Design & Color, Winter 2017 week 7

The seventh session of the Design and Color class for Winter 2017 was held on Wednesday, February 15. We discussed recent media coverage of innovative and influential designers; shared more On A Roll creations; critiqued the homework; and Dick revealed the final assignment for the class, Find a Design Need.

Homework assignment – Find a design need

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Class recap – some key ideas

Design stories and exemplars

We began class by sharing design stories, with Dick asking the class, “Can you think of a time when you invented something that filled a need for you?” A few people shared examples, while most students knew that they had, but could not think of a direct example off the top of their head. Dick asked them to think about something that had frustrated them, or a situation that called for a quick fix or a creative answer to a sudden problem. To alleviate frustration, or help people by making life easier in some way, is often the starting point for new inventions (or updates on existing ones).

This topic led one student to share her experience watching a recent show, “Abstract: The Art of Design”, produced by Netflix. It is a design docuseries with eight episodes that showcase one designer per segment (featuring well-known names in the fields of illustration, graphic design, set design, photography, automobile industry, product design, architecture, and interior design). As the tag line says, “Step inside the minds of the most innovative designers in a variety of disciplines and learn how design impacts every aspect of life.” In the episode that Christine watched (Episode 2 – Tinker Hatfield: Footwear Design), she was struck by the designer’s statement about his work: “It’s not about self-expression, it’s about problem-solving.”

This prompted Dick to talk about the article and video clip he had sent out to the class the previous week about a British designer, Thomas Heatherwick. This innovative designer is known for his striking creations, including a redesign of the classic double decker bus in London; a rolling pedestrian bridge that curls up to allow boats to pass by, and his ethereal “seed cathedral” at the World Expo in Shanghai 2010. But what struck Dick the most about his interview was Heatherwick’s playful and curiosity-fueled mindset, a way of viewing life that leads him to consider all the alternatives, and especially the ones that most people write off as being ridiculous, bizarre, or impossible to build. In Heatherwick’s own words: “There’s great benefits to globalization and things that are wonderful and fantastic, but it means you need to put very deliberate effort now into helping things have their own soulfulness … Why do something if it already exists?” As Dick pointed out, this exemplifies the spirit of What if?

Critique – On a Roll

Students then shared this week’s round of cardboard creations, with most students expanding or refining previous ideas they had brought in. Cindy showed us the latest development of her lamp idea, where she had taken several of her previous cut out designs and spray painted them copper, also adding battery-powered candles to light the interior. The combination of copper color and little “caps” for the tops made them look very earthy and brought to mind toadstools or mushrooms found in the forest.

Patt decided to use some of the techniques others had used before, and incorporated weaving, shibori, and wet cardboard to make a covering for an old vase that had lost its original coating. The result was an engaging study in contrasting textures, and a showcase for how beautiful the cardboard could be on its own (without added colors or varnish).

Linda had brought in more bowls, and shared a hilarious story about her and Mary working together to try and flatten the cardboard “mush” as much as possible by using Mary’s car as the weight. The story delighted Dick with its example of “What if?” and he said that he could never have imagined the things people would come up with as a result of this assignment.

The logo on Dick’s website

Keri shared a mobile she had made based on Dick’s logo (as seen on his website, which is also an interactive tool to explore color combinations and CMYK mixing. Click on the logo on Dick’s website and see where it takes you!). Dick led another discussion on the what if’s of Keri’s design, and also the considerations a mobile has that makes it different from other forms of design (such as being a kinetic sculpture, focusing on balance and movement).

Critique – Exploit geometric shape modular design program

Modular paper design

A modular paper design by a Punahou student

Before beginning the critique, we took time to view this image of a paper sculpture done by a student of Dick’s while he was a teacher at Punahou School. This piece was done by scoring and bending paper, with little to no glue or tape to hold it together. The design was achieved with the same methods of natural progression (module and program) that we have been studying in this series.

The homework discussion focused on the ways students had used last week’s critique comments to further develop and refine their designs. Much of what Dick spoke about last week was continued here, with more commentary on identifying your color arrays (identification based on color and value); integrating figure and ground; and making sure the entire design (including shape, color, value, orientation, etc.) is related to its original DNA or blueprint. This last concept was further elaborated on by discussing the way shape and color could work together as they change to enhance the visual result. Dick recommended maintaining consistency through shape, scale, and color, so that as the color changes, so would the shape (or the scale of the shape). For example, if the artist chose an array with 11 color steps (2 parents and 9 children), then the shapes would also follow a pattern of 11 shape or scale changes. This kind of consistent progression in both shape and color would help create a sense of completion in the piece, or a “logical conclusion” as Dick likes to call it.

Most of all, Dick stressed again the importance of KNOWING YOUR OPTIONS, and it is the educated person who has true freedom, while the ignorant person remains trapped by their lack of alternatives. To check your available options, the best thing is to have a list of all the formal elements of your work, and to go through it systematically and thoroughly. Dick has created lists to use as a starting point, and it is a fantastic tool to help artists see where they may be making design choices on autopilot mode, and have ignored other possibilities.

A comment was raised about the seemingly endless variations you can create using the Illustrator program, and how overwhelming it can be to have so many options to choose from. We discussed that as another consideration of the artist or designer: when do you Converge on an idea? When do you stop the Expansion phase, and choose to add the fence posts and decide on the boundaries? Knowing when it is time to move on to the Convergence phase will be different for every project, but it is imperative that you do move on. For something to take shape in the real world, it has to have boundaries and limits, and sometimes, more is better: remember, restriction breeds creativity!

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Roll the Die

Before announcing the last assignment for next week, Dick asked everyone to spend a few minutes filling out their What If sheets from last week. The worksheet had 7 categories, listing components such as Container, Material, and Durability, and spaces for 6 different responses to those categories. Once everyone had filled out a sheet, Dick rolled a die and called out the numbers. After we had gone through every category, Dick asked each student to read out loud their particular combination of items.

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It was a fun and entertaining way to get our creative thoughts flowing, and some of the results recalled the game ‘Mad Libs’, where the answers don’t always make sense, but can be much more interesting than the ‘correct’ answers would have been!

Dick recommended playing this kind of game whenever an artist is feeling stuck or having ‘artist’s block’. By taking elements out of context, and combining things that our logical mind tells us don’t make sense, you can form new connections between what you had thought were previously unrelated components. Again, this is where Dick’s Objective Critique Guide is the perfect list to use for this activity, as he has already given us several categories to fill in with options.

Final assignment

Our last assignment asks us to address a design need or problem. What bothers you in daily life, or what do you think could be improved? Where do you see a problem that could be addressed, or a common complaint that could use an innovative solution? This assignment is more about looking and listening and being aware of the world around you than it is about the 6 phases of problem solving. As Dick wrote in the homework, “Time won’t allow for full closure on this assignment, but especially if we are first unable to recognize a NEED.” What does the world need, in large and small ways? We will find out next week!

Class photos