I’ve added a new page to the blog to journal the progress of my graphic novel and MFA thesis. That’s where I will put my updates… and hopefully more frequently.
It’s up there in the right hand corner of the menu /
It has been a little over 5 weeks since becoming a student again.
Back at the start came the assignment to layout some personal goals as a sort of an introduction to graduate studies — in 3 minutes. Here was the question list:
What do you aspire to?
What do you want be designing that would be the most fulfilling to your interests?
What are the origins of your aspirations?
OK, after designing for television and radio, 3 minutes is a luxury. So, I timed it out. I started with the origins of my aspirations and traced my design roots back to the beginning. It occurred to me after much thought that; essentially, there have been 5 revelations since I discovered design (a long, long time ago). Herewith:
1 Process becomes Solution
When I started out the tools were a T-square, an x-acto knife and rubber cement. But those were just hardware. The engine runs on software. The software said that design is about problem solving which, of course, is all about the process of understanding what the problem is and asking the right questions. If you ask — and answer — the right questions the solution is usually screaming at you.
2 Discipline becomes Freedom
Design is not unlike any other creative discipline. You begin by learning the scales and practicing, over and over and over again. If you keep doing it, it becomes almost second nature. You can riff. Then you can improvise. Then you have jazz.
3 Seeing becomes Vision
Design is also about seeing, another skill that you can hone if you do it long enough. It’s a little like composition in photography or drawing. After a while you know whether it is composed or not and you start to look at things like systems and very quickly see where they are out of composition. Eventually what emerges is a persistent ability to envision what it could be.
4 Culture becomes Design (becomes culture… becomes design…)
Design is the product of culture, micro and macro, like necessity is the mother of invention. The culture is the story behind the design, the history, the connective tissue between my design and your design, good design and bad design.
5 Story becomes Design
Then one day I realized that it is story that actually builds design. The experience, and authenticity are tied to story in synchronization with design. The degree of authenticity is directly related to a seamless interaction with the surrounding design.
I don’t have time to go into the answers for the first 2 questions in this blog, but I’ll get there. The most fascinating thing was that this was real thinking. We don’t do enough of that once we settle into our jobs, and get comfortable with what we know. And, God knows, the corporation certainly doesn’t foster that kind of crazy talk. We reach a certain position in business and that’s it. Our expertise winds down to what we’ve accomplished, or our title or the last accomplishment on the resume. I’m not belittling that. Heck, that’s a result years of experience and insight brought to bear on helping people and the business you’re in charge of make it through today and hopefully succeed tomorrow. It’s no small feat.
But there is more.
Coming back to school, I realized that nothing makes your feel more alive than when you have to start over; when you have break new ground; when you have to think, and think really hard. You can’t draw on what you did last week or last time this happened because it has never happened before.
Sounds a bit out there, but thinking, reasoning, and creating from scratch are tremendously underrated experiences.
Now that I’m waist-deep into the whole graphic novel realm, research and study en route to my own creation, I am thinking like I did 30 years ago —like “What if?”. What a rush!
More to come.
Design : : Teach
With a big, fat, Gill Sans Ultra Bold “x”, I mark my last day of salaried corporate employment at a point where my design career takes a sharp turn.
As I pursue the MFA in Design Development over the next 3 years I will also be teaching part time. On one end, I will be taking a deep dive into the somewhat theoretical assertion that has been at harbor in me, that design theory begets and almost demands a multi-disciplinary approach by either the practitioner or the “village” to fully realize it’s logical potential. This might arguably be the full realization of design theory; a concept of some sophistication and, perhaps, even some controversy. (Much more on that at some later date). At the other end of the spectrum I am challenged to convey a 30,000-foot overview of the essence of design fundamentals, practice, and history to students with varying levels, perhaps without any real experience or background in what design is.
This much is true: Design is designed into us. I see it as “Divine Inheritance”. And though Stephen Hawking and I may disagree on where design comes from, it is broadly accepted that design is fundamental to the human condition. John Heskett, in DESIGN A Very Short Introduction, (a text for Design 200) says it succinctly: “Design is one of the basic characteristics of what it is to be human, and an essential determinant of the quality of human life.”
Enter moi. What is design? meets The Matrix. Or, how design is woven inextricably into the story and story into design.
On one hand “teaching” in the formal sense, behind a podium in front of dozens, maybe a hundred is new. Although, I jumped headfirst into the profession immediately after my BSID and never stopped to look back — until now — I’ve been trying to teach clients what design is since I left academia the first time.
Yet, as I prepare for both tasks, it is interesting to ponder how much design after so many years has become intuitive and internalized. I find myself deconstructing what I know as mostly second nature, into the basic components and asking questions like, “Why do I do it this way?” Not only have I been bouncing easily between design for graphics, information, web, interiors, displays, experiences, products, and more, I have been confronted with the real-world challenges of not only creating good design, but making the case to the world that ultimately foots the bill for it — or chooses not to. I know the harsh realities of both. So much to talk about, I think. Stay tuned.
The last post was Halloween. How embarrassing! Well, as I said then it is the curse of the blog. But in all fairness, the blog is not my business. So it’s time for an update to all those who pay attention to this (greetings to both of you), on what is going on. It’s not like I’ve been lazy or anything, in fact, anything but. Part of the rules of the blog are that I don’t talk about work, but I did finish an epic project at “corporate” that’s been going on for 18 months. But the real news is that I’m leaving that to go back to school. Yes. I have accepted a formal offer from The Ohio State University Department of Design for a 3-year Graduate Teaching Associateship while completing the requirements for my MFA. As the Masters Degree is the terminal degree in the design profession, it will position me to directly pursue a professorship with a design school at some point – or back into the corporate realm. OSU is the 5th rated design school in the country and the place where I received my BSID.
This requires selling the house and moving to Columbus for the next 3 years. Huge. But why? Even parts of two things: 1.) I feel as though I can reboot my corporate contribution with fresh insight. 2.) 3D has long been a back room passion of mine. I’ve woven it into the workplace whenever possible when designing trade show architecture, showrooms and retail display but not enough to keep me energized and growing. I decided seriously a year or so ago that I was going to really develop the skill particularly in concept design and concept art. Noodling around with ways to quantize my skills I decided against jumping into some other corporate situation. Two years back I put out some feelers to a couple of universities, Parsons New School of Design, and Ohio State, (my alma mater). Both respectable, but Ohio State is clearly rated among the most advanced, plus they work closely with the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. (See where this is going?) When OSU offered me the Graduate Associateship and the endorsement to jump into my own theories of epic integration. See the website and previous blog entries. I decided, “Hey. I’m not getting any younger.” So I went for it.
The idea: At OSU the Design Department has 3 disciplines, Interior, Product and Visual Communications and together with the co-program at ACCAD this gives me the opportunity to further explore the idea of epic integration, how brands, stories, and experiences are intensified when everything is designed with co-dependence on everything else. At this point I’m looking at the idea of fabricated experiences. My interest is to delve into the fabrication or simulation of real or fictional environments that employ a rich back-story. Taking the form of graphic novel, animated film, concept art/design, or interactive story the exploration would make full use of the potential of digital visualization together with a multi-faceted design narrative that embodies concept interiors, lighting, product, and visual communication design.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. With getting the house ready to sell and pitching junk from the last three decades my weekends, which are usually reserved for concept art and my web novel, have been fairly non-productive. As soon as there is something decent to post (visually), I will.
I guess Halloween is a good time to post on the curse of the blog. I can’t believe it has been over a month since my last post. I was pretty delighted to see that my cordial glass design was so well received on Yanko Design. Despite some initial naysayers, it was in the top 3 for September visits and added 10x the monthly hits to my website. In addition, it was picked up by another eight or ten global design blogs. All in all pretty amazing — for me anyway. I have been working on a handful of other projects from concept designs for my LayerCity project, to a general atmospheric piece, some character designs, as well as a design for a new modular hotel. On top of that I’m trying to re-acclimate to Maya, which I have been away from for at least five years. The program has changed dramatically and it was uber sophisticated back then. On top of that there’s my day job. So maybe you’ll understand why I’m not posting much these days. I think I will be focusing on the hotel project for the time being and hopefully have something to post soon.
Until then, here’s a preview of my LayerCity project a post-apocalyptic outpost the size of Manhattan — maybe a story there,too.
That’s the update for now, Happy Halloween!
Here’s a loaded one. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th edition gives us this definition: n. A figure of speech in which a part is used for the whole (as hand for sailor), the whole for a part (as the law for police officer), the specific for the general (as cutthroat for assassin), the general for the specific (as thief for pickpocket), or the material for the thing made from it (as steel for sword).
Applying this to the world of brand design I can find some obvious ties to last weeks word – gestalt. But I can quickly see where a part can be used for the whole (as the logo for the company), the whole for a part (as the brand for any or all the things that make up that perception), the specific for the general (a Coke for a cola or a Kleenex for a tissue), the general for the specific (as a Starbucks for a Venti, triple, skinny, mocha with legs), or the material for the thing made from it (silicon for computer chips or whatever).
In the world of brand design becoming part of the culture can be the pinnacle of success, but it can also make you a commodity. Brands are not invincible and like anything else that is worth keeping, a brand needs care and feeding, shepherding and oversight to keep it fresh and relevant.
Have a better brand synecdoche? Is a synecdoche a synecdoche? Add a comment.
A configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that it cannot be described merely as a sum of its parts.
A great word that has particular significance when you are talking about brand design. A well conceived and executed brand vision is truly a gestalt. When it works together it is stronger than adding together the sum of the parts. The term is appropriate for any successful design from visual to industrial or interior, in art and photography.
Definition courtesy of: wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
Art direction is about vision. You have to have a vision to art direct anything. I don’t know if they teach this in school or not but coming from a design background I never came across a Basics of Art Direction 101 class. Most of what I have learned beyond the core design curriculum I learned on the job, in the field, and under the gun.
This is the way I learned ot directing television commercials, design sets and art direct. Art directing — photography — is a completely different thing altogether than video. The product is a still image (a still) and you can inspect the living heck out of it, blow it up, scrutinize it, immerse yourself in it. Video is a series of images. They flow together to create a collective understanding. With a still, it’s what you see is what you get.
Thankfully, I got to work alongside the late Lyle Cavanagh at Philips who showed me the ropes. Lyle had vision. At Philips we shot black boxes: TVs, stereos, blue LEDs, black plastic. So it became a real challenge to find new ways to create black-box-sexy. So here’s what I know: There are four things that make photo art direction work or not work.
I already mentioned this. Vision is what you see in your mind’s eye then, perhaps you sketch it on paper, or render it up or composite it. Whatever method you use, you have to know what you want if you expect to get what you want. That might seem obvious but I’ve seen a lot of “art directors” return from a photo shoot wondering how things could have gone so wrong. The tighter your vision the closer you are to getting an end product that is free of surprises.
2. A collaborative photographer.
If you know exactly what you want you don’t want a photographer that has his or her own vision. Two visions are not better than one. “Famous” photographers probably got to be famous because of their vision, and if their vision is what you want, hire one. But if your vision is what you want, then hire a photographer that wants to use his expertise to bring your vision to reality. (This pretty much goes for directors — the video kind— as well.) A collaborator’s know-how, together with your vision is always a good match.
This is the magic element that Lyle brought to bear. He was trained in visual display. In his day, they were called window dressers. He was an artist of composition. Composition is, for lack of a better definition: where everything goes, what gets cropped, what’s in focus and out of focus, how everything relates to everything else and the essence of detail. There is probably a book on composition but you are better off experimenting with it. If you don’t think you have a good sense of composition, then you probably don’t, but you can get better at it. Before I met Lyle, I didn’t have a clue. He let me practice a lot and my photographer shot a lot of film until we got it right.
4. Story detail.
If you can get both story and detail, great. If you are shooting catalog shots on white backgrounds then detail is everything; crisp, perfect detail. People want to inspect that stuff so the sharper it is the better. For about 20 years the ubiquitous drop-shadow became the obligatory addition to stuff on white backgrounds. It helped. And while a drop-shadow is better than floating, it got really old. Leave it to Apple to break the rules. Look back at their product photography in the 90s: keyboards leaning up against towers and dramatic angles became elegant details to what would otherwise be tired silver boxes. Now they’ve popularized the “reflection” on white. Great “detailing”. If you are shooting Tommy Lee Jones you have a treasure trove of detail to work with. And sometimes that becomes part of the story. Story comes in when you surround your subject with meaning. Sometimes, as with Jones, the detail is the meaning. Sometimes the meaning is something you have to add.
Which brings us back to vision.
That’s what I know about it.