Archive for the ‘education’ category

Five Years of 100 Days

February 24th, 2011

Daniella Spinat and Lan Lan Liu, Announcement for 100 Day Project Workshop, 2007For the past five years, I’ve taught a workshop for the graduate graphic design students at the Yale School of Art. The specific dates always change, but the basic assignment goes something like this:Beginning Thursday, October 21, 2010, do a design operation that you are capable of repeating every day. Do it every day between today and up to and including Friday, January 28, 2011, the last day of the project, by which time you will have done the operation one hundred times. That afternoon, each student will have up to 15 minutes to present his or her one-hundred part project to the class.The only restrictions on the operation you choose is that it must be repeated in some form every day, and that every iteration must be documented for eventual presentation. The medium is open, as is the final form of the presentation on the 100th day.Does this sound like fun? I’m not sure. But some years, up to two dozen students start the assignment. And some years, more than half drop out before the end. Everyone starts with high hopes. But things get repetitive by day ten. By day twenty, no matter what you’ve decided to do, it feels like you’ve been doing it forever. And bridging the end-of-year break is always a big challenge. But the students who get past day thirty or forty tend to get in a groove that will take them through to the end. Here’s a sampling of what’s been done through the years, including some of my favorites.Lauren Adolfsen took a picture each day with a person she had never met. The product was a bound book, complete with thumbnail sketches of her portrait partners. I was number one. Amazingly, she ended up doing this for an entire year.Juan Astasio photographed a constructed “smile” every day. The website where they’re all collected is maniacally over-the-top and terrifyingly cheerful.Here’s one you may already know since it was featured on Design Observer back in the fall of 2009: Rachel Berger explains: “Every day for one hundred days (from October 30, 2008 to February 6, 2009) I picked a paint chip out of a bag and responded to it with a short writing.” It sounds simple, but the results are poetic.A few people have realized the project could be a modest source of income. Every day, Benjamin Critton found something laying around that he didn’t want and put it up for sale on line, from a copy of the 1963 book The World in Vogue (Day One, offered at $31, unsold) to a box of (appropriately) one hundred numbered pushpins (Day One Hundred, offered at $18, sold).I have always loved it when people get deep into extremely specific subject matter. Neil Donnelly created a daily visual response to the same song: Brian Eno’s 1974 recording “Here Come the Warm Jets.” The variety is remarkable.Weiyi Li spotted a random name every day and added it to an ongoing collection, memorialized in a slowly scrolling website.100 Illusions” by Jen Lee.After you’ve seen the first few ways that Hilla Katki uses a wooden folding chair, you’ll have serious doubts she can come up with ten of them, never mind 100. But, of course, she does. And it’s a clunky wooden folding chair.Die a hundred deaths! Tara Kelton destroyed a small plastic man every day a different way for one hundred days.The most famous graduate of the 100 Day Workshop is, without a doubt, Ely Kim. When I asked him what he had planned, he responded, “I’m going to film myself doing a different dance in a different place every day.” He said it with such absolute assurance that I was taken aback. “Are you a good dancer?” I asked. Ely said: “Yes.” The resulting video, “Boombox,” has been viewed over half a million times and won Ely invitations to dance in, among other places, Sao Paulo, Brazil.Zak Klauck: “Over the course of 100 days, I made a poster each day in one minute. The posters were based on one word or short phrase collected from 100 different people. Anyone and everyone was invited to contribute.” The perfect exercise for a graphic designer.Although many of these projects are complicated, some of my favorites are completely straightforward. James Muspratt simply drew something from life every day: a project that grew, he writers, “out of a desire to confront my limited drawing skills.”Jieun Rim kept a video camera trained on her feet every day while she walked to school, and edited the 100 separate trips into a single elegant sequence titled “Steppin’ Out.”Finally, when Jessica Svendsen told me she wanted to create 100 variations of Josef Muller-Brockmann’s classic 1955 poster for a Beethoven program at the Zurich Tonhalle, I never thought she could pull it off. The original just seemed too iconic and singular to withstand that kind of focus. But to my surprise and pleasure she pulled it off, and then some. Some people noticed the project on line midway through the process and started following along.People have asked me many times to say what, exactly, is the point of this project. I’ve always had a fascination with the ways that creative people balance inspiration and discipline in their working lives. It’s easy to be energized when you’re in the grip of a big idea. But what do you do when you don’t have anything to work with? Just stay in bed? Writers have this figured out: it’s amazing how many of them have a rigid routine. John Cheever, for instance, used to wake up every morning in his New York City apartment, put on a jacket and tie, kiss his wife goodbye, and take the elevator down to his apartment building’s basement, when he would sit at a small desk and write until quitting time, at which point he’d go back up. (When it was hot in the basement, he’d strip down to his underwear to work.)The only way to experience this kind of discipline is to subject yourself to it. Every student who has taken this project had a moment where the work turned into a mind-numbing grind. And trust me: it won’t be the first time this happens. The trick is to press on. For each new day (whether it’s Day 28, Day 61, even Day 100) brings with it the hope of inspiration. via http://observersroom.designobserver.com/oblog/entry.html?entry=24678

Meditation on the doubt creeping into today’s design practice.

By Constantin Boym

Postcard image by Ken Brown.

Since the beginning of professional industrial design — throughout the entire 20th century and into the first decade of the 21st — a designer has been a figure of confidence and authority. He (rarely, she) provided answers, solved problems, knew more than the public could possibly knew. A notion of an unsure designer, a questioning designer, or, heaven forbid, a doubtful designer would appear almost oxymoronic, and certainly unprofessional.

Perhaps the new decade will go down in history as marking the outset of Design Uncertainty. For the first time ever, designers are willing to question, openly and publicly, the nature of their profession and whether they are doing the right thing. This year, for the first time, an interrogation mark appeared in the title of the National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt. In the Netherlands, Eindhoven Design Academy’s 2010 exhibition in Milan expressed the same spirit of inquiry with an even more succinct title, a simple “?”

The reasons for self-searching and doubt are obvious, and they are not pretty. Two seemingly never-ending wars have contributed to political uncertainty and fueled fears of terrorism. The economic meltdown of 2008 continues to reverberate around the world. An unimpeded flood of oil gushes out in the Gulf of Mexico, in spite of the feats of the world’s best experts to stop it. Alice Rawsthorn, writing in The New York Times, recently captured the spirit of our time when she referred to design as “a quest for meaning in a dystopian era.” This existential mission, rather than a pursuit of new shapes, is going to define the design effort for years to come. And any search for meaning always starts with a question.

Clive Dilnot, a professor at The New School University, writes in an essay titled “Ethics? Design?” that the basis of any design activity derives from a fundamental query posed by Socrates: “How should one live?” According to Dilnot, this question cannot lead to a singular answer. Rather, the argument is brought up again and again by every new generation, leaving the ethical dimension of design “always in question, always in doubt.”

It is not surprising that the best design schools are in the forefront of design’s quest for meaning. Unencumbered by market considerations, academia is well suited for experimentation, creative research and the production of ideas. It is good to be a student in times like these. But what about the teachers? The traditional role of all-knowing professor is rapidly changing. Instead, a teacher has become a fellow researcher, a team leader who works with the group in an interactive, collaborative way. The result is inevitably interdisciplinary: a design “product” could be an idea, a service, a material or a narrative, and it is viewed as a process rather than an artifact.

With these thoughts I start a new chapter in my professional life. Recently, I have become  director of graduate design studies at the Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar. All complexities and contradictions on the modern world are reflected in the microcosm of this Persian Gulf state: East and West, old and new, national and global, rich and poor. This is a world in transition, full of its own uncertainties. As such, it should be a great testing ground for new ideas and new solutions. A small group of young men and women from different design backgrounds are joining our program, the first of its kind in the entire Gulf Region. Let the experiment begin. Together, we will be trying to work out our own answers to that nagging question, Why Design Now?

via http://changeobserver.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=14378


October 18th, 2009

By: Nick de la Mare, Published: Sep 22, 2009

Having gone through a traditional graphic design undergraduate and industrial design graduate education in craft-based schools, and now teaching in a graduate design program at another, I often wonder how to best prepare the designers of tomorrow for the problems they’ll face in a changing world. The generalist issues I deal with at work are very different that the ones I encountered during my education, but as my work evolves, more and more I find myself relying on skills that I learned in school.

The role of craft within design has become increasingly relevant. As design becomes more of a generalist field, with designers expected to be conversant in a far wider variety of areas than in the past, it’s important that we have a process to lean on, a foundation to build upon, and an understanding of how it, and we, became this way.

To start with, I think you have to understand “craft” both as it relates to design (graphic and industrial), but also how it relates to larger culture. You can do this by looking at the changing role and definition of craft throughout recent history. Broadly speaking (and to generalize horribly) everything was smooth sailing until the industrial revolution of the 19th century. At that point, mass production gave rise to the designed (or machine-made) object, displacing craft from its historic role in the specialized, skill-based making of applied objects. “Thinking is making” became “Thinking about making.”



An unfortunate side effect of mechanization was the sidelining of traditional craft (one-of-a-kind objects, created by a craftsman or specialist user of tools) from mainstream production. In that equation primacy was awarded to the thinking-man and generalist controller of machine and process (the “designer”). Interestingly, a similar intellectual vs. skill-based split occurred in fine art the early 20th century with the rise of Duchamp’s “conceptual,” ready-made objects. Fine art has never really recovered: witness Damien Hirst et al. But that’s another story.

The cultural changes that led to the displacement of craft within larger society have been the subject of much theoretical and political posturing and debate, the result of which is our confusion about where and how craft fits into contemporary design. Karl Marx, for example, spent much time detailing the relative values of the machine-made object vs. the craft-object in capitalist society. One of Marx’s key arguments was that the division of labor necessary for volume production in the modern factory or workshop was a tool used by the controlling classes to limit the minds and education of the ordinary worker (in a capitalist society the worker would have a shallow understanding of machine-centric tasks rather than the deep understanding of a tool-based skill-set that might exist in other cultures). Keep in mind that Marx was, of course, advocating a non-capitalist economic system.

For a number of reasons, including the dominance of traditional craft-based fields in art schools, the personal value systems of educators, and the intellectual history of many art schools as craft academies, the pre-Industrial Revolution convention of deep, hands-on specialization across narrowly defined core disciplines is still prevalent in academia. This has made life difficult for applied design fields like graphic design and industrial design, which swim in the capitalist economy where more generalized skills, mass-production and the machine economy are facts of life. The response from many applied design departments has been to advocate deep, craft-based understanding during the undergrad education process (often at the expense of theory) and then to flip entirely and focus on theory at the expense of making at the graduate level.



I think at this point it’s important to remember that craft, by definition, is fundamentally a dedicated mastery of a chosen subject matter, not necessarily just the deep understanding of a specific material or tool. Richard Sennett, in The Craftsman, cites a commonly understood 10,000 hour figure as the time needed to master any particular skill, from violin, to carpentry, to painting, to surgery:
“As skill progresses, it becomes more problem-attuned, such as the lab technician worrying about procedure—whereas people with primitive levels of skill struggle just to get things to work. At its higher reaches, technique is no longer a mechanical activity; people can feel fully and think deeply about what they are doing, once they do it well.”

If you think of craft as the dedication to “do a job well for its own sake” as Sennett does, then it becomes easier to create bridges between a theory-based and skill-based school of thought. His point is that “craftsmanship focuses on objective standards, on the thing itself. Social and economic conditions, however, often stand in the way of the craftsman’s discipline and commitment: schools may fail to provide the tools to do good work, and workplaces may not truly value the aspiration for quality…” Craft ” focuses on the intimate connection between hand and head. Every good craftsman conducts a dialogue between concrete practices and thinking; this dialogue evolves into sustaining habits, and these habits form a rhythm between problem solving and problem finding.”

I would argue that, as designers moving inexorably further from specialist to generalist roles, we need to be better at both identifying and teaching the underlying habits and structure that lie between practice and thinking, and using those habits until they become second nature. When we can rely on structures to support our advances into unknown design problems, we don’t worry as much about taking the first step, or screwing up the execution of our idea. Those on the making side must focus more on the theory and reasoning behind the things they create, and vice versa; those on the theoretical side must hone their ability to create. Ultimately the best-looking thing is meaningless if there’s nothing behind the façade, and the best story is useless if nobody can understand it. My sense is that at the most fundamental level, as designers we need to focus on gaining resolution in the tension between concrete practices and thinking.

As more and more of our design problems become entirely systemic or have no physical instantiation, we must rely on craft-based structures to guide us. There is probably always going to be some gulf between those that value “thinking is making” and those that value the intellect or concept over the physical. If we understand the principles that lead to that confusion or tension, we can recognize the gulf as it happens and try to design reconciliation.

Foundation in design school used to be seen as gaining knowledge in a certain physical process (typography, printing, color theory etc.) but those tactical tools in themselves fall short of the needs designers face today. Technology is moving at such a pace that we can’t hope to spend 10,000 hours in any one discipline and be certain that the discipline itself will remain relevant or timely. Luckily we can offset some of our learning time to the tools themselves. It doesn’t take as much time to gain mastery of Photoshop and pixels as it does to master a lathe and to understand grain patterns of wood. Thus, we can focus on the process behind the tools themselves, abstracting the tool to a behavior (a balance of both theory and making) that can be applied to any number of design problems. This allows us flexibility while also staying true to the changing nature of craft itself.


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