Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Simple Game to Learn About Kerning

Here are the simple instructions for an addictive online type design game:

Your mission is simple: achieve pleasant and readable text by distributing the space between letters. Typographers call this activity kerning. Your solution will be compared to typographer's solution, and you will be given a score depending on how close you nailed it.

There are ten words with the first and last letters fixed in place. The challenge is to arrange the internal letters to balance the spaces between them in the most pleasing arrangement. You get a score for each attempt and a final score. You can try as many times as you want to raise your score.

This game is a great way to introduce students of just about any age to the concept and skill of "kerning" which is a basic skill for graphic artists.

A few minutes playing this game will etch the term "kerning" into the minds of students forever, give them practice in being good kerners, and open up a whole new world of noticing the multiple examples of poorly kerned signs, menus, and printed materials that surround us.

A poorly kerned word stands out to designers the way a misspelled word stands out to regular readers. A few minutes playing this game will change students' perception forever.

Click on the heading above to try your hand and eye at kerning.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pumpkin Carving is a Good 3D Learning Activity

Pumpkin carving isn't "Art" but it is certainly a long-standing part of our Visual Culture and so it has a place in a complete Visual Literacy curriculum that includes (1) visual communication, (2) design, (3) visual culture, and (4) art. Pumpkin carving is a holiday folk tradition that is part of visual culture carried on by people for recreational purposes.

Students can use the design process to develop their pumpkins.
(A) Ideation: Identify and clarify the idea behind your pumpkin design. Research other pumpkin designs. Look at your pumpkin carefully to see what designs are suggested by the particular shape of the pumpkin. Perhaps you will see a completely different viewpoint (left) than the traditional jack-o-lantern design.
(B) Visualization: Do a bunch of thumbnail sketches to find as many possible pumpkin carving ideas as you can. Remember that the first ideas will usually be common and unoriginal so keep sketching until you start to get some really creative ideas.
(C) Prototyping: Before starting to carve, do a life-size sketch and apply it to the pumpkin to see how it works. Take some pumpkin pieces and practice using the tools to see if you can master techniques before working on the finished product. Explore different tools that will allow you to get special effects. (right)
(D) Implementation: Then go ahead and carve the pumpkin using your best craftsmanship skills, but don't stop there. What kind of setting, lighting and special presentation techniques can you design to really make your pumpkin stand out.

Click on the heading above to go to the Pumpkin Gutter website with a complete tutorial on carving the most amazing pumpkins.

Storytelling is the Theme of November School Arts Magazine

The November, 2011 issue of School Arts magazine (left) is about storytelling and teachers are encouraged to teach students how to read, understand, and create their own visual stories.

Visual stories can be found in history books, geography texts, documentary films, magazines and even safety instructions in airplanes (right). People make their livings as visual storytellers in comic strips, comic books, children's books, storyboarding, movies, TV, animation, advertising, video games and a growing list of visual media outlets such as the iPad.

Telling a story with images uses the elements of good storytelling and good visualization in such a way that the information is often easier to understand, more compelling, and useful for people who read and write in different languages. The instructions on the right for putting on an oxygen mask uses the Western convention of reading from left to right and top to bottom. The convention for visual storytelling in Asia is often the reverse. Manga, for example, uses the Eastern convention of right to left and bottom to top so, to Western readers, it seems like you start at the back of the book.

Click on the heading above to see a page on Telling Visual Stories from School Arts magazine.

Students Can Learn Techniques to Tell Better Visual Stories

Tony Caputo's book Visual Storytelling (left) is available for free online in its entirety, complete with illustrations. Caputo created the original book with sections by the writer Harlan Ellison and illustrator Jim Steranko which are not included in the free download. Click on the heading above to see the entire book - chapter by chapter.

There are twelve illustrated chapters covering each step from creating a panel, developing a scene, to different levels of visual storytelling. Other chapters cover topics such as drawing techniques, composing images, establishing mood and lighting (right), visual design rules, and turning words into pictures.

Visual storytelling is used in comic strips, comic books, movies, animation, TV shows, video games and an increasing variety of media. Some things might not seem like visual stories to us at first but, a map, for instance, is a visual guide for planning a trip with a beginning, middle, and end, just like any other story. Drawings in a science book showing the growth of seeds, or metamorphosis of a caterpillar, are visual stories. Assembly instructions that come with furniture from IKEA are visual stories as well as the safety cards in the seat pocket of an airplane.

Students can use visual storytelling to help learn and communicate ideas about any subject matter. They can learn how to combine words, pictures, frames, connectors, and a variety of other visual conventions to tell clear and compelling stories for a variety of purposes.

Halloween is the Time for Costume Design

Lesson Idea for Costume Design: Create a costume out of cardboard, paper and cloth that transforms the shape, size and configuration of your body. Make a costume in which you look taller or shorter, have more or fewer arms and legs, and the head is not where you would expect it to be.

These costumes (left) will give you some ideas. Can you figure out the construction tricks that make the optical illusions? Also look at the animal costumes designed by Julie Taymor for the stage production of the Lion King. The giraffes, hyenas, and other animals have extensions on arms and legs that change the shape and posture of the human body into a magical new form. The details of patterns, creative design and exquisite craftsmanship also contribute to the overall effect (right).

October is the perfect time to teach costume design just in time for Halloween. The knowledge and skills students develop are applicable to fashion design as well as costume and makeup design for stage and film. When the Academy Awards come out early next year, do another lesson motivated by the nominees and winners in the make-up and costume design categories for movies. Learn about some of the top costume designers and how they work.

Students will be tempted to choose costumes based on characters from popular culture and these are understandably very appealing because the originals were designed by some of the best designers in the industry. Students can also be imaginative and think of unusual costume ideas of their own. Costumes can be made from inexpensive materials that are easy to work with.

Click on the heading above to see a video with a Disney costume designer showing how to make your own pirate costume. The trick to a good costume is attention to detail, craftsmanship, and design.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs, Champion of Design, Dies

Steve Jobs (right), who co-founded Apple, the world's leading tech company, died Wednesday, October 5, 2011 at the age of 56 (1955-2011). He was one of the world's leading executives who understood the importance of design for businesses to remain competitive in global markets.

Under Jobs, Apple pioneered the concept of the personal computer and of navigating by clicking onscreen images (icons) with a mouse. Jobs introduced the iPod portable music player, the iPhone and the iPad tablet which changed how designers present content in the digital age. The iPad is changing the face of publishing as magazines and books are going online and becoming interactive. The concept of interactive infographics is seeing a huge boost to meet the content needs of iPad users.

Jobs introduced computer users to a selection of fonts rather than the typical blocky digital lettering common at the time. He said he was inspired to seek more readable and pleasing fonts because of a calligraphy class he took in college that helped him understand the importance of well-formed letters and careful kerning (adjusting spaces between letters) in words.

Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive (left), head designer for Apple, together lead the technology industry by producing brilliantly conceived and designed products that placed competitors in the position of having to always keep up with Apple's lead. Under Jobs and Ive, Apple products entered the history books as some of the most important designs in history.

Click on the heading above to hear ABC's account of the greatest executive of our time.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Data Visualization is a Huge New Design Opportunity

We now have more data being created each year than in the entirety of prior human history combined. Data visualization is a method to interpret, and extract knowledge from this information.

Data visualization (left) now figures prominently in design curricula, conference programs, and the media. Adam Bly says, "Design is no longer the domain of a few. It is perhaps the language of all of us." Visualizing.org is a community of creative people working to make sense of complex issues through data and design. It helps connect the proliferation of public data with a community that can help us understand this data and with the general public.

Visualizing.org is a place for designers to showcase their work, get feedback, ensure that their work is seen by more people and gets used by teachers, journalists, and conference organizers to help educate the public about various world issues. Designers can share and embed their work using the Visualizing Player.

For teachers and schools, Visualizing.org is a place to exhibit the collective work of students, organize assignments and class projects, and help students find data for their own visualizations. Students of Academic Partners are eligible to participate in various design competitions such as the Visualizing Marathon 2010 in New York. Students are also eligible to compete in online challenges.

Click on the heading above to see a short video: How Design Can Make Sense of Data Overload including comments from Richard Saul Wurman, founder of the TED conference (right), Adam Bly, Lisa Strausfeld, Edwin Schlossberg, and others.