Archive for 2010|Yearly archive page

Ways of Seeing — the take away

In Design Theory on March 24, 2010 at 2:12 am

In the book Ways of Seeing, John Berger took his readers through the history of visual art, from classic paintings to modern advertisements. Combining written and pictorial essays, Berger discussed the artists’ or designers’ intentions behind their work, and the meanings of the paintings and ads to the audience. Early in the book, he discussed how the meanings of paintings change with time because culture and values are different. However, through the paintings, we can get a glimpse of what life was like during those times. He also discussed how paintings can be interpreted in all different directions, especially when they are presented without caption or when parts of the paintings are taken out of context.

In chapters three to five of the book, the author discussed how owners of oil paintings to show off their material possessions, including women. He presented the idea by displaying a large number of paintings with nude women. He talked about how women were historically viewed as objects, and, therefore, they viewed themselves as objects as well. This statement seems to be as accurate today as it was in ancient time. The difference is that, historically, women exposed themselves to succumb to the superiority of men; now, on the other hand, they do is as a voluntary act to seduce the opposite sex.

Toward the latter part of the book, Berger switched his focus to modern advertisements. In chapter seven, he explored billboards, print ads and window displays, and compared them to oil paintings. What he found was that designers of today employ the same methods that famous painters did — they design their work to depict material possessions and paint fantasy worlds. These fantasy worlds create desires and convince the audience that the product featured will enhance their dissatisfied lives once they buy it. This method has worked marvelously in our world of commerce. It created enormous wealth for a selected few. However, it has also destroyed nature.

The focus of today’s society is constantly changing, and graphic designers have great influence in what the focus may be. It is the graphic design community’s responsibility to steer the public’s focus onto the appropriate subjects, such as environment conservation. For those of us who live in the world of over-abundance, it is time to dedicate our energy and resources to help protect the delicate nature, truly create a better world.


Personal Aesthetics

In Applied Design on March 24, 2010 at 2:11 am

As I explored my personal aesthetics, minimalism came to mind. Every object that I put on the page has a purpose, and everything is carefully positioned with planned relationships with the rest to tell a story. My design style is classy yet contemporary. I find inspirations mostly in architecture and interior décor, but also in nature. The clean lines and structures found in buildings and contemporary European furniture heavily influence my design style. I also study other people’s design work to broaden my horizon and to train my brain to think in different directions. Due to my background, I thrive to bridge the gap sometimes found between beautiful designs and production. I keep the technical aspects in mind as I layout my work to make sure that the end product reflects my intentions.

Gestalt Definition

In Design Theory on March 18, 2010 at 8:38 pm

The Laws of Gestalt originated from the field of psychology. After a little research, I found a dictionary definition — “A physical, biological, psychological, or symbolic configuration or pattern of elements so unified as a whole that its properties cannot be derived from a simple summation of its parts” (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gestalt). Then, I found that Shippensburg University’s website states “Gestalt psychology is based on the observation that we often experience things that are not a part of our simple sensations” (http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/gestalt.html). For a more design-related definition, I found “Gestalt psychology attempts to understand psychological phenomena by viewing them as organized and structured wholes rather than the sum of their constituent parts” (http://www.interaction-design.org/encyclopedia/gestalt_principles_of_form_perception.html). While these all sound somewhat completed, gestalt can be defined as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Gestalt laws or principles explain how human beings form perceptions with the help of past experiences and, therefore, what we perceive can be different from reality.

Some of the more important gestalt principles include:

  • Similarity — Similar objects are often perceived as a group.
  • Continuation — Continuation occurs when the human eyes follow the direction from one object to another, perceiving separate objects as one.
  • Closure — When gaps appear between shapes, people tend to mentally close those gaps and form a perception of a whole object.
  • Proximity — Objects placed close together are often perceived as a group.
  • Figure and Ground — Different shapes that are formed by the foreground (figure) and background (ground).

I illustrated these principles below:

Gestalt Principles

Figure and Ground

Gestalt - figure and ground


Gestalt - closure


Gestalt - continuation


Gestalt - proximity


Gestalt - similarity




Cultural Differences in Symbols and Colors

In Design Theory on March 10, 2010 at 12:35 am

With the continuous technological advancements, societies around the globe are becoming closer together each day. Gone are the days when graphic designers create for their own culture. Nowadays, in order to successfully communicate to a wide audience, we must recognize the fact that things (objects, shapes, colors, etc.) carry different symbolic meanings to different cultures. Careful and thorough research effort is crucial before the design is published or we risk generating undesired controversy, or some big laughs.

One of the examples of symbols I found that has different meanings in different cultures is bats.

bat symbolizes demon and evil spirits in the west

bats mean good fortune in the east

Late Qing Dynasty wedding cake box — the bat is part of the overall design on the box as well as the metal closure

While the bat usually represents demons and evil spirits in the Western world, it symbolizes good fortune in Eastern countries.

Color is another design element that graphic designers must carefully consider when creating cross-cultural design work. In the Western culture, brides wear white on their wedding day because it signifies purity and righteousness. In China, on the other hand, it is a color of funeral, mourning, and death.

A few years ago, the paper crafting business here in the United States began selling some paper products bearing gold leaf as well as Chinese writing (see image below). It became an instant hit among crafters because of the popular Asian theme and the inherit meaning of luxury that gold leaf has in our world. What the merchants did not communicate was that this is joss paper (hell money) — something that Chinese people burn to send to their loved ones who have past away so they have money to spend in their after life.

joss paper

While the above example became an object of ridicule, some other mistakes can create much more significant consequences. Take the Flight 93 Memorial proposal for example. It was designed by Los Angeles architect Paul Muldoch to honor the 40 heroes who gave their lives taking down a terrorist on September 11, 2001 before the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. He named it “Crescent of Embrace.”

flight 93 memorial proposal

The design of the memorial generated much controversy because the overall shape of it resembles the crescent and the star on the Islamic flag. In this case, instead of a local designer created something that upset a foreign culture, it actually angered citizens of our own. Many have been petitioning to the government for a design change. I believe that the architect designed the memorial out of total respect and admiration toward the bravery of these heroes because another article detailed how exquisite the overall design is. This demonstrates how innocent design work can be interpreted in a total opposite direction when it is most unexpected.


Signs: Symbol, Index, and Icon

In Design Theory on March 8, 2010 at 12:13 am

A sign can be defined as a lettered or patterned board that conveys meaning, command, or directions. Another kind of sign is more intangible or spiritual, like, “a sign of success.” For a graphic design discussion, let’s stick to the first definition. Generally speaking, there are three types of signs: symbol, index and icon. Depending on the project requirements, we may be asked to design one or more of these sign types. Let’s look at the differences and some examples of each.

A symbol does not have direct connection to what it represents. The meaning usually needs to be learned through association.

An index is a sign that directly points to the message or instruction.

An icon is directly related to what it represents, the meaning is immediately evident and it can be a smaller part that represents a whole.

Symbol, Index, and Icon examples


Sobottka, Jason, 2010. HUM311 lecture.

Design Research

In Design Theory on February 17, 2010 at 11:35 pm

Group E: Kristi, Sylvia, Duncan, Nick
Topic: Cross Tensions, Bridging Devices

Our subjects for this little in-class research project were Cross Tensions and Bridging Devices. The definitions for these terms were a bit difficult to nail down during our library research but, by looking at various images in books and on the internet, we were able to piece together a rough estimation of what each of them means.

Cross tensions could have multiple definitions.
• Criss-crossing or interweaving lines causing tension
• Architectural design element using criss-crossing beams as designs

boxer and lines

One example is from "Design Basics"

Cross tension is an element utilized in design to create, well, tension. Under normal circumstances, horizontal lines imply stability, while vertical lines imply strength. When overlapped in such a jarring fashion, or tilted to form crossing diagonal lines, tension is naturally created.

Here are some examples of Cross Tension in art/print:

Red in the Net by Kandinsky

Red In the Net — Wassily Kandinsky from ARTStor

Suprematism by Malevich

Suprematism — Kazimir Malevich from ARTStor

Donkey Kong

Video Game Example: Donkey Kong

Nick MacMichael's Cross Tension example

Nick MacMichael’s Cross Tension Example

Mondrian as a child

Kristi Walker’s Cross Tension Example

Next up we have Bridge Devices. They can be roughly defined as:
• An element used in painting or design to bridge an idea or theme
• A horizontal element in an image that connects or bridges multiple vertical elements
• Carrying across elements


One example of architecture is this image, which uses crossing arches to bridge two different buildings: (from Design Basics)

And…more Bridging Device examples:

Red Cross on Block Circle by Malevich

Red Cross on Block Circle— Kazimir Malevich from ARTStor

Suprematism no. 50 by Malevich

Suprematism No. 50 — Kazimir Malevich from ARTStor

Sylvia Yu's Cross Tension and Bridging Device example

Sylvia Yu’s Bridging Device Example (also has Cross Tensions going on here)

Duncan's Shark and some buildings

Duncan MacMichael's Bridging Device Example

Bridging Device example from World of Goo

Video Game Bridging Device Example: World of Goo


• Design Basics — by David A. Lauer/Stephen Pentak
• Design Basics — by David A. Lauer
• Making and Breaking the Grid — by Timothy Samara
• Principles of Two-Dimensional Design — by Wucius Wong

Art.com (http://www.art.com/products/p10329573-sa-i775354/wassily-kandinsky-circles-in-circle.htm)
The Guggenheim Museum (http://web.guggenheim.org/exhibitions/exhibition_pages/kandinsky/index.html)

Accessibility and Print

In Design Theory on February 17, 2010 at 8:45 am

When discussing accessibility, most people would think of the Internet. That is the natural response because of the widespread use of the web. The Internet is such a powerful tool that all individuals, with or without disability, should be able to make use of it. In fact, there are laws mandating all business websites must be accessible to all. However, this still seems to be a goal instead of reality: some websites are still not fully accessible. Wendy Chisholm, programmer and co-author of the popular book Universal Design for Web Application, recently was interviewed by Jeannie Yandel of KUOW and discussed the issue of accessibility. In college, Wendy Chisholm was assigned to tutor a blind student in his statistic class. This experience caused Chisholm to focus on developing software applications that are accessible to people in need. Her “goal is to make everything usable and effective for everyone. That means people who have disabilities, and people who don’t.” In the interview, Chisholm pointed out three things that need to happen in order to create total accessibility:

1. The technology of accessibility features must exist

2. A complete cultural shift — we need to keep in mind that people with disabilities are just like us, they have experiences and dreams and they should be able to enjoy things that other people do

3. People with disability should be involved in developments and designs so they can steer the designers toward the right direction in creating designs that are usable to them

This discussion led me to question what other design disciplines can we apply these same rules to. What about print, a more traditional form of communication? Can we make print more accessible? The answer is yes. Many publishers have already been creating large-print versions of the books for readers with vision disabilities. I also found a website called RNIB Supporting Blind and Partially Sighted People with a wealth of information about how to make our print designs more accessible. Some suggestions include using clear font at large size (14 points and higher), aligning text to the left, use consistent text layout with few effects or styles (bold, italics, etc.), do not overlay text on images, use uncoated substrates that are thick enough to eliminate show through, and more. This website also suggests using alternative media like audio, Braille, and alternative tactile formats. Other helpful information found on this website include eye health and the challenges that visually impaired people face in their daily lives, giving us helpful insights in how to improve the accessibility of our print designs.

Another website I found is called Booksquare which discusses the issues and events taking place in the publishing industry. One of the articles that I read was about ebooks. Now, I’m not sure if this is still considered print any more because it is digital after all. However, it is an alternative and it is becoming more and more popular. In the article, the author Kassia Krozser argued that designers spend too much time on formatting the digital version to mimic the layouts of the printed books, creating frustrations. In her opinion, ebook is a different format entirely and should be designed differently. I agree. All the electronic book readers (Kindle, the Nook, the Sony Reader and the iPhone) are all relatively small devices that offer a reading surface much smaller than a typical printed book. If we design the layouts the same way as printed, much awkward scrolling will be required on the readers’ part to read each page. Instead, we should create digital documents that can easily reflow to fit the smaller screens, and unnecessary images should be eliminated.

Something that I did not find during my research is making print accessible to users with disabilities other than sight. The sources that I found devoted all of the resources catering to people with limited vision, but what about people with mobile limitations? Application like Acrobat has auto scrolling feature that helps, but I have not been able to find much mentioning of effort in helping people with other disabilities.

As designers, we must design with our audience in mind, a focus that is sometimes referred to as human-centered design. In order for our work to succeed, it must be usable for the intended audience, with or without disabilities. “When we design for the extremes, the ones in the middle will take care of themselves.” This is a quote from the documentary Objectified that stuck in my mind. The more people our designs reach, the more successful they will be. If we only design for the people in the middle, we will lose the extremes. We must include the entire spectrum in our design and planning to make sure that we maximize our reach.





Objectified — by Gary Hustwit

Laws of Seeing — by Wolfgang Metzger

In Design Theory on February 16, 2010 at 9:25 am

In the book Laws of Seeing, Wolfgang Metzger attempted to explain how we see and understand things, whether we are aware of the Gestalt laws or not. He provided in-depth explanation of several of the Gestalt principles like similarity, proximity, symmetry, closure and figure and ground. Through illustrations and examples, he related these laws to the way that the human eyes see things, how we are able to see the whole even though parts of the whole are invisible (closure), how we tend to organize similar things together (similarity and proximity), how we like symmetry and how we sometimes only see parts of the whole picture and ignore the rest (figure and ground).

Metzger also pointed out other factors that come into play as we form our perception. Some examples being the illumination on the object and its environment, the colors of the adjacent objects, the relative events taking place with the object against its background, and, most importantly, our own past experiences. In the examples, Metzger explained that if the illumination on the object is consistent with its background, we assume that there is minimal distance between them; also, objects placed adjacent to different colored background can appear differently (this took me back to my color theory lessons); a moving object against a stationary background is more visible and vise versa; and then my favorite phenomenon is that we form our perception based on our past experiences.

Why do we perceive things the way that we do? Often times, we make assumptions based on what we know. If the spatial relation between a house and a vehicle changes, we’d assume that the vehicle moved because a house is likely to be immobile. We also tend to order things to our liking. Two similar but unconnected objects placed next to each other where the space between them is occluded by another object, we’d assume that these two similar objects are connected because they are similar and therefore belong together.

laws of continuation

The connection between the orange squares are "invisibly present."

Then, Metzger tried to argue that our past experiences sometimes fail us. One of the examples provided was a picture of objects that we know to move, like boats, waves and clouds, with a house (an immobile object) in the middle. He argued that because of all the “moving” objects surrounding the house, the observers saw the house moving along with everything else. When I studied this same picture, perhaps it’s not the correct environment or distance, perhaps I knew what he was trying to prove, despite my repeated effort, I still saw the house as stationary and was not able to see it the way that the said observers did. Another thing mentioned in the book that I do not understand nor do I agree with is that the “ideal illumination comes from the top left” (Metzger, page 148). When I was younger, I used to always draw with the sun at the top left. But why? Who decided that that is where the “ideal” illumination comes from? Is it because of our culture that we tend to read from the top left? If yes, how about some Asian culture where people traditionally read from the top right? Do they have a different direction of ideal illumination? It would be helpful if Metzger explained this further.

Camouflage is another topic that caught my attention. Metzger devoted a fair amount of space for this topic because it is a phenomenon that affects how we see things. At first, he mentioned how we can blend with our environment by mimicking the movement (or lack of). If we remain stationary in a still environment (like in the woods) or if we move in an active environment (a crowd of people walking), it is likely that we become invisible to the observer. I have always known this and it makes total sense to me. Later in the book, Metzger explained another form of camouflage that I never considered and am now fascinated. He stated that animals have darker colors on the back and lighter colors on the underside because this evens out their body colors when illuminated from above, so the roundness of their bodies are lost and they, therefore, are not as visible. I used to have a maine coon (cat) which has very dark hair except for her belly. I have always accepted that that’s the way that she is. Now, after reading this book, it makes me wonder if this has anything to do with its Norwegian forest origin.

As I read this book, I found content that is consistent with another reading, Ways of Seeing by John Berger. Both authors agree that the way that we see things are heavily influenced by our knowledge, experiences and background, and the fact that our perception may be inaccurate compared to reality. Other previous studies that this book reminded me of are the various Gestalt principles that we have been studying through out graphic design training. It is important to understand these principles and how they affect the audience’s perception when planning our design work. In addition, knowing the audience’s background can also be helpful since we are all affected by our past. While it is impossible to get to know each individual and his or her past, careful and comprehensive market research can assist us in forming a general idea of what our target audience is like and what appeal to them. Such information is instrumental in creating effective designs and marketing campaigns.

The Gestalt Experiment

In Design Theory on February 3, 2010 at 4:20 am

Recently, we have been studying Gestalt theories in our class, and one of the projects was to conduct an experiment on three different individuals, one of them being a visual person. Each person was shown five different images (condition one), then another image with a group of black shapes. The participant will then try to figure out what all those shapes make. If the participant cannot point out the object being presented, the experimenter (myself) would press the forward button that causes the shapes to move. This goes on until the shapes have been moved 20 times, or until the participant can call out the object. Afterwards, the participant will be shown a different set of five images (condition two), and then go through the same process and see if the different images shown makes any different.

The three participants who I invited were a chef, a builder and a graphic designer. After the entire experiment, none of them was able to see the final object. However, the graphic designer asked during condition two if it was an animal (the second set of images were all animals).

Besides these three participants, I also conducted the same experiment on a group of 10 graphic design students. During condition one, several of them asked if it was a face, but none could tell what the final object was. During condition two, like the graphic designer participant, they asked if it was an animal. At click 16 in condition two, one saw a horse, and at click 17, another saw a rider on a horse, which was the correct answer.

It was interesting to me that the graphic design students had similar responses as the graphic designer. That told me that they were going the right direction in their career!

Ways of Seeing — by John Berger

In Design Theory on February 1, 2010 at 6:20 am

This is a fascinating book about how we see things. By expanding and elaborating ideas from the television series Ways of Seeing, John Berger described how different factors affect the way that we see things. These factors include what we know, what we believe in, cultural influences, present assumptions and the environment that we are in. He illustrated this by showing reproduction of famous paintings, explaining the fact that how we interpret these paintings are heavily influenced by our surroundings and our knowledge (or assumptions) of the corresponding time period when the paintings were created. And, since “the past is never there waiting to be discovered” (Berger, page 11), our interpretations may be entirely different from the painters’ intentions.

In studying the history of art, we learn the names and practices of famous painters, like Leonardo Da Vinci, Juan Miro, Claude Monet and others. These fine artists, through their brilliant works, gained fame and admiration by people through history. One question raised, as a graphic designer, is that do designers game fame to the same degree? In my opinion, a handful of them do, but they are certainly the minority. An obvious reason is that the appeal of fine arts travels far and wide. Most people, regardless of profession, enjoy fine arts, especially ones that have historical importance. One doesn’t need to be an artist to appreciate the extraordinary skills of these masters.

Design, on the other hand, is different. We are surrounded by designs, to a point that we don’t notice them any more. It would be difficult for most to name the designer of any everyday object, even for one that is as revolutionary as the Nintendo Wii. Also, designers in different design fields receive very different levels of recognition by the public. In our culture, we value fashion. As a result, most people can recognize at least a few names in the field. Giorgio Armani, Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld are a few examples. These people are common household names because of our culture. Designers in other fields seem to be famous mostly within their respective fields. Certainly, many know of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and furniture designer Herman Miller. However, designers who enjoy such recognition are far and few in between. Any designers who have produced admirable work are likely to be recognized by their colleagues within their respective disciplines, like Paul Rand, Steven Heller and David Carson in graphic design, but not necessarily the public.

Another discussion that Berger led in this first chapter of his book is the context of which the paintings are in. He compared the effects between filmed and printed painting reproductions. If a painting is reproduced by film, the film leads the audience frame by frame to establish the film maker’s argument. A printed one, on the other hand, has no such advantage because the entire painting is there, every detail is printed, and how the viewer interprets it depends on the factors discussed above. To assist the viewers in understanding the reproduced painting, words are often employed, and the viewers’ interpretation of the painting is likely to be skewed by these words. The same thing happens in graphic design. Take all the advertisements that we see every day as examples. Companies hire writers to invent clever copy to accompany any graphic or photograph. These words help explain the intention of the advertisement, communicate the message to the audience, and, hopefully, sell the product or service to the consumer. As graphic designers, besides creating visually appealing designs, we must also be careful in choosing our words, consider the target audience’s background, the environment where the design work will be seen, existing competitors, and any other influencing factors in order to achieve the most effective design, bring awareness of our products or services to our community, so they do not fade into all the clutter that we are bombarded with every day.