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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.

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?

THIS IS DESIGN.SCHOOL: A podcast for designers everywhere.

No matter how much success a designer achieves, they are still human. They can still get nervous before a client pitch, get creative block on projects, and swoon for their own design idols. They also went to design school, just like you and me. They suffered through critiques, didn’t understand the difference between sans serif and serif fonts, and probably also tried to lop off their fingers when trimming out a final project. Every designer has humble beginnings, even if their work is the most epic you have ever seen.

Remembering these facts is what makes THIS IS DESIGN.SCHOOL podcasts so interesting. Based in the PNW, they were started by designers Chad P. Hall (below left) and Jp Avila (below right) in 2014 “for those interested in design, starting a career in design, or needing a reminder of why they went into design.” Each month they interview a newly minted designer, a seasoned professional, or a design academic.

What makes these podcasts so endearing is that they are a great equalizer. It frankly doesn’t matter what level the interviewee is at in their career: They come across as humans just trying to figure out their careers, beliefs about design, and how not to be nervous doing their first podcast. It doesn’t hurt that Chad and Jp’s voices are so soothing to listen to either.

Chad P. Hall (left) & Jp Avila (right)

This month they have interviewed Taylor Cox, a newly minted designer that decided that sitting in front of a computer screen everyday wasn’t for her. Letterpress printing had claimed her design heart. She founded Coxswain Press and now fills her days climbing inside Heidelberg Presses, perfecting her kerning skills, and attempting not to get lead poisoning. (No one said letterpress printing was for the faint of heart!).

All Aboard the Struggle Bus

Want to hear more? Check out the full podcast here!

Be sure to visit THIS IS DESIGN.SCHOOL every month for their newest podcast installment. You never know who they’ll find to fill their air waves.

Swiss Watchmaker is Teaching Apprentices for FREE

If you know me, you know that education and how that is approached is very important to me. It wouldn’t be a reach to say that it’s my soap box. Give me a little room and I can seriously bend your ear. Growing up under the dedicated eye of two public school teachers, I spent many evenings listening to my parents discussing the best approaches to education, the value of different methods and the hope that one day “the people in charge” would see that everyone learns differently (including differently from subject matter to subject matter).

My thesis even had a huge component to it that dealt with the power of learning design through a seemingly antiquated method of education: the master, apprentice, and a community of practitioners. However, the more I delved into it, the more examples I found where that method was alive and well. It even exists in our highest-esteemed fields of study, law and medicine.

The most recent example that I came across is in high-end watchmaking. Patek Phillipe, a 175 year old watchmaking company based in Switzerland recently announced that they have opened a new apprentice program in New York City. The twist? It’s free. Their need for watchmakers is soaring as those who love mechanically-based watches outnumbers those who can maintain them. But don’t pack your bags just yet. Out of 300 applicants they took six. Applicants need skills in so many areas that getting that right mix, well, it doesn’t come along everyday.

Not sure what you’re missing out on? Check out this video by Patek Phillippe that chronicles the most complicated watch they have ever made. The reverent tones that play in the background truly makes you marvel at the engineering, design, and artistry that goes into making such a watch. It’s worth watching the full 10 minute video. I promise.

I do not even know the price of such a piece, but I urge you not to look it up for fear of passing out from disbelief! But just remember that the old watch you have in your drawer somewhere, its humble mechanics is spawned out of something exceptional, and quite possibly timeless.

 

 

Spotify: Quietly Introducing Listening Data for Our Pleasure.

I always knew that data was important, but had I ever really stopped to consider its use more deeply? No, not really. To be completely honest, I think my closest interaction with data was when I was a child and received my monthly subscription of National Geographic (example below). They made these beautiful figures and graphics trying to explain a data set, a supporting process, mapping, etc. I was always amazed at how they packed all that data in there, but then usually immediately turned the page to see the baby seals. (Who doesn’t love baby seals? I was 9 years old.)

National Geographic: Superstorm of 2100

When I went back to school for the second time, that is when I finally realized how interesting data can be when it is corralled to tell a compelling story. Between taking an information design class with Professor Karen Cheng (truly the Information Design Queen), and co-founding Science by Design with Gregory Quetin that brought together scientists and designers to discuss communication methods, I quickly learned how kick-ass data can be.

Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I accidentally ran across Spotify using their listener’s data on which artists they listen to, how often, and what cities listen to an artist the most. Spotify is a Swedish music-streaming company that started in 2008. As of 2015 they had over 75 million active listeners. 75 MILLION PEOPLE. Now privacy issues aside for a moment (I signed the agreement. I knew what I was getting into for $4.99), that is an amazing amount of potential data collection! Especially about a topic that is brought up on every dating website, is a go-to for small talk at parties, and the cause for many a breakup after a road trip.

If you saunter over to your Spotify application, you can follow along at home. Type in your favorite artist (Yes, I like John Mayer. Moving it right along…) Then click on “About.” Instead of the usual glib drivel that sounds like it came from Perez Hilton’s celebrity blog, I saw stats and was instantly drawn in.

Spotify

Yes, I could still read about John Mayer and view pictures of his bizarre outfits (I seriously remember him being cooler back in the day), but more importantly I could see how many people were listening to him today, monthly, and how he ranked in the world compared to other artists. Apparently his listening stock was up that day. When I had checked the day before only 7, 624 people had listened to him and his little triangle was down.

Spotify

Then Spotify took it a step further and let you know which cities in the world listened to him the most. In other words, if Seattle didn’t work out for me, I have 5 other cities that would accept me with open, John Mayer-loving arms.

Now in my head, I am certainly asking a few questions about how this could be presented better. I wanted to be able to click on the stats and cities or perhaps have hover states that would garner me additional information. But no such luck. From a more data accuracy standpoint, I’m sure I could show this to any one of my data savvy friends and they would have questions about how Spotify arrived at their findings.

But what Spotify did do, is as a user, I instantly felt like I was part of a community; A 12,490 person community and each of them knew just how much John Mayer spoke to my soul that day. Seems perhaps small and insignificant at first, but stop and think about it: I believe that a lot of people think that data is cold and unfeeling, perhaps incomprehensible, doesn’t apply to them, and the myths continue. But in a very simple way, Spotify took their data relating to something almost every person in the world loves, and used it to make a tighter community of their users. Simple, and very effective.

I have a feeling this feature is relatively new and that Spotify is just coming around to the idea of displaying their fascinating data and will continue to bring that to their users in diverse and interesting ways. Their enhanced UX definitely had this designer spending more time checking out her favorite artists to see how they ranked, rather than just clicking on a playlist and getting on with her day. Well played Spotify. Well played.

Chapter One…Wait, what?

Dear Readers,

It certainly has been a while. Just a little over two years since I last wrote. I didn’t completely stop writing, I just put those efforts toward more scholarly pursuits, writing about design education, and where I thought the future of design might go. Which by the way, it’s nomadic. Peripatetic Nomads to be exact. Feel free to request that gem of a paper. I may have had had a temperature of 103˚ when I wrote it, but it actually makes a few good points…But I digress.

I am proud to say that I completed my Masters of Design this year in June. It was a wild ride. I have met so many amazing people: Classmates, professors, students, friends, collaborators. Between being in a new part of the country, which in many ways was a culture that required assimilation, and surrounding myself with these new perspectives, its truly been a growing and enriching time in my life.

I got to work on some really interesting projects that ranged from understanding how and what we feed 30.7 million students through school lunches every day to creating a smart wearable that could intervene in sexual assault in alcohol-fueled situations. There was no topic off limits. And then there was my thesis. My completely beautiful and life-altering project that not only focused on my favorite things (people, education, and making), but allowed me to really dig in. When you’re in such a project, it feels like it will swallow you whole, but eventually you find (or damn, weave it yourself) that golden thread that connects all your thoughts together into something that isn’t too shabby in the end.

So I’m picking up where I left off. A little older (I have the gray hairs to prove it). A few more experiences in my back pocket (remind me to tell you about trying to cook a geoduck…). But ultimately, I’m starting fresh. Little did I know that the learning process was just beginning again. Or rather it never ended. (Prosaic, I know, but bears stating now and again!)

Check back in each week as I share the new and interesting things I learn about design, the people involved, and the inspiration behind it all. Have a topic you find interesting? Drop me a line and let me know. I’m sure I’ll want to learn about it too!

Sincerely,
Abigail

MDes 2015 CohortThis is my Master of Design Cohort at our thesis exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery (2015).
From left to right (Scott, Shagheyegh, Me, Ryan, Kun). 

The Creative Process

Oh the creative process. I have to sigh before even writing this post because if you are a creative, then you can know the joys and woes that come along with the words “creative process.” I have often said that it’s a marvel and a curse. It’s a marvel that such a process exists where you start from nothing and in what seems like magic, something beautiful, wonderful, insightful, fantastic, and tantalizing presents itself and the world is saved once again (yes, it can totally feel like that).

The curse comes when that process betrays you. Each creative has their own process and they are as varied as there are stars above. But sometimes that process gets stopped or blocked. It is either someone else blocking our path because of budgets and asinine requests (insert the word “client/committee” here), which once you’ve been in the “creativity as a service” industry long enough, you kind of get the hang of dealing with them. But then what happens when YOU block yourself. When that innate part of you that you’ve always been able to call upon refuses to give you that spark of inspiration. Or refuses to run smoothly, where each step forward feels akin to running into a brick wall repeatedly. Oh yeah, it can feel like that. And mind you, all of this is taking place inside your head. Yikes…

But us creatives keep coming back for more. There are those of use who do turn their backs on their creativity and that spark because it’s too emotionally draining, but most of us keep coming back for more. We can’t help ourselves. To be without it would be to be missing part of ourselves. Plus, look at the tangible items that come from the creative process? Houses, planes, sculpture, spoons, posters, films, fashion, cars and the list goes on. Our world has seen some pretty freaking awesome things come from the creative process.

I’ve spent three paragraphs attempting to explain the creative process and didn’t even come close to it, if you haven’t experienced it yourself. But I came across a commercial for Dodge (It’s always the car companies. Damn them and their huge marketing budgets…) that attempts to show not only the creative process, but the process of specifically bringing a vision (car) into a reality.

So if you have a creative process, then you’ll definitely identify with the video. If you don’t have one, then you’ll get the most accurate version that I’ve seen of the creative process out there, even though it’s about cars. Enjoy!

Thwack, thwack, thwack, click, ding!

The Typewriter. For most of us, it was almost on it’s way out when we were born. Computers were finally starting to come around and while many adults were still comfortable with a typewriter, youngsters were charging forward with technology.

I still remember my mother telling me about her typewriting classes in high school, and how they would have a metronome going to keep people typing at the right speed. Oh, and her nails! Her instructor was always telling her she just had to cut her beautiful nails, but Mom persisted, and managed to keep up with your talon-like nails, which were all the rage at the time.

Or I remember my grandmother had one up in her spare bedroom and she always typed her stories on it to submit to the newspaper. Even though there was a computer down the hall, she only had eyes for the typewriter.

There was something very satisfying about hitting each key and hearing it twack against the paper, making a nice imprint on the smooth and pristine paper. Twack, twack, twack went the keys. Everyone knew when you were typing something up. Spies, be advised.

Now things could get tricky when you made a mistake. Me and the white out strips did not get along. Or when the ink ribbon decided to twist or when the carriage return jammed. They were not the easiest things to deal with: To complete anything it usually involved several curses, some sweat (remember how HEAVY those things were?) and a paper cut for sure. But you were always very satisfied when you finished. Not exactly the same feeling I get on a keyboard…but I digress.

The editor of UPPERCASE Magazine, a “magazine for the creative and curious”, developed this video as a way to raise money for the book entitled, The Typewriter: a Graphic History of the Beloved Machine. They look to still be taking donations! But just perusing the site and watching the video is great for anyone that is a designer, a collector, or someone with an aesthetic eye!

This post would not be possible without Lacy Kelly, who sends me all sorts of wonderful things that I would never know about without her! Thanks lady!