1: PCHRP (Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines)

 

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From their webpage:

The Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP) is an organizing committee of immigrant youth, students, professionals, workers and allies working together in solidarity to advance in the national democratic movement in the Philippines, in the United States through education, leadership development and political action. 

In Portland, PCHRP serves as an outlet for local, national, and international action alerts, media updates, and general information related to human rights violations against Filipinos in the Philippines and U.S. PCHRP organizers lead political education discussions, films, guest speakers, panels, and vigils in response to bring attention to the worsening conditions of Filipinos in Portland, the U.S. and in the Philippines.

A great friend of mine (whose activism I’m in rather awe of/inspired by) works with this group out of Portland, OR and asked me if I’d be open to doing a t-shirt design for them even before I put out the call last week. I gave him a “uuuuhYES” and we got started, settling quickly on a design that integrated traditional textile designs from both cultures.

About the shirt sale proceeds:  These sets will be scheduled to be picked up or delivered by December 20. Proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit our SAVE OUR SCHOOLS campaign, we are hoping to raise enough money to build a school for 30 indigenous students in Mindanao, Philippines.

You can see their facebook page here and order your own t-shirt to show your support!

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More San Juan Island National Park work

For my last few weeks on the island, I made a short comic for visitors to learn about American Camp, one of the Parks, and its prairie ecosystem. There’s a lot of local debate over the rabbits and foxes… so this was a friendly way for the Parks to address those issues. PAGE_cover

Click the pages above to read it.

San Juan Island National Historical Park Artist Residency: The Marble Butterfly

So I’ve been here on the beautiful San Juan Island in Washington State for the past month and a half or so, making my own art as well as doing some for the park. I just finished a large-format comic/illustration for them about the endangered Island Marble Butterfly, a really cool little species that the Park is working hard to protect. Click to enlarge it and check it out!

SanJuan_butterfly_JPHerron_R

At last: an update

It occurred to me that I should update this with some of the professional work I’m doing.

That sounds easier than it is, considering that a lot of the work I’m doing is UX design and, due to the lifecycle of software, apps, websites, etc, most of them haven’t launched or, after getting in contact with me and hiring me and thanking me, dropped me like that Ornithology course I almost took in high school, and I’ve no idea where they are now.

Yet still, work has been done. So here I’ll post one.

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I did a graphic design project pretty much pro bono for a local women’s bicycling group that’s just getting off the ground (and growing fast). It was a great deal of fun, especially with the main logo piece. Women… ocean state…. bicycling… see it? see it?

Yeah now you do. Uh-huh.

Of course I went on to make an insane amount of variations..variations

Which is just par for course, right? I mean, you HAVE to have a shitton of variations for those bumper stickers, cups, t-shirts, sports wear, car decals, event stickers, web announcements, etc etc etc…. and who doesn’t like colors and hipster typography and ohmygod I’m getting carried away with my own coolness.

I learned from this project not to give your client too many options.

In the end, the secondary logo (aka the profile icon on facebook to go with the banner logo, as in the first image):

facebook_profile1

“Keep it simple, stupid”, as one of my professors would always say.

(But colors are fuuuuun…!! why doesn’t anyone believe me??)

 

Speculative Technology Design: Transparent Computer Screens

It's shooting at my imaginary cat.
Okay, so sci fi shit’s been on my mind lately.
“dubyateehef you mean by that” you might ask, and the clarified statement would be “speculative technology designed for science fiction films has been a bee in my ass for months now and that’s like totally forever so I’mma gonna blog about it”. All of the spec-tech in films can fit under the chapter titled Really Cool Looking, but most of it falls under the heading Like Hell That’s Good Design. Don’t get me wrong- none of my arguments are against how the supposed design functions within the frame of the greater needs of storytelling and world-building. Those needs come first and foremost and anyone designing for a storytelling medium knows this. But the problem is that this speculative technology design often becomes the blueprint for ACTUAL research that gets done. People still talk about Minority Report with fond sighs, for fuck’s sake. It’s due in large part to the designers on the film doing such a great job at making something SEEM like it’d be a good idea. After all, the actors are all whizzing about and their gesture/voice/dance commands just make the computer solve the mystery/stop the bomb/find the terrorist/win the girl and it’s LIKE MAGIC OMG WE SHOULD TOTALLY BUILD THAT YOU GUYS.
It’s a fact. The storytelling itself affects how we look at what’s designed within the story.
But I’m not here to hate on those designs. They’re fucking badass and the hard, underpaid work of all those VFX and animation teams did some seriously awesome magic that served the stories they were in. I love it and every time I see some sweet new work it makes me catch my breath and go IWANTTHAT right along with everyone else.
But, as a ux designer, I feel obliged to take the design seriously in a different way. I have to think about the ergonomics, the color usage, information/function hierarchy, the gesture conflation- and not in terms of making sure all the right actors get their shot of standing behind a transparent computer screen staring in consternation at the warning red blip signaling the incoming missile/breached security measure. That’s what you have to do for film design, but it’s not real ux design.
So what if we tackled some of these speculative technology problems as real ones? How do we develop a design approach for things right around the corner- transparent computer screens, wearables- as well as for those things that are far into our futures, like spaceships and moon stations?
The answer: in applying the same damn principles we apply in design today.
“But no! It’s the future! Everything can be white and shiny and pretty and no one will want to tear their eyes out!” Barring any robot or monkey or zombie takeovers of our planet, there is still one fact that will be the same in the future as it is today: us. humans. Our fingertips will still be of a size to pick our nostrils, our eyes will still have evolved to pick out a tiger in a jungle, our backs will still have problems if we sit for too long- we will still be human, and every problem we approach in design is based around that fact.
So. Enough disclaimers. Let’s start with something small and fun, shall we?

SPECULATIVE TECHNOLOGY DESIGN ONE: Transparent Computer Screens
yes. yes i am.
So this stuff is already being made and shown off at consumer electronic shows everywhere. I know it’s true, I’ve seen it on youtube.
It’s been around for much longer in science fiction films, though. That’s where we’ve seen it, where we’ve grown used to it. It became not an “if”, but an impatient “when”, and that when is in the next few years. It’s the sexy new thing for computers to be: Thin, thinner, now nonexistent except for the murmur of Siri’s voice asking us what we’d like. (A separate blog post: gender and technology.)
So we’ve seen it coming for forever now- but are we really ready to design for it? Let’s see what questions you and I, designer buddies that we are (or aren’t- hey, s’cool bro), should start with.

1. What are some of the possible physical limitations of this hypothetical technology?
lighting: in a bright room, “what’s that smear on the glass?” needs contrast: not only high contrast color-usage, but a darkening film behind it (aka wide drop shadow) so that it can be distinguished from anything behind it.
"Warning your eyes are exploding"
discoverability: “That can be fixed, right?” AND “where the fuck is the ‘on’ switch?” It needs physical-tangible interface at very least for activation/discoverability.
NOOOOOooooo...
focus confusion: a user’s eyes would have difficulty knowing which to focus on- the screen, or what’s beyond it. A headache after five minutes, I’d wager. needs scaleable darkening or obscuring film behind it.
"Dude I got this weird bird virus the other day..."

2. What are the advantages it offers?
foreground/background interaction: if what’s on the screen relates to the objects behind it, then the switching-focus becomes a natural switch between foreground and background.
unobtrusiveness: anywhere there needs to be information displayed in a way that doesn’t completely block vision. Also the unobtrusiveness could make it hidden in plain sight.
flexible space: a space can appear entirely open, if all of its transparent walls/surfaces are switched off, or it could be visibly partitioned off by obscuring different planes.

3. So given these advantages and limitations, what are some possible ideal contexts?
HUDs, military and otherwise: despite how “used” to this we are in video games, real-life scenarios that include a face mask/goggles have very little space, and it’s difficult for the eyes to focus on something that close to the face anyway, so fancy menus and viz are out of the picture. Fancy is a bad idea anyway because the whole point of a HUD display is to assist in a job where you don’t have the time/mental capacity/hands free to deal with all those buttons and displays on a computer.

in the instance of a scuba HUD, reds would be best to use since there's little red in the surrounding environment. It could go from dull reds to brighter to get user's attention.

in the instance of a scuba HUD, reds would be best to use since there’s little red in the surrounding environment. It could go from dull reds to brighter to get user’s attention.


vehicles: they’re like HUDs in the way that you don’t want to create something that’s distracting. Any design for vehicular glass needs to be caveman simple. But there’s also some fantastic opportunities for that foreground/background interaction. The display itself can appear to guide you through traffic to your destination, or warn you of obstructions, shitheads behind you, to stop fucking texting, etc. But if these got made I think there’d have to be a federal law passed that no video games could tap into it. We don’t need IRL Grand Theft Auto. Which would get made, you know it, even if they only made digital people to hit on the sidewalks… still, seriously. This would have to be regulated.
In the case of vehicular glass, text should be avoided. It takes longer to read "Bike on your left" than it does to see red arrows pointing "LOOK, STUPID"

In the case of vehicular glass, text should be avoided. It takes longer to read “Bike on your left” than it does to see red arrows pointing “LOOK, STUPID”


Instruments, scientific and otherwise: Magnification lenses, astronomy telescopes… I can’t think of anything else. But if you could look through a telescope and around a constellation and see a little pointer saying “ORION, see link for details”, that’d be pretty cool.
Display, storefronts: This is what will come first, we all know it. It’ll take advantage of your expectations of glass and show you your “reflection”- only with their clothes/makeup/cars/sexy ladies/whatever. Or taking advantage of the foreground/background possibilities, you’ll see the store through it, and the glass can point you to items you may be interested in, based on your body type/current clothing. Most people will take it in stride, but for those of us who don’t like facebook personalized ads, it’ll weird us the fuck out.
seriously creep me the fuck out.
architectural internal space: From an aesthetic standpoint, transparent screens are a manipulation of light within a space, as well as another level of interaction between the space and the person, as well as person to person. (Theatre folks know this a shitton better than I). It also, thank god, takes us another step away from the Computer Terminal phenomenon, of having a computer inserted as a sour black square into a wall or table. The possibilities are too numerous to go into, from a restaurant that uses flowing glass planes that can be used as conference video screens, to a subtle way to hide away technology, ala Jeeves in Iron Man with all the little menus tucked away in the windows and tables. Or maybe all of the glassware will display animations of tiny mermaids swimming in your drink. I’d like that. (then I drink them and they DIE yes I said it)
and for halloween you could have floating eyeballs EWGROSSYUM

We all know this technology is coming to market soon, and I’m not the first or second person to come up with any of those ideas above. But I have still seen little about design principles with which to approach it (or maybe I haven’t crawled far enough out from under my rock to see it, a completely possible scenario), and the movies I’ve seen that employ it do so in bullshit-but-badass ways, so let this be my stone thrown in those waters.
Any disagreements or ideas of other spec-techs that you think would be fun to take a closer look at- leave em in the comments!

The A-Ha Moment

So the past nine months of designing Glance have been a story of iteration…

iteration_1
after iteration…
iteration_2
after iteration…
iteration_3
after iteration…
iteration_4
after iteration…
iteration_5
after iteration…
iteration_6
well you get the idea.
iteration_7

Designing a piece of software to be intuitive and elegant is blood, sweat, tears, and a splash of carpal tunnel. There’s a hundred-and-one functions that you need, and it has to be well-organized, seem simple, be easy-to-use, and look good to boot. I’ve always felt it’s like cooking.
design is cooking

Out of all the projects I’ve designed for since starting as a UX designer (ooooh so long ago), Glance has proven the most difficult to design, mainly because there are no well-designed precedents for software in this area that are as complex as we’re shooting for. That, and the fact that the audience for Glance isn’t tech-savvy urbanites fooling around with a game. The audience is not just low on the tech-savvy scale, but they have genuine, understandable fear about using technology in their process. This is their research data, their lifeline, their everything. There’s no way they want to jeopardize that data in any way. So while there are many apps out there that give a nominal edge over an older technology, and that works for them to get new users, our app has to be so above and beyond, so friendly and unintimidating, so clear and understandable, that our audience will let go of the technologies they’ve been using for decades in order to take a chance on us.
Easy peezy. (not.)
It didn’t help that my iterations were consistently dozens and dozens of windows long, either. (I’m referring to all the little boxes you see in the pictures above.) I knew I was missing something, some clear path to guide the boat through the reefs. I had gone over many of the iterations with a large number of researchers, non-profits, and students, and they had all nodded along the way, but it wasn’t right. It wasn’t clear enough, I still had to explain too much, and there wasn’t enough surprised pleasure on their faces.

Over the last few days though, a number of events came together to provide for a break:

1– I took a long break of a few weeks from even looking at the UI, and instead spent a great deal of time thinking about why I was doing this and where I wanted to put my energy in the project.
2– Necessity propelled me to design an official logo for Glance (we just joined the local Social Enterprise Greenhouse‘s mentoring program, and so we needed a logo for their site) which forced me to confront the questions of: Everything I can spend paragraphs articulating about what Glance is, how do I boil it down to a visual essence?
3– I read Apple’s IOS 7 design guidelines. Say what you will about it, those designers put an incredible amount of thought into the new design and how the visual and motion design reflects the information design. They got rid of a lot of the old useless crap like skeumorphism, but finally took the next step past flat UI into layered UI, which I had been hoping metro would do but didn’t. (For a great article on that, check out this article on PencilScoop.)

Between high-level priority and identity consideration, the pressures of a deadline, and relief from knowing I had more flexibility in how I wanted to design than I had in IOS 6, I had a few breakthroughs.

First off was the first draft of the logo and aesthetics:

Glance logo
And then, with those aesthetics and that abstract understanding of what Glance was about fresh in my mind, I put all my Illustrator files away, went to my little notebook, and started doodling UI flows.
iteration_9
You can’t see anything in that picture, I know. What, think I’d ruin the surprise now, before the app is out? Psssh.
But my point is that all of it simmered down to two scribbled flows and about ten UI windows each about the size of my thumbprint. The navigation structure, which had before been long and complex, the functionality which before had been like marbles all shoved in a box, had condensed after months of stewing and stirring into something which gave me that wonderful feeling of being “on to something”.
I couldn’t have gotten here if I had over-designed my first iterations. At last, the careful approach I took months ago paid off, by leaving myself still willing to make large changes!
I’m sure it’ll continue to evolve, and I’ll still get things wrong, but there’s little to compare in satisfaction with making an elegant solution for a complex problem.

Here, let me define your terms for you so we can get to the real questions.

I’ve been attending the conference A Better World by Design at Brown the past few days and have been struggling with a bit of frustration. The people are fantastic, a lot of the panels and workshops are interesting, but I have a few problems with some of the discussions taking place and I wanted to clear up a few things with the help of my friend, All Caps. Say hi, All Caps. HI GUYS. Okay, cool, let’s do this.

~~~

WHAT IS DESIGN THINKING?

Critical thinking skills* applied to situations where the data gathered is a mix of anthropological/ethnographic information and aesthetic information, and that data is then used to fashion solutions to problems found within that situation.

I would postulate that the main difference between design thinking and scientific thinking is the type of data which is gathered about the situation.

*what I mean by critical thinking skills: knowing what about a given situation needs deconstruction/definition/clarification. So think Socrates.

 

WHY IS EVERYONE TALKING ABOUT DESIGN THINKING?

Visual, interactive media has reached saturation levels, bringing the link between seeing (visual), doing (interactivity), and understanding into shared realization. We’re also in the midst of a big shift in the scale of problems it is necessary for a human being to be aware of and create problems for; This visual interactive media is a tool we can use to understand a world that is beyond our scale of the personal and therefore beyond any natural and easy understanding.

I would say a parallel could be drawn to the 18th century rise and idolization of the scientific method where old ways of understanding the world -religion, myth- were becoming insufficient to solve the problems of the time. (Not to discredit spirituality and narrative as valid ways of sensemaking: just that they were insufficient.)

Design thinking is one of the growths of a new kind of sensemaking (there are others), one which takes into account what was often previously discredited as unimportant or subjective.

 

WELL WHAT’S ‘INNOVATION’? ISN’T THAT WHAT DESIGN THINKING IS ALL ABOUT?

Innovation is to make a large change. That’s it. That’s all it means. To say “a company needs constant innovation in order to stay relevant” is a thank you Captain Obvious statement. Yes, you need to change in order to evolve. We’re treating that statement as revelatory because the rate of change in the world feels so fast from the individual’s perspective (aka the amount of information we are ‘required’ to absorb every day is overwhelming), that it feels necessary to put the responsibility of one’s own evolution on these Qualified Changemakers: Designers.

Yet that doesn’t answer the question that I see All Caps bubbling to ask: BUT DESIGNERS COME UP WITH SUCH COOL STUFF. THERE MUST BE SOMETHING SPECIAL ABOUT HOW THEY THINK WHICH MAKES THEM MORE LIKELY TO COME UP WITH SOMETHING INNOVATIVE.

Here’s my swing: Designers make it their job to hone their critical thinking skills so that they’re thinking about the flow of information (usually in the high-tech urban western/western-influenced areas, where you’ll find most of those who identify themselves as designers to be). So to give a marketing example: designers are thinking about how word gets out about a product -twitter, facebook, posters, post-its, videos- and they’re thinking about what it is about the packaging of that content, from the colors and typefaces to the humorous inside-jokes, that makes the idea spread.

So when you hire a designer to solve a problem for you, you are hiring a person who is up-to-date on the way information flows through the world to find a way to make the information you have flow through the world in a more efficient, focused manner. If that makes them Qualified Changemakers, then cool beans. But we can take the pedestal out of the room because they’re not the only ones who are qualified to do so.

 ~~~

So can we stop asking these basic define-your-term questions already? Design thinking is critical thinking that gathers different kinds of observational data than one would through the scientific method, and applies it in ways that are relevant to a culture’s flow of information, making it appear innovational or unconventional because most people don’t keep up with that kind of relevancy. That’s it. So let’s stop talking about how designers have unique snowflake brains and start asking some real questions about the discipline, shall we?

 

OKAY THEN, OH OPINIONATED ONE, WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE SOME QUESTIONS WORTH ASKING?

How about…

Why has the issue of ethics in design fallen out of commonplace discussion among designers? In a consumerism-driven, capitalistic society, has it become taboo to talk openly about the way artists and designers are playing off of people’s biological/psychological and personal vulnerabilities and weaknesses in order to get people to want shit they don’t need? Outside of design communities, I see a great deal of vilification of the way advertising takes advantage of people; yet among designers, I see only back-slapping congratulation. What’s with that?

Or let me phrase it in a simpler manner: At what point do designers take responsibility for both the methods they are using to promote content and the content itself which they are promoting?

 

Is the dominance of western design the new kind of imperialism? After all, dominance over the design of information is the dominance over the information that is presented. And what pantheon of color theories, compositional treatments, film editing styles, and textual narratives compose this dominant western design approach?

 

How are the technologies we are creating revealing only parts, never the wholes, of the information available? Take an obvious example: social media doesn’t reveal the full personhood of an individual, but encourages by its very design the process of crafting (/falsifying) an online persona to be given as a substitute for one’s self. It encourages shallow interaction and quick passage of small, three-minute ideas. There is an iceberg of personhood beneath that one crafted veneer that the technology reveals: what effect does this have on the information itself? On our ideas of it? On our assumptions about that information?

 

Which leads us to the next question: what critical thinking skills do designers need to develop in order to think about the impact of that which they create on the quality of mind, quality of body, and quality of life of those who come into contact with their creations?

 

Those are a few of the conversations which I wouldn’t mind having.

 

SIDENOTE: Many of you make comments in the facebook comments section. Please put your comments here in the blog so everyone can read the discussion!