Archive for Process

Hand-sketching logos

12 April 2009

Working on a logo for a little concept project. The brand name is Cloudfish. Ever since reading this book I’ve been doing a lot more exploratory design work by hand, so for this one I did a bunch of sketches with cut paper, origami, and watercolor. For this fishie, I used tissue paper layered on top of watercolor paper and bled the pigment from it with a wet sable brush.

Playing with felt

4 March 2009

I’ve been playing around with felt lately. Not really focused on any particular outcome, just sort of thinking with my hands. This is the germ of something still to be worked out, thought it was pretty…

What is joy?

20 February 2009

I’ve been doing a lot of research lately into definitions of joy. I have this idea of what joy means to me, and to this project, in my head, but I’m realizing there are differences of opinion. A “joy vs. happiness” google led me to a large number of Christian message boards, where I realized that in some religious circles there is a distinctly different definition of joy. According to a number of these posts, joy is something lasting and spiritual, an inner happiness that comes directly from God. Happiness is externally driven, dependent on things that “happen” to you. (Writers point to the common root hap-, which relates to chance and fortune.)

I can understand this definition, but it is important for me to note that it is completely contrary to my definition of joy. In my mental model, as I think is true for many people, happiness is a state of mind, a general form of positive emotion. Joy, on the other hand, is a momentary burst of positive emotion, triggered by an external source.

Joy also gets conflated with happiness in many writings, or substituted entirely for it. I don’t want confusion, but I’m not going to get the whole world to agree on one definition of joy. What I really need is just to clearly define what joy means in the context of this exploration. So, here’s a starting point, a list of characteristics that define the concept I mean when I refer to “joy.”

  • Joy is a kind of positive emotion or feeling.
  • Joy is physical as well as mental. Joy is also physical, before its mental. (Damasio)
  • Joy is a momentary burst of emotion, rather than a prolonged state of being, like contentment or happiness.
  • Joy is an intense form of happiness, but not as intense as ecstasy or euphoria.
  • Joy is an energizing form of happiness, in contrast to bliss or contentment, which are calming and serene.
  • Joy typically is triggered by an external stimulus, which may be further reinforced by stimulating memories related to joy.
  • But, memory is not necessary to feel joy, because even very young children feel joy.
  • Joy seems to have something to do with expectations. Unexpected positive events are more likely to be joyful than anticipated ones. (Hypothesis)
  • Joy is renewable. The same stimulus can trigger joy over and over again. (Essential, core premise.)
  • Joy, unlike ecstasy, has no hangover. While intense highs of positive emotion can leave you feeling down after they pass, joy usually leaves you feeling better than before. In this case, we might say that joy has a positive hangover, and may have lasting effects on emotional wellbeing. (Hypothesis)
  • Joy has a playful, active quality to it.
  • Joy is often connected with children or a child’s world view.
  • Pleasure is a component of joy, but is not itself joy. Pleasure is part of a lower order, dialectical system (the pain-pleasure responses) involved in homeostasis. Pain and pleasure responses are naturally activated as part of the process of emoting, which is why emotions are (nearly?) always perceived as positive or negative. But, the emotion also involves a more complex series of responses.

The act of writing down my assumptions, beliefs, and learnings about joy was very powerful. Whereas before I felt a little bit lost in the thicket of data, now I feel like I have a point of departure from which to work in testing my premises. Sometimes we hesistate to commit ideas to paper until they’re worked through and clear in our minds. But when there’s still a lot you don’t know, it’s really helpful just to get the ideas out and be able to look at them.

Ooi cups process

4 February 2009

Last week I said I was determined to show more process, so here is a first attempt: a pictorial tour of the process of slipcasting the Ooi cups. Slipcasting is a wonderful way of mass-producing ceramics that works by using a liquified clay (called slip) and pouring it into a plaster mold. The plaster sucks the moisture from the clay, hardening the part. It’s so simple it feels like magic, and it becomes highly addicting!

The process starts with a positive, which is the blue thing in the photo above. I made the positive by turning a piece of balsa foam on a lathe and finishing it with joint compound finely sanded and paint. Because of shrinkage in the drying and firing process of the clay, you generally make positives about 10% bigger than your final design.

Next you need to find the high point, which is going to be where the mold’s parting line will be. This is a simple two-part mold but if you have very organic, complex design, this process can be very tricky because you may have 3 or 4 or more parts to your mold. In the example above, if you split the mold on either side of the true accent of the cup’s profile curve, you won’t be able to get the finished piece out of the plaster mold. For a simple piece like this, the best way to find it is to set the piece on a flat surface, lip side down, and bring a vertical surface up next to it. The vertical will be tangent to the high point.

Next you prep the piece for making the mold, which means making a setup where half the piece is covered. I did this with pink foam, and filled the gaps neatly with clay (clay not shown).

Then you set up the mold boards and pour the plaster.

Once you have half the mold poured, you cut keys, which are indents in the surface of the mold. Those indents will be matched with “outdents” on the other side, which will ensure the mold is always lined up perfectly. Once the keys are cut and the first half is dry (this can take a few days to a week, if humid), you soap up the surface of the mold, applying with a brush and washing off with a damp sponge.

This is essential, as it’s the small amount of soap that absorbs into the mold surface that keeps the two halves of the mold from sticking together. This is my favorite part of the moldmaking process. The soap smells like the stuff you used to wash your hands after painting in elementary school art class, and it reminds me how natural this process is in comparison with other types of moldmaking. For example, when you make a silicone mold, the equivalent product is a chemical called mold release that comes in an aerosol can. Of course, silicone molds have their place, and you can’t do everything with plaster and clay, but it does feel good to be working in a way that is relatively non-toxic and wholesome.

Once the mold is done there is a lot of trimming and scraping to do to clean up the edges and make it “mold beautiful,” which is my professor Irv Tepper’s term of highest praise. An ugly mold will do the job as well as a beautiful one, but you’re using this tool a lot and it deserves some care in craftsmanship. Even if you don’t go all the way to mold beautiful, the scraping is necessary to remove the “skin” that forms from the contact between the mold and the mold boards to allow the plaster to breathe. Every so many castings, the mold gets scraped again to keep its performance up. One mold could make 80 or so castings before needing to be remade.

Now you start casting! You pour the well-mixed slip into the opening and set a timer. The magic number for the Ooi cups is about 14 minutes, but of course this will vary with temperature and humidity. What you’re waiting for is the right amount of moisture to be absorbed from the slip so that the wall thickness is the way you want it. Too thin and the piece may warp during drying or firing. Too thick and it just won’t look right.

After the right amount of time has passed, the slip is drained back into the bucket to be reused, and the mold is left to sit for a half hour or so.

Eventually the part will start to pull away from the mold, and you can easily remove it. This is what top half of the cups look like when they come out of the mold. That extra clay around the lip will be trimmed with a knife when the piece gets to the leather hard stage. At that point you can handle the piece without denting it.

Here are some pieces in varying stages of greenware. The two in the front are firm enough to handle, so I’ve trimmed the “spare” around the lips, but they are not dry enough to sand off the parting line yet. Parting lines are notoriously difficult to remove and once you’ve slipcast a piece you start noticing them on all kinds of ceramic pieces. I don’t mind the ghost of a parting line as it reminds me of the way the piece was made, much like the navel on the bottom of the Ooi cups is a reminder of the live center of the lathe that the original positive form was turned on. In an industrial age, these marks of mass production are like the fingerprints of workers; they are the only provenance our goods can offer, the only clue that they were not just dropped here, perfectly formed, from outer space.

These cups are bisqued, which means they’ve been through the kiln once. It never fails to amaze me how the color changes in the kiln, and how creamy and pure a set looks when they come out.

Glazing. I glaze the Ooi cups by dipping them because I think it creates a smoother application than brushes. The glaze goes on bluish, but the dye is just to help you see where you put it. The glaze is actually white. The bottoms of the cups are unglazed to highlight the eggy form and create a textural contrast, both for the eye and the hand.

These guys are glazed and waiting to go in the kiln. Soon they will be real cups…

Final, glaze-fired Ooi cups. If you look very closely, on some you can see the faint trace of a parting line, but otherwise they are all identical. Just waiting around for good homes!

Mongolian feltmaking

20 January 2009

I’m starting some experiments into making my own felt this week and I came across this really interesting video on Mongolian feltmaking. As shown in the video, the nomads in the Mongolian/Kyrgyz/Kazakh area use felt for their traditional houses, called gers or yurts. Having spent some time in one (in Kyrgyzstan, not Mongolia) on a very cold day, I can tell you their felt is amazingly insulating.

My felt will be for an entirely different purpose, to be seen in the coming weeks if I can get it to work.

Project intro: Arousal-sensing wearable

14 November 2008

The third of the three major projects I’m working on at the moment, the arousal-sensing wearable is exactly what it sounds like: a dress that senses when the wearer is aroused, and reacts to that biodata.

There are a few dimensions of the project that are particularly interesting to me about this topic. First of all, I think there is some very interesting stuff going on in the wearables space right now. (For examples, see this.) But there’s also a lot of overreliance on LED displays and pragmatic integration of everyday electronics into garments and accessories. Some of these efforts are well-intentioned but clunky; I’m thinking of some of those solar-charging backpacks and jackets that have iPod remotes in the sleeves. Workable, yes. But once I became aware of what we can do with very simple, open-source technology such as Arduino, I became intrigued by the possibilities of more fully integrating technology, clothing, and the body.

Skin is fascinating to me, and critical to the logic of the project. We conceptualize skin as a barrier, but skin is really more of a porous membrane. In many species, skin reflects the internal state of the organism, projecting it in color, pattern, or aroma as an important means of communication with other organisms. As the only species that covers our skin with clothes, it strikes me that we are missing out on a useful potential means of communication, particularly with potential mates.

In addition, there is another uniquely human factor that complicates the transmission of our internal states outward. The burden of consciousness is that it deprives us almost entirely of the ability to make unpremeditated gestures, particularly when it comes to romance. It’s impossible to unconsciously convey our interest in a potential mate. (Though body language experts say that we do, many an urban single has been misled in this way). But what if we could create a second skin that would bypass our consciousness and display our visceral reactions directly from our bodies?

To me, this represents a transformative possibility. People may not at the moment consider it desirable to be so transparent, but if urban singles continue to lead such busy lives with such few opportunities for romantic interaction, it may become a new shortcut, a more efficient way to meet. I also see possibilities for couples, offering subtle communication to a partner about the wearer’s mood and reaction to the partner’s behavior. Communication in couples or even friendships could become a wordless dialogue of sensation and physicality, bringing about a new kind of body consciousness and a better awareness of self.

Right now I’m in the process of wiring up the input circuits and developing the garment’s output mechanism. I’ll write more detail about the process shortly. To start, the image above is a mood board I created on my wall to inspire the design and texture of the garment. More photos to follow.

Color studies

24 October 2008

Found this beautiful print on Swedish designer Sandra Juto’s blog Smosch and it reminded me of last year’s foundation color studies, particularly the diamond problem (below). Sandra’s triangle doesn’t have the same exact aim as the diamond, which is designed to show a movement of color top to bottom and right to left through middle mixtures, but I like the way it references this traditional exercise. I don’t think any designer who’s been through this sort of training can look at a print like this without thinking of these exercises, and the painstaking hours of trial and error required to build such a simple-looking thing. Looking at it now reminds me that the time was well-spent. I can’t begin to describe how much has changed in my perception of color from before to after, how much that was invisible to me is now apparent and alive in the world.

Two Amend-related news items

15 October 2008

Two news items, not current but both relevant to the Amend project.

This great item from the BBC talks about reflective bags used to protect elderly pedestrians in the UK. We’ll use this in the concepts presentation. (Thanks, Vanessa!)

And this one, also from the BBC, explains the trouble facing the Ghanaian textiles market, which has fallen prey to Chinese counterfeiting. Just like designers of products in the US or Europe, designers there feel pressure to stay ahead of the curve and keep creating new designs that will stand out above the deluge of copies. We hope with our project to be able to manufacture in whole or at least in part in Ghana. We also have some ideas for integrating our project with the local textiles industry to create benefits both in safety, but also economically.

Project intro: Amend reflector design

11 October 2008

One of the major projects I’m working on right now is for a wonderful non-profit called Amend. Amend’s work addresses the issue of child roadside injury in the developing world, with a focus on Ghana. Few people realize the severity of this problem, which is the number one cause of death and disability for children aged 5-21 in Africa.

When I recite the above statistic, people are usually taken aback. For a crisis this severe, we hear almost nothing about it on a daily basis. Roadside injury is a silent epidemic. So why does the problem exist, and what can be done to fix it?

The potential for roadside injury exists wherever pedestrians and motorists are required to share the same roads. The problem is minimized by good infrastructure (lights, signs, bike lanes, sidewalks, marked crossings) and by good behaviors on the parts of both motorists and pedestrians. The problem is exacerbated in the developing world because economic development is rapid and often comes without the necessary infrastructure and time to adapt to new behaviors.

Roads are often of poor quality, rarely paved and frequently full of potholes. The rule of the road is that the biggest entity has the right of way, a rule that is enforced by honking and aggressive driving behavior. Crossings are rarely present, even in cities. (Anyone who has tried to cross a street in central Saigon will know what I mean.) Streetlights and reflective signage are minimal.

At the same time, people use the roads for everything, and pedestrians have no designated spaces to travel. Children are particularly vulnerable because their size makes them less visible to drivers and because they often have to travel long distances to school.

Amend works on a number of fronts to address the problem, and a major part of their effort involves cultivating good behaviors in children with their “Be Seen, Be Safe” program in schools. Amend works in the schools to train kids on roadside safety, teaching lessons through songs and with printed materials. Amend also distributes reflective wristbands to the kids to wear, both as a reminder of the lesson and a way to make themselves more visible to drivers.

We know from other countries that reflectors work to reduce the incidence of roadside injury, but they have to be worn consistently and they have to be visible in the right places. Which is where I come in. I got involved with Amend a little over a year ago, through my friend Peter who had seen my design for LED backpack badges in my portfolio. I had designed those with the thought that they might be a good supplement to reflective strips on backpacks by providing light in the dusk hours when most drivers have yet to turn on their headlights and many kids are on the roads coming home from school. Peter shared that idea with Jeffrey, the founder of Amend, and when we all met he shared with me that he had been looking to redesign the reflectors to increase compliance and visibility.

When I started the MID program at Pratt last year, I gathered a group of classmates and we began working on a new design. It’s been a real learning experience so far. We put together a list of tons of questions and have been working with the Ghanaian Amend team to understand the context we’re working within: Ghanaian lifestyle, culture, and environment. We had a big ideation session, collecting tons of ideas for ways to address the problem that go far beyond reflectors. At the moment, we’re working on about 30 concept ideas for everything from backpacks to clothes to accessories, which we will present to Jeffrey in just over a week. The team has worked really hard and it’s super-exciting to watch it all come together. I’ll post some selections soon.

My furniture studio

4 October 2008

I’m dying to post process shots of my models and sketches for this furniture project, but I don’t have time because I’m too busy, well, doing my furniture project. In the meantime, this is my corner of the furniture studio, and my wall covered with sketches.

Lily pads as metaphor for movement

4 October 2008
One of the metaphors I’ve been thinking about for the kids-furniture-movement project is the lily pad. There’s something incredibly serene about lily pads, especially the way they rise and fall ever so gently with the water level. I imagine a classroom scene of kids all floating on lily pads that absorb all their fidgeting and excess energy and keep everyone on a placid, even keel. Imagine the energy flows of the class like ripples or tides, rising during discussions as kids shout out the answers and ebbing as they focus down on a particular task. The energy absorption of the lily pad and the water evens out the peaks and valleys, minimizes visual and audio distraction, and makes the class a much easier place to learn and concentrate.

Whether the metaphor will hold for the aesthetic or mechanical concept for the seat, the idea of energy absorption will carry through as the defining principle of the design.

Lily Pads, Fish, originally uploaded by andertho, via Flickr.