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7 posts from November 2010

This Week's Challenge: Bauhaus, Baby!

Claire Kohler - Bauhaus, Baby! Design Solution

When learning to play the snare drum, you start by memorizing the rudiments. Once you've internalized single- and double-stroke rolls, paradiddles, and flams, you can being to weave those ingredients together into pleasing rhythms. A similar underlying logic applies to how we improve at constructing design layouts.

We have a controlled vocabulary bequeathed to us from Euclidean geometry: lines, squares, circles, triangles. In the hands of masterful designers, these basic forms are submerged beneath dazzling surfaces, working in concert with their own (oft mathematical) inner workings.

So, where's the best place to start when looking to acquire deeper skill in manipulating these forms for artistic effect? Let's try a 15-minute challenge derived from the Bauhaus design school, with a collaborative twist.

Gather together a group of two or more designers (or non-designers!). In 10 minutes, each of you should create a layout that consists of a circle, a triangle, and a square on a piece of paper. The shapes should be cut from construction paper, then adhered to your master sheet with tape or glue. The size, color, and visual interplay between your three shapes—as well as your use of positive/negative space and foreground/background relationships—are all important.

Once everyone has finished, pass your completed artwork to the right. In 5 minutes, you have to inscribe on the page a headline that provides an extra layer of meaning and nuance to the original work.

In the above example, Seattle-based designer Claire Kohler pokes some fun at the (very serious) history of the Bauhaus. Perhaps this should pave the way to an @AngryWalterGropius Twitter feed?

Want to try your hand at more design challenges like this one? Check out my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which has just been released from HOW Design Press.

This Week's Challenge: Lost in Translation

Lost In Translation - English Revision of Mizkan Ad - David Sherwin

Your ad reads: “Lorem ispsum consequat dolor ix vox populii.” Either your audience is fluent in designer’s Latin, or you need to roll up your sleeves and start writing some real headlines.

Crafting copy for a design project can be fun if you have a strong command of your native tongue—though if writing is not your forte, the process can be nerve-wracking.

But don’t be scared. You’ve probably been a copywriter at some point in your life. Just think back to when you took a trip to a foreign land. When confronted by cryptic billboards and bewildering ad images, you couldn’t help but write sales copy on the fly. How else could you process that otherwise unintelligible mass of foreign characters atop a smiling, bikini-clad woman clutching a piping-hot cappuccino?

Use the following challenge to take a journey into the mind of a copywriter.

Within 30 minutes, find a foreign-language advertisement and redesign it with text you’ve written in your native tongue. Try not to adjust the layout to fit your words. What will help this foreign ad make sense to those who speak your language?

In the above example, I took a print ad for Mizkan—a brand of rice vinegar—and tried to translate the body copy from the original ad:

Lost in Translation - Original Mizkan Ad

Want to try your hand at more design challenges like this one? Check out my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which has just been released from HOW Design Press.

This Week's Challenge: Do the Undo

Mouseless - MIT Media Lab - Pranav Mistry

Click, click, click. Undo, undo, undo.

What's more habitual for a designer than the impulse to backtrack after realizing, while making layout adjustments at breakneck speed, that they've unintentionally made their design ideas worse? If the ability to fix these missteps were to magically vanish from our design programs, then hundreds of thousands of designers worldwide would cry out in anguish.

Thankfully, we don't have to worry about such a dystopian future. But with a wide range of new devices at our disposal, knowing how to undo is growing more difficult. On my phone, I have to shake it back and forth—risking dropping it on the ground and shattering the screen. And on even larger touch screens, exactly where does Command-Z exist?

In this challenge, you'll consider how to solve for this problem. Everywhere.

Within 30 minutes, create a gesture that would tell a selected device in your home to undo its most recent action. How would the device receive your command? What peripherals, if any, would be required to send the command? In your last five minutes, document your gesture idea with a brief video.

Keep in mind that the technology now exists for gestural input to be captured by almost any kind of device. As an example above and below, I've included work by researchers at MIT (led by Pranav Mistry), where he demonstrates "Mouseless," an experience where people can cup their hands like they're holding a mouse and control the cursor on screen.

Want to try your hand at more design challenges like this one? Check out my book Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, which has just been released from HOW Design Press.

My First Book "Creative Workshop" Is Officially Out!

Creative Workshop: Cover

It's official! My first book, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills, is out now from HOW Books. You can purchase it from,,, or from a fine bookstore near you. You can also check out the first 24 pages FREE on Scribd.

For those of you who have been seeking class worksheets, I've posted to SlideShare handouts that describe timeboxing and brainstorming methods from Creative Workshop, suitable for classroom use. You should also download the free e-book, Creative Workshop: Teacher's Guide.

Continue reading "My First Book "Creative Workshop" Is Officially Out!" »

This Week's Challenge: Tour de Home

Grace Cheong - Tour de Home - Signage in Mile-end en Balade

Within a mile of my house, there are a number of high-profile landmarks that I can’t help but share with visitors to Seattle. The Fremont troll sculpture under the Aurora Bridge with a real Volkswagen Beetle clutched in one of his giant hands. The Woodland Park Zoo, with its crowd-pleasing penguins and flamingos. And let’s not forget the organic and fair-trade chocolate factory.

All the places I just listed are what you’d call touristy—easily found in a Fodor’s guide alongside every other big landmark in the Fremont district. As designers, we’re often tasked with promoting these big-draw destinations.

But every local community, no matter how urban in nature, is full of unique and wonderful spots that have great meaning to its inhabitants—lovely locations that just wouldn’t fit in the hundred dollar guided bus tour.

For this challenge, you’ve been tasked with sharing these special places.

In 2 hours, create simple, non-invasive signage that explains the provenance of the places that you most often frequent in your community. What kind of information should you include to communicate the importance of each location to both locals and tourists? How can these signs be displayed in a manner that doesn’t add visual noise to your entire neighborhood? Your solution does not need to be physical—it could be digital.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Tour de Home" »

Prototyping Interaction with Video Scenarios

At the Seattle Make-a-Thon on Saturday, November 6—a collaboration between IxDA Seattle, AIGA Seattle, and Interact—Aaron Rincover and I presented a two-hour workshop about how to prototype and communicate interaction ideas using video scenarios.

In our daily work as user experience designers, capturing the nuances of myriad types of interaction has become core to many of our client deliverables. This isn't something that is going to change. Different modes of user input will increase as more sensors and types of data become available. So the medium of video is perfect to capture, communicate, and iterate these multiple types of interaction.

Continue reading "Prototyping Interaction with Video Scenarios" »

This Week's Challenge: Trompe L'Oh Wow

I think every child is obsessed with magic. From the large-scale illusions of David Copperfield all the way down to the local magic-shop owner palming coins before a crowd of two adoring twelve-year-olds, the practice of magic is a wide-eyed delight for millions—and an exclusive club for those who choose to explore its secrets.

Designers can be magicians as well. The FedEx logo immediately comes to mind, with its witty placement of an arrow within the mark. With just a pencil and paper, we can conjure up similarly surprising illusions that bend our perceptions of space and time. But no matter what methods you choose to employ, your visual trickery must be simple enough to disguise with a little sleight of hand—and smart enough to metaphorically act as a representative of the whole. After all, the most effective illusions are those whose expressions vanish softly into the fabric of a well-formed idea.

In this challenge, you’ll get a chance to practice your craft on the one audience that will most appreciate your efforts.

In 90 minutes, create a logo for the Global Magic Society, a national invitation-only group of upper-echelon magicians. As part of your design exercise, you must incorporate an optical illusion into your mark.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Trompe L'Oh Wow" »