Tag Archives: Design Thinking

graphic design revisited | wk5_1

graph·ic (gra-fik)

Relates to a written or pictorial representation, described in vivid detail, realting to graphic arts, or a pictorial device used  to convey a message.

Shelly Evenson in her presentation for the New Contexts, New Practices Symposium discusses some of the changes int eh industry today.  Among other changes she wondered if the word “graphic” was still relevant today.  Once one gets past the immediate questions, you begin to see that what Evenson is proposing makes sense .  She recognizes that many designers would go through a crisis of identity.  (Evenson) Yet lately as someone trained in interior design and tangentially in graphic design, find that I do not need to put any qualifiers in front of designer. The term designer alludes to some one who is capable of laying out a pleasing organized system of something; words on the page, rooms in a building, the interior trim of a vehicle, pages on the internet.  Much of this change of thinking has to do with a student who is required to take typography while studying architecture.  I am constantly trying to relate typography to her in terms of architecture.  Periods of design, classifications of typefaces. This could easily be periods of architectural design or classification of building structures. While there are distinct difference the principles of design are the same as is the ability to put things together skillfully.

Why pigeon hole someone with multiple aptitudes? 

If we look at the definition of graphic in the most related sense, a graphic designer would be someone who creates a pictorial device to illustrate a message.  This seems rather simplistic. In todays industry the designer needs to be able to create artifacts at the lowest end of the spectrum.  While the other end has the designer creating systems  that not only communicate a message, also incorporate social and environmental concerns, with the highest end recreating to bring positive change to the world.

Can a designer do all that alone?  While possible what’s more probable is the role collaboration will play in the process. This is were people with multiple aptitudes come together to effect change.

If not graphic design, what then?

Emergent.  Systems. Design for good. Communications. Multi-media. Film maker. Web builder. Animator. Book builder. Typeface designer. Illustrator. Researcher. Organizer. Designer thinker. Presenter. Ideator. Mentor. Collaborator. Software aficionado.


Evenson, Shelly. Provocation #1, New Contexts, New Practices. NC State University. AIGA. 2011. <http://vimeo.com/15694389>

Leadership | wk2_1

First came across Jessica Helfand in an earlier design class which focused on design thinking and theory.  Her essay, Dematerialization of Screen Space  really got me thinking about in the internet and media. Helfand states in reference to the amazing capabilities of the internet, “But we are also prisoners: trapped in a medium in which visual expression must filter through a protocol of uncompromising programming scripts…” [1]  As someone who always professed to not understand anything related to math (misguided self thinking), and  pre-computer-in-every-classroom designer, the web terrified me.

In the essay from 2007 Helfand speaks to the dichotomy of instant authorship that goes out to an infinite number of people. She is curious about the quality of information and design on the web. Does the experience leave us with lasting impressions.  Are we using the web to its fullest capabilities.  Helfand is convinced that now is the time for a new Avant-Garde in New Media. Yet we are help back by a two-dimensional approach to the web.  She states, “…the illusion that Internet space is made up of pages, of words, of flat screens. Why is it that design thinking remains so brainwashed by this notion.”  She continues by adding that internet space is its own galaxy, emphatically that this galaxy is “by no means flat.” [1]

This particular essay found in Graphic Design Theory, Reading from the Field, was my introduction to Helfand, a pioneer in the field of design for the internet. Excited about the possibilities Helfand is encouraging in the design world, I began reading up about her work. Her studio Winterhouse, is home base for her and her partner William Drentell.  In this secluded space the couple are able to focus less on clients and more on self lead design projects.

In August of 2011, Winterhouse and Hotchkiss School of Connecticut, held a design symposium on education and social change. The four gaols of the symposium were to study effective design projects for social change in academic institutions, transforming curricula to match the projects, explore ways in which design centers of research can be  come part of institutions and building relationships with outside partners. [2]

Helfand and her partner began Winterhouse Institute, Design for  Social Impact and Innovation. In this capacity Winterhouse hopes to extend the ideas of design thinking and good design for good causes initiative.  [3]

This idea of bringing social change together with design is exciting and could change the way the design is viewed. There is room for those who want to continue to focus on artifact yet there is also room for others who want to do more socially.  This allows for a natural continuum for designers to stay fresh and keep reinventing themselves and thier practices. Jessica Helfand is certainly a designer who has demonstrated leadership in the field of design.

[1] Armstrong, Helen. Graphic Design Theory, Readings From The Field. New York: Princeton Architectural Pr, 2009. Print. p. 119-123

[2] http://winterhouse.com/symposium_2011/index.html

[3] http://winterhouse.com/institute/index.html



Education and the Age of Biology | wk1_2

Hugh Dubberly talks about the shift in design that is occurring at this time in history. In a similar fashion to the entry of the industrial age we have now shifted into the information age. What does this mean to the designer?  Dubberly begins the article by discussing the shift from mechanical ethos to that of an organic ethos.

In the technical mechanical ethos age – we become reliant on machinery and technology. Perhaps too much so. Technology keeps changing the way we live, communicate, how we perform our work and how we design. We have placed a great deal of emphasis on the tools of design. Trying to place graduates has led to the act of beefing up tangible workplace skills – predominantly software that gives voice to the design.

Couple the emphasis on software as design with the availability of anyone to have and use software the field has found itself in need of rejuvenation.  An infusion of purpose beyond the artifact.

Technology remains necessary.  Dubberly states this, “But computer-as-production-tool is only half the story; the other half is computer-plus-network-as-media.” [1]  He goes on to say that the output of design is changing the way that we view the practice of design.  Dubberly’s description of networking, process flow and information processing brings to mind the blood system of humans. Dubberly draws this contrast, “The eras are framed as stark dichotomies to characterize the nature of changes. But experience is typically more fluid, lying along a continuum somewhere between extremes.” [1] He even talks about how we refer to instances of computer malfunctions as bugs, attacks as viruses, and so forth. Notice a trend in the language?

What is this infusion that goes beyond what Dubberly calls “hand-craft” or artifact design, “service-craft.” Dubberly quotes Wired Editor, Kevin Kelly,  “commercial products are best treated as though they were services. It’s not what you sell a customer, it’s what you do for them. It’s not what something is, it’s what it is connected to, what it does.” [1] This is not to say that there is no room for “hand-craft” in fact it is part of the larger “service-craft.”  Service-craft looks at the systems of design. It works out extensive what ifs and why’s as well as what would be better for everyone.  Not everyone will want to be a “service-craft” designer and some will find “hand-craft” not enough.

At the end of the article, Dubberly wonders if one school can bring together hand-craft and service-craft.  At one time while having a similar discussion about design thinking, my thoughts lead to the stages or levels of education as an indicator as to the degree the designer would be involved in design thinking.  This could also be said about “service-craft.” Not every student will want to evolve past the enjoyment of creating artifacts.  The  pedagogy of a career college or associate/certificate degree may very well be heavy on the “hand-craft.” Whereas a four-year gives the student even more time to develop methodologies, understanding and a personal aesthetic.

Many discussions with seasoned designers lets me know that design thinking and the age of organic ethos is nowhere near their thoughts, they are too busy meeting the needs of their clients. Yet once the discussion begins interest is piqued. Either that or total dismay.

For this reason, the inclusion of systems design, or “service-craft” should be in the conversation even in the first year.  So often we set out own limitations on what is possible simply because we haven’t been exposed to anything larger.  Just as the computer should be introduced and used as a tool, our brains and soul should be called upon in design – the part of us that makes to affect change for the better.  Many of us just never knew that as a designer this is possible.

[1] Design in The Age of Biology: Shifting from a Mechanical-Object Ethos to an Organic-Systems Ethos.” dubberly.com, September 1, 2008.

GFx defined | wk1_1

Once upon a time I wrote an essay on my interpretation of graphic design. Who knew at the time that the essay would take me down some pretty dark paths in the weeks that followed,  learning much about myself and facing some hard truths along the way.  One thing gleaned was that if there is a less complex route, you won’t find me taking it.  In the months that follow I will aim for clarity and less complication in my thinking and methodology.

This is a simplified version of my thoughts on graphic design.

Graphic design is a term for a much larger field of jobs and skill sets. These jobs and skill sets depend on the outcome desired or the talent of the individual. This leads me to the statement that graphic design is a field in which a variety of creative types visually communicate a message.  Designers provide a service.

Many factors plague and bless the field today which is causing great change. We are emerging and colliding through technology and a shared global voice. The field of graphic design is evolving in exciting new ways which include a return to traditional methods, embracing new technologies, clear communication and design ethos.

As an educator, this conversation has great meaning and depth. As someone also learning and growing in the field I am in the thick of design. It is more than a job, it is a passion that most of us share. We get off on creating.

Graphic designers might build web pages, create and animate characters, speed paint scenery for a movie, render a 3D walk through, edit and create videos, write blogs, draw out story boards, layout publications, design typefaces, run a press – if lucky a tabletop platen, design packaging, create illustrations, develop environmental signage, shoot pictures, or develop a new game or app.  Sometimes courses are under communications and new media or multimedia. Emergent design and conversion are often words spouted in a conversation.

Essentially a designer is someone who likes to create, who adapts to changing technologies and keeps an eye on trends. This person has a level of talent based on the ability to use the fundamentals of design to create an aesthetic output. The field is wide open and we as an industry are only breaking the surface.

However this field is also evolving beyond what has been traditional thought to be design. It is becoming a new field that takes design and blends it with thinking. The process of design is developing to consider all aspects of the intended artifact. It will become about what happens, before, what happens when, and is this really the best way to approach the solution. We will be called on to educate the client in the decision process and lead the discussion on being responsible, socially, environmentally and ethically.

Designers Hell Bent on Traditonal Methods

Last year the student AIGA group from Specs Howard School of Media Arts, and I took a field trip to the Russell Industrial Center in Detroit. We had the privilege of meeting Mark Arminski.  Arminski  a local Detroit artist who bridged the gap between the psychedelic 60’s and grudge of the 90’s.

Arminski is an artist who works traditionally, painting or screening concert posters and whatever commissions he receives.  He has done advertising work for large corporations, including liquor and cigarettes yet the concert poster is what he is most known for.

Mark was very inspiring and warm, he welcomed the group in and said come back any time. The students were thrilled to here him talk about his design concept of painting and hand lettering, which he felt gave him the most freedom to shape the communication.

In an interview Arminski talks about the ability for many people to create art because of the internet, and the ability to reach a far greater audience. As well as the open ability to sell art, that without the internet artists would be creating with a limited market. [1]

While Arminski recognizes some of the merits of working with the computer, his work is done by hand. He exudes creation in whatever form grabs his attention. The first image is a poster, and the second a snippet of an oil painting he was working on the day we visited.



Another Motown designer who later transplanted to teach at Cal Arts is Ed Fella.  Fella is well-known for his explosion of self-expression in the 1980s when much of the design world was sticking with the clean lines and clear communication of International or Swiss style.

Fella brought authorship back into design as each of his pieces were hand created by hand and very self expressive.  Before Fella attended Cranbrook for his Masters, he worked in the advertising world even while he was working in advertising he would often draw little political pieces for himself to hand around the office.

In an Interview for Designer People, Fella talks about doing all his work by hand, with color pencils, ball point pens and crayons. He also works with a waxer and knife, he cuts and pastes.  His lettering is by hand, as he says “of course he letters everything by hand.”  He was considered to have brought the craft back to design in a time of the introduction of the computer.  Fella also feels that working by hand offers him the most flexibility. [2]


Both Fella and Arminski cited flexibility as a major reason for creating using traditional methods. Arminski has adopted the computer for certain aspects such as selling and networking.  Both designers are illustrative more over production designers and so this seems fitting that they would create using traditional methods. I feel that designers have to have some ability to drawing to be fully successfully. Whether it be the ability to do a napkin sketch, a thumbnail or a full illustration. There are certain skills developed by putting pencil to paper.

Also artist get lost in the process. For some designers this may mean working a photo composition in Photoshop, while for others it means getting lost in the paint or pencil marks being made.

In the samples I found the end results were very successful and the outcome not hindered by the process of traditional methods.

There seems to be an interesting dichotomy regarding computer art and traditional art. Some computer artist feel they do not need to use traditional methods to create – ever. Yet once they begin to feel confident in their skills, the idea of sketching becomes easier to reach for.  And reversely once a traditional artist puts something into the computer to manipulate the end result they also fall in love with new possibilities.

Young designers have grown up with computers and may feel a disconnect between art and design.  To encourage them to doodle and use that as part of a design solution, or graffiti opens new doors.  For the seasoned designer perhaps acclimated to the speed of the computer process, yet feeling less fulfilled, a return to traditional methods could infuse the designer with renew passion for the field.

Creatives need to create. Experiment. Get their hands dirty. Bringing art and computer together often offers a warm, organic solution to a design challenge. Sitting in front of a computer ten hours a day or allowing the computer to be the designer stifles humans.  We have to remind ourselves and those we mentor that the computer is just another tool in the designers belt.



[1] http://www.arminski.com/photos-media/being-an-artist-in-a-digital-world/

[2] http://vimeo.com/8868251, Interview for Designer People

Life in and Out of Structure

As a kid growing up my boundaries were outlined by four streets, Newburg, Cherry Hill, Wayne and Palmer. Many streets dead ended at the woods, Wayne road held Norman’s market, were one dollar meant a weeks candy stash. As a teen a walk around the block meant a four hike, each intersection located a mile apart on the country road.  Directions were easy because each road was one mile in all directions.

Never gave this much thought until stumbling upon Holly Holzschlag, Thinking Outside The Grid article.  Holzschlag recounts flying over cities and looking down on the city footprints. She tells us that Tucson was a planned city built on an orderly grid system. Whereas London, the city she compares Tucson with, is built in a spontaneous fashion. [1] It is also a much older city, growing organically through the centuries.

Looking at these maps one can see how the structure of the orderly gird system is easy to navigate, even dependable. However, the trip can become a little monotonous.  Driving around Detroit, built with a central district and circling out into the grid can be exciting as roads wrap and wind around the cities top attractions and business district.   However it is also easy to get lost.

Successful print and web designs are based on a grid system.  The grid is an invisible foundation that helps the designer align the elements on the page/spread.  Common grid systems are the Fibonacci Systems, the rule of thirds and a modular system. The modular is often thought to be the most flexible.

Ellen Lupton, Thinking With Type, says this about the golden mean, “This means that the smaller of two elements (such as the shorter side of a rectangle) relates to the larger element in the same way that the larger element relates to the two parts combined. In other words, side a is to side b as side b is to the sum of both sides.” [2]

She goes onto discuss the modular grid system developed by the Swiss designers in the 1950-60’s, Gerstner, Ruder and Müller-Brockman. [2] The modular grid offers a wide range of options while not forcing the grid.  In her book, Graphic Design, The New Basics, Lupton talks about the 9 square grid and its ability to build irregular and asymmetrical designs.  [3]

This modular grid which was created by Karl Gerstner, takes the grid to extremes. [2]

Order can suck the life out of a party as well as a good design. Yet just like art, before you can abstract the form you need to understand the form.  This is the same for grids.  In the world of design deconstructing the grid became the thing to do in the 1980’s.  Designers like David Carson were responding to the audiences growing sophistication.  Timothy Samara, in Making and Breaking the Grid, talks about the media bombardment as a catalyst for this change, “In an effort to create a meaningful impression that competes with, and distinguishes itself within, this visual environment, designers have pursued various new ways of organizing visual experience.” [4]

In breaking the grid the surface of the plane is challenged. Objects may recede or come forward in a seemingly haphazard manner. Or perhaps the grid is place on a series of angles. April Greiman’s poster for  AIGA,  entitled Objects in Space, is among a series of posters that challenge hierarchy, explore optical space and appear not to have a recognizable structure.


To break or not to break, it is not a question just a matter of when to do which. You decide. . .

Buro Reng Clean, grid design.

Borrowed from Tyson, Typography Love (SCAD student)

[1] Holzschlag, Holly. Thinking Outside The Grid. A List Apart http://www.alistapart.com/articles/outsidethegrid/
[2] Lupton, Ellen. Grid. Thinking With Type. http://www.thinkingwithtype.com/contents/grid/#Golden_Section
[3] Ellen Lupton, and Jennifer Cole Phillips, Graphic Design, The New Basics, (New York: Princeton Architectural , 2008), 176. Print.
[4] Samara, Timothy, Making and Breaking the Grid, A Graphic Design Layout Workshop, (Beverly: Rockport, 2002), 118-9, 145. Print.

Post Navigation