Daniel Howell Creative Logo Daniel Howell Creative Blog
Back to Homepage

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Request for Support

I don't know how many people wander over to this part of the inter-webs, but if you read this, I strongly encourage you to go to my brother-in-law's site to see if you can help. He has been diagnosed with high grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma. Your help would be much appreciated by his family as well as myself. Thanks.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Design discussions without the designers

Sometimes, when there is a product review, the reviewers focus more on features than on design when calculating a products rating.

Design and discussion of design is not mainstream. I do not think it will ever become main stream, unless it is enveloped into something else (like business, marketing, or historical context jargon among others...).

Design discussions are absent from non designers because the design vernacular is absent from main stream. I might say that most do not know how to rationally communicate why they don't like something or why they prefer another design over another, aside from mere preference because their individual contexts are different and non transferable. Perhaps within "erudite" design discussions, contexts are equalized so that various design principles and elements can be discussed somewhat rationally.

So, the problem here (which might be extrapolated to other philosophical areas) is one where design discussions become meaningful only to those people that are not necessarily the people the design is intended for. For example:

Say I am designing a product for company X. In our design requirements, we have identified (perhaps even based on early research) that the product should be a modern contemporary design. Through iterative processes, we (as designers) discuss various elements of contemporary design, such as color, radii, proportion, as well as ergonomics and manufacturability. Say we even come up with what we perceive as a successful design among designer's circles and win some design awards. Despite all this "good design", a consumer can come up to the product in the store and immediately (and rightfully) reject the product because of bad design. What if the consumer wanted a playful product that looks like an animated character and is intended for children and not the parents?

The context of the designers and those of the consumer can be different. A major problem here is that the number of contexts vastly outnumbers the designer context.

The reason why designers might have problems describing what it is that they are expert is because of the lack of words that can translate through these various contexts.

So what can designers do about this translational challenge?

Designers continue to try to develop the story about a particular product in the context of the end user. But even the idea of "telling a story about a product" is something that is foreign to most consumers. I can imagine how well it would go over if I stood in the store beside the products I designed and told potential buyers why my product has better surfaces, radii, and proportion than the others.

Dr. Machael Drout, a philologist at Wheaton College has a theory that explains how tradition and culture work to influence language and literature (among other things). His Meme Theory as it is called talks about how tradition is composed of many persistent big and small concepts that flow in and out of heads until the congeal and become a tradition or recognized pattern that can be used symbolically to represent the idea. This requires a little more editing here.

The reason why this theory is interesting to product design and development is because it attempts to explain how complex ideas can navigate through a culture under an intuitive course, as apposed to more complicated overreaching theories.

In design, I would adapt the theory as follows. Art is a type of language (despite what some Post -Minimalists might think). If it is a language, then there are certain traditions that are becoming largely canonical. Maybe cotton-gin, steam engine, q-tips, post-it notes, i-Pods, bics, etc... designs that are ubiquitous and classic, or becoming such. We even have periods of design that are popular enough that people have heard of them. Victorian furniture, modern architecture, handycraft, etc.... Perhaps what designer need is to be more explicit in soliciting the already culturally accepted memes of design.

This is starting to want to push toward a categorical division of design elements and principles, which is something that designers will not do. Designers resists definition. So we are back at an impasse.


What to do.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Successful Products

I am starting to think that the success of a product may not have as much to do with innovation and good industrial design as it has to do with having a "perfect storm" of collaboration among various individuals who have influence in particular areas.

Jim Collins in Good to Great describes it as "getting the right people on the bus." He argues that it doesn't matter if you don't know where the bus is headed, because the "right people" can figure that out.

I think that a successful business is born out of meeting the right people who can help provide a product or service that is meaningful and competitively unique.

In dealing with one company, I am seeing that they have a potentially unique relationship between a consumer focus group as well as a patent law office. Part of the collaboration could be as follows: The lawyer can train the designers to understand patents better. If the designers understand patents better, they can create more valuable intellectual property for the lawyer. They can be a tool of the lawyer to increase the scope of his business.

Collaboration between industrial designers and consumer groups could provide an opportunity for the consumer group to take brainstorming information and feedback and turn them directly into rapid prototypes for client evaluation; a service that they do not currently offer. The result would be increased the scope of their business as well.

A successful collaboration is one that allows for all parties to be enabled to perform a better service for their clients. All three groups can extend the services they offer, as long as they remain in the scope of their business, without investing in the capital necessary to bring the service in house.

If someone is looking for a prediction about what the economy is going to start doing in this next period of slowed growth, I am willing to posit the idea that the borders between industries are going to become a little more nebulous to allow for such collaborations. At the very least, these collaborations will continue to grow.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Forward looking

I gravitate towards industrial design because I like to resolve ambiguous problems that don't have right or wrong answers. I am not quite sure how many other professionals share this directionless method of problem solving, but I sure get joy from deriving conclusions on my sheer gut reaction. "Should this surface be convex or concave?" Who knows-but I usually have a feeling that it should go one way or another.

The only drawback is that I can make myself quite comfortable in this unconstrained void. At times I think, "Why resolve anything when brainstorming is so much fun?"

The problem here is the very lack of direction I claim to enjoy. It is free to dream, but reality requires much work and concentration.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Nature, nurture, and great design

There is an ongoing debate between "nature" versus "nurture" when it comes to talent. What is more important to design?

We may have heard an anecdotal story about someone who wasn't very "talented" but stayed up day and night practicing and eventually surpassed a more complacent and talented counterpart. This story may be true in some respects. Recent studies have shown that "experts are made, not born." Nevertheless, I believe becoming truly great requires much more then either talent or experience.

Neither natural born talent, nor technical skills hold any weight without passion. Without passion, any God-given talent would atrophy or any learning would be stifled.

I have a friend who is quite gifted in design. However, he liked to rock climb just slightly more than he liked to sand Bondo. The result was a conflict of interests on his time, and both his talent and experience were short-changed.

We all like to do things that we find pleasurable or interesting. I have found that truly great abilities lie in individuals who will do what it takes to make their design superior to the rest. Mediocre design is the product of individuals who fail to harness these passions.

If you are trying to figure out if you are as talented as someone else, don't bother. Make sure your passion is kindled for creating great design.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Who is an industrial designer?

I have come to realize that when I have been doing freelance, with my own business, it is pretty much "Industrial Design". I want to refine my skills, but I do not want to attend a school that will stifle me and categorize me into a certain bracket.

If you want to take on the design world (with or without a degree), you need to know who industrial designers are.

The field of industrial design is a nebulous cloud of marketers, engineers, sculptors, managers, ethnographers, techies, enthusiasts, and many others. In other words, industrial designers come in all varieties. Here are some typical types of designers.

1. The design consultant.

The consultant should be really good at dazzling investors and clients and distill confidence in the people they deal with. To be effective, they need to be able to communicate their ideas clearly and concisely through their portfolios and face-to-face meetings with clients. Therefore, their portfolios and people skills should be really well developed.

Most ID programs, including BYU's, shoot for this objective. If you were to get a degree in design, you will spend lots of time tweaking both your sketching and communication skills so that you can dazzle anyone you present to. The curriculum is centered on lots of projects that pass through every phase of the design process-from conceptualization and research through to physical prototyping.

2. The corporate designer.

This designer is a different beast altogether. This designer also needs to communicate effectively, but also has to manage the development cycle of the product as well. Whereas a consultant tends to get a broad understanding of a variety of materials and processes and products, the corporate designer gains a tremendous depth of knowledge surrounding the entire culture and lifespan of a specific set of products. For instance, the corporate designer is much more integrated into a company's other departments dedicated to the products development-such as marketing, sales, supply, manufacturing and upper management to name a few.

From what I've seen, this is usually overlooked in the core design program at the design schools, though this information is readily available in both manufacturing and engineering degrees as well as business degrees, depending on your focus. Students in these degrees learn how to actually manufacture products and how they would get to the store shelves. This is less intensive on the actual styling of the products and more intensive on the materials, production, and distribution, etc... of the product's design. Nevertheless, most of this knowledge will come through on the job experience.

3. The design craftsman.

These include freelancers that specialize in a particular area of the design process and get really good at it. One design craftsman could have awesome sketching skills and make poster quality promotional images for products or concepts. Another design craftsman could have a strong aptitude for CAD/CAM, and know the idiosyncrasies of applications such as Rhino, SolidWorks, Alias, Pro-E, and others. Still, another type of design craftsman could a prototyper who understands how to make physical models quickly and/or precisely to show proportion and dimensionality before or after time is invested into building the 3D CAD geometry for production.

At school, you would get an introduction to all of these tools and processes, but only an introduction. To become a top candidate in any of these areas requires a great investment of time and altruistic attitude. The advantage of school here would be to set deadlines and put the specialized skill in the context of the project as a whole.

4. The design spokesperson.

These people are really good at selling ideas to others. They may not even have good sketching or engineering skills, but can tap entrepreneurial veins of investors and stakeholders. Nevertheless, they understand how design can make or break a product or product family. The design spokesperson tends to be more of an ally to the design world as apposed to a charter member of it.

Design programs at BYU or elsewhere rarely covers this aspect of design, mainly because it has become rolled up into the business program's entrepreneurial degrees. As with corporate designers, design spokespeople gain most of their knowledge after entry into the industry and use school only as a foothold to get into the field.

5. Design Critics and the Masses.

I will arbitrarily role up the rest of the design community in with the masses. As I asserted in an earlier post on my blog, I believe everyone has an inarticulate designer inside of him or her. Everyone on is entitled to an opinion about why design is the way it is regardless of their ability to explain why they think the way they do. Nevertheless, some people can make careers out of explaining where design came from and where it is going. These will usually come from a degree in art history or perhaps journalism or communications. They can become the much coveted and courted editors in magazines like Business Week or Wired, who have recently devoted entire sections to tracking trends in industrial design.

Now, in order to succeed in any of these areas, regardless of the formal education you may receive, you will need an awesome portfolio and resume. BYU or any other design program will give you the opportunities you need to build your portfolio, but if you are able to create an awesome portfolio and resume without college, all the better. Keep in mind though, that the learning curve is steeper and quicker outside of college and can be daunting at times.

Many professionals from an equally diverse number of industries have jumped ship and landed into any of these areas of design. They seem to have the spark that seems common to all of us industrial designers. Many industrial designers may not even know they are industrial designers, but find themselves doing the same things we do.

On the other hand, many industrial designers jump ship and land in another industry in which they find interest. I once knew a lead designer at a firm where I worked who was perhaps one of the best design engineers I have ever met. He knew almost every part of the SolidWorks CAD suite and understood a great deal about designing for manufacturability as well as aesthetics. He left to become upper-middle management at a family company back in the area where he was from. He will probably rarely use his skills in SolidWorks again, but he happy that he made the move.

The lesson that can be learned from all of this is this: You can be a successful industrial designer without an industrial design degree, let alone an "industrial designer" job title. What a design degree is good for is getting an introduction to the expansive and nebulous design world, as well a chance to stuff your portfolio and resume with some cool projects along the way. I probably could have said all this in fewer words, but I think this has been more informative this way.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Never satisfied.

I am never really satisfied at the completion of a design project. During the course of a project, I learn so much about both how and why a design is the way it is. So, when the deadline passes, I often look back at the bigginning of the project and wish that I had done certain things differently so that the design could have been a lot better. But, alas, a designer is never the same after he designs something. Therefore, they will never be satisfied with earlier efforts.

With that in mind, I have been working a little on the redesign of the site. Features include a template update, AJAX implementation, and an expanded portfolio. Though the site will be cutting edge in technology and design, I am avoiding the stereotypical Web 2.0 "look".

So, while I work away at that, the least I can do for now is to show you a picture I just completed. I was commissioned (for free) to design a logo for the East Brunswick Young Single Adult organization. Eventually, the logo will go on stationary and perhaps contact cards. For the time I put in it, I think it came out real nice:

Friday, May 05, 2006

The problem with designers.

So, as a professional designer, I feel I can speak about a few problems that I think the "design world" is suffering from. And being the person I am, I am going to blog about it. This could be a bumpy read, so here is my disclaimer: I'm not talking about either myself or my boss in this article! These points are based on conversations with other designers and represent my point of view.

  • Designers are not any more capable of creating beauty than non-designers.
Often times, I am asked to hang decorations at a party or draw a quick poster for a local fund-raiser. Knowing that I am a designer by trade, they ask me what I think should be done. When I explain that whatever they like would probably be acceptable, they reply that they don't have an "eye" for that sort of stuff. They then request that I use my "magical designer sense" to create something beautiful.

We designers have done a great job at trying to convince everyone that we have a monopoly on aesthetic understanding. But, in actuality, something like a small party is not really about the decorations; it's about the person or event the party is for.

In my opinion, some of the most beautiful designs I've seen were simple expressions of love or admiration from a "non-designer" to someone special. And more often than not, I would suggest that the quality of those designs operated somewhat independently from reactions of the viewers and receivers. I.e. Even the most hideous design atrocities can bring joy to our lives.

  • Designers are not rock stars (contrary to the picture in a previous post)

There is a growing population of would be "rock star" designers. The fame and fortune of a few are twinkling in the eyes of an ever growing movement of creative professionals. This is not what design is about.

We as designers should be honestly and earnestly striving to make the lives of people more safe, comfortable, and beautiful. The moment our own egos get in between the people and our designs, we have a conflict of interests. How can we honestly be striving to understand end-user needs when, ultimately, our true desire is to want people to be more like ourselves?

  • Design is not a standalone solution.

Like the idealists we often are, we like to imagine that design can save the world, if you only give it a chance. Fortunately for us, designers do not rule the earth. The more I deal with engineers, marketers, researchers, lawyers, doctors, and so forth, the more I realize how design really is only a small piece of the greater puzzle.

It has been rather humbling for me to realize that if it weren't for those engineers (who I sometimes feel like they modify designs despite me) there would be no design opportunity at all.

Gone are the days when I thought that I could do it all myself. Designers only have jobs because everyone else does.

  • Its hard to be an old designer

The problem with being an old designer is two fold. First, when we are young in the design field we are open and willing to learn and understand style for what it is. As we gain experience and graduate into leadership positions, there is a danger in thinking that we are contemporary dictators of style.

Secondly, when we are experienced in design, our prestige can negatively influence the perceptions of our design. In the business world, this can be likened to the boss's "yes man." I would humbly suggest that even the worlds leading designers sometimes get it wrong. Sometimes, we think that just because they are our leading designers, they must have some understanding or knowledge that make what they say absolute.

I am not saying that old designer status is undeserved, because old designers really do have understanding and knowledge that surpasses our own. What I am saying is that young designers should not keep from asking questions or taking design lead's orders for granted. Good design always benefits from positive criticism and collaboration, regardless of the experience of the designers.

So there, I've gotten that off my chest. My basic message is that we designers really need to be honest with ourselves and our role in society. We are not elite, we are not as important as we think, and we don't know as much as we think. This is probably heresy to some, but I think that this realization will only benefit our designs in a most positive way.

Now I can relax...

Friday, February 10, 2006


Just an old picture I found. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

2006 AKDS T-shirt

Here is the design I did for the annual American Karate-do Shotokai course t-shirt. I like the typographical treatment. I think there is some real potential for creating visual depth by putting the words into perspective to create a dynamic visual motion and an interesting composition. It kind of goes along the lines of the diagonal composition of Russian Constructivist posters. Anyway, thats what I was thinking when I drew this.

Shotokai Karate Official Site