Category Archives: Design topics

Commentary on the world of design. Broad topic.

Stardate 6.2.11

That’s a catchy title. I’ve just finished teaching my last class of Spring Quarter at OSU, I’ve survived my 3rd Quarter Review and made gigantic headway on my graphic novel script. Since my thesis is two-pronged, both a graphic novel project and a paper on the “design fiction” concept, I’m going to have to start journaling my thought process in earnest hence forth. To briefly recap for those of you who are new to the blog my project can be summarized as this:

1. Produce a full-length, science fiction, graphic novel in CGI. Explore this new visual style, push the constructs, the internal metalanguage, and the presentation,to make a new contribution to the art form and explore its relationship to design.

2. Write a paper that:

A) Journals the design process, not only the act of speculative design, narrative construction,and visual prototyping, but also the designer’s full-scale production.

B). Examines the practice of design fiction. For the designer, creating future fiction implicitly creates the circumstances in which he/she can freely throw open the doors of possibility and pose the question of “what if?” Testing the essence of design and designers for grounded imagination, design fiction is limited only by vision. It has implications for ideas like sustainability, communication, and wicked problems.

There is lots going on in both areas right now and a refreshing amount of chatter about the design fiction side of things.

Anyway, to make a long story longer, I have to start journaling on this more frequently. Herewith, some updates. I took a screenwriting class this quarter with Phil Garrett at OSU who has some great Hollywood experience. This course is the closest thing I could find at OSU to push me into completing what was initially just some random thoughts on what my story might be about. It turns out that Screenwriting 636 was the perfect prescription for me. Constructing characters and plot was just the beginning since I also had to develop all the essential dialog, describe the settings and all the essential components of a viable narrative. There was one wrinkle, however. Phil’s class calls for a thirty page screenplay — a 30 minute short film . I ran a bit long, at 75 pages, I ended up with a feature length script. Phil was more than generous and understanding by actually reading the whole thing.

Obviously this is a huge step and will hopefully set me up for a summer of aggressive work moving forward. Next steps on the script are to mold it into graphic novel format, but the basics are there. Before the summer is over I hope to have a basic panel count and storyboards complete.

Tomorrow (hopefully)  I’ll post an update on the progress gained through my Digital Cinematography class. No shortage of things to write about. Discipline!

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What happens when designers ask, “What if?”

Background

If you follow this blog then you know that, last year I decided to leave my corporate job and a 30 year career as a professional design practitioner and go back to school. There were a lot of motivating factors, but most exciting was the idea of pursuing what happens when design is integrated on the “epic” level. By that I mean, when design is firing on all cylinders, not just great communications or great product design, but holistically woven into every aspect of a company. Whether, in reality, they fit this description, Apple is the company that comes to mind.

As I settled into academia, I began to hone in on a thesis that would embrace the notion of epic design. Pull this thread with me…

 

Design and culture

It doesn’t  take a great deal of thought to acknowledge that culture produces design and, in turn, design influences culture. Invention, information, entertainment, transportation, medicine, you name it, they’re all floating in a soup that produces a culture of expectation and more invention. The cycle repeats.

 

Design and narrative

Reach into the soup and pull out one of those ingredients and you will also find a story attached to it. Where did it come from? Why did it take this form? How did it come to be? What were the conflicts? Who was involved? When did it happen? All of these combine into some kind of story narrative. Ultimately, everyone and everything has an origination story. At the very least there is a master narrative that gives context to us and all the things that surround us.

 

Prototyping

How might a designer explore this design-culture relationship in an unfettered exercise of creativity? How often does the designer sit down and ask, “what if?”

What can we learn from examining the design-culture relationship in the purity of the hypothetical. I decided that the answer was fiction: to create a story in the future where everything has changed except for the human condition, and to produce this work in a visual prototype — a graphic novel.

 

The discussion

That’s the premise. I have a particular interest in what designers think, but also anyone  anyone who creates future narratives, graphic novels, comics, movies, art, but also anyone who thinks about what could or should happen next? How does a movie director or screenwriter come at it? A novelist? A futurist? A photographer? A production designer? A game designer? How would you approach it in any profession? What do you think of this exercise? Are you already doing it? Take a few minutes and think about it. How can creativity contribute to future scenarios and what do we take away?

 

I invite you to join the discussion. Some suggestions: Leave a simple comment, a paragraph, a paper, a link to further study or related topics. Leave your comments below and let’s see where this leads.

 

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Finding Meaning Survey Results

concept design

As promised, I am passing on the results of my survey that many of you participated in via Survey Monkey a few weeks ago. I did not get nearly as many responses as I had hoped for. It was the week before finals and a lot of people here must have been too busy to to get to it before it expired. Thus, far from conclusive, it satisfied the assignment, and as with all research, it just leads to new questions. Herewith, the executive overview. The whole idea was to test comic scholar Scott McCloud’s assertion from Understanding Comics, that readers have more difficulty “filling-in” the gutter (the gap) between panels (the frames) when the artwork is more detailed. He also says that people identify more easily with a cartoon figure than a realistic figure. I found this somewhat hard to swallow, so I set out to test it. As you know there were two, very short stories; one in cartoon fashion and one using CG renderings. Essentially, they were intended to tell a similar story.

The first question asked participants to tell what happened in each story. There were various responses for each, but for story 2, the realistic one, people were able to read much more detail into the character and his predicament. In question 2, participants were split equally on which story seemed more “real”. For question 3, story 2 was clearly the winner in conveying more emotion. It was also the preferred story to “continue reading” for question 4, though there were a fair number who would like to have read both. If you’re into the nitty-gritty details on every question you can download my project summary report via this link.

While I didn’t put Scott McCloud on notice with conclusive research, I got enough of a response to at least put his theory in the “subjective” category. Thanks to all who participated.

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Almost forgot what it was like.

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.

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Teaching. Design.

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.

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Big news

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.

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The curse of the blog…

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.

A post-apocalyptic outpost the size of Manhattan
A post-apocalyptic outpost the size of Manhattan

That’s the update for now, Happy Halloween!

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Synecdoche: Design Word #2

synecdoche

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 a 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 (silicone 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.

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.

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