Outside the Box: A new packaging book by Gail Anderson!

It is always a wonderful day when your friend’s do awesome things. Makes you feel proud and lucky to be able to stand next to such talented people. In this case, it is my mentor and friend Gail Anderson, a NYC-based designer, writer, educator, and co-owner of Anderson Newton Design. If you don’t know about her career and work, it is definitely inspiring and worth taking a closer look. She has worked at places like Rolling Stone and SpotCo, all the while teaching at SVA. Add to that, cranking out books on modernist type and found type (just since I’ve known her) and you have a person that knows how to work hard and produce some absolutely wonderful work.

Her most recent book is called Outside the Box and features packaging utilizing hand-lettering from designers and illustrators around the world. I was lucky enough to receive a lovely copy of the book and I can’t put it down. Projects range from those you might have seen and wondered who did them (Chipotle) to projects/designers/illustrators you’ve never even seen, but definitely should start following on Instagram! What’s even better is that there are process photos included of how these concepts came to be. It’s not always about the final artifact, but the journey of how you arrived there. Enough of my chit-chat. It’s time to see the book!

Outside The Box

Outside the Box Chapters

Outside the Box: Chipotle

Outside the Box: Chipotle Close Up

Outside the Box: Process

Outside the Box: Foodie Garden

Did I get your attention? Good! This is an amazing book and would be a great addition to any bookshelf (designer or not). Be sure to check out Amazon or your local book store to pick up a copy!

Design Your Own Parklet!

I remember when I first arrived to my Wallingford neighborhood and walked around, that every way I turned people had put in raised gardens filled with flowers and veggies in the space between the sidewalk and the road. I thought it was GENIUS! That space, often called an easement (which is usually owned by the city) always seemed like a waste of space if left empty. Apparently Seattle also agreed and allowed the space to work for its citizens and gave me wonderful things to admire while I took my evening strolls.

Easement Gardens

Well, Seattle has done it again in the form of a parklet. Supposedly originating in San Francisco (I swear Europe has been doing this for centuries, but I digress), the first parklet (or a streatery in some circles) was established in 2005 and was open for 2 hours as an installtion. Since then more long-term parklets have popped up around the city. The official definition of a parklet is “the process of converting a parking space [or two] into a small public ‘park.’ Parklets are, in effect, an extension of the sidewalk into the street, exchanging private auto space for additional public gathering space.” To be clear too, the idea is that these parkelts are truly public spaces and not just extensions of restaurants or cafes. A parklet for everyone!

The first parklet I saw was last year, just down the block from my apartment in Wallingford in front of Molly Moon’s Ice Cream. The overflow from that store on any non-freezing day is crazy! People are usually spilling out into the street, taking up parking spots anyways, just milling around consuming yummy goodness. So why not give the people what they want? The parklet felt like it appeared overnight, but obviously had been planned and well thought out. It offers up seating for two-legged and four-legged alike, lush plants, and an overall vibe of invitation to sit and chat for a while.

Wallingford Parklet, Seattle

The most recent parklet I literally stumbled upon is on The Ave and 42nd Street in the University District. If you’ve spent anytime on The Ave you know that it is not typically a place that you just hang out. Usually it is very stressed out students that are running to get food in to-go containers and then briskly walking back onto campus which is a mere block away. But the parklet is sending a different message now: It says, “Stop in, slow down, and sit for a while.” Admittedly, “hearing” that message when standing in a torrential downpour of rain doesn’t seem all that appealing, but once spring arrives, you can bet that parklet will have a waiting line around the block!

University District Parklet

Not seeing a parklet that is to your liking? Wish you had a swing or possibly even a sandbox? Not a problem! The Seattle Department of Transportation really wants to support citizens of Seattle to start building these parklets. They have made an extensive, but very accessible step-by-step guide to help you through all the stages (brainstorming, planning, construction, etc.) of getting a parklet in your neighborhood! See the full PDF here. So gather your creative peeps, download the guide, and get to brainstorming!

Not from Seattle, but still interested in getting a parklet in your neighborhood? You would be surprised how many cities across the United States already are dedicated to the idea of parklets. Google “Parklet Guidelines, [your city name here]” and you should find at least initial information to get your project rolling. Good luck!

The inspiration of watching process.

I grew up watching Bob Ross on PBS practically every day during the 1980s. He was an artist that literally completed a painting in an hour and it was just him standing with his canvas, his palette of colors and his brushes. That’s it. No fancy backdrops, no guest speakers, no background music. The show was entirely about Bob, his ability to paint “happy trees,” and create something from nothing. It was about his soothing voice as he tutted through his process. (Watch a full episode here).

PBS Remix-Happy Painter

PBS was on to something, maybe without even knowing it. People are fascinated with how something arrives from nothing. Now, you can’t throw a stick without seeing a tv show about building a tree house or learning how a potato chip is made. But sometimes I just want to see pure process again. The endless interviews usually drive me a bit batty and force me to change the channel. But sometimes I get lucky and come across a fantastic illustrator who knows how to put a process video together.

Camille Rose Garcia, is an illustrator based out of LA. Influenced by her Mexican activist filmmaker father and a muralist/painter mother Camille became interested in creating narrative and wasteland fairytales with a style all her own. Her work always seems to be a study in contrasts. Her style allows for the creepy and the beautiful to mix, and at times still retain that Disney-like polish that is applied to many classic fairytales these days.

Camille Rose Garcia: Snow White

What’s even better is that she has created a video that shows her illustration process and it’s nothing short of fantastic! Between the polka music in the background, her use of a hoof ink pot, and her actual illustration techniques, it is no wonder I have watched this video close to six times already. It may not be the same as Bob Ross, but really, what is? hehe Enjoy!

Making Resolutions…To Not Define Yourself.

New Year Resolutions

Welcome back! I hope each of you had a wonderful holiday season full of yummy food, exceptional company, and a few adventures. As we all pull ourselves back into our daily routines that sadly do not include our pjs as day wear, I cannot help but hear all the talk about New Year’s Resolutions. Personally, I stopped making resolutions years ago. They seem absolutely useless to me. I whole-heartedly believe that people can change, but to arbitrarily put forth self-defining, and possibly limiting, edicts about your personality, character, and life on a cloudy day in December sounds a little cuckoo to me. Then to add insult to injury, on January 1 everyone’s newsfeed is flooded with articles and studies on how it will be impossible to keep those resolutions. Count me out.

But what does this have to do with design? A whole lot, according to a recent article from Fast Company entitled The Most Important Design Jobs of the Future. The article discusses the 18 design jobs that are currently in the process of developing and those that are perhaps more 3-5 years out ranging from a Human Organ Designer to a Fusionist. How exciting is that? The unknown design frontier! It was the quote from Seattle’s own Dave Miller, a recruiter at the design consultancy Artefact that really got my brain whirling in overdrive: “Over the next five years, design as a profession will continue to evolve into a hybrid industry that is considered as much technical as it is creative.”

The more I ask people across multiple fields what they professionally do and get the response, “It’s a little hard to define,” and interview for jobs at companies with vastly different ideologies, it is clear the traditional boundary lines for jobs are coming down in a big way. If we only stuck to the the well-defined and known spaces, none of those 18 design positions would begin to exist. There are still technical skills that are required for different design positions, but that is becoming increasingly secondary to the additional knowledge/views you are bringing to your position. An example would be that my knowledge of learning system theories and often anthropological approach to problem spaces, which I have always had and used in my design work, has become a big topic of conversation recently. My design skills are considered a given now and it’s the “extra” that people really want to know about. Yay! So what does that make me now?

To answer my own question, I no longer know. That answer would have TERRIFIED me just six months ago, but in an attempt to live by my own wordy example, I have tried to stop defining myself by often very restrictive definitions a while back. Definitions that had me missing opportunities, not taking chances, and questioning myself at every turn. In a sense, I boxed myself in. To say the least, I did not like it. Sometimes it is not about putting your well-defined stake(s) in the ground and changing yourself for the supposed better, but allowing yourself to just exist between the boundary lines and be open to evolving at a moment’s notice. As one of my most supportive and antagonizing (yes, they can co-exist) professors once stated to me in one of my more evolutionary periods of grad school, “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Wise words indeed.

Turning it all off for the holidays.

I work hard. Like really hard. When I interview for jobs or talk to students about what I do when I’m not grading all of their sketchbooks and projects, I list out all the things I’m working on. Usually before I actually finish the list people look completely overwhelmed or just stop me (If you want a full list, I’ll be happy to relay it to you). These days I always chuckle a little bit at this literally repetitious situation.

I really like to work...

Through the direct teachings of my parents and watching my grandparents who were raised in the Depression Era, I learned that working hard was a skill like everything else. That not everyone had it, but by having that skill it would take care of me. It certainly has. I have earned a lot of opportunities and had a lot of successes by working hard. Through teaching, I have also been able to pass it on to another generation of designers. That feels pretty damn good. Plus, I also just like working. It makes me feel like I’m contributing to society and luckily I chose a field that I love, so I don’t mind working on design every single day. Then sometimes you just have to work too. It’s called bills. It’s called being an adult. We’re a big club and we meet every Tuesday…hehe

However, it has taken me years of working 15-18 hour days on all my various projects, to realize that sometimes you just have to turn it all off. Don’t worry, I’m not fighting the battle on technology over-use today. But at some points in your life, you have to decide to power down and let things rest. There are 100 analogies for this from letting a souffle rest before serving it or putting a garden to “bed” over the winter so it can replenish its nutrients for the next year. Same goes for us.

It was only today that I looked up, saw a calendar and realized that Christmas is NEXT WEEK. I retraced my days on the calendar, tried to figure out where I had lost a day here and there and still came to the conclusion the Christmas is next week. So it was then that I realized that it was time to step back and turn it all off. Finish what I needed to do professionally, and then when it was all done, to put down my hard-working badge of honor. Harder than you might think. But you can do it. Regardless of which holiday you celebrate during this time, make the conscious decision to go be with some people you love, try out that new recipe you’ve been considering for weeks, and just switch into a different (and well-deserved) gear.

By taking my own advice, this will be my last blog post until January 5. I hope each of you have a really wonderful holiday season and you decide to turn it all off for a while and tend to the other aspects of yourself, other than your hard-working self. You’ll be happy you did.

Envisioning a spectacular future with Microsoft.

When I think of the future my mind instantly jumps to a very sci-fi view of the world with flying cars and robotic dogs. Popular movies and tv shows certainly like to weigh in on this topic (Guardians of the Galaxy, below). But if I think about it more seriously, it gets a little greyed out, creating these vignettes of possibility. Some are positive and show a world where we have overcome our differences and learned to live a more sustained and harmonious life together. Another is a little darker, considering what will happen if we don’t get several major issues figured out or stop ignoring natural crisis that could effectively end civilization as we recognize it. Then there is that zombie apocalypse version, but no one wants to entertain that idea for very long…haha

Artwork by Oliver Pron

Somewhere in the middle is probably closer to reality. But that vignette still needs guidance, a view point, a creative and innovative spirit to make its prophecy come true. Having spent several years in Seattle now, I have had some very interesting conversations with people and been closer to technological, scientific, and cultural advances than I have in my entire life. It’s exhilarating, if you don’t take it for granted.

Luckily, I don’t. Last week I had the pleasure of getting to sit down and talk with two designers from the Microsoft Productivity Envisioning team who’s job it is to envision life 10-15 years in the future (Consider the technological advances in just the last three years!). Alanna MacGowan is a Designer and Thomas Ham is an Experience Designer and they are a riot! Cracking jokes, doing impressions, and poking fun at each other as only a truly harmonious team can be. It was nice to interact with a kick-ass design team that was humble, human, and capable of any herculean task put before them.

One might think that envisioning the future needs to be people in lab coats with stern faces. Not at Microsoft. They take their responsibility seriously, but they understand that to see the future, you can’t strangle it. The Envisioning Team believes that the future will be centered around people and the technology that supports them in their lives. Want to see what that bright future might look like? Watch their vision video below!

This video is exceptional all on its own, but to be able to watch it with a running commentary by the people who created all of it and their thoughts behind their decisions? I am one lucky person. What is even more fascinating is that they were very aware that they did not want to produce a science fiction video. So much of the technology you see presented is truly going to be a possibility in 10-15 years. That is AMAZING!

The future just got a little more interesting to think about. To see the full Microsoft Envisioning website (and I suggest you take a look!) CLICK HERE.

Best way to learn new things? Talk with your smart friends!

I am a very lucky person. I have managed to seek out and surround myself with some incredibly smart people. Different type of smarts too: culinary, scientific, farming, emotional, technology, design, craft, gardening, parenting, card playing, fashion, historical, and a myriad of topics I’m sure I haven’t even tapped into.

It is also well known that I am a knowledge sponge: If I can learn something new, you can bet I want to and most likely I want to learn it from a person! I use the internet just like everyone else to get a base foundation, but the connection I feel when I converse about knowledge is something pretty special. Not only do I better my life for the skills I’m learning, but I tie it to my connection to that person. It makes for a pretty great mental library of knowledge/skills and exceptional people.

Photo Credit: Scott Ichikawa, 2015

Recently I was talking to one of these exceptional people, a Mr. Josh Klekamp, a Visual and Interaction Designer based in Seattle. To me, he is the guru to all things websites and apps. This is partially due to how we met each other, which was in grad school, and then as he attempted to instill some website knowledge into a bunch of VCD students. Josh always did like a challenge…haha Since that occasion, he has been a wealth of knowledge and a Website Fairy Godfather on numerous occasions.

Recently we were remedying a website situation over a few beers (I was distracted petting his dog Rue) and Josh asked if I had heard of Marvel? I of course first thought of superheroes, but was shortly enlightened that it is actually a new (and free!) mobile and web prototyping tool. As we all know, the best tools are those that leverage existing user technologies, not requiring us to learn yet another approach to trying to prototype user interactions in a more realistic way for testing and review.

Marvel connects with your Dropbox account (woohoo!), allowing you to easily make your user interface mockup files, add your hotspots, and if you end up wanting to make a quick visual change, make it and your prototype syncs with the updated file! While seemingly simple, that is what makes it awesome! The simpler the better. Every company will have their prototyping apps they use the most, but it never hurts to know what’s new and how people are approaching the same issues as you. Could be something to bring up at that next weekly design meeting!

Take a look at their demo video and let me know what you think. Have a prototyping tool you like better? Tell me all about it in the comments section!

Tipoteca Italiana Fondazione: Rediscovering the past today.

Luckily, not everything has to be hard work. In this day and age, you can’t throw a smartphone and not find a service or process that hasn’t been streamlined for supposed ease. However, there is something very satisfying about putting in a focused effort that has an equal output. A 1:1 ratio, if you will. From an early age its been my version of everyone’s fascination and expectation of instant gratification. With letterpress printing, the amount of effort I put into setting up for a print is usually damn near equal to the success of the final print. I move each weighty block of letter form to the satisfying clicking of lead on steel as I lock them into place. From materials that were once the epitome of strength, there comes a tactile interlude unlike I have ever experienced.

You feel connected to the long lineage of printers that stood in that exact spot, to do the exact act, you are about to do. It can be as reverent of a moment as standing in a church. What is even better is that I am not alone in my ability to wax poetically about letterpress printing. Some can even do it in Italian. I am obviously referring to Tipoteca Italiana, easily one of the three original cradles of letterpress printing culture in the world. Started in 1995 in Corunda, Italy to capture and sustain Italian printing culture since the Industrial Revolution, the Fondazione not only houses a museum, but a working shop that has almost every type of press you can think of and more type cases of wooden and cast type than I could begin to count.

Now, I see where the future of society is going in terms of communication. I’m a designer, I have to. If I want to continue to help shape this world then I have to be on board, which I most definitely am. But I see my extensive knowledge of letterpress printing as just another facet of understanding design, of being a designer. As a designer, how can I know where I’m going if I don’t know where I’ve been?

The Art of Design Persuasion

I am currently co-teaching a Masters of Human Centered Interaction + Design (MHCI+D) course in ideation at the University of Washington. The class is focused on ideation and sketching, but we decided that it would be good to introduce them to some visual design principles so that they could more effectively communicate their ideas to their audiences.

One of the sections was about hierarchy and how that can be used to not only break their ideas into smaller chunks of information that are easier for the audience to understand, but as the designer, you can decide what information your viewer sees first. It was this small, but important point that one of my students latched on to: If there is all this control, can’t you present information in a different order to change the truth? Talk about a loaded question.

Of course my initial response was that yes, that is exactly what these design principles can be used for, but you should only use it for good! (Envision me with my pom poms cheerleading for design at the front of the lecture at this point…haha). Then as a teacher, someone that is supposed to guide and influence their thinking, I really struggled to think of the right way to answer it. It was an ethical question that I know I had struggled with in the past, but hadn’t given it a ton of thought recently. Luckily over the next week, several things presented themselves, forcing me to think about that concept even more.

Shortly afterwards, I discovered an article that had been written by National Geographic called How to Make Maps and Influence People. The article discusses the use of persuasive cartography or propaganda maps throughout history.  Propaganda is defined by Webster as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” Sound familiar?

“The Awakening” Newly incorporated western states gave women the vote well before those in the East, partly for the purpose of increasing their electoral power. This 1915 cartoon from Puck magazine celebrates the arrival of universal suffrage in the West—and suggests that Lady Liberty is headed east. Two years later New Yorkers voted to expand the franchise.

Now history is littered with these little gems. As stated in the article, “We depend on maps every day—to navigate, to check the weather, to understand the world. Perhaps because maps typically depict the real world, they are one of the most trusted forms of visual communication.” This article makes a great point early on: there is some inherent trust that comes along with every piece of visual communication that is made. It looks legitimate, polished, and usually trustworthy. However, once you learn these design principles, you’ve seen behind the curtain. You know that these skills can be used to easily not tell the truth.

So what is a designer to do? The point of showing these maps is to acknowledge that once these visual design principles are learned, there is a responsibility that is shouldered by that designer. These principles are powerful tools, regardless of if they are used for good, bad, or the gray area. They should be treated as such. At the end of the day, each person with these skills will always sit at an intersection of their ethics, deciding if they’re comfortable with their actions or not.

Now I didn’t leave my student hanging. I knew I had to come up with an answer that would not only satisfy them, but myself as a designer and an educator. I wavered for a few moments and then finally found my thread of truth. I explained that now that she had been taught these skills, it was her responsibility to decide how she used them throughout her career. As her teacher, I told her it was my responsibility to guide her in our time together and positively reinforce the importance of these skills. As a designer, she had done me a favor by making me question my own motives and ethics behind my skills, and subsequently all of my readers.

Consider the Hippocratic Oath taken by new physicians. In it they promise to uphold their ethical standards and basically use their clearly powerful skills for good. Everyone understands that there will be times when they have to make tough calls or moments of uncertainty, but at their core is that oath. Once I discovered the power of design, I always wondered why we didn’t have to take an oath. Perhaps I just found my new project…

The Hippocratic Oath

View the full, high-resolution P.J. Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography at Cornell University here. There are some really spectacular examples!

Have your own view on design and ethics? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Inspiration is the key to a happy creative!

Designers are collectors. Whether you have actual flat files full of ephemera or you wear the newest piece of technology, we collect the things that inspire us. Even the most minimalist designer will have a few key pieces on their walls that are highlighted to really let them shine. I personally have many inspirations that range from vintage fabrics from the 1920s (where do you think I get my color palettes?) to educational charts and books. I know other designers that collect bottle caps, match books, comic books, magazine spreads, vintage cameras, sewing patterns, maps, and the list goes on. Anything can be inspiring to the right person.

Vintage 1930s Fabric

We also get a charge out of seeing what other designers are doing and what they’re interested in. Designers are inherently curious folks. We can’t help ourselves. The only upside to critiques in school was that we got to see what everyone else was doing! So when I was researching designers for an upcoming book project, I happened to come across Andrea D’Aquino, a woman that resists titles such as designer, illustrator, art director, but instead tries to exist between.

Her work is EXCEPTIONAL. Between her new rendition of Alice in Wonderland and the Moroccan-inspired backdrops she created for Anthropologie, I didn’t know where to start first. Needless to say, I was on her site for about an hour, pouring over her work. Her work is definitely mixed-media, with each piece pictorially telling a narrative that is so simple, you know it took her a fair amount of time to tell such a nuanced story. Each time you view her work, you can always find something new that you most likely missed the first time. This is why her work is perfect to keep coming back to for inspiration.

Alice in Wonderland: Andrea D'Aquino (Alice in Wonderland. Copyright Andrea D’Aquino)

Anthropologie: Moroccan Series (Andrea D'Aquino)

Anthropologie: Moroccan Series (Andrea D'Aquino)(Anthropologie: Moroccan Series. Copyright Andrea D’Aquino)

So who knows when the influence of this inspiration will strike, but it never hurts to keep the coffers full! Want to see more? Check out Andrea D’Aquino’s full site here.  What inspires you? Share it in the comments section below!