Sunday, November 22, 2009

Meet A Giraffe

Advertisements are everywhere. In my sociology class, Professor John Hall posed a question to the class: could you operate in society without encountering advertisements? The answer for most is no. It is nearly impossible since advertisements are all over our world. From bus sides to billboards to computer pop-ups to banners flying off of airplanes, almost anywhere we go, advertisements will find us. We see so many that we often glaze over the ones that don’t catch our attention. That is why it is so great when an innovatively designed ad pops up right in front of you. That is what happened to me when I came across a giraffe on a side street in San Francisco a few months ago. Not a real giraffe, just a pole painted to look like one. It is an advertisement for the new arrivals of giraffes at the San Francisco Zoo. This creative ad, designed by BBDO West advertising agency, featured a street-lamp pole painted with a giraffe pattern topped by a flag with a giraffe face on it. This graphic design took an object that most people don’t notice and made it extraordinary. BBDO West turned a simple form into a design that interacts with the public. It is common for advertisements to be placed on banners high on street poles, but much more unexpected to use the pole itself as a design feature. It was a humorous and innovative way to accentuate the height of a giraffe to sell the giraffe experience to passerby.
(picture courtesy of

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Designed Future

As technology in our society progresses further and further, creating a sustainable society is becoming more and more essential. Designers create all the new technology and products coming into our world, so it is most important for designers to think sustainably. Yesterday, designer Nathan Shedroff spoke to my design class about sustainable design. Through a well-planned Power Point presentation, he explored how the three spheres of design, business, and sustainability can intersect. There are three main questions we need to ask ourselves: what does a more sustainable world look like; what does a more meaningful world look like; and what does a post-consumer world look like? “We don’t know the answers,” said Shedroff, “That is what design is for.” We can look to the country Cuba, a self-contained society that still uses cars from the 1950s, as an example of a sustainable world. We can look at the above-ground subway system in Curitiba, Brazil as an example of how to use a tiny amount of money for a major impact. We can look at the ban of outdoor advertisements in São Paulo, Brazil as an example of a post-consumer world. It may seem daunting to take on the huge task of redesigning our world sustainably, but Shedroff gave examples like these so we could find inspiration, giving us a jumping-off point for our own designs. But what is sustainable design exactly? Shedroff says there really is no such thing. The main thing to consider when designing is “don’t design things that make tomorrow worse.” So get out there yourself and design, design, design, for a better world for your kids and your grandkids.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Minimalize Me

Gary Hustwit’s film “Objectified,” features simply the people of design. The movie features how designers operate in society to create items we may not even know that we need. Hustwit chose to show designers at work interspersed with interviews on what design means to them. In the beginning of the film, designer Dieter Rams gives a long list of what design should be, ending with “design should be as little design as possible.” This theme of simplicity is consistent throughout the film. Jonathan Ive, a senior executive at Apple, described the process Apple designers use to make things smaller and simpler, such as the Macbook Air. One of their most important tasks is figuring out how to make “6 parts into 1.” The French Bouroullec designers said that the hardest part of their job is to “remove, remove, remove” to bring the greatest unity to the design. Designers have to remember and consider that most of their designs end up in a landfill, said Tim Brown, one of the founders of IDEO, insinuating that using as few resources as possible to create a design is best. The form of the movie echoes this theme of simplicity. There are no fancy voiceovers, no shocking scenes, just real designers in their environments. Scenes smoothly transition from one designer to the next, taking, for example, Bouroullec’s mention of Marc Newson to a scene of the designer in action. This pared down film will be understood by a wide range of audiences throughout society because of its elegant simplicity.
(picture courtesy of boingboing)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mix It Up!

Whether it is through mixing paint, pencil, or pastel, new colors have been made by combining the old for centuries. Millions of different hues, tints, and shades have been created in this manner, but there are qualities of color and light that mixed pigments can never address. Visual color mixing aims to “reproduce the luminous and brilliant quality of life,” wrote Lauer and Pentak in Design Basics. In visual color mixing, two colors are placed side by side, and when viewed from a distance are seen as a mix of the two. Basically, our eyes mix the colors for us. It is used to communicate a more realistic sense of light in color. This is found in art styles such as pointillism, like in Seurat’s famous “A Sunday on la Grande Jatte,” or in Chuck Close’s grid style portraits. Visual color mixing can also be used to create different textures or design properties. Iridescent fabrics are not composed of glossy thread, as one might think, but of matte threads of two colors. For example, in a maroon colored iridescent fabric, there is black thread lengthwise and red thread widthwise. When the red peeks through the black, the colors mix to make not only a new color, but a new property of iridescence as well. Visual color mixing can be used in all other sorts of design in our society, whether it be in a multi-colored fiber rug in an interior, in a poster for a new band, or even in the pixels on our television screen. Try playing around with different materials, maybe you too can find a new design property using visual color mixing.
(picture courtesy of Nosideup)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's All An Illusion

Optical illusions have been fascinating scientists for centuries. Illusions are things that our mind creates out of what we see, despite what the true facts are. For example, the classic afterimage illusion. Joseph Albers describes this illusion in his book Interaction with Color. He tells us to look at a color, red, for 30 seconds, then look at a white piece of paper. We will see the color’s complement, green. The main scientific theory behind this is that the eyes contain nerves that sense the three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. When we stare at the red dot, the red-sensing nerves become fatigued, so that when we shift to the white paper we see a combination of the leftover nerves, yellow and blue, creating green. This and other illusions can be very useful in design. They can be used to create volume, like in the floor tiles of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which make a pattern of 3-dimensional boxes out of strategic placement of lines, or to create optical interest, like the café wall illusion, where parallel horizontal lines are made to seem diagonal by staggered black squares. Certain areas of design, such as interior design, depend on optical illusions to create space and openness. Fashion design has also used optical illusions, the most recent example being Givenchy’s spring 2010 show, where black and white patterned leggings and tops created an illusion of movement, almost appearing to move themselves down the runway. They have also been used in many ad campaigns and other media. It is in these kinds of examples that design elements coincide with science through optical illusions.
(picture courtesy of

Friday, November 13, 2009


Color is found everywhere in our world. Look out into the world and you will see a million colors reflected back at you. But color is simply a figment of our perception. As the philosopher Goethe said, perception is subjective. Our perception of what we see is based on our past and what has influenced and impressed us. Therefore, when I see blue, I may be reminded of warm past summers spent by the ocean, but you may be reminded of frozen winters in Maine. These memories affect how we feel about the colors, and consequently what our color preferences are. So what does this have to do with design? Color choices are integral factors in design compositions. The color a designer picks will influence the viewer’s opinion of the design, so the designer has to pick a color that is likely to evoke the proper sentiment. For example, in the latest spring runway shows, many designers, like Zac Posen and Versace, chose to work with traditional spring colors, pinks, greens, light blues, and oranges. The colors suggest youthfulness, fun, and energy, a few defining factors of the spring season. But other designers purposefully stayed away from using such colors to induce different emotions in the viewers. Balmain’s ready-to-wear line featured army greens, blacks, and golds, to suit a tough but luxurious girl. Had the same outfits been done in pinks and greens, this may have fell in with the perky lines of Zac Posen and Versace, but the color palate chose the gritty mood.
(pictures courtesy of

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Prince of Prints

The infamous Pucci and Missoni clothing houses are best known for one thing: pattern. Pattern is the predictable repetition of an element in an image. It is used to add texture and visual interest to an image. In design, pattern is an easy way to make a simple shape more dynamic. Pucci has designed simple beach-friendly clothes since the 1950’s, continually innovated by using variations on the house’s signature swirled, kaleidoscope patterns. These orange, blue, pink, and green patterns create a visual texture that granted the founder, Emilio Pucci, the title “prince of prints.”
The house of Missoni has also used their signature zigzag weaves to update simple knits. Their geometric prints not only have visual texture, but because of the knit fabric they are made in, have
tactile texture as well. Their patterns appeal to our basic love of texture, so it is almost an impulse to want to feel Missoni’s pieces. I remember walking through a department store and finding a beautiful Missoni knit zigzag shirt and instinctively reaching out to feel the texture that I could see in the pattern.
These two fashion houses have inspired so many others to invest in patterns as a way to enhance almost any design. Their inspiration does not only extend to fashion, but to art, interior design, and even food styling! Next time you shop, make sure to look out for patterns inspired by Pucci and Missoni, for these kinds of designs can be found almost anywhere in our society.
(Pictures courtesy of Fashion Models and Modeling Jobs and The Sartorialist, respectively)

Friday, October 30, 2009

You've Got Rhythm, Child

Rhythm is a phenomenon of nature that can be found anywhere. We can find rhythm in the dripping of a raindrop, in the buzz of a moving fan, or even in the repeated slats of a fence. Therefore, rhythm does not only apply to music, as it is typically referred to, but it can also apply to art and design. Rhythm is the repetition or alternation of elements of a creation. Applied to design, this means that repeated characteristics bring rhythm and unity to a creation.
Recently, I attended an art exhibit at the Nelson Art Gallery at UC Davis on quilts by African American artists. These quilts were perfect examples of rhythm in design as each one had repeating and alternating patterns. My personal favorite was Avis Collins Robinson’s “Piano Keys.” Flat lines of vivid colors cover the quilt, running into each other abruptly. Lines of similar colors, yellow, red, blue, and black, are repeated in varying lengths, bringing rhythm along with interesting asymmetry. This rhythm is not soft and quiet; the bright colors and flat lines create an upbeat, sharp rhythm that keeps the viewer’s eyes engaged with the image. It is as if we are looking at a quick jazz song interpreted into an art piece. The name “Piano Keys” reiterates the association of the piece with music. Viewing art such as this is a way to connect two parts of our society, music and images, into one creation.
(picture courtesy of my cell phone)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Trust Me

What do you do when a creative block hits? This is a classic dilemma that happens to the best of us at the most inconvenient times. For designers, this can be especially detrimental when a deadline is fast approaching and a prototype must be made for a client. Often it can spark our creativity to look at other’s work for inspiration. Sometimes when we are stuck on a design problem, it helps to see how others have solved their own design problems. Recently, I discovered a new forum for designers: “Design You Trust.” This is an open source website where anyone can upload images or videos of their favorite designs to show the world. The result is a social media tool that connects people with varying styles of design. There is everything, from T-shirt prints to illustrations to advertisements to store layouts to website designs to furniture. I even found a dynamic video about how to make a keyboard-playing cat out of paper. You can sort through conveniently categorized backlogs of postings to view thousands of designs and hopefully derive some inspiration from them. You can even connect with other designers by commenting on their work. It is social media such as this website that is opening the world to all designers, so that everyone’s creativity can be seen.
(Picture: Catacaos Chair by Otero, courtesy of Design You Trust)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Montesquieu and Design?

Design is a process of checks and balances. A designer must check and recheck their work through critique. A designer must also make sure that their design has balance, especially if there is one strong focal point to the design that could throw this off. This was the problem in Louise Black’s losing design on Project Runway. Louise created a short blue shift dress with two big ruffles intersecting in a V on the chest of the dress. The ruffles completely overwhelm the model wearing the dress because they are out of proportion with the small dress. They are too wide in relation to the base dress and stick out too far in front. They also do not follow the important Gestalt rule of continuity. Their abrupt intersection in the middle of the dress does not match any of the other vertical lines of the dress or the human body. Their disproportion may not have been so noticeable if the ruffles were designed vertically instead of in a V shape.
Ruffles have been very popular on the fashion runways recently, but normally in a much more toned down way. For example, look at these shoes by Elizabeth and James. The ruffles on the front are small, thinner than the width of the shoe and flattened down. They are also vertical down the front of the shoe, following the line of the leg. These ruffles give extension to the leg, a good design trait of any shoe. These shoes use ruffles in an effectively balanced way.
(pictures courtesy of and

Fully Engaged

When reading magazines or newspapers, most of us usually do not consider the enormous amount of thought that goes into the images placed before us in advertisements. Advertisements are designed to entice the viewer’s eyes and hold them, attracting them to the image in front of us. When flipping through a magazine recently, this ad for DKNY’s Be Delicious perfume did just that. The comic-like graphics create a unified design using two classic Gestalt principles: repetition and symmetry.

The repetition is seen in the layered apple shapes on the left, right, and bottom of the page. This repetition is broken by the one apple on the bottom right that has been turned into a perfume bottle. This break in repetition draws our eyes to the bottle, the item the ad is selling. But our focus is dragged around the rest of the page by the repeating similar shapes, allowing us to fully engage in the advertisement.

Another Gestalt principle, symmetry, pulls our attention to the focal point of the ad, the bottle. If a line is drawn down the center of the image, we can see that the shapes of the apples on each side reflect each other. The perfume bottle almost blends in with this symmetry, but its slight tilt and additional detailing sets it off from the rest, again gaining the viewer’s focus.

While Gestalt principles are meant to bring unity to a design, they can also be manipulated to emphasize the focal point of the design, like this advertisement does. This causes each viewer to immediately understand the point of the ad, so that all will be enticed by DKNY’s perfume.
(picture courtesy of Design You Trust, copyrighted by Donna Karan Cosmetics)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Liner Notes

Gestalt principles are basic tools of perception used by designers to create a cohesive, unified image. There are four Gestalt principles that have influenced the way images are designed for over a hundred years: proximity, similarity, closure, and continuity. These principles are most apparent in 2-D images, such as paintings, photographs, or advertisements. But Gestalt principles can be found in all different forms of design throughout the world. Take for example this photograph from Chanel’s fall 2009 runway show. Two Gestalt principles are used in the outfit and styling to create a unified look: continuity and similarity. Continuity appears in the line made by the vertical silver zipper running up the center of the sweater-dress that continues in the model’s perfectly parted hair. The black of the sleeves continues after the white ruffle in the black of the gloves, which fade away into black pockets. Similarity appears in the white curve of the collar on her neck that is echoed in the white curve of her false eyelashes. The similar color values of black and white in the dress and the makeup also unite the outfit and the styling. This is just one fashion look that exemplifies Gestalt principles, but there are many more. Gestalt principles are truly universal, and if we pay attention, we can find them hidden anywhere in our society.
(picture courtesy of J!-Ent)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!"

Refined man-about-town meets The Great Gatsby in Viktor and Rolf’s spring 2010 men’s collection. After viewing Thom Browne’s craziness (ie. genius) walk down the runway, it was refreshing to see Victor and Rolf's simple clothing that would flatter any man. They managed to take classic men’s shapes and quirk them up by using inspired fabrics, such as crumpled silks and leathers, and interesting details, such as pointed collars or extra sharp lapels, to create fresh, cheeky spring suits. But the one design flaw in the collection was the boxers attached to the waist of a few of the pants; it is not the most creative or refined design to add to this line. Regardless, the line had the right effect, making me crave spring midst a hammering rain with its tans, greys, and whites, especially when I saw the all-white outfits that seem to be pulled right from the closet of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. There are a few brilliant black suits thrown in as well, like the black linen double breasted suit or the tuxedo with ruffles in black instead of classic white. But my absolute favorite part of the line are the shoes. Black suede loafers, two-toned tan oxfords, black satin dress shoes, and grey ankle boots are genius innovations of today’s men’s shoes. Not to mention the pair of brilliant blue lace-ups. It’s all in the details!
(picture courtesy of

Monday, October 12, 2009


Known for his refined and daringly womanly pieces, Peter Som is another new designer that has made waves in the design industry since he won the first ever scholarship for up-and-coming designers from the CFDA in 1997. Not only is he an amazing designer, but he holds a special place in my heart because we went to the same high school! Fun fact. Anyways, he put out his first line in 2001, a clean, sharp line of uptown suit pieces and cocktail dresses. Since then his style has gotten a bit more complicated, taking inspiration for his spring 2010 line from multiple sources. He looked to Jacques-Henri Lartigue’s photos of Deauville (seen here, or here, or here) for the sunglasses, the high-waisted vintage bathing suit bottoms, and the overall ladylike twenties theme. He was also influenced by Hokusai, a Japanese artist who made beautiful woodcut prints such as the famous The Great Wave Off of Kanagawa or Goldfinch and Cherry Tree. This can be seen in the short-sleeved black embroidered jacket with an Asian-style straight collar or in the graphic flower prints. He also drew inspiration from classic preppy style, with nautical striped shirts and patterned wide-leg shorts. He pulled together these 3 drastically different sources to create an incredibly cohesive collection that quirks up classic shapes and forms.
(pictures courtesy of

Robots Amongst Us!

Acne Jeans is a toddler line, but it is anything but immature. Originating in 1997 when a Swedish company specializing in graphic design and advertising (titled Acne) decided to use their design minds to create 100 pairs of unisex jeans to give to their families and friends. These jeans were so extraordinary that they were featured in Swedish Elle. And soon a few pairs of jeans turned into a fashion collection, released in 1998 by Jonny Johansson. Since then, Acne has spread worldwide and become one of the most creative new lines. The best thing about the line is that it is not created by people trained in fashion, but in other types of design, so they have a unique perspective on the fashion design process. This is clear when you visit one of their stores, as I had the opportunity to do in New York a few years ago. As soon as I walked in, I was stunned by the layout: glass everywhere, bold black hanging rods, and a giant gold and black checkered floor. The design was bold, but minimal enough to perfectly accent the clothes. And the clothes… Ah, Acne definitely has gotten the clothes right. But instead of rambling off about their myriad of jeans, I will just mention one pair from their spring collection that has (get this!) silver nickel plates on the knee caps and shins. A brilliantly cut pair of grey jeans capped off with a, dare I say it?, robot effect. It may be military inspired too, perhaps, but I am a huge fan of fantasy stories, so all I can think of when I see these jeans is C-3PO. It seems Acne is futurizing the denim industry, literally.
(picture courtesy of

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Peculiar Pout

Today is Sunday, meaning I finally had a chance to flip through the Nylon magazine that arrived earlier this week and has been tantalizing me from my desk for days. I flipped open to the back of the magazine first to see the editorial shoots, and found myself staring at a pair of giant, two-toned lips, planted next to the words, “The Next Big Thing.” Now I’m not sure these lips are going to be seen on women at the grocery store anytime soon, but I do think it is interesting to look at makeup from a design perspective. The look (by M.A.C.): an orange on the top lip, a bright pink on the bottom lip, and everything else naked. Well, except for the Ungaro designs the look was created for, of course. It’s a modern take on 80’s pink lips, and while not typically flattering, using a dark color on top against the brighter color on bottom gives the highly desired luscious lower lip effect. The look is definitely well designed with the stand-out lips set against a neutral background. And it is a complement to the line, which is marked by punchy pinks and blues mixed with blacks and greys-more of the modern 80s.
(picture courtesy of Nylon Magazine)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Immersed in Commerce

On a quick lunch break yesterday, I stopped by the Nelson Gallery at UC Davis to view the latest exhibits. As I walked in I saw a huge label, "Merch Art," over a comic-style decorated plate and a quirky green stuffed puppy. Unsurprisingly, it caught my eye. It turns out it is a collection of two San Franciscans (Lawrence Banka and Judith Gordon) who wanted to be art collectors, but who had to work from a small budget. So they gathered a collection of artist-made gifts and multiples. They dedicatedly searched eBay and craigslist to find these lost treasures, coming up with an assortment of useful objects made by well-known artists, from demitasse cups to matchboxes to wine labels to beach towels. Some of my favorite artists had work in the exhibit, like a flipbook by Chuck Close, a plate by Roy Lichtenstein, and a Jeff Koons stuffed animal. But my favorite piece in the exhibition was a watch by Wayne Thiebaud. Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine. I first fell in love with his vertical versions of San Francisco streets (where I’m from). Then I saw a print of his titled “Bird on Swing” in a friend’s house and adored the simplicity and not-quite-reality of the work. But anyways, back to the watch. Functional art is always necessary, it is where design and art intersect. It is how to bring art to the masses. And this watch perfectly depicts Thiebaud’s style, but in a mass media manner. “Thiebaud” in yellow cursive pops from the red suede band, which frames a green face decorated with pool balls like those from his 1972 print aptly titled “Pool Balls.” To top it off, the watch is encased in a black tin speckled with white dots, a punchy accent to the work. But I think the title is the cleverest part of all: “Break Time.”

Monday, October 5, 2009

Boys Boys Boys

Scott Sternberg widened the eyes of the fashion world with pieces like his kitschy-preppy blazers, shrunken coats (trench and pea), and neon pink and yellow pointed toe pumps. His lines, Band of Outsiders (men’s) and Boy by Band of Outsiders (women’s), have shaken up the preppy Nantucket suiting look, making it accessible for hipsters of this day and age. Today as I browsed through Sternberg’s spring 2010 collection, one look in particular stood out to me as epitomizing the spark of his collection. The look emanates his aesthetic of preppy hipster. The oversized rugby stripes on the shirt are a new twist on an old classic, and are accentuated when paired with the white, clean-lined spring peacoat. The short length of the peacoat is emphasized when set against the wide lapels. And the boxy shape of the coat gives it that boyish charm so familiar to the line. The shorts seem to be made of a suedish material so that the light hits the fabric in different ways, creating a very interesting texture that looks modern against the clean, simple planes of the shirt and coat. And finally, we come to the shoes. The shoes were borne from a collaboration with Manolo Blahnik, one of the spectacular collaborations that have been happening frequently in the fashion world lately. The straps on the shoes are made from suspender material, such an ironic take on the gladiator sandals that have become so popular recently. They creatively echo of the stripes from the shirt, but in a totally different way. This outfit is pure, prepster perfection.
(picture courtesy of