Archive for the ‘Design Theory’ Category

Design Thinking Will Be at the Core of Innovation in the Not Too Distant Future

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

“Designers are the ones best situated to figure out how a kit of parts can become something more — they’re the ones who can figure out the human interface for a vast chain. If they do their job right, the result — a working ecosystem — is a far better platform for innovation than an isolated product.

This article in Fast Company, October 2012, Why Good Design Is Finally A Bottom Line Investment explains, with the broadest brushstrokes, how much Design and Design Thinking have changed in 40 years. When IBM CEO Thomas Watson Jr. first said  in 1973 that “good design is good business”, he was still talking about skilled craft in aesthetics. He wasn’t wrong, but I think he would be gobsmacked by where design is now headed.

The innate ability that allows designers to “think outside the box” and to blend deductive and inductive reasoning with abductive reasoning (that intuitive leap of faith that designers can take), is the skill that allows design thinkers to help organizations innovate. And when I say innovate, I don’t mean tweaking the sweetener in a soda, I mean creating entirely new ideas; disruptive ideas — ideas that can, potentially, break down the wicked problems we struggle with today.

How can we turn the giant tide of consumerism around before we destroy the planet? How are we going to pay for the health care of an aging boomer bubble with a young workforce far smaller than that aging population? Or, one of my personal missions, how can we convince the BC forest industry that creating and owning businesses that use and refine the resources they harvest could actually give them far greater profit margins, create jobs and improve the lives of everyone in the province.

There will always be design, and my fondest hope is that it will only ever be great design. But I see the mental toolkit available to designers as being much more far-reaching than beautiful posters, logos and chairs. There will be a new subset in the profession that will not simply have access to the C-suite. It will drive the innovation of business. It will be a profession armed with post-graduate degrees in design as well as business administration. It will look beyond the reliable algorithms of business success to new and better ways for us to manage our planet and to live in it more happily. That’s where I want to be.

Andrew Zuckerman’s Thoughts on the Creative Process

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Those of you who know me know that I’m fascinated by design process as it pertains to life in general. We all have profound skills to gain by understanding how designers go about their work.

I am a HUGE fan of photographer and film maker Andrew Zuckerman. I love his work. I am also captivated by the restrained design of David Meredith who uses Helvetica the way it was mean to be used. I was flipping around in my RSS feed today and stumbled on this great Zuckerman talk for 99%. Any of my students, clients or friends who want a bit of insight into how “stuff” gets done by designers might learn a lot here. Just like the 99% says, it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Or to quote Chuck Close, “Amateurs look for inspiration; the rest of us just get up and go to work”. Our work might seem like sleight of hand or magic, but what it really is is blood, sweat and tears, often while others are working exceptionally hard to ruin the outcome.

Show Don’t Tell

Monday, October 31st, 2011


A nice little article from Smashing Magazine on infographics and data visualization which bears a read, especially for my students.

Smashing Magazine. October 14, 2011.

Pax Vobiscum

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Forgive me while I lead into this with my meandering thinking process and how I ended up on typography and semiotics.

It was the Ides of March yesterday. That led me to the coup on Caesar and his often quoted last words “Et tu, Brute?”. I drifted further to Latin and how much I remembered from the more cloistered days, before Pope Paul VI changed so much about the Catholic Church, including using Latin in Mass. Then I started seeing the words in type and realized how tightly correlated certain things are with certain typefaces. Are you still with me?

I had to get out of bed before dawn to set the Latin phrase, Pax Vobiscum or “Peace be with you”, in a couple of typefaces I thought were what I remembered and then threw in one I knew was wrong, just to see it in comparison.

I’ll leave it to you to decide which one you think looks more like the Catholic Missal, if you even know what that was (our little books we carried to Church every Sunday — and for many of us every day — that had the words to every Mass and its readings).

My drift here is that there are collective memories about things like type, a vox populi, if you will. Those memories contribute to the semiotics of type. If you look at the examples above — all serif typefaces — you can see very clear differences and, if you are part of the collective Catholic consciousness, or perhaps even other Christian faiths, only one or two of these actually look right.

And, while I’m at it, you should note that they are all set in 60 point type. Yep, they’re all the same size. So if you ever decide to tell your designer that they MUST use a certain point size because some hack told you that things must always be set in a certain size, think again. It depends on the typeface. And the typeface always tells a story.

Pax vobiscum.

Casey Hrynkow is a partner in Herrainco Brand Strategy+ Design Inc. a design firm based in Vancouver British Columbia

Must designers do good?

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

In December 1963 a manifesto called First Things First was written by a group of designers, photographers, students and educators frustrated at the trivial nature and proliferation of products such as diet aids, toothpaste, cereal, and deodorants, suggesting they add little value to the economy, and as such greater good could be achieved utilizing their talents on more worthy projects such as signs, books and catalogues etc. The manifesto also takes issue with publications which have applauded the work of those who have created these trivial projects, largely created by advertising agencies, and by graphic designers as well.

To gain a better understanding of the FTF manifesto it’s important to note that graphic designers and ad men come from two very difference backgrounds and hence very different philosophical roots. Designers generally have different goals than ad agencies. Where design is often concerned with the big picture, and applying systems and identities throughout the whole of an organization, advertising is generally more concerned with selling at the moment and sometimes disparagingly referred to by designers as a knock knock joke (Subplot).

Much of modern graphic design is rooted in the work of the state-sponsored workshops of German, Belgian and Dutch designers near the end of the 19th century.  “Functionalism was increasingly the watchword among forward-thinking practitioners. Born of an impulse to social reform, formed by artistic enterprise, and ready to cooperate with industry, the modern graphic designer of 1910 was fully equipped with a critical foundation for professional practise.” (Drucker, McVarish 181, 182).

Advertising is rooted in sales. A man named Volney Palmer opened the first advertising agency in Philadelphia in 1843, and acted as an agent selling ad space in newspapers. ”By the 1880s, full-service ad agencies were buying and selling space in newspapers and journals, and as brokers could conveniently coordinate the use of their service at the same time” (155).

It should come as no surprise, then, that graphic design’s historical left-leaning bias continues to stir within both the academic design institutions and the design community. It represents both a strength and a weakness over their counterparts in advertising. This strength is reflected in the empathy many designers feel for small business, the underdog and not-for-profit organizations, and a willingness to contribute to a variety of social causes, often at their own expense.  But this same social empathy can cause designers to exhibit a sense of self-doubt on one hand and moral superiority on the other. Advertising plays a very vital, if not equally important role in the economy, selling products and services and in the process creating jobs. It is often loved for its cleverness and humour when done well, and hated at the same time for its pervasiveness.

In 2000, the First Things First Manifesto was reissued with the hope of creating a greater sense of urgency. “It suggested that the current practises are disastrously affecting the profession of design, endorsing a mental environment so saturated with commercial messages that it is changing the very way citizen-consumers speak, think and feel, respond and interact” (F Newsmagazine).

While some saw the manifesto as a call to action, other called it pompous, with a group in England writing their own manifesto against all future manifestos. However, designers should be aware that they, like ad agencies, are in the persuasion business, whether we are designing a rock poster, cereal box, or environmental brochure. And the freedom we enjoy and use to express ourselves, our opinions, and our ideas, should not be denied to others who are not on the same page. It’s interesting to note that many of the original signatories of the manifesto built their reputations doing “cultural work” on the fringes of commercial graphic design practise as critics, curators, and academics” (Bierut, 26).

If the role of a manifesto is to raise social consciousness, how do we avoid censorship and unfairly determining what types of projects are more worthwhile that others? While I may personally find it more enjoyable and meaningful to design a book or catalogue, a single mom, who has a toddler, may find information gathered from a Pampers commercial much more necessary and meaningful. “

What makes dog-bisquit packaging an unworthy object of our attention, as opposed to say, a museum catalog or some other cultural project (Bierut, 28)?

There’s no question that the general public and even designers themselves feel overwhelmed with the amount of messages thrown our way, yet design and advertising continues to surprise, shock, inform, educate, and make us laugh, all the while selling a lot of merchandise and supporting our economy.

The frustration felt in the 60’s and expressed through the FTF manifesto has largely continued yet, unlike the booming wealth of the 60’s that offered unlimited opportunities for clients, designers and photographers alike, new challenges face us unlike any we have experienced before. Global warming, the economic melt down, further exacerbated by various Ponzi schemes has sent shock waves throughout the world, and in the cross fire, consumers are being taken to task for out of control spending. If anything, we should remind ourselves that its very easy to overreact, and jump to polarized or binary conclusions. In fact we are reminded by the New York Times that consumer spending accounts for 70% of the economy (Segal). It further suggested that while consumer spending may have to some degree got us into the mess, it will take consumer spending to get us out, enough to the point where consumers can become better at saving.

So what can we take away from the manifesto?

Designers should remind themselves that we do play a vital role in the economy, and have the ability, if we so choose, to shape and influence the world around us by our actions.

> We can help good products differentiate themselves
> We can help good organizations get noticed
> We can help promote worthy causes
> We can help simplify & explain complicated services or products
> We can minimize the use of plastics and over packaging
> We can promote green products and processes
> We can be daring
> We can educate ourselves continually
> We can question everything and avoid dogma
> We can be empathetic
> We can try and make all we touch better


Casey Hrynkow is a partner in Herrainco Brand Strategy+ Design Inc. a design firm based in Vancouver British Columbia

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The Truth Will Set You Free

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Reflecting on this short article by Paddy Harrington of Bruce Mau Design about Ricky Gervais’ bold, in-your-face style at the Golden Globes, I am reminded of how important it is for designers to be brutally honest. Honesty from designers is largely not rewarded with any kind of love, because good designers ask tough questions. They often don’t like the way you phrase your problems. They rephrase them. And then might tell you that there are things you have to do that you didn’t think of. And often, for your own good (and your company’s) they say “no”. Ouch.

Suffice to say that not once in the previous paragraph did I mention typefaces, colours, logos or branding. Design is about getting to the seminal truth. And that truth will set you, your company, or your cause free.

WTF is a Designer?

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

This question is the stuff of wars. Designers can’t agree on it and clients sure as hell don’t agree with any of those designers. I watched a video of a very bright, articulate designer named Frank Chimero (I’ve been a fan for a long time) talking at the Build Conference in Belfast, Ireland last November. He wrestled with this question and inspired this post. I thank Vancouver design firm Seven25 for bringing my attention to it and Vimeo for posting it.

Clients see designers as thing makers. Designers see themselves as researchers and sociologists or illustrators and typographers, or, a combination of all of them — and then some. Design is a changing profession and trying to define it is like trying to sew fog.

You can’t measure design (well you can, but it will cost you a fortune and it’s hit and miss) and businesses are risk averse. Most businesses run on logic. Good input, defined process, defined output. All that logic may be safe, but it’s status quo. Business likes that safety. As my partner Ray tweeted just yesterday, “Businesses don’t mind being different as long as they are like everyone else” But here’s the thing. The more things blend in the less interesting, meaningful and delightful they are. We all know that you can’t please everyone. Tibor Kalman famously said, “If you try to make something nobody hates, no one will love it.”

Chimero argues that design is storytelling. Not a new idea, but I happen to agree with it. It humanizes things which are either hard to explain, technical or just plain boring, unless they are crafted into something compelling. A story. So, on the most basic level, design is storytelling. But to do that storytelling designers bring to bear their mad skills combined with knowledge of sociology, psychology, art and history. They craft complex ideas into compelling, digestible bits that people understand and, if they’re so inclined, they can love.

Design provides the thing that is most difficult for businesses to buy today and that’s the ability to be noticed. We have everything we could ever want to know available to us today. All we have to do is Google it. But can we find what we need, what speaks to us? That’s what design can do. And that’s what a designer is.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.

The Fuzzy Front End of Design

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

What we do in design is predicated on defining and understanding the problem that is to be solved. A pioneer in extraordinary ways of looking at design problems is Elizabeth B.-N. Sanders, who speaks here at the IIT Design Research Conference in Chicago in 2008.

Liz Sanders at IIT Design Research Conference 2008 from IIT Institute of Design on Vimeo.

We shall step back into the shadows and don our cloaks…

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Design Currency: Icograda Design Week In Vancouver is wrapping up today. It has been a stimulating infusion of ideas about the currency of design with all that entails — its meaning, its value and its influence in the world today.

I just read the well-written summary of Design Week in Vancouver, by the ever articulate Isabelle Swiderski:

“…according to Collins, it may be time to embrace mystery once again and tap into the true creativity we possess and have been desperately trying to quell for fear of our disapproving business counterparts.”  Read more….

We subsequently had a discussion in the office this morning about the world of design and the world of business and the seeming antipathy between them. The two would seem to need each other, but business remains highly suspicious of design at worst, and patronizingly indulgent of it at best. The business world continues to speak the name of design pejoratively, seeing designers as the fixer-uppers that swing in after the heavy lifting has been done by the “business thinkers”. It was interesting to note that, Helen Walters’ (editor of innovation and design at Bloomberg/ BusinessWeek) keynote address surrounded this very issue:

I’ve seen firsthand as executives who should know better dismiss design as styling, or as an indulgence that’s somehow unrelated to the bottom line. And I’ve listened to designers who should know better bemoan the fact that another client hasn’t understood them or that once again their genius has been diluted or ignored. Read more

Many communication designers now have some 4-8 years (or more) of university training, often with complementary degrees in psychology, sociology, business and leadership, often far surpassing that of their clients. We have been taught to analyze problems, reframe them and solve them in ways that traditional business training has not been able to master. Hence the creation of places like at Stanford.  We have fought for many years for the coveted “seat at the table” in the corporate world, but for most it has been elusive.

Enter the idea that perhaps we were better off when we intimidated with our “artistic mystery” and could wave our arms in creative fits of pique and demand exorbitant amounts of money as compensation for having to deal with block-headed clients. We might have been considered flaky, but at least we were scary. Personally, I’ve never really been able to pull off that sort of theatre, but perhaps I can learn?

What do you think?

Who is entitled to design?

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Ray and I got into a lively discussion tonight about the accessibility of design. We talked about the philosophy behind the Bauhaus. Was it elite? Was it socialist? For those disinclined to dig for ‘what the heck Bauhaus was about’, my take (and anyone is invited to disagree with me here) is that there was an overarching concept of universality in reaction to the industrial revolution that sought a return to more purity and simplicity, as well as things that were hand-crafted. However, at the time, I believe that the aesthetic as geared to a “trained” eye — someone who valued the “no frills” philosophy of the deutscher werkbund which created entire homes in this image — from walls to furniture. As altruistic as it was, it still offered something so different from the aesthetic of the time that I can imagine that it may have been seen as aseptic to the “common man”. I should mitigate my comment by saying that, clearly, it was a movement with legs as it has informed the enduring modernist movement, an aesthetic which I greatly admire.

I do feel more comfortable, though, in the presence of objects that have more humanistic intent. I said to Ray that I thought Phillipe Starke gave usable things personalities and stories. I like that concept and thought it was compelling. Ray aptly pointed out that, try as he might to make his chatckas  affordable, Phillipe Starke has been forced to worship at the alter of profit, just like everyone else. His creations are relegated to being described — and priced— as exclusive. Industrial designer Yves Behar of fuseproject believes in this storytelling and takes it further.His $100 laptop has gone further to make design more accessible. But then there’s the problem of giving laptops to kids who just need three squares or even a daily allotment of clean water.

So, does design need to be affordable to be accessible? Does making it affordable make it truly accessible? Is it only for the rich or the highly educated? Can altruism hide its products from profiteers? I think it all warrants some thought.

Casey Hrynkow, Partner
Herrainco Brand Strategy + Design Inc.