Monday, March 28, 2011

Developing a Masters Degree in Design Education

What would a Masters Degree Program in K-12 Design Education look like? It would have three major components:

1. Foundations and Theory of Design Education
2. Design Praxis
3. Design Pedagogy

Students would take an introductory lecture course, Introduction to Design Education, that would introduce them to the design domains, design processes, history of design and design education theory. They will probably have previous design experience but generally in only one area of design. Readings might include works by Nigel Cross, Bryan Lawson, Richard Buchanan, Victor Margolin, etc.

Students would have semester long lab courses in the history, theory and practice of 2D graphic design, 3D product design, 4D spatial design, and 5D experience design. As in the tradition with art teachers, design teachers would be expected to have some knowledge of all the design domains rather than just a specialty in one.

Students would take studio courses to learn design thinking processes like Ideation, Visualization, Prototyping and Implementation.

Students would also take in-depth courses in one or more of the design domains to gain deeper knowledge of at least one area of design.

Students would take courses in methods of design education and have experiences teaching design in K-12 or comparable settings. Many students entering the program will probably already have a teaching license in a field such as art education, technology education, computer science, etc. but those without certification would have to take the steps needed to gain a teaching license in some field.

We are looking for schools interested in starting Graduate Programs in K-12 Design Education including the full range of design domains, theory, practice, and pedagogy. At first there will be few institutions with the depth in both design and education to develop a full program but, in time, these new K-12 Design Education instructors and programs will become more available to teachers interested in Design Education.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Eddie Morra is a Sapien

Eddie Morra, a character played by Bradley Cooper (right) in the movie "Limitless", is what I call a Sapien, a human with an IQ in the four digits. In the movie, becoming that smart happens when Eddie (with the help of a pill) is able to use all of his brain rather than the proverbial 20%, but, in reality, gaining that level of intelligence won't happen without us hooking up with artificial intelligence.

Limitless is a parable for what Ray Kurzweil calls the "Singularity", when human and artificial intelligence intersect in about 25 years. After the Singularity there will be two hominid species on the planet - Humans and Sapiens. It has been over 40,000 years since there were two hominid species living together on earth. Back then it was Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens. We call ourselves "Human" now. I call the next species "Sapien".

In the movie Eddie takes a pill (NZT) to become smart but in real life it won't be a drug he swallows but a computer, a cocktail of intelligent nanotechnology. And, as in the movie, it is better to put it directly into the blood stream rather than ingesting it. Watson, the Jeopardy champion computer, in our veins and in our brains. The science is a bit beyond most viewers so it's easier for the film makers to just tell us it is some kind of drug. With our limited knowledge of nanotechnology a pill is easier for us to swallow.

Most reviewers, while enjoying the movie as a Sci-Fi adventure, miss the fact that this movie is one of the first, of many to come, to explore the coming Singularity and its implications for the future. And it is one of the first to get the ending right - after all a person with a four digit IQ is not stupid. The film takes us through many of the fears we have about the coming Singularity - Will it make us less humane? Won't it have dangerous side-effects? What if bad people get that smart? Won't the Sapiens kill us off the way we did with Neanderthals? Its all there for us to worry about. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Click on the heading above to see the trailer for Limitless.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Technology Student Association Meets in Dallas, TX

The 2011 National TSA Conference will take place June 21 – June 25, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. This year's Conference Theme is
Snapshot of Innovation. About 4500 people from across the country are expected to attend.

The National TSA Conference will be at the Gaylord Texan Resort (right) in Grapevine, Texas (in the greater Dallas area). During this annual conference over sixty middle school and high school technology based student competitions will be held. Many of these events are based on design challenges including graphic design, video game design, photography, fashion design, digital video production, desktop publishing, animatronics, architectural models, computer-aided design and others.

There will also be leadership training, a career and education fair, and a program sponsored by TSA’s national service partner, the American Cancer Society. This conference is an approved educational event by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Four Steps to a 5D School

A 5D School is an immersive environment where the images, objects, spaces and experiences contribute to learning. Designing a 5D school takes place in four stages:
1. The natural environment: What is the site of the school? What are the views outside the windows? Is there a courtyard that needs some designing? Does the site need plantings replaced?
2. The building: This is the architects work. What is the building itself like? Have teachers been consulted during the design process? Has the architect left some room for the students and teachers to add their personal touches?
3. The Furnishings: This comes out of a different budget. Are the tables and chairs attractive, functional and appropriate for the room? Are there necessary tools (paper cutters, storage racks, mobil storage, interactive boards, etc.) to enhance the learning experience?
4. Where's the sparkle? What makes the room unique and inviting? Is there a signature item or place in the design that gives it an identity (left)? Where are the places where teachers and students can add interactive exhibits as part of the curriculum? Unless it is planned in advance this can cause expensive retrofits and may come out of the teacher's supply budget.

Let's take these four stages and just think about lighting as an example.
1. Is there natural light coming into the room? Can it be modulated with color, darkened when necessary and made to provide special lighting effects?
2. Unless prompted, the architect usually provides only overall lighting - commonly bright, evenly distributed and boring.
3. Can you light specific areas - displays, walls, working groups, etc.? Has the architect provided some track-lighting or other means to light a still-life or display when necessary?
4. What can you do to provide some sparkle in the environment - a string of lights around the ceiling, a couple of attractive lamps, some colored lighting effects (right)?

Plan the design or redesign of your school in these 4 stages: the site the school sits on, the school building itself, the furnishings in the school, and the personal touches each teacher and class of students makes. Each of these factors comes out of different budgets so planning ahead can prevent costly retrofits or change orders. Are the outlets placed where you need them in step two so that steps three and four can be carried out efficiently? Did the architect provide 2D and 3D display spaces in the original plans in stage 2 or does this take extra expense to retrofit in stage 3?

Regular classroom teachers usually have control only over stage 4 (often with many restrictions) but design teachers should work to be involved in all 4 stages for the whole school (not just their rooms). Be sure the architect leaves room for what students and teachers contribute to the design of the school.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Artificial Trees Proposed for Boston City Streets

Here's an imagination starter that might prompt ideas for a class design project. These artificial trees (left) provide light filtration for sunlight during the day and artificial light at night (right), remove harmful CO2 from the air, strip hydrogen from water (H2O) to create hydrogen energy and release oxygen and water vapor back into the atmosphere, and serve as "street furniture" to enhance the urban landscape and provide places for people to meet and sit.

TREEPODS: Carbon-Scrubbing Artificial Trees were submitted among many other proposals for a competition for Boston City Streets by Paris-based Influx_Studio. Designers Mario Caceres and Cristian Canonico designed a set of air-filtering trees for the SHIFTboston urban intervention contest. Called TREEPODS, the designs harnesses biomimicry to efficiently emulate the carbon filtration qualities of trees.

The TREEPOD systems are capable of removing carbon dioxide from the air and releasing oxygen using a carbon dioxide removal process called “humidity swing,”. In addition to their air-cleansing abilities, TREEPODS will also include solar energy panels and will harvest kinetic energy through an interactive seesaw that visitors can play with at the TREEPOD’s base. As passersby play on the seesaws they power displays that explain the TREEPODS’ de-carbonization process. Both the solar panels and the kinetic energy station will power the air filtration process, as well as interior lights.

The TREEPODS themselves will be made entirely of recycled/recyclable plastic from drink bottles. Based not only on trees, but on the human lung, the design of the “branches” will feature multiple contact points that serve as tiny CO2 filters. The proposed design, giant white and translucent canopies of trees, can be installed among existing trees or on their own. At night, the TREEPODS light up in an array of colors.

What kinds of design discussions and projects does this suggest to you?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Are Video Games Art?

The story below is about an exhibit coming to the Smithsonian American Art Museum called "The Art of Video Games". This is a great opportunity for all of us to explore the imprecision of language we use when referring to the visual world.

There is a book by the same name that is about the design of the images in video games - the characters, costumes, props, settings, etc. That book should have been called "The Design of Video Games." The exhibit at the American Art Museum isn't about that. The exhibit should be called "Video Games as Art" because they are talking about the whole experience - user participation, sound, story, playability, etc. - and asking "Can a video game be art?"

If a video game isn't art then what could it be? There are four domains of the visual world - visual communication, design, visual culture, and art.
(1) Visual Communication (far left) includes maps, charts, diagrams, scientific illustration, photojournalism, and a variety of visual forms used to communicate ideas and information in a straightforward manner like the drawing of the human skeleton. If someone created a video game intended to teach some facts, for example, it might be considered Visual Communication.
(2) Design (second from left) includes 2D graphic design, 3D product design, 4D spatial design, and 5D experience design as in these fashion designs. The imagery in video games is created by professional designers and the games themselves are created by Experience Designers (interactive designer).
(3) Visual Culture (right) includes folk arts, crafts, vernacular forms, popular culture, mass media and other everyday visual forms like the gnomes people put in their yards. Video games as a whole are part of Visual Culture.
(4) Art (far right) is personal exploration that is unique, rare, and usually challenges contemporary norms like the Cubist work by Picasso which was highly controversial at the time.

Video games generally fall under the domain of Visual Culture because they are designed to be enjoyed for recreational purposes by mass audiences. That's why it seems somehow appropriate to have a place for the public to vote on their favorite video game. The American Art Museum wouldn't have the public vote on their favorite "Art" for fear that they would then have to display the works of Thomas Kinkade.

The creation of video games is done by professional Designers who are hired to create visual solutions for other people. Sometimes architects are hired to design buildings for a video game. Some other designers, like graphic designers, animators, fashion designers, and industrial designers, have found their professional skills useful in the game design world.

If someone (like Matthew Barney) took the video game format and explored it with no intent to garner sales, reach mass audiences, or tell a story, they might be able to create a video game that fits in the domain of "Art". If and when someone does that it still wouldn't mean that all video games are then Art.

The exhibit at the American Art Museum would be more accurately called "Video Games as Visual Culture Created by Designers." As you talk with students about this exhibit try to use the terms "Design" and "Visual Culture" rather than "Art" and see if it clarifies the meaning rather than confuses the four domains of Visual Literacy.

The Art of Video Games Coming to American Art Museum

Here's another great opportunity to sort out distinctions among the various domains of Visualization so often lumped confusingly under the single term "Art". An exhibit called "The Art of Video Games" will be at the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 16, 2012 through September 30, 2012. Video games use images, actions, and player participation to tell stories and engage their audiences. In the same way as film, animation, and performance, they can be considered a compelling and influential form of narrative storytelling.

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as a visual medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. The exhibition will feature some of the most influential designers during five eras of game technology, from early developers such as David Crane and Warren Robinett to contemporary designers like Kellee Santiago and David Jaffe. It also will explore the many influences on game designers, and the pervasive presence video games have in the broader popular culture, with new relationships to video, film and television, educational practices, and professional skill training. Chris Melissinos, founder of Past Pixels and collector of video games and gaming systems, is the curator of the exhibition.

New technologies have allowed designers to create increasingly interactive and sophisticated game environments while staying grounded in traditional game types. The exhibition will feature eighty games through still images and video footage. Five games will be available for visitors to play for a few minutes, to gain some feel for the interactivity—Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and World of Warcraft. In addition, the galleries will include video interviews with developers and artists, large prints of in-game screen shots, and historic game consoles.

From February 14 through April 7, 2011, the public is invited to help select games to be included in the exhibition. You can vote online for eighty games from a pool of 240 proposed choices in various categories, divided by era, game type, and platform. The games on the ballot were selected by exhibition curator Chris Melissinos, who worked with the museum and an advisory group consisting of game developers, designers, industry pioneers, and journalists.

Click on the heading above to vote on your favorites from the selections provided.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Exhibition Design Introduces 4D Spatial Design

Traditional art programs focus on 2D image design and 3D object design. Very few K-12 schools provide students knowledge and skills to think spatially - 4D design. Among all the 4D design fields - architecture, landscape, interiors, sets, urban planning, etc. - exhibit design may be the best way to introduce students to spatial design.

Students can create exhibits in their schools that demonstrate knowledge in science, social studies or any area of study. Exhibits use inexpensive materials that can be constructed and set up easily and removed when necessary. Imagine how schools could be transformed by being filled with exhibits that teach important content created by students throughout the building.

There are many resources, books and magazines (left) to get you started in understanding exhibition design and introducing it to students. (A quick search on "exhibition design" on will give you more resources than you need.) Combining 4D spatial design skills with some 5D interactive experience design skills, students can help transform their schools in the 21st century. Add 4D spatial design to your curriculum and have students work in teams to create exhibits based on content from a textbook in another class.

Linking Design to Special Events Throughout the Year

Various holidays, events, and occasions throughout the year lend themselves to design-related themes. Mardi Gras in the spring, the Academy Awards in the winter, and Halloween in the fall, provide opportunities to explore the processes, history and innovations in costume, prop and make-up design.

Mardi Gras and Halloween are more a part of the Visual Culture domain than the world of Design because the forms come out of the vernacular cultural traditions carried on by non-professionals but they can be used as hooks for getting students to look at the people and professions where designers are called upon to contribute their unique knowledge and talents.

People who design makeup, props and costumes work in fields as diverse as game design, theme park design, exhibit design, advertising, animation, television, movies and the live stage. This year, Rick Baker won his 7th Academy Award for makeup design for transforming Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins into werewolves in the movie Wolfman.

Use special occasions as opportunities to introduce fields of design that students might not normally think about because, for some students, these might be areas to which they would like to devote their lives. At Mardi Gras World in New Orleans they held a workshop on float design using styrofoam and children's wagons as small versions of the Mardi Gras float platforms. Imagine a Mardi Gras parade at the scale of children's toy wagons in your school.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Barbie Becomes an Architect

Mattel's famous doll Barbie will become an architect in 2011. The iconic Barbie doll has been around for 52 years and, during that time, has had more than 125 careers. Mattel’s hot blonde has had every unlikely career from a surgeon to an astronaut and now, even though the idea lost the popular vote twice in the last 8 years, Mattel has announced that they are going ahead with Architect Barbie. Mattel will spotlight architecture as its ‘’Career of the Year’’ for the Barbie line and hopes to educate and encourage girls to consider architecture when thinking about what their jobs could be as adults. Architect Barbie should be available in stores in late summer.

Barbie is the first and only doll who’s had careers ranging from dog walker to presidential candidate. Her new career outfit includes thick black rimmed glasses, a blueprint holder, a skyline printed dress and high heeled boots. The hope is that this will get young girls thinking about architecture as a career.

Officially the American Institute of Architects says they believe Architect Barbie will help inspire a new generation to consider the profession of architecture. Individually architects are all over the place on their feelings about this whole thing. Some feel that architects don't carry blue-print tubes any more and that the bright pink associated with Barbie for decades is a little out of character for an architect. Many prefer a more manly version with pants and steel-toed boots which might be more accurate but probably wouldn't help marketing much.

About 17 percent of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) members are women. Women architects, Hayes McAlonie and Despina Stratigakos consulted with Mattel as they created Architect Barbie. Stratigakos has encouraged Mattel to consider architecture as a field for Barbie since it first announced the possibility in 2002.

Don't underestimate the power of play and the legendary appeal of Barbie - this is an excellent opportunity to get more girls thinking about becoming architects (and other types of designers). Get an Architect Barbie as a fundraising prize, use this as a chance to promote your program in the school and community. Add architecture to your curriculum if you haven't already done so.