Today’s Harvest: A Potato Array

garden potatoes

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One look at my potato gleanings made me realize how much of a farmer’s harvest they can’t sell — a splotch, an unsightly wrinkle, non-uniform sizes —because the American shopper is too fickle. Not shown are the very smallest potatoes, no larger than a pea. Imagine how wonderful they’d be whole in a soup.

But it’s just that irregularity of home grown or farmers market produce that is especially delightful. Fellow admirers of odd-shaped vegetables are nodding their heads in agreement.

You’d never find heart-shaped tomatoes or Dr. Seuss eggplants or twisted yellow bell peppers a grocery store. I’m convinced these vegetables taste better, too.

A Louder, More Claustrophobic Flickr?

New Flickr Page

The reason a small handful of design principles and devices stand the test of time is that they’re broad and non-prescriptive, helping us solve an unlimited number of visual problems.

White space is one of them.

It’s been a long time since a client asked if I could “get rid of all that white space.” Even so, I was surprised recently when a government client asked for a lot of white space. I felt like a kid in a, well, linen store.

The average person is becoming more sophisticated about design, and, perhaps due to content overload, has arrived at what artists and designers have long known. That is, how crucial white space is to a reading or viewing experience. Far from being leftover or empty space, white space, at its best, is intentional, helpful and often dynamic. It’s active, not passive. In reality, white space is a beautiful paradox because in all its lacking of content, it makes us pay more attention to the content that is there.

White space:

• Frames images and text (and the notes in music in the form of silences) drawing attention to them.

• Creates contrast, a critical device that wakes us up and makes us pay attention.

• Separates like bits of information from other clusters of information, helping us focus on one thing at a time.

• Creates a breather, the space to absorb information more easily.

Flickr unleashed not only a new website, but a backlash. Change incites naysayers and you can’t please everyone, but this designer thinks Flickr went overboard.

The old Flickr design had too much white space of the leftover and non-intentional kind. And, thumbnails were too small, requiring the user to click through every one, which was slow going.

Old Flickr

There’s no arguing the “wow” factor of a face full of pretty pictures. But think about the last time you strolled through a museum. The generous space between pieces of art was deliberate, framing and drawing your attention to the art in front of you. There was a chance to exhale before moving on to the next painting.

The new Flickr design sacrifices not only the ability to view an image and its related information, but it bombards you with all the images at once. Now, image trumps everything, overlooking how many users, including myself, use the site. Having tested a typical search I might do for a project, I can already see that load times for search results are much slower.

Pinterest, with its wall-to-wall content, has a lighter, less oppressive feel than Flickr, even though the general layout is the same. Images are large enough to see, you can focus more easily on a single image and you can find an image’s related information without scrolling.

Pinterest

What do you think of Flickr’s new design? Is it going to make it easier or harder for you to use?

Two Thumbs Up for Little Birds

Vaux's swifts: I'm a vauxeur

The hottest show in Portland in September is also free: the nightly roosting of the Vaux’s Swifts that, tornado-like, funnel into the chimney of, among other places, Chapman Elementary School in NW Portland. The night’s silver screen might also feature a protagonist hawk waiting to catch his prey, that is if a swarm of swifts doesn’t circle back en masse to chase the hawk away amid whooping cheers from the audience. Read more about them on the Audubon Society of Portland’s website. Think Audubon should print this as a t-shirt next year? If so, hit the Like button and I’ll donate the art to them.

Good Finds: Caldera Student Blues Posters

I was lucky enough to see these blues posters as large banners at Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival. They’re part of youth art program called Caldera that brings in artists from around the world to do month-long residencies working with at-risk youth.

Students worked with local artist, Joe McMurrian, to learn about blues legends and create illustrated portraits. View all the Caldera blues posters online. Originals and small prints are available for sale. Contact 503-937-7594 or email caldera@calderaarts.org. Proceeds are split between the young artist and Caldera to support more programs.

The Beauty of Book Series

In the visual chaos of bookstores, my eye always settles on the logic and order of families of titles — collections, put out by a publisher, with a common visual system, a sort-of brand within a brand.

There’s a pleasing harmony to these single- or multi-author collections. And the viewer goes back and forth between the books’ unifying elements and their unique imagery. You’re able to pay more attention to the books’ art because of the common visual thread running across the individual titles.

Continue reading

Creative Inspiration: Gifts from the sea

Where do you go for creative inspiration? For me, one place is the sea. It offers extraordinary details if you’re patient and curious enough to let them wash over you. The sea reminds me that the most beautiful forms are the most simple and direct. Too often, we complicate things by seeking out lofty solutions. Most of the time, the answer is sitting right there just waiting to be noticed.

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“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious,
too greedy, or too impatient. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—
waiting for a gift from the sea.
—Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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Crowdsourcing and The Tyranny of Choice

A wave of admonishment ran through the design world recently when the Department of the Interior (DOI) used a popular design crowdsourcing site to solicit ideas for a new logo. (You can read petitions and arguments here and here.)

It raises the hackles of designers when high-profile organizations (last year it was the National Endowment for the Arts) use the design equivalent of trolling—capturing everything in its indiscriminate net for very little investment.

There are a number of unsavory aspects to this practice, but most importantly, the client doesn’t benefit.

It is a terrible waste of time for a company.

Even though I wanted to ogle the submitted design work, my head spun to take in all those solutions (600+), many of which were inappropriate or just plain bad. There is much to say even about the creative brief submitted by DOI, but I’m focusing here on the cost to the organization.

Faced with too many choices, we reach an overload and we fail to make good choices.

Many books have been written on the subject of choice and decisionmaking, and there is science that supports the conclusions about the impact of too many choices. Armed with a little bit of knowledge from some of these books, we can all make better choices and decisions (see list at end of post).

In his book, Paradox of Choice (affiliate link), author Barry Schwartz talks about the pitfalls of too much choice. (You can also watch his TED talk on the same subject.)

“All of this choice has two effects on people. It produces paralysis rather than liberation. The second effect is that even if we manage to overcome paralysis and make a choice, we end up less satisfied with the result of the choice than we would be if we’d had fewer options to choose from.”

The fallout from these two key effects of the staggering choices in today’s world manifests itself in more ways. There is an inherently lower satisfaction level which causes us to regret our choice more. It makes us imagine that there had probably been a better choice. And this regret makes us even more dissatisfied.

More options also creates higher expectations, simply because of the sheer number of choices. Faced with many options, we’re convinced we can pick the best one. The final blow to our happiness in our choice when we have many options, as opposed to fewer, is that we tend to blame ourselves for our lousy choice.

Suddenly, your job, which was probably already taxing just got taxed further.

One of the reasons Trader Joe’s is so successful and popular is that they limit the choices. They are aware of how a mindboggling array of choices affects our ability to choose and be satisfied. Think about the last time you stared openmouthed at the cat food or cereal shelf of a grocery store. You sigh, your shoulders sink and you tire just thinking about making a choice. There is a cognitive cost exacted with this type of decision.

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In the case of a crowdsourced logo, many organizations lured by almost free and hundreds of choices don’t take into account the massive cost of staff time to adequately evaluate the choices. The money they imagine they are saving will get spent on staff time probably better spent another way. Factor in the time lost on confusion and second guessing, and the cost is even higher. Now, instead of evaluating a few very solid solutions based on a really useful brief, you’re navigating through too many wrong solutions that make choosing harder.

This is why crowdsourcing design is fundamentally flawed. All the focus is on the form of the thing (its looks). Form is important. But the form is only a small part of an effective identity—strategy, appropriateness, uniqueness, flexibility, lasting power.

These same theories apply not just to crowdsourcing design work but also to soliciting too many bids (unless there is a requirement to do so).

It’s something to consider if your staff is already wearing too many hats, you’re concerned about cost (in a broad sense), you reputation to protect, and most of all, you want the quality of the output to match the level of the work you do.

There are two ways good ways to avoid all this. One is to be very clear about your goals, purpose, tone/personality, audience, uses and needs. And the second is to sharpen your skills and confidence in selecting and evaluating the right designer (or design team).

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Have you ever used a crowdsourcing site for design? Do you know anyone who has? If you’re willing to share your experiences, please do. There’s very little out there on what happens next.

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Books on decisionnmaking and choices

These are all excellent books on making both personal and business decisions. They cite similar studies but each book’s focus is slightly different. (These are affiliate links.)

The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

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{Above: Creative commons image from “flickr/iamdonte”}

Bob’s Red Mill: Feast for the Eyes, and Belly

grain sacks

When a friend asked if I was interested in taking a tour of Bob’s Red Mill on a Monday, I decided I could make it a “work-related” event. The boss (that would be me) is a stickler for purposeful hookey. I do write and design a bit about food, especially of the local variety. But Bob needs no promotion from me since his product is sold by every grocery store chain in the U.S. of A.

So I was glad to find some visual treats, like this wall of grain sacks. Continue reading