Playshop 2: Design
“We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us,” Winston Churchill said, and perhaps no place has the power to shape us like the place where we grow up. — Frank Harmon
What is design?
How can I apply what I learn about design to shape my environment? to improve my visual communication? to change the world?
What more do I need to learn and what’s my plan for learning it?
Frank Harmon is a well-known architect and professor of Architecture at North Carolina State. In his post, “The House That Steve Jobs Grew Up In, and How It Shaped Apple,” Harmon describes how the “clean elegance” of Steve Jobs’s boyhood home shaped his sensibilities and led directly to the simple, elegant design that Apple products are known for. [Please note that Harmon’s blog is the best place to read his article because there is a photograph but it seems to be really slow so the fallback is the Architects + Artisans article.]
Jobs knew intuitively what Daniel Pink describes in A Whole New Mind: Design is both “utility and significance.” It is not superficial but architectural — inherent from the inside out. With design, we can “think different” and “change the world.”
Though our first language may be visual as we learn to recognize the shapes, colors, and textures of our world, we soon supplant it with a verbal one and begin to communicate first with aural and then with the written symbols of the alphabet. To learn to design, to shape our environment, we must learn the formal grammar of visual language or has Steven Bradley describes “to think and communicate visually.”
Read Bradley’s post, heavily influenced by the work of Christian Leborg, author of Visual Grammar: A Design Primer (on our Virtual Bookshelf) to learn about the four categories of visual grammar: objects, structures, activities, relations. Within activities and relations, you will find many design elements that may sound familiar. Bradley recommends St. Clair’s work on visual grammar that defines these design elements as unity, harmony; variety; balance; emphasis, rhythm, movement, pattern, graduation, and proportion.
Bradley also recommends Singh’s and Pickard’s article, “Recent Developments in Vision Science and the Relationship of Semiotics as Seen Through Design Practice” in other words: the application of scientific understanding to image design, including gestalt theory.
So to become more fluent in the language of design, study these resources to:
1) learn how visual grammar is organized in categories (objects, structures, activities, and relations) (Bradley and Leborg)
2) describe the ten elements of design (unity, harmony; variety; balance; emphasis, rhythm, movement, pattern, graduation, and proportion) (St. Clair)
3) explain the basic theories of how scientific understanding can contribute to image design, including gestalt theory (Singh and Pickard)
Then consider the essential questions as you begin to synthesize your learning on design.