Becoming a Designer in the Age of Aquarius

What’s the point of reviewing a design book that is over 40 years old, long out of print and tied to the style and technology of 1968? Well, S. Neil Fujita’s Aim for a Job in Graphic Design/Art (Richards Rosen Press, New York) is a fount of professional intelligence for an emerging field. It is also a slice of lost graphic design history worth reprising.

by Steven Heller....read more.....

What they don’t teach you about identity design in design schools…

One of the most often repeated refrains on design blogs, in the critique of a new logo, is “Any design student could do a better job.” This ubiquitous comment is especially amusing to me because, well, it’s mostly true. If you judge virtually every new logo designed today by classical design school standards, the kids in school are doing a better job. This is because of the way logo and identity design are taught in so many schools, and what that exercise is meant to accomplish.

Read more……

Architecture/Criticism/Critics

A brilliant article about architecture and the critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff of the New York Times by Alexandra Lange who teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York.

"Architecture criticism cannot simply be about what’s new because that leads precisely to the globe-trotting, star-gazing, architecture-as-sculpture approach we have now. What we need is criticism that treats renderings and buildings as different, since users are the ultimate critics. We need criticism that connects us to a building’s references, emotions and textures, not only its news value. We need criticism moored to place, and to the history of that place, so that the ways forward multiply (and don’t only involve building something curvy). Ouroussoff is not good enough because he reinforces the worst trends in architectural culture, never explains where he comes from and never explores the many different places we might go."

Read more……

Research in the Arts and Design (3)

This is the third in an occasional series on research in the arts and design.

Let me begin by suggesting that the term contingency may be a useful way of thinking about research in areas not traditionally thought of as research-based. It is not fair to compare research in the arts and design for example, to the social sciences although they may share more than we realize. We therefore need some new thinking on the meaning of research in the creative areas both as method and as process. This is all the more urgent because artists and designers have had a great deal of difficulty arguing their case with government, the community and with industry. And, as we have seen in Great Britain, research in the creative areas is measured in much the same way as other disciplines and often not to the benefit of creative work. In fact, debate is needed on the policy environment being created in the UK around the Creative Industries because so many of the presuppositions being put in place are being copied elsewhere in the industrial world.

Contingency speaks to activities that begin without a clear sense of their outcome. Artists have always been comfortable with this as have some writers. In the past, some designers oriented their creative process around the expectations of clients and so it appeared as if they were more concrete and less contingent than artists. Now, designers have more fully recognized that they are as involved in the invention of new ideas and processes as artists and so both creative engagements share a similar sense that outcomes are a byproduct of creativity.

A by-product? Yes, if the outcome is largely determined by an ongoing process that may not be linear, then outcomes are by and large as accidental as much as they may be intended. Some artists of course, play with chance and accidents all the time and this was the foundation of the work of John Cage. Others plan their works very carefully and many have those works built by apprentices to specifications they have created. But, for the most part artists and designers to varying degrees learn to combine chance, accident and purpose to produce works that reflect only a small proportion of their intentions.

Traditional research in the social sciences uses a variety of time tested methods from observation to participant observation among many approaches, to try and understand phenomena and in many cases suggest solutions to problems and challenges. The methods range from the quantitative to the qualitative and constitute a vast constellation of strategic choices with the intellectual and practical goal of deepening and enhancing our understanding both of the world we live in and ourselves. I cannot do justice to the range here, its complexity and breadth. Suffice to say, nearly anything and everything can be the object or subject of research.

My point is that the same situation exists in the arts and design. Tim Brown comments on Charles Eames and the manner in which the Eames conducted a series of important design experiments in the early 20th century. (See Brown’s wonderful book, Change by Design published by Harper Collins in 2009.) “From their legendary office at 901 Washington Boulevard in Venice, California, the Eameses and their associates conducted a series of design experiments that stretched across four decades and covered every imaginable medium: the molded plywood chairs that became synonymous with American modernism; their famous case study house No. 8 in Pacific Palisades; the museum exhibitions they built, and the educational films they produced. Not always visible in the finished projects, however, is the methodological experimentation that lay behind them.” (71)

Crucially, the finished projects of designers and of artists only sometimes reveal their methodological origins and process. Many self-conscious and self-reflexive creators have of course from time to time created works that reveal method in their very materiality. But, for the most part, creative process remains unseen, background chatter as it were, with little seeming connection to method.

Here is an example of a creative project that sees itself within the traditional methods of the social sciences.

“I am a lecturer with the Department of Photography at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University, specialising in the fields of photojournalism and social documentary. My recent projects borrow heavily from the practices inherent in visual ethnography and include hospice and palliative care (Lloyd, Passing Time, 2000), documenting a small regional community outside of Brisbane (Something about Us, Logan Art Gallery, 2001) and, currently, working on a project looking into substance misuse in the Mt Isa district.” David Lloyd.

This is a hybrid of course and one of many works that are challenging conventional definitions of art and media. But, it points out that how fluid the boundaries between creative processes are and how careful we have to be in assuming *lack* of method when they may well be one.

Contingency is about methods that are applied to creative challenges without necessarily linking process to outcome. This is also similar to prototyping which is a process of experimental exploration that is as ideational as it is material.

More on this topic over the next few months.

See the following report from the UK, especially chapter 3 for more debate in this area.

The role of research in the Creative Arts (1)

Ceramics is an extraordinary craft-based discipline. It is also an art and a science. The materials that ceramicists use have changed over the last century, but many of the core creative methods remain the same. None of what I have just said would be possible without some research into the history and practices of ceramic artists and the technologies they use. So, for example when I mention to people that ceramic engineering is a crucial part of the digital age, they don’t know what I am talking about. Optical fibers make use of ceramic materials. The tiles which cover the bottom of the Space Shuttle are made of ceramic materials shaped and formed using a variety of heating and manufacturing methods.

Ceramics is increasingly being used in the creation of products (other than the traditional ones) and is linking itself to product and industrial design. There are medical applications and so on.

I mention this to point out that research is fundamental to any creative exploration and that research may take any form — and make use of any number of different materials. A reductive approach will not recognize the rather extensive way in which the practice of creation is deeply involved with everything from theory through to reflection and self-criticism. For too long, universities in particular have maintained distinctions between their professional and non-professional disciplines as a way of differentiating between applied and pure research. The latter is supposed to reflect a disinterested approach to knowledge in the hope that over time the research will produce some results. The former is supposed to direct itself towards results from the outset and to be more directly connected to industry and the community. Engineering schools for example, are cloistered in separate buildings on university campuses and generally develop an applied approach to learning. In neither case, applied or pure can the distinctions I have just mentioned work since by its very nature research is **always** both applied and pure.

Creative practices are generally seen as applied because the focus is on materials even if they are virtual. The standardized and by now clichéd image of creative people driven by intuitions and/or inspiration actually covers up the years of apprenticeship that every artist has to engage in to become good at what they do.

Every creative discipline involves many different levels of research, some of which is directly derived from practices in the social sciences, as well as the sciences. In the next installment of this article, I will examine how creative practices are at the forefront of redefining not only the nature of research but the knowledge base for many disciplines.

iPhone Entry

I am writing this entry from my iPhone. Readers of this blog/web site will notice that it has changed. The site can now be searched much more easily. Tags and categories are more visible. More changes to come. In addition, comments have been activated.

Ron

TED, Long Beach DAY ONE

February 4, 2009

TED meetings are always incredible, but after a day and a bit, I am amazed at the richness and strength, the depth and breadth of the presentations. The other side of TED is defined by the people you meet who to varying degrees have either had a powerful influence on our society or who are about to have that influence. Take the example of Blake Mycoskie who is the CEO and founder of TOMS Shoes. Every pair of shoes that Mycoskie sells in North America triggers the company into giving a pair of shoes away to people in need in developing countries. So far, tens of thousands of shoes have been donated to needy people around the world. Blake is a wonderful and humble individual.

John Breen is the founder of Free Rice which is a web site where you can purchase grains of rice that are then given to the hungry in Africa, Latin America and Asia. Steve Glenn builds modular houses where every part of the house contributes to sustainable practices, reduction of energy consumption and the wise use of water. Carolyn Porco leads the Cassini Imaging Team, which is charting Saturn and its moons and has discovered enough basic building blocks of life on one of the moons that will lead to a transformation of our relationship to our own solar system. Juliana Ferreira fights the illegal trade of wildlife in Brazil, which is an uphill battle to save many species from extinction. Sean Gourley has developed a model that begins to explain the most important patterns of modern warfare. The model will enable researchers to better understand the structures and outcomes of particular kinds of warfare in the 21st century. Katrin Verclass from Mobileactive.org described the extraordinary use of cell phones as devices for change through the use of new modalities of interaction and clustering.

Juliana Rotich explained how cell phones are being used for citizen journalism in places like Kenya. More information on this project can be found at the USHAHIDI web site.

Juan Enriquez discussed the intensity and dangers of the present economic crisis in order to build an argument for innovation and invention and then said, “You manage crisis by using it to keep an eye on the future.” He reported on the extraordinary advances in the use of stem cells and suggested that humans were moving onto the next stage of evolution. P.W. Singer gave a brilliant lecture on the reshaping of war through the use of machines and what that portends from an ethical as well strategic perspective. What happens when soldiers use the images from drones to make life and death decisions without ever seeing the real impact of what they have done? David Hansen has developed a robotic face that is so life-like it is able to respond to your smiles and frowns. Bill Gates talked about malaria and his foundation and the fight against disease in Africa.

Tim Berners-Lee made a plea for a new Web that would tag data so that searches would yield information more directly linked in a meaningful way to the subjects being researched. Al Gore presented more information on the decline of the Arctic and Antarctic as signs that we still have not understood the implications and effects of global warming and environmental destruction. Nandan Nilekani who co-founded Infosys which is one of India’s leading information technology companies talked about his next project which is to re-imagine India in the 21st Century. He made an interesting observation that 8 million mobile phones are sold every month in India and that over the next thirty years India will demographically speaking be one of the youngest countries in the world. Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface made an impassioned plea for new sustainable practices on the part of industry. “Our promise is to eliminate any negative impact our company may have on the environment by the year 2020.”

Jake Eberts introduced a film entitled Oceans, which simply put will change our view of animal life underwater. The extract he showed was breathtaking. In between all of this were a series of performances from a Gamelan group combined with the dance troupe ArcheDream that was breathtaking and a performance by Naturally 7 a rock group that generates its instrumentation without instruments just using their mouths to make the sounds we would normally associate with everything from drums to guitars. Regina Spektor finished off the day with an amazing series of beautifully crafted songs.

All this in one day…

How long will it take before all artists have their own television channels?

This question was asked by Stoffel Debuysere. It could be argued that every web page developed and maintained by individuals is in fact operating within a broadcast model. The screen real estate may be different, and the time and place of broadcast may be 24/7, but the reality is that we now live in what could best be described as a world of webs, semantic clouds and visual and aural clusters.

This ecology or imagescape is multi-layered and lends itself to an endlessly proliferating messagesphere that is infinite. I would suggest that self-broadcasting (which is at the heart of the brilliance of Facebook) now determines the ways in which we recognize ourselves in the world. I am not suggesting that the material world which we inhabit and recreate on a daily basis has ceased to exist. Rather, the material world has increasingly developed into mixed messages, which in combination with human action and interaction means that words, for example, can be taken more literally than ever before (the rise of religious fundamentalism) in parallel with an increasingly powerful and rational scientific model (that is at the heart of the engineering behind the Internet). Religion and science now co-exist in an uncomfortable relationship that is strained and for the most part in conflict.

To self-broadcast means to communicate with the unknown, since for the most part readers of web pages and facebook sites are anonymous. You may have 600 friends on Facebook, but you can't know when they are viewing your pages unless they leave you a message. For the most part, broadcasting in this way is asynchronous.

It is of course the same thing with books which exist in an asynchronous relationship with readers.

How long will it take before all artists have their own television channels? Well, they always have been broadcasting whether it was through the gallery system or via picture books or in large museums. The notion of self-broadcasting is as old as most of the systems of communications that we have created over many thousands of years of creative activity within messagespheres and this includes cave paintings.

This is a visualization of the entry you have just read.

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(Created using wordle)

The Future of Design (1)

The Design Council in Great Britain has helped develop and grow the Design Industry in the UK to the point where it is now having a significant impact on overall GDP. (11.6 billion pounds per year) At the same time, their advocacy for design learning has resulted in a revolution in Design education, particularly at the post-secondary level. "Recent research by the Design Council provides evidence of a link between design expenditure and economic performance. It reveals that for every £100 a design alert business spends on design, turnover is increased by £225, and that rapidly growing businesses are six times more likely than static ones to see design as integral, and twice as likely to have increased their investment in design."

Design has become important in large measure because of a change in the ways in which manufactured goods circulate among consumers. Personalization has become central to distinguishing one product from another. Consumers want to have an influence on what they buy and this can only be achieved through the integration of design knowledge into the manufacturing process. Design in the broader sense is also about a fuller and more complete understanding of sustainability and the application of intelligence and vision to human lifestyles in the context of technological change.

Another feature of this is the role of information in learning and human exchange. We all know the difference between a well-designed web site and one that seems to have no aesthetic qualities. What is not as apparent is the role of design in strategic planning for the corporate as well as public sectors.

In a global economy that is dominated by various forms of communications and linked through networked technologies, Design will be an essential component of the future. Students are recognizing this change. There has been a 40 percent increase in the number of design graduates in the UK and a 71 percent increase in the number of postgraduates.

More on this in my next post…

Gehry and MIT

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Frank Gehry's building at MIT is a wonder to behold. The building is home to the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS) and the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy. Its striking design - featuring tilting towers, many-angled walls and whimsical shapes - challenges much of the conventional wisdom of laboratory and campus building.

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The context for learning, education and the arts (5)

(Please refer to the previous four entries for this article. (One, Two, Three, Four, Five)

My point here is that although computers are designed by humans, programmed by humans and then used by humans, this tells us only part of the story. The various dimensions of the experience are not reducible to one of the above instances nor to the sum total of what they suggest about computer-human interaction. Instead, most of what makes up the interaction is not predictable, is full of potential errors of translation and action and is not governed by simple rules of behaviour.

Smith puts it well: “…what was required was a sense of identity that would support dynamic, on-the-fly problem-specific or task-specific differentiation — including differentiation according to distinctions that had not even been imagined at a prior, safe, detached, “design time. (Smith: 41)

“Computational structures cannot be designed in anticipation of everything that will be done with them. This crucial point can be used to explain if not illustrate the rather supple nature of machine-human relations. As well, it can be used to explain the extraordinary number of variables which simultaneously make it possible to design a program and not know what will be done with it.

Another example of this richness at work comes from the gaming community (which is different from the video game community). There are tens of thousands of people playing a variety of games over the internet. Briefly, the games are designed with very specific parameters in mind. But what gamers are discovering is that people are grouping themselves together in clans to play the games in order to win. These clans are finding new ways of controlling the games and rewriting the rules to their own specifications thereby alienating many of the players. In one instance, in response to one such sequence of events, a counter-group got together and tried to create some semblance of governance to control the direction in which the game was headed. After some months the governing council that had been formed grew more and fascistic and set inordinately strict rules for everyone. The designer of the game quit in despair.

This example illustrates the gap, the necessary gap between the “representational data structure (Smith: 43) that initially set up the parameters of the game and the variables that were introduced by the participants. But it also points out the limitations of the design process, limitations that cannot be overcome by increasingly complex levels of design. This is in other words a problem of representation. How can code be written at a level that will be able to anticipate use? The answer is, that for the most part, with great difficulty. It is our cultural investment in the power of the computer that both enhances and changes the coding and the use. We have thus not become extensions of the machine but have acted in concert with it, much as we might with another human being. This is hybridity and it suggests that technology and the practical use to which we put technology always exceeds the intentional structures that we build into it.

It is within and through this excess that we learn. It is because of this excess that we are able to negotiate a relationship with the technologies that make up our environment. And it is the wonder, the freshness, the unpredicability of the negotiation process that leads us to unanticipated results, such as, for example, Deep Blue actually beating Kasparov!

Remix 06: Blending, Bending and Befriending Content

Innovative Content Development in New Media has some of the following characteristics (This is by no means a comprehensive list.):
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Imaginative storytelling (Breaking the rules and building new ones)
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Not derivative (but can be a copy—mush — experimental cinema and music as models)
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Aware of aesthetics, form and feel (Use OF Technology — Not Used by Technology)
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Creating new knowledge and information (Play in every sense of the word.)
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Aware of collage, montage and other techniques of bricolage (Stories can make the impossible real — photo-realism is a dead end)
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Talent (Learning and Education and Research)
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Decentralized modes of information gathering, exchange and distribution (Open Source)
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Interactivity (Video games create the illusion of interactivity — interactive game play should be about a complete transformation of the game by the player — interactivity becomes creativity)
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Bring body movement into the video game storytelling equation (Hands are not enough — Wii)
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Link popular culture, games, books, magazines, fans, television and the web into content development (Specialized studios need cultural analysts and ethnographers as much as they need creators)
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Work with audiences not against them (Fan movements, fansites, fan literature)
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Assume that trends will shift as quickly as they are recognized — old style marketing will not work (Time is compressed but that does not mean that clip stories will last — marketing becomes discovering stories as well as creating them)
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Non-linearity, complexity and chaos are at the center of digital content creation
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Simulations are only as effective as the stories that underly them — Algorithms are culture
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Telepresence and visualization need haptics and vice versa (Dreams are the Royal Road into Storytelling)
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Narrowcast not broadcast (P2P will become C2C)

Some comments on How Images Think

Professor Pramod Nayar of the Department of English, University of Hyderabad comments on "How Images Think." This is a small selection of a longer review that appeared in the Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology

How Images Think is an exercise both in philosophical meditation and critical theorizing about media, images, affects, and cognition. Burnett combines the insights of neuroscience with theories of cognition and the computer sciences. He argues that contemporary metaphors - biological or mechanical - about either cognition, images, or computer intelligence severely limit our understanding of the image. He suggests in his introduction that image refers to the complex set of interactions that constitute everyday life in image-worlds (p. xviii). For Burnett the fact that increasing amounts of intelligence are being programmed into technologies and devices that use images as their main form of interaction and communication - computers, for instance - suggests that images are interfaces, structuring interaction, people, and the environment they share.

New technologies are not simply extensions of human abilities and needs - they literally enlarge cultural and social preconceptions of the relationship between body and mind.

The flow of information today is part of a continuum, with exceptional events standing as punctuation marks. This flow connects a variety of sources, some of which are continuous - available 24 hours - or live and radically alters issues of memory and history. Television and the Internet, notes Burnett, are not simply a simulated world - they are the world, and the distinctions between natural and non-natural have disappeared. Increasingly, we immerse ourselves in the image, as if we are there. We rarely become conscious of the fact that we are watching images of events - for all perceptive, cognitive, and interpretive purposes, the image is the event for us.

The proximity and distance of viewer from/with the viewed has altered so significantly that the screen is us. However, this is not to suggest that we are simply passive consumers of images. As Burnett points out, painstakingly, issues of creativity are involved in the process of visualization - viewers generate what they see in the images. This involves the historical moment of viewing - such as viewing images of the WTC bombings - and the act of re-imagining. As Burnett puts it, the questions about what is pictured and what is real have to do with vantage points [of the viewer] and not necessarily what is in the image (p. 26).

Notes and varia

Christo covers the Reichstag

"The wrapping of the Reichstag my colleagues, enables us to see in another light and newly, perceptually experience this central and ambivalent place in German history. The wrapping is no debasement. It is an expression of reverence and creates room for contemplation of the essential. In the Catholic liturgy of Holy Week, the cross is wrapped so that it can be unwrapped in celebration at the high point of Good Friday. In the Jewish faith, the Torah rolls are wrapped in order to remind us of the preciousness of what they contain. The Reichstag will not be desecrated by Christo's wrapping, it will be ennobled - as strange as this may sound for a house of democracy."
Spoken by Konrad Weiss member of the German parliament and a member of the Green Party

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