113 posts categorized "Creative Process"

Starting with the Double-Black Diamond

Turning the Apprenticeship Model Upside Down

When considering a change to our critique habits, we often think it's just a matter of getting everyone on your team together and agreeing upon new ways of working together. However, the way a design organization is structured can have a major impact on how critique is conducted.

Many traditional design organizations have been constructed via division of labor, with the "brains" at the top and the hands at the bottom. When teaching craft first and conceptual thinking second, this type of organization forces designers fresh out of school or without a great of professional experience to grapple with the nitty-gritty details, slowly maturing their way into informing and driving more of the conceptual thinking behind a project. This is known in the craft-based trades as the apprenticeship model.

This line of thinking is becoming old school. and not all agencies function like this anymore. But for large-scale marketing agencies and in-house groups, this type of model is common because—just like a Ford assembly line—people fulfill specialized tasks as part of their daily roles, as cogs in a larger profit-generating machine. This is partially why designers often move swiftly from agency to agency, as they can be a larger cog or leader within another organization sooner than they can vacate their defined roles and responsibilities at their current jobs.

Not all designers (or leaders) believe that "better" ideas come from those with grey hairs at the top. New methods of coaxing the best thinking out of everyone on a design team, whether every person's title is Designer or not, are required for dealing with more complex, ambiguous design problems and ambitious solutions. This requires designers and their cohorts to collectively design the situations in which they collaborate to successfully integrate the best thinking in an emergent fashion from everyone involved. Essentially, flip the pyramid upside down, placing the apprentices in charge.

Pulling this off successfully, over and over again, is harder than it may sound. Let's pursue a wintry analogy to elaborate.

Continue reading "Starting with the Double-Black Diamond" »

This Week's Challenge: My Design Graph

My Design Graph

Don’t believe it when other designers tell you, “You’re only as good as your last project.” It’s the trajectory of our career that tells the story of our growth as designers. Some designers just keep creating the same project over and over again—which may lead to some solid design work, but it does little to push them into new and unexplored territory. The resulting portfolio will show competency in craft, but little curiosity.

Much in the same way that we meander toward the coffee shop around the corner for our espresso fix, breaking ourselves out of professional ruts takes concerted, mindful effort over time. In this challenge, you’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of what makes your work tick, and uncover what new directions you may want to take in the next phase of your career.

In 60 minutes, look over at least 10 of the past designs you’ve created. Based on patterns that you detect in use of typography, grid, color, photo and illustration use, and other factors, create an 11"x17" chart that quantifies major trends in your work. Use this chart to highlight opportunities for new approaches you can attempt in the next few months to spur your growth as a designer.

And if you're feeling even more adventurous, draw inspiration from the work of Nicholas Felton at Feltron.com and create an annual report of the trends you’ve exhibited across your last year’s complete portfolio, as well as any other artistic outputs.

Want more challenges? The first 24 pages of Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills are available free on Scribd.

Let the Work Be Good

Let the Work Be Good

When pursuing the lofty vision of a creative leader, we often lose sight of what's right in front of us: the work.

We begin to critique, poke at, and otherwise prod the work in the name of iterative improvement, without stopping to reflect that the work is already good. Really good. At times, so strong that if the first pass your designer took against the brief was let loose into the world, few would be the wiser.

So, as a New Year's resolution or holiday gift to yourself, let in the possibility that what you've created is good. Feel free to even say it out loud: "What I've created is good."

Now, what's probably right on the tip of your tongue is the following question: "But what if I know it's not good?" If we're seasoned design professionals, we've been around the block two million times. We think we know a thing or two about good design, and this ain't it.

I'm not preaching radical acceptance, more so than critiquing the ever-dissatisfied design leader, paternally finger-wagging that we can always do better. Besides, we've all had days where the inner critic starts tearing the wallpaper off the walls of your freshly decorated room—or on worse days, calls in the wrecking ball to trash the whole building we're trying to construct. In these situations, we make ourselves feel like crap. And it's not just our own psyches. The people we work with feel like crap, especially if they're always on the receiving end of endless "make it better" criticism.

Dreams of success, populated by happy clients singing the hosannas of powerful design solutions, may hedge us into pursuing greatness at the cost of fostering compassion and humanity over time. From a process perspective, the final product sounds to the client like there were a number of musicians playing individually beautiful melodies that weave into gorgeous harmonies.

However, in reality, we've conceived a jumbled performance corrected in post-production to sound sweet, while wearied musicians slog home after dozens of takes that never sounded quite right to the producer's ear. It doesn't need to be this way.

Over my next two posts, I'll be sharing some perspectives on how to return some of that compassion to your daily work, as well as your interactions with your design team—in the form of better-considered critique habits.

Until then, have a happy New Year!

Many thanks to Mary Paynter Sherwin, who helped create the central theme of this series.

Preserving Artistic Vision in Group Collaboration


A reader of ChangeOrder, Amy, sent me a great question that merits being answered publicly:

"When working collaboratively in groups, with constant input and iterations of ideas, how do you avoid the flattening of these ideas?"

I think to answer Amy's question, we have to state it as follows: "How are you constructing your group collaboration to preserve artistic vision?" Here's some of my answers. I hope you'll leave yours in the comments!

Focus the team on a clear, higher-order vision and strategy. If everyone doesn't feel like they are "going somewhere" over the life of a project, they are going to start iterating on details that may not fit into the client ask. The team's focus should narrow as the project progresses, based on the team's agreements on the constraints you'll explore. Be sure to set clear goals and a quality bar for the output you're seeking.

Foster explicit agreement in seed ideas. If the entire team is not part of the initial brainstorming or ideation—or if the ideas aren't clearly described and "sold" to those not present—then a team may not work to improve those ideas through the design process. If an idea is crammed down a team's throats with nary a whimper of agreement, they won't be motivated to improve it as they execute.

Provide open space for your teammates to fill with their design ideas. It's critical for contributors on a project to have space to roam. When moving beyond initial ideas and delving into the actual design work, team members must be given areas that they can own and push.

Balance formal critique and impromptu idea sharing. A team's opinions must be heard and accounted for in the work, or eloquently acknowledged and placed in the parking lot with a proper rationale for why they may not improve the work at hand. (The only exception to this rule is when you're about to run out of time.)

As your team is working, create opportunities for both formal critique meetings—where everyone shares their work for in-depth discussion and possible improvement—and impromptu two to three-minute check-ins where team members point out new ideas and changes that may factor into other people's work. When working across disciplines, such as with visual designers, developers, art directors, user experience designers, business strategists, and so forth, these quick hits can be a great way to capture fresh perspectives without causing an extended critique session. These impromptu meetings form a "braid" that is woven from continuous, low-level contact in the midst of cranking on your designs. Low frequency of contact between team members will fracture a common understanding of the ideas being given form—as well as the casual cross-pollination that may make your ideas even better.

Allow proper integration of actionable client feedback. Teams often flatten ideas when they feel like the client is steamrolling their best intentions and efforts. An "us vs. client" mentality can create the perception that no matter what you create, the client may ruin it. So part of participating in and leading those teams requires structuring client/team collaboration as a partnership, framing the client feedback in a manner that leads to an improvement in the next iteration. This may require a little sugar-coating of the bitter pill, but if the client has a compelling reason for the change, it should contribute to some improvement in the final desired outcome of your client.

Kill the hierarchy when possible. Don't assume that the creative director's opinion always trumps individual opinion. Don't assume that everyone's opinion is better than the creative director. Explicit or implicit hierarchy in decision-making, causing team members to defer to the boss or vice versa, can reduce a team's drive. You only need someone to tell you what to do when you can't collectively agree to a point of view.

This sounds idyllic, as disagreements happen all the time between people on creative teams, but most of those disagreements emerge from a lack of buy-in on a creative approach/strategy, an inflated sense of ego and attachment in directions being explored, and the fear that making a change at the last minute may have a cascade effect and push people into overtime. The best teams understand that there can be a cost for pushing the best ideas forward, even if they emerge at the last minute.

Create spaces for emergent design thinking. Make every iteration visible, via printout, in a shared space for your project. Designers often want to perfect their thinking and then share out only their "best work." Instead, capture those iterations that lead to the "best work" and make everyone aware of the various stages in the process. Don't make this a venue for selecting easy ideas and moving them forward. Encourage risk whenever possible—and the ability for your co-workers to debate that risk openly.

So... what are your perspectives on this question?

This Week's Challenge: Rifftastic

Finding steady employment has been hard for many of today’s designers.

A few years ago, when our economy slowed down, many agencies and companies ended up cutting back on marketing, advertising, and other core activities that require designers. In the aftermath, the market was flooded with thousands of highly talented design professionals. In conversations with some of my out-of-work colleagues who have struggled to land a stable gig, many of them are now using their time off to seek out creative and fulfilling work—whether for new clients or for their own personal projects and efforts. For those that haven’t fared well, there often aren’t many stones to overturn for new jobs—and some are falling back on previous professions or other skills lateral to design, until they can land just the right opportunity.

This challenge is for you to help convince designers, through design, to not be designers in the immediate future.

Your local municipal government has tasked you with creating an eye-catching poster promoting the new career center that just opened in your town—specifically speaking to retraining out-of-work designers. Can you sell your creative peers on why they should find alternative employment? Take 30 minutes to sketch out your ideas.

If you have extra time, design the career center from the inside out, knowing you’re creating a space for people to give up what they want to do. What would the experience be like? What kind of materials would a designer receive there regarding retraining that they couldn’t find anywhere else?

The above artwork is by Little Brown Pen, a fine art photography and illustration boutique founded by Nichole and Evan Robertson. It is from a 12-month calendar that spoofs the "Keep Calm and Carry On" poster that has made the rounds. Could you imagine your own posters in this style that could help guide out-of-work designers?

Want more challenges? The first 24 pages of Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills are available free on Scribd. Or you can buy your copy of Creative Workshop from Amazon.com.

Reflecting on the Mess


We become more comfortable under pressure when we see our design efforts as a process, not an end product. So we have to train ourselves to be more comfortable with waste as a byproduct of the creative process.

Or, to put it another way: Knowing when to walk away from a design idea can make you a better designer. You just need to have enough ideas to know which to walk away from.

You don't have any boundaries as a creative thinker, except for fear: fear that you'll come up short with terrible ideas, fear that you won't know enough about the subject to provide an informed response, fear that you'll run out of time before you are satisfied by your design output. While such fears are oft battled by artists and designers alike, they are self-imposed and reinforced by our peers. "Designer's block" can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. (As one of my colleagues Ric Ewing likes to say: A race-car driver should never stare at the boundary wall if they're worried about crashing into it.)

These fear-driven situations most often occur because we aren't being generative, papering the walls with our thoughts and sketches. We're tapping our pencil against the notebook thinking about how we have no ideas. There's nothing for our minds to react to other than what's inside them. An idea discarded in the mind is useless to a designer, and quickly buried in a tangle of neurons soon to be obliterated by caffeine, alcohol, or accidentally smacking into the dude in front of you in the coffee and/or alcohol line because you're checking your Facebook status.

An idea captured through whatever vehicle you choose—computer, pencil, food sculpture—is the snowball rolling down the mountain that slowly incites an avalanche. And you need an avalanche of ideas before you can start being a critic about which ones are rockstar. Such avalanches also serve as shrines to progress. They make our bosses and sometimes even our clients stop wringing their hands about a project outcome and stand back a few paces, fearful of being buried in the haystack before they're presented with the best damn needle you can muster.

So, backing up a few steps from the soapbox for a moment: What value is there in walking away from your ideas?

By abandoning them, you can create space in your mind for them to intermingle and cross-pollinate. This can lead to those aha! moments where various strains of creative DNA recombine to form a new species of solution.

Last night, I had my students from my 80 Works for Designers classes over to catch up. In our conversation, we shared our experiences of "solving" 80 design challenges, where we all had anywhere from 15 minutes to 2 hours to create a rough sketch of a design solution. I place the word "solved" in quotes because without fully executing that sketch at a high level of fidelity, we didn't always know if our original ideas would survive unscathed or fall to pieces.

One of the strange byproducts of living through such a process—layered on top of our full-time responsibilities as designers, where every project had to end in a completed deliverable—was that we were acquiring tacit knowledge about where our boundaries existed as purely conceptual thinkers. We had trouble finding them, and probably you would struggle to bang into them as well.

This was quite different from learning how to close down to a final design direction and execute it via the appropriate medium. It made us more willing to suspend judgment, step backward from the precipice that would lead to a muddy, murky swim (courtesy of Photoshop), and consider further iterations that diverged from the first idea/not always best idea. In short: I no longer desired executional completion early in the design process, and I rarely saw the same impulse in my students. Besides, what a designer carries from any final, tangible form they've constructed is a somewhat false sense of completion. "Well, now that I'm done with that logo, I can move on to a new project."

Being done, however, only happens when you run out of time, client money, or patience. Perhaps a better word is satisfied, and while we often are able to deliver artifacts that meet our client's level of satisfaction, it's the mark of a strong designer to be fairly unsatisfied no matter how amazing your comps may look to a client's eye. They need to meet your standard first… though your false sense of completion is also marred by the realities of providing a service to your client, pinned to a set of deliverables that meets a specified need. You could hand a finished logo to your client and they'd make some horrific improvement to it. Or you could instantiate it across your client's online properties, and they could be acquired by a holding company that forces a complete rebrand. The list of possible ways that your perfect logo could be violated is endless.

So, perhaps what I'm saying is this: Our clients and peers may judge our output as the measure of our effectiveness as designers, but what most satisfies us creatively may come from a greater breadth of exploration through the process. We will never have enough time for an eternity of pencil sketches, so we need to learn to best use what time we do have, at the appropriate points in the process.

What kind of form does this knowledge take, if we never have a chance to fully realize the design iterations we've been considering? Whatever form it needs to in our physical world, except unvocalized thoughts blown away in a hot summer wind.

Without a mirror to hold our mind up to, we cannot effectively reflect upon what we create.

This Week's Challenge: Realpolitik

Every designer needs to have a clear ethical stance toward the client projects that they’ll take on. Many designers would rather not help sell industrial-grade weaponry or promote industries that may not contribute a net-positive benefit for society. However, designers often don’t know their own boundaries with clarity until they’re offered what seems to be a plum project, only to realize as they dig into the client problem that the end result runs counter to their beliefs.

The following challenge will help you better understand the slippery slope that all designers face when taking on a client problem that may not align with their personal politics. Two or more designers can fulfill it in 60 minutes.

Part 1: Write down on a slip of paper three products that, for ethical or political considerations, you just can’t bring yourself to take on as a client. Trade lists with another designer. Choose one product from their list and sketch the most compelling, polished billboard design you can muster promoting that product.

Part 2: You are now a key decision maker representing one of the products you would never take on as a client. The designer that created a billboard for your company must give a three-point presentation as to why their design will meet your product’s needs in the marketplace. You will be allowed to ask three questions regarding their work, press-conference style, in order to better understand the ethical stance they are taking with regard to said product. Then you must trade places with the other designer, and present your billboard concept to them—while they play-act being your client.

If you'd like to take it further, when time is up, create a poster that you’ll keep in your studio that outlines your personal policies towards the kinds of work you’d like to do in the future—and the kind that you should always decline.

The image shown above is from BusinessPundit.com's "13 Most Evil Vintage Ads in History."

Want more challenges? The first 24 pages of Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills are available free on Scribd. Or snag your copy of Creative Workshop from Amazon.com.


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.

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" »

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" »

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: 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.

This Week's Challenge: Opposites Attract

Opposites Attract by Jessica Thrasher

“Am I so ugly that I need to put a paper bag over my face?” Yes, Mona, you are. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—at least, that’s how the old cliché goes.

For designers, the opposite is often true. When you’re solving a design problem, you often need to land on a beautiful idea for the appropriate audience before you start worrying about how good the idea will actually look in the final, designed execution.

So, what happens if you’re asked to come up with a beautiful design idea about what beauty really means? What do you do when the entire foundation of your design is unnervingly objective, something that can be defined differently for each consumer? With this challenge, you’re going to find out.

An editor at a major publishing house has contacted you and asked if you’ll brainstorm cover concepts for an upcoming hardcover book about perceptions of beauty throughout the ages. Ironically, the book is titled Ugly by author Jane Klingslaner. In 60 minutes, come up with a range of cover ideas, then select one of those ideas to draw out in a clean, professional comp that can easily be migrated into a computer execution.

Continue reading "This Week's Challenge: Opposites Attract" »

Barbarians at the Drawing Board: Cultivating Better Critique Habits

My Way, Highway

I just finished reading the "business classic" Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco, which is about how firms on Wall Street competed to buy out one of America's largest companies. The book serves as a narrative history of the back-room negotiations, fights, and late-night shenanigans amongst the executive management, corporate board, lawyers, and investment bankers all hoping to gain a slide of cash from what would be (at its time) the largest monetary transaction in Wall Street history, over $20 billion dollars.

As I worked my way through the book, the following paragraph stopped me in my tracks (page 326):

"In the end… perception was the issue. Perception about who was running a set of bond offerings that, to [CEO Ross] Johnson or any other acquirer, was a detail… Through all of the machismo, through all the greed, through all the discussion of shareholder values, it all came down to this: [investment partners] John Gutfreund and Tom Strauss were prepared to scrap the largest takeover of all time because their firm's name would go on the right side, not the left side, of a tombstone advertisement buried among the stock tables at the back of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times."

This moment rang true to me—not only because I have worked with consortiums of clients where logo placement required delicate political negotiations during a product launch, but because I think that we as designers also enter into the same haggling agreements when we enter into critique situations with design teams.

Continue reading "Barbarians at the Drawing Board: Cultivating Better Critique Habits" »

This Week's Challenge: Imaginary Film

Every week, I’ll be sharing with the design community a creative challenge, alongside sample solutions from working designers and students. The challenge below is from my forthcoming book for HOW Design Press, Creative Workshop: 80 Challenges to Sharpen Your Design Skills. These weekly challenges will be cross-posted on the Imprint blog from Print Magazine.

Action-packed typography. A bold ingénue enhanced by dramatic shadows conjured up by Photoshop. An atmosphere conveyed through color that hits you square in the gut. Since you’re in the trade of making pictures, you’ll definitely enjoy this challenge.

Brainstorm a name and plot for a made-up film, including its genre and the decade in which it was produced. Using that description, create a DVD cover for the imaginary film that aesthetically conveys all of those details. You have only 60 minutes to brainstorm ideas and create a sketch of your cover.

Will you be in the business of marketing a film noir pic made in 1980? A lost Woody Allen film from the ’70s? Or the fourteenth sequel in a long-running line of horror classics? Seal in an envelope a one-sentence plot for your film. Then, show your DVD cover to some friends, ask them what they think it’s about, and open the envelope—just like the Oscars—to reveal if they’re correct.

Shown above is a solution by designer David Christopher Everly. He says that his imaginary film Lily, Under the Sea is “an off-beat comedy about Lily, a young twenty-three-year-old New York hair-stylist struggling to make it on her own in the big city.”

If you decide to tackle this challenge, post links to your solution—whether a rough sketch or a final execution—in the comments.