Herman Miller has a new series on their site called Why Design where they will be profiling designers. From the site:
At Herman Miller design is the language we use to ask questions and seek answers to the problems our customers face. The design process is a journey into the unknown—or as George Nelson once quipped, “I have never met a designer who was retained to keep things the same as they were.” Before we decide what we do and how we do it, we like to begin by asking the question “Why?” In Why Design, a new video series, we explore the world through the eyes of our designers, and share something of why we value their point of view.
The first profile is Yves Béhar and is an inspirational video on how surfing is like improvisational jazz and how that compares to the design process. It’s a great first profile and I’m looking forward to future additions to the series.
Allen Tan has a great piece over at Contents Magazine on the struggles between full art direction on the web and the restraints of CMS templates. Using the metaphor of a tailor, Tan proposes templates that adjust to content:
If we compare digital editorial design to the craft of men’s shirt-making, art-directed pages would be bespoke shirts—luxury items uniquely made for an individual. On the opposite end of the spectrum are off-the-rack shirts, idealized designs manufactured en masse. Like article templates, these are ill-fitting, because standard-sized shirts can not fit every wearer’s body. But there’s also a middle path, which is to buy a good off-the-rack shirt and entrust it to a specialist, who takes the wearer’s measurements and then shortens and sculpts the shirt to fit. The shirt is, in other words, tailored.
We’ve learned that art directing articles online is a laborious and expensive endeavor but templated design separates content from form making for ill-fitted online publications. This concept fits into a lot of things that interest me: art direction on the web, frameworks, online content, and improvisation.
The idea of tailoring the form can act as the glue pulling design and content together:
Technologically, a tailoring approach isn’t very different from the design work we already do, but it opens new possibilities. By combining flexible templates with talented tailors, newspapers can begin to introduce strong design on a scale unseen so far: not the plain, minimalist layouts we see in read-later tools or Flipboard, but truly platform- and content-aware work. Magazines can benefit just as much, if not more, since tailored design can reflect pacing and rhythm across an entire issue as well as within individual articles. And, just as web type services allows rich typography to flourish online, tailoring permits designers to draw on more of print design’s history without ignoring the benefits of the web. By pushing hard on understanding what specific content wants, we will get to confront more interesting problems.
“You’ve got to be able to take a chance to die. And you have to die lots. You have to die all the time. You’re goin’ out there with just a whisper of an idea. The fear will make you clench up. That’s the fear of dying. When you start and the first few lines don’t grab and people are going like, “What’s this? I’m not laughing and I’m not interested,” then you just put your arms out like this and open way up and that allows your stuff to go out. Otherwise it’s just stuck inside you.”
The renowned Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami originally wanted to be a musician and explains how everything he learned about writing he learned from Jazz:
Whether in music or in fiction, the most basic thing is rhythm. Your style needs to have good, natural, steady rhythm, or people won’t keep reading your work. I learned the importance of rhythm from music — and mainly from jazz. Next comes melody — which, in literature, means the appropriate arrangement of the words to match the rhythm. If the way the words fit the rhythm is smooth and beautiful, you can’t ask for anything more. Next is harmony — the internal mental sounds that support the words. Then comes the part I like best: free improvisation. Through some special channel, the story comes welling out freely from inside. All I have to do is get into the flow. Finally comes what may be the most important thing: that high you experience upon completing a work — upon ending your “performance” and feeling you have succeeded in reaching a place that is new and meaningful. And if all goes well, you get to share that sense of elevation with your readers (your audience). That is a marvelous culmination that can be achieved in no other way.
It’s always interesting to me how areas of interest outside our fields seem to always teach us the most about our craft.
I just finished watching the documentary The Universal Mind of Bill Evans. Originally filmed in 1966 and introduced by Steve Allen, the 45-minute telecast features the legendary jazz musician Bill Evans in conversation with his brother, music teacher Harry Evans on the creativity of jazz, improv, and teaching music. This is one of my favorite parts, featuring Evans talking about the ideas behind improvisation.
Pitchfork has an excellent interview with Brian Eno, arguably one of the most influential musicians of the past few decades. He covers a wide range of topics that seem to transcend music and relate to all art forms. On the various ways we consume music:
I think that every format really is a different way of listening. If you take a different sort of psychological stance to it— like, I think the transition from vinyl to CD definitely marked a difference in the way people treated music. The vinyl commands a certain kind of reverence because it’s a big object and quite fragile so you handle it rather carefully, and it’s expensive so you pay attention to how it’s looked after. And, of course, very importantly, it comes in 20-minute chunks, and after 20 minutes you have to do something— listen to it again or whatever. So, I think it’s a big difference from having a CD, which you can play on random shuffle and which is going to play for an hour or more. And then, of course, that’s quite different from downloads, where you can listen infinitely without knowing often what you’re listening to.
we have two different ways of working. One is completely unstructured where somebody just starts playing and somebody joins in and then the other person joins in, and something starts to happen. That’s occasionally what happens. What more often happens is that we settle on some sort of— a few sort of structural ideas, like, “Okay, when I put my finger up, we’re all going to move to the extremes of our instruments. So, that means you can only play either very high or very low or both. And we’re going to stay there until I take my finger down.”
I love it when I realize a concept I’ve thought about and written about for a few years can also be applied to something else. One of the principles in my manifesto is “The best work comes from the place between the known and the unknown.” When I wrote that, I was primarily thinking about tools and skill sets, meaning when your designs will be better when you are stretched to learn a new skill or tool because you will be more open to experiment, you will have a great chance of failing and thus, produce different results than if you stick to your usual tools, skills, and practices.
Lately, however, I’ve been thinking about this concept in regards to the designer and audience relationship. For years, design has been described as a narrative initiated by the designer, usually resulting in a one-way dialog—designer to audience. I believe this method of design is changing with the rise of interactive design and the design process is no longer one continuous narrative but a conversation between designer and audience.