Design & Color, Winter 2017 week 4

The fourth session of the Design and Color class for Winter 2017 was held on Wednesday, January 25. The new homework assignment is to explore opportunities for modular design using a geometric shape instead of a toothpick. Students shared more cardboard roll creations and modular toothpick designs, and Karen shared a clear and thorough presentation on understanding design programs.

Homework assignment

Create a design incorporating a single module which, like the toothpick design,
is programmed to produce a larger system without preconception.

Download (PDF)

Class recap – some key ideas

Critique – Ongoing assignment: On a roll

Before the class shared their recent On A Roll creations, Dick spoke for a moment on his observations of the week before. He had noticed the class seemed to be more focused on the idea of a final result (a finished object) rather than exploring the “what if’s” of the cardboard roll. He mentioned this as being indicative of a mind set that is trained to be productive and not waste time – the “Puritan work ethic” – versus having fun with the cardboard without expectations ­– the “playground”.

He asked us to focus our thinking along those lines of play and curiosity, and reminded us that the habit of asking “what if” will cause you to look at the world differently. This habit will help you “not get locked in with these [self-imposed] barriers, or fall in lockstep” with what the rest of the world is doing. His directive? KEEP PLAYING.

Check out the photo gallery to see what students shared. Some explorations were inspired by what other students had shown last week, resulting in a synthesis of ideas. Others were inspired by a spirit of “I wonder what would happen if…”

View all On a roll assignments submitted online.

Discussion – Design or Decoration?

One student mentioned planning to decorate a roll creation later, which prompted Dick to ask, “When is it decoration, and when is it design?” (See handout in Class Materials section below.)

Mary related that her daughter is an interior designer, and her daughter does not appreciate it when people refer to the job as ‘interior decorator’. Mary sees an interior designer as designing space, in that the design has to respond to the flow of events and movements that occur not just in a room, but the whole house. An interior designer is not merely matching the color of the wallpaper to the curtains, which would be along the lines of ‘decorating’.

Chris commented that decorating is more about surface treatment, while designing goes to the core of the situation. She summed it up succinctly as, “Design is about relationships and problem-solving.” This is exactly what this class is about.

Design is about relationships and problem-solving.

Critique – Assignment 3, Programmed design: Toothpick module exploitation

Karen presented her design program exploration (see the full presentation in the Class Materials section below) before the class shared their toothpick designs, which was an excellent segue into the homework critique. Dick asked the class to identify in each design: What is the module? What is the program? And does that program continue, or does it deviate at some point?

One of the most successful results came from Patt, who had designed a very simple system. She glued her unfolding progression to a black board, and then photographed it so that she could continue the sequence on her computer. She had realized that the final result would be huge if she tried to do it all with actual toothpicks, so it was easier to finish the complete design using digital means. And it was a “Wow!” Her design showed beautifully what happens when we follow a program through to its logical conclusion.

View all Toothpick module exploitation assignments submitted online.

Class materials

The following slide shows and videos will be very helpful as we move into the next homework assignment, which adds the elements of shape and color. Instead of the toothpick, students will have the freedom to create their own shape/module, while also using color in a programmed and systematic way.

Presentation: Understanding a design program

The class listens to Karen’s presentation on modules and programs

Karen spent time last week figuring out how the Punahou student toothpick design from last week was built, and gave a presentation making the modules and programming explicit.

Summing up, she said that modular design programs:

  • Are based on inherent qualities of the module
  • Have initial conditions / setup
  • Have rules, with elements of change and restraint
  • Repeat, following rules – this is the program

We are studying them because programs can be a powerful and creative tool in your artistic toolbox.


The PDF below contains the slides and speaker’s notes (17 pages, 5 MB).

Download (PDF)

Download (PDF)


Array and matrix concepts

The assignment requires that module color changes be programmed according to an array or matrix. Watch these brief videos to become familiar with the concepts of color arrays and matrixes, which Dick has found guarantee creating colors which relate, sometimes to magical effect.

Modular design Illustrator tutorial

Here’s a 10-minute video, in which Dick gives some tips on setting up an Illustrator workspace, working with shapes and colors, and demonstrates creating, duplicating, and transforming a quarter-circle module, and arranging it into a possible larger module.

Here are approximate time codes for some of the topics:
0:00 Setting up the workspace, grids
2:40 Shapes
4:00 Colors
5:15 Quarter circle with pen tool
7:40 Scaling, duplicating, reflecting, arranging

Array and matrix Illustrator tutorials

This video details how to create an array from black to white in Illustrator. The concept can be easily extended to create arrays between any colors and/or shapes.

Extending the array concept into two dimensions creates a matrix, in which 4 corner colors generate a family of colors which all relate to each other.