Per Aspera Ad Astra

Over the past week I’ve been focusing on art and design and patiently waiting for my new developer books to show up. I always have to prepare myself to be overwhelmed and crushed by all the great designs and designers out there and reading “The Web Designer’s Idea Book” by Patrick McNeil has been no exception. Half the work featured in the book is of incredibly talented design firms and freelancers with impressive portfolios and comprehensive service offerings. But as I got into the book I began to consciously separate the art, photography, and photoshop effects of the websites and focused on the elements that served as the foundation of functionality such as type, borders, grids, color, and shapes.

Thats not to say that I reached this enlightened perspective without spending half a day searching for online tutorials but I was incredibly surprised just how easy it is to achieve alot of those effects in photoshop and also frustrated at the same time by both the lack of tutorials based on current versions of the software and my unfamiliarity with the new interface of photoshop CS5. In that regards, my hypothesis and subsequent plan of action is to read “Photoshop CS5: The Missing Manual” and to make a mental note not to become overwhelmed by visual effects, but to allocate a small amount of time building a repertoire of photoshop know-how. While the art, photography and photoshop effects of others are awe-inspiring, I resolved that the underlying issue here for an aspiring designer is to evaluate their conceptual strength as elements in contributing and supporting the larger composition.

I read this book along side “Design Basics Index” by Jim Krause, a godsend of a book that articulately demystifies the principles of design. I mentioned that I had already read most of the book for a class some time ago but returning to it again I find it so useful and refreshing that I believe designers of every level of skill and experience could benefit from opening it at some point during their design process. In the book, Jim Krause breaks it down into 3 sections to cover the most basic principles of design:

Composition – The arrangement of the elements of a piece, which takes into account relationships developed through grouping, alignment, visual flow, and the divisions of space within a layout.

Components – The visual elements within a design such as photos, illustrations, typography, linework, decorations, and borders.

Concept – The message that is conveyed through style and theme.

I found many of the solutions that are presented to be very helpful and relevant to the design issues that I often find at hand, such as the suggestions to resolve the issue of trapped space and visually bridging blocky elements in order to create effective visual flow. I predict I will have this book nearby for reference for longer than I will like to admit. Especially the C.A.P. guidelines for evaluating Composition, Components, and Concept, Jim Krause explains:

Inspiration and perspiration are essential to the creative process. As artists and designers, we must also understand that the products of their fusion will rarely amount to aesthetic or conceptual greatness if we do not cultivate and employ well-developed skills of evaluation.” (Krause pg. 96)

However, while the book attempts to explain the theories and principles of design that have been developed based on a logical attitude towards the visual presentation of concepts, it also instills in the reader the necessity to think “outside the box” and be creative:

Books can provide us with the terms and definitions that make communication about (design) possible. They can teach us practical theories surrounding…. the technical aspects that a designer must deal with… The rest of our education happens on a more instinctual level during a lifetime of observation, enjoyment and hands-on practice. It’s the combination of our book-learning and the intuition we gain through observational and hands-on experience that endows us with the (design) sense that we can then apply to all of our works.” (Krause pg. 207)

I believe it is this delicate interaction between the logical and the creative, the right and the left brain, that makes design so interesting and so challenging at the same time.

Key attributes of designers who excel in (design) are perseverance, patience, artistic skill, awareness of audience and a mind that’s brimming with potentially viable stylistic and conceptual forms of expression.” (Krause pg. 160)

 

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About Brandon Meyer

I have worked as a web and graphic designer and was originally a design major before deciding to transfer to anthropology with the goal of advancing to Design Anthropology. I am now moving on into my Master's in Design anthropology in the pioneering program at the University of North Texas. Even before discovering the promising field of Design Anthropology, I viewed anthropology as an avenue for design inspiration through a deeper dive into peoples lived experiences within the cultural melting pot. However, my foray into anthropology broadened my perspective and inevitably presented challenges to popular conceptions of representation, innovation, and progress. Design Anthropology is a new field between anthropology and design that has culminated from decades of collaboration in design and HCI, including participatory design, CSCW, ubiquitous computing, UX and user-centred design. Drawing from participatory- speculative- and critical-design, DA reimagines human-centred design by situating and critically engaging design concept and process with everyday life as both a resource for and outcome of design. While traditional ethnographic research continues to play a role, Design Anthropologists conduct speculative fieldwork both of, and within, codesign events as a new line of inquiry into "the possible". Exploring emerging practices, meaning-making, and assemblages as matters of concern in moments of change and innovation as well as the codesign events themselves as collaborative, generative activities. My approach therefore is not as an anthropologist working in the field of design, but to practice Design Anthropology as an emerging field within design. Following the dictum of Design Anthropology that design is not merely a final, prescribed, solution to straightforward problems, but is a temporally and socially embedded arena that inhabits a wide range of perspectives of lived experiences where practices of use are continuously improvised and recontextualized.

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