Saturday, February 16, 2013

Gold and Futurism: An Initial Study of the Designer's Eye

The first formal project of the independent study on styling was to critically analyze what catches my own eye. Everyone’s personal taste is different, though there are similarities, and knowing one’s own eye is a monumental step in being a creative person who can be confident in their ideas. 

The first thing for my independent study was to create an inspiration blog on to gather evidence of what my eye is drawn to. I began grabbing exciting images from everywhere, and many of them reached into the realms of fashion and old urban photography. After making this blog, I discovered that there were similar patterns in my images that reflected the art deco style of architecture. This led to doing a photo shoot of my own to search out how to critically analyze my own designers eye. 


Because there were similar elements in my selected photos and art deco architecture, my advisor Kevin Henry suggested to take my camera out into downtown Chicago and sketch my own images through architectural photography. We decided to target iconic art deco buildings in Chicago, because then the only remaining variable should be how I interpret the deco forms through my camera angles. On a cold February morning, I whisked my camera out to LaSalle street to get shutter happy in and around the Chicago Board of Trade building, The Bank of America Tower and the One North LaSalle Building.

The first thing I did was take photos of the buildings, targeting anything I liked looking at. This ranged from the overall shape of the building, 

to decorative details inside the lobby.

After taking these photographs, I then set for home to pick out the good shots and edit them into a nice album. While on the train home, I realized part of what might be grabbing my attention are repeated parallel lines. Kevin mentioned that he realized that the organic curved lines of Mid-Century Modern has always grabbed his attention, and after taking photos of art deco architecture, I couldn’t help but realize the straightness of these all these lines.

Once I put the photos on my laptop, I dropped them into Adobe Lightroom and began to pick out the ones I liked the best. As soon as I got to the 2nd or 3rd round of decision making, I started to add filters and adjustments to photographs I decided were my favorites. Once I whittled down the photo selection to about 30 images, I then began to play with each image to enhance its dynamics. Some images looked best in fairly original condition, but others looked much more exciting when pushed to extremes of contrast and desaturation. 

Photos went from this:

 To this:

Or this:

To this:

And this:

To this:
In photography, editing is used to enhance the emotion of a sight that has been captured through the photograph. In wedding photography this is especially effective because of how an aesthetic effect can impact the mood of a memory. Here, I used editing to bring out the dynamics of the forms in the image. Particularly in the third example, I worked with the depth of the blacks and vividness of the whites to bring emphasis to the art deco details. All of these photographs can be seen on the blog.
After editing, I then began to do the critical analysis of the images. Because I had edited the images to capture the essence of the building’s forms, the elements of the designs were more ready to interpret. In conjunction with reading about the fundamentals of design in Appearance and Reality by Stephen Hogbin, I began to see how vertical and diagonal lines began to create depth and dynamism in these images of art deco. 
Here is an example of the analysis:

This particular sketch is of the Chicago Board of Trade building. This building is one of Chicago’s premiere examples of art deco architecture, and has been featured on many deco railway advertisements from the late ‘30s. A personal favorite of mine, I wanted to pull apart what made it so special. After editing the image, I saw the vertical stripes created by the window sills to become part of the building’s essence. The other elements I noticed were staggered tiers along the side of the building tapering towards the top. Both of these elements create decoration within the overall form. All of these seem to add visual depth to an otherwise huge flat wall. To me, that depth makes the building impressive, but not domineering, it pulls you more towards the sky than it would  impose itself on top of you.

Deco has many interesting design cues that make it unique among other modern forms. Unlike high modernism, it is a format of ornament, but also has a progressive mentality to it. A common theme I’ve found when reading about art deco architecture is how the form emerged out of the depression as an expression of hope for a financially frustrated country in the midst of one of the most influential industrial turning points of our designed world. Understanding this history is also helpful in understanding why the form may be so interesting.
“In the 1920s and 1930s, with its urbanity, its sophistication, its wit, and above all, with its unabashed advocacy of beauty, Art Deco helped to make New York City and the lives of those who dwelt there a delight.” -Lowe, David Garrard. Art Deco New York, pg.11
More image studies to come...

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Art Deco Building Photo Sketch

Friday, week 2 of the independent study, I visited some Art Deco landmarks of downtown Chicago, the Board of Trade Building, the Bank of America Building and One North LaSalle. The goal is to take photographs of Art Deco architectural elements and then critically analyze them.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Reading The Language of Things, Ch. 1: Language

Objects are themselves stories. We may not see them in the same way we see a narrative film or children’s book, but each object, whether a MacBook Pro or a KitchenAid toaster, has a story about itself. 

Deyan Sudjic’s The Language of Things is a very insightful read on the phenomenon of designing. Only reading the introduction and the first chapter “A World Downing in Objects” and “Language,” I’ve gained a more thoughtful perspective of what designing really does for our world. Being someone like Jonathan Ive at Apple really has a lot of responsibility to it. He isn’t just picking out what Mac products can look the coolest, he is actually creating narratives and meanings through his material, formal and semantic decisions. 

I appreciate the author’s honesty in his writing, in the first chapter he looks past the epic nature of design icons and points out realities. He refers to many well known designers’ examples, and doesn’t get hung up on any of their legacies. This is very helpful in understanding the language of design, he explains how a designer like Raymond Loewy basically added streamlined shrouds to machines to make them sell better, and then designers like Dieter Rams strove to make the quintessential designs of his electronics, like the perfect calculator, which quickly regenerated to more complex designs or digital iPhone versions. 

I think where all this understanding of design icons is helpful is how much it evens the playing field. Yes, their excellence is important, but they are in no way kings of design. Leaders yes, but not gods. Design students can easily get either annoyed or caught up in the legendary nature of famous designers. Instead, they are storytellers. Because of the ever changing nature of design reception, as well as format (like emerging technologies and manufacturing capabilities), Sudjic says,

“What the designer is left to deal with is the surface, the appearance and semantic shades of meaning that allow us to interpret and understand what an object is trying to tell us about itself. These messages range from what an object does, and how much it is worth, to how to switch it on. They are far from trivial issues, but they turn the designer into a storyteller. And, while it is certainly true that design is a language, it is only those who have a convincing story to tell who know how to use that language fluently and effectively” (Sudjic, 34)

This is very helpful with understanding the value of designers, as well as the call they have to the world. They aren’t mere hotshots that are very creative, but they are to help us understand our objects better. We use objects for reasons, and we buy them for reasons, and those reasons can be a wide range of needs, interests or emotions. Emotions and interests are sometimes just as valued as utilitarian needs. This was an interesting thing to understand from the chapter. Language and identity have much value that we may not see in scientific, technical minded environments. Sudjic writes 

“If you question the premise that objects mean anything beyond the utilitarian, just think for a moment about all the emotional content so far beyond legibility that we can read into the minute nuances that shape a typeface and give it a personality. The fact that it’s called a ‘face’ at all is certainly not a coincidence. Type is fully capable of showing the character and personality of the human face.” (37)

Seeing a human face in text is very important for writing. It gives the writing a presence, as does a conversation with a real person. If we lived in environments that were purely machine, we would have nothing to attach our humanity to. Just as with art, design has cultural value. 

“Design is the language that a society uses to create objects that reflect its purposes and its values. It can be used in ways that are manipulative and cynical, or creative and purposeful. Design is the language that helps us define, or perhaps to signal, value.” (Sidjic, 50)

Both aesthetics used for emotional value, as well as semantic value seem to be important to design. There is much more to understand in the area of design language, and this chapter begins to scratch at the surface of a huge reservoir of potential. Design styling and aesthetics may have more substance than purely a selling point like in the days of Raymond Loewy. In the conclusion of Sudjic’s chapter, he seems to mean that this deeper purpose has to do with semantic communication,

“Design is used to shape perceptions of how objects are to be understood. Sometimes it’s a question o direct communication: to operate a machine, you need to intuitively understand what it is, and how to make it do what you want...This is the language that evolves and changes its meanings as rapidly as any other. It can be manipulated with subtlety and wit, or heavy handed obviousness. But it is the key to understanding the man-made world.” (51)

This is a very solid conclusion about design language, and I think it also must be understood with the previous quote from page 50, where “design is the language that helps us define value.” 

page 50, where “design is the language that helps us define value.” 


Sudjic, Deyan. "Chapter 1: Language." The Language of Things. London: Allen Lane, 2008. N. pag. Print.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Cars Might Develop like how Babies Start Winking (First Readings Part I)

Design in objects relate infinitely closer to our humanity than we may think.

Objects are all around us, and objects have all been plotted out, or designed for specific purposes or meanings. This semester, I will be conducting an independent study at Columbia College Chicago to dig deeper into aesthetic decisions in design. My first two readings for my independent study on aesthetics and styling have been a chapter called “Turn Signals are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles” from Don Norman’s Living with Complexity and the first chapter from Deyan Sudjic’s The Language of Things.

Some things I noticed about this first reading is that it related evolution in nature to the evolution of designed objects. I was surprised at first to find that we have a lot of comparisons to draw between the development of designed things, say the shoe, the raincoat or the personal computer, and the development of nature. Some may have contrary points of world view, but in Don Norman’s eyes, a large part of the endlessness of design is the endless improvement illustrated in the theory of evolution. Our bodies and minds are said to be the result of countless years of adjustments and improvements, which bring us to the understanding of communication though expression. Our designed machines, on the other hand, are a product of only a century or less of adjustments and refinement. What has matured over ages is now attempting to communicate with something that is practically a baby. 

His argument makes sense about how designed objects lack necessary communication that humans have after years of evolving. He primarily discusses the need for our ever-increasingly complex machines to function more like humans do. Our computers are frustrating because they do not provide feedback that people innately give us, and we cannot read the machine or gauge their status like we read weariness in our dog. 

“Unfortunately, the machines have no way of learning from the experience, you can't spank them and send them to bed, nor is there the equivalent of a note to the parent. As a result, when trouble next strikes, the same rowdy behavior reappears” (Norman 156)

Norman goes on to say that understanding intentions is an important part of communication, and this is effectively done through turn signals on cars.

“Social interaction is enhanced when the participants know not only what is happening at the moment, but what will happen. Of all the signals of the automobile, only the turn signals announce intentions.” (Norman 156)

His writing seems to call out the need for social harmony between people and objects. This was referred to as “graceful interaction.” In a purely functional way, turn signals are a large step towards graceful interaction between machines and humans. This was interesting in regards to semantics and user interface thinking. However, I didn’t really learn much about the aesthetic qualities of things beyond their purely functional aspect. I think there still is some more to study in regards to the emotional expression of designed objects. Its one thing to have a turn signal to use, but what determines the graphic form of it? Is it even important to think about, or is it irrelevant in the grand scheme of priorities? I’m sure we could do without fancy taillights, just as long as the communicate their use. But what happens to creativity? Is there any link between the beauty of a person and the beauty of communication with them? Could I get shivers from talking to a woman who does modeling and also get shivers when a new Ferrari pulls up behind me at a light? I don’t really know. Is that even important?

Well, as I think about it, what happens when one gets shivers from talking to a beautiful woman, is there some meaning behind that nervousness? Perhaps there is a weight when beholding that person, especially when you hold their attention. Its like a glorious thing is beholding your existence, and you don’t know whether or not they like that you exist. Its very pessimistic, and yes it is an issue of acceptance, but also it is basically using that other beautiful person for your own success as a person. 

Just thinking about it this far makes me realize that no, you could never get shivers in the same way by being in front of a Ferrari, because that car has no way of accepting you or not. However, the way you view the woman can be compared to how you view the Ferrari. You may feel a shiver when seeing a Ferrari because you want to be worthy of the success it brings to you the same way a model would bring, but, it itself will not express acceptance. Its one thing to impress a beautiful woman and have other people impressed that you impressed her. Its another to impress a car. That is an impossible thing. However, you can use the car to impress other people like you used the impressed girl to impress others. 

Bibliography: Norman, Donald A. "Chapter 11: Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of
    Automobiles." Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2010. N. Web. 2 Feb.