Monday, November 23, 2009

Objectified - The Movie - on PBS

Gary Hustwit has produced two major movies about design - Helvetica, about the ubiquitous typeface, and Objectified, about the world of product design.

Objectified has its US television debut (a shortened version, 53 minutes versus the original 75) on Tuesday, November 24th on PBS, as part of the Emmy Award-winning series Independent Lens. PBS has launched an Objectified mini-site and developed a game, Which Object Are You?, to go along with the film’s premiere.

The simple and elegant wall-mounted CD player (left), that is activated by pulling the cord, is an example of how product design (objects) can delight and amuse as well as serve useful functions.

Click on the heading above to go to the PBS site for Objectified.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tim Burton Retrospective at MoMA

The Museum of Modern Art presents Tim Burton, (left) a major retrospective exploring the full scale of Tim Burton’s career, both as a director and concept artist for live-action and animated films, and as an artist, illustrator, photographer, and writer.

On view from November 22, 2009, through April 26, 2010, the exhibition brings together over 700 examples of sketchbooks, concept art, drawings, paintings, photographs, and a selection of his amateur films, and is the Museum’s most comprehensive monographic exhibition devoted to a filmmaker.

An extensive film retrospective spanning Burton’s 27-year career runs throughout the exhibition, along with a related series of films that influenced, inspired, and intrigued Burton as a filmmaker. Tim Burton is organized by Ron Magliozzi, Assistant Curator, and Jenny He, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Film, with Rajendra Roy, The Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition is on view throughout the Museum: the Special Exhibitions Gallery on the third floor features hundreds of drawings, paintings, sculptures, sketchbooks, and moving image works. Downstairs, in the Museum’s Roy and Niuta Titus Theater Lobbies, a selection of largescale Polaroids created by Burton is joined by a selection of domestic and international film posters from his feature films, while musical compositions specifically chosen for the exhibition by Burton’s longtime collaborator Danny Elfman plays over the gallery’s speakers. In MoMA’s Agnes Gund Garden Lobby and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden, a large-scale balloon and a deer-shaped topiary inspired by Edward Scissorhands are on view.

Click on the heading above to go to Tim Burton's Website.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Ultimate Design Challenge

Super-intelligent machines may be only decades away. An ultraintelligent machine can be defined as a machine that can surpass all the intellectual activities of any person - even our smartest. This is sometimes referred to as the next "singularity."

A growing number of academics and technologists have been looking at the singularity as a serious prospect in this century rather than as science fiction. Since human minds and brains operate according to physical laws, then it’s just a matter of time before the principles of these machines are reverse-engineered and implemented on digital computers.

Since the design of machines is one of their capacities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines. There would then be an artificial intelligence explosion, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. The first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.

It may be only decades before the technology for smarter-than-human minds develops. Researchers at Cornell University built an artificial intelligence program that was able to independently reinvent the laws of physics merely by observing the swinging of a pendulum. Researchers at Aberystwyth University in Wales and England’s University of Cambridge were able to build “Adam,” an artificially intelligent robotic system that formulates its own scientific hypothesis and designs experiments to test them. Though these systems don’t challenge human intelligence, rapid progress in the field suggests we should start considering the ramifications of the day when our robotic creations learn to think better than we do.

Click on the heading above to follow developments toward the technological singularity.

Project Natal Will Revolutionize Interactive Design

Designers are going to have a field day developing new uses for a new XBox system that doesn't require any controller other than your own body, voice, and facial expressions. “Project Natal,” pronounced “nuh-tall”, is the code name for a revolutionary new way to play video games - no controller required. Kick a ball, hit it, trap it or catch it. By simply moving your hands, shaking your hips or speaking, you (and even groups of people) can interact directly with their TV and video games. This is absolutely science fiction becoming reality - Minority Report and Star Trek are here.

Compatible with any Xbox 360 system, the “Project Natal” sensor is the world’s first to combine an RGB camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device. Unlike 2-D cameras and controllers, “Project Natal” tracks your full body movement in 3-D, while responding to commands, directions and even a shift of emotion in your voice.

In addition, unlike other devices, the “Project Natal” sensor is not light-dependent. It can recognize you just by looking at your face, and it doesn’t just react to key words but understands what you’re saying. Call a play in a football game, and players will actually respond. To log onto Xbox LIVE simply step in front of the sensor.

“The next step in interactive entertainment is to make the controller disappear,” said Steven Spielberg, visionary director and producer, who is helping promote the new system (on right in picture on left).

Developers will be given a detailed look at the system at Microsoft's Gamefest conference targeted at video game industry professionals and media interested in learning more about developing games on Microsoft-owned platforms such as Xbox 360. Attendees will be taught how to approach development for the new control solution. They will be given in-depth advice on "gesture recognition, avatar retargeting, speech recognition, advanced raw stream processing, handling different player environments, and many other features of the revolutionary new system. There will also be a Project Natal design track that will focus on " creating new ways to work, building showcase experiences, divining user intent, and designing gestures for UI versus game interactions."

Microsoft unveiled Project Natal at E3 in June this year. The system includes a 3D camera as well as a microphone that can facilitate voice recognition. Microsoft plans to use the camera as a way to gain traction with audiences intimidated by traditional controllers. Microsoft has not announced an official release date.

Click on the heading above to see some videos showing some of the applications for the new system.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brad Holland: America's Top Illustrator

Brad Holland (right) has won more awards presented by the New York Society of Illustrators than any other illustrator in its history. In 2005 he was elected to the New York Society of Illustrators (NYSI) Hall of Fame. The American illustrator Mark English has called Holland "the most important illustrator in America today."

Holland's exhibit at the Sharadin Gallery at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, is their first exhibit featuring the work of a single illustrator. The exhibit, and Holland's presentation to students and faculty, promoted by the university's Communication Design department rather than the Art department, highlighted the continuing divide between fine art and illustration. Holland's work is more "painterly" and "art-like" than, for example, that of his friend Chris Payne, but it still provides a good contrast between work done for publication and mass audiences and work created for galleries and private collectors.

Holland (born 1943) is best known for his work for Playboy and Penthouse magazines. In 1967 Holland moved to New York City with no prospects of work when he met Art Paul, art director of Playboy magazine. Though he is perhaps best known for his work at Playboy, through his career, he has worked completely as a freelance illustrator. In 1972 he became a contributor to the New York Times Op-Ed page. In 1977 he published Human Scandals, a social commentary using ink drawings.

Holland is co-founder of The Illustrators Partnership of America, and advocates the preservation of creative copyrights on intellectual property.

Click on the heading above to go to Holland's Web site.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Design Education as Part of Basic Education for Everyone

We already posted an article about the new book Glimmer, by Warren Berger but want to call your attention to the idea presented in the book that design education should be part of basic education for everyone. That's really the message in Berger's book because he isn't a designer himself (he's a journalist) so he presents this idea from the perspective of a concerned citizen. This becomes clear in a video Berger created to explain why he wrote the book.

Design has moved far beyond million-dollar interiors and cool new typefaces; today it’s all about optimism, action, and unlimited possibilities. In Glimmer ten principles of design are shown in action—addressing business, social, and personal challenges, and improving the way we think, work, and live.

Through hundreds of anecdotes and interviews, Berger presents the history and future of proactive design in a comprehensive, entertaining book that takes readers into the studios of international design stars such as Dean Kamen, Yves Behar, Brian Collins, Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister, and Bruce Mau. The book examines, up-close, the ways in which designers approach problems, utilize unique tools and techniques, and ultimately arrive at solutions. Inspired by ideas from top designers, Berger shares actionable and sometimes counterintuitive design principles such as “Ask stupid questions;” “Make hope visible;” “Work the metaphor;” “Embrace constraints;” and “Begin anywhere,” and then fleshes out exactly what each one means and how it can be implemented in business and personal life.

Click on the heading above to see a brief video of Warren Berger talking about why design education is important for everyone.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Computer Programming for Designers

One of the problems for designers who would like to learn how to program is that most courses are designed for creating search engines or other business applications.

Processing is an open source programming language and environment for people who want to program images, animation, and interactions. It is used by students, artists, designers, researchers, and hobbyists for learning, prototyping, and production. It is created to teach fundamentals of computer programming within a visual context and to serve as a software sketchbook and professional production tool.

Processing is free to download and available for GNU/Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. To contribute to the project's development, please visit, which includes bug tracking and instructions for building the code, downloading the source, and creating libraries and tools.

Processing is an open project initiated by Ben Fry and Casey Reas. It evolved from ideas explored in the Aesthetics and Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab.

Click on the heading above to see examples of images you can learn to program with Processing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bryan Lawson Explores How Designers Think

Bryan Lawson (left) has a couple of books that are useful to help people understand the growing role of design in shaping the world and transforming education.

"What Designers Know" and "How Designers Think" (right) deal with different techniques that represent the forms of knowledge used by designers. The books explore whether design knowledge is special, and attempt to explain where design knowledge comes from. Lawson focuses on how designers use drawings in communicating their ideas and how they think with drawings as their designs develop. He also shows how experienced designers use knowledge differently to novices suggesting that design expertise can be developed.

Professor Bryan Lawson is an architect and a psychologist concerned with creative processes in design and with the relationship between architecture and our quality of life. He has worked on the idea of evidence-based design for many years.

Lawson's books, exploring the complex topic of design, should be standard reading for all those with a general interest in the topic. Lawson explains design by analyzing the designer, the process of design, the product produced, and the customer.

The books are intended for students, instructors, designers, and researchers of interactive systems coming from such diverse backgrounds as computer science, psychology, industrial engineering, technical writing, communications and media, product design, graphic design, and education.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Three Decades of Design Education in the UK

The concept of ‘designerly ways of knowing’ emerged in the UK in the late 1970s in association with the development of new approaches in design education. Professor Nigel Cross (right) first clearly articulated this concept in a paper which was published in the journal Design Studies in 1982. He has since published a book by the same name - ‘Designerly Ways of Knowing’ (left).

Nigel Cross is Professor of Design Studies at the UK’s Open University and a leading international figure in the world of design research. With academic and practical backgrounds in architecture and industrial design, he has conducted research in computer-aided design, design methodology and design education since the nineteen-sixties.

His current principal research interest is in design cognition, based on studies of expert and exceptional designers. He has been a member of the academic staff of the pioneering, multi-media Open University since 1970, where he has been responsible for, or instrumental in, a wide range of distance education courses in design and technology. For many years Professor Cross was Head of the Department of Design and Innovation at the Open University – a department with one of the strongest research records in Art and Design in the UK.

The field of design has grown considerably, as both design education and design research have developed together into a new discipline of design. Professor Nigel Cross is one of the most internationally-respected design researchers and this book is a revised and edited collection of key parts of his published work from the last quarter century. Designerly Ways of Knowing traces the development of a research interest in articulating and understanding the nature of design cognition, and the concept that designers (whether architects, engineers, product designers, etc.) have and use particular ‘designerly’ ways of knowing and thinking. There are chapters covering the following topics: the nature and nurture of design ability; creative cognition in design; the natural intelligence of design; design discipline versus design science; and, expertise in design.

Other recent books by Professor Cross include the third edition of his successful textbook on Engineering Design Methods (Wiley, 2000), and he has been a co-editor of books on Research in Design Thinking, Analysing Design Activity and Expertise in Design. His total publications list includes more than 120 items, plus many Open University course texts, broadcasts, etc. Professor Cross is also Editor-in-Chief of the international journal of Design Studies.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Disney to Build a New Park in Shanghai

The Chinese central government approved Walt Disney Co.'s planned $3.6 billion theme park (including hotels and shopping) in Shanghai. This could be one of the largest foreign investments ever in China, and marks an important milestone for the U.S. entertainment company's effort to extend its brand in the world's most populous nation.

A Disney park would bring tens of thousands of jobs to Shanghai, and help broaden its economy. The city aims to build itself into a world power in finance and shipping.

Chinese authorities on Wednesday confirmed an announcement by Burbank, Calif.-based Disney that it had won Beijing's endorsement for its project after years of planning. If it is completed, Shanghai Disneyland would offer the company a significant presence in the huge Chinese market. Shanghai is also in the midst of preparing for the $4.19 billion World Exposition due to start in May.

Disney already operates one theme park in the Chinese city of Hong Kong, which is separately administered and which mainland Chinese require a travel permit to enter. The Shanghai park, to be located near the city's international airport in the Pudong district, will be much larger and specifically designed with cultural touches meant to appeal to a domestic Chinese audience. China's population is so huge that the new park won't even have to rely on foreign tourists.

It is clear that designers around the world will have an eye on China from now on.

Science Animation: The Future of Visual Communication

Visual communication is becoming more prominent with the development of new digital production methods and growing distribution venues on the World Wide Web. New developments in animation tools and scientific imaging are coming together to help scientists visualize phenomena that in the past were too large (the Universe), too small (cellular structures), too fast (neuronal activity), or too slow (plate tectonics) to visualize.

The Inner Life of a Cell, is a ground-breaking eight-minute animation created in NewTek LightWave 3D and Adobe After Effects for Harvard biology students. The animation illustrates unseen molecular mechanisms and the ones they trigger, specifically how white blood cells sense and respond to their surroundings and external stimuli. Created by XVIVO, a scientific animation company near Hartford, CT, it was featured during the 33rd annual SIGGRAPH conference in Boston.

Click on the heading above to see the video.

For a narrated version without the music go to

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Making Visual Presentations Like Steve Jobs

For over 30 years, Apple CEO Steve Jobs (left) has produced incredibly effective visual presentations. Carmine Gallo reveals the techniques that Jobs uses to create and deliver his keynote presentations in his new book, The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience, (right).

According to Gallo, Steve Jobs does not sell computers; he sells an experience. The same holds true for his presentations that are meant to inform, educate, and entertain. An Apple presentation has all the elements of a great theatrical production—a great script, heroes and villains, stage props, breathtaking visuals, and one moment that makes the price of admission well worth it. Here are Gallo's five elements of every Steve Jobs presentation.

1. A headline. Steve Jobs positions every product with a headline that fits well within a 140-character Twitter post. For example, Jobs described the MacBook Air as "the world's thinnest notebook." That phrase appeared on his presentation slides, the Apple Web site, and Apple's press releases at the same time. What is the one thing you want people to know about your product?

2. A villain. In every classic story, the hero fights the villain. In 1984, the villain, according to Apple, was IBM (IBM). Before Jobs introduced the famous 1984 television ad to the Apple sales team for the first time, he told a story of how IBM was bent on dominating the computer industry. "IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple." Today, the "villain" in Apple's narrative is played by Microsoft (MSFT). One can argue that the popular "I'm a Mac" television ads are hero/villain vignettes.

3. A simple slide. Apple products are easy to use because of the elimination of clutter. The same approach applies to the slides in a Steve Jobs presentation. They are strikingly simple, visual, and yes, devoid of bullet points. Pictures are dominant. When Jobs introduced the MacBook Air, no words could replace a photo of a hand pulling the notebook computer out of an interoffice manila envelope. Think about it this way—the average PowerPoint slide has 40 words. In some presentations, Steve Jobs has a total of seven words in 10 slides.

4. A demo. Neuroscientists have discovered that the brain gets bored easily. Steve Jobs doesn't give you time to lose interest. Ten minutes into a presentation he's often demonstrating a new product or feature and having fun doing it. When he introduced the iPhone at Macworld 2007, Jobs demonstrated how Google Maps worked on the device. He pulled up a list of Starbuck stores in the local area and said, "Let's call one." When someone answered, Jobs said: "I'd like to order 4,000 lattes to go, please. No, just kidding."

5. A holy smokes moment. Every Steve Jobs presentation has one moment that neuroscientists call an "emotionally charged event." The emotionally charged event is the equivalent of a mental post-it note that tells the brain, Remember this! For example, at Macworld 2007, Jobs could have opened the presentation by telling the audience that Apple was unveiling a new mobile phone that also played music, games, and video. Instead he built up the drama. "Today, we are introducing three revolutionary products. The first one is a widescreen iPod with touch controls. The second is a revolutionary mobile phone. And the third is a breakthrough Internet communications device…an iPod, a phone, an Internet communicator…an iPod, a phone, are you getting it? These are not three devices. This is one device!" The audience erupted in cheers because it was so unexpected, and very entertaining.

Click on the heading above to see a video about the book.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Parkitecture: Taming the Home Garage

You may not want to actually join this competition but it does suggest an interesting design project for your students - re-design the common garage. Garages with huge blank doors seem to dominate our landscape and even overpower most houses (right). Too often it would be more accurate to describe them as a "garage with attached house".

Dwell magazine’s newest contest (left), sponsored by Lexus, is a challenge to incorporate forward-thinking technology into a freestanding building that can hold no more than three vehicles. Entrants are invited to submit at least two renderings using Google SketchUp—one interior and one exterior—that illustrate the technological possibilities and sustainable potential of the garage of the future.

First prize is $1,000 and coverage on
Winner Announced: November 23rd, 2009
Judging Criteria
* Must be an original, unbuilt rendering of a residential garage that holds no more than three vehicles
* Must include at least one integrated technological system geared toward automobile maintenance and/or storage
* Proposed structure must be constructed of predominately recyclable materials
Submission Details
* Include at least two Google SketchUp renderings of the garage, including an interior rendering that illustrates the proposed technological system and an exterior rendering
* Include the name of the entry
* Include a 500-word description of the overall concept, including choice of materials and an explanation of the proposed technology and overall sustainable features

Click on the heading above to go to the competition site.