The best designers exercise high MAYA, that is they have their advanced ideas but know when to allow acceptability to limit that idea. Once an idea was in the public space then what is acceptable to the public expands because they have been exposed to new ideas. A famous example is the Beatles who started by releasing fairly safe popular music but became increasingly experimental as their fame allowed.
As always, when concepting ideas always start with creating the most advanced ideas first. During concepting boundaries” (and “Yet Acceptable” is a boundary) must be relaxed or overly safe ideas will happen. Once the concepts are created then the “Yet Acceptable” constraint can then be used to filter the concepts. The essence of the MAYA ideal is to be touching the “Yet Acceptable” boundary, not to remain safely within it.
Creative Horizons Theory (CHT) suggests that most people can only see a single horizon away from their present set of ideas. CHT also proposes a set of creativity labels for each horizon step away from the status quo (Copy, Derivative, Cool, Visionary, Crackpot). Both MAYA and CHT say that a solution too advanced will be unacceptable to its audience. CHT further suggests that an idea too far from the status quo is based on conjectures and assumptions about the solution that are more likely to be wrong the further from the status quo they are.
When you have your next wild idea consider using the lessons of MAYA to making the idea more immediately acceptable by walking it back a few Creative Horizons. Once the revised idea has been accepted then the true vision will have a better chance.
There are many tools on the Internet that can help you find and get design jobs. Nothing beats real life networking and knocking on doors with the CV and Portfolio but using this in combination with the Internet will help your efforts.
Many employers will Google your name. Try this yourself and if the results are not flattering then consider increasing your digital footprint on good websites and increasing the privacy settings on your personal life related accounts (such as Facebook). If you have a portfolio website and it is not coming up highly in the search results then ensure that the site follows basic SEO principles and submit it to Google.
A personal portfolio website can be a good tool – but it must be kept up to date. Make sure that your name and employment status is up to date. Make your work the focus of the website and avoid long runs of text. Keep the navigation simple and straight forward. Go for flair on these websites because you want to make a memorable impression. Traffic will not magically find your website – they will discover a link to your site in other places like business cards and places you have gone online.
Portfolio websites such as Behance and DeviantArt are excellent for getting work online quickly but the community nature of these things means that attention is taken off you and your work very easily. Interacting with these communities is good but remember that most of the people there are also competing for the same work that you are.
LinkedIn is a great website for professional networking. Update your profile with a resume of your experience and add a small portfolio of work. Link people to your personal website. Join Design related groups and get involved in the discussions there. These groups often have job postings and the members are usually helpful if you are prepared to fully engage with the community instead of drive-by spamming.
Twitter is another great tool for job-seekers. Follow as many local studios as possible because often job openings will go out via their twitter feed first. The same applies for Facebook pages – follow as many studios as possible. It also helps in getting an inside look into a studio that you can leverage if you get an interview there.
Do not underestimate the power of old-fashioned networking. The more people you know and converse with, then more likely one of them knows of a job or has freelance job that needs doing. Widen your circle beyond design friends because they only pass things on to you that they do not want. Make contacts in the wider business community. Ask people you know (even relatives) for introductions. Ask to be taken to social occasions where possible – just get out there.
Always try to contact potential employers by phone or in person. Email is just too easy for them to ignore. A voice on a phone makes you a real person and allows your personality to come through in ways that email cannot.
Good luck it is tough out there.
Graphic designers are always encouraged to push the boundaries. What does this mean and how do we do this successfully? Pushing a boundary means testing a pre-conceived limitation on the design project with ideas that ignore (or modify) that limitation. Any constraint or boundary may be pushed provided that it increases the appropriateness of the work.
A graphic designer must understand the boundaries of the project. Boundaries include: client preferences, budget, time, designer skills, what is appropriate for the target audience. Some boundaries can be quantified (deadline and budget) while others are more nebulous (client preference). Most boundaries will require client buy-in to change. A change in budget or a deadline could have legal ramifications if not agreed to by the client.
Beware the lenient boundary – this is where a client has given more rope than they are honestly prepared to accept. For example: The client says “we don’t want to look like other widget companies” then starts critiques with “doesn’t look enough like a widget company”. If this happens then note how your understanding of the boundary has shifted or be prepared for many rounds of revisions.
Another boundary is the limitations of visual thought in the designer. Initial concepts are often cliché and follow the trends of the day. Visual research is great to inform a designer but inform does not equal copying or direct derivation. Following the design process helps designers break free from the boundaries of initial thoughts.
Concept ideas that are bigger than the constraints set by the boundaries. Targeting a design for the boundaries results in work that is too safe. It is much better to have to scale a big idea downwards to fit boundaries than to scale a small idea upwards. At a minimum a scaled big idea will still contain a suggestion or vision of the bigger idea. Usually the process of scaling the idea will help a designer just which of the boundaries can be pushed. “Status quo plus one plus one” thinking can be useful in imagining concepts to become larger.
A tip in pushing visual boundaries is to temporarily relax boundaries one at a time then try concepting with each relaxed boundary in mind. Concepting becomes a matter of asking “What if that boundary was further out? What ideas are now possible?” Relaxing boundaries is a brute force way for out of the box thinking because it makes room for the designer to challenge the box itself.
Choosing a colour scheme is only the beginning. Even a good colour scheme needs to be applied well in order to successfully communicate a message while being aesthetically pleasing. While this post is primarily intended for design beginners, hopefully experts will find a memory jog useful. Please comment and share your best colour scheme tips for the benefit of others.
Usually every colour scheme gets white added by default. White is the neutral background colour of paper and web pages. Think of white as negative space. It is much easier to design with a white background than a black one.
Think which colours in the scheme should dominate and which should be highlight colours. This will depend on the feel (or brand) the design is trying to communicate. Dominant colours should be used liberally and highlight colours less so. If the colour area coverages are close to equal then a colour scheme will tend to look discordant (and thus visually noisy and therefore less aesthetically appealing) so go for variety in the amount of each colour used.
The dominant colours are usually chosen by grouping the scheme colours that are closest together on the colour wheel. The colours that are the fartherest away from others become the highlight colours. This gives an overall harmonious feel but has the excitement of a few highlight splashes for interest. For example, in a split-complementary scheme usually the split colours are dominant and the complementary colour becomes the highlight. Break this rule to interesting effect.
Each design also establishes semantic meanings for colours. Things that have the same meaning should be coloured the same, things that have different meanings can be coloured differently.
It is easiest to start with colour schemes of just three or four colours. (Two colour schemes are often too boring). In more complex schemes there will be certain colours that only work next to a couple of other colours in the scheme. Colours that are far apart in hue but close in saturation and brightness will visually vibrate because the dominance is not clear. For example, Christmas designs tend to avoid putting green next to red – an intermediary colour like white, silver or gold is used to separate them.
Learn to think in the HSV (Hue Saturation Value/Brightness) space when looking at colour schemes. The mathematical relationships between the colours are easier to understand in HSV mode. It is then easy to see how a successful scheme can be reinterpreted in a different hue simply by rotating all colours around the wheel. Or (my favourite example) by taking the heavy earthy traditional colours of deep blues, greens and maroons and reducing the saturations and increasing the brightnesses transforms the scheme into the pastels commonly for weddings. The key to comparing colour schemes can often be found in HSV.
What’s your favourite colour scheme tip?
Why must users make conscious decisions when to save a file? Surely a computer can work this out for itself? Imagine if saving files just happened automatically. Imagine being able to undo actions somebody performed on a file ten years ago? It is generally not possible with the current way that files are saved but a software change can make this possible. Welcome to a rant I’ve had for the last decade.
Current Save actions place a snapshot of the current state of a file on permanent storage. Forget to save and it’s only one power outage away from the loss of hours of work. Files are created by a stream of user actions which each change the state of the file. If a computer saved actions as they were being performed then the current state of a file can be recreated by just replaying the action stream. Work can resume where the user was just seconds before an interruption.
File | Save is replaced by a “Bookmark Progress Milestone” command that inserts a status bookmark into the action stream that indicates some significance to that state of the file. A user should be able to annotate these bookmarks – and even rewind the action stream to add a bookmark to a past state. If a user wants to create different variations of the same file (e.g. a designer wanting to make a blue version and a red version) then the action stream can be forked. Our current Undo actions should rewind the action stream then create a fork in the action stream when the user resumes performing actions. This means that even an Undo action can be undone.
It should be left to the computer to decide when to create snapshots of the file state. For speed more snapshots can be created. The computer could create snapshots after every computationally expensive action just to make opening the file quicker in future. Snapshots at bookmarks are probably reasonable too.
Snapshots can be deleted to save storage space because only the action stream is needed to recreate the file state at any point in time. Snapshot culling should be integrated into the operating system so that it can be triggered automatically when storage space runs low even if the original creating programme is not longer available. Some actions in the action stream could be merged and perhaps some useless forks culled – like the forks created by Undo actions.
File | “Save as ...” still has an important role. It takes any point in an action stream (usually the most current one) and allows the user to save a snapshot to a different file type (e.g. a Photoshop file to a JPEG or a document to a PDF). “Save as …” should also create a bookmark in the action stream.
Storage space is cheap and managing storage space should be a task we delegate to the operating system. Why waste precious human time? The only reasons to keep Snapshot based savings are based on historical constraints that no longer exist in modern computer systems. Time for File | Save to go!
(This is the second article in Future Design Software. Read the first article: Design at the level of thought, message and feeling.)
Graphic design software has steadily increased in power. At first the focus was on improving the visual expression capability of the software but gradually, with the addition of work-flow tools, productivity has become important. However, today’s software is limited by a direct manipulation mindset.
Direct manipulation interfaces allow designers to tweak individual elements on screen by using a mouse and keyboard (and/or commonly a tablet). This means that the designer’s vision must be transformed into discrete steps of computer interactions - think of it like the visual equivalent of programming. Any adjustments to the “feel” of a design piece are non-trivial and will often involve many interactions.
What if there was software for designers that worked more at the level of thought, message and feel? There are two areas of research that combine to produce the design software of the future: Generative Design and Aesthetic Science.
Generative design systems take parameters then produce a set of candidate designs for a designer to select from. Sophisticated generative design systems can then use those selected items to further iterate and produce more (and hopefully better) candidate designs. Imagine feeding the text and image library for a poster to software and having it come up with thousands of concepts for you within seconds.
Aesthetic Science tests (usually following Psychology modes of testing) for aesthetics that are universal. Once an aesthetic principle has been established as universal then it can be algorithmically modelled. A computer can run the algorithms to judge design pieces on an aesthetic level. Yes, aesthetics is a complicated area but we do not need a complete understanding to produce computer tools that can still be useful.
Examples of existing work in aesthetic algorithms are Donald Knuth and the TEX typesetting system, auto-balance/contrast and colour correction in photographic software and the Text Colour Contrast algorithms used by the W3C. My own research is searching for algorithms for measuring the design principle of unity. Unity has already been established as an aesthetic universal by fMRI brain scanner research in Europe. My research is in the blue-sky stage.
A criticism of generative design is that the generated candidate designs tend to break too many aesthetic universals. The designer ends up weeding out useless chaff rather than thinking at the level of message and feel.
Future design software could use a generative system approach but incorporate aesthetic algorithms to pre-screen the concepts shown to the designer. The designer can then discard designs, keep designs and even use a semantic differential like system for rating the feel of designs. Then, the generative system can iterate more concepts – for as many rounds as the designer deems necessary. Changing the feel of a design is simply a matter of asking for something in emotive terms : e.g. A bit happier and a stronger sense of community. At the end the designer gets a file they can load into direct manipulation software (like InDesign) for refinement. This process could take less than five minutes.
UPDATE 20130401: Complexity Science (eturnerx blog article) could provide insights that help build a generative design system. Conventional science methods might be too limited.
Welcome to a more human and productive design future. There will be more articles in this series.
I invite your comments. Your reactions inspire me. I hope my ideas are worthy of sharing with your posse.
Around 1645AD a samurai named Miyamoto Musashi wrote a book called the “Book of Five Rings”. It is a martial arts and strategy book that is considered a classic alongside Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”.
Musashi makes a distinction between the novice, the competent and the expert. He said that the novice must learn kata (set martial arts moves and routines) in order to become competent. However, for a competent swordsman to become expert they must abandon the kata and again become like the beginner so that the expert’s moves become creatively unpredictable. The difference between the novice and the expert is that the expert moved through the experience of being the rule-following competent and transcended it.
Musashi’s teaching transfers easily to design: first a beginner designer must learn the rules of good design. These are grid systems, colour theory, typography and the like. Once the designer becomes competent they will only become transcendent design experts if they learn when to creatively break the rules in ways that increase the effectiveness of their design output.
This matches a theory I once heard in a workshop. I was told that the theorist was Chris Argyris but I have been unable to locate this theory in his writing. Beginners will reach competence quickest if they follow rules that have been set and taught by experts in the field. As the individual becomes more experienced then their own experience starts to take over. Once they are relying more on their own experience than taught rules then they are on the road to becoming experts.
According to the theory it takes at least three to four years before experience is enough to start being more useful than learned rules. It takes at least 7 years for a person to become a true expert at what they do. Some professions expect at least 10 years or 10,000 hours practice before somebody can call themselves an expert.
So I cringe when I hear famous designers exhorting first year design students to break the rules. Yes, as a rule designers should push the boundaries but that is different to breaking the rules. The results of beginners breaking the rules are usually a mess. Degree level design students simply don’t yet have the experience or have developed the judgment that tells them when they have successful broken the rules. The rule breaking advice is absolutely perfect for competent designers – especially those that have been stuck in a creative rut for a while.
Over my career in graphic design education I have interviewed many prospective students and have seen hundreds graduate. I have followed their careers as they have been promoted, started their own businesses and won awards. From this experience I can state the traits that are common to those I’ve seen become successful career designers.
Visual people are able to talk about visual things. They have opinions. They’ll move their hands a lot as they talk – manipulating imaginary images as we converse. Communicators with big personalities will do well in design provided they are talking about what they have done and not what they might do. Beware the talkers with no design work to show – suggest they do marketing instead. Curiosity is important because designers should always ask questions.
The person will show creative flair. This is particularly important for those wanting to become illustrators and photographers. Their portfolio will have pieces that have an experimental motivation.
Drawing skills are always good. I look for smooth stokes that show confidence and speed. Tight nervous strokes often reflect the personality or are traced! While awesome drawing ability is not mandatory every designer needs to be able to draw at some level – even if it’s just sketching layout wireframes. Other technical skills (like software skills) are useful, but not really that important because the student can learn these on the course.
What do they do in their spare time? I look for driven people who use their spare time for interests and pursuits. It’s a good sign if they are self-motivated enough to design outside of their school-work. It is also good to see a hobby, club, sport or other interest that they are involved with. Designers need to understand the special details of their target audiences so it helps if they are passionate about something (anything!) because they will realize that everything has a unique depth.
Good designers have a very strong work ethic. They are focused on getting things done. Students who are not prepared to work hard will usually do poorly in design. An ordinary work ethic with extraordinary creative flair will normally score in the C to B- range. Hard workers with average creative flair generally score B grades. Creative people with a strong work ethic score the A grades. The people scoring in the C grades might actually have been better off doing a fine-arts course because they have creative flair but methodical nature of the systematic design process might just put them off applying themselves in design. (The relationship between personality and grades is mildly-satirised in What do Design School Grades Mean?)
Designers must have an obsessive attention to details (The exception being that their spelling will often contain errors). The trick with good graphic design is to obsess over details until the practicality of delivering the project on time and on budget means that corners must be cut. It’s a fine balancing act – you want detail people who can turn off the compulsion at the right time. These people are the straighteners, fussiers and tidiers.
Graphic design is a diverse field with many different roles that suit different personalities and skill preferences. The above list is a guideline only but if you know somebody that exhibits many of the above traits then perhaps they might make a good designer.
Read "Should I study graphic design?" Jobs, Career and Money to look at employment prospects and some tips on choosing a design school.
When formatting semantic web triplets (subject -> predicate -> object) for display, it is useful to have further information about the predicates that are available. Predicates can be classified into three different types: Related, Independent and Sets. Knowledge of these predicate types can inform presentation of semantic web data in a display.
Related predicates naturally belong together. When all data for a subject is presented a user will generally expect that related predicates are displayed in close proximity to each other and perhaps have a title to name the cluster of predicates (e.g. Personal Data”). Related predicates proximally cluster in a display to reinforce the meaning of each other. Examples of related predicates are: foaf:familyName & foaf:givenName, dc:subject & dc:type and wgs84_pos:lat & wgs84_pos:long (latitude and longitude) . A cluster of related predicates may indicate that a linked ontological class could have been formed from the cluster and linked back to the original subject, but the ontology designers probably decided to simplify the ontology be reducing inter-subject relationships. Examples of this are: foaf:familyName & foaf:givenName could have been moved into a PersonName class but given that almost every person has a name it would be pointless complexity to have done so.
Independent predicates stand completely alone and are not related to other predicates within an ontological class. Note that related and independent should be more considered a continuum of the degree of relatedness between all predicates in an ontological class. Independent predicates are those that do not naturally cluster with other predicates. Examples of independent predicates are: dc:name, rdf:title, and foaf:depiction.
Set predicates can be repeated many times within a subject with different objects in each triplet. This effectively creates a list (or set) of predicate-object pairs within the subject. Examples include: geoname:wikipediaArticle, foaf:knows and gedcom:marriage. Users will generally expect that sets members will be displayed in close proximity. In some display formats it is possible (and perhaps even preferable) to display the predicate label only once.
It is possible to identify set type predicates by examining the rdf data because set type predicates will be repeated with different objects. Automatically identifying related and independent predicates is not so easy because information about these predicate types are not generally contained in the ontological specification. Therefore, additional ontological specification is needed and relatedness/independentness will need to be added by humans once per ontology.
Given that each predicate type has different user expectations for display then a semantic web browser that knows the predicate type contained within an ontological class can make more user appropriate decisions about the display of semantic web data.
An earlier post introduced the concept of status quo+1+1 thinking. This new post attempts to clarify the idea further and to also discus status quo+1+1 in the context of a grander theory of creative thinking called Creative Horizons Theory.
In status quo+1+1 thinking it is important to evaluate what the world will look like after the first +1 improvement. What has changed? Once that has been extrapolated then consider what the new needs of the client/audience are. What is the next +1 improvement that can be done from that point? This cannot be done with a proper empathic evaluation of how the world would change. It requires the ability to temporarily suspend the confines of this reality and replace it with a new reality – all from the perspective of your client/audience.
So what happens when more +1s are added to the process? This is the beginnings of what I’ve termed Creative Horizons Theory. Imagine that the present headspace of the world is the status-quo. There is a visibility problem because thinkers with new ideas only “see” so far from the status-quo into the infinite idea space. This limited visibility is the Creative Horizon. With the power of imagination and thought humans can place themselves at the Creative Horizon and then see further – potentially to a new horizon. The process can be repeated.
The danger is that human thought and imagination cannot accurately place itself where the world would be if it were at the new horizon – at best we are educated guessers. So, the further out a thinker goes – the more horizons they extrapolate to – the greater the danger of inaccurate thinking and the more disconnected the idea becomes from reality. Also the ideas that are too far out will be harder to explain and are more likely to encounter conservative counter-reactions.
There is a taxonomy of labels that is useful to describe each Creative Horizon leap:
Status quo: Copy
Status quo+1: Derivative, Obvious
Status quo+1+1: Cool, Original
Status quo+1+1+1: Visionary
Status quo+1+1+1+1: Crack-pot, Madness
The working paper (tech. report) based on chapter two of my doctorate has just been published. It is entitled "A Review of User Interface Adaption in Current Semantic Web Browsers".
Abstract: This paper reviews current semantic web browsers to see if they can adaptively show meaningful data presentations to users. The paper also seeks to discover if current semantic web browsers provide a rich enough set of capabilities for future user interface work to be built upon.
We all have had that moment where we saw something and automatically generated a “Wow” in us. This can happen when that thing made us realize it solves a problem that we did not know that we had. The cool comes from doing what we did not realize we needed.
Asking a target audience or client how to improve something gives only “status quo plus 1” type responses that are a only single evolutionary step beyond what they have now. Doing those things is not going to knock anybodies’ socks off. The results will be good but hardly revolutionary because the improvements are all rather obvious.
One way of achieving “the wow” in design work is to solve for latent needs. Latent needs are needs that people did not realize that they had. An easy hack to discover latent needs is to imagine if the user or client had the improvements that they originally asked for then imagine how their desires would then change and then guess what they would ask for next.
This kind of “status quo plus one plus one” creative thinking takes an understanding of your client and audience but appears as genius if you can pull it off.
I was once told that I must really enjoy the creative freedom to express myself that came with being a graphic designer. This annoyed me because I was being confused with being a fine artist - again. Stated in the simplest of terms the job of a graphic designer is to express a client's message via a medium so that it is understood by a target audience. There is no consideration of whether or not designer self-expression occurs.
Designers need different skills for each part of the message-medium-audience model. These skills go beyond the visual and computer skills traditionally associated with designers.
A graphic designer must understand the message completely but clients often cannot fully express the message. A message contains both an informative/explicit component (e.g. 10% discount today only) and an implicit/emotive component (e.g. amazement, reliability). While clients are generally good at the explicit message they may need help in deciding on the emotive message. Ask the client for keywords to describe how they want the audience to feel as audience experiences the work. The designer can propose their best initial guess as a starting point for collaboration with the client.
Once the designer understands the message they then use aesthetic ability, technical skill and knowledge with a medium to produce a design work. A skilled designer will produce work that is sympathetic to the medium so that the message is enhanced by the medium instead of fighting it. For example a web design is going to naturally feel more modern than a newspaper ad.
There is a political dimension to the message-medium-audience model. The client signs the cheques so what they insist goes unless the designer is prepared to fire the client. This means that one important part of being a designer is mediating between what is best for delivering the message to the audience and the client's instructions. For example a client might want a picture of their new cat on their website when the audience might be turned off by cats. Graphic designers who are able to deliver the message successfully to the target audience while keeping the clients happy enough to keep the designer in business will ultimately be the most successful.
The message-medium-audience model is very absolute in ignoring the self-expression of the designer. This means that graphic designers must find job satisfaction in the process of design itself and not necessarily in the outcomes. The outcomes might be totally appropriate in delivering the message to the target audience while not artistically stimulating the designer. Therefore designers that desire artistic outlets for self-expression should take up arts as a hobby.
My earliest memory of design school is being told by my tutor Chris Gibson that creativity cannot exist without boundaries. Without boundaries a piece of work is not creative because in a boundary free environment anything was just as good as something else. Until then I had always assumed that creativity was all about originality. Fitting boundaries is about being appropriate.
We can resolve these two differences in defining creativity. Consider that creativity is both comprised of both originality and appropriateness. Most creative endeavors (such as the fine arts) value originality above appropriateness. Graphic design values appropriateness above originality. One is not totally without the other in practice; there are expectations on what is appropriate in art and expectations of originality in design. In fact, there are legal minimums (copyright) and cultural expectations (copycat) that suggest a certain level of originality is required in all graphic design.
The systematic tradition of graphic design education emphasizes the design process. This is because the design process gives multiple opportunities to evaluate the appropriateness of proposed solutions against boundaries in order to improve the appropriateness over time. Fine Art approaches to teaching emphasize originality – finding your own voice, uniqueness and inspiration.
Fully understanding the real constraints that affect the appropriateness of a piece of work is the foundation of successful graphic design works. Some boundaries are concrete and easy to quantify e.g. budget and deadline. Many boundaries are not that obvious and can only be discovered by considering the message, media, target audience and client. This tells us that that appropriateness is specific to culture and not just the physical constraints of the world.
The over-riding consideration of appropriateness in graphic design is that a message is understood with maximum clarity by a target audience. All other appropriateness considerations should be secondary.