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November 30, 2009 • 2:00 pm 0
November 28, 2009 • 6:49 pm 0
Today I bought the Times as there were no Guardians left at the shop. I don’t buy printed newspapers much as they are mostly full of useless information that’s poorly spell checked and too dominated by celebrities.
Two of the lowlights today from the Times (not related to celebrities):
That last pearler was from an infographic (download it here) squeezed into a tiny space at the top of the page between the ad and the story. I can partly sympathise with the ‘visual journalist’ charged with creating it. I imagine they were given the brief with about 10 minutes until deadline so there would have been little time for them to spell check (a task usually left for sub-editors but they have probably all been retrenched). I can also partly sympathise with them as I imagine the briefing process probably went something like this:
EDITOR: Can you quickly do a graphic to tart up this story?
VISUAL JOURNALIST: What’s the story about?
E: Not really sure, they haven’t finished writing it yet. But does it really matter? Just put all these names in it and then link them together somehow.
VJ: But that doesn’t actually explain anything
E: Why does it matter? Graphics are just there to make the page look pretty.
In my previous career as an editorial design consultant I often saw how underrated visual journalists are in newsrooms (other than at the New York Times where I have heard that there are around 22 of them). Their skills are often seen as secondary to that of word journalists and they are not given anywhere near enough time and resources to properly craft their graphics.
Good infographics take time to create. Good infographics explain and offer insight. They can support the story, or they can stand-alone. They should make sense, or they should not be used. They are journalism, not decoration. The Times needs to do better.
Lest you think I am being one-sided, there are many visual journalists out there who do not deserve the title. Just because someone is good at using Illustrator doesn’t mean they can tell a story visually.
If you are wondering what the good bits were from the Times today they were the story about a Royal Commission report that recommends traffic lights be switched off to save energy and stop light pollution (page 36), and a story about how the charity Fine Cell Work teaches needlework to prison inmates so that they can learn new skills and earn an income to help support them when they get out of gaol (page 40).
November 27, 2009 • 2:19 pm 0
This week I had an excellent conversation with a UX professional who spoke about how showing just one good idea is much better than showing one good idea with two weaker ones to act as ballast. If you believe in your skills, then one good idea is enough.
One of the more common problems which tends to create doubt and confusion is caused by the inexperienced and anxious executive who innocently expects, or even demands, to see not one but many solutions to a problem. These may include a number of visual and/or verbal concepts, an assortment of layouts, a variety of pictures and color schemes, as well as a choice of type styles. He needs the reassurance of numbers and the opportunity to exercise his personal preferences. He is also most likely to be the one to insist on endless revisions with unrealistic deadlines, adding to an already wasteful and time-consuming ritual. Theoretically, a great number of ideas assures a great number of choices, but such choices are essentially quantitative. This practice is as bewildering as it is wasteful. It discourages spontaneity, encourages indifference, and more often than not produces results which are neither distinguished, interesting, nor effective. In short, good ideas rarely come in bunches.
The designer who voluntarily presents his client with a batch of layouts does so not out prolificacy, but out of uncertainty or fear. He thus encourages the client to assume the role of referee. In the event of genuine need, however, the skillful designer is able to produce a reasonable number of good ideas. But quantity by demand is quite different than quantity by choice. Design is a time-consuming occupation. Whatever his working habits, the designer fills many a wastebasket in order to produce one good idea. Advertising agencies can be especially guilty in this numbers game. Bent on impressing the client with their ardor, they present a welter of layouts, many of which are superficial interpretations of potentially good ideas, or slick renderings of trite ones…
Expertise in business administration, journalism, accounting, or selling, though necessary in its place, is not expertise in problems dealing with visual appearance. The salesman who can sell you the most sophisticated computer typesetting equipment is rarely one who appreciates fine typography or elegant proportions. Actually, the plethora of bad design that we see all around us can probably be attributed as much to good salesmanship as to bad taste.
November 27, 2009 • 11:01 am 0
If we ignore it, will it go away? I am not talking about climate change, I am talking about the scepticism surrounding the issue. It amazes me that people can still be holding onto the belief that anthropogenic climate change is not happening. I was hoping that if I ignored them they would go away, but they keep coming back more powerful than ever.
After last week’s hacked email fiasco, it seems as though the sceptics are rattling their cages a little too loudly and I would like them to stop, thank you.
Perhaps it is time to send this video around again. It is the best and most logical reasoning IMO for why we need to do something now about climate change.
If you would like to arm yourself with some good arguments to counter any sceptics in your life, head to Ecotube where there are a collection of videos made especially for this. Thanks to Futerra for the tip on this.
November 17, 2009 • 8:59 pm 0
I was watching a video podcast from Pop Tech tonight from Alex Steffen from the environmental site WorldChanging.com. In the talk he outlined the positive impacts that dematerializing our society could have on the environment. For example, a particular pet peeve of mine is the ownership of small appliances like lawnmowers. Why is it that every household has to own a lawnmower? Couldn’t we just share and save on carbon emissions?
Imagine, if you will, a street on which there are 44 houses. Each house has a small lawn and therefore a small electric mower that costs on average £50. Similarly, each of these 44 houses has a vacuum cleaner of an average cost of £100. Taking into consideration the embodied energy in each appliance throughout the entire lifecycle, the total carbon emissions from both vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers on this average UK street is almost 12 tonnes (click on the link to view a PDF with the vague sources of this data).
If we shared one vacuum cleaner and one lawnmower between four households (based on the amount of people I know in my street), then the average street could save about 9 tonnes of carbon which is the equivalent of taking 2.5 small cars off the road. Multiply that by the some 22 million households in the UK and you have a staggering amount of carbon that could be stopped from going into the atmosphere.
My figures are incredibly inaccurate, but it is just to demonstrate that a small change of behaviour could yield a very large return in favour of the environment. All we have to do is to alter the way that we view the ownership of stuff. If we remove the cultural and social caché that is currently attached to the ownership of certain goods, then we can work out new systems to accommodate their partial deletion from our lives. As James Howard Kunstler has recently said at TED, we need to stop referring to ourselves as consumers because consumers have no responsibility toward their fellow human beings.
Only consumers “need” to own ridiculous amounts of stuff and consumers are like SO 20th century.
November 11, 2009 • 6:58 pm 0
Although I applaud the creators for their innovative concept for The Cloud, I have to agree with the ever-sensible Rob Hopkins of the Transition Town movement who says that what the project amounts to is:
November 11, 2009 • 2:45 pm 0
Roger Martin from Canada’s Rotman School of Management encourages his MBA students to practise design thinking which he defines as a combination of analytical and intuitive thinking. The analytical part is the more traditional business way of thinking which studies the current and past business environment in order to make decisions in a reliable way. The intuitive part is the more traditional ‘designerly’ way of thinking that is less quantifiable but more future-looking and imaginative. He calls people who can think this multi-faceted way ‘integrative thinkers’. He puts it very well in saying design thinking is a combination of ‘what is’ with ‘what could be’. You can watch this interview with Martin on Fast Company.
In the interview he contrasts his own business-focused design thinking book with Tim Brown’s which is more from a designer’s point of view. This at first seems obvious knowing that Brown works for one of the world’s leading design firms, but Martin postulates (correctly imo), that many designers do not actually practice design thinking—even though it has the word design in it—hence the need for books like Brown’s that look at the problem through the lense of design.
Is it a problem that designers do not know how to combine strategic business thinking with their own creative practice? Yes. And is this a problem of design education? I think so. It always irked me that the design schools I have attended and taught at are geographically and theoretically isolated from the rest of the university. How can designers and business people learn to work together if they don’t cross paths until after their formative years? There are business schools (such as Rotman, Cass and I am sure many others) that are starting to integrate design thinking into their curriculum, but I don’t know of any design schools that are doing the same. Now there’s a challenge.
November 9, 2009 • 8:45 pm 0
It has been almost two months since the end of my MA in Information Design and I am already itchy to learn new things. I was hoping that by now I would have a job and be learning new stuff at my workplace but it is near on impossible to find senior design positions in places that are public or sustainability focused. So whilst I am a looking I am swotting up on a couple of things like design thinking, service design, and leadership and strategy (the Open University have some mini-courses on their Creative Choices website aimed at creative people improving their skills in management).
Design thinking: the buzz term of the moment. People like Tim Brown from Ideo have defined and popularized the use of this term which describes a strategic process that designers have pretty much always followed (discover, define, design, deliver as the Design Council describes it to which I would add evaluate but that doesn’t start with D unfortunately).
As publications like Fast Company and Business Week report on its use to the business world I hope that more people will begin to re-evaulate their ideas about what design can do. For more reading, discussion and tips on Design Thinking I have joined a few mini-networks within Wenovski, the Design Thinkers network.
Service design: an expert in the field, Phi-Hong Ha, defines Service Design as “a cross-disciplinary practice that looks at the touch points of a service within the context of a customer’s journey” (from an excellent AIGA interview by Steven Heller). Service designers look at all of the steps involved in a service and use these observations to redesign it to better address the user’s needs whilst continuing to achieve the business objectives of the company or organisation.
Practitioners of service design have achieved some wonderful things in the short amount of time it has existed as a profession. For example, Live|Work (a UK company) helped out-of-work people in Sunderland more successfully access services that would help them find employment. You can read about it on their website. The Design Council has used Live|Work’s experience to explain Service Design as part of a project called ‘Public Services by Design‘. This project will go live in 2010 and aims to help the public sector to use design thinking techniques to improve their services.
November 5, 2009 • 12:26 pm 0
Last night we went to a talk at the Information Design Society delivered by Chris Campbell who creates infographics for the International Criminal Court in the Hague. It was a very interesting (but upsetting) look at how design is being used to aid analysis. He creates maps, timelines, and other graphics which are used in investigating war crimes. Since being employed at the Court he has worked on war crime trials from central Africa including Darfur and the Congo.
Campbell was initially employed by the Court on a short-term contract as they did not really understand how an information designer could assist their work. In fact, the first job he was given was to design some “Wanted Dead or Alive” posters as they thought that was the sort of “fun” job that a designer was interested in. The Court has since been convinced of the merit of his work as they are able to use his maps and timelines to succinctly outline the scope and scale of war crimes that would take hours if delivered orally.
All of the work he was able to show us was distinctly monotone. Campbell explained that this was a carefully considered choice as to use too much colour (especially red) would be thought of as too emotive. Sober design is design is respected, colourful and bright design is flippant and not suitable for the court. He is cognizant that by reducing murders, rapes, and mutilations down to a set of soberly rendered graphics takes the ‘human’ element out of the story. He has therefore started to add photographs to the graphics so that the human scale of the atrocities can be felt by the Court.
The photographs he showed us were taken by Brian Stiedle, a former US marine captain who was employed by the African Union to document the conflict. Campbell wondered how he could still be alive, but he is, and there is a film out about his experience. The film is called The Devil Came on Horseback which is the literal translation of the word Janjaweed which is given to the horseriding militia who support the military in carrying out the acts of genocide.
October 31, 2009 • 1:50 pm 1
Browsing through the images of the recent Climate Camp action at Ratcliffe-on-Soar I spied the shot below of an artist recording the event.
This got me thinking about the tradition of the war artist and whether activist circles have their own, respected artists who are documenting the war for the environment.
Of course there are many photographic records of war and protest but according to Kenneth Clarke (the chair of the War Artists Advisory Committee in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century), photography is unable to interpret the full scale of conflict: “the camera cannot interpret, and a war so epic in its scope by land, sea and air, and so detailed and complex in its mechanism, requires interpreting as well as recording’. I don’t entirely agree with this statement. For me reportage photography interprets through the act of selection by the photographer. What they choose to shoot and publish surely represents an act of interpretation.
The tradition of the war artist was born of various western governments’ desire for civilians to have a better understanding of war. My own understanding of war artist schemes is that because of the involvement of the government, the legitimacy of the art must be questioned from a propaganda perspective. Surely governments would only allow certain images to be seen by the public? An essay by Roger Tolson from the Imperial War Museum reflects on this situation. He says that artists were given freedom to choose what they recorded. I wonder though whether all of these works were shown to the public at the time, especially those that showed the true horror of war.
I am now on the hunt for more protest drawings, or field sketches if you will. I would love to see imagery that captures the immediacy and passion of the protest. I’ll post anything I find.
My friend and artist Deborah Kelly introduced me to Andrea Bowers who has drawn images of civil disobedience such as the one below which shows a group of women protesting at a nuclear power plant in California in the 80s. This drawing, however, appears to be drawn from a photograph rather than en plein air.
Although it doesn’t really fit the theme of art created at the time of war, this is so poignant that it is worthwhile including. Kseniya Simonova is an artist who won Ukraine’s version of America’s Got Talent. Simonova uses sand and a lightbox to paint interpret Germany’s invasion and occupation of Ukraine in WWII. If you haven’t watched this, I sincerely implore you to do so.
* Quote from Richard Johnson who recently spent two months in Kandahar with Canadian troops sketching and writing. You can read and see his sketches on the blog Postings from Kandahar.