celebrate children’s art with hand-crafted softies and give young people a sense of the soft, small comforts they can make and of what power they have, with their imagination. Children need to know this, so they grow up knowing the power of designing, making and crafting all sorts of things for a civilized world.
Repair, Reimagine and Responsibility
Embroidery could be used as original embellishment for costume and as its life progressed could be cut and recut, taken from one costume to another, often being handed down over the generations. The costumes themselves could be worn, patched, altered and worn again. Eventually they could be cut up for dusters and rags. Everything tended to have a journey from prized possession to practical working tool. Nothing was wasted and certainly it would have been inconceivable, even a few generations ago, to throw something away merely because something more sparkly and diverting was shown to you through advertising. This attitude of repair, reimagine and recycle applied to both wealthy and poor. Waste was considered a shocking phenomenon even among the supremely wealthy and therefore the most expensive ball gown had a journey to make just as much as the humble knitted sock.
The world of repair, reimagine, sustainability and responsibility has much to do with materials. By making choices about the materials we wear or have in our home, we are making choices about the eventual journey of those materials, whether they end up in the stomach of an infant albatross, irrevocably poisoning a village in China, or becoming a much less damaging integral and changing part of our lives as well as others, is largely up to the individual and their own journey.
Recycling has become such a large part of our everyday culture. In some respects, it salves the individual's conscience in producing so much waste. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions, it is sometimes the case of out of site out of mind. Not all state, regional or private enterprises that deal with our waste are responsible, particularly when there is a profit motive behind the intention.
One of the major handicaps as far as repair and recycle is concerned, is the fact that so many companies that produce our everyday items are locked into the profit over all other concerns scenario. Many companies that produce electronic equipment for example, particularly within the mobile phone market, have made it increasingly difficult for the consumer to adapt and repair. Some companies, after finding out that customers were unscrewing the back of their phones in order to replace dead batteries, rather than buy a new phone, brought out new models that indented the screws so that they couldn't physically be got at. So now, phones have to be thrown away rather than repaired. This is endemic in our culture. When a computer screen goes dead we throw it away and replace it. We have little idea what was wrong with it, whether it could easily be mended and where it went when we 'recycled' it.
This is perhaps where the ideal of the repair culture is so important at this present time. It is very much based on the individual rather than the mass movement, in the respect that repairs are carried out on singular items owned by individual people. Therefore, repair rather than recycle means that at least to a degree there is no involvement in a long trip in a container ship to Asia, although to be fair parts may well have arrived via one, depending on what is needed to repair an item.
As with everything in our contemporary world, there are degrees of understanding and complexity. A yarn for example, can be bought and used to create a lengthy journey of use and reuse. However, we often know little of how the yarn made it to the shop in the first place. What was its journey? Was it spun and dyed causing on-going problems of pollution and contamination? Was exploitation of a workforce involved? Was it shipped half way around the world causing a huge carbon footprint for a small piece of coloured yarn?All of our lives are now about degrees. What degree can we feasibly live so that we do as little harm to both the natural and human environment as possible? To what degree can we trace raw and manufactured elements that we bring into our homes? What degree can we affect what goes out of our homes, whether through waste or our own creative energies?It is a complex issue, but one we obviously need to urgently address. Future generations will not thank us for our prevarication, indifference or our need for unsustainable comfort zones. To repair, reenergise and revalue the possessions we already have, just as our ancestors did, without the cycle of consuming and recycling, is perhaps one of the most important lessons we as individuals can learn and certainly one that we should pass on.The contemporary repair culture is by no means new and repair cafes can be found at various locations across the planet. However, learning and passing on simple repair information is also vital. Try googling 'repair cafes' as well as 'repair culture' to get some idea as to the breadth of the phenomenon and how much farther it can go, and please watch the videos if you can, they all relevant to the ideal of Repair, Reimagine and Responsibility.
by John Hopper
The MIDWAY film project is a powerful visual journey into the heart of an astonishingly symbolic environmental tragedy. On one of the remotest islands on our planet, tens of thousands of baby albatrosses lie dead on the ground, their bodies filled with plastic from the Pacific Garbage Patch. Returning to the island over several years, our team is witnessing the cycles of life and death of these birds as a multi-layered metaphor for our times. With photographer Chris Jordan as our guide, we walk through the fire of horror and grief, facing the immensity of this tragedy—and our own complicity—head on. And in this process, we find an unexpected route to a transformational experience of beauty, acceptance, and understandin
Illustration: Mary E. Dear. Autumn, 1854.
Observation of the natural world should always ideally be seen outside of the boundaries of the artificially imposed human one. We should never rely on shop windows to tell us where we are in the year's cycle, but should always follow the seasons through their regular rhythm, as seen through the outward signs of plants and wildlife.
All of us can commune with nature regardless of how urban we feel. Few of us can say that we are not within sight of at least a smattering of trees or piece of urban scrubland. Concentrating on the sigh of wind through tree branches, even if faint above traffic noise, or the drone of insects amongst wild flowers, often seen unfairly by many as invasive weeds, should be a regular habit for all of us.
Most of human history has been spent close to and enveloped in the natural world and even though for the first time in our history more of us live in urban rather than rural environments, this does not mean that we should not fight to stay connected, or more importantly to reconnect, to the real and ancestrally connected world of flora and fauna.
In the creative world, it is just as important to remain connected to the natural world, whether that be through inspiration or reflection. Understanding that the human species is an element of the planet, rather than one that has a separate identity and destiny, and continually highlighting that connection with the planet, seems a particularly relevant and immediate need to both reflect outwards on to the public and also to have as part of a fundamental foundation rooted in the creative world.
The ideal of making us all aware of our fundamental organic connection with the real world of plant and varied species, rather than that of the artificially contrived urban construct, often seemingly divorced and devoid of natural markers, seems paramount. This does not necessarily mean of course that human constructs are not worthy and meaningful in their own right. Our interaction with each other, our complex social networks, the building blocks of our civilization, are important to us, they make us in some ways at least, who we are as a species. However, this can only ever be a part of the story that is humanity. If we persist in disconnecting ourselves from the natural world, withdrawing more and more into a world of novelty, artificiality and the ephemeral, then we risk losing the profoundness of our natural connections, the connections that kept the human species aware of its purpose in the cycle of life and made each individual, no matter how small they may have appeared in the overall picture, an important part of the natural wheel of life.
Therefore, even a small-scale commune with nature, whether just a walk in a park to notice the budding of trees or the falling of leaves, an awareness of the migration of birds, the movement of insects and wildlife, is an affirming connection with the passing of seasons and therefore a connection to the planet and its ecosphere. It takes us, if only briefly, out of the illusion of our perceived reality, the human construct of the contemporary world of office, street, car and shop, and into the only world that really exists, that of the natural environment.
This natural environment is the one that we consciously or unconsciously push further and further away from us every time we condone the expansion of our towns and cities through the building of new shopping malls, housing complexes, roads, cinemas and airports. The line between the real and artificially contrived worlds becomes one that is increasingly out of our reach. Many children for example, have no real connection with the large-scale natural world as a living entity as it is so far removed from their everyday experience.
Relatively speaking, we have been present as a species on this planet for such a short space of time. If we look at the strata system in rock formations, much of human history would be hard pressed to make up a thin, almost imperceptible line within the rock. How disturbing then that we could contribute so much damage and such fundamental changes to the planet we share with every other species, in such a short space of time.
Although the damage we have wilfully unleashed on the planet is irreparable and it would be naive of us to imagine that we can easily fix what we have done, we are at a crossroads in our development as a species. We have been given an opportunity to make fundamental decisions concerning future generations as yet unborn. Probably the most fundamental decision we need to make is whether we indulge in our present penchant for short-term convenience of lifestyle without asking about any of the consequences for that convenience, or we decide to take the more difficult but ultimately infinitely rewarding route, that of a deeper and more fundamental connection and responsibility with our environment, and one that honestly deals with the consequences of our actions.
Perhaps in some respects, the decision has been made for us. The phenomenon of violent and sudden expressions of climate change seems to be the only real way of disturbing us from our self-induced urban dream, one of constant and never-ending progress and convenience. While many people in the poorer parts of the world have had to deal with extreme climate fluctuations for a while now, many in Europe and North America seemed immune, it was just something that always happened in those parts of the world, nothing for us to worry about. However, as recent events have shown, climate change is no longer one that conveniently pays notice of contrived human boundaries. Therefore, we can all now face up to the consequences of our actions, not just some sections of the human population in a faraway place who are used to flooding.
Although all this sounds a little bleak, it need not be. Although we can no longer hide in our cities and believe that we are beyond the phenomenon of nature, Hurricane Sandy showed us that, we can begin to make overtures to the natural world. By making and remaking connections, understanding our position as one of a range of species on the planet and not the only one that matters, forming networks with the natural world, inviting that world into our cities and towns on a much more fundamental level than the odd public park. The creation of urban farms and orchards, the encouragement of complex biospheres of flora and fauna to replace monocultures such as lawns of grass, the end of urban expansion at the expense of the natural environment around it, the encouragement of public transport over the private car, all can be part of the purpose of reconnecting the urban with the natural, a new symbiosis of human artificial culture with that of the natural. A means by which the cycle of nature, through its unending seasons, can be a fundamental part of the natural rhythm of both urban and rural human, regardless.
by John Hopper
Sea treasures, with exquisite embellishments in fashion, beauty and design products.
Sea anemone shells inspire this textural style, with new surface effects. Pure white or metallic hues elevate this look to a new degree of refinement and sophistication.
This is a system created to find out the colour of anything, by querying and aggregating image data from Flickr, a popular online photo sharing community. It is an attempt at answering a potentially complex and abstract question in an objective manner, by using simple algorithms on data originating from subjective human perceptions.
"THE COLOR OF" uses an averaging algorithm on the colour pixel values of the queried images, displaying the result incrementally as each picture is loaded. Taking the assumption that random images will average out to become grey, we can attribute any color bias which deviates from grey, to the term as searched. Any further interpretation is then up to the user.
The Value of Good Design
Drawar has published a couple of interesting posts about the importance of design and aesthetics for online businesses last week. The main premise is this: businesses succeed and fail on the web regardless of how well designed their sites are. An ugly website will succeed if their product or service is good, so why bother making something beautiful?UsabilityPost
Now, Paul Scrivens' position on this is that you should care, and that pushing out something that’s just good enough isn’t what web designers should strive for. I agree. I also think that good design, and good aesthetics for that matter, oftentimes make business sense.
It’s not difficult to find examples of businesses with beautiful websites but no traffic. Businesses with stunning websites that fail because the product or service they’re providing just isn’t good enough. Design only goes so far, and ultimately cannot save a business if the product just doesn’t cut it.
Of course on the other end we have pig ugly websites that are wildly successful. Websites like Craigslist. People point at them and say: “Look, aesthetics don’t matter — as long as its usable enough and offers enough value it will succeed”. Yes, unless the interface is so unusable that people can’t use the service then it probably will succeed — but that’s not the point. The real point is: does good design and good aesthetic help your business be even more successful, and if so, are the gains enough to justify the work spent?
This will vary depending on your product or service, but in many cases it can and will make a difference. Let’s look at some examples where good design generates business (NOTE: Yes, I keep using the word “design”. I know it’s a loaded term and can mean a great many things, here I’m using it in a broad sense that probably means what you think it means — i.e. user interface architecture, usability and looks — so how it works and looks, not just how it works/looks).
The easiest example is of course Apple. Answer this honestly: do you really think Apple would sell as many Macs if OS X looked ugly and their hardware was made out of chunky, cheap plastic boxes? The difference between Apple and the other computer manufacturers is that Apple really competes on design. They know that everything else is commoditized. Hardware is cheap and there are plenty of choices, so everyone else competes on price. What’s worse for other manufacturers is that they also run an off-the-shelf operating system. So they and all their competitors are churning out the same products, and the only way to win is to make it cheaper. This is a game with many losers.
When your product is commoditized, you have to change the rules of the game. Unless you can really compete on price you better find another way to differentiate yourself. That other way is design.
I don’t think this design advantage somehow only applies to hardware. It doesn’t. It works just as well for software and websites. A lot of websites aren’t just “tools” — they’re destinations. And even if they were just tools, people still like and will prefer beautiful tools as Apple have shown.
Take the case of Facebook. Facebook wasn’t always the top social network — that place belonged to MySpace. What happened? I believe the reason for Facebook’s growth lies in large part to its design. If you compare the two sites, it’s pretty obvious which one has a better design. Not just the way it works or the way it looks — both of these things are much better on Facebook’s side. It has been like this from the start.
MySpace offered its users a way to personalize their pages. The result: an incoherent mess. Facebook had a clean, minimalist design from the very beginning. It oozes order. Facebook is clarity and order to MySpace’s chaos, and I think a whole lot of people prefer this. This doesn’t mean MySpace somehow fails — it just means Facebook are utilizing good design as a competitive edge.
Look at social news sites: Digg vs Reddit. Both have very similar functionality, but Digg is the more popular one. Which one do you think looks better? Of course “looks” are subjective, but I think this is another case where it’s clear where the priorities of each site’s developers lie. Digg always had a focus on user interface, design and usability. It looks good, there have always been a coherent design and branding from the start and it’s pretty usable. Reddit doesn’t fail at usability. It’s easy to use and it’s feature complete. What it lacks is a good aesthetic.
Looks have never been a priority for the Reddit developers because they never stopped people using the site. Nevertheless, the ugly design means that traffic will be lost to Digg because new visitors who find out about both sites will have to judge where they want to stay, and given similar functionality and content they’ll go for the better looking site. They’ll go for the better looking site because that’s all they can see, and so that’s what they use to make the call.
If your product creates a new market, then design probably won’t matter as much. The product is providing a unique value to your customers and there is nobody else these customers can turn to. Whenever there is competition though, especially competition offering a product with the same feature set as yours, design becomes important. Design becomes a means of differentiation. Either differentiate yourself on your product — introduce some new feature or service that your competitor lacks — or differentiate yourself on design.
Good design speaks. Good design tells your visitors that you care about your product. Good design at the front-end suggests that everything is in order at the back-end, whether or not that is the case. Good design is what separates the best from the “good-enough”.
Active vs. Passive Thinking
There is a two-part pattern in thinking that has allowed me to develop “good thinking.” The first is by actively participating in the thinking process through writing and drawing. The second is more passive and elusive. It may even seem to be “unthinking.”
Thinking is a large part of the unseen work designers do to develop engaging, appropriate and award-winning work. During a redesign of my website I was thinking about what I wanted to say about my process. There was a moment of realization where two ideas seemed to connect to open a more broad view of that process.It is rare that these occasions happen so I figured writing down my conclusions would be helpful, not only to confirm my thoughts, but also to make more connections.Many young designers believe that good ideas come by inspiration or just magically appear; and that only a select few strike the perfect idea. This phenomenon seems evasive until further investigation into the process of thinking. It is true that some are able to capture good ideas more often, but those people have learned through experience that good ideas come from good thinking.Through my inquiry into thinking I have identified a two-part pattern in thinking that has allowed solid ideas to be developed more successfully. The first is by actively participating in the thinking process. Actions we initiate that lead to idea development, such as writing, sketching, talking, reading, actively engage our brains in making connections. These types of activities are the foundation for active thinking. I have found that when I doodle or write, I am more able to make my ideas concrete and understandable. This process often leads to surprising results, sometimes totally unrelated to the immediate problem I am trying to solve.Another essential part of active thinking is that during the process, a hard copy reference point is created for future projects or improvements to previous ideas. Most designers use a sketchbook as this reference. I have laid out my sketchbook to optimize the active thinking process for me. It contains separate areas for writing and drawing that allow me to keep my thoughts more organized than a muddled mass of words and images.The second part is more passive and elusive. It may even seem to be “unthinking.” Passive thinking often comes when we least expect it. Some may call it inspiration, others luck or intuition. Whatever its label, the results are the same—an instant where our brains have made a connection between two seemingly disconnected ideas. Most often there is no deliberate action taking place to think in this way. These moments sometimes materialize in daydreams, at the gym, or while traveling. There is more going on during the moments when we seem to not think at all than when we are actively thinking. Meditation, sleeping and daydreaming provide respite from the strain of active thinking and balance the process. Complete distraction may also be a form of passive thinking. If we focus on something totally unrelated to the problem at hand we often re-approach it with new insights.Once the right balance between active and passive thinking has been struck the ideas start pouring out. Then its just a matter of finding the most appropriate idea, which is another skill altogether.
This article is part of an inqiuiry into the process, justification, and love of design. Suggestions or comments may be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. ©2006 Arlo Vance. All Rights Reserved.