Thots and observations about design 2008
By Jim Watson
This is a foto of a directory/map that is mounted inside the elevator in the Student Union at OSU. The primary target audience for a directory is those people who are seeking the location of something. Those people are not likely to think that they can find the answer in an elevator. Directories should be mounted near major entrances, easily seen and accessible, with enough room to not block traffic if people are standing at the directory. This one, however, is inside an elevator.
Designers need to understand the audience for whom they are designing. The 'designer' of this directory did not understand the audience nor its needs and desires.
Also, notice in the foto that the floor plan of the basement is located at the top with the other floors ascending below it. Let me repeat - the basement is at the top!
Design decisions are a compromise between the familiar and the innovative. We have been conditioned to recognize that the basement is the lowest floor with the other floors rising in number above it. This designer should have embraced that familiarity and not fought it. I cannot think of any advantage or any reason for putting the basement at the top of this (or any) directory.
Lesson: Design should enhance society and make our lives better, not more make it confusing.
Have you ever noticed all the dark round spots on the pavement? Those are the hardened remnants of chewing gum that have been spat upon the ground. On many roads in the USA, there are numerous potholes waiting to be filled. Formula: Gum forming hard dark blots + potholes needing to be filled = a perfect match. Now we just need to educate gum chewers to aim for potholes when they tire of their chewing gum. The holes will soon fill with the hardened gum residue. The sidewalks will be cleaner, potholes will be filled, and not a penny of tax dollars will be spent. Drivers will be happy, taxpayers will be happy, and gum chewers will have a new target game to play. So, please help spread the word - 'Gum in the hole'.
This is a cool product - a watch showing all 24 hours in a day. The idea of breaking a complete day into two parts is sort of silly - am and pm. Imagine how much simpler our lives would be if we never again had to write or print the time followed with an am or pm. I have long thought it would be a good move to switch to 24-hour time. The military has been using it for quite a while. When the computer industry (which uses 24 hour time) became predominant, I was hoping that our culture would embrace it and adopt if for everyday use. But, alas, we were resistant to change. Example: the USA has resisted switching to the metric system even though most of the rest of the world has and most of our products lists weights and measurements in both systems. Weblink to the watch shown to the left.
Inspired by the kitsch clock in the Oklahoma house, I designed a clock in NY that embraced the wall at the end of the bedroom. The OK clock allowed me to realize that the face of a clock can be made of just about anything - including the wall the mechanism is mounted on. I explored sketches of cubes and numbers that could be mounted on the walls, ceiling, and the ac unit. But, when I bought the clock mechanism, it came with the 4" sans serif numbers shown above. Great. Sometimes, serendipity works well. I simply applied the numbers to the wall. Each number is located in its correct path but at varying lengths from the clock. The numbers wrap around corners, some are flat, others vertical and the '9' is on the mini-blinds, barely noticeable during the day, but more apparent when the blinds are shut for the evening. The seemingly random chaos of the number placement offsets the structured grid of the statues and buildings on the wall to the left of the clock.
I stood and pondered the message on this billboard. The only clue I can find to help me answer the question posed is that the sponsor seems to be the Special Olympics. I assume, then, that the 'R-Word' is 'Retarded'. This billboard asks the reader to wonder and figure it out - thereby making the word even more dominant and memorable. The result backfires - instead of encouraging the reader to erase a word, it is reinforcing the word and making it a part of our vernacular. There are also too many image messages - the eraser competes for attention with the prohibited symbol over the R - which is the dominant message? Is the content asking us to erase the word or prohibit the word? Do we really need two messages? A reader typically doesn't have much time to read the message on an outdoor billboard. Is the message conveyed here that the 'R' is prohibited, but the word 'retarded' is okay? Should we replace retarded with the R-Word? Doesn't that seem a bit retarded? There sure is a lot of bad design around. Weak concepts. Weak messages. Weak communication of content. Photographed on The Drag in Austin
• McCain: solid, straight lined, no-nonsense, military, star, waving flag in the background, dark background, symmetrical centered layout. Conveys strength, military, static staus quo.
• Obama: exploited O (for unique name and to counter 'W' of 2004), rolling plains of middle America, sunrise, soft blue, flag of red/white/blue, and white background. Conveys hope, motion forward, and optimism.
Every year the AIGA, the national organization for design, awards medals to outstanding individuals and firms that have made a significant contribution to design. Another award given is for AIGA Fellows - I was nominated by the Oklahoma chapter and participated in the AIGA Design Legends Gala in New York City in September 2008.
Links: Info on the Gala, the Fellows, Jim's page
Held at the Chelsea Piers, with Hudson Bay and New Jersey in the background. Socializing before dinner.
Posters and prints for the silent auction. I won a print by Deborah Sussman of her graphics program for the LA Olympics in 1984 and a print by Clement Mok, one of the evening's medal recipients. The dinner with speakers and presentations.
The Fellow awards. Some of the Fellows.
A great design for asymmetrical shoes, from Camper in SoHo.
Note how the newer buildings on the left respect the older buildings with the alignment of the ornamentation bands.
Across 5th avenue from the Met. Downtown in the Financial District.
On the left is a foto of the ventilation grates for the Battery Park tunnel that connects West Street to the FDR drive (the orange sign details some upcoming construction in the park). The sign on the fence, however, states 'Korean War Veterans Memorial'. If you look real closely in the right foto, off in the distance among the trees, you can just barely make out the Korean Memorial - a cut-out silhouette of a soldier. The sign clearly suggests that the Korean War memorial is a large ventilation grate in the grass. I suspect there is a more appropriate place for the sign that would still grab the attention of tourists walking by but more accurately direct people to the memorial.
The photo on the left is of a signboard in the WinterGarden atrium in the World Financial Center. It publicizes upcoming events on the monitor at the top of the unit. Okay, so far. But look at the sign added to the base - 'Please do not step or sit on base'. Bad design. Instead of a sign telling people what they cannot do, design the unit so there is no tempting seating area. Then, there is no need for a sign. The solution here is not about designing a better sign, its about designing better units - to be more respectful of their environment and more user-friendly.
Every now and then, I'll hear a design student or novice designer express disdain or opposition to a typeface (like Comic Sans, Papyrus, Fajita, etc.) I've even known teachers to hate a certain color. A shame. A designer should not hate any color (or typeface, or shape). There are appropriate uses for any element. There is a design problem that needs the typeface Comic Sans because it works well in that situation. Designers decide when any specific element is appropriate - that's their job. Hatred and extreme bias cloud one's objectivity to make valid, appropriate, and rational design decisions.
I found a new way to waste less. For years, I was getting a cup every time I ordered coffee at Starbucks. I requested 'no lid' since I didn't need one and it was just a waste. Then I bought a reusable plastic Starbucks cup that I took in with me and reused. In April, 2008, I was given a great gift of a ceramic cup that is all white and looks like a paper coffee cup. So, I started using that one at Starbucks. Then I realized, why not take it into every restaurant? Why get a new cup or glass every time I eat out (which is a lot). I keep the cup in my car and rinse it out at the restaurant before putting it back into the car. This eco-friendly ceramic 'I am not a paper cup' was designed by James Burgess and is a double-walled thermal porcelain cup with a silicone top. I used to get 12-15 cups per week. Now with this reusable ceramic cup, I am saving the materials, manufacturing, shipping, storage, disposal, and landfill of about 700 cups per year. Order info. April 22 (Earth Day - a nice coincidence)
Now this is a fabulous idea. Above on the left are the former coins used in England. On the right are the new coins. They look fresh and new - the heraldic icons have been cropped and zoomed in on. A young designer won a public competition and devised a stunningly original series that stands as an imaginative and clever solution. But the brilliance doesn't fully present itself until one arranges all the coins in the shape below and an overall crest becomes more obvious. Now the coins are gestalt - they make up parts of a bigger whole, they are connected visually, and they relate to each other in a way that the previous (and most other countries' coins) did not do. Beautiful. This designer was really thinking about a fresh way to mint coins.
An open competition conducted in August 2005 attracted 4,000 entries. The winning designer was Matthew Dent. After exploring a number of different options, Dent's concept used the greatest heraldic device ever used on coinage - the Royal Arms, featured on the coinage of almost every monarch since Edward III, 1327-77. The Shield has been cleverly split among all six denominations from the 1p to the 50p, with the £1 coin displaying the heraldic element in its entirety. This is the first time that a single design has been used across a range of United Kingdom coins.
26-year-old Matthew Dent, a graphic designer in London, had seen the competition advertised in one of the national newspapers. In seeking to spread a single design across six denominations, he conceived an idea that has never been realized before on the British coinage. ‘I felt that the solution to the Royal Mint's brief lay in a united design - united in terms of theme, execution and coverage over the surface of the coins. I wondered about a theme of birds or plants, but also considered buildings and coastal scenery. The issue with this for me lay in their distribution; how to represent the whole of the United Kingdom over six coins. The idea of a landscape appealed to me; perhaps using well-known landscapes from different areas around the United Kingdom which could stretch off the edge of one coin onto another. I thought the six coins could make up a shield by arranging the coins both horizontally, as with the landscape idea, as well as vertically, in a sort of jigsaw style. I liked the idea and symbolism of using the Royal Arms, where individually the coins could focus on specific elements and when placed together they reveal the complete Royal Arms. I found the idea that members of the public could interact with the coins the most exciting aspect of this concept. It's easy to imagine the coins pushed around a school classroom table or fumbled around with on a bar - being pieced together as a jigsaw and just having fun with them.’ The Royal Mint website.
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