Posts Tagged ‘design’

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.


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.


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.

Design Thinking or Hybrid Thinking

In Applied Design on November 9, 2009 at 5:03 am

The two articles The Making of a Design Thinker and Forget Design Thinking and Try Hybrid Thinking are definitely making the same argument, only that the authors define the term “design thinking” differently. In the latter article, Dev Patnaik looked at the term from a traditional point of view — “design” as in graphic design, how the product should look. Tim Brown, author of the first article, however, defines “design thinker” in a broader sense, including every aspect of life. Both authors stated that, in today’s complex and marketing-driven society, design has become more and more important. Not only do we need to design good-looking products, we must also involve experts in other domains in the creative process in order to produce products that answer to the consumers’ cravings in asthestics as well as other more practical needs. People who are capable of “hybrid thinking” will bring more to the table, contributing their expertise in different disciplines, and therefore designing better products.

Past Design Work

In Applied Design on October 16, 2009 at 9:23 pm


In one of my classes last winter, I was given a typography assignment in which I was to use only type and the color black to express the meanings of two words that I select from a list. It was an exercise that I enjoyed immensely, so, I expanded it and this was the result. I presented this along with some other pieces that I’ve done in our portfolio defense at the end of the Spring quarter. One of the panel members commented that it’s a nice piece but not for the portfolio because there’s no commercial value. I agree, there’s no commercial value in this. However, since it was something that I created for my own enjoyment, that does not matter. In the future, though, I’ll be sure to think twice before deciding what to include in my portfolio.