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!

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!


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.


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.


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!


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).