Posts tagged “debbie millman”

Design and Research had a baby and they called it . . .

Sketches for “Personal Greenhouse” ¬©2007 Dan Soltzberg

Debbie Millman and Mike Bainbridge have posted their article, Design Meets Research, over at Gain: AIGA Journal of Design & Business. The piece provides a quick overview of various tools in the research toolbox, calls out their particular strengths and drawbacks, and makes the point that picking the right tool for the job and using it well are paramount.

Here are a couple of quotes from the article and some of my thoughts in response:

There are a wide variety of research techniques that can have merit for designers. . . There is not, repeat not, one correct way to test design.

I see research very much as a generative tool as well as an evaluative one, and have started to question whether the concept of a border between research and design is really accurate or productive. At the front end of the design process, research is a way of surfacing opportunities and generating ideas. At later stages, it’s a way of refining and validating these ideas as they become concepts and prototypes. In this way, research is a design tool in the same way that drawing is a design tool, except that at the center of the mechanism is the customer/user.

When used correctly, research shouldn’t stifle creativity but rather offer designers stronger inspiration and focus.

By taking a facilitative, collaborative approach to working with companies and design teams, research and research findings can be integrated into the design process in ways that enhance rather than stifle creativity. Keeping the customer/user and their needs prominent throughout the design process needn’t be limiting–having clear goals and constraints ultimately makes a design problem more interesting and leads to better, more elegant solutions.

And better, more elegant solutions are, after all, the end game here.

What I Read On My Vacation

Where Were You by Rob Walker
Walker collects a year’s worth of reactions to various obituaries. While I admire his lo-fi approach to turning a habit into a publication, and acknowledge that he promised very little except “here it is” I mostly found this unsatisfying. Walker is a good storyteller, journalist, writer, etc. He gets his facts in line and then tells us what it means. He (by design) doesn’t do that here. And so you get a lot of “I didn’t really know this…” or “I don’t really care about that” which mostly generates a squawk reaction in me. What?! How could you not know….how could you think that…etc. etc. And that isn’t pleasant. It was a quick experiment as a reader, so no regrets.

How to Think Like a Great Graphic Designer by Debbie Millman
This is the sort of book I’d imagined writing someday – sitting down with a bunch of folks in a similar field and interviewing them. I ran an impromptu panel discussion at a regional IDSA event in 2004 where I did just that. And I’ve done a few podcasts for Core77 (including one with Debbie Millman). For the most part, this book was fascinating. It’s a powerful demonstration of how crucial rapport is to a good interview. In many cases, Debbie is interviewing people with whom she has a historical relationship, and so that rapport comes from friendship/colleagueship. In other cases, she’s encountering them for the first time in their (in-person or email) interview. I’m not sure, but I think I can tell the difference; certainly the in-person interviews range wider and allow for more following up and clarification, and that’s often where the good stuff comes out.

The subjects are all prominent in the graphic design field (although many of them were names I did not know) and many of the questions are exactly the same; this reveals itself more in the email interviews where the lack of opportunity to follow-up creates a disappointing sameness. By the end of the book, I was pretty bored in the same questions over and over again. I could see cutting out some of the interviews and letting the remaining ones go a little longer.

The book is mostly fascinating, however. Some themes and characteristics emerge: relevance, ego, humility and insecurity, thoughts on creativity and collaboration, and what I found to be the biggest personal a-ha – the relationship of other professional-level endeavors to support the primary one. These folks all identify as designers, but most of them also express themselves as painters or writers, and tell a coherent story as to how that activity is a critical complementary pillar to their design process/identity. Maybe that’s true for many of us; do we talk about it enough or is there a concern that this will dilute our perceived quality in our primary professional identity. Certainly for me, writing and photography feed into the work I do with our clients. I’ve advocated for others to develop these secondary pieces in order to support their main work. Still, it was gratifying to see that emerge strongly and consistently across these thought leaders.

Rochdale: The Runaway College by David Sharpe
My time at University of Toronto was blocks away from this rather drab senior center; one day I heard from one of my residence pals that said building had once been a den of hippiedom, an out-of-control social experiment. I picked up bits and pieces over the years, but this was my first chance to read an in-depth history of the Rochdale experiment. It’s a perfect artifact of the 60s idealism/naivete giving way to abuse, crime, drugs, financial ruin, and every other form of entropy.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
I know we’re supposed to love Vonnegut for his sadly wry commentary about the nature of man, but this is my third Vonnegut in a short time and I have been left wanting each time.

Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan by Alex Kerr
I just started this book in advance of our trip to Japan in just a couple of weeks!

Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs by Dave Bidini
What is it about the Canadian book publishing industry that they can’t afford copy editors? Bidini tells a story about how in the early days of his band (the Rheostatics) they blew off a record exec who got the name of an XTC album wrong. But Bidini makes a couple of errors himself when referring to the titles of popular rock songs (while he’s being dismissive of those songs, even); his publisher should make sure he doesn’t look like a hypocrite! Anyway, it’s another round-the-world book from Bidini. In 2002 he went across the globe to play hockey in strange places, here he’s playing rock-n-roll in strange places. His adventures are great, his writing is improving (editing notwithstanding), and he’s fairly fearless in engaging with strangers across the barriers of culture, politics, alcohol, and hunger.

Woken Furies by Richard K. Morgan
All the books in this series are complex, mysterious, hardboiled, techy, and filled with action. I love ’em.

JPod by Douglas Coupland
I’m already on record objecting to this book, since Coupland figures as a character. I finally read the book (rather than criticizing it without having read it) and it was…okay. The parts with Coupland were extremely distracting, taking you out of the narrative to wonder why the author put himself in the book, why the author had the narrator despise Coupland so. Is that clever irony, oh, Coupland wrote the book but he’s using someone else to talk crap about him? It’s really him that’s saying that? See…distracting. Otherwise, it was a satisfactory Coupland romp, without the soul-cutting brilliance that a third of his books reaches. Oh, and J-pod has nothing to do with Japan or iPods. Phew.

Debbie Millman and Alan Dye

Alan Dye, originally uploaded by debbie millman.

Originally uploaded by debbie millman.

Last night I went to the AIGA’sDesign Matters Live featuring Alan Dye interviewed by Debbie Millman (who I did a fun podcast with a few months ago).

I was fairly out of my element; the first presenter gave a tutorial on how to use Illustrator and Photoshop (and InDesign) to do things like Layer Comps. He explained it very well, but there were moments when a nifty way of doing something would evoke yelps of delight from the audience, many of whom who were using the same applications to solve some of the same problems. I’m definitely not one of those people, however.

I didn’t know anything about Alan Dye, either. He’s a creative director at Apple; I’m not entirely sure what that job title refers to. He’s worked at Kate Spade, I would think they make purses, but that’s probably all I knew.

But what Debbie does is get great people in, and have great conversations with them. She and Alan had a great dialog as they walked through his career, with lots of anecdotes that provided insight into one person’s creative process, layered against different work processes and company cultures. This was not any sort of ethnography, but the frisson from hearing someone share their stories was similar.

Two particularly cool points in the interview:

  • The Adobe demo used a bunch of Alan’s files (designs for a book cover, and a magazine cover) and when Alan came on stage he expressed some distress over the fact that “all the type was defaulting.” He was referring (I think) to the fact that the his machine and the demo machine were configured differently and the fonts in the demo were not the fonts that he was using in his designs, and so were not appearing correctly. I mostly just liked the phrase; such an insider’s way of putting it.
  • Alan related a story about a focus group gone typically wrong, when they showed some Molson labels to some 20-year old guys in Philadelphia. One participant cast himself as the alpha male and declared that it looked like a “gay beer” and of course, no one else in the group was willing to say “Well, I kinda like it…” Alan described his preference to really talk with people and observe them. That comment isn’t so radical, but the fact that it comes from a leader in the graphic design community (not historically the most user-centered of design practices) is awesome.

You can check out archived Design Matters broadcasts here (and these feature one of the best parts: Debbie’s articulate state-of-the-world rants that lead off each episode). No link to Alan’s site because he doesn’t have one (yet, as he told me afterwards).

Update: a short film based on this event has just been posted

Communication Arts props

Communication Arts offers up 50 Essential Bookmarks. Of course, they’ve got Core77 (where I sometimes blog and write) as well as a nice sidebar about Design Observer, that quotes me

Design Observer has reached beyond the world of design. Fast Company counts this blog as one of seven must-reads for design. “Though academic at times, this smart blog hosts a thriving community.” Marketing consultant Steve Portigal (a repeat visitor and author of his own blog All This ChittahChattah) posted this note after a heated online debate: “Thanks… for a great piece. This is what blogs excel at-a personal story, not too confessional…a relevant one, of course, mixed in with perspective, and analysis. Add in an articulate critique of colleagues whom are liked and respected (but not unequivocally supported in every single decision) and you’ve got real leadership.”

Marketing consultant? Not quite. And how’s about linking to this blog, not just mentioning it?
Well, anyway, all is not lost. Debbie Millman, in a separate sidebar (or popup; whatever) lists All This ChittahChattah as one of the “sites they consider to be vital to their work.” Thanks, Debbie!


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