Tuesday, August 28, 2007

. . . about art and nourishment

Andy Goldsworthy is a British sculptor and photographer, living in Scotland, who produces site-specific sculpture and land art situated in natural and urban settings. His art involves the use of natural and found objects to create both temporary and permanent sculptures which draw out the character of their environment. [1]

In the documentary Rivers and Tides he speaks of a sacredness in all rocks and trees, of walking around for several hours looking at all the stones on the other side of the river near his home place, of knowing that there is a stone, a strong stone with an incredible shape, that he's been avoiding and and on finally examining the stone says, "I have to do it, I have to work with it."

"There is something that drives me to make certain works on occasion even though in my mind I'm telling me, 'no don't do that, it's too much trouble. No, don't lie in the rain in the street just now' and the next thing I know I'm lying in the rain in the street [making a "shadow" of himself where he lies.] There is something inside me saying this is something I have to do."

For me, this is powerful and comforting: knowing an artist who does what he "has to do", what is inside him; knowing someone who is doing what they love, feeling impelled to work, to create, regardless of other considerations (weather, their surroundings, what others think and so forth.)

He goes on to say, "There is balance between the ephemeral and permanent. The ephemeral work is done with the sense of not knowing what I will make or where I will make it. It's intuitive and it changes as the day progresses. And that has a sense of discovery and that's how I learn, that's the nourishment, that's the breathing in of my art, the lifeblood of my art. I need that. Then every so often I make the permanent work and that draws on what I've understood from the ephemeral."

Art is shared nourishment. What nourishes the artist ultimately nourishes us.

I recently saw Andy Goldsworthy's installation "Roofs" at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. It is a series of domes of stone, one piece of slate set on another in a circle, around and around forming a roof ending with a hole left open in the top. The domes of stone are mostly outside in the courtyard, but in a few places they are inside impinging on the glass wall of the gallery.

I wondered if they were receding out of or advancing into the atrium, so convinced was I that the shapes were whole units. Could they be roofs of an ancient people existing long before and somehow preserved in place as the gallery was built around them? What made the artist decide on this installation? What about the space inspired the thought to build 9 domes, 5 and half feet tall and 27 feet in diameter? Is there greater meaning to be derived from them? And so my thoughts spin on, nourished by his art.

Now, when I need a meditative moment in my day, I dwell on that one artist somewhere in the world contemplating a stone, a leaf, a petal, a twig, an icicle...impelled to do what he has to do. Just the knowing that he is there. This is restorative, stabilizing, calming, comforting, nourishing.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Earlier Posts

May 26, 2007

...that in a flattened world where everything is digital, virtual, and mobile, immediate results are expected.

Not only expected...demanded. As designers we may be given an assignment with one breath and then in the next asked "when can we see screens?" This kind of flattening of time and respect for the creative process is damaging to the designer, good design, and eventually the whole experience.

I recently had the good fortune to sit in on a truly collaborative, creative discussion and work session. We had full blocks of time where ideas, markers, white boards, and people were all that mattered. The birth and growth of a new and living concept were all that mattered.

We put aside the deadening effect of business philosophies—'implement, implement, implement', 'faster, better, cheaper', and 'digital, virtual, mobile'—for living thought and design...slow, careful, provocative, manual, interactive, searching, collaborative, old-fashioned, deliberate, exciting.

The pure creative process reverses the flattening of the world and makes it full and rich, vibrant and living. Adequate and abundant time and space, and real respect for the creative process will always yield results in a way that technology, politics or demands never will.

Designers crave it, good managers protect it, smart companies foster it.


“Slow design is not just about duration or speed, but about thoughtfulness, deliberation, and—how else to put it?—tender loving care.”
—Michael Bierut, 2006

“Slowness is not time-based. It doesn't refer to how long it takes to make or do something, but rather describes the individual's elevated state of awareness in the process of creation, the quality of its tangible outcomes and a richer experience for the community it engages.”

October 16, 2006

...about making meaning.

I'm always looking for meaning in everything. Experience design and designers make this possible in a way that has not happened before.

Meaning is the point where you connect with the user on a deeper level. Does this design/concept/product make a difference in their life?

New technologies should make things more meaningful to the user. Users are asking "Is this good for me? Does it improve my life? Why should I care about your product/website/service?" We as designers should have these user goals in mind as we design, and not just the traditional better/faster/cheaper goals of some technologies.

For example the know-how behind weblogs allows bloggers to use technology to try to make sense of their lives, and to connect with others who may have had the same experience. They are looking for meaning, shared meaning.

The new rebranded iLife 05 packaging makes an effort to bring meaning to the use of technology. As Cameron Moll of ALA puts it, "Personal computing was no longer something done to accomplish something else more efficiently, but rather a part of everyday life, even critical to communication and social interaction...the organic styling and seed metaphor--a perfect representation of "life" itself--steal the show."

I know of two projects within my experience where two different designers designed the same page with different goals in mind. One from a user experience standpoint, and the other from a data representation/ compliance point of view. Both complied with standards and systems requirements, but one design on each project was more focused on adding meaning for the user rather than just presenting the numbers or functionality. Users want meaning..."What do these numbers mean to me?" "Show me the content grouped in the way I think about my tasks". In one case usability studies proved out the more meaningful display, and in the other, schedule and politics forced an acceptable but technology-based, systems-driven solution.

The future of successful design is not in new technologies alone, but in connecting with users to make meaning in their lives.


“The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” —Carl Jung, “Modern Man in Search of a Soul”

August 23, 2006

...that the greatest potential for growth is in your areas of strength and not weakness.

In the book Now, Discover Your Strengths, authors Buckingham and Clifton with the Gallup Organization introduce a program to help readers identify their talents and build them into strengths. It introduces 34 dominant "themes", and reveals how they can best be translated into personal and career success. In developing this program, Gallup has conducted psychological profiles with more than two million individuals over a 25-year period to identify these strengths.

I took the StrengthsFinder® Profile questionnaire and here is what surfaced for me. These are the top five areas that come more naturally to me and make me a better graphic designer.

Learner – I love to learn. I prefer a classroom setting where I can process and think after each session, but I also enjoy reading and researching on my own. Digging in and learning about a client’s business, what they need, what they want, etc. is very important to beginning to visualize a design solution.

Analytical – I like the statistics behind a business objective or user research; I want substance to back up my designs. What do users want and do and think? What’s happening in the industry and with competitors? What is the client concerned about and why? This gives me the reasoning and explanation behind a design solution.

Responsibility – Combined with my ethics this theme makes me utterly dependable. Give me a project I’ll get it done, whether it’s helping a new employee adjust, resolving an issue with a developer, juggling multiple projects, meeting a tight deadline or being prepared for the next presentation.

Restorative – I’m a problem solver. I like to fix or restore something that’s gone awry or help make an experience more efficient or easy or fun…whatever the goal is. Good effective design is problem solving and not just a “make it pretty” exercise.

Intellection – I like to think. Paired with Analytical and Restorative I tend to be very focused. I am an avid reader and read widely just for the constant hum of mental activity.

Focusing on areas of strength leads to satisfying personal development and success in a way that focusing on “areas of opportunity” never will.


“Success is achieved by developing our strengths, not by eliminating our weaknesses.” —Marilyn vos Savant

July 31, 2006

"It's more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement." Mabel Newcomer

I was unable to discover the context for this quote, but the meaning is clear to me. To skip usability research and studies, to jump into requirements without adequate visioning, to begin development without good planning is to guarantee project swirl, political posturing, a forgotten user, and shabby results.

I hear "there's no time or budget for that usability study or overarching design work", or "just get it out there and we'll fix it later". This short-sightedness is characterized by the existence of work-arounds, low usage levels, user dissatisfaction and frustration, and rework.

Worthwhile achievements are based on sound strategy and sufficient planning and, especially for quality websites, adequate design and usability involvement.


“Why is there never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over?” —Old adage

June 21, 2006

...that web designers have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression. An interesting study in the Behavior and Information Technology Journal points out that the initial response to a website is physiological and immediate “reflecting ‘what my body tells me to feel’ rather than ‘what my brain tells me to think’, with cognitive appraisal occurring after this first response.” The “data suggest that a reliable decision can be made in 50 ms”.

The article points of earlier studies that state "the strong impact of the visual appeal of the site seemed to draw attention away from usability problems...Thus, in the presence of a very positive first impression, a person may disregard or downplay possible negative issues encountered later."

A negative first impression also creates a bias that fails to be overcome even in the case of subsequent positive evidence. “Hence, even if a website is highly usable and provides very useful information presented in a logical arrangement, this may fail to impress a user whose first impressions of the site was negative.” The study goes on to detail just how long it takes to make that first impression.

We always talk about successful websites as being useful, useable and desirable. But what this article says to me is that desirable is the first and foremost attribute. This is another way that designers add value to the brand and bottom line.

Next time the project team or business lead question color, images, layout and icons, I have my reply...desirability is number one.


“[Users] make their credibility-based decisions about the people or organization behind the site based upon the site's overall visual appeal.” —Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 2002

“If a site is perfectly usable but it lacks an elegant and appropriate design style, it will fail.” —Curt Cloninger, 2001

May 15, 2006

...that everyone loves a good story. Good storytelling is accomplished through pictures and dialog, and has many positive outcomes. In the business world this is call visual explanation. The main goal of visual explanation (diagrams, narratives, graphs, mapping, models, rich pictures) is to create a shared understanding. Some of the outcomes include having a clear shared picture of the project, “completing the puzzle”, establishing a background or baseline, explaining a concept to others quickly, knowing how to apply a concept to a new situation, defining a problem, and discovering missing pieces.

Read more about it:

Communication is design. Use it as such. Luke Wroblewski

Visual Thinking School, Dave Gray

Dynamic Diagrams white paper

Mind Mapping explained

Storytelling with Conceptual Comics

May 11,2006

...that designers have the ability to actually show the problem visually in a more compelling way than a bulleted Powerpoint deck or complicated flow chart ever will. Diagrams or narrative storyboards that illustrate what is happening and why go much further in convincing others of needed change. Visual thinking and communication is about using pictures to help you define and solve problems, think about complex issues and communicate more effectively. Having this communication ability gets the designer invited to the table earlier in the development process where strategy is shaped.

A good designer is a strategic partner. So, share the vision, tell the story, provide the context, illuminate...communicate.

May 8, 2006

...that experienced knowledgeable designers, thorough user research, and imagination should drive the technology solution for a project and not vice versa.

The limitations of an assumed technology solution make it easier to estimate costs before initiating a project, but if it does not suit user needs/wants and possible interface innovation, the hands of a designer are tied and often the user is the loser. The potential of creating an interface that is not as useful, usable or desirable is high.

Involving a designer early on during project ideation and visioning opens the door for an innovative solution that will meet user needs and expectations, and allow for the most appropriate technology to support the best user experience. Some time and resources are expended before dollars are committed to a project, but the efforts are likely to lead to a more successful project outcome, and a win for the users.

A good designer and wise managers know that the technology is only a means to an end, not the end itself. What really counts is how and why you use it.

March 21, 2006

...that working with a team to envision a web site is not easy. Sometimes, to lift a phrase from Edward Tufte, it's BOGSAT design...a bunch of guys [and gals] sitting around a table designing. They all feel they know what the user wants and needs. Or it's BOTE...back of the envelope design, where one strong voice puts down the first thought that comes to mind and is rarely opposed.

But, occasionally, there is pure synergy where all ideas are considered and valued; where one idea builds on another or a great thought spawns an even better design.

I'm the first to admit...that I don't have a corner on the market of ideas and designs. While I may be the assigned designer on a project, other team members have great ideas and love to design. I let them. I listen, I guide, I sketch, I help envision, I influence, I persuade...and I listen some more! It empowers.

I've learned that you get power by giving away power. Give it to the users and they'll love the web site and tell their friends about it. Give it to the developers and they'll be more likely to jump through hoops for innovative ideas. Give it to the business or project sponsors and they'll defend the design. Give it to the project managers and systems analysts and they'll make concessions in the schedule.

I don't always get the credit, but the design is better.