Monday, February 20, 2012

What is research?

For the last two decades design research has been growing and developing world wide. What exactly design research is has not yet been defined, it is an ever-growing definition, adapting as it needs. In general, it involves the application of research methods to design problems. The research methods are borrowed from whichever field is deemed most relevant for the particular design project, be it psychology, economics, or what have you. 

How does a research project start?
The first step to finding a research project is to decide what is your personal field of interest. The next part is deciding on a problem that is within your field of interest. It is best to find a problem that you are hopeful in solving, or finding more information about. This hope is going to be what helps motivate you to continue the project, at times when it is frustrating and gloomy. 

Many people believe that you should have a question you want to answer at the start of your research project, but this isn't necessarily true. It is okay to start out with a question, but allow yourself the flexibility to change the question as you learn more, and as your interest focuses. 

Before you proceed to the next phase of the research project, there is a half step of doing broad research about your field and problem. This broad research can help define your problem, and allows you to understand what previous research has been done already in the same subject area. 

Set Parameters
These can be rules, guidelines, criteria, and tools that help guide you to developing your research method. Your research method is how you will collect your data for your personal research. 

While developing your parameters, you may become overwhelmed by the amount of information already available for your project. While you may initially be tempted to switch topics because of this, you shouldn't let it detour you. Your research could help lead to a new end result, or a new question to ask of the topic. Instead of switching to a new topic, consider tweaking your project so that it is more unique. You should stay with a topic you are interested in, if there is a lot of information already present, then think of it as a community of people with the same interest as you. 

Structure Data
The next step is to analyze your data, organize it, categorize it, throw out irrelevant bits, and structure your field. 

When doing research, you do not necessarily need to create data! It is fine to collect data that is already gathered, such as in the field of philosophy, and analyze it yourself. All you need is to provide a new point of view, that you can defend with evidence from your gathered data. 

Create, document, sketch and read. Use the information you've gathered and play with it, how can it be used to create new objects, new ideas, or new images. Go back to previous stages and experiment more. Research is not a timeline, it's more flexible, and always changing. 

After developing several ideas, and trying out new things, take a step back and look at what you've done. Talk with someone else about it, get a fresh pair of eyes. Talk to an expert, but don't forget to trust yourself. An expert may try to convince you to fall in line with what they believe, and remember you want to try to develop your own point of view. 

This can be an answer to a research question, the results of your experiments, a summary of your time, or even a new question to be asked. The conclusion is basically a validation of what you've spent your time on, you're trying to show people that all of your methods and experiments have been valuable. Focus on the whole project, from beginning to end, and summarize. Try to use the conclusion to push your project one more time. Leaving behind an open question is okay.

Research does not necessarily have to solve problems, it can also make us more conscious. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Very Studio - London

Today I took a bus to visit Very Studio, a small graphic design company in Elephant and Castle, a suburb of London. Very Studio is 7 years old and owned by JP Winters and his business partner Alex. JP and Alex worked together in a larger design company, and around the same time left to pursue freelance projects. After about a year of working independently, they found that they were often working together, because JP would make an identity for the company, but not build their website, and Alex would build websites, but not want to do the branding, so a match was made.
Looking at their website, they have a wide visual style which is an attestant to their talent as designers. Their company does not have a defining look or feel, they are adaptive and personal to the client. 

I sat down and chatted with JP, who was very friendly and gave me a half pint of lager from the bar downstairs under their studio. He owns the bar, so why not? They studio was just a small room in what looks like an upstairs apartment, but is actually office spaces instead. There is an alligator skin on the typical white walls of design studios, the floor is rough hard wood recently exposed from its carpet, and there is a fire place on one side of the room. JP seemed to half heartedly apologize for this, but I loved it, it was comfortable and friendly, professional but not intimidating. 

Due to them being a small company, Very often gets non-profit and small projects. This is fine by them, as this allows them more input and ability to navigate the design. When working with a large client, you often have to submit to logo standards and color schemes, but with small companies and projects, there is more development to be had. They often get to help the businesses decide what it is that they actually need, using their expertise to understand the business, and then analyze where improvement can be made. This usually results in them rewriting the brief originally presented to them. 

I like Very Studio's because they are very talented, but also have worked on morally sustainable projects, projects that promote and support good behavior in the world. While they do work for financial companies, they also work with foster-care non profits, environmental law non profits, and other moral people. It would be nearly impossible, especially for a company of less than 10 people, to turn away projects by financial companies or retail, but by keeping a low overhead they are also able to help others as well. Also, clients have been turned away because the Studio felt they could not support the message the client was promoting. That is another important quality in a designer, in my opinion. 

Take a look at their website, check out their projects. They are a good company, doing good things. 

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Studio Saloon

On the same day that I visited bonbon studio, I visited a design studio called “Saloon.” The name came from their original idea that a salon is a sort of meeting place for people, and over time it changed into a western saloon. Saloon specialized in interior design and graphic design; they would often redo store spaces and then also some graphic elements to compliment it. They were a small company of 2 owners, a intern, a “guest” publisher (rented desk space) and maybe another designer who wasn’t in the office when I visited. When I asked them about their design process, they told me that they assigned projects based on the strengths of each other but also on individual's workload (those with less to do will be assigned a project if the ideal candidate is busy.) They didn’t give me much insight into their thought process and overall approach to new design problems. Though I do think that they put a lot of weight into customer interaction as did bonbon, they shared with me how one projects client was really laid back and gave them free-reigns to do whatever, which they enjoyed. Another project, they shared how the client was very finicky and controlling, and let one version go to near completion before changing their mind about the font type (choosing a font similar to comic sans no less).

Something interesting about Saloon was their use of unique techniques, at least from what I’ve seen in studios so far. They had experimented in silk screening on paper (still need to find out if this is different that screen printing) for a baby announcement. They had die-cut price tags/business cards for a children clothes boutique. They also gave me cardboard coasters that they would take to bar’s as a means of advertisement, the ink was raised and shiny, giving them a textural quality that gave the impression of high quality.

They seemed well versed in a wide range of styles, though strongest in high-value sophisticated design. Which surprised me when they showed me their Christmas gift to their costumers, which was a book that the desk-renting-publisher helped them with. It was a book full of playful verses like “can a vegetarian have butterflies in their stomach?” and “can health insurance fix a broken heart?” and all the people in the office were in a photo in the book. Their photos would be of them with a paper bag on their head, or candy wrappers on their eye lids, all very playful images. It was interesting that they would give such a playful gift to their clients, after they had designed sophisticated and high end images for them.

When speaking with the intern, she shared with me that when she was touring studios, she had the most success when she emailed them what time she was coming/wanted to show up. Or if they didn’t respond to an email, she would call them and ask them directly over the phone. She passively confirmed what I know to be my biggest weakness in the design world, which is the aggression to ask/tell people what I want.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bon Bon Studio Tour

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down and speaking to Diego Bon- from the Design firm Bonbon. Diego is from Geneva and moved to Zürich when he went to school. The firm consists of him and one other person, and together they produce books and posters for various organizations. Predominantly their work is done for the Kunsthaus or for the annual Swiss design awards. Every year the museum for Gestaltung does an exhibit showcasing the winning designs and prior to this year, Bonbon had done the design for three years. This entails signage for the exhibit, posters for the exhibition, and a book cataloging the winners and the details (called an encyclopedia). In addition to the posters, Bonbon had dabbled in packaging design, creating branding for a small Indian free-trade and organic food company. The company started out asking for only a label for their cashew snacks, and since has grown to include dry fruit, white pepper and chocolate covered cashews. What is interesting though is how the design had to grow from a small folded label over a plastic bag, into 8 varieties of cashews, then 6 kinds of dried fruit, now applied to a box for the chocolate cashews, and then a label for a metal cylinder. Their design was simple enough to be applied to those different packages while maintaining the visual identity of the company. Also the speed that the designs were made is impressive, as they needed a logo in a day (the request was made by a friend of Diego, so it goes).

In addition to the books and package design, the posters were mainly completed for the Kunsthaus. While the Kunsthaus usually has a very recognizable, and simple, poster style Diego’s posters are radically different. He told me that the curator of the Kunsthaus was who would contract him, so he luckily did not have to work for the boss of the museum, as he would surely not enjoy the proposals. What I really enjoyed about Diego’s work though was that he had a reason behind each of his designs. A story that he was trying to convey, or a detail he was bringing to light. I think this is the most important part of Graphic Design, that there is a reason behind your solution, or something that is usually overlooked being made clear. This effort is what makes designers special.

When I asked him about his design process, Diego said something that I found to be very unique. After meeting with the commissioners of the project, he told me that he only presents one proposal for a poster or book or what have you. and the reason was that when you make multiple proposals, lets say three, there are always the one that is your favorite, the one that you think is okay, and the one that you think is crap. The one that you think is crap, according to Diego, is always the one that they will chose. He believes that people don’t like change, because it takes work to get used to, and so the solution that has the least changed, the least enjoyed by a designer, is the one that they will chose. By presenting one solution to them, Diego is encouraging them to make a change, and is making the promise that this is a good solution and a good design. The other problem with multiple proposals is also that the overall quality is lower. Which is pretty obvious considering that in the time other firms would take to make three ideas, Diego is creating and progressing one.

In regards to being a designer in Zürich, Diego gave me a very realistic picture, which honestly made me a little nervous about my career source. In Zürich, most of the design community knows each other and they know who is making what posters. This can make the design process more difficult because it gives this feeling of “everyone is watching you, everyone is judging you.” I know that this would cripple me, and make designing very difficult. Also, being a small firm, Diego says that they go in waves of work being very slow, to being so busy that they are working every weekend. One of the elements that he had to get used to was not stressing when work was slow, and having faith that it will pick up again. He also said that the hardest thing to learn, and what they don’t teach you in school, is how to get projects. Luckily Bonbon enjoyed a very busy year in the past, but the downside was that it prevented the company from building their website, which limited access to them from the public.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Swiss People's Party Posters - Schweizerische Volkspartei - SVP

Some really interesting and controversial posters. This is the conservative party of Switzerland. Aside from their message, they are also seen as controversial because of their color scheme, as it is the same as the Nazi regime.

"Open the doors to abuse? No!" (in French)
"Stop, Yes on Minaret Ban" (in German), I believe this is to stop the growth of mosques, but it's unclear if this would include minaret's on catholic churches as well.

"Mass-Naturalization, STOP, yes to Naturalization Initiative" (in German). Recently, Switzerland tried to put a limit on the number of "L" visa's that were given (one year visa's). I think we can figure out who was behind that.

"Provide Security" (in German). This poster I've seen vandalized in some really interesting ways. In fact, it was so well done, I thought it was the actual poster, basically it involved making the Swiss cross into a Nazi swastika  Unfortunately I didn't have a camera (not even on my phone!). Though they all are pretty blatantly racist, I feel like this is the most obvious of them.

What I think is funny also (though admittedly in a sick way) is the SVP "Swiss quality" logo in the bottom corner of some of them. With a happy sun! They almost remind me of Fox news, except with better designers.

"Weapons Monopoly for Criminals, No to the Disarmament Initiative" in German. There are actually a lot of guns in Switzerland, as most men were in the army and they have a gun in their homes in case there is a need to suddenly defend their countries in their jammers.

What these posters really made me think is "who would design these?" All the graphic designers I know are fairly liberal, and it never occurred to me that there would be a conservative one. Which makes me think A) of course their are conservative designers, duh; B) this guy is being paid a lot of money if he's not conservative; and slightly irrelevant C) I really want to meet this guy.

These posters really make me think of designer ethics, and what our responsibilities as designers are. For industrial designers it is easier, try to design things that people need and that reuse, recycle, and repair easily. For graphic designers it's more difficult. We can use recycled paper and non-oil based inks, we can waste less paper in the work place, and we can insist our clients not print more than they need. Beyond that though, what can we do? The conclusion I came to is that we need to be morally sustainable.

We should do our best to design with clients that are doing things for the good of the environment and society. Designing for companies that are trying to sell their new phone plans, or to make a new logo for their bank, isn't something that will make this planets problems any better. At the end of the day the designer isn't doing anything morally sustainable.

This SVP designer is being morally unsustainable, though that may be my own political opinion, but it is unsustainable to promote xenophobia and fear of foreigners. If we deny third world citizens, some of whom are refugees mind you, the ability to leave their home country, then we are always going to have third world impoverished countries. Whether SVP likes it or not, the world is globalizing, and I understand that it wants to keep Swiss culture alive and pure, but there are easier ways to do this than to use foreigners as scapegoats.

Aside from political posters, where disagreement is inevitable to some degree, designers need to try to do morally sustainable projects. Design is all about better communication, solutions that resonate with their audience. For a designer to use their skills for groups who are doing sustainable projects (rescue foundations, children support groups, environmental groups, non profits, etc) it gives these groups a bigger and clearer voice, that is usually lost amongst phone plan and bank logo noise.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Design Studio Tour: Interactive Things

Today, I was lucky enough to visit Interactive Things, a design studio not far from my place. The leader of the studio is Benjamin, but since there are only 5 employees, all of whom went to school together and are friends, they are all like partners in the business. The studio consist of Benjamin, Jeremy, Christian, Chris and Peter. I met all of them except Peter who was out working with a client. They started the company in 2010, so they are relatively young, and they specialize in data visualizations and user interaction. This is the  only company to ever respond to one of my email requests for a studio tour, American or Swiss.

Ben and I sat for over an hour and talked about the company, the design community in Switzerland, and about starting as a designer. He was very approachable and kind, and it was easy to be comfortable and honest in our conversation. As for the company, their portfolio isn't very large yet, since they are so new, so their website is actually a conglomerate of interesting projects that they document and showcase. My recent favorites are Isle of Tune and the Monet Exhibition, both worth a visit. You can find more here though. From their main website (first link) you can also read their blog, which has more commentary on the projects they find, which are interesting for interaction or informational reasons, or both. From their blog, in the "opinions" section, is actually where you can find examples of their own work. The one that I found most interesting is the one about graphing America's spending on food and drink. While each person has around 2 projects at a time that they lead, the whole group will collaborate and brainstorm on new projects. Also, each person has something that they prefer to do, for example Ben is more of the administrative manager, Jeremy and Christian are engineer minded, and Peter and Chris are the visualizers. They are also absolutely flexible in their operation, people come in when they want, vacation when they need, and work from where they want. They all share the same goal of doing what is best for the company, and don't stress themselves because over time, that will be bad for the company.

As for the design community in Zürich, I've heard from several sources that it is starting to take off again, and that there are many jobs available. Ben and I talked about how to get integrated in the community, and also about how to approach it. He recommend that I contact the people I find interesting, including the individuals, and after speaking to them for awhile, ask them who I should see next. He admitted that the community is not very open, but once you get inside, it is very friendly and easy to meet new people. He also told me that the "artsy" place to hangout is Kreis 4, a district in Zürich that has the Zürich Art School, but is also where the art-minded hangout.

Since Ben was so easy to talk to, I was able to be open with him about not really knowing what I want to do, and kind of floundering with the issue. One thing I found interesting was that when he asked me what I wanted to do, he did mean with my life. He asked me "When you wake up, what do you want from the next 8 hours?" Which I had never thought about, and is a much more digestible question. He told me that it is normal to not know what you want to do, and the only way to really figure it out is to explore different firms and to try new things (as in self-created projects). It was comforting to hear a successful designer say these things. As Ben only has a Bachelor of Arts (like me) and seemed relatively young (maybe late 20's) I found his success and his composure inspiring and relaxing. I am going to find what I'm looking for, and I just need to keep trying until I do, and to not let rejection and failure limit me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Most Posters in Basel

Both of these posters were placed side by side and were an interesting use of size hierarchy. From far away, parts of the poster are not invisible, such as the pattern in the text on the top poster and the small descriptive font in the bottom one.