kimberley crofts


an information and communication designer living in London

Vernacular design

An excerpt from Tibor Kalman and Kerrie Jacobs’ polemic on the role of design in culture, published in Print (Jan/Feb 1990): Found at this site

Often the best design, the most important design, takes place outside the profession,where this is still a true vernacular. A non-corporate, non-designed vernacular. Vernacular is slang, a language invented rather than taught. Vernacular design is visual slang. More than that, it’s design that’s so familiar that we don’t really see it. Seeing the vernacular is seeing the invisible. It is looking at something commonplace— a yellow pencil, a metal folding chair— and falling in love. Vernacular design is so clear and simple that it seems to be from another time. Often it is. Vernacular design happens when a small business hires the local sign painter, print shop, or commercial artist to take care of its design needs. Vernacular design happens when a business takes care of its own design needs. Appreciation of this sort of design shouldn’t be confused with nostalgia, because the vernacular isn’t a bygone era or a style that can be celebrated or revived. Rather it’s a process, a straightforward one, that creates work which has an unfiltered, emotional quality. These designs are some person’s, some regular human being’s, idea of how to communicate— how to say,

“This is a company that sells shipping supples.”
“This is a store that sells sausages.”

It is the unscientific but clear way to say,

“This is a beauty salon,” or
“This is a bottle of soda.”

The vernacular is designed as if design were a regular thing to do, and not the sacred mission of an elite professional class. It’s design that hasn’t been ordered and purified by the methods of trained practitioners. It’s communication without the strategy, marketing, or the proprietary quantitative research. And that’s what’s good about it.


Filed under: vernacular design, ,

Trying to design the future

J.Christopher Jones “Trying to Design the Future.” Design, 225 (September 1967), p. 35ff.

What do we see if we take a bird’s eye view of our efforts, as engineers, architects, planners and industrial designers, to influence the recent course of human evolution ?… Taking as examples such things as cars, trains, electric fires, houses, dishwashers and the like, we see a series of products, services and buildings that are well suited to their markets but ill suited to the conditions brought about by their use. There seem to be plenty of designs that please their sponsors and users but create seemingly insoluble problems for everyone else. Here are some examples of these unforeseen ill effects of designing:

  1. commercially successful cars causing congestion, delays and a
  2. growing number of deaths and injuries;
  3. the unfortunate need to build multi-storey car parks to accommodate cars that are not being used, at a storage cost that can equal or exceed the depreciation cost of the cars;
  4. electric heaters causing power cuts if used simultaneously;
  5. high speed motorways attracting more traffic than was expected and causing multiple crashes, particularly in fog;
  6. liner trains unused because of their effect on employment;
  7. transmission towers despoiling landscape;
  8. new housing estates inhibiting social contacts and creating loneliness;
  9. 9 the production of domestic appliances which are too numerous to fit into many existing kitchens;
  10. dishwashers too noisy to use in open plan houses;
  11. open plan houses in which privacy is impossible.

The list could be extended.

Filed under: societies, user-responsive design, ,

Design in the information age

Charles L. Owen Design Education in the Information Age. Quoted in Redefining Design: From form to Experience C Thomas Mitchell. p2.

It is now frequently possible to produce profitably in extremely small lots – even lots of 1!

The impact of this on design will be revolutionary. Among other things, it will mean substitution for the design of single products, the design of rule systems for families of products. Within this concept, products can be individually tailored in the production process, to the needs of purchasers. The conversion of the design process from the design of individual products to the design of rule systems for product classes will allow this individualization to take place while remaining within the intent and control of the designer. The design technology to make this possible is among the highest priorities for design research and will distinguish design in the information age.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Notes on a new dissertation topic

Public documents, pieces of vernacular design, which have been created through patterns of use rather than as a response to a creative brief.

User-responsive design p5

Living newspapers: theatre shows created to tell the news of the day. Also here, here, here, here, here, also here

– Liberia’s “Blackboard Blogger”: for a country with low internet access, this man provides the news on the street

– Newspapers pasted on walls in China and India: pasted up daily so that people without access to the news can access information. Eye magazine article.

Filed under: living news, , , , ,

Energy security and climate change

Giddens (2009) says that countries that are the most concerned with energy security are those that are the most successful in reaching their climate change targets. Page 88.

Filed under: government, , ,

Message framing and risk

‘Creating Fear in a Risky World: Generating Effective Health Risk Messages’ by Michael T. Stephenson & Kim Witte. In Rice, DE, & Aktin, CK (Eds.), Public communication campaigns (3 ed.). (pp. 22-48). London: Sage.

Risk is defined as the likelihood of a specific event occurring multiplied by the magnitude of consequences associated with that event (Douglas, 1985)… Rothman, Klein, and Weinstein found that study participants overestimated their vulnerability to hazards that have lower probabilities of occurring, such as dying from chronic liver disease, dying from colon canceer, or dying by committing suicide. In contrast, participants underestimated their risk to hazards that occur more frequently, including contracting a sexually transmitted disease, becoming pregnant, or getting a divorce. p89

Gain-framed messages emphasize the advantages or benefits of certain behaviors or the likelihood that one would gain by adopting them. In contrast, loss-framed messages highlight the disadvantages or costs of certain behaviors or the odds that individuals will lose or not be successful in taking certain actions. Framing is generally based on the invariance postulate of Kahneman and Tversky’s (1979; Tversky & Kahneman, 1981) prospect theory, which suggests that people are risk averse when presented choices involving gains and risk seeking when presented choices involving losses, even though the gain and loss options are different representations of the same choice (Rothman & Salovey, 1997, p. 7). P92

Filed under: behaviour, , , , , ,

Age as a factor

Notes from Input and Output Variables Currently Promising for Constructing Persuasive Communications McGuire 2001

Maximum suggestibility occurs at around age 9 (Eron, Huesmann, Brice, Fischer, Mermelstein, 1983) and conformity kicking in at age 12. Adolescents are particularly suggestible, particularly politically (Krosnick & Alwin, 1989). As people get older they become less susceptible to persuasion as they are more critical of messages. Interestingly, education increases the ability of people to comprehend messages and they are then more likely to conform to the message. The example they give is the war ads of the 1940s that apparently had more influence with the more educated (Hovland, Lumsdaine & Sheffield, 1949). I think that there would be many other factors that would contibute to this however, such as a sense of duty and the ability to leave one’s family and go off to war. Surely the lower educated classes would not be able to afford this?

Seeing as it is the adolescents and children that are likely to have to deal with the problems of climate change (more than their parents), perhaps it is time to focus more on them in communications.

Filed under: communication, , , ,

Communicating Communicatively with Campaign Audiences

Sense-Making Methodology: Communicating Communicatively with Campaign Audiences
Brenda Dervin & Micheline Frenette p69-87

Treating communication as dialogue (i.e., commmunicatively) requires fundamental redefinitions of the terms audiences and campaigns. In one sense, both terms are no longer applicable—audiences become peers and collaborators—and if there are “campaigns” involved, they are two-way. p69 Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: communication, , , , , ,

Mapping the Energy Usage Distribution in New Zealand

As one of the very few examples of government organizations being interested in involving the general public in data, the aim of Energy in NZ [] was to map energy usage data within New Zealand in a simple, engaging and interactive way. The data was gathered with the help of the National Energy Research Institute of New Zealand, and based on a “database of figures and a poorly plotted, very very confusing graph of flows”. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Uncategorized, ,

Labelling for sustainability

The European Union Ecolabel:can be used by goods and services which have a lighter environmental footprint than similar products performing the same function”FAQs and the company that runs the scheme with the government is TUV NEL Ltd. The label is now attached to campsites.

Sustain are a farming and food alliance that has done campaigning on eco food labeling. Also work on misleading consumers with unethical use of terms such as “local”, “seasonal” and “farmers’ market”.

Government report on eco labelling Commons Environmental Audit Committee report.

PAS 2050 is a UK government project to help companies ascertain and then label how much embodied greenhouse gases are contained in their products.

Filed under: certification, , , , ,

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