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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


Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The first art of interaction design is invention. But once you have an idea, you have to express it through visualization. Thus, the second art of interaction design is that of visualization, and that's where tropes come in.

A trope is a figure of speech, thought, or action that is a way of turning something literal into something else, something figurative. Design is all about changing the literal into the figurative. Applying tropes is a way to do that. They suggest other possibilities. There are hundred of tropes, but all of them fit into what Kenneth Burke calls the Four Master Tropes: Metaphor, Metonomy, Synecdoche, and Irony. They are all ways of getting at "the Truth."

Metaphor is about perspective. Finding the that in this. Current interface design is all about metaphor. The problem with them is that they decay rapidly and can quickly become meaningless.

Metonomy is about reducing ethereal things to their physical embodiment. A heart for love, for example. This is a favorite among young designers.

Synecdoche (pronounced sin-ECK-doh-key) is about connected views; a part representing the whole or the whole a part. Micro-and macrocosm. A map is an example.

Irony tries to capture the difference between opinion and truth, revealing two levels of meaning: a literal one and a deeper one. Irony doesn't work until you see the second meaning. Minard's famous map of Napoleon's Russian campaign is an excellent example of irony.

The Four Master Tropes are used to open up possibilities as to what an image could be. You take the raw material, then use the tropes to begin your interpretation. They orient you to a way of thinking and help give visualization shape.

posted at 10:09 PM in design theory, visualization | comments (2) | trackback (0) | link


Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Visualizing Information Space

The self-portrait project done with, we've moved on to another project for Design Studio: taking an information-rich object and re-imagining it in digital space. We were assigned the object, which could be anything from the New York Times Sunday paper, to magazines, to websites.

My object is a typography book on illegibility by Slovakian type designer Peter Bilak. It's an interesting book, but I have no idea yet how I'm going to re-envision it. A kinetic typography piece? A website? I have a month to figure it out.

posted at 09:50 AM in info design, projects, visualization | comments (0) | trackback (0) | link


Friday, July 25, 2003

CDF Week 4 Wrap-Up

Despite my complaining, I did learn a lot this week. It was just painful learning. We finished up our exhibit drawings today, adding in detail and figures. I'll post some pictures later this weekend when I have more than a minute to put them up.

Next week: Field trip to Fallingwater! 3D and 2D objects!

posted at 12:16 PM in classes, visualization | 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


Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Grids and Letterforms

Half of today's class was spent drawing (by hand of course) a (I'm guessing) 72pt New Baskerville letter (either E or S) and turning into double its size. Not easy to make it look right. The trick is to break the letter up into a grid and draw it piece by piece. The second half of class was spent deconstructing a magazine page and turning it into a thumbnail in order to see the underlying grid.

I've been skipping out on software bootcamp this week, because it was a program I know (Photoshop), but today they're teaching After Effects, so I'm heading back in to get a taste of that.

posted at 12:37 PM in 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





All straight lines circle sometime. - The Weakerthans