Monday, November 29, 2010

Design is Dangerous


Design in the twenty-first century has drastically changed.  Ever since the industrial revolution, mass production and factories have become the normal means for manufacturing almost everything.  Society has become accustomed to using a product and then throwing it away.  Everything from plastic utensils to clothing, designed objects these days are meant to be used and discarded.

Sustainability has become a whole new branch of design.  It is a thought process that is not entirely based on consumption.  Sustainable design is a way of preserving resources for future generations.  Take our auto industry for example. Auto makers worldwide are making vehicles that run off of gasoline, a diminishing resource, and the gasoline being burned is in turn poisoning the environment.  Many auto makers are moving to manufacture cars that run on bio-fuels or hybrid electric cars.  This is a move towards sustainability.  If all of the auto manufactures incorporated sustainable design into their business models, it would do the world good.

Recycling is another way of incorporating sustainability into a product.  If the designer uses materials that are easily recyclable, then down the line when the product breaks/gets old/is no longer wanted it can be easily broken down and recycled. This would help to lessen our impact on the environment and conserve resources for future generations.

The dangers from being a throw away society are obvious.  We need to take it upon ourselves as designers to incorporate sustainability into our work.

Design in Society- Utopian Design


The Nintendo Wii is a video game system that defies conventional video game logic.  It uses a controller like the other game consoles, but the controller relies on motion sensors to play the game.  Nintendo knows that people are going to play video games and the company is excellent at making money from this.  Until the invention of the Wii, video game players were sedentary.  Video gamers were becoming synonymous with laziness and obesity.  This was becoming a problem among young people in the US.

Granted, childhood obesity was not one of the biggest concerns for Nintendo when they were designing the Wii.  Making money would probably be on top of the list.  But burning calories was a definite plus.  They are producing a variety of sports and fitness games, and even have a balance-board like controller called the Wii Fit.

By being innovative Nintendo was able to corner the market with motion based video games.  Playstation and Xbox have both released motion based game controllers/ cameras, but they are roughly four years later than Nintendo. The PS3 and XBox360 output higher video resolutions than the Wii, but the Wii has seen the best sales of the three consoles.  The innovative design of the Wii was not originally designed to be Utopian, but it ended up that way.

Color Transforms


Color design is found throughout day to day life.  Color influences mood and can be used to express different meanings.  Color has a psychological effect on people.  Cool hues can calm someone down, while vibrant red or yellow hues excite or stimulate.  Color design is evident in police caution tape.  It is a combination of form and color known worldwide.  

The combination of a stark yellow and a dark black creates a tension that catches your eye.  This is what the caution tape is designed to do.  The color draws your eye and the form conveys the message of caution.  Caution tape is used to create a perimeter around a crime scene.  It is meant to be seen and it's message is clearly printed on the tape.

Similar to Albers Homage to the Square, caution tape creates an illusion of depth and movement.  It uses two different hues and values but the effect is similar.

Monday, November 15, 2010

UCD's many websites

The University of California Davis has a different website for many different tasks.  They have a MyAdmissions page that helps new students meet admission deadlines.  They have a SISweb portal for registration and other tasks.  They also have MyUCDavis web page that helps keep a students life in order. There is also a SmartSite that helps students stay up to date with all of their classes.  Why cant they just simplify all these sites into one, maybe two different pages.

It would make a students life easier if the school consolidated all these systems into one central system that streamlined the process of going to college.  The design of the current system is discombobulated and difficult to navigate.  It puts extra stress on students to navigate through different webpages.  If the Universities of California grouped together and used one system it could cut overall costs of network maintenance and potentially allow more people to go to college.

I also understand security is a concern for the University.  If they consolidated all of these systems into one, hackers could steal more information from one place.  It also would be a concern for different majors.  A chemistry major is not going to have the same needs in regards to school as a design major.

As a transfer student from community college I know that schools use different systems.  It would make my life simpler if I could buy a parking pass, register for classes, check my school email, and check my scores from tests/ homework all from one page.

Magic Mouse

The company Apple has been on the leading edge of new products that are easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, and ergonomic.  The product that i will be analyzing is the Magic Mouse.  It is a bluetooth enabled computer mouse that is wireless, nimble, and accurate.  It can be used on pretty much any surface and is very durable.( I personally have one and have dropped it many times)

Dealing with ergonomics specifically, the Magic Mouse shines in all fields.  The five areas that compose ergonomic research are safety, comfort, ease of use, performance, and aesthetics.  There is no one field in which the Magic Mouse lacks any of these areas.  This is why I consider the mouse well designed.  

The Magic Mouse is definitely safe.  It has a smooth rounded top and lacks any sharp edges.  It would be quite difficult to cut yourself on this mouse.  It runs on two AA batteries that lack enough juice to electrocute you so that is not a concern, not that electrocution by computer mouse is all that common. 

Comfort is evident in the Magic Mouse.  It has a glossy finish on the top that your hand can smoothly scroll over.  It is wireless as well so you can use it pretty much anywhere.  Be it on your couch, bed, chair, floor, etc the mouse functions on almost all surfaces. It's round shape fits well within your hand.  There is no one thing that makes this mouse uncomfortable.  

Ease of use is one of Apple's calling cards.  The Magic Mouse is no different.  It is identifiable by its relative size and shape.  It is very straightforward in its use.  Just point and click like pretty much every other mouse out there.  The wireless Bluetooth adapter is built in and is very easy to connect to your computer.  Even changing the batteries is simple.  You push one button on the bottom of the mouse and a cover pops off exposing the batteries.  

Performance is on par with four different wired mouses that I have tried.  It is good for fine selections in Photoshop and surfing the web.  It has features built into the mouse that allows the user to navigate web pages easier.  It has a swipe feature that lets the user go back and forth between web pages.  Scrolling down on the mouse also scrolls down web pages as well.  Clicking is very intuitive and smooth because the mouse doesn't have individual buttons.  It is a monolithic design.  My only gripe about the design is the symmetry of the mouse.  Sometimes I grab the mouse upside down and it works poorly.  They have an apple logo to help orient the mouse, but something tangible would have been considerate.  

Aesthetics are always apparent in Apple's designs.  The Magic Mouse is white and grey.  It has a glossy white finish on the top of the mouse and a half inch wide Apple logo where your palm holds the mouse.  

Apple is known worldwide for good ergonomic design.  Their products create a buzz because of the way it looks, how easily people can interact with it, and originality in design.  The design process at Apple is comprehensive and deals with most constraints. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Super Bowl Ads

Super bowl advertisements cost millions of dollars for a few minutes time.  The design/goal behind super bowl ads is simple, get people to buy stuff.  That is what a majority of the advertisements are for the super bowl.  The ads definitely cater to a certain populace and the stupidity of the commercials often reflect this.

If a company is willing to pay millions of dollars for a coveted few minutes of advertisement time during the super bowl their message had better be clear.  In recent years the commercials have been dumbed down almost to a degree of complete absurdity.  The funnier the commercial, the more memorable the message.  This constitutes successful design in advertising.

Contests for 30 second spots during the super bowl spur very interesting designs.  Fans can create commercials and if their idea gets selected it can be aired during the super bowl.  This creates fresh ideas and memorable ads.  There are also awards for best super bowl commercial as well. 

The NFL and most professional sports in general are cash cows.  The money from advertisements fuels the player salaries and helps stadium construction efforts.

Brian Fies

Word and image definitely played a part in Brian Fies lecture.  He spoke about his book/comic Mom's Cancer, and the design process behind it.  He talked about how he was dealing with his mom's illness and that he had also wanted to be a comic artist. He spoke about the editorial process, and the different views between him and the editor. 

Just for the cover alone for Brian Fies' comic there were probably hundreds of sample designs and revisions.  He adjusted everything from the colors used to different fonts.  He cropped them differently and showed his mother from different angles.  He also threw in a few off the wall samples that were an example of play in his design process. 

He also spoke about the differences between RGB and CMYK color palettes.  He said that he had originally done the entire book on the computer in RGB.  When he went into the beginning stages of the printing process he switched the colors to CMYK and he was not happy with how the colors translated. So he ended up completely recoloring the book in CMYK.  He also said that each chapter had its own distinct color.  The use of color, especially in comics, helps to tell the story visually.

Word & Image

The New York Times newspaper and website are both places where word and image are combined.  That really is the true essence of any newspaper, printed type and images meeting to aid in telling the news.  The design of the website for the New York Times is also very straightforward and easy to navigate.  They use different fonts and color to signify different areas of the website. The important shortcuts are listed clearly at the top of the page and the different sections are listed below that.

Newspapers and websites alike profit from advertisements.  That is one of their main cash cows.  In the Times there is plenty of space for ads.  The website as well is plastered with advertisements. As newspaper companies transition to a more digital format the ability to navigate their websites will be very important.  If it is difficult or cumbersome to move through a website to access the information then that website may not be designed successfully. 

Newspapers are full of design.  Websites as well are designed entirely by an individual or group of people.  From the front page to the comics every inch of a newspaper has been created and then edited by some type of designer.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Furniture Design

Furniture comes in virtually every shape and size imaginable.  There are thousands of different types of material used to make furniture.  The construction of the furniture varies from region to region depending upon the materials available to the local people.

The Greek kline and klismos were to early versions of furniture.  The bed and chair were decorated and some were even created on a lathe.  

Compare & Contrast

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are the top two cola producers in the world.  The red Coke bottles are recognized worldwide.  Pepsi is also famous for their blue cans and logo.  The design of the can changes every few years, but the Pepsi logo and Coca-Cola name still persist.

Design As a Conversation

Design is a vast subject that cannot be summed up in one sentence, or maybe even a paragraph.  There is no one right answer to what design actually is.  It is certainly a conversation piece that brings a lot of different people together.

Good design should solve as many constraints as needed and still be pleasing to the eye.  This is where design as a conversation can become tricky.  People with different backgrounds, heritage, and education all can have differing opinions on what makes good design.  Design that is provocative to people can be polarizing.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Creativity from Without

MUTO by Blu

It was a few years ago when I stumbled across this video on Youtube.  It is a stop-action animation from an artist that goes by the name of Blu.  The video is shot in the streets of Argentina and is very impressive.  The shear scale of the project is overwhelming.  Every piece of motion is the culmination of hundreds of individually painted scenes.  The artist is creating an animation in our world, on the streets of Argentina.

The artist's characters have personality and the story is carried throughout multiple buildings.  The whole sequence is very well thought out.  The walls used by the artist create a trail of white paint over the graffiti and cement on the buildings.  The music is also timed accordingly to what the characters are doing in the video.

The juxtaposition of fictional characters interacting with our environment is intriguing.   The sequence would have been less interesting if it had been completely animated.  The characters are confined by the size of the building on which they are painted. The artist used both inside and outside architecture to tell his story.The fact that the sequence used the outside world to tell a fictional story is proof enough that the artist is inspired from without.

License Plates

License plates are used to identify a vehicle's identity.  A combination of seven letters and numbers make up the information found on license plates.  The design has changed slowly through the years, but the overall shape and proportion has not changed.

In California, citizens have the choice to customize their license plates.  This not only allows for one to further customize their vehicle, but it also makes money for the state(which the state definitely needs).  The state also gives people the option to purchase special interest plates.  The special interest plate choices are Environmental, Memorial, Arts Council, Coastal Commission, Collegiate, Lake Tahoe Conservancy, Yosemite Foundation, Firefighters, Have a Heart, Olympic Training Center, and Veterans Organization.

It was a nice reminder that design is useful and that it can benefit others as well.


Stone Soup is an event centered around the community.  The final product does not have to be amazing or delicious, but it should be enjoyable and fulfilling.

The idea of stone soup came from author Marcia Brown. She wrote the book Stone Soup, a book about three soldiers separated from their army.   The soldiers enter a town and received a cold reception from the townsfolk.  The soldiers ask everyone in town for food and do not receive a morsel.  The soldiers come up with the idea to make a soup, but have no edible ingredients.  They toss a few stones into a pot of water and begin embellishing the magnificence of the soup.  The townsfolk want soup as well so the soldiers ask them to spare only single ingredients. At the end of the story everyone in the village had tossed ingredients into the soup and everyone enjoyed the soup together.

While deciding what to do for our design everyone contributed and respected what each other brought to the table.  Everyone brought ingredients/materials to work with.  The creative process was free flowing and we worked with the materials we had.  Everyone agreed that we should make a robot.  We included sticks found nearby and decided to use those for arms and legs. It was to have a paper plate for a face, boxes for chest and torso, and yarn for hair.  We accesorized our robot with clothing, shoes, and even glasses (because what kind of robot has perfect vision?).  His name was François.

Stone Soup is about bringing different things to the table.  It's about bringing different design backgrounds into one project that is quick, loose, and ephemeral.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What is Design?

What is design? 

The question seems simple enough, but the answer can be quiet complex.  Design can be both a verb and a noun.  It is a process of elimination as well as a process of creation.  What is being added is just as important as what’s omitted in a design.  If something shows up in ones design it should have a reason or purpose for being there. Design is a lot of things, but it isn’t random.  Randomness can influence ones design but it shouldn’t control the design. 

Design isn’t measured by a set of rules, but there are principles that have been agreed upon.  Certain proportions are favorable and color combinations draw in the eye.  The term success depends on your perspective.  Different societies view design differently, so a design that is successful in one culture may not also be successful elsewhere.  Design is defined by constraints.  The success of the design depends on how the designer dealt with these constraints.  Design is a broad subject that can be studied and critiqued for as long as our civilization exists.  Even after our civilization has ended design will still be a pertinent subject in the future.  Design is a survival tool that takes many forms.  It can have rhythm and harmony or it can be abstract and chaotic, it all depends on perspective.

Monday, October 4, 2010


The National Football League is a multi-faceted corporation.  It has design on nearly every level of the organization.  It is full of design when it comes to team colors, logos, mascots, and stadiums.  It is a huge money making conglomerate of athletes, agents, coaches, trainers, referees, and even lawyers.  

The symbols or logos for all 32 teams are recognizable by most Americans. The logos have changed and evolved throughout the years to reflect the city that the team is playing for.  Merchandising the team logos have been very profitable for the league and its player’s.  The thirty-two teams that make up the league are the Buffalo Bills, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Giants, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, St. Louis Rams, San Francisco Forty-Niners, and the Seattle Seahawks.  More than half of the team's logos are based on an animal.

Each team has a die-hard group of fans.  Every team has fans that have traditions when it comes to watching their team play. Fans can go as far as tattooing their team’s logo on their body.  It may be alarming how influential symbolism can be on a society, but it is a lot of fun to watch.

Lincoln Logs

The first designed object in my life that had a lasting impact on me would have to be a set of Lincoln logs that I played with in kindergarten.  At the start of every day we would play with the Lincoln logs as a class.  The small-notched blocks of wood were simplistic in design, but they seemed to have an infinite number of combinations.   The individual blocks were mundane by themselves, but when joined with roof trusses and doors designing buildings became possible.  

This is the first time I remember using trial and error.  I would try different combinations of blocks to create different structures and forms.  Not every combination was a success and I learned from my mistakes.  Soon whole villages were popping up out of Lincoln logs.    This sparked a lifelong interest in architecture that still holds true to this day.   Interior architecture and exterior architecture were both important interests of mine growing up.  

Lincoln logs also created a sense of community in the kindergarten class.  Our teacher split us into groups, each group being responsible for a different area of the village.  Even to this day, if I have free time and a set of Lincoln logs I am combining them until I run out of logs.  The sensory reactions I had to the Lincoln logs themselves weren’t impactful.  It’s a brown piece of wood with notches on both ends.  It was the opportunity to create new objects and buildings that had my mind running with creativity.