Sunday, October 17, 2010

Design as a Problem Solver

Just how much power does design have?  I have already argued that it is a language, a means of communication, and even a conversation.  But I recently ran across this article that suggests that design is even used to solve the problems of the world. 

Graphic designers create signs all the time.  For example, all of the street signs and highways signs have all been designed for the purpose of communicating and informing drivers and travelers.   But in 2004, a group of graphic designers noticed that a change in font on the highway patrol signs could increase “legibility” and “reaction times.”  Because of this, the Federal Highway Administration authorized the switch from Highway Gothic to Clearview.  According to the article, this change improved the reading distance especially at night by an additional 80 feet.  There was also a significant 14 percent increase in legibility by elderly drivers.  Just by changing the simple font of these highways signs, and thanks to graphic designers, driving on the highway was made safer than ever before.

Design has the power to solve problems, and it even has the power to improve human lives.  Because design is everywhere in our modern day world, we can always be impacted by it—for better or for worse.  Technically this article would be a basic example of design impacting the world for better, and hopefully more often than not, that is the case.   Because after all, is that not one of the most important intentions of designers?  Designing to make the world a better place.

Design as a Conversation

Design is a language of its own.  It has the power to send a message all across the planet, crossing over many language barriers.  Thanks to symbols and other images, people can understand each other in ways they never have before.  But also with design, people can communicate with each other in a brand new way, because design is also a conversation.

Look at advertisement as an example.  Here is a simple ad for an iPod.

Notice there are actual words in this ad.  Yet there is no confusion as to what it is for.  This can be used universally, and everyone understands it.  Design has the power to do that.  In advertisement, design can be a conversation between the designers/ creators and the consumers (or quite honestly, us).  They use this conversation to tell the consumers which product they should buy, as well as why they should buy it.

Thanks to the invention of blogs and the modern day Internet, the design conversation has also been transformed.  Now when a design is released, conversation is almost immediately stimulated among people.  In a previous entry, I blogged about Pepsi changing their logo, and if you look for twenty seconds on the Internet, you will easily be able to find people’s responses to change in logo.  Do people like it better? Or do they think its worse?  People’s opinions and responses can now be found all over the Internet.

Because the conversation has become so prevalent on the Internet, designers now are able to answer the responses of the consumers.  Design truly becomes a back and forth conversation that allows consumers to give input into a designer’s creation, while the designers can reconstruct and redesign pieces to make them more relatable than ever before. 

Compare and Contrast

Companies redesign and transform their logos every once in awhile.  Especially companies that are as well known as Pepsi tend to go through at least a slight transformation every ten to twenty years.  This is one of the recent Pepsi logos released in 1998 in honor of the company’s 100th anniversary.

Then ten years later, in 2008, Pepsi released this as their newest logo:

Design-wise, both logos really seem to be very dated from the decade that it was released.  The older of the two has that overlapping layout, while one of the most important factors in the newer logo is its spatial composition.  This logo uses the negative spaces to contribute to making the logo look cleaner and more modern.

But then looking at the first logo, texture is extremely important.  Both the actual circular design and lettering have shape and shadow that help make the logo appear actually three-dimensional.

Out of all of the transformations that the Pepsi logo under went over the last century, the transformation between these two was one of the most dramatic.  However while there are those blatant disparities, there are still some similarities that help the consumer still recognize the product.  After all, isn’t that what is most important?

First of all, the color scheme is exactly the same, but I think that the Pepsi designer would never change the logo quite that drastically.  And while the circular part of the design was transformed slightly, they are essentially the same thing in both logos.  (Again, here the second may appear more modern than the first because of its flatter and cleaner design.)  Also if you look at the scale of the circular design in comparison to the actual letters, the proportions are similar for both logos.

Corporations and companies changes logos all the time.  Sometimes they'll look very similar to the previous ones, and sometimes they'll change significant characteristics.  Some will also look better, while unfortunately some will look worse.  But even if they do take a turn for the worse, I'm sure designers will switch it up again soon enough.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Google Designs

There is officially no doubt about it—Google has become apart of our society.  When there’s an argument that needs to be settled among friends, what do you do?  Google it.  It never fails to be right.  But even in a design sense, Google always seems to throw in as much creativity whenever possible.  For example, every possible holiday in the world, Google redesigns its logo to help make it more festive, and it is very clear that the designers of Google are always busy and seemingly coming up with new and inventive things.  These are some of the “holiday” designs I came across:

Happy New Years:

Happy Halloween:

Pi Day:

And even this “Happy 50th Anniversary, Flinstones!”

While these are all very interesting and creative, this past week, Google threw out a new and even more inventive one.  On October 8th, 2010, Google celebrated John Lennon’s 70th Birthday Anniversary with this particular Google design that was the first of its kind (as far as I have ever noticed):

At first glance I agreed it was definitely creative, but quite honestly that is the same thought I have for practically all of them.  But then I notice the small play button looking triangle… and sure enough, the Google logo transformed into this video:

Maybe I’ve just been missing these interactive Google designs, but I was definitely impressed by this one. And to all the Google designers, this one really seemed to take its dedication to John Lennon to a whole new level. 

Creativity from Without

When people design or create things, inspiration often times comes from inside the person.  But especially in our society today, there are designers that find inspiration outside of themselves.  Jonathan Ive is an example of one of those designers.  Born in 1967, Ive works as the senior vice-president of design at Apple, where he is most noted for designing the iPod and iMac.
In an interview with Design Museum in the United Kingdom, Ive is asked about how he came into design and what drives his designs.  His interest began from an early age, but he was specifically interested in “made objects.”  He loved taking things apart, putting them back together, and figuring out how they were made or worked.  Even at such a young age, he expressed interest in the composition of an object—its make-up and materials used.

As a teenager, he knew that he wanted to design and create things, but his interests were so broad, he didn’t even know where to begin.  Cars, furniture, jewelry, and boats—everything fascinated him.  But after considering his wide range of interests, he decided to pursue product design.  Then as his education progressed, he really started understanding the “historical and cultural context of an object’s design.”  This became extremely important especially as his career took off.

However for Jonathan Ive, his inspiration for design rarely came from within himself.   When asked why he chose to work with Apple, he explains that it was mostly because he felt “technically inept” and he could not figure out why he struggled with computers so badly.  Mac helped him out in that situation, allowing him to work with computers so much better than before.  Then later on, Ive returned the favor as an employee of Apple.

As a member of Apple now and a successful designer, Ive believes that design is “driven by the development of new materials.”  These new materials are created and exist in this tangible world, and from these materials, Ive is inspired.  So while many artists and even designers create from within themselves, Ive truly breaks the mold: he creates from without.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Stone Soup

Image from
The concept of “Stone Soup” is one that I have known for probably the majority of my life and here is what I am going to refer to as the “Erin Sayson Abbreviated Version”:

There are some soldiers visiting a village in hopes of finding a good meal or a nice bed to sleep on.  However normally, when soldiers would come to visit a town, they would take advantage of the poor peasants and villagers.  So naturally, these villagers did not give the soldiers very much food.  But the soldiers decided to make due with what they had.  First they took a large pot and added stones and water.  Then eventually all the people in the village came out and brought a little bit of what they had, and together they made a soup for the entire village to share.  Then, in response, the villager’s view of the soldiers shifted from a negative one to a positive one, simply because everyone was included and working together.

What does this story have to do with design?  Well first of all, today, Housefield assigned us a “Stone Soup” activity.  In this assignment, all of the members of my group brought a little bit of something creative from our homes.  After that, plain and simply, we had to create with it.  Definitely the hardest part was figuring out what on earth we were going to create with a bunch of cardboard boxes, paper plates, construction paper, ribbon, and other really random items.  As our group stared at the taunting supplies in front of us, we all just started spitting out ideas ranging from an article of clothing to even a teepee.  In the end, we agreed on this “well dressed” robot/ man that would be sitting casually on a bench waiting for a date.  Then one thing led to another, and all of us got to working on whatever needed to be done, helping each other out, and creating our very own “Stone Soup.”

I’d definitely say that our project was a success.  We easily got along throughout the whole process, and everyone threw out his or her own great ideas.  In the future, as a designer, that is exactly what we will be doing: working together with the people around us to create.  No one person can design completely on their own.  We will always need the help of those around us. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Is This Design?

In the first week of lecture, Housefield tried to introduce us to the world of design by giving us what he refers to as “the three big questions (plus one).”  By giving us these questions, he had hoped that it would help us understand design in its entirety better than before.  However the “plus one” question is actually the one that I am most interested in right now: what do we ask design to do?

My personal answer to that question is a seemingly endless list.  I ask design to clarify, to invent, and to create.   In general, I ask design to be purposeful.  Which brings me to this IKEA table I came across when I was shopping with my sister.  IKEA is known for their fashionable and trendy home furnishing and d├ęcor.  But then I look at this table, and I wonder about the “design” of this table.  To me, design must at least have some practicality and usefulness.  This table appears to be designed so that the chairs can fit perfectly under the table, but if you look at where the people sit, EVERYONE must sit in a corner.  Now if you ask me, the corner seat is the least comfortable of all seats at a table.  So practically speaking, this table would definitely be the last table I would ever prefer to use in my kitchen.

IKEA Fusion Table
On one note, I think this table is visually a good idea.  Spatially, I will admit that it is well designed to not take up a lot of room.  But practically speaking, I cannot see myself actually enjoying using this particular table because the comfort level seems so level.  And in my opinion, the actual usefulness and comfort of a table should be an important factor in the design.

Design: Verb? Noun? Or Both?

Is design a noun or a verb?  Technically speaking, one can design something, making it a verb.  Or one can see something that has design in it.  But practically speaking, what is design—a noun or a verb?

Just like most every other Design 1 student in Housefield’s class, I’m about to argue that it is necessary for design to be both a noun and verb.  You simply cannot have one without the other.

Based off of what is in society, design clearly exists as a noun, because design is literally all around us.  In the big things, there is design.  For example, look at the design of a street or a park or even a city.  There is design in the way it was structured and the way it was organized.  But there’s also design in the smaller things, like advertisements or newspapers or really any type of media.  In this case, the design exists in order to capture the attention and seem relatable to its audiences.

But then as a noun, can something have design without design existing as a verb?  I am going to have to argue no.  These streets, cities, and parks were designed by someone; just as media must have be designed in order to exist as well.  So plain and simply, if something has design in it, someone must have put forth the action and designed it.

Memories of Design

As a little girl, I remember my parents reading me children’s books all the time for a variety of reasons.  Maybe it was used to teach me a lesson, or maybe it was solely used for helping me fall asleep at night—but whatever the reason, Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree, affected me in ways past those of a child trying to fall asleep.  It was more than the experience of reading or being read to with this book.  I specifically remember being fascinated by the illustrations and the design as a whole.  The books message was simple: do not take for granted the things and people in your life, because if you do, there will eventually be nothing left for you to take.  However for me, this was the first time I recognized that the design of a book was related to its message.  The Giving Tree’s illustrations as well as design and flow as you read, can similarly be seen as simplistic and easy to understand.

Image Copyright: The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
I would also like to think that this book still affects me in the way I design now.  Visually, it was my first memorable introduction to clean basic lines, without a whole lot of distractions.  And now, that seems to be the kind of design I’m drawn to.  Clean and simple.  There was also something aesthetic about the way the book would be read.  Silverstein really kept the story flowing in a remarkably fluid manner.  From that very first time I was introduced to it, even at such a young age, I could not help but be drawn back to it again and again.