Design Safari

As part of DS106 last week, I had to go on a Design Safari. Armed with my camera I had to get out and about and look for some photos to illustrate certain design elements. The first thing that it thought me was how hard this was. I tend to use my camera like a gun, shooting off rounds in all directions. Sooner or later, I usually hit something and I tell myself that this is what it takes to get into the zone.
This is grand when I am looking for nothing in particular, but when it comes to following a design brief it is a woeful strategy.
The other thing that I have noticed lately in a lot of areas relating to information is how long it takes to get what you need. I spend an awful lot of time waiting for information for different projects. It could be a sign off on the copy for a blogpost, a picture, a logo or just the go-ahead for a social media plan. I am quick to get frustrated when this happens with others but this assignment showed me just how difficult it can be to capture specific design elements myself.

Before I set off on the adventure I had a listen to Timmmyboy share his experiences about playing with design and how it is open to all. I still have a weird relationship with art and design, and I often think it is not for me, which is crazy. What is even crazier is how important it is. Just today I was listening to some work colleagues work on an administration project. It involved gathering information and presenting it, but they had given no thought to the design of the project and they were going round in circles as a result. After a quick chat about design, everyone went away happy and they knew what information was needed. Later on tonight, I joined in with a twitter chat about the use of avatars and how they act as visual hooks when fishing in a sea of information. Design is part of our new info literacy now.

The first element that I had to find was colour. I thought this would be easy. Everything has colour. It does, but not everything is designed with colour in mind. I tend to use colour based on my own particular preferences. This is great if I want to just please myself but not so great if I am trying to convey a particular message. Some colours are warm, others are cold. Warm colours jump out of an image. Cold colours slink back into the background. I remember from my teenage years reading horoscopes, that different colours are associated with different star-signs. I am not sure how accurate that was but colours do have different connotations in different cultures. Most of us are familiar with the notion of Japanese cultures use of white for funerals but the infographic from InformationisBeautiful shows even more permutations.
According to it, the bathrobes in my house suggest femininity, freedom, cowardice and truce. In my circles anyway.


I love a good metaphor. I think that a lot of good design is based on the ability to manipulate meaning. I think that all elements in design do this, but metaphor is an extreme case. It is meaning twisted inside out to give a dual meaning. This photo does not work because it runs foul of one of the Gestalt elements – Dominance. I was trying to catch something about the castle as a symbol of oppression and the lifebuoy as a symbol of safety. I was obviously trying too hard and over-thinking. The image of the post is too dominant in the foreground and it pulls too much focus away from the castle.

The next picture illustrates Affordance. This is a concept that is used a lot in industrial and user-centred design and it is based on the interplay between form and function. The simplest example is a door knob which affords turning while a panel affords pushing. Affordance is usually brought up in examples of poor design, or false affordance. As you can see from the picture below, it is not entirely clear which way I should turn the slot if I want to open or close the flue on my range. I experience a moment of disjointedness everytime I look at it. I used to get annoyed by it and turn it both ways in frustration, but I can live with it now because I just know which way I need to turn it.

This one shows rhythm
The size of most of the stones are pretty regular so it has a pattern that my eye is drawn to and it does suggest direction, if not movement. I find rhythm very easy to sense and I had a lot of different examples of rhythm compered to the other design elements. I wonder if there are any studies done on the subject of how easy or difficult people find it to identify design elements. For example, I find typography extremely unnatural and I have to really examine different fonts to see how they differ. Once I see them, they are obvious, but I have to look hard for them. Weird.


The picture of the church window shows unity. It uses repetition of shape, alignment on an axis and proximity to achieve its results. Unity is when the different elements of a picture just work.
If anyone is interested in learning more about design, Stephen Bradley talks a lot of sense about it on his website. Very accessible and down to earth.

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