Monday, October 30, 2006


I use the term motivation because it is the common linking word for Tim, Mary and I's exhibition in February. My thesis project will be a thorough exploration of the various facets of design language and how they can be used to raise awareness of the debate over a United States National language. This is fastly becoming a rather heated topic, one which will force me to be fearless, to challenge myself on both a citizen and designer level. Not only does it tap into my designer fears of tackling a touchy subject, but it also addresses fears the general public may have. The two dominate fears being of discrimination and of losing a national identiy (at least that's my take on it). I will use language skills familiar to me in tandem with image skills I may currently be lacking to produce a set of posters exploring both sides of the issue. In addition to the gallery, the pieces will be seen on campus and throughout Manhattan with plans of inciting an online dialogue (via blog) with the audience.

I'm curious what your thoughts are on the idea of the United States naming English as our national language. As a group, we come from a variety of backgrounds, so would you be so kind as to give your thoughts. Thanks!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Quo vadis?

Where are you going?
I've been getting this question a lot since I started on my MFA. Everyone thinks I am moving on, when in fact I am rooted here. Where I am going with this MFA journey is on a design investigation. I've always liked to plan and map out a place before I visit, and this journey is no different. My thesis will reflect on ways in which I have investigated process and design issues, and cultivated my role as a designer/educator. It will also discuss the conceptual use of mapping as a metaphor and delve into imagery and design that visually interprets experience- of a place or a life event. I have been exploring the concept of topophilia- establishing a conceptual and emotional bond with a place- and what a visitor viewpoint can bring to a "place."

I will be writing about some of the solutions I have created, specifically my Survival Stories books, the Vision Chicago project, Prairie Mosaic poster, and most recently the Fabulous Desert Ecotone project with deck of cards.

Tim and Eric and I are collaborating on a "Conversation Map" of i-chats we are having relating to thinking about our thesis and exhibition. This will be an intertwining piece for our exhibition- showing our thought processes along the journey. More on this later as it develops!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thank you

As I recently reminded each of you in an email, it is half-way through the semester. Thank you for creating posts and comments. Thank you, Seiji for preventing spam and remembering our birthdays!

This week I have asked you to consider your projects instead of discussing articles (with the exception of the articles we will discuss over lunch on Friday). Next week I will want you to post what you are working on after you and I have met this week. After that I will be looking for those of you not graduating to (a) catch up on the number of posts or comments you have missed if you have missed any and (b) write a short article yourself. We will determine the subject matter together when the time comes, for now, you are free to work on describing your current projects.

In the last posts, I was most interested in the notions of fear vs. freedom raised by Eric and Tim, though I would have, as with most of the latest postings, liked to have seen more discussion of what the people doing the posting thought of the subject vs questions asked to everyone else. I think the idea that school is more freeing and inspiring than work for many designers is interesting given the fear with which many of my students at the intro level face their projects and the prospect of a bad grade. Maybe we shouldn't give grades in the intro class until the end and just give lots of comments. Maybe all of the facutly should have to come comment on the 201's class work the way we do for senior studio. It seems that one task I need to work harder on as a teacher is encouraging risk-taking and getting the students accustomed to lots of productive criticism.

I also liked the way Jeff Pulaski tied together NPR and Comm Arts in his posting, though again, I have to ask Jeff, "what do you think?"

Over the rest of the semester, ask yourselves this again and again: "what do YOU think?" Thank you for the thinking you have done together so far.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Who is Designing for the Poor?

In the book/magazine "Plugzine", there is a Chinese article that discusses designing for the poor. I thought it would talk about designers doing things for poor people, kinda like donation our skills or something of that nature. But it didn't.

There were various points, but 2 that struck me. One were designers that were designing pieces (like furniture) out of reused materials. So, a chair designer made a "Rag Chair" our of old pieces of cloth. Another used bottles. etc. The basic idea was in a world were resources are becoming more and more limited (aha! "Sustainability"), to find ways were you can express design while reusing materials.

The other was not about designing for the poor, but rather poor designers designing. And it doesn't mean poor college students. It means real poor people who have a need for advertising, but don't have the modern tools we do (like computers, copy machines, etc.). Their concern isn't about what the next cool program is or how to do this and that on a layout. Their concern is how to promote something with just a handful of drawing supplies.

Where this is really predominant in China (again, this is a Chinese article), is in the band scene. Bands need ways to promote themselves. But without money to make copies or color flyers, their designers end up using markers to individually draw up each flyer! These were not scribbles of notes that are quickly drawn; each has a unique labor of love! The end result is something edgy with hand-drwan types and human in each flyer and more direct to the audience. Painted posters and handbills (like San Francisco in the 60's). An expanding visual style that led to a handpainted magazine (it didn't last, but what an intriguing idea).

Now with China's modernization and push forward, this design art is slowly being pushed aside for more modern and fancy stuff. It was an intriguing idea. I can only imagine the reaction of students if we said you had to to do a full-on promotion using no computers or copy machines! Labor intensive, but probably a lot of fun once you get into it?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Spam Protection

Due to some spammers posting stuff on the comments pages, I've set this site up so only members of this blog can post comments. Just to let you all know.

Happy Birthday!

Just wanted to say Happy Birthday to Rachel and Ruhty this week!!! :-)

Monday, October 09, 2006

STEP- Fear & Risk

In the world of today, fear is an all-to-familiar feeling. Many current brands are paralyzed by the fear of challenging the norm. Along with them, are the designers. It was mentioned in a previous post the tendency for designers to resist pushing borders due to fear. But a fear of what?

I realize there’s a client involved, but how many times does an innovative idea ever reach the client? Do most designers censor themselves before ever giving the client a chance to shoot the idea down? Are we gun-shy? As the article mentions “risk aversion kills ideas, innovation and unmet needs and desires”. I question whether we as designers use the client as a scape-goat for our lack of courage.

Again, what do we really have to be afraid of. It’s just design...right?

There are a couple examples of brands breaking the rules on the above website (click the title bar of this post). Check them out if you wish, but I found the overall debate more interesting than the visuals.

Flash-y Websites Without the Flash

The October issue of HOW has an article titled "Rethinking Your Website" that focuses on how too many designers (and design firms) are relying on "Flash animaton and other visual tricks" to catch people's attention- mostly clients and other designers. According to David C. Baker, a management consultant for small design/communication firms, most designers and firms who use this approach do it to control a user's experience, instead of allowing them to experience it on their own terms, which is the whole purpose of the world wide web.

Since the Internet has become the main marketing medium for many small firms, it's really important for a designer's website to be a complete and user-friendly representative of the firm's capabilities and and experience. Too many are turning to Flash animation, which, according to Eric Holter of Newfangled Web Factory, is more of an annoyance than anything, getting in the way of information delivery.

What designers should concentrate on is the content of the site, and make sure it is always up to date and dynamic. Holter says that many designers don't "get" that the role of their website is different than the role of most of their work- "push" campaigns like print and TV- which focus on grabbing attention. People don't walk by websites, people choose to go to them to get information, or whatever their interest is.

So what should designers do with their websites? The article advises that keeping your content current is the most important. Keep up to date on posting projects- they advise making an online portfolio data-driven instead of static, sortable by media, industry, etc. Giving choices about how to interact will make the user more engaged. The ability to harness search-engine capabilities, even using title tags properly, can help prospective users find you and your information easier. (Most designers or small firms probably don't have the skills to develop a data-driven site, so they lean toward technically-undemanding sites. Holter and Baker recommend investing in a programmer to integrate this technology into a site if you can't do it yourself.)

They also recommend thinking about components on your site that lets users/clients know your focus, process, legal information, privacy policy, mission, philosophy, news releases, client testimonials, case studies, staff cameos, faqs, contact information, and how you are different from other designers. As a matter of fact, the more words you use on the site, the more possibilities that search engines will find you!

So, Flash is great for some things, but not for all things. It can be entertaining, but it can also get in the way of communicating because its end-product is static. How difficult is it to learn some programming for a data-driven website? Is this another skill that a designer should learn, or hire it out?

DO– Sue Nguyen: What I Did Last Summer

Sue Nguyen is a design student at RISD. She gives a short exploration into her thoughts and feelings about a summer internship.

She worked at McSweeneys. She says it was a relaxed atmosphere composed of a few odd ducks. It had only one "designer" and a few others who designed while they completed their various tasks. 15 literary interns who worked in a hot basement.

Nguyen worked on a magazine cover and made some student certificates. Doesn't sound very glorious, but she loved it.

As I said, it was brief–more of a diary entry than an essay. However, it does raise some questions for perspective designers.

Do you have a clue where you want to work? Some of my students might have a city in mind, but few know the names of any companies. They will take what they can find (so will we all).

The internship becomes important. How will you respond to a certain atmosphere? Her's, for instance, contained a designer and an intern. Sounds horrible to me. To work in a box, no equals to bounce ideas off of. On the other hand, is it any worse than cubicle hell (or perhaps heaven for some)?

Enviroment has to play into design. It influences both thought process and mood. The classroom seems to be the ultimate environment. Since everyone doesn't know everthing already, experimentation comes into play. You have 15-20 other able (hopefully) designers to bounce ideas off of. And, the projects are theoretical enough to open the door to expressive forms of communication.

How many students realize it? Soon, they will escape the place they are the most free. Do they really have an idea of what they are getting themselves into?

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Body of Evidence

Is crime influenced by art, or, is art influenced by crime?

The most famous of all “art murders” is attracting attention again, according to ArtNews Sept. 2006. This unsolved homicide of Elizabeth Short has been the subject of numerous books and films over the past 60 years. The latest is “The Black Dahlia,” opening in theatres nationwide on Sept. 15, 2006. The movie, based on James Ellroy’s best selling 1987 book of the same name, stars Josh Hartnett, Scarlett Johansson and Hilary Swank.

The Black Dahlia was a black-haired twenty-two year old waitress and aspiring actress who was brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. The gruesome description includes “severed in two at the waist and washed clean – like a mannequin in a department store window. One breast was missing, and there were geometric shapes cut out of her torso and thigh.”

Based on that description, experts over the years have tried to tie this murder with the Surrealist art movement of the time. Cited are the segmented nudes of Man Ray (photo 1938), the fractured dolls of Hans Bellmer, or mannequins of Salvador Dali. The theory follows that the “surrealists’ fascination with violence and eroticism may help explain the bizarre and gruesome nature of the killing.” The Surrealists’ favorite game, “Exquisite Corpse,” also added support: players take turns drawing parts of a body. Another theory is that works by Marcel Duchamp in later years might have referred to the murder, Short’s body, and the true identity of the killer.

There have been other famous murders that have been tied to art as well. Several books, most recently Patricia Cornwell’s Portrait of A Killer, suggest that painter Walter Sickert was Jack the Ripper. It was believed that he made obvious sketches and paintings of the Ripper crimes. Television crime-solving series such as CSI and Cold Case occasionally refer to a painting as a solution or clue to a crime.

What do you think? Do copy-cats commit gruesome murders based on art they see? Do criminals paint their crimes? Does art lead to crime, or to criminals, or vise versa?

Lose Wait Now

In the October issue of Popular Photography John Owens discusses Microsoft’s attempt at understanding photography a bit more. They held a conference in June, the pro photography summit. They did this in order to learn more about what photographers wanted in computer programs.

For early 2007, Microsoft is putting together a new operating system called Vista. This will give Microsoft OS and Window XP photographic tools, such as image-editing tools, a fast search library, color management, auto file back up, and the ability to handle RAW files. Many of these tools, Apple already has but Microsoft will go above and beyond, they hope.

The main issue almost or the three hundred photographers at this conference shared was: "We need technology that frees us from the computer and just lets us shoot." So here are some of the issues they are trying to conquer:

Universal archiving format:
Making RAW formats accessible 20 years from now, even if that particular company goes out of business.

Quick and easy copyright:
Embedding a copyright as soon as the photo is taken.

Automatic transfer:
Transferring your images to anyone you choose as soon as they shot is taken. Having an immediate backup for your images.

Metadata made easy:
Camera or computer filing our data into the computer; choosing a name and a folder for us. Separating images by recognition, landscapes, portraits...etc.

More time behind the camera:
With all of these features we wouldn't have to worry about being behind the computer all the time, unless... it didn't work. Should we trust technology to do all of this for us? Some of these sound great, while others sound sketchy. I don't know if I could trust my computer that much after all the trouble it has already caused me. If it worked all the time then...great.

I do however, like the sound of Microsoft catching up to Macs. I am a stubborn person, and love my PC. I know where everything is in my computer and I can find almost any problem and fix it. Macs, I am clueless, I guess it takes time. But if Microsoft is going to catch up then I can remain stubborn.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Acrobat Reader

Acrobat Reader talks about the increased focus on visuals in novels. One example is Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves. I've read this book and every time the word "house" is written, it is written in blue. The book describes a family who just bought a house. This house is posessed of some spirit, and begins to grow on the inside, but not on the outside. From the outside, it looks like the same house. But when the family returns from a vacation, there is a sudden appearance of an extra closet that didn't used to be there. Eventually the children hear sounds coming out of the closet and begin to play in there. The father is a film maker and tries to create a documentary of him mapping out the mysterious growing space. Once he enters the closet, the complete darkness meets him and the walls change and the space grows depending on his emotional state.
The typography for the book changes as well to reflect the change in space, and emotional state of the characters. The reader is greeted by pages smacked full of text and then suddenly an empty void. The text changes orientation, color, and fonts.
While this was visually interesting enough for me to pick up the book, it actually became slightly annoying at a cliffhanger. I think it was successfull in portraying the characters' sink into mental problems, but at times one word was repeated for three pages, so i would just skip ahead.

The picture on this post is from a page from the House of Leaves. The higlighted blue box is actually a backwards reflection from the page ahead.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Jill Greenberg Photographs

Sorry I have been absent from the conversation for a while. I will get caught up as soon as I can.

In last month’s Communication Arts magazine (the photography annual) there are a series of photographs by Jill Greenberg (page 138-139). Basically, the photos are of children crying. They have an interesting light and texture quality. They look surreal, like they were painted. A number of weeks or months ago I heard a story on NPR or a segment on CBS’s Sunday Morning, I don’t remember which. It was interesting to hear about the photographs and the controversy surrounding them. Greenberg takes these kids into her studio with their parents. She gives them candy or other stuff and then takes it away in an attempt to make them cry. When they do, she takes their picture. She calls it art, others call it child-abuse or pornography.

This is a link to the photographs. At the bottom of the page, there is a link to an essay called “Regarding What is Real in Photography” on the exhibition.

They reference the monkey portraits in a number of the posts and you can see them here if interested.

This is a link to a post about her on a blog that has created quite a stir.

This is a link to an interview with Greenberg in American Photo magazine.

It is an interesting discussion. What do you think?

Hell Phones

I found this article on Wired Magazine, I couldn’t help but to laugh even though most of the things that this guy pointed out are true. He talks bad about cell phones and the negative influences that has in our lives. Here are some:

INTERRUPTABILITY - Phones have always been interrupting machines. Like a screaming baby demanding to be fed, a phone demands your attention as soon as it rings. It requires you to be interruptible. And a hell phone, unlike a house phone, tags along with you wherever you go, nagging.

HEALTH HAZARD - Your hell phone may or may not give you brain cancer, but it certainly increases the quantity of microwaves being pumped through the air. What's more, like any electronic device, it's difficult to recycle.

Then there's all the cultural pollution hell phones are responsible for: annoying ring tones, or those loud conversations you're forced to listen to. These social aggravations affect your health by raising your stress levels; the confrontations they can spark with your fellow citizens can come to blows. Not healthy!

SURVEILLANCE - A hell phone is a device you carry that, when switched on, tells a satellite exactly where you are every few seconds. It's a device with a microphone in it that can transmit all it hears even when you're not consciously making a call. You don't have to be super-paranoid (or bin Laden) to see how this compromises your privacy, and you don't have to read very far in the newspapers to see how little we can trust governments these days not to use, misuse and hoard whatever information they can get on you.

DESIRE - Compare them with plain old cameras, computers, watches or any other once-desirable gadget and there's no competition; it's quite clear that the all-consuming, all-converging hell phone is the star of the store, the only machine that's truly compulsive at this point.

The hell phone is where the most passionate consumer desire resides right now, and where all the design ingenuity is going. It's just a shame that so few people seem to know the designer's name: Satan.

Even though this guy made all these negative remarks about cell phones, I have to admit that I can’t live with out it. In a tough situation it can actually save your life if we think about it. Do we have any cell phones haters here?...

DO- Alan Fletcher: Living by Design

A post by Michael Bierut (an excellent design writer) following the recent death of Alan Fletcher, one of Pentagram's founders.

A fond look back at a designer by one who knew, perhaps even idolized, him. Bierut sums up Fletcher's ideas about design by using direct quotes. Number one, "'every job has to have an idea.'" Number two, "'[T]he designer should have no preconceived graphic style.'" Number three, design is not a craft, but a way of life. "'I'd sooner do the same on Monday or Wednesday as I do on a Saturday or Sunday. I don't divide my life between labour and pleasure.'"

The first two are strived for in the profession–the ability to have high concept and change style to accommodate an idea, leaving wiggle room to follow visual trends and fads. The third, however, is something given lip service in the trade but not necessarily followed.

Let's say doing something you like to do as your job is a given. Is it as important to you as your family or your free time? Do you love it just as much as spending time at the beach, the bar, your friend's house, the movies, an art gallery, your much as your significant other, your kids?

In some ways, it makes sense to say you have to. You work 40 hours a week, 8 hours a day. You spend an hour, give or take, getting ready and going to work, take an hour lunch, and an hour getting home an unwinding. There goes 11 hours of your day. Sleep 8. You spent just 5 hours of that day doing what you want (making dinner, getting the kids to do their homework and go to bed, etc.)

At home, you directly impact your family. Is that the most important thing you do? How many people do you influence? 1-2.5 people? At work, you use your mind to influence as many people as you can. And you do it on a daily basis. As far as society is concerned, this will have the most lasting impact; influencing American decision making on things as diverse as politics to the toasters they buys.

Are you as proud of your work life as your home life? Let's make a parallel. At work, I spend 10% of my time doing pro bono works, helping those who need help. 75% of the time, I don't do wrong. I promote consummerism a little, helping people get products I think are at least adequate to the task–far be it for me to rip someone off with my designs. Then, 15% percent of the time, I sell Hummers to soccer moms and redesign oil corporations' logos to look environmentally friendly.

Now, I take this same mentality home. 10 percent of the time, I talk to my significant other as an equal I love, teach life lessons to my children, and go next door to help my handicapped mother use the restroom. 75% of the time I laze on the couch, encourage my children towards mediocrity, and try to call my parents every couple of weeks–trying not to ask them for money more than once a month. 15% of the time I beat my children furiously with a stick because they pissed my significant other off and, obviously, she paid me good money to make it hurt.

Now, my design attitude and my life attitude are one.

Behind the portrait

In the October issue of Popular Photography, Peter Bellamy, former Professor of photography at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, talks about backgrounds in portrait photography. He likes location portraits, because of the control you have. Most photographers feel it is a hindrance, to many distracting elements. Bellamy, likes having a pieces of their life in the photo. Any problems can be fixed simple, expression, or objects. Most photographers who shoot location portraits, just take the image, they don't worry about changing the background, which Bellamy says is their first mistake. Bellamy gives us 5 tips on taking portrait on location.

Keep them simple:
Avoid clutter, overly high contrast, and excessively bold colors. Remove objects that don't comment on your subject. They should complement your subject. If there are too many distracting objects in the room then zoom in and get a head shot, but don't photograph clutter.

Add Objects:
If there are objects that add to the subject’s personality add them it will add to the feeling the subject is exemplifying.

"Include as much background as possible:
It will add to the subject to have his personality around them, but too much will drown them. Bellamy puts it elegantly "The photographer should reveal the subject not hide them."

Light carefully to control tonality:
No shadow should be completely black, or highlight be completely white. This will be distracting the viewer.

Place your camera parallel to the background:
Make sure when you frame you have windows, doors and wall creasing parallel. This adds structure to your photo.

These where some helpful tips for me. There were things in this article that I never thought about when shooting, but I guess I wasn't the only one who hadn't. I hope some of these tips help some of you when shooting photographs, even candid shots of your friends.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Google Table

On You Tube, there is an example of how some researchers are working on a more interactive way to work with the computer. It's real inventive! Basically, you can interact with the computer using your hands (but no mouse or tablet)! You can resize windows and screens, give it voice commands, etc. Can you imagine one day being able to work on your digital art just like working on a solid sheet of canvas? That would be SO awesome!

This technology is in it's infancy, but not brand new. You can even experience a form of this in a Kansas City AMC theater. They have this projector shine on the floor and these cars go around a track. But if you step on the track, the cars will jam against your foot. In my Japanese school, technologist brought this chalkboard where as you write notes on the board, it will memorize everything on the computer realtime! So, you can go back in your computer later to see what you wrote, email them to absent students, etc. So, physical interaction with computers is on the way! But as the video shows, most likely it will get popular first with Gamers.

For the YouTube video:

For the guy's website (Edward Tse):

Monday, October 02, 2006

Annie Leibovitz: Through Her Lens

Newsweek, Oct. 1, 2006, reports that America's most famous celebrity photographer, Annie Leibovitz, has published a new book, A Photographer's Life: 1990 - 2005, very different from her previous publications.

In this new collection of photographs, she is showing the public small parts of her personal life. Included in the book are images of her long time friend/companion, writer and critic Susan Sontag (On Photography) during her last days in her battle with cancer. Also included are photographs of her life as a single mother with daughter Sarah (2001) and twins (2005). The twins, born to a surrogate mother, were named Susan (after Sontag) and Samuelle (after her father).

What made her decide to "go public"? Sontag died in Dec. 2004, and her father six weeks later. Leibovitz wanted to make a memorial to both, and the book is the result. "I've been through everything mentally and emotionally," Leibovitz says, "and I'm very comfortable with them (the photographs). This book is me."

The personal images are mixed in with those of celebrities. I am interested to see the juxtaposition of intimacy vs. public, and see a side of Leibovitz that has previously been hidden behind the camera.

Graphic Novel

The October, 2006 WIRED magazine had a one-page article about an online graphic novel titled Shooting War. Set in the year 2011, this 11-chapter web serial is about the adventures of Jimmy Burns, an anti-corporate video blogger who witnesses his NYC apartment (above a Starbuck's) being blown up by terrorists. His video is appropriated by Global News, “Your home for 24-hour terror coverage,” and he becomes an overnight media sensation when his video helps locate the bomber. Burns is sent to Iraq, still embroiled in war after 8 years.

I decided to check the website out ( I haven’t gotten through all of the chapters yet, but it is very graphic. If you do check this site out, it is important to realize that it is a fictional story- ahem- political satire. The press release about the site makes it clear that it is about “the future of citizen journalism.”

Writer Anthony Lappé, an award-winning documentarian about Iraq (Showtime's BattleGround: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge) and Iraq war blogger, is also the Executive Editor of the Guerrilla News Network. According to Lappe, “Shooting War is a commentary about where we’re headed in Iraq and the larger war on terror as well as the role of bloggers in telling the stories of the future.”

The artist, Dan Goldman, a writer/artists/designer and founding member of the online comics studio ACT-I-VATE, has used “a vivid combination of photography, illustration, and digital painting” to create a dark, violent, yet smart graphic novel. I like his graphic style and the way he has combined the art with actual photography. The work is to be published next year as a hardcover book.

The serial has been hosted by SMITH magazine, an online magazine “devoted to storytelling in its many shapes and forms.” SMITH editor Larry Smith elaborates that “SMITH magazine is the perfect home for Shooting War… SMITH is all about the next wave of personal storytelling, using and celebrating the technology tools that have made new forms of telling stories so exciting.”

Like I said, I’m not all the way through it yet, but I think it is a very sharp, kick-in-the-pants commentary about our world. And the writers should have us thinking about how we as citizen journalists- bloggers, storytellers- can shape our culture.

Graphics and photos courtesy SMITH magazine.