Zen website.

What is Exhibition Design?

"What is Exhibition Design?" is answered in a book (left) by that title from Rotovision Publishing. The book indicates that Exhibition Design is not so much a profession as it is an integrative process bringing together architecture, interior design, environmental graphic design, print graphics, electronics, digital media, lighting, audio, interaction and other design disciplines.

Kraemer Productions' website shows some examples of their process in designing exhibits. They create schematic designs (right) in which elements of a design are refined. Floor plans, scaled elevations and perspective sketches clarify a direction and vision. An environmental graphic hierarchy is established, beginning to outline the depth of graphic information to be present in a design.

Schools should incorporate exhibit design as an interdisciplinary way for students to learn content and demonstrate learning. Think about beginning a program of developing exhibits in your school with students to help them learn important content and demonstrate what they know. Exhibits are a much more convincing demonstration of academic achievement than test scores.

Malcolm Gladwell at American Association of Museums Conference

Malcolm Gladwell (left) talked about his book, "Outliers" (right) at the annual conference of the American Association of Museums in Philadelphia in May, 2009.

He talked about how overcoming one's limitations has a stronger effect on future success than capitalizing on one's strengths. In Outliers, Gladwell introduced the 10,000 hour rule. People don't become "overnight successes". The most successful people have put in at least 10,000 hours of preparation and hard work before achieving success. And they have experienced many failures along the way.

According to Gladwell, this is why American school children are lagging behind other countries in educational achievement. Since Americans believe strongly in talent and genetic endowment, those with talent don't feel they have to work as hard and those without it figure there is no worth in even trying. This double whammy causes our brightest not to achieve to their potential and the rest not trying as hard as they should.

Another point Gladwell makes is that noone ever achieves success alone. The lone genius is a myth. Closer examination reveals that the most successful people have worked with others along the way to create their success.

We are having to reexamine our long held beliefs about talent and the lone genius to realize that success has always depended on hard work and collaboration.