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Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Agnew Moyer Smith
We did a field trip for my Mapping & Diagramming class to the swank offices of Angew Moyer Smith on Pittsburgh's South Side. We went to meet one of its principals, Don Moyer, husband of our professor Karen Moyer and an information designer of some renown.

As always, it's good to chat with working designers about their processes and projects, especially one as successful as Don. Don is also an interesting case because he's not only a designer, but a writer and illustrator as well, and the work he does reflects all those things. He emphasized the need for text with an appropriate voice to accompany images, which seems obvious but it's amazing how infrequently it's mentioned.

He showed us some recent projects and went into detail about a diagram he did about RFID tags. Initially, he said, look for (and make a list of) the actors in the scenario (human or otherwise), then look at what those actors do. The actors definitely will, and the actions might, have to become visible in the diagram. These actions especially might need to be annotated in some way, either via text or a visual indicator.

When researching, look for basic info ("for eight year olds"). Most topics don't require knowing everything about it. It's important to understand what Don called the engine: what is causing the change that requires people to need this document?

Once you do your research and "wallow in it" for a while, it's always good to write your own brief for the client. This, Don says, not only impresses the client, it also checks to make sure you understood what the client said. It isolates the big ideas from the research and gets the client to agree. In the brief, be sure to include a one-sentence that states the target you are trying to hit. You also want to outline your "story elements:" the big ideas, main messages, and the things you want to cover.

Do initial sketches roughly. Later you can "untangle the marionette" of lines and drawings, resolving the pieces spatially on a plane. You can write questions right onto the initial sketches; that way, the client has to respond.

Don also emphasized what is really one of the central themes of design: you can't say everything, so you have to be smart about what is included, be it information, features, and details.

posted at 08:33 AM in field trips, special guest stars | comments (0) | trackback (1) | link


Saturday, January 31, 2004

Summit Bound
The Design department provides all its graduate students with a small stipend to use to go to one conference per year. While others went to AIGA's Power of Design or are going to Vienna for CHI in April, this year, I'm taking my $350 and heading to ASIS&T's Information Architecture Summit, held in Austin on February 27-29.

While I'm not overly interested in information architecture in the traditional, library-science sense (taxonomies, synonym rings, etc.), there is enough user experience and interaction design stuff there to keep me busy for three days.

Hope to see some of you there!

posted at 11:45 PM in cmu, field trips | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Thursday, September 11, 2003

Influence and Force

Seminar this week concluded our look at the first interpretation of interaction, an entitative or material approach. Broadly speaking, this interpretation has a lot to do with parts of systems: cognition, communication theory, anthropology, semantics. It's a view wherein humans are not overy complex: it is the outside world that is complex. How we process the world is what is important, the methods used to control the outside world. The world is filled with triggers that we act upon.

We took a field trip to the men's bathroom to look at the half-walls between urinals. The walls are a form of adumbration. Adumbration is a term coined by anthropologist Edward Hall to describe the cues around messages that indicate how the messages should be received. Adumbration is about influencing behavior and results in a certain kinds of interaction. Enough influence becomes a force, and a force is how one enacts change in the world.

posted at 12:59 AM in design theory, field trips | comments (5) | 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


Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The Wright Stuff

Our class went to two of Frank Lloyd Wright's houses today: Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob.

Fallingwater is generally considered a masterpiece, one of the top five houses ever built. And it's easy to see why:

What's fascinating to note are the smaller compositions within a bigger composition: like the fireplace inside the living room. Harkens back to our discussion yesterday about the Japanese bento boxes, where each element is composed inside the whole of the box.

Wright's command of light is pretty amazing, too. A darkened hallway warns guests not to go that way. Skylights drop light inside only during certain seasons. Skylights are hidden in an herb garden to let light and air into a bathroom.

Equally impressive is Wright's command of his clients. His nearly total control of every detail is an unusual state for a designer. His "consessions," especially at Fallingwater, are pretty minor.

Fallingwater, by the way, is a mess, structurally. It's taken two years to fix all the problems. It was sinking into the river, basically. It also doesn't seem like the most comfortable place to live, although with the dozens of people going through the house with you, it's hard to tell. You get about 2 minutes a room, if you're lucky.

Kentuck Red is a little more relaxed, both as a place and the experience of touring it. It's a much more humble and warm house than Fallingwater; much more like Wright's earlier Prairie Period houses (1901-1922) that I like so much. It's a beautiful house in its own right, with some nice views on the property as well:

Kentuck Knob only has two right angles in the whole house, and those are in the showers. Everything else is at 30, 60, and 120 degree angles: even down to the dental molding around the skylights.

All in all, a worthwhile day, looking at some beautiful architecture.

posted at 10:49 PM in field trips | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans