Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Envelope Please: Who Will Win Design Oscars?

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents its 83rd Academy Awards (Oscars) on Sunday, February 27, 2011. Many of the awards are for different forms of design - cinematography, special effects, art direction, costume, makeup, set design, animation, editing, etc.

Look for these films to be big winners in the design categories:
Alice in Wonderland (costume), Inception (Special Effects) (right), The Wolfman (makeup), The King's Speech (Art Direction ) and perhaps something for True Grit. Toy Story 3 is pretty sure to win for animation although earlier "How to Train Your Dragon" won the Annie Award from the animation industry professionals. I'm sure there will be some surprises because there were several beautifully designed films.

If Rick Baker wins for best makeup on The Wolfman it will be his 7th Oscar. Ironically, his first Oscar for makeup was the first year there was such an award and it was also for a wolf man in An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (First year of the Makeup award).

Scroll down to see an earlier article with all the design category nominees posted on January 26.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Fashion Designer McQueen in Exhibit at the Met

Alexander McQueen's fashion designs (right) will be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in May which will add to the ongoing confusion about the difference between art and design once again. Well intentioned but misguided people will tend to make comments that indicate exhibiting something at the Met signifies that it is been elevated to the status of "art".

Even Thomas Campbell, the director of the Met, says of McQueen's fashion designs - "His work fits so easily within the discourse of art. He can be considered no less than an artist whose medium of expression was fashion."

Such comments are meant to praise McQueen's work but simply unwittingly reinforce the prejudicial idea that design is generally a lesser form than art. It reveals the stereotypical attitude that if a designer is really good they might be able to be called an artist thereby implying that other designers are simply failed artists.

Alexander McQueen (left) was a great designer. There is no need to presume to elevate his status by calling him an artist. It is important for people to be clear-headed enough to understand that the Metropolitan Museum of Art displays both art and design. The inclusion of a fashion exhibit in the Met doesn't mean that it is therefore "art" - it is "design". Design can stand on its own and doesn't need to be shored up by unknowingly condescending discussions about whether it "reaches the status of art".

The exhibition will feature over 100 examples of work from the designer's 19-year career, from his 1994 Nihilism collection to his posthumous Angels & Demons collection shown last year. McQueen was found dead in his central London flat on February 11, 2010. He had hanged himself after struggling with depression and the death of his mother.

The exhibition runs from 4 May to 31 July with a gala launch on 2 May.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What Happens When We Become Limitless?

A movie called "Limitless" (left) is coming out soon in which an ordinary guy (played by Bradley Cooper) is able to use 100% of his brain by taking pills called NZT. We see how this changes his life and make him incredibly rich and influential. He becomes "a perfect version of himself".

We can expect to see more films like this because we have to begin thinking about the growing power of humans combined with artificial intelligence. What will our lives be like when we are a lot smarter than we are now?

Below is a story about the computer "Watson" which is giving us glimpses of the growing processing power to which we will have access in the near future. The future is like Wikipedia on steroids - access to vast databases in real-time to help us solve problems beyond our imaginations. Doctors will be able to save many more lives. Legislators will be able to make wiser and more informed decisions. We will be able to improve the lives of everyone on the planet and drastically reduce current inequities in the opportunities afforded different people in life.

Movies are like dreams - they are a way we work out our fears and imaginations. Through films we get to try out different possible scenarios. We get to confront our dreams and nightmares in a safe environment.

In this film there are, of course, downsides to what seems like a great life. Other people want what he has at any cost (right - Robert De Niro talks with Bradley Cooper). The pills have side effects that threaten his life, etc. These are part of what we need to work out in our dreams as well - to prepare for the time in which we will have to work them out in real life.

If you had limitless potential what would you do with it? How would it change your life? How would the world be a better place? Is it enough to become rich and sought after? We need to begin thinking about these things because very soon they will become a possibility.

Click on the heading above to see the trailer for "Limitless" and watch for more movies like this in the coming years.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Watson Beats Jeopardy! Champions at Their Own Game

Ray Kurzweil says that the next "singularity" will be when a machine (artificial intelligence) becomes as powerful as a human brain. He says that by doing the simple math, using the exponential growth predicted by Moore's Law, we can see that this will happen in 2029. A computer named Watson (right) made a big step toward the singularity by beating two humans in a game of Jeopardy!.

For decades we have been saying "Yeah, but a computer will never be able to ..." and then the computer does it. People conveniently forget that we really thought a computer could never beat a Grand Master in Chess - until Deep Blue beat Garry Kasparov in 1997.

Now, a computer has made another big step toward the singularity by beating the best competitors in the history of the TV game show "Jeopardy!". In February, 2011 the computer named "Watson" came out on top in a two day match-up with Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter (left).

Before the event, Ray Kurzweil pointed out that, in matters of innovation, beforehand we think something is impossible but immediately after it is accomplished we somehow forget what we fervently believed and it seems almost commonplace to us - a sort of "no big deal" reaction. We can see this happening now with public reaction to Watson's victory. Many of the comments on blogs are pretty embarrassing in their attempts to discount what an amazing moment of history this was.

It is hard for us to remember that moments before the Wright brothers' famous first flight, common wisdom was that heavier than air flight was physically impossible. Only 66 years later we had people on the surface of the Moon. In only 30 years I have gone from feeding punch cards into a computer the size of a room to carrying a lap-top around with me that has many times the power of that early behemoth.

I know there are few people to whom the Jeopardy! game is news but I think it provides a real-time opportunity to study and learn from our reactions to innovation.

Click on the heading above to see part of the Jeopardy! show with Watson.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What Would a Design Education Museum Look Like?

As far as I know there is not a comprehensive, hands-on Design Education Museum anywhere in the world and it might be a good time to see about getting one started. A Design Education Museum would show the processes by which designs are created as well as the finished designs. It would include 2D graphic design, 3D product design, 4D spatial design, and 5D experience design. It would include designs seen and used in popular culture for mass audiences. These would include popular designs such as video games, costumes from Broadway plays, concept cars, and set pieces from Hollywood films. It would also have exhibits where people learn, and get to try out, design processes like Ideation, Visualization, Prototyping and Implementation.

There would be:

2D graphics used to explain and show the design processes, artifacts, and icons. These would include text panels, videos, animations, sketches, plans, storyboards, concept designs, photographs, digital images, projections, and so on.

3D objects like architectural models, design prototypes, tools, drawing tables, chairs, actual products, cars, bicycles, and so on.

4D spaces including design studios, galleries, hallways, a restaurant, a gift shop, a theater, classrooms, meeting rooms, a research library, and so on.

5D experiences including hands-on opportunities to brainstorm, sketch, build, model, handle, try out, experiment, test, evaluate, and so on with actual designs. These would include everything from cardboard, clay, Legos, animation areas, drawing stations, to a photo studio and a construction site.

Designs included would range from the historic, traditional, and contemporary, to the new and emerging. There would be special lighting, sound effects, music, interaction, food, things to do and things to buy. What would you and your students like to see in a Design Education Museum?

Yes Is More - An Exhibit and a Book

"Yes is More" is an exhibition (right) and a book (left) that explains the thought processes behind several architectural projects undertaken by the Danish architectural firm BIG, (Bjarke Ingels Group). Both the exhibit and the book utilize a graphic novel approach by having the text appear in speech balloons superimposed over photos. Viewers and readers are invited into BIG's processes, methods and the resulting designs using this comic book format which makes it approachable and a populist means of communicating complex issues.

Yes is More is the first book of its kind devoted to the pace-setting work of BIG, a Copenhagen-based group of architects, designers and thinkers doing architecture, urbanism, research and development. This book is more of a manifesto of popular culture, in which BIGs methods, means, and processes for making architecture are revealed as unconventional, unexpected and result-oriented.

Yes is More shows how BIG responds to the multiple demands, complex rules and highly specialized knowledge of society by creating tangible solutions that attract the interest of the population at large while earning the respect of admirers across the globe.

Click on the heading above to learn more and scroll down at the Danish Architecture Centre's site to see more pictures.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Virtual Car Printed in 3D and Driven on the Street

The photos here are of a real car that previously only existed as a virtual image in a video game and was made into a real street car with the help of 3D printing technology.
Here is something that brings together a couple of contemporary technologies in one amazing design. Take a virtual car that only existed in a video game, add the capability to "print" 3D objects from a computer, and you get the GTbyCitroen - fantasy fulfilled.

A company called i.materialize, that does 3D printing, was asked by Citroën to help build a working, full-size Citroën G, an imaginary car that had previously only existed in the virtual world of the Gran Turismo 5 racing game. This resulted in a real car that is actually driven on the streets and presented in car shows.

The car is fully functional with butterfly opening doors and passed top speed tests at about 200km/h on a racetrack. The exterior design emphasizes speed with a very aggressive racing look (left), while the interior was designed to create an impression that the cabin is virtually on fire (right). For the GT concept, most of the interior was 3D printed.

In his book "Fab", Neil Gershenfeld talked about the coming time when we would "print" 3-dimensional objects from our laptops similar to the way we currently print 2D images. Printers would use solid material rather than ink to "print" real objects. Like any technology this starts out big, expensive and hard to get but very quickly becomes smaller, cheaper and available at Best Buy for home use.

Today we print out our own 2D graphic designs, tomorrow we will print out our own 3D objects, and soon we will be designing and producing our own 4D spaces and places as well as 5D experiences.

Click on the heading above to see a short video and hear the power of this virtual monster car brought to life.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bjarke Ingels Inspires Young Architects

Most of the architects that K-12 students encounter in the school curriculum are older or have already passed away. Few architects gain recognition and establish their reputations at a young age. This sometimes makes it difficult for students to identify with architecture as something in which they might be interested. Bjarke Ingels is a young architect who might be of interest to high school students.

Bjarke Ingels (left) is the head of BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group), based in Copenhagen. He is one of the youngest heads of an architectural firm to be getting international attention and is involved in some very inspiring projects (right).

An alumnus of the famous Rem Koolhaas' OMA practice, Ingels takes a similar approach as that of his mentor: experimenting with pure space, but never losing sight of the building as a solution to a real-world problem. His manifesto "Yes Is More" takes the form of a giant cartoon strip, 130 meters long, that reminds people to keep thinking big -- to see all our modern problems as challenges that inspire us. (The manifesto is now available in comic-book form.)

His deeply-thought-out and often rather large works, including several skyscrapers and mixed-use projects in a developing section of Copenhagen, plus a project for a new commercial harbor-island, work to bring coherence to the urban fabric and to help their occupants and users lead better lives. He designed the Danish Pavilion for Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The pavilion's design included provisions for 1,500 bikes that Expo visitors could borrow.

Click on the heading above to see Bjarke Ingels' presentation at a TED conference and consider showing it to your students. Click on the pictures above to see larger versions.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Top Thought Leaders Make Up "Edge"

Here is publishing director John Brockman with three of the original members of Edge who provide the sounding board for the ideas and information provided by the amazing collection of thought leaders who make up Edge. Edge Foundation, Inc., was established in 1988 as an outgrowth of a group known as The Reality Club. Its informal membership includes some of the most interesting minds in the world.

The mandate of Edge Foundation is to promote inquiry into and discussion of intellectual, philosophical, artistic, and literary issues, as well as to work for the intellectual and social achievement of society.

Shown here are (from left to right) George Dyson, Stewart Brand, John Brockman (standing), and Kevin Kelly, who together create the Edge Annual Question which Edge has been asking for the past fourteen years.

George Dyson, a science historian, is the author of Darwin Among the Machines and the forthcoming Turing's Cathedral. Stewart Brand is the founder and editor of Whole Earth Catalog and author of Whole Earth Discipline; and Kevin Kelly helped to launch Wired in 1993 and is the author of Out of Control and What Technology Wants.

Along with the many books, articles and website discussions, very year John Brockman asks one deceivingly simple question. For example, "What are you Optimistic About?" And because there's a network of thousands of really brilliant minds, the answers are mind-boggling. This year's question was "What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody's Cognitive Toolkit"?

Check out the site (click on the heading above) to see the wide range of topics and the variety of writers who participate.

Annie Awards for Top Animation Presented in Los Angeles

DreamWorks Animation's "How To Train Your Dragon" (left) won top honors as the Best Animated Feature at the 38th Annual Annie Awards (right) on Saturday, February 5 at UCLA's Royce Hall. Click on the image (left) to see details of the beautiful design employed in How to Train Your Dragon.

Best Animated Short Subject was presented to Pixar's 'Day & Night'; Best Animated Television Commercial to Duck Studios 'Children's Medical Center'; Nickelodeon's 'SpongeBob SquarePants' was honored as Best Animated Television Production for Children and Playdead's 'Limbo' won Best Animated Video Game. A new category, Character Animation in a Live Action Production was presented to Sony Pictures' 'Alice in Wonderland.'

A complete list of the 38th Annual Annie Award winners can be viewed at (click the heading above.). The Annie Awards ceremony will also be web cast on the Annies website later this month.

Host Tom Kenny was joined on stage by a lively mix of animation luminaries, celebrity presenters and comedic talent including animation legend June Foray, Matt Groening, James Hong, Danica McKellar, Kevin Michael Richardson, Mike Henry, Candi Milo, Bob Bergen, Jay Baruchel, Guillermo Del Toro, Bill Plympton, Billy West, Nika Futterman, Brian Regan, Corey Burton, Jeremy Shada, Olivia Olson, Jim Cummings, John DiMaggio and Eric Goldberg. The Winsor McCay award was presented to three animation industry leaders - Brad Bird, Eric Goldberg and Matt Groening. Brad Bird is currently filming in Vancouver and accepted his Winsor via a videotaped message.

Often a predictor of the annual Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, the Annie Awards honor overall excellence as well as individual achievement in a total of 25 categories ranging from best feature, production design, character animation, and effects animation to storyboarding, video games, writing, music and voice acting. Entries submitted for consideration were from productions that originally aired, were exhibited in an animation festival or commercially released between January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010.

Founded in 1972 by ASIFA member and veteran voice talent June Foray, the Annie Awards have grown in scope and stature for the past three decades. Today, ASIFA-Hollywood is the largest of an international network of chapters and supports a range of animation initiatives through its membership. Current projects include an animation archive, library and museum, classes and screenings, and animated film preservation efforts.

Click on the heading above to go to the Annie Award site for complete details.

Differences Between "Art" and "Design"

I am often reproached for making a distinction between "art" and "design" by those who believe there is no useful or accurate distinction to be made. To get a clearer sense of why I believe it is important to stop pretending that there is not a distinction made in the real world, I recommend the writings of Olivia Gude and jan jagodzinski. The book, "Visual Art and Education in an Era of Designer Capitalism" (right) by jan jagodzinski (left) examines the difference between art and design in great detail.

Jagodzinski articulates the important understanding that the role of art in society is to promote free experimentation. The role of art is to maintain the spirit and soul of the nation framed outside the use-value of the marketplace economy. To do this it is often necessary to disturb or challenge the capitalist consumption model prevalent in society.

Jadodzinski contrasts this role of art with that of what he refers to as "designer capitalism". He provides extensive examples from history, philosophy and psychoanalysis that show the role of art today is resisting the capitalist consumption associated with the enterprise of design. He documents the understanding that art's 'asociality' exposes its fundamental antagonism within the capitalist enterprise.

Free experimentation outside the set criteria of the systematically constructed, established order is extremely important in art as well as in pure science, pure mathematics and every other area of intellectual pursuit. "Creativity" that does not surprise, challenge, and disrupt is pseudo-creativity. The only measure of activist art is whether the policing agency becomes upset or threatened. That's why designers use the term "innovation" to distinguish what they do from what artists do.

While this site argues for the role of "Design" and "Visual Communication" in a complete visual education, this does not deny the importance of also maintaining the true role of "Art" as free experimentation and self-exploration outside the set criteria of the established order. We maintain that it is important to understand the rich diversity of the various domains of visualization and to openly accept their differences in order to understand and accurately convey their roles.

Call the teaching of modernist, Bauhaus-style, elements and principles by the term "Visual Communication" education rather than claiming to teach the "elements of art" and the "principles of design". Call visual forms that strive to maintain traditional culture and celebrate popular sensibilities by the term "Visual Culture" to differentiate it from it's more disruptive cousin "Art". Open the doors and windows of "Visual Literacy" so that we can finally really teach "Art" openly and accurately, as well as its cousins "Design", "Visual Culture" and "Visual Communication."

Sunday, February 6, 2011

User Experience Designers Create For Other People

UX Design is shorthand for User Experience Design and high school students should learn how it is different from creating art.

Everything we use in our lives was designed by someone but most people aren't aware of the many decisions that were made on their behalf when a product or service was designed. UX designers make things that work for people other than themselves.

One way to get students started in understanding UX design is to have them find examples of designs that don't work. Interacting with a product or service should feel like a good relationship and should demonstrate that the designer cares about you and not just how cool their design is. Before they design anything, UX designers learn about the people who will use it or it will be like trying to do something nice for someone you don't know. People like and need different things so it's important to find out what they want.

The person who will use the design is not you, so don't design for yourself. Find out what the user really wants or needs. This is called user research.

Click on the heading above to see a cute video talking about what a UX Designer does that your students might like to see.

Duck Stamps Are Part of Our Visual Culture

There are a few art programs in the country where students are encouraged to do paintings like those found on Federal Duck Stamps. Why just a few? Because paintings of ducks fall under the category of "visual culture" rather than "art". This is not an indication that these paintings are not "good paintings" - they just serve different purposes than personal self-exploration and other purposes related to "art".

"Visual Culture" includes many types of visual images not usually found in traditional art museums and fine art galleries. These include folk arts, crafts, mass media, and popular culture such as comic books, greeting cards, scrapbooks, doll houses, yard ornaments, etc.

Visual media can fall under one or more of these categories:
1. Visual Communication - like a map you draw to give someone directions to your house.
2. Design - like drawings of concepts for a new car or different pair of shoes.
3. Visual Culture - popular images enjoyed by the general public (like Holiday decorations).
4. Art - Works of personal self-expression that often challenge norms of society.

Duck Stamps are not for mailing letters - they are licenses issued to duck hunters. Since 1934, sales of Federal Duck Stamps to hunters, stamp collectors and other conservationists have raised more than $700 million that has been used to acquire more than 5.2 million acres of habitat for the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Federal Duck Stamps are a vital tool for wetland conservation. Ninety-eight cents out of every dollar generated by the sales of Federal Duck Stamps goes directly to purchase or lease wetland habitat for protection in the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Federal Duck Stamp Program is one of the most successful conservation programs ever initiated and is a highly effective way to conserve America’s natural resources.

Click on the painting on the right to see the exquisite detail and craftsmanship. Some students like doing these kinds of paintings and a good visual literacy program makes room for visual culture as well as fine art. Click on the heading above to learn about the Junior Duck Stamp Competition.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ray Kurzweil Premieres "Transcendent Man" in NYC

Last night (February 3, 2011) I saw "Transcendent Man," the film about Ray Kurzweil (left), with Ray and the film's director, Barry Ptolemy, at the Time-Life building in New York City at a premiere sponsored by Time and the World Technology Network (WTN). The film can't compete with the Oscar front runner "The Social Network", about the founding of Facebook, but it presents the life and ideas of an inventor and futurist whose contributions surpass just about anyone in recent memory and has people referring to him as "the rightful heir to Thomas Edison."

"Transcendent Man" highlights one of the most difficult ideas for people to understand and accept - the exponential growth of technology. We are so used to experiencing linear growth which expands incrementally year by year but Moore's Law has shown for the last 40 years that technologies double in power every 18 months or so.

The implication of exponential growth is that the year before a new technology reaches maturity it will only be half-way there. A technology that is only 1% towards its end development is only 7 doublings (14 years) away from 100% completion. This "law of accelerating returns" (right) is hard for us to get our heads around. Even Kevin Kelly, former editor of Wired magazine, is one of those included in the film who think Kurzweil is way too optimistic in his predictions for the coming "singularity" - machines as intelligent as humans. Kurzweil says it will happen in 2029. I'm betting Kelly is wrong.

Transcendent Man is touring now so watch for showings in your area - it is a film you need to see. Click on the heading above to find out more about the film.