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7 posts from October 2010

This Week's Challenge: Robot Army Mail-Order Kit

In the back of a comic book, tiny black-and-white ads beckon to you with their mysterious treasures. Will you send away for a model rocket that you can launch in your backyard? Perhaps you could use a decoder ring to help you trade messages with your best friend in math class. Or would you like a set of plans for constructing your very own robot? Just send us $8.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling…

Since you’re a designer, you don’t need to buy the plans for making a robot. You can design one on your own. And in the process, you can glean some insight into the realm of paper engineering—where you must not only become adept at learning how to shape flat substrates into a variety of forms, but also be able to externalize your design vision into a tangible list of steps that clearly conveys how to bring your idea to life.

In 60 minutes, draw up easy-to-follow plans to construct a robot of your own design out of various household materials: paper, pipe cleaners, buttons, cardboard tubes, etc. Then, give the plans and materials to a friend, then watch and take notes as she builds what you’ve designed. The robot must be able to be built in ten minutes or less.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Robot Army Mail-Order Kit" »

Slides from "Designing with the Body" Workshop

Last Friday and Saturday, I taught a 75-minute workshop at AIGA Seattle's "Into the Woods" conference on how designers can incorporate prototyping practices into their design repertoire. Quickly prototyping design solutions is often the only way that a design team can discern which solution is most desirable and accessible for their intended audience. This is especially true for product, service, and exhibit design projects, which often have intangible qualities that are hard to capture in a whiteboard sketch.

In this workshop, I encouraged participants to randomly select a design challenge and then act out possible solutions to it. The challenges in the workshop were drawn from my first book from HOW Design Press, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills. These challenges were timeboxed in a manner that forced workshop participants to learn through prototyping and improvising the use of their design ideas:

15 minutes: Sketch ideas on paper and discuss amongst the team

15 minutes: Settle on one idea and create a physical prototype of your idea AT SIZE

15 minutes: Conduct a walkthrough of your design with one of your team members, with an eye towards which of your ideas may or may not be working. Use any remaining time to add or change design elements that improve your idea.

1 minute: A person from another team will walk through a use case with your design, and you need to act out what would happen as they interact with it, swapping in the appropriate screens or being the voice of the interface. However, this does not mean that the designers get to explain what should happen. They have to sit and watch as a person with no knowledge of their solution experiences it for the first time, and voices their expectations regarding how it should work.

Since each team only had a limited amount of time to detail out the specifics of their solution to the design challenge they'd selected, they were discovering new possibilities as they prototyped their solution, tested it among their own team, and then shared it out with the overall group. And since they had to provide the voice of the interface, they began to think about how well-designed products and services speak to you from their very first "Hello."

Shown below is one of the solutions to the challenge "Touch Screen of Deaf Rock." Teams were tasked with creating an exhibit at a children's museum where deaf children could feel different types of music. To test out solutions, one of the people in the room put in earplugs and then walked through the exhibit to see how it worked. In this example, the pens dangling on strings were meant to represent wind chimes. When a person would tap them, a breeze would blow over their face.

Designing with the Body - Touch Screen of Deaf Rock Photo

This Week's Challenge: Never Tear Us Apart

There is a specific style that accompanies music poster design: sleek Illustrator art touched up with a bit of grit, merged with hand-drawn type that precisely fits into well-defined shapes. Then, when the posters are screen-printed, the designer gets inventive regarding what order the inks hit the paper to create unique interactions between colors. Stick twenty of those creations up at local record stores, give a few to the band, and put the rest online for your fans to buy at $20.99 (plus shipping and handling).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love this style of poster design, and especially the work of the Small Stakes and Patent Pending Industries. But I also like to see how designers can think outside the trappings of this most artistic medium.

So, for the following music poster challenge, let’s see how you can tear things up. Literally.

In 60 minutes, create a poster for a rock concert soon to hit your neighborhood. Instead of planning and executing your design via sketch or in the computer, make the poster completely out of torn things: pieces of paper, solid objects, found elements, and collage.

Once you’ve solidified your layout, photograph or scan the resulting poster, bring it into a photo-editing program, and begin to play with how it will be reproduced to advertise the upcoming gig.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Never Tear Us Apart" »

This Week's Challenge: Biodegradable Backyard

Brian LaRossa - Birdbloom

Lying in the backyard, reading a book and relaxing in the sun one day, I was suddenly struck by how practically every product within eyesight was designed to outlast me.

Green plastic deck chairs, rippled to simulate wood grain. A plastic bird feeder—a popular speakeasy for the starlings and robins. In the garden, a pair of purple Crocs shoes were lurking near the tomato plants, whose vines wound happily around black plastic stakes. Even the snakelike garden hose tucked between the bushes has been explicitly designed to resist the elements, no matter the long-term environmental cost.

For this challenge, rethink the logic that governs how we produce products for outside our home.

Pick an item that you’d generally find in your backyard—such as one of the items in the above list—and redesign it so that it could gracefully biodegrade. As an example, consider the bird feeder. Could you make such a thing that also wouldn’t be torn asunder by hungry birds over a single season, or ravaged by the elements? Or is that part of the conceit, that you want the feeder to eventually be eaten? Try to get to a final solution in less than two hours.

Shown above is designer Brian LaRossa's idea, BirdBloom. It's a birdhouse that is water-resistant on the outside, but when inverted and left out in the garden, naturally biodegrades and returns to the earth. The bright colors would be sure to attract our fine feathered friends.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Biodegradable Backyard" »

Overcoming the Complexity of World Problems

Everything Else

Late at night, the supermarket has an otherworldly glow. The food sits silent, expectant. Absent of people, large pyramids of gala apples shine under fluorescent lighting, while a pimply 18-year-old sweeps the floor with a giant push broom. It could be an Edward Hopper painting, except for how the push broom creates fat lines of dirt that the employee coaxes into a dustpan and dumps into a trash can. At this hour there is no one except me, holding a half-pound of bulk organic granola (pumpkin flax) and a container of plain yogurt, trying to imagine exactly how much food rests within these four walls. Twenty thousand items? Forty thousand? Perhaps enough to feed a neighborhood of Seattle for a month, if parsed out piece by piece.

This is one of those moments that makes you feel both fortunate to live in a place where such resources are so plentiful, and also humble in the face of what is an incredible problem for most others in this world. We find it so hard to expend energy influencing world problems like hunger, poverty, and infectious diseases such as HIV. We can't easily visualize, in our minds or through a double-spread infographic, how much nutritive food is required for the billions of people in this world. Where would a designer first focus to increase its availability? In the abstract, it can feel absurd to try to quantify the impact of our individual actions in a hyper-connected world. We provide rice to the starving child thousands of miles away, unaware of how the rice is grown, where it is grown, the details of its distribution, and the extended industries that have sprung up to facilitate (or obstruct) its influence on the overall problem at hand.

I think that backing away from taking any sort of action against a world problem is a peculiar kind of intellectual fallacy—both as people donating our time towards important causes and as designers attempting to influence a world problem for the better. To make my case, I'm going to play with some mathematical concepts, but I warn you that I am no scientist in the traditional sense and merely a dilettante when it comes to numbers. I don't think I'm treading any new ground here, but at least the path around the lake has a little less overbrush.

Continue reading "Overcoming the Complexity of World Problems" »

This Week's Challenge: I'm Drawing a Blank

I'm Drawing a Blank by David Sherwin - Picture 1

White space… the final frontier.

These are the voyages of the graphic designer. Our mission: to bring balance and grace to an otherwise overloaded layout. To seek out opportunities to pare away excess and focus on what’s necessary. To boldly convey the appropriate conceptual idea to our audience.

Our quest for bold use of white space is what makes the following challenge so difficult—and the results that come out of it so rewarding.

You were recently hired by a paint company to help them with a rebranding effort. For your first project, they would like you to design a 9" x 12" (23cm x 30cm) folder that will hold a revamped press kit and other supplementary collateral. Your client has given only one mandatory direction: the folder must have at least 90 percent white showing in the overall design. You have 60 minutes to complete this challenge.

In a twenty-minute brainstorm session for this challenge, I sketched out this idea for a paint-by-numbers cover for the fictional Kingston Artist’s Supply catalog. The reader can flatten out the folder, purchase the paint colors noted in the legend on the back cover, and start on their first masterwork.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: I'm Drawing a Blank" »

Join me at Interaction 11 and South by Southwest 2011

Interaction 11 and SxSWi have both just announced their speaker lineups, and I've very honored to have been included in both. I hope to get a chance to meet many of you in Boulder and Austin next year.


Interaction 11 Conference, February 9-12, 2011

Better Ideas Faster: Effective Brainstorming for Interaction
A Workshop at Interaction 11 / Register Here

You're under the gun. Again.

Only a few days to come up with a revolutionary new feature for your Web app. Or you've been tasked by your boss to give your company's new mobile experience a little more oomph. Or you're floating in the space of a nebulous client problem that you just can't seem to pin down.

In these situations, it can be hard to focus on coming up with breakthrough ideas. But don't worry, help is to the rescue. David Sherwin from frog design, a global innovation firm, will share tools and methods that any interaction designer can use--especially those that are relatively new to the profession--to more consistently brainstorm quality ideas for creating and improving products, services and systems.

Over the course of this workshop, through active brainstorming exercises and in-depth group discussion, we'll answer questions such as:

  • How can I best structure my brainstorming processes?
  • What lightweight brainstorming techniques can I use that will inspire new, more innovative design ideas more quickly?
  • How can I be more effective in moving from project discovery to generating targeted design ideas?
  • How can our team collaborate best across disciplines to rapidly iterate any type of interactive experience?
  • How can our team best synthesize a wide range of ideas into a set of compelling client recommendations?

The workshop will also be informed by examples from frog brainstorming and David's book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills (HOW Design Press, Dec. 2010).



Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills
An Author's Talk at SxSWi / Register Here

At next year's South by Southwest, I'll be giving a 20-minute talk about how interactive designers can foster their creative skills, then signing copies of Creative Workshop.