Saturday, December 18, 2010

Wishing You All a Happy New Year!

Happy New Year is not just a traditional season's greeting for designers but it exemplifies a perpetual state of mind in the profession. Designers are always looking forward to the future. Unlike the general population, designers rarely fear the future because they are so excited about creating it.

New Year's Eve, when we usher out the old year and ring in the new one, is perhaps the original model of "planned obsolescence".

Planned obsolescence is a practice in industrial design of deliberately designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete after a certain time. Each year we look forward to getting rid of the past year and happily starting fresh with a new one. Each year we resolve to do better than before.

I hope your new year is healthy, prosperous, and peaceful.
Together, let's design the future we would like to see!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Designing 5D Schools: Immersive Learning Environments

2D design for schools includes all the textbooks, maps, posters, signs, interactive boards, white boards, bulletin boards, handouts and other flat materials we use everyday.
3D design for schools includes all the objects, manipulatives, chairs, desks, cabinets, plants, sculptures, tools, supplies, and other things students physically hold, touch, walk around, sit on or work on.
4D design for schools includes all the spaces in which learning takes place such as halls, classrooms, cafeterias, playgrounds, science labs, gyms, auditoriums, etc.
5D design for schools includes all the interactions that take place with images, objects, spaces and people. What do students actually do? If you took a picture in each classroom what would it show? Are students sitting at desks, sitting at tables, gathering around to listen or watch? Are they mainly reading, writing and listening?

How can we make schools more interactive and immersive learning environments? Where can we see students making something rather than just working with things others have made?

In 2D design do students also create the books, maps and signs used in the school?
In 3D design do students actually make objects and things they use in the school?
In 4D design do students change the spaces in which they learn, work, play, and live for 6 to 8 hours each school day?
In 5D design do students help design the way they interact with each other, with teachers and with the content of the curriculum? What do they actually experience and do rather than just read, look at or hear about?

Can the students write, design, illustrate and make books about topics in science, history or social studies?
Can the students work with tools to create 3D models of the planet, universe, heart, DNA, vehicles, clothes, etc. in their science and history books?
Can the students research, design and construct their classroom to look like an aquarium, a building from history, a place from another culture, or a natural history diorama?
Can the students create their own video games, toys, interactive exhibits, musical instruments (think Blue Man Group and Stomp)?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Technology Student Association Promotes Design

If you are still holding on to the idea that Technology Education is only about vocational training and doesn't develop creativity and imagination then you better take another look. Click on the heading above to see an inspiring promotional video for the national Technology Student Association.

With over 150,000 members, the Technology Student Association includes over 60 competitive events in their annual state, regional and national competitions that cover areas like web development, film, fashion, graphic design, media, architecture, imaging, animation, robotics, music, and environment as well as the areas we would expect like agriculture, electronics, construction, engineering, and aeronautics.

The organization is lead by students elected by members to develop leadership and prepare students to drive innovation in technology, design, engineering, business, communication and education. Their mission is to prepare the next generation of leaders who will imagine the future and reshape our world. They provide the Technology and Engineering in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Check out their web site at

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Design and Engineering: Partners in Shaping the Future

WALL-E and Eve sort of represent the difference between engineering and design. In the early stages of development of a product, service, place, or experience much of the focus is placed on engineering. That's why many products may be well-engineered but poorly designed.

Apple Computers knew from the beginning that their edge in the world marketplace would be determined by including both high quality design and engineering in every product. Walt Disney saw that design would separate their parks from the ubiquitous but tawdry thrill-ride parks scattered around the world. The Corporate 500 world knows that today they need design to survive in the global marketplace.

Folks like Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, Richard Florida and Thomas Friedman have been pointing out the importance of design for years in their best-selling books read by corporate leaders around the world. The business world has gotten the message but the world of education is a bit on the slow side. Technology teachers have begun to include design in their standards and teaching in an effort to catch up with real-world needs.

Students need to learn design thinking today:
1. Ideation (Identifying, clarifying and researching a problem)
2. Visualization (brainstorming, generating potential solutions)
3. Prototyping (selecting a possible solution and testing it by making models)
4. Implementation (present the best solution, produce it, disseminate it and evaluate it.)

Technology Teachers Add Engineering (think Design)

It happened so quickly and smoothly that some people hardly noticed but the International Technology Educators Association added Engineering to its name so it is now the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (left) and its publication Technology Teacher (far right) is now called Technology and Engineering Teacher (right).

The significance of this simple change is monumental. Technology Educators have made a move to incorporate design into their curriculum and to be the locus of design education in schools. Engineering is very closely related to design and the Engineering Design Process Model is almost identical to the Design Process Model:
1. State the problem
2. Generate ideas
3. Select a solution
4. Build the item
5. Evaluate
6. Present the results

Engineering is the "E" in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and the Technology Teachers were wise to add this to their curriculum. While art educators have made some feeble gestures at adding "Art" to make it "STEAM" they missed the opportunity to claim Design as part of their domain. Design makes up three of the ten Standards for Technology Literacy but is not included in Standards for Art Education (which could then have been Standards for Visual Literacy).

Design is the kind of problem solving the Partnership for 21st Century Skills has in mind for their educational initiatives and the Technology Teachers are well positioned to take the lead in filling that need.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Telling Stories in the 4th Dimension

Schools should include more 4D displays created by students. 2D is the design of flat images (we have plenty of murals), 3D is objects (sculptures), 4D is spaces, and 5D is interactive design. 4D designs include architecture, interior design, landscape design, urban planning, set design, exhibit design, dioramas and other designs that include spatial dimensions.

Schools have display cases and examples of the types of 4D displays students could create appear every year in holiday shop windows at places such as Macy's, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman (left), Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue (right), Tiffany and Bloomingdales.

Many of these displays are made with inexpensive materials such as foam core, cardboard, and paper. They gain their impact through good design, creative lighting, and an element of story telling. Students could create dioramas that tell stories from the school curriculum in science, history, social studies, etc.

Click on the heading above to see some of the window displays in New York City.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Two Views of Problems in Education

There are two movies about the problems with education in America currently making the circuit that address what appear to be completely different worlds.

Waiting for Superman (right), directed by Davis Guggenheim, addresses the problems with under-achieving students, teachers and schools that have placed our education system at the bottom among the developing nations in the world. This film shows students struggling to find challenging education with high standards. The film paints a picture of students suffering from lack of educational opportunities and struggling to get into college. The solution seems to be to challenge students more and expect more from teachers and the education system.

In contrast, Race to Nowhere (left), directed by Vicki Abeles, paints a picture of young people across the country who have been pushed to the brink because of high expectations in schools, educators who are worried that students aren't developing the skills they need to get into the best colleges, and parents who are driving their kids too hard to succeed. Race to Nowhere says there is a silent epidemic in our schools because students are being pushed too hard: cheating has become commonplace, students have become disengaged, stress-related illness, depression and burnout are rampant and young people arrive at college and the workplace unprepared and uninspired. These students know they are going to college - they are being pushed to get into the best colleges and the film seems to say we need to back off and not push them so hard.

The startling contrast between these two strikingly different views of what is wrong with education may actually show us the real problem with education in the United States. We have one culture of privileged elite students who are guaranteed the best in life and suffer from too many wonderful things from which to choose. Then we have another culture of disadvantaged students, side by side in the same communities, who are denied opportunities and resources that would help make them successful in life. Resolving the contrast between these views may lead us more quickly to solving the problems of education in America than attacking either of the problems outlined by the individual movies.

Click on the heading above to see the trailer for Race to Nowhere and then contrast that with the trailer for Waiting for Superman at

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Design Takes on Education

Education is one of the biggest design challenges in the 21st century. Designer Emily Pilloton (right) moved to rural Bertie County, in North Carolina, to engage in a bold experiment of design-led community transformation. She's teaching a design-build class called Studio H that engages high schoolers' minds and bodies while bringing smart design and new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.

Emily Pilloton and her Project H Design initiative are looking at:

(1) Design For Education - the physical construction of improved materials, spaces, and experiences for students and teachers;
(2) Redesigning Education - a systems level look at how education is administered, what is being offered, and to whom;
and (3) Design As Education - actually teaching design in schools by coupling design thinking with real construction and fabrication skills fulfilling an actual, useful community purpose.

The Project H design principles are:
1. Design through action
2. Design with, not for
3. Design systems, not stuff
4. Document, share, and measure
5. Start locally, and scale globally
6. Build

Click on the heading above to see Emily Pilloton explain her work in a small, rural community to apply the idea of Teaching Design for Change at a recent TED conference.

New Toys and Games for Education

Education is about to see an influx of DIY toys, games, and APPS that teach important content and skills encompassing what students should know and be able to do. These learning objects, environments and experiences will at first be crude and unsophisticated but will evolve quickly as online sharing creates an environment of friendly competition that goes viral.

Way back in 2007, Will Wright (right), famous for developing the online games making up the SIMS franchise, talked about creating SPORE (left), a game in which you guide the creation of life. The game had mixed results but represents the kind of thinking people are increasingly putting into immersive environments for learning.

My students, in an Introduction to Design course, are tackling, as a design project, the re-design of environments for learning. This includes 2D images like textbooks, whiteboards, interactive boards, maps, timelines, posters, handouts, etc.; 3D objects like globes, toys, manipulatives, desks, chairs, e-readers, etc.; 4D spaces like classrooms, halls, schools, playgrounds, parks, cafeterias, labs, etc.: and 5D experiences such as interactive exhibits, online games, theme parks, immersive environments, hands-on-learning, etc.

They are going through the steps of Ideation (identifying and clarifying the problem, researching the problem and other attempts to solve it, and developing criteria for a successful solution); Visualization (brainstorming multiple potential solutions to the problem in visual form so others can see and contribute to their ideas); Prototyping (selecting potential solutions and mocking them up to see any design flaws or additional challenges in realizing a viable solution); and Implementation (which, because of the classroom environment, consists of presenting their ideas to classmates and others to see if they have created a compelling and plausible solution to the problem.)

Click on the heading above to hear what Will Wright has to say about developing toys and games for learning.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

From Your Computer to a "Printed" 3-D Object

Neil Gershenfeld (left) described the coming revolution of 3-D printing several years ago in his book "FAB". We have reported about Gershenfeld's work and book before but, with the production of the world's first 3-D printed car (see article below), we need to take another look at the amazing potential of this revolutionary technology.

Imagine the potential of a technology that allows you to design an object on your home computer using free software and being able to have it printed out as a real 3-D object. This does for product design what the traditional printer did for graphic design.

Neil Gershenfeld is a professor at MIT and the head of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms, a sister lab spun out of the popular MIT Media Lab. His book, "Fab, The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop - From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication" (right) explains the technology and relates some of the applications in surprising places like underdeveloped areas in India and Africa.

Gershenfeld also points out that not only can the fabricating process produce objects but it can produce the machines needed to produce the objects. He refers to a "personal fabricator," a machine that makes machines, called "fab labs." Gershenfeld and his colleagues have actually established these systems in India, Africa, Norway, and Boston to empower local people to use technology to create jewelry from junk, capture solar power, and make milk safe to drink.

Click on the heading above to see Gershenfeld's presentation at a TED conference.

Urbee - World's First 3-D Printed Car

A century after Henry Ford revolutionized automobile production with the introduction of the assembly line for the Ford Model T, a car has been produced using a process that could prove just as revolutionary – 3D printing. Code-named, Urbee, the car is the first ever to have its entire body, including its glass panels, 3D printed. A collaborative design by Stratasys and Kor Ecologic, the Urbee is the first car ever to have its entire body printed using additive manufacturing processes.

3-D printing technology takes an image designed on a computer and prints it out as a 3D object with layers of a variety of materials. Several design software programs, some free, others for sale, including Alibre and Autodesk, allow a person to design a product on their home computer, then send the design to a company like Shapeways, which will print it and mail it back.

3-D printing is being used to build everything from costumes for movies, buildings, to even body parts (right). A 3-D printer creates an object by stacking one layer of material, typically plastic or metal, on top of another. The technology started as a tool used by designers to build prototypes and is now used to print things like iPhone cases, lamps, doorknobs, jewelry, handbags, perfume bottles, clothing and architectural models. A California company is even working on printing houses.

3-D printers can cost from $10,000 to more than $100,000. Stratasys and 3D Systems are among the industry leaders. MakerBot is one company that sells a hobbyist kit for under $1,000.

Click on the heading above to watch a video (a commercial) that explains the 3-D printing process from one company's system.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Video Games as Models for Learning

Until recently, most of the conversations around video and online games were about their seemingly negative effects, but now people are beginning to see how video games have tapped into some very important learning concepts that are applicable to the real world. We are being asked to rethink our negative attitudes toward the visual power of video games and see how we can use that power to improve education and the world in which we live.

Game designer Jane McGonigal (right) asks: "Why doesn't the real world work more like an online game? In the best-designed games, our human experience is optimized: We have important work to do, we're surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment."

Game theorist Tom Chatfield (left) asks, "What if society harnessed that energy [of game players and creators] to redefine learning? Or voting?" Chatfield believes that understanding the psychology of the videogame reward schedule is not only important for understanding the world of our children but it's a stepping stone to improving our world right now.

The complex challenge and reward systems developed and tested by game designers can be applied to making the real world a better place in which to live, work, and play. McGonigal's challenge to designers and future designers is "Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality."

Click on the heading above to watch Jane McGonigal's presentation, "Gaming Can Make a Better World", at the TED conference. Then check out Tom Chatfield's presentation, "7 ways games reward the brain", at the TED conference as well.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A PhD in Art and Design?

Most people in the higher education art and design world get an MFA as a terminal degree. Is there a need for a PhD in art and design?

That was the question being discussed at a conference in New York called "Evolution: Art and Design Research and the PhD". The participants explored how research is defined and in what ways it might shape a doctoral degree in a field where artists and designers are more often rooted in creative practice.

Parsons The New School for Design and Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), the University of Sydney, sponsored Evolution: Art and Design Research and the PhD, a two-day conference on October 22-23, which brought together an international roster of artists, designers, and scholars to envision new models for academic research in art and design.

Parsons The New School for Design is based in New York but active around the world. Sydney College of the Arts (SCA), the Visual Arts Faculty of the University of Sydney, has been leading the research and practice of contemporary art in Australia since 1976.

The conference opened a dialogue about the role of a practice-based PhD in art and design, an idea that is slowly gaining traction in the United States, as Parsons considers developing one. Through lectures, panel discussions, faculty presentations, and breakout sessions, they explored the wide range of practices utilized by visionary artists and designers in the context of advanced research practice and PhD programs. Throughout the conference, attendees addressed the sociocultural, political, and technological issues in the current doctoral landscape.

The conference featured keynote speeches by Bill Gaver, head of the design PhD program at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Sara Diamond, president of Ontario College of Art and Design. Meredith Davis, head of the interdisciplinary PhD program at North Carolina State University and a leading advocate for American design research, called for more design PhD programs in the United States. Her program is one of only a handful in the U.S. that offer a PhD in design while there are dozens of such programs in other countries.

The conference was streamed online for those who couldn't attend in person and you can see videos from the conference by clicking on the heading above.

Fast Company Names 2010 Masters of Design

Each year, Fast Company magazine devotes an issue to what they call "Masters of Design" (MOD) (left)- innovators in the design world who have made some significant contribution to design and business. This October's issue is it.

The cover photo (right) shows Spanish-born Patricia Urquiola (nicknamed "Hurricane Patricia,") who leads a staff of 30 people at Studio Urquiola in Italy and is one of the few women to make it to the top of an industry dominated by men. Urquiola has won numerous awards including Designer of the Decade honors in Europe. She helped BMW develop a car designed by and for a woman and she did the $194 million design of the Mandarin Oriental in Barcelona.

The Masters of Design include young designers from small companies to designers for some of the biggest companies in the world like Denis Weil who created classy new looks for McDonald's franchises in places like Australia.

Click on the heading above to see the whole list of Masters of Design at Fast Company's web site and read their stories.

Design In Action Conference in Chicago

The 2010 AAO/A+DEN Conference "Design in Action: Inspiring Solutions for People and Cities" will take place on November 15-16, 2010 in Chicago.

One of the organizers, the Association of Architecture Organizations (AAO), is a network that supports the many organizations around the world that are dedicated to interpreting architecture and the built environment to the general public. A+DEN is a hub for architecture and design education that provides connections to organizations, programs, lesson plans, resources, conferences and workshops across the country.

One of the breakout sessions at the Design in Action Conference will be Architecture Education: What Should K-12 Students Learn about Architecture? Academic standards address what students should learn in many subjects – but what about architecture? Kelly Lyons (right) from Carnegie Mellon will address the initiative to develop learning goals for architecture education. Lyons is Program Director for Architecture Explorations, the K-12 outreach program of the Carnegie Mellon School of Architecture, as well as UDream Program Coordinator. She develops and manages a collection of architecture outreach programs, reaching over 1,000 students each year.

Click on the heading above to see a video about A+DEN featuring Lynn Osmond and Jean Linsner from the Chicago Architecture Foundation and others talking about the motivation behind the formation of A+DEN as a national network.

Visualization: The Promise of the 21st Century

Until relatively recently in human history it has been difficult to reproduce and distribute visual images the way the Gutenberg press enabled us to reproduce and disseminate the written word. With advanced technologies, however, we now have the capacity for mass distribution of drawings, photos, film, video and digital animation. This is having a tremendous impact on the development of the human brain and is unlocking capacities lying unexploited in our right hemispheres and occipital lobes.

It is clear that one of the greatest transformations in human intellectual growth will happen during this century and will require a complete paradigm shift in how we value and accept visual images in the scholarly psyche. Currently there is a deep and systematic opposition to the acceptance of visual images as serious forms of thinking and communication at every level of our educational system. Progress in human intellectual development is being systematically hampered by our refusal to accept and exploit the power of visualization.

Barbara Maria Stafford, over the last couple of decades, has written several books (left and right) documenting the intricate ways that images focus intentional behavior and allow us to feel thought and how complex images compress space and time to make visible the invisible ordering of human consciousness. Stafford says that making full use of contemporary visualization capabilities "means casting off vestigial biases automatically coupling printed words to introspective depth and pictures to dumbing down."

The real transformation of education in the 21st century will occur when the death-grip of textual communication is loosened enough to accept visual communication as a powerful tool and partner for thinking and communicating. The fear and loathing aimed at visualization promoted by the biases of "textism" is one of the latest forms of discrimination to take its place alongside sexism and racism.

Click on the heading above to learn more about Stafford's work.

A Sculpture Lesson from Disney's Halloween Pumpkins

Each Halloween season Disneyland Park displays giant heads of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters carved from "pumpkins". Seeing how they make this Halloween feature provides hints on how a group of students could make a large scale sculpture of their own design. Click on the heading above to see a video of the process. Watch it a couple of times because it goes by pretty fast.

This video appeared on a special website all about Disney Parks called Disney Parks Blog. The site is a great way to help students see how Disney creates their unique 5D immersive experiences by expertly designing 4D spaces, 3D objects, and 2D graphics.

Without getting hung up on any attitudes you might have about "Disney" and not planning to just copy Disney characters, there is a great deal to learn form the Disney Imagineers about how to create visually stimulating immersive learning environments in our schools. Taking a look at a Disney Park makes our school environments look pretty drab and uninteresting. What can we do with graphics, objects, spaces, and experiences to help students learn important content in our schools?

There are many good books like the one on the left about the Disney Imagineers and how they create the magic of Disney through design.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

From Halloween to a Lifetime Passion

Halloween is an excellent time to introduce students to careers in costume and makeup design. Students love to dress up for Halloween but many don't know that their love of costumes, makeup and masks could become a life-long love and a paying career. Rick Baker is a Hollywood makeup artist who made a career creating prosthetic makeup such as this Wolfman makeup (right) on actor Benicio Del Toro.

Wouldn't your students like to have Rick Baker's life working with people like director George Lucas (far left), actor Andy Serkis (second from left), and director Peter Jackson (far right)? (Baker is second from right) This work requires drawing and sculptural skills and a great deal of hard work because the field is so competitive and the people in it are incredibly skilled.

Think about the makeup effects in films like Harry Potter, Hellboy, The Grinch, X-men, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, and Alice in Wonderland where the effects are not done digitally but involve hours of makeup application on actors like Ray Fiennes, Ron Perlman, Jim Carrey, Benicio Del Toro, Rebecca Romijn, Brad Pitt, and Johnny Depp.

Click on the heading above to see a trailer for the movie Wolfman to put yourself in the Halloween spirit and look at the design involved in the cinematography, sets, lighting, costumes, and makeup.

Visual Note-Taking Increases Comprehension

All students need to develop skills in visual communication. Students should have opportunities to learn how adding visuals to note-taking can help increase understanding and reveal connections that might otherwise not be apparent.

Visual note-taking (right) includes:
Differentiating text with headings, subheadings, changing font sizes, and using bold-face and italics when appropriate.
Using bullets to identify lists of materials. Bullets can include dots, circles, squares, triangles, stars or any visual device you like.
Making connections by using arrows, lines, dotted lines, dashed lines or any other connecting symbol you like.
Framing special material to separate it from the rest. Frames can be rectangles, ovals, speech balloons, thought balloons or any other framing device.
Graphic techniques such as alignment, justification, shadows, overlapping and any other technique to create visual interest and clarity.
Sketches include quick drawings of people, places or things that may be metaphoric or represent things mentioned in the presentation.
(Click on the photo on the right to examine the note-taking process.)

Click on the heading above to see an amazing example of visual note-taking of a speech given by Sir Ken Robinson (left) to the RSA (Royal Society for the Arts) in London. It is a bit small to see in the video but at the end, when the camera pulls back to reveal the entire drawing, you see how the non-linear nature of visual note-taking allows one to review the entire presentation in a glance.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dornish Collection of Children's Book Illustrations on View

Kutztown University of Pennsylvania's Sharadin Gallery has an exhibition of original children's book illustrations collected by Professor Emeritus Robert Dornish.

The exhibition features over 75 original illustrations for children’s books in a wide variety of media (oil, mixed media, watercolor), and a diversity of styles from some of the world’s best-known illustrators. Included are works by Wendell Minor, Tedd Arnold, Robert Sabuda, Brett Helquist, Gennady Spirin, Valeri Gorbachev, Tomie dePaola, and Caldecott winners Uri Shulevitz, Gerald McDermott, Jerry Pinkney, and Leo and Diane Dillon.

Dr. Robert Dornish, Kutztown University Professor Emeritus, taught for over 28 years in the Elementary Education Dept, beginning in 1969. One year, a last-minute change of schedule found him teaching children’s literature so he began seeking out the best in current children’s books at conferences and bookshops. He struck up friendships with many of the nation’s leading illustrators and began collecting signed first editions, many now housed in Kutztown’s Rohrbach Library.

Book collecting soon led him to collect original illustrations beginning with a large oil landscape by illustrator Thomas Locker which he got as a gift from his wife. The collection has since grown to nearly 180 pieces.

Click on the heading above to see more about the exhibition.

Marilyn Cole Started Young in Illustration

Being an illustrator takes dedication and Marilyn Cole (left) not only wrote her own adaptation of a classic fairy tale but illustrated it, self-published the book, and had a costume specialist make an amazing representation of the main character (on right in the picture on the left). Cole wrote and illustrated her own adaptation of the classic story "The Tortoise and the Hare" (right). She also does a web comic on her site, "5 Days a Week".

What's most amazing is that Marilyn Cole is a 20 year old full-time college student majoring in art education at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania.

Cole's adaptation of the Tortoise and Hare story has a modern spin and follows Jack Hare in another race with Terrance J. Tortoise who has failed to defeat the Hare in fourteen straight races. When the Fox witch places a curse on the hare he is forced to rethink everything about who he is and what his purpose is as a competitor, friend, and a husband. Cole wanted to create a more text-heavy version of the children's classic for older readers.

Cole, like many young illustrators today, uses Photoshop and a Wacom tablet to create her illustrations.

Click on the heading above to check out her comic strip site.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Edward Tufte Creates Art and Information Design

Information designer, Edward Tufte (right), (the Da Vinci of Data), has opened a gallery/museum called ET Modern in NYC's Chelsea district showing his sculptures as well as some of his information design work. On Saturday's you can get a tour of the space from Tufte himself (I was star-struck).

While the gallery is dominated by his metal sculptures, Tufte is possibly the greatest authority on what is called "information design" (charts, graphs, diagrams) and author of several books including, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. This book redefined the field of information design and was named one of Amazon's 100 best books of the century. President Barack Obama recently appointed Tufte to an independent panel that advises the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (tracking how stimulus funds are spent).

The heads of Fortune 500 companies (even Bill Gates) know Tufte and have his books on their shelves. Tufte's simple but powerful philosophy is to get rid of ornamentation, or what he calls "chartjunk", and let the data speak for itself. Visual communication is about visual thinking and visual evidence, not about commercial art. With increasingly heavy amounts of data and information, what's needed is a clear, analytical, statistical, quantitative presentation of the information rather than decoration. He calls this restraint "the least effective difference." He is famous for his pronouncement "Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."

Click on the heading above to learn more about Tufte and his new gallery. (Notice how his web site exemplifies his philosophy.)

Douglas Rushkoff says "Program or Be Programmed"

In his latest book, media guru Douglas Rushkoff (left) says that in the current digital landscape you can either create software or be software - program or be programmed.

Just as it is important to be able to write as well as read, Rushkoff argues that too many people have worked with software created by others for so long that they don't know how to create their own software. In his new book, Program or Be Programmed (right), he provides 10 principles to help us rethink our relationship with the software we use. The 10 "commands" amount to an ethical manifesto for gaining control and humanizing our technology. They provide lessons for how to live a humane life in a digital world.

Rushkoff has been writing about the interface between people and media technology for a long time and is known for getting it right when it comes to understanding the implications of technology well before others have been able to see past their initial negative reactions to anything new.

Rushkoff says kids can easily learn programming like they learn any language and, rather than just learning to use off-the-shelf software they should learn computer languages and learn how to write programs. He says, "Programming is the sweet spot, the high leverage point in a digital society. If we don't learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves."

Technologies have certain biases that shape our thinking if we don't understand their underlying structure and meaning. Rushkoff points to other example in which we failed to see the biases of the technology. We think that the development of the automobile lead to the creation of urban sprawl and suburbia when, in actuality, the suburbs, and the publicly funded highways leading to them, were actually created to sell automobiles.

To adults, learning the language of programming can seem pretty daunting but for children, if they grow up in a culture of programming, they can learn it as easily as a Chinese child learns to speak Mandarin. Seymour Papert's "Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas" promoted this idea way back in the 1960s. Mitchell Resnick and the folks at MIT's Lifelong Kindergarden developed the programming language "Scratch" to help young people create their own video games and John Maeda wrote "Design by Numbers" to encourage artists to learn to program.

Perhaps it's time for design educators to help create a generation of truly literate digital natives who can not only read but write in the language of computers. The next generation of designers can not only be game players but game changers.

Click on the heading above to check out Rushkoff's website to learn more and to see a short video about the book.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Join the Sketchbook Project

Designers and other visual thinkers often use sketchbooks to capture ideas. Now there is a chance to see thousands of sketchbooks from around the world and have one of yours included in a traveling exhibition.

The Sketchbook Project invites anyone and everyone to be part of a traveling exhibit of sketchbooks made between now and January 15, 2011. Thousands of sketchbooks will be exhibited at galleries and museums as they make their way on tour across the country. After the tour, all sketchbooks will enter into the permanent collection of The Brooklyn Art Library, where they will be barcoded and available for the public to view.

Anyone interested in participating should go to the Sketchbook Project website and sign up by Oct. 31st, 2010. For $25 they will enter you into the exhibition and send you a sketchbook that needs to be returned by January 15th, 2011. All of the sketchbooks will go on tour starting in March, 2011 to Brooklyn, NY; Austin, TX; San Francisco, CA; Portland, ME; Atlanta, GA; and Chicago, IL.

Click on the heading above to go to the Sketchbook Project website and look at a video about last year's project.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

What Does a Scientific Mind Do in the Arts?

Scott McCloud (right) has written books about "Understanding Comics" (left) and "Making Comics" but everyone has come to understand that his ideas are about much more than comics. McCloud is one of the world's top analysts of visual communication - how it is done, what it means, why it's important.

McCloud talks about three types of "vision".
1. What one can not see - the unseen and unknowable. (Humanities)
2. That which can be proven or ascertained. (Sciences)
3. A vision of something which can be, which may be, based on knowledge, but is as yet unproven. (Design)

He pays homage to people in history like Chares Babbage who understood the shape of the future even though it was something that would be implemented by other people much later. Babbage laid the intellectual underpinnings for today's computers even though the main source of energy he had available to run such a machine at the time was steam.

Beginning with pre-print stories told on parchment and columns leading to our current world of print, McCloud foresees a future with some sort of immersive, post-print display, incorporating sound and time, that provides a window back into the world in which we live.

Click on the heading above to hear and see McCloud's TED talk and see an excellent demonstration of visual communication in practice. Explore visual devices used by McCloud in this presentation to help your students enhance their visual presentations and make them more visual.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Making Information Beautiful

The arts have traditionally been a refuge for those who don't enjoy or trust science and math. This makes it difficult for some art educators to warm up to design and visual communication because these areas utilize several languages working at the same time - the language of the eye (images, objects, places and experiences) and the languages of words and numbers.

Dave McCandless (left) finds beauty in visualizing information so we can see the patterns and connections that matter and then designing that information so it makes more sense or tells a story that allows us to focus on the information that is important. He argues that combining the language of the eye with the language of the mind allows us to start speaking two languages simultaneously with each enhancing the other. He provides many examples in his book "Information is Beautiful" (right).

At a time when information overload and data saturation causes a breakdown of trust and runaway skepticism we need to use data visualization to help us make sense of this data glut. McCandless says, "Visualizing information is a form of knowledge compression. It's a way of squeezing an enormous amount of information and understanding into a small space."

Visual education for the 21st century needs to include visual communication and design along with the traditional art and visual culture.

Click on the heading above to hear McCandless' presentation at TED.