Archive for the ‘Design’ Category


August 29, 2007

Great article, “What is Success?” by designer Ellen Luption (also author of Thinking with Type and DIY).

Success is more than going to work every day and getting paid. Success means finding personal satisfaction in your work and loving what you do. And it means engaging with a social world: a world of clients and employers, but also of readers, users and other designers. It is those things that make us rich.

Designers getting out beyond their computers and clients to engage? I love it.


Who needs a jewlery box?

August 16, 2007

Who needs a jewelry box...

I came back from Mexico a few weeks ago with enough new jewlery to double my modest collection. While it’s very exciting to have some fun new earings and necklaces, it posed a question of storage … where do I put this stuff? Even more, where do I put this stuff so I see it, remember I have it, and will actually wear it?

I started looking at jewelry solutions online, and the box I liked at Pottery Barn ran $100. Hmm… There was the cheap plastic storage options at the Container Store, but I’d rather put that money towards the nicer box.

Then I started thinking … what about those coffee sleeves?

I think I’ve mentioned my strange compulsive collection… I made a wreath out of them last fall (again a reaction to not wanting to spend big bucks for a nice seasonal wreath) and I’ve been hoarding them since. In addition, my friends pass theirs along (special thanks here for Scott and Tracy who kept their collection at home and recently handed me a worthy stack of about 50!).

Well… my conviction that these sleeves have more functionality than preventing burns finally paid off… I started stapling them together into a honeycomb pattern to create little cubbies to store my necklaces, bracelets, anklets, clips, hair bands, etc.


I created three units out of seven sleeves each, and strung them from two nails in the wall. I didn’t know if it would hold, but they’ve done a fair job. Each cubby is a little unique, so it takes a little coaxing sometimes to convince pieces to stay, but overall, it works well. I poke earrings through the sleeve material letting them dangle.

While I will probably not store my jewelry in coffee sleeves forever, I have to say, I’m pretty satisfied. I saved $100, worked with my hands, and finally justified my crazy collection habit!

Mailbox surprise!

August 14, 2007

UCLA Fall Extension Catalog

I about flipped a lid when I made the daily mail trek downstairs, opened the little door and pulled out the UCLA Extension Catalog.

OMG! How could I be so lucky?!?!

Hmm … No, I don’t want to take classes there. I’m way too much of a NorCal/Bears fan to get that excited over the Bruins connection. No … I froze in shock and awe because the UCLA extension catalog covers, actually called “Master Graphic Designer Series,” are revered and well followed in certain design circles for their cover art.

I stood staring at the cover with my keys still hanging in the mailbox door for at least a full minute. I looked around to see if anyone else noticed this amazing thing that just happened … no one did. I winced when I saw someone else’s catalog already in the recycle bin and resisted the urge to rescue it to an archival home. I then proceeded to trip my way up the stairs as my eyes greedily took in all the nooks and cranny’s of this quarters clever illustrative concept.

Still confused? Some history, courtesy of the AIGA:

Paul Rand's First Cover

In 1990, UCLA Extension creative director InJu Sturgeon approached a 75-year-old Paul Rand with a request to design the cover of their winter quarter catalog. After much persuasion, Rand replied with a snow-covered orange that ended up making graphic design history. Since then, Sturgeon has recruited legends of design to contribute their interpretation of Southern California culture, resulting in one of the most sought-after continuing education catalogs in the country—some people collect these as if they were design magazines themselves.

Take a look at all the past covers here. The AIGA has an exhibit of all the past covers on display in West Hollywood until late August.

I have no idea how I got on their mailing list. I probably just fit their target demographics, but I think it might have been design fairies floating asunder …

Sacrafice creativity…? Hardly.

July 31, 2007

I’m working on a suite of publications for a retiree event, and this was included in the project description:

Important Note: since retirees are the primary audience for all [event] materials, please make sure all text is large enough and designed in a way to maximize legibility. Even if that means you have to sacrifice some creativity, it has to be readable by this generally older group.

I appreciated the note and duly made the text bigger to meet the special needs of the audience. While “maximizing legibility” is more-or-less innate to graphic design and shouldn’t need a reminder, the special request on this project got me thinking….

The tension between function and form is what makes design an exciting field (and why I’ll probably never be a painter…). You can’t innovate as a designer just by relying on pleasing aesthetic forms. The form must respond to the project’s desired function (in this case, legibility for retirees).

Is this sacrificing creativity? Absolutely not. In this dance of form and function there is no sacrifice. In fact, you need more creativity, not less, to break out your moves on this dance floor…

Ethical type

June 29, 2007

faux hebrew

Jessica Helfand on Design Observer calls for a cultural sensitivity and ethic of typography after being disturbed by the plethora of faux hebrew fonts available (there’s even one called circumcision). She sums up:

Granted, unlike people, typefaces have no feelings — so who cares if they’re used without sensitivity and knowledge? But on some level, the line is a murky one: what’s the difference between a celebrity making an unforgivable racist remark and a typographer making a font that clumsily perpetuates a cultural stereotype? As a rule, the study of ethics aren’t taught in our design curricula. But maybe it should be.

Article here.

Transforming the visuals

June 27, 2007

Looking for a design muse, I was just flipping through the last Communicaiton Arts Design Annual. Wow – the reversed lamb within the lion’s shape developed for the cover of Transforming the Powers, appears as a featured logo. The Minnesota AIGA also features it in their 2007 Design Show. It came from Brad D. Noor Design based in Minnesota. It’s a beautiful, classic mark.

Transforming the Powers

This was a textbook from last fall that I had to review for class. I am still impressed by Walter Wink’s take on redeeming the powers and even more impresed after seeing a visual interpretation of his thesis spread to the pages of Communication Arts … very cool!

CIVA Part One: The great stuff

June 24, 2007

CIVA guidance

Last weekend I was lucky enough to get to the Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA) conference. Hosted at Messiah College outside Harrisburg Pennsylvania, a few hundred artists of faith gathered together to learn, network and encourage. I’ve tried to write about it in one long post, but to spare you and me both, I’ll break it up into three parts and post them over the next few days.

Jurried gallery

The conference theme, “Transforming Space” addressed four different types of space: (1) the Museum/Gallery space [pictured above: the juried gallery], (2) the Church/Worship space, (3) Cultural/Critical space, and (4) the Built/Designed space. It was the later track that brought me to the conference – anyone talking about design and faith gets my attention these days.


Each of the four tracks were spearheaded by a scholar/artist in a relative field. Earl Tai [pictured above on the right], professor and Fullbright scholar at the well respected Parsons New School for Design, spoke for the built/designed track. In a short presentation during a plenary session, he quickly sparked unexpected interest by presenting a missional approach to design. He asked how design is currently meeting the needs of the world and dared to advocate that it can take on the biggest questions of our era.

Needless to say, his session quickly packed out. Many attendees changed their seminar choice to hear him elaborate on these ideas, and we weren’t disappointed. He put words to the nagging desire creatives feel to be doing more with design than pay the bills and buy our cool chairs. Yet this is just a gut feeling to serve global community with a severe lack of guidance into action. So, instead we take the our valuable “design capital” and go where the money and patronage is: commerce. But the question still nags and remains unanswered. At best, it’s relegated to pro-bono work which cooks up a mix of guilt for not doing more and angst for not getting paid our worth. Tai gave a wonderful effort to “move forward with resolve” to answer this dilemma.

His theological foundation was as follows:

    1. Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of God, and ushers it in with his death and resurrection – in doing so we know God’s redemptive plan.

    2. The kingdom of God is now and here. It’s “already, but not yet.”

    3. The coming of God’s kingdom is not a detached spiritual reality – but fully engaged in this world (this was the standard theological foundation for the conference allowing artists to let God use them and their work for transformation). This leads beyond a “functional” view of art and design into a “redemptive” view of art and design.

    4. Therefore, we can, and are called to play a role in God’s redemptive plan > the goal of which is transformation.

    5. The task of designers and artists is to envision a heavenly ideal and bring it to fruition in this world. He sited N.T. Wright who said, the heart of mission is mandated in the arts as it is in a field such as chemistry.

He lost me a bit on this heavenly ideal using Revelation 21 (the shining new Jerusalem) and Isaiah 11 (the branch from the stump of Jessie). Though I liked the way he tied Philippians 4:8 and common grace into “defamilarizing the mundane to break through and come face to face with an ideal such as beauty, justice, and peace”. He also included the philosophy that supported art/design for the masses for ‘good’ using the Distributive Justice philosophy of John Rawls (Though my professor William Dryness later told me he personally considers this theory faulty…hmm).

Regardless of the philosophical details and my struggles with the heavenly ideal (more below on that), I think Tai is right on to give designers such a theological foundation. Gosh it’s the story of my post-collegiate life. Part of me couldn’t believe what I was hearing, that someone had thought this out. Wahoo!

I wish I thought more on my feet and wasn’t such a processor (though the processing is the main reason I’m turning into a more and more verbose blogger). I’d want to ask him more about his heavenly ideal – is it limited to an elite modernist aesthetic that would cure the worlds ailments?

I hope not. There is something to say about a design based on a contextual aesthetic. Simple can be beautiful. Cost effective can be beautiful. It doesn’t need to show up at the high end dealers. Something at Target – or better yet a freeware style technology available for anyone to reproduce (like the Pot-in-Pot cooling system that keeps produce up to 21 days rather than just 2-3 in rural Africa) can be beautiful. A modest local, natural and sustainable solution can quietly steal the show and paradoxically be a radical transformation.

“Design” is such a wide-range of practices (graphic, product, environmental, architecture, etc) there is still much to flesh out. I hope to engage graphic design down the road, but Tai focused on architecture. He did a wonderful job showcasing projects that used innovation to radically transform lives. I’ll leave you with three examples:

Sergio Palleroni, professor at University of Washington and Austin, takes students into rural Mexico to design and build facilities, such as a communal kitchen, which embody the values of the local community, dignify the people and provide an effective and helpful finished project for the community.

Sam Davis Architecture in Berkeley, California worked to create an open and communal environment for the homeless. The open space offers healing and validation through elements of the design such as windows that create a two way line of vision with the outside world. Davis listened to his clients who told him they who don’t want to be in a closed off and boxed into shelter, but given a space that does not shame or hide them.

Diebedo Kere, the first to study abroad from his village in Burkina Faso, returned as an architect and innovated clay building methods. Previously unstable compared to imported building materials, he was behind the design and construction of the Gando Primary School home to 350 students in Gando, his home village, which has an illiteracy rate of 80%. In support of such innovation, the government now pays the teachers salaries and the school now functions as a community center.

Bola Moyo = Better Life

June 3, 2007

Bola Moyo logo

A good friend I knew from the design program at Chico State, Cara Pattison, shocked me and our classmates by leaving the design field after finishing school. Yet, in a sense, she really hasn’t left design behind. Since graduating, she and her husband Dustin, have since started a non-profit called Bola Moyo (which means ‘better life’) to work with Africans in Balaka, Malawi at the grassroots level. They aim to:

…mobilize and support African communities in response to poverty, suffering, and inequality. Our vision is to see thousands of Africans empowered, living free from the oppression of poverty and disease, and realizing their potential to live productive and purposeful lives.

Cara was in the Pasadena area over the weekend, and we finally got to catch up yesterday after a few years going in our own directions. I heard stories and got to see pictures of the kids and staff they interact with, as well as the House of Many Stories Youth Centre where they have created a welcoming after school program for the kids in the Balaka area. These after-school programs started to provide a nurturing place to play and have expanded to give a needed education supplement in English and Math. Its all run by locals and Cara and Dustin are only there three months out of the year. They have many other plans in the works to continue making strides to help the youth’s chances of succeeding in further education and life in general.

Though she wouldn’t say so, I think Cara is a still very much a designer. Of course she handles their graphics for the organization – see the identity above and their website (which she whipped after simply sitting through a tutorial with dreamweaver), there is more going on. In the larger picture Cara with her husband are drawing from process-based clear thinking and problem solving innate in the practice of design to carry out the very mission of their organization. They are intentional about hearing the needs of their clients (people in the Malawi community) and brainstorming and developing solutions to meet the goal (addressing HIV/AIDS, better education, quality of life) in a holistic way for both the long and short term.

I’m finding designers, whether in a studio job or not, tend to use these innate skills in what they’re engaged with. Bola Moyo get me excited because Cara is using her skills along with those of her husband, her staff and many volunteers to benefit the marginalized who need it most.

Cara and Dustin – keep up the wonderful work. Thanks for sharing your journey!

To find out more and support Bola Moyo, see their website and follow their blog.

Michael Schawb

May 24, 2007

book cover

Perhaps you know I drool over Michael Schawb’s clean lines and nostalgic forms. Not to mention how I adore his stacked type and trademark font… Turns out he’s an Art Center alumni, and came to speak to students tonight at the Hillside Campus just up from the Rosebowl in Pasadena. He has gone on to be a successful illustrator and graphic designer located in San Francisco. You’ll probably recognize his Golden Gate National Parks campaign, and if you’re a Peets coffee patron – his early poster art might hang behind the counter at your local shop. His posters are here.

His talk was open to the public, so I grabbed a friend and headed to meet a hero. He gave a brief background on his schooling (texas, new york, and LA) and his career (San Francisco). Going through slides, he narrated a bit of his process and experience with occasional insights.

He himself is still unclear whether he’s a designer or illustrator after decades of experience. There was something reassuring in that grey area. I was struck with the authenticity of his art, he’s pretty disconnected from technology by still using models to sketch and develop the famous figure silhouettes he’s known for. Also interesting, in finding the right composition he makes a direct connection between art/design and theatre. He strives to find the memorable moment, a climax to capture for dramatic effect. There is not only an element of entertainment but of communication.

Hearing a designer speak again was like coming home. I love design and I especially I love hearing people talk about it.

I brought along my copy of his anthology, The Graphic Art of Michael Schwab, and a sharpie to have him sign it. I was the only one with a copy of his book, so he was excited to see I had it: “That makes me feel good!” Though, he was talking to other folks, so I just got a quick “m schwab 2007” on the title page; a little bittersweet when meeting such an personal design hero. Guess he has more influencing to do… and granted I was stunned into silence. Oh well, it was a great talk and more importantly he’s still producing great work. I’ll forever drool over his simplistic silhouettes and stacked type. *sigh* If your around San Francisco, look out for his MLB All Star Game campaign in SF right now.

Social design

May 2, 2007

I think something is happening in the design field…but see what you think. If you have any feedback or knowledge, please comment. I’d love to dig deeper into this:

While there are designers who are constant in their commitment to use design for non-profit uses and the greater good (consider blogs like social design notes, houtlust, etc.) my little naive designer antennas are starting to pick up more and more about a broader social design through my faithful RSS feeds and the industry journal, Communication Arts.

This started last October when I posted briefly on Milton Glasier’s Designism. That was very exciting but I just haven’t heard much else, and no one I talk to seems to know much about it.

Then I open my recent Communication Arts to Carolyn McCarron Sienicki’s Inch by Inch article. She mentions several other designers and initiatives such as Christopher Liechty’s cross cultural design understandings, Stefan Sagmeister’s heartfelt design, and Natalia Ilyin emphasis on the human. These are all new to me, and I got quite excited as I kept reading:

It may sound like these designers and business leaders are quoting different theories, but they are not. They’re all talking about the same thing: using our creative thinking and design skills to help redirect the present course of the world—economically, socially and environmentally. Maybe it was Hurricane Katrina that finally did it. Maybe it was Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Maybe it’s the never-ending casualties and ever-growing troops in Iraq. Whatever the trigger, there’s a collective feeling that we can no longer afford to go on working and living the way we have. In a world that grows smaller every day—where we are economically interdependent on each other, where cultural and social clashes create terrorism, where the changes in the environment are now too disturbing to ignore—the things we are creating no longer feel sustainable.

Hmm…I’m officially getting excited. I’m hearing Fuller’s theme verse this year ringing in my ears: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

Before you think I’m prooftexting this, consider this: the Cooper-Hewitt National Museum of Design on Museum Row in New York City is opening their first exhibit dedicated to social design next Monday: Design for the other 90%. John Emermon’s Social Design Notes blog points to a recent article in the International Herald Tribune about this (check out the slide show, it’s truly inspiring). While Emerson seems to think this design exhibition is more an act of charity than representing a paradigm shift I’d hope to see, call me silly to say this glass looks half full. I’m excited leading design institutions (Communication Arts and the Cooper-Hewitt) are starting to notice trends of designers responding to injustice and poverty through the design process. Sounds like mission work to me.