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Saturday, April 10, 2004

The Business of Design
Chris Pacione, VP of Interaction Design at Bodymedia, was our guest in Seminar this week. BodyMedia is a start-up company creating wearable health devices, created by a group of CMU alumni (including Chris himself), and in its brief history has had a tumultuous existence, nearly going out of business several times. A lot of what he spoke to us about was the practicalities of being a designer at a start-up. Things like great design can kill a product.

He advised us that, as pioneers in a new field, interaction designers need to be articulate and be able to articulate what it is we bring to the table, business-wise. We can't be afraid to speak: we need to say how we bring money in to the organization.

Chris also gave us his list of the essential skills for an interaction designer:

  • Good organizational skills. You have to be able to work within an organization and deal with hierarchy. You'll need to defend your designs with logic. You can't design emotionally. If you want to affect people's lives, you need to work for a business and that business needs to stay in business.
  • Exceptional typography. You need to know how to handle type very well to lay out information and do traditional information design.
  • Ability to ask the right questions. You need to to know what questions to ask--and when. Are you designing a new vase or are you designing something to hold flowers?
  • Business savvy. The best designers know how to deal with the most constraints, so it is important to know the business limitations, like the cost of goods sold. You should have your vision, but keep the work in mind.

posted at 05:59 PM in alumni, design 101, special guest stars | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, April 4, 2004

Humility in Design
Marc Rettig was our guest in Seminar week and gave his infamous talk on interaction design history in a teeny little nutshell (3.2mb pdf).

I won't bother stepping through his presentation: the pdf is more thorough than I could be. I highly advise reading it if you haven't already.

Instead, I'd like to note some of Marc's comments that have started to become one of the major themes of this year (having been mentioned by a lot of our guest speakers) and that is on the role of humility in design. Marc mentioned it several times, saying we should embrace the overwhelming sense of confusion that seems to happen on every project because it keeps designers humble. "We're really all making it up as we go along on every project," he said.

Marc doesn't even call himself a designer. He just asks, "What's hard?" and speaks to clients in terms of the problems facing them instead of the practice of design. It's useful to be childlike and just ask questions. "I don't know anything about this project. What can you tell me about it?"

One of the major skills of designers is being able to represent abstractions concretely, so do it and post it up on the wall. Marc is a big proponent of this. Something about making the work physical and posting it changes the conversation and allows everyone on the team to make relationships between the elements of the work.

For Marc, interaction design is all about conversation: between people and systems or between people through systems. It's about creating the languages that make those conversations possible and making the representations appropriate. Through dialog, the product can change. Or people can change.

posted at 10:21 AM in big ideas, design 101, special guest stars | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, April 2, 2004

Design Quote of the Week
From Dick Buchanan, responding to a student who said she'd only been in design for a few years:

"Design is like California. No one is born there."

posted at 08:13 AM in design 101, faculty | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Sunday, March 28, 2004

What's Normal
Karen Moyer gave another one of her infamous lectures: What's Normal. It's a response to when people say, "I just want to type up a term paper or something and isn't there just a little recipe you can give me to make the paper look normal?" So this is how to make general typography look normal.

You should always start with body copy and then base the titles, subtitles, and captions/footnotes/marginalia afterwards. It's most important that the body copy be legible.

Here's the things to be aware of:

  • Alignment. Flush Left/Ragged Right is more legible than Flush Right and Justified. Only justify with a longer line length and only use Flush Right sparingly and never for body copy.
  • Rivers. Rivers are formed when the white spaces between words seemingly line up and form a "river." Avoid these.
  • Line Lengths. You want to apply the Goldilocks Principle to line length: not too long, not too short, but just right. Forty characters (about an alphabet and a half's worth of letters, spaces, and punctuation) is about the absolute minimum you'd want for body copy. Short line lengths: 40-55 characters. Longer line lengths are 75-90 characters. You generally want something in the middle range: 55-75 characters.
  • Font Size. The best typical font size for body copy is 10 point. (sometimes 11).
  • Leading. Leading, the vertical space between lines, is 20 percent additional of you font size. Which for body copy, typically means +2 points. So 10pt font has 12pt leading, 11pt font has 13pt of leading, etc. One exception to this is very small type (below 8pt), which needs more leading to make it more legible.
  • Line Length : Leading Ratio. The most important thing for legibility (for black type on white paper anyway). Optical Grey is how dense the type appears on the page. You generally don't want to have lines of text without enough leading. More leading makes the optical grey lighter. The longer your line length, the more leading you have to have to add. For body copy, add +3 or +4. Perversely, the same hold true with short line lengths, where you should add +2.5, +3, or +4. Never more than +4 though.
  • Font Choice. The difference between the thick and thin parts of letters in certain fonts like Bodini make a lot of "sparkle" that make then less legible. You need to add more leading to compensate. Also: the ratio of the Cap (the top of a capital letter) to the X Height (the top of a lower-case x) makes a difference. The bigger the ratio, the less leading you need to add because there is a lot of space already designed into the font face.

posted at 10:32 AM in design 101, faculty, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, March 25, 2004

What's Not Taught
Check out Michael McDonough’s Top Ten Things They Never Taught Me in Design School for a little dose of reality. So many ring so true. Why I'm glad I worked for a bunch of years before going back to school: some these I already instinctively knew.

posted at 04:35 PM in big ideas, cmu, design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (1) | link


Saturday, March 20, 2004

Design and Intellectual Property
We got some legal advice/information from Sean O'Connor, an assistant professor of law at the University of Washington School of Law and (not coincidentally) husband of CPID classmate Nikki O'Connor.

There are several types of intellectual property:

  • Patents. Protect products and processes at the Federal level for 20 years from the date of filing. You don't get the right to make or use what you've patented, you just get the right to exclude others from doing it. To get a patent, the product or patent has to be "useful, novel, and non-obvious." Non-obvious is the hardest to prove. As a side note, you can spend many thousands of dollars to patent something.
  • Copyright. Protects content (text, musical compositions, images, music, etc.) at a Federal level for the life of the creator, plus 70 years, or, if it is a corporate creator, 95 years from publication. When you create something, copyright automatically occurs on the creation of the content. You only need to register with the copyright office only before litigation and for enhanced damages. However, it is difficult to prove you created something on a certain date.

    To claim copyright, you need the original work in a fixed medium. (ie you can't just have had the idea for something). Note that you only get to copyright the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. You also can't copyright government works or, strangely, "useful" things.

    When copyrights are determined, the product is broken down into its basic components to judge what among them (if anything) is unique. If someone takes the same elements and puts them together in a similar, but not exact way (as, say Microsoft did to Apple with Windows (and what Apple did to PARC too)), it isn't copyright infringement.

    Copyright owners have exclusive control of copies, derivative works, distribution, and performance and display of their work. Transfers/assignments of copyright must be in writing.

    Designers typically work under two types of contracts: work-for-hire and (pre-)assignment of copyright. Work-for-hire basically means that the employer is considered the author of the work and owns the copyright. Assignment work means the designer is considered the author, but has given away ownership rights, but the rights can revert to the designer after 35 years. Obviously, assignment work is the better deal.

  • Trademarks. Protects at both a Federal and state ("commonlaw") level for 10 years (renewable). Trademarks are things like service marks, certifications and collective marks, and, yes, trademarks that can be composed on text, graphics, color, fragrances, and sounds. For federal registration, a trademark needs to be "inherently distinctive" or else have a"secondary meaning." You also have to use them (or intend to use them) in a commercial sense.

    You'll want to trademark each element of the trademark separately so that use can use them in various combinations and manifestations. You won't be able to trademark words like "coffee," but text strings like "Starbuck's coffee" are fair game.

Style is probably not protectable. The only time it would be is when people are made to believe the source of a product is someone else--ie if someone tries to replicate something exactly.

posted at 12:32 AM in classmates, design 101, special guest stars | comments (1) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Visual Differentiators
Karen Moyer's "non-exhaustive" list of elements that can visually differentiate one object from another. They are elements because they seldom work alone: you usually use at least two together (a visual molecule).

  • proportion
  • structure
  • size
  • shape
  • weight
  • color (hue, value, saturation)
  • tone/value
  • texture
  • position
  • orientation

posted at 11:06 AM in design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Making Bad Drawings Look Better
I finished up my Sketching and Modeling class last week before I left to go to the IA Summit. It was a "mini," meaning it only ran half the semester. Aside from learning that you can model physical objects very quickly (useful), I also learned how to make bad sketches (my specialty) look much better. Here's how:

  • Dropshadows are almost a cliche in digital design, but adding one to a sketch helps bring it off the page.
  • Related to that is to make a "light source" coming from the left of the drawn object, and shade in some shadows accordingly. Meaning, a dark shadow on the right plane of the object, a lighter shade on the front plane, and an even lighter one on the top.
  • Long strokes, even crappily drawn, are better than short, choppy, "hairy" ones.
  • Darken the edges of an object where two planes meet, but you can't see both planes.
  • Use the simplest means possible to convey ideas while storyboarding. Only use perspective for clarity.

posted at 08:21 PM in design 101, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, February 6, 2004

Analogous Colors
Analogous colors are those that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. To use them well, you need about three or four of them in a row. Examples are Red, Orange, and Yellow or Blue, Green, Yellow, for example. Use mainly primary and secondary colors, only putting in tertiary colors if you really have to. It's unwise to farther than one primary color on the wheel.

Useful for showing gradients on maps.

posted at 01:46 AM in design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Color for Comparison
A quick lesson from Karen Moyer today: when using a single color to indicate a scale (1-100, say), in general, use a true color for the most prominent thing in the range (in this case, 100). Then add white to the color to lighten it for the lesser amounts/levels on the scale.

posted at 11:49 PM in design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Design Studies and Design Research
When I think of Design Research, I typically think of user research: observing users in order to build a product for them. But Design Research and its sibling Design Studies, aren't about that. Rather, they are looking at Design through other disciplines such as the social sciences in order to make Design knowledge available to other disciplines and to designers themselves.

Design Research ("an activity in search of a definition" according to Susan Roth) is growing in importance and influence. There are three types:

  • Case-by_case. Looks at individual problems in order to gain insight into problems beyond the individual project. These are often case studies.
  • Applied. Looks at groups of phenomenon to discover design principles. The Tufte books are examples of applied research.
  • Theoretical. A rare form of research that tries to understand basic/first principles of a particular phenomenon. This research tries to put design problems into their broadest context.

According to Nigel Cross, Design resides in people, methods, processes, and products. Thus, Design researchers look at all of those things. Namely:

  • Epistemology: the study of how people design
  • Praxiology: the study of the methods and processes designers use
  • Phenomenology: the study of the products that are produced

Prototypes are a valuable resource for design researchers. Since there is typically little time to reflect and document during the late stages of product development, prototypes are often the only artifacts that researchers have about design thinking. And it is really design thinking they are often after, as a source and formal framework for solving problems.

Design Studies is about interpreting and reflecting upon design activities, looking at them through the lenses of other disciplines. The purpose is to tease out insights, since Design is focused on production rather than knowledge per se. Jeff made the observation that Design Studies is to Design what Film Studies is to movies: a field of study that looks at the people, methods, and products of a group of creative professionals.

posted at 12:50 AM in big ideas, design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, January 12, 2004

The Goal of Interaction Designers
Design Studio professor Shelley Evenson today also offered her list of the type of interactions that designers should strive to create:

  • Compelling. Capture the users' imaginations.
  • Orienting. Help users navigate the (digital) world.
  • Embedded. Becomes a part of the users' lives.
  • Generative. Promises more good things.
  • Reverberating. Makes users say to others, "You just have to try this!"

posted at 08:26 PM in big ideas, design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, November 18, 2003

The Design Process
Dick Buchanan offered us some "Dutch Uncle Advice" (whatever that means) and gave an overview of what he thinks the design process is for projects.

1) Vision and strategy. First, you have to understand the governing practices of the organization you are working for and study the surrounding circumstances. Deliverable is typically a brief.

2) Explore the brief. The team has to agree on an interpretation of the brief, lest it take a "drunk-man's walk" around the project. You need to discover what the real problem that will be addressed is and understand the goal of the project. Brainstorming, research, observation, and documentation are the activities of this period.

3) Conception, invention, and judgment. Invent possible concepts and then judge which ones are viable. Make an argument about the solution. In design, "we make our arguments by making stuff." Frequent visualization is the activity of this period.

4) Disposition and evaluation. Once you have an idea, you need to develop it. Take the idea, make prototypes, and test them with users. "Prototype, evaluate, prototype, evaluate, prototype, evaluate until you get it right." The making is important.

5) Delivery. Present your results. Oral and written presentations and prototype demonstration.

6) Implementation. This is a distinct design problem in itself. The product has to work within the organization, so the organization has to adopt the idea. "A cool idea," Dick reminded us, "don't mean shit. It has to be made." This is all about stewardship of a product within an organization. Sometimes, this is best accomplished by someone outside the organization. "Sometimes you have to hear things from a guy with a briefcase from out of town."

Steps 2-5 are the literal/narrow/traditional view of design, while steps 1 and 6 are new, and are the more expansive view of design today. Various firms and designers specialize in each of these steps.

posted at 12:48 AM in design 101 | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, November 6, 2003

Design Research
Ethnography is the study of people as they go about their everyday work for the purpose of connecting deeply with the content and issues that matter to that community. Then you document in a regular, systematic way what is learned and observed so that you accumulate a record of activity. In this way, you gain a deep knowledge and insights into user processes.

there are a range of research methods, but what's important is to use multiple methods to help overcome your preconceptions. You triangulate your findings to get multiple views of what is being observed.

Targets of Observation:

  • activities
  • events (activity sequences that can be bounded in time and space)
  • settings (locations where behaviors and activities relevant to a study take place)
  • behavior
  • conversations
  • and interactions.

Working in groups or pairs is important; if you miss something while, say, writing a note, your partner can catch it. It's also extremely important to decide how you are going to record data before you go in.

If you can't directly observe something, use directed storytelling. Ask the subject to recall specific instances for you ("Tell me about the last time you bought shoes.") If you have props for the subject to use, that's good too.

There are a number of ways to capture your data. Video and audio recording are not recommended. Structured note taking during the conversation works best. If you can't take notes during the research, do it immediately afterwards. Always diagram the environment. Annotated drawings are good.

Features of good field notes:

  • exact quotes with selected words
  • pseudonyms for confidentiality
  • describe activities in sequence
  • no personal judgements
  • capture history or extended context where relevant
  • separate out your inferences, reflections, hunches, and emotional reactions
  • and name of observer, date, time, and place.

It's also good practice to treat your test subjects ethically. Meaning

  • get their informed consent
  • explain the risks and benefits of the study
  • respect their privacy
  • provide remuneration for their time
  • and provide data and research results to them.

Treating your subjects well helps immensely when it comes time for them to adopt the processes or product you've designed.

posted at 10:29 AM in big ideas, design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (1) | link


Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Color Basics

Dan Boyarksi gave some of us a quick lecture on the basics of color.

There are three main properties of every color: the hue, the value (or brightness), and the intensity (or saturation). Hue is the color itself. Value indicates how much black is in the color; how dark or light it is. Intensity is how pure or dull the color is.

When picking a suite of colors, try to keep them all at around the same value. Look for equal values and saturation. To dull a color, add in color from the opposite side of the .

White backgrounds tend to darken up colors. Black backgrounds tend to lighten colors. Try backgrounds that aren't pure white or black. White backgrounds can even deaden colors, so try a light grey. Very pale yellow backgrounds with black type is good for older eyes.

Painter Josef Albers said that color doesn't exist until it meets another color. "If you remember one thing from this lecture," Dan said, "Remember to look at the edges of colors and see how they work together."

posted at 08:45 PM in design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Human-Robot Interactions

In interface class today, Jodi Forlizzi gave a lecture on the design issues surrounding robots. ("Danger, Will Robinson!")

In the first place, it helps not to think of them as robots. That word, as I just illustrated, has a lot of baggage and can be intimidating. It's even best, when talking to users, to not even use the word "robot." It is better instead to think of the entire system that the robot will be a part of and design for that. A robot is more than an artifact: it is a product and a service. What constitutes a robot is actually pretty broadly defined.

Two spectrums that must be considered when designing robot interactions are autonomy and social interaction. Autonomy is the robot's ability to act on the user's behalf. One one end (little autonomy) are robots like Furby. At the other end (full autonomy) are things like pacemakers and artificial hearts. In between are everything from appliances to smart cars to avatars. On the social interaction scale, one one end are things like Furby who have very little reciprocal interaction. On the high end, currently there is very little. In between are things like avatars that can respond to humans in a social manner. One important note is that emotional relations with our robots happen all along the social scale, although they are probably much deeper the more social they are.

Three other main design issues with robots:

  • Form. Does it have a human-like appearance? How big is it? What are its physical characteristics like size, shape, scale, and the materials it will be made of.
  • Function. How will the robot communicate and express? Will it use sound, motion, gesture, light, color, or even scent?
  • Manner of behavior. How does the robot behave and in what situations? What is the nature of the interactions?

posted at 10:58 PM in design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, August 25, 2003

So it begins

Today was the first day of fall semester and, really, the first day of school. Yes, I did CDF in summer session, but today seemed so much more real somehow. Maybe it was that all my classmates were around. Maybe it was the several thousand undergraduates that appeared on campus. And maybe it was just that both professors talked about the experience of CMU and about being in graduate school. Whatever it was, it was an exciting, nerve-wracking day.

My first class was Design Seminar I, which is taught by the former head of the design department, Dick Buchanan. It's a rather infamous class, much talked about by alumni and the second-year grad students. And, three minutes into the class, it's not hard to see why. "I'm here," Dick introduced himself, "to change design in the world. I want to change the way design is taught and practiced." Then he turned to my classmate Jennifer Anderson. "Why are you here?" he bluntly asked. Then he went around the room, asking each person in turn. (My answer, in case you care, was that I want to make the world a better place by improving the tools we use.)

That done, he talked about the difference between undergraduate and graduate study. Graduate study focuses on themes, connecting (and mastering) a set of facts to create an approach to design practice. Graduate students are expected to become leaders of the industry, able not only to create good designs ("good" being defined by Dick as "well-designed and the right thing to do"), but also to discourse on them. Master's students aren't expected in their theses to contribute something new to the design field, but rather to deepen a theme. It is the doctoral students who are more concerned with inquiry into new design areas and research.

Interaction is at the heart of all of CMU's Masters of Design programs, even the new one in Product Development. Something he's obviously going to get into more is that interaction design relates to Poetics (creating emotionally satisfying experiences), while CPID relates to Rhetoric (creating persuasive products). I'd be lying if I told you I knew what that meant right now.

The stated goals of the class:

  • establish a common framework of the concepts of interaction design
  • provide a strategic perspective on the community of practice
  • find our place in the field of practice
  • encourage creativity
Grad students, Dick informed us, can be boring to teach. We have too many things built up inside us that we need to suspend in order to learn. We need to learn how to be inventive. Dick's main goal is "to provide [you with] enough stuff so that you see the world differently."

It's ok, he told us, if this is perplexing. Perplexity is a form of wonder. And when wonder occurs, the possibility for creativity emerges.

We then discussed the History of Design and the History of Interaction. In the 20th century, there were two great fields of design, graphic (symbols) and industrial (objects). About 40 years ago, the language of design began to change and it started to talk about human systems like environments (actions). Then, recently, design has concerned itself with what holds a system together (thought). These are the Four Orders of Design: symbol, thing, action, thought. New things can happen when you think of something outside its order. For example, a table. A table is not a thing. Think about it as a symbol or an action. ("Ceci n'est pas une pipe"?). I'm guessing we'll get a lot deeper into this as well.

Finally, we looked at the following fragment:

Interaction is a relationship between   in the process of   for the purpose of

Broken down, this becomes a series of questions:

  • What is the data we have? What do we look for? What is acceptable data and how do we interpret it?
  • What is it between?
  • How is the connection established?
  • Why? What is its purpose?
And that's where we left off. We have a homework assignment to select any example of interaction design and identify at least three types of data that one could investigate in order to understand or appreciate the design.

Reminder: this is all in the first hour and a half of fall semester.

Went to the on-campus Indian restaurant with Rob and Phi-Hong Ha, another first-year interaction design student. I like Sree's Indian food from the trucks better, I found.

The afternoon class was Graduate Studio, taught by the current head of the design department, Dan Boyarski. Studio is the yin to Seminar's yang. Seminar is mainly reading and discourse. Studio is project based and more nuts-and-bolts.

Dan started by saying that if the faculty don't change us, don't make us students different than what we were before we came, they haven't done their jobs. Grad school can be thought of as a retreat. It's not a smooth journey, however.

We talked about the need to be flexible: the environment we're working in is constantly changing. Often, part of the designer's job is simply to exercise common sense with clients.

Communication is what interaction is. We work with human-to-human communication, filtered through mediums (like computers). It's our job to turn data into meaningful information by providing form and structure to it.

We looked at Richard Saul Wurman's ways to organize data: LATCH. Location, alphabetical, time, category, hierachy. One of my classmates, Cheryl Gach, suggested one more: Random. Combining these ways, the information becomes even more meaningful. It's the designer's job to ask the right questions of the data.

Our first project for Studio is a self-portrait poster using Wurman's categories as the starting point.

Wow, quite a day. It took me an hour and half to get it all down. I can't promise detail like this every day, but today, being the first day, I thought it was special enough to record in detail.

posted at 10:18 PM in big ideas, classes, classmates, cmu, cpid program, design 101, faculty, projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, July 31, 2003

Exploring the Accidental

More work on our 3D sketches today. Here's one of mine (click for larger size):

For fun, I took a small movie (344k mpg) of our class hard at work, sticking pins into pieces of paper and foamcore.

Part of what we're learning is how to accept accidents and unexpected things in our work. It's difficult to visualize how things will look in 3D until you try them, until you play with shapes in space. This is tough for people like myself who do all their designing in virtual space or on paper in 2D to accept.

We're also starting to mix images in with our shapes, projecting them with a slide projector and glueing them to the planes. Unfortunately, all my pictures of this look terrible, but the effect is amazing, especially with the slides. Again, it's nearly impossible to determine before seeing it how the images will work with the form. It has to be seen and played with. Play is very important in design.

There was also a field trip to see Pittsburgh Platforms: New Projects in Architecture + Environmental Design and Panopticon: An Art Spectacular at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Both exhibits were well worth seeing, but the Panopticon's exhibit space, with paintings stretching 20 feet to the ceiling and covering every wall, with sculptures and chairs in the middle of the room and growing up columns like vines, was awe-inspiring. You could spend hours there.

I could immediately see why Craig sent us to see the chairs: if you look at them a certain way (ie like a designer), you see that they use the same planes and curves that we are working with on our sketches, just not abstract. (Although some of the chairs are pretty abstract!) They have the same play of axes, the same use of negative space. Nice to see the classroom translating into real world activites.

posted at 04:36 PM in big ideas, design 101, field trips | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, July 28, 2003

Forms in Space

This week's instructor is Craig Vogel, Director of Graduate Studies here in the college of fine arts and former president of IDSA. We're learning about 3D objects: how to create and manipulate forms in space. To that end, we're working on one individual project that stretches the week. It's some kind of small sculpture built out of foamcore and paper. We don't know what it is we're building yet, except that some of the pieces are taken from measurements we did of each other's bodies today. Neema got the pleasure of measuring yours truly.

But today's class was a pretty high-level overview of some of the theories, people, and processes of industrial design. We examined two cars, the Aztek and the PT Cruiser, to see why the Cruiser worked (from a design perspective) and why the Aztek did not. Products, it turns out, can be driven from either a quantitative point of view, or from a qualitative point of view. Too often, as with the ugly Aztek, the quantitative has been the driving force. But in the new world of product design, there needs to be a shared understanding of what the engineers (the quantitatives) and the designers (qualitatives) do to create better products. The best products are the ones where all the elements of it work seamlessly together to form a gestalt. Hybrids fuse different perspectives into new gestalts.

In preparation for our fieldtrip tomorrow to Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob, we talked a little about Frank Lloyd's Wright's notion of "Subliminal Mathematics," which is about using underlying, invisible math as a starting point for form.

We looked at the work of notable product designers like the Eames, and Raymond Loewy. Loewy came up with the idea of MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, which is the underlying thought behind innovative designs such as the Cruiser. We also looked at Frank Gehry's Bilbao Guggenheim as an example of qualitative design leading quantitative.

Briefly noted was the influence of Japanese design on products and architecture and the Japanese notion of asymmetrical balance.

We also talked about how previously, products were designed for men whose body shapes were in the 50th percentile range as far as shape, height, weight, etc. Now, products are designed with both men and women in mind, ranging down to the 1st percentile of women and up to the 95th percentile of men.

If this entry seems crammed full of stuff (and I've only mentioned half the things that were tossed at us today), it's because the class was as well. As we've seen from previous weeks, it's a trail to get everything in about a topic in only a week.

Tomorrow is our field trip to "one of the greatest and most sophisticated uses of space and form ever made."

posted at 09:08 PM in big ideas, classmates, design 101, faculty, projects | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, July 24, 2003


We spent all of class working on perspective, creating on a large sheets of paper 10'x12'x10' rooms in groups of three. If I sound nonplussed, it's because I am. Obviously perspective is important in drawing, but the stated purpose of this week was to enhance our ability to communicate ideas effectively on paper. This type of work isn't achieving that goal for me. I (and I think many of my classmates as well) would probably have preferred to work on basic sketching techniques, effective ways of showing drawings and text. We did a little of that yesterday, making thumbnails, but the thumbnails were so detailed, I had to make thumbnails for my thumbnails.

The saving grace of this week has been learning After Effects. Wow, what a sweet program this is! You're able to do some really cool stuff with very little effort. (My own very little effort (8mb Quicktime movie). I'd love to buy it, but at $299 (even with my student discount), it's just not in the budget right now. But its a cool alternative to Flash for animation (locally, anyway...the file sizes are pretty huge.) The whole "camera effect" of being able to move not the objects on the screen, but the "camera" viewing them, is pure genius.

posted at 08:12 PM in design 101, software, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, July 22, 2003

A Transparent Window

...into my nightmare.

Today, we were told that non-Asian peoples think of paper as a transparent window to the world behind it. Then talked more about perspective (Things "farther away" are usually higher on the screen and smaller). Then we spent three hours drawing cubes and ellipses. Seriously.

It's no exaggeration that I was the worst drawer in class, groaning as even the lamest of my HCI classmates drew circles, I mean ellipses, around me.

This was the day I'd been dreading (and tried to ameliorate by taking a drawing class last Spring) ever since I decided to go to design school, when my drawing flaws were exposed in all their pink nakedness. Very humiliating.

But, as Rachael reminded me when I got home, if you knew everything and were good at everything, you wouldn't need school.

posted at 07:35 PM in design 101, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, July 21, 2003

Drawing...I mean, Visualization

This is going to be a tough week for me, I can tell. Why? Because this week is all about drawing. And I can't draw. Yes, I know anyone can draw. But I can't draw well is what I'm saying. And, yes, I realize the irony of getting a master's degree in design and not knowing how to draw a straight line. I'm working on it.

The stated purpose of the class, taught by Mark Mentzer, is to enable us to convey ideas quickly, in both small (napkin) and large (whiteboard) contexts. A quick Google of Mark's name revealed that he taught Terry Swack, who, along with Clement Mok, is one of the big advocates of experience design. Terry had this to say about Mark's teaching in an AIGA interview:

"Mark Mentzer, a drawing teacher at Carnegie Mellon, once said to me, ģIėm going to teach a class called ėDrawing on the Back of a Napkin,ėī which I thought was brilliant because everybody today has ideas that theyėre trying to communicate that are generally complex. Everybody goes to the white board in a meeting or is drawing on a scrap of paper trying to communicate his idea. Itės important for people to feel that itės okay to just be able to draw something quickly to communicate and not be judged on the quality of the drawing. We need to foster the ability to connect the mind to the hand so that one can communicate effectively."

This week is basically that class. So, yes, of course there is great value in this. Hopefully my lousy drawing won't get in the way of my communicating my ideas. And I spent a lot of time today drawing: lines, squares, and cubes. I'd show you a scanned in example, but I don't want to embarass myself.

Drawing is either of a subject, an of an idea, or of something in-between. When you draw, you should think about what context the drawing will be seen in: close up or far away. In general, a drawing should have a presence at arm's length and at a couple of paces away.

The way you draw a line influences how viewers perceive the line. Lines can convey feeling and line weight is crucial. Darker lines have more emphasis and are seen to be "closer." Lighter lines seem "farther away."

Which segways nicely into depth. There are several ways of creating the optical illusion of depth via visual cues, through projection and perspective. Projection drawing is a mental construct. It allows for accurate measurement of, say, a cube, because the sides are all in proportion still. Perspective drawing cannot be used for measurement. It is a visual construct, designed to look right to the eye. Smaller objects seem farther away. The back of a cube will be skewed. A city in the distance looks tiny, etc. Perspective makes a drawing believable. Often, both types of drawing will exist side-by-side to give the most accurate depiction of an object.

I have to go practice drawing cubes now...

posted at 03:24 PM in big ideas, design 101, faculty, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, July 18, 2003

CDF Week 3 Wrap-Up

We're halfway through CDF. My how time flies...

We talked a lot about the value of critiques, and about the value of design education (for mentoring), today while critiquing our final exercise (pdf 32k). I should mention how we do critiques here (at least in this class). We post several treatments up on the wall, then proceed to go through them methodically one at a time, referring to the others on the wall as necessary. Wallspace is important for critiques. With laptops, you are limited by the number of variations you can show at one time. Wallspace removes those constraints (mostly).

We also looked at the various elements that make up a type face (baseline, serifs, etc.). Strange that, similar to the photography portion of our class, in that we "play" with the things for a week before learning some of the more formal elements of the craft. I wonder if this is deliberate or not.

Picking a type face for a project is a matter of readability, flavor, and context. Different type foundries have different versions of the same type face. Very few type faces are designed solely for the screen.

A nugget of design wisdom: Style is something you build all your life.

Next week: Visualization!

posted at 12:06 PM in big ideas, classes, design 101, projects, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, July 16, 2003


We talked a lot today about composition, the placement of things on a page. Gestures--making broad strokes on a blank page--can help explore the feeling you are trying to capture in type and the placement of your text. Is the movement organic? Mechanical? Loose? Tight? etc. And don't put everything center. Centering is easy. Finding how far off-center you can go, how far towards the edges, is more interesting. Don't be afraid of the edges. But be careful of the ragged right edge of text. Make sure the edges aren't too ragged. You don't want to draw too much attention to that edge for the reader.

When designing, don't throw away your early ideas. They might be cliche, but they might also be the most honest response to the problem.

An underlying grid structure can help organize your page, and can also help build variety within consistant pages.

It's sometimes hard to know when you are done with a project. The end is often simply determined by external forces (ie. a deadline).

During the second half of class, we looked at the work of Bradbury Thompson, an American graphic designer who "helped give definition to graphic design" in the US in the second half of the 20th century. His main contribution was the integration of type and image in advertising and in his "Inspirations" projects for paper manufacturer Westvaco.

posted at 07:53 PM in big ideas, design 101, projects, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Communication v. Design

I'm apparently having the same trouble I had during Photography: emphasizing Design over Communication. In my first assignment (pdf 96k), I spent a lot of time (some 6 hours) playing with the composition of each variation. But what I missed was the communication of the message. Which is pretty stupid considering the first line of the text is, "A great square has no corners." You'd think in six hours of staring at and typing the same message, some of it would have sunk in. Hopefully, my refinement (pdf 30k) is better.

We did talk a lot about form today in class, about how the overall shape and form of the page prepares the reader for the content therein. Symmetry, as it turns out, is boring. Old skool. Asymmetry is more interesting, more dynamic. Asymmetrical text might be more difficult to comprehend, but it is ok to make the reader work a little bit as long as it isn't too much. You have to know you audience and your content to know which end of the type spectrum you should be working in (pure information (absolute clarity) or expressive work (ambiguity)).

Don't ever just stick something on a page. Everything, every letter, needs to be placed. Do everything knowingly. Things in proximity are seen as related, as a chunk. Every element should be allied to something else on the page.

We talked a little about the design process, how it starts with many explorations. The process is linear, but it is seldom executed in a linear fashion. A tip is to start sketching as early as possible. You can better discuss ideas that are sketched out.

In software bootcamp, our Flash training is coming along swimmingly. We learned tweening animation today, which is a lot of fun to play around with. It's a good introduction before I take the Actionscript class in the fall.

posted at 05:02 PM in design 101, software, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, July 14, 2003

Expressive Typography

Week three of Communication Design Fundamentals is being taught by Dan Boyarski, who is also happens to be the new head of the School of Design. The topic is expressive typography: using the characteristics of type to convey emotion, not strictly information (as we studied in week one.

We began by talking about information, however, and we were presented with the following formula:


Data floats around randomly, "like dust." Only when form and structure are added, does it become useful. Information is presented in three ways: 2-D (paper, screen), 3-D (spaces), and 4-D (sequences). Paper has shaped how we organize information, but this is now being challenged by the digital environment. The history of design is really the history of materials. As materials changed, so did design.

When setting a text in type, one method of getting a feeling for it is to speak it aloud. Reflecting the inflections and pauses is one thing that type can do. It's also important when choosing a typeface to think about how the text is going to be read. If it is a book, say, you need to keep the readability of the type in mind. Less contrast with in a type style is easier to read (Garamond is easier to read than Bodini, for example).

Our first assignment is to set an assigned quote in 10pt. Frutiger (one weight only) in a 7" square, horizontal type only. In at least 10 variations.

Strangely enough, my quote is from the Tao Te Ching, a book I have sitting on my desk beside all my design books. The passage I have to set begins, "A great square has no corners." But just before that is a passage I am thinking about now, here in school:

The Way's brightness looks like darkness;
Advancing on the Way feels like retreating;
the plain Way seems like hard going.

posted at 08:37 PM in design 101, faculty, projects, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, July 3, 2003

CDF Week 1 Wrap-Up

Our introduction to display typography ended today after reviewing the final set of exercises exploring typographic variations. [Note: it is going to be exercises like these, and the accompanying critiques (and hopefully the learning that goes along with them), that will be nearly impossible to capture and document in a blog. But aside from the raw knowledge that you gain in school, this is what you are ultimately paying your money for: the training. This blog is free (for readers at least).] Some notes:

  • Distinctions can be subtle or bold...but shouldn't be too subtle, nor too bold.
  • Using two typographic variables at once can overemphasize text.
  • This from Ian: The "rules" of typography are dependent completely on the context and the content.
  • Karen Moyer recommends finding a set of fonts (around 10) that you use all the time and understand well.

Next week: photography! And in software bootcamp: Illustrator!

posted at 12:53 PM in classmates, design 101, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Wednesday, July 2, 2003

Linespacing, Stroke Weights, and Horizontal Shifts

We continued our Typographic Hierarchy Exercise from yesterday, the purpose of which (I'm postulating) is to train our eyes to see what slight changes in type characteristics do, how they can change emphasis. Indeed, the trick is to make sure the audience can unconsciously (via visualogic) determine what is the most important. By applying individual or combinations of two characteristics, you can see (or start to see in my case) how each affects the type (and thus the message).

A couple of related notes:

  • Without any linespaces, stroke weight changes look odd.
  • The length of a line and its placement on the page help to determine its emphasis ("loudness").
  • The top of a page determines the bottom. The left usually determines the right.

In software bootcamp, our study continues on InDesign, learning about frames and bounding boxes and how to manipulate the two. I'm starting to feel comfortable with the program, three days in. It helps we're using it in CDF class too.

posted at 06:15 PM in design 101, software, techniques, typography | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, July 1, 2003

Introduction to Typographic Variables

Today we examined the concept of visualogic: what might not make sense logically, but what makes sense visually. To do this, we're taking a unformatted poster (that has reportedly been used in this exercise for years in the design school) and making changes to linespaces, stroke weights, and flush-left thresholds to make it make sense visually. (First homework!) This involves first analyzing the message and identifying the most important content. From there, the content/text is broken down into labeled parts and a hierarchy of information is determined. Then you look at the micro and macro labels and use them to help in arranging the message visually.

Today's key point: the best typography does the most communication with the least amount of materials.

posted at 05:39 PM in big ideas, design 101 | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Monday, June 30, 2003

First Day of D School

I survived my first day at school! Hooray! My two classes are Communication Design Fundamentals and the accompanying "software bootcamp."

Communication Design Fundamentals is a six-week course designed to teach Design 101. Each week is a different instructor to teach a different aspect of design. This week is Introduction to Display Typography, taught by Karen Moyer.

There's about 13 students in the class, a majority of them from the HCI program. We spent the first day arranging a pile of kitchen utensils and art supplies into a pattern that would make sense. The purpose being not only to show that this is what designers do--make order out of disorder--but also to show the process of design, from familiarization to development to refinement. The key points:

  • Form carries meaning.
  • Space carries meaning--even empty space.
  • Structure carries meaning.
  • Everything has a form, including (especially) typography.
  • Appropriate, engaging, and clear presentation of content: this is the purpose of communication design.
Another key point: let the visual display do what it can do and nothing more. It must be well-thought out, but it cannot do the thinking/processing for the viewer.

The first program we're learning in software bootcamp (taught by second-year second year interaction design grad student Ian Hargraves), is Adobe's InDesign. It's a smaller class (about 8 of us) and for some of us (like me) the beginning of the class was just getting used to the Mac machines as opposed to the PC (what do you mean there's no right mouse click?). Since I've never used InDesign, I'm grateful to have the opportunity to learn it.

In other news, I got the key to the Graduate Design Studio, my new (working) G4 Powerbook, and my summer student ID card. I'm a student again! So strange, but so great, to be back in school. I'm glad this first, awkward day is over though.

posted at 07:35 PM in classes, classmates, design 101, software | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans