The emperor’s new hat

I’m currently on holiday in beautiful sunny Darwin. Last Saturday we have a fun time pretending to be toffs at the Derby Day race meeting. Apart from graceful racehorses, there were also many wonderful outfits to look at and a vast array of headgear on display.

This got me wondering why women wear fascinators (as opposed to hats) especially since so many of them are just downright hilarious. Don’t get me wrong, some of these creations are beautiful, but most just make me laugh.

A small amount of research revealed that fascinators have been around since the 1600s with the first versions being a type of lace shawl with a fastener (hence the name). According to this article, they become newly popular in the 1950s as a cousin to those small pillbox hats made famous by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. My mother wore a beautiful pillbox hat with a small veil at her wedding in the early 1960s.

Fascinators have made a resurgence since Princess Beatrice wore her famous “pretzel” fascinator at the Royal Wedding. Apparently this fascinator became so famous it has its own FaceBook page.

We are going to another big horse race in October and several friends have offered to lend me a fascinator but I think I’ll pass. I might be persuaded to wear a proper hat (maybe not my gardening hat), but I can’t imagine wearing feathers and lace fastened atop my head. Each to her own, but it’s just not me really.

Art Deco in Napier

Art Deco in Napier

We are still travelling around New Zealand and in the last few days we stayed in a lovely seaside town called Napier. Unfortunately the weather while we were there was really dreadful. The sea, normally a brilliant blue, was brown and muddy looking. It had a wild and primal look which totally suited the photos we saw in the wonderful museum and library which told the story of the town’s destruction and subsequent rebuilding in the early 1930s.

The town of Napier was almost totally destroyed in an earthquake and the people who survived the event were left with only the clothes they were wearing. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami which only added to the death toll as many people had gone to the beachfront thinking that they would be safe there.

In the aftermath, a decision was taken to completely rebuild the town in the Art Deco style which was popular at the time. As a result there are many beautiful buildings and the Art Deco theme is repeated everywhere, including the street signs. In the museum we also enjoyed a lovely exhibition of teapots and cups, many of which reinforced the Art Deco theme.

A public convenience

A public convenience

I am currently in New Zealand doing a fantastic road trip with my husband. Today we stopped by the most amazing toilet block in the world. It was designed by a famous Austrian artist, Frederick Hundertwasser who lived in NZ for some years.

Little did he know that his toilet block would attract thousands of international visitors and put the tiny town of Kawakawa on the map.

The intricate design is very colourful and different. It’s surely the most popular public convenience in New Zealand, if not the world.

Designing for humans

Designing for humans

I’ve just finished a course in human centred design which was really interesting. If you’ve never heard of this before, it involves designing solutions to problems in an entirely new way, or at least that’s how it’s promoted. Even if it’s not a new idea, it’s a very different approach to the one we normally use in most organisations. The course was designed by IDEO who are a global design company with a strong interest in creating social change through design.

The normal process

What we usually do is identify a problem that we think needs fixing and then go about fixing it in the best way we know how. We rarely think about whether the solution meets the needs of the target group or the end user. Our solutions seem to be more about meeting our organisational needs, rather than meeting the needs of customers. We often design quite complex and expensive solutions that may or may not work for a variety of reasons. Sometimes we develop solutions that are so expensive that even when it becomes apparent that they don’t work very well, we have to keep on rolling out the program because it cost a lot of money to put it into action and as a result, it’s virtually unstoppable. We may make minor adjustments along the way, but we tend to work on the principle of “you’ve made your bed now lie in it”. We have to see it through to the bitter end even if it’s clearly not working.

The new approach – develop empathy

Human centred design is different because the needs of the people impacted by the problem are considered at every step of the design process. This means walking in the shoes of other people and finding out what the real problem is. This might involve watching people go about their daily lives and noting what they do, or talking to people about their lives, or standing in the queue or waiting on the telephone speak to a real person. It’s about gaining a very real appreciation of what it’s really like to be in the shoes of a customer or a client. Human centred design considers what people experience as well as how they experience it.

Define the problem

Once you’ve spent time really considering the problem from the point of view of the people experiencing the problem, then its time to define the real issue so that you can come up with an innovative solution. This may not sound like a particularly new approach, but in my experience we do jump to solutions rather quickly.

Ideate

The next step in the process involves having millions of ideas. Well maybe not millions, but lots of ideas without worrying too much about whether they are good ideas, or if they are feasible or too expensive. People often don’t voice their ideas because they make judgements about whether they are sensible or realistic before they even leave their mouths. Many good ideas are lost this way.

Prototype

My favourite stage was developing cheap and cheerful prototypes of solutions. A prototype is nothing more than a mock-up of your solution. You can make a prototype with cardboard and test it to see if the idea will work, and best of all, it’s super cheap. We had an idea about developing an app to help people communicate more effectively with customers who don’t speak or understand English very well and when we tested our prototype with potential users, it was fine to just use a simple drawing of what we had in mind.

Iterate

When we tested the idea we found that it was full of holes and needed a lot of refinement, but gosh it was cheap! It was just drawn on butchers paper so it was really easy to make a new version and test that with a different group of users. So much better than rolling out a whole program that didn’t quite work. The mantra of human centred design is to fail as early as possible. Failure is excellent because it helps you to improve quickly. The more you test and refine your ideas, the better. It’s so much better than refining your ideas almost to the point of perfection before you test it. You really can’t tell if something is going to work until you test it. You need to adopt an attitude that embraces failure. There’s a famous quote from Edison who said “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”.

Implement

Although we didn’t intend to take our idea to market, the implementation phase of the course involved developing a “pitch” for our idea. This was extraordinarily difficult as it meant getting down to the nitty gritty of what the real problem was and how we thought that our solution would solve the problem. Writing a pitch for any idea that you have is a really worthwhile activity. I recommend it. It can really help you clarify what the main issues are.

And finally…

I did this course with three of my workmates and working collaboratively with them was awesome. We were all different and able to bring together a range of ideas and viewpoints. If you are going to embark on a human centred design project or you are interested in doing the course (which is free) I highly recommend getting together with a diverse group of people. It really works much better when you don’t all think the same way.

Verandah update

Verandah update

Thought you might be interested in seeing what finally ended up on our front verandah! It’s an odd mixture of items. The bench is new, but the tables are a ‘side of the road’ effort.

We have done a bit more painting since then and I’ve become more confident about deciding what I like and don’t like. I think that maybe when you start to renovate (or in our case, freshen up) you probably should start in a small and inconspicuous place, rather like when you iron a new garment for the first time and you’re not sure if it can actually be ironed. We started at the front of the house and my husband left the colour choices up to me because he said that no matter what colour I chose, I wouldn’t like it when it was done. He was right!

In my case, I wanted nice dove grey paintwork and it ended up being quite purple. It’s not what I intended at all, but I’m getting used to it. I didn’t check what was going into the tint (largely red) and if I had it would have been obvious that it was going to come out purple or blue. But hey, you live and learn.

One of the things I found out in the course of this little experiment is that it’s a largely a matter of trial and error before you get the result you really want. It doesn’t just magically come together without any effort and there will always be some mistakes along the way. I know this sounds really obvious, but I had expected that if I thought about it long enough, I would make perfect choices.

In retrospect I should have realised that when I’m designing a presentation or a brochure I make thousands of changes and tweaks before I’m happy with the result, so choosing colours for the house is no different, it’s just a bigger canvas.

I’m thinking of re-painting my study now. It’s a smaller space and I think it’s going to be fun.

Choosing new chairs

New paint
We’ve just had our front verandah re-painted and as a result I’ve been obsessing over purchasing some new outdoor furniture. I’m beginning to realise that:

a) I don’t really like outdoor furniture very much, and

b) the pieces I do like are very expensive (which is very unfortunate).

In my travels around the internet I found a couple of beautifully designed chairs which appeal to me for reasons that I can’t easily articulate. There’s something about them that is very attractive. I think it might be the fluid lines.

I particularly like this funky chair (known as the 45) which was designed by Finn Juhl, a Danish architect and interior and industrial designer.

Screen Shot 2015-01-05 at 9.21.26 pm

Finn Juhl was a pioneer in Danish design. In 1945 he designed this fantastic armchair which was one of the first to break with tradition by freeing the seat and back from the frame. The result was an elegant chair that came to characterise Finn Juhl and make him world famous as an unrivalled designer. See more of his designs here.

Another one that caught my eye is this ladderback chair, designed by another famous Dane, Hans Wegner.

Wegner ladderback chair

According to Wikipedia, Wegner (April 2, 1914 – January 26, 2007), was a world renowned Danish furniture designer. His style is is often described as Organic Functionality and in his lifetime he designed over 500 chairs, 100 of which were put into mass production and have become recognisable icons. I’d quite like one (or two) on my verandah or maybe in my study if I ever finish tidying it up!

What do you think would look nice on our verandah? Any suggestions?

 

 

 

Is grey the new black?

Like many women of my age, my hair is rapidly becoming greyer by the day. I was looking at some old photos recently and my husband commented on the fact that over the past eight years we had gone from having brown hair (or black in his case), to having significant amounts of grey hair.

Unlike most of the women of my age I have resisted colouring my hair for reasons that I will try to explain…

I’m too lazy

The idea of having to ‘touch up my roots’ every few weeks is a boring and tedious task. Once you go beyond a little bit of grey at your temples, you really need to keep on top of the grey roots. One of my friends calls this ‘controlling the skunk’ because she has a tendency to develop a stripe down the centre of her head where her hair is parted.

Older and wiser?

Whilst I am only too well aware that my grey hair makes me look quite a lot older than my colleagues of the same age, I am reminded of a dear friend who once told me that in her country of origin (Thailand), grey hairs are regarded as a symbol of wisdom and the more grey hairs you have, the more you are revered. I don’t need to be revered, but it was a good reminder that being older (and maybe wiser) is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s the real me

Another reason that I haven’t dyed my hair is because I think it encourages other women to embrace who they are and not be afraid of showing their true selves to the world. I realise that this sounds a bit pompous. I don’t think of myself as some kind of feminist role model, but I do often have women say to me that they wish that they were brave enough to just be who they are, grey hair and all.

The downside

The unfortunate part of going grey is that the lack of hair colour really drains you and can make you look rather drab. I was reminded of this in a recent article about choosing colours to decorate your home. The writer was quick to point out that a lack of colour can make a room seem lifeless, and this is the same for women. Interestingly enough, this does not seem to apply to men who are usually described as distinguished if they go a little bit grey at the temples.

If you you’ve been dying your hair for a long time, it’s quite hard let your it revert to its natural colour, be that brown, grey, or a salt and pepper mixture of the two. It takes at least six months to grow out the colour, during which time you can look pretty dreadful.

If you are thinking about letting your hair go grey, it’s worthwhile thinking about other ways you can add colour to your life. A touch of lipstick, a colourful scarf and some bright earrings can add a bit of zing and be very effective.

Grey is sophisticated

Grey and silver are incredibly sophisticated, but they require the careful use of colours and textures to make them work.

Here are some design tips that work equally well for women and for graphic design work.

  1. Keep it simple – eliminate items that don’t contribute to the overall effect. A simple approach to design always looks sophisticated.
  2. Think about textures and shapes. An absence of colour helps you concentrate on other aspects of design. For women, this means having a really good haircut. For graphic design, this means using a range of textures and shapes to create interest.
  3. Use colour to highlight the most important things. In the examples below you can see that colour has been used wisely and to great effect. There’s nothing boring or lifeless about these websites.

 

Website for Echo Capital Group
Website for Echo Capital Group designed by ‘Truf’ (Creative Agency)

Product website designed by 'Below Enemy Lines' (Agency)
Website designed by ‘Below Enemy Lines’ (Creative Agency)

Looking classy

I’m not here to persuade you to let your hair go grey, it’s a personal thing and none of my business, but I would encourage you to consider the elegant simplicity of grey. It can be classy and beautiful.

 

The elements of good design

The Characteristics of a Typeface (for widescr...
The Characteristics of a Typeface (for widescreen displays) (Photo credit: arnoKath)

 

 

 

 

 

 

We all like to create flyers, documents and presentations that are easy to understand and don’t confuse people. Luckily, there are some simple ways to achieve this. The main elements of good information design are:

  1. Clear and appropriate typography (you need to be able to read it easily and the font needs to match the message).
  2. Lots of white space (you need to avoid TLDR –  too long, didn’t read)
  3. A clear message (this is the hardest element as it requires you to actually think about what your key message is).

There are lots of other things that contribute to good design, including colour, but I think these are the most important.

Clear typography

This one is fairly self-evident and doesn’t require a lot of explanation, but it really surprises me how often people choose totally inappropriate fonts for their documents. Typefaces have their own personality and should be chosen with care. If you are looking for something whimsical or handwritten by all means use Bradley handwritten, but don’t even think about using this for a board report.

Lots of white space

Even a very long email or report can be made more consumable by using white space to break up your text. Use spaces and headers to avoid large clumps of text and people will be more likely to read to the end. I recommend using this technique in emails as well as other documents. Using white space makes people feel less overwhelmed and more able to read the important parts of your message.

A clear message

This is the hard one. Sometimes we aren’t at all sure about what our key message is, and as a result it can get lost in a forest of words. We can beat around the bush and confuse people by not stating the obvious. I strongly recommend writing your key message out in a nice concise sentence and actually including it in your document somewhere, preferably near the beginning.

If you are starting from scratch with a document or even a simple email message, you should put your key idea at the top. If you want someone to respond to your email, why not tell them at the beginning that you expect a response, instead of at the end?

I know these ideas don’t sound very hard or radical, but you would be surprised how much difference using these simple principles will make to the information products you create.

 

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Logo love

I have a slight obsession with logos. Not all logos of course, just the really clever, witty ones. The ones I like best are a little bit quirky and often have an emotional element. Well designed logos send good, clear messages that accurately portray the product or company. A really good logo captures the essence of an idea and wraps it up neatly into a small but effective parcel. I think this is what appeals to me.

People have different tastes, so I know that you and I may not like the same things, but I wondered if you have ever given any thought to all the considerations that go into logo design?

Types of logos

The Coca-Cola logo is an example of a widely-r...
The Coca-Cola logo is an example of a widely-recognized trademark representing a global brand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Logos that are made from words, for example the Coca Cola logo, are more accurately described as wordmarks or logotypes. These text only logos are some of the most famous and recognisable logos in the world.

Combination marks are where the designer has used the name of the product/company or organisation and combined this with a symbol or icon. An example of this is the McDonalds logo, which I won’t reproduce here for obvious reasons! This  elegant logo for a wine company is a lovely example of a combination mark.

Wine Forest Logo

The third type of logos contain just symbols or icons. Famous examples include the Apple logo and the World Wildlife Fund’s iconic panda. I think most people in the world would recognise this distinctive logo.

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Appl...
English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Apple Inc.. The design of the logo started in 1977 designed by Rob Janoff with the rainbow color theme used until 1999 when Apple stopped using the rainbow color theme and used a few different color themes for the same design. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What makes a good logo?

Not only must the design capture the essence of the organisation or product, it needs to be able to be used in a variety of settings. For example, a logo that looks effective on a letterhead, may need to look as smart on the side of a truck.  For this reason, logo designers need to know about typography, print production, digital imaging and graphic design. It’s not enough to have a logo that works on a computer screen but nowhere else, unless that’s the only place it will ever be seen.

Another consideration is that the logo may need to be reproduced in black and white, so it needs to be reasonably simple and preferably distinctive, instantly recognisable and memorable.

Finally, a good logo should be timeless. The last thing a company wants to do is to keep changing their logo. A major re-branding can cost hundreds and thousands of dollars (if not millions) so companies really needs to choose their logo carefully.

You may not be in the business of designing or choosing logos, but I think that paying attention to how a business chooses to represent themselves is both fascinating and illuminating.

If you are interested in learning more about logo design, there are many websites and books you can read. My favourite is David Airey’s Logo Love Design.

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The ambiguity of signs

Quick, where is the loo?

Last week I had dinner at the RSL club with my 90 year old father-in-law and during the meal he asked what the green ‘running man’ sign meant. I said it was an exit sign and asked him what he thought it meant. He replied that he thought it might be a sign indicating that there was a toilet nearby. When I asked why the man was running, he said “he might be in a hurry to get to the toilet”. This exchange was followed by a lively discussion on whether signs are actually as clear as we assume them to be. Does the green running man really indicate that there’s an exit, or is he just a man in a hurry?

 I noticed that the word EXIT was on another sign, some distance away from the running man, however there was nothing to indicate that there was any relationship between them. In other words, proximity really does matter. If words and pictures are a long way apart we assume that they are not related concepts. Of course, the addition of the word EXIT on or near the sign doesn’t help people who can’t read very well or don’t speak English.

 According to Wikipedia (always a reliable source!), the ‘running man’ pictogram was designed by Yukio Ota in 1982 and is used in Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Norway. So the green running man is very widely used across a range of cultures, but is it clear?

 Can you think of a better way to indicate an exit using only visuals?