Archive for October, 2008

Eye candy: what is this?

24 October 2008

What is this? I don’t know, but I like it. Here is where it lives…

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.

Found color: J Crew online lookbook

20 October 2008

J Crew’s online lookbook has me oohing and aahing today over the arresting color palettes in the layouts.

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.

Quote of the day

13 October 2008

Came across this quote while studying for a design history midterm. Can you imagine the ghostliness of a colorless hot air balloon?

Aesthetics of Joy

12 October 2008

One of the ideas I’ve been ruminating over for my thesis is the question of the aesthetics associated with the emotion we call joy. What are the semiotics of objects and experiences that deliver this emotion of joy and how can we harness the knowledge of them to create products that are more joyful?

I was happy to stumble upon this TED talk by cognitive neuroscientist Al Seckel on designing joy. His talk mostly focuses on illusions and tromp l’oeil, but the more interesting aspect for me was his definition of a joyful experience as one in which “our expectations are violated in some pleasing way.” I think that’s a nice starting point for thinking about this topic. Where it gets tricky is in the field of product design, where we seek not to create a momentary illusion or temporary experience, but something that will deliver joy in a sustained way. There are too many one-liner products, jokes that are funny in the short-term but the appeal soon wears off. That kind of design is not compatible with my value system, unless the material that delivers the joke degrades as cleanly in the earth as it does in the mind.

I think an exploration into joy could offer a meaningful contribution to the field of design if it unearths principles that help us create products that deliver lasting joy – products that make us smile not just when we first encounter them, but every time we use them. To test the principles, one might design products whose sole function is to engender emotional wellbeing, like toys for adults where the premise isn’t about regression but about creating joyful moments in the user’s life, day after day.

Moving furniture inspirations

11 October 2008

Thank you to Matt for the link to this stool, the Sway stool available at Branch home. The stool promotes active sitting by flexing gently with the body. Interesting mechanism.

And thank you to Vanessa Marie for the link to this stool. I can’t read the page (I hate to say I’m not even sure what language this is) but I did catch the words “active zit” so I can guess it also is promoting the idea of motion in furniture.

I love… the Domino October issue

11 October 2008

This month’s Domino really had my number. Page after page I found things I love. Like this uber-pink and brass scene from Kelly Wearstler’s guest house (above). Wonderful mix of textures.

Anya Hindmarch’s living room is elegant but still looks like people live there. (Which I guess it would, being she has five kids!)

This is a little Hamptons-y for me but that glass-and-string thing in the middle of the table is so amazing.

I love this page so much I want to eat it! That purple is the perfect anti-purple to all the bleak ones in the store windows these days, and the prints just make me so happy.

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.

Eye candy: African textiles

11 October 2008

Looking for African textiles for the Amend presentation (a project I’m working on that I will write about shortly) and I found this striking quilt. Love.

Image credit: gooma8x on Flickr

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.

Urban abstraction

4 October 2008

The urban environment – particularly New York City – provides ample opportunity to view a landscape pared down to the basic formal elements of line, plane, color, and negative space. It was a striking observation that photographer Randy West made of the horizontal blocks of the city’s gridded streets – that in the dimming light of dusk, this abstraction comes to the forefront. With the forms of skyscrapers silhouetted in in black, the power of the terrain in fact becomes inverted, and the negative shape of the sky takes on a new prominence. New York Times writer Bonnie Yochelson points out that these take on the shapes of “upside-down skyscrapers” which is a beautiful way of calling attention to the powerful presence of  negative space, particularly in our cityscape, which is so assertive in its verticality. It’s also an interesting statement, though, because it reveals our difficulty with processing the idea of negative volume; in fact, we rarely talk about space without talking about ways to fill it – either with physical matter, or with meaning.

This topic has me in its thrall this year because I’m taking a two-part series of courses in Space Analysis. At Pratt, there is phenomenal emphasis on form, such that two semesters of hands-on work in abstract design (or as we call it, 3D) is required for every student in the ID department. After a year of focusing on form, it is a true challenge to train your eye to notice negative volume, which we often think of as invisible, and a void. But by definition, shaping form also means shaping space, and our reactions to the space may be just as powerful but much more difficult to access and verbalize. I love these photos as very immediate reminder of the presence of negative space in our lives, and the way in change our perspective on the world.

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.

September inspirations

3 October 2008
For a while now I’ve been keeping files in iPhoto of pictures I’ve taken each month. The subjects are random – just things that I encounter in my daily life that inspire me. I’m trying now to get them all up on Flickr to make them more accessible.

September was a small gallery (maybe I was taking a break after the 700 photos I took in Egypt and Jordan in August). You can find it here.

This is my favorite image of the month, though some people find it gross. I just think there is so much aesthetic value in an oyster – the rutted, stony texture of the outer shell; the fine, flaky edge; the luminous white of the interior shell; and best of all, the watery suspension of pattern and texture inside. I love the toothy ruffled edge of muscle, the kidney shape covered with tiny parallel ridges, the egg-like spots and the leaf-like veining.

Ingrid print

3 October 2008

From Diana, another designer in my program:

“Check out this print. It is reminiscent of you.”

Funny! I kind of agree.

I was not familiar with the artist, London-based Swedish illustrator and designer Petra Borner, but I really enjoy her work, especially the beautiful book jackets on the site. Just the right balance of rough and polished. Beautiful.