Steve J. Moore

Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Designing a Path to Identity

In collaboration, Design, identity, Writing on March 20, 2009 at 11:22 am

Steve J. Moore

“This is part of a conversational series shared between multiple writers. As each new article is written, they will be displayed on the sites of all participating authors.”

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Design begs for authenticity

Today, you hear a lot about the importance of branding, in the online world. Whether you’re selling T-shirts for your band, writing Op-Eds for a periodical, or mocking up websites for photographers, you are aware of the idea of brand control and its potential impact. Business owners need to be sure that the products they put out are consistent with their plans for objectives as a company. It is the same in education; a teacher needs to be consistent in his or her message to the class about his lessons. If the rules appear to change for no reason, then you lose credibility. You lose your audience. Such is the purpose of design, to help you communicate your brand’s message clearly. But how does good design contribute to your objective? Isn’t such a thing as ephemeral as “design” only a subjective screen covering a person’s idea? How does good design help define who you are as a professional?

These are all questions with dangerously simple answers. They are questions specific to expression, that we all think we understand. The truth is, the ideas of design and expression boil your idea, your product, or your company down to one thing: Identity.

Being the good little scholar of literary concepts that I am, I naturally connect this concept which some may see as strictly economic, like “branding,” or rooted in art, like “design,” as a question of narrative importance. Design is all about who you are; it’s all about building, maintaining, and sharing your identity. So design becomes much less murky if you know who you are (or who/what you are representing). That’s simple, right!? Dang, that’s two posts in a row an interrobang could have come in handy. Sure it’s simple. Just open your chest up and look inside. Pop the hood. Crack open the server case. Read your old book-jacket cover. Well, if only life came with instr–resisting the urge to use cliche–if only, people were so simple, so static…

If design is inherently connected to identity, then marketers had better get on the couch and start self-discovering. Building web pages, you hear a lot about optimization through the use of “meta tags” that mark your domain with keywords. Looking at the word  “meta,” (which is really more of a prefix) we find that it means  “in reference to,” “about,” or “from within.” So websites and their designers need to do a little soul searching before their designs are complete. If you don’t understand the “within” for a particular job (web designers), then you most likely won’t be able to meet the needs of your client. Business owners, on the other hand, need to understand themselves before having new design implemented.

What questions can I ask myself related to establishing identity?

What language do I speak?

This is not as simple as it sounds; language is as deep and pervasive as any aspect of our identities. Furthermore, this question goes beyond what geographical tongue you use, but makes you describe who your audience is. Who are you trying to reach? Design, by definition, should fit a pre-determined purpose. Your website should be designed to fit a group or type of person with specific objectives. Maybe you are a blogger yourself and so, in considering design, you can access your own metacognitive habits and thoughts. Considering that I have a lot of readers who are, themselves, bloggers, web designers, and writers, I do my best to casually tailor my posts to fit their lexicons. I have an education blog too; I use different language off-the-cuff there than I would here.

For example, I may very easily dip into the educational “alphabet soup,” as one of my professors called it, and confuse readers if I am not careful. I wouldn’t dare write this sentence here without explanation:

“While NCLB may be considered to drive more action-based WFSGs and PDCs, there is  only correlative data to support this claim.”

Most people in the field of education (or very active parents) would understand that I’m writing about No Child Left Behind, Whole Faculty Study Groups, and Professional Development Communities, but a web designer would be rather perplexed most likely. On the same hand, I wouldn’t want to write this sentence in an education blog post:

“While pervasive in the development world, recursive acronyms like PHP, GNU, and TIP are humorous in ways often not understood by those outside of the field.”

What is your history?

Knowing where you have been is crucial to knowing where you are and where you want to go. So understanding the origins of your ideas is very helpful in forming a dialogue with your audience. If your readers perceive that you have an appropriate level of authority, then it will be much more likely for them to subscribe to your ideas. Being able to express where you are coming from is key to building a base upon which to prop your design (whatever it may be). Consider the classic frame of the Hero’s Journey, as Joseph Campbell describes it:

Is your design heroic?

Is your design heroic?

Inception: the hero’s call to action (expressing the origins of your idea)

Trial by fire: the hero’s challenge (show your work and experience)

Return: the hero finds his/her way home, changed (explain how you are unique)

I have always understood the basic plan for design to be rooted in this information. Maybe it’s your updated business plan, your master’s thesis, or an autobiographical reflection; find useful ways to incorporate this information, and your design will be more authentic for it.

If you’d like to contribute an article to our conversation,  comment here, on RyanBurrell.com or at SilverPenPub.net. We’re also all active on Twitter:

Steve, Ryan, and Matthew.

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The Purpose, Power, and Presence of Design

In collaboration, Design, The Web on March 11, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Ryan Burrell

“This is part of a conversational series shared between multiple writers. As each new article is written, they will be displayed on the sites of all participating authors.”

To say that “design” is all around us would be a supreme understatement. It impacts the very nature of our perceptions, and does so most of the time without our conscious thought or notice. It is a subtle tool, often altering our opinions in ways we can’t really explain or quantify, yet will strongly defend if pressed. Design is a sword with many edges – it can cut deeply, deflect blows, or lead a charge. But, to ask the obvious lead-in question: What is design? Is it art, theory, math, philosophy, or some unholy combination of these areas and more? Is design purely visual, or does it hide a much deeper algorithmic structure?

An Underlying Order

The common view of design, in generalized terms, is to make “something” look “nice”, or “better”, or “pretty”, or [insert ambiguous subjective visual terminology here]. A designer makes shirts, or business cards, or websites, or… branded coffee mugs or something. Newsletters and brochures – that type of thing comes to mind immediately. Yet this is a very narrow viewpoint of what design is and of what the duties of a designer are. While design’s final products typically inhabit the visual world, a designer is not by nature possessed of a purely aesthetic skill set. The title Designer can better be equated with Problem Solver, specifically within the realm of how information is presented. Design strives to be as much an analytical set of tasks as an encompassing set of visual trends. A graphic designer does not simply make a t-shirt “look nice.” Instead, they deal with a complex set of mental algorithms and practices to determine the best placement of their visual components on the palette, taking advantage of the use of space, color, line, shape, and form to produce the most effective visual result. What the end result appears as is simply a piece of clothing, but to the designer it is a set of guidelines, wrapped in equations, coated in emotions, and finally covered in their own creative spin. Art and design are similar, yet fundamentally different, areas of expression. Art relies heavily on emotion, highly abstract ideas, and an intense desire to reflect the world around you from an individual viewpoint. Design, while using aspects that make up the nature of pure art, merges these with analytical ideals more in line with science or math. The foundation of all design relies on standards, conformity, rules, grids, and numbers. Margins, measurements, columns, padding, spacing, clearance; these are the elements that make up the essence of design.

An Overarching Chaos

Yet, while the foundations for design are firmly entrenched in the realm of numbers and grids, it is the more ethereal aspects that make it so unique. An intimate understanding of spacing will only work so far; a designer must also understand their audience, the goals of their project, and emotive methods to achieve their intended results. Once the framework of a task has been determined, a designer develops his or her “in the box” thinking. The borders and restrictions have been defined, and this can open up as much or more creative potential than having a boundless field to work in. A designer’s task is to use the guidelines that have been set and take them to the limits of creativity, while still keeping a sharp eye on how the final result will be usable. It is a frenetic juggling act of limitless creativity within a walled garden. The more artistic core of the designer emerges, yet must be restrained by the warden of practicality that remains in the back of their mind at all times. Visual appeal means nothing without functionality, but usefulness can be dulled if aesthetics are ignored. A designer must be mad – a Jekyll & Hyde combination of control and raw potential.

A Wider Path

Practically, there are many names and titles for designers. Commonly, we think of those that practice design as the people who create calendars, cards, and promotional products. But design is so vast and applicable to so many fields, that the job descriptions are almost as limitless. Interior designers deal with the feel of three dimensional space in architecture – with lighting, mood, and balance. Industrial designers concern themselves with the visual appeal of products as well as their functionality, ergonomics, and practicality. Web designers and interaction designers focus on creating visually appealing Internet interfaces, but all under the aegis of superb usability, accessibility, and optimization. Database designers work only in charts and arrows, but are responsible for laying out the interaction between the vast methods of storage that are now so commonplace. Nearly any sort of planning that concerns not only the visual output, but how that output is best presented and used involves design. It is a constant and integral part of our lives, evidenced by the fact that we don’t even notice it most of the time. The hallmark of good design is when it slips beneath our conscious radar, instead allowing the user of its final product to easily adapt to its requirements and efficiently bend them to their needs. Poor design is easily noticeable, taking the form of unreadable text, confusing interfaces, uncomfortable chairs, breakable parts, and unexpected reactions. Few professions require such a variety of skills, interests, knowledge, and the drive to use them effectively. Because of this, design is not typically thought of as a job by those who do it. A job is something you do to pay the bills – design is a way of life, a way of quantifying what we see around us, and still allowing for the vast creative potential that fuels the human spirit.

Collaborative Conversations

In collaboration, The Web, Writing on March 11, 2009 at 11:03 am

Ryan Burrell

The idea that anything written and presented on the Web is of a static nature and lacking malleability is a false one.  Likewise, the idea that articles or topics presented in format for consumption over the Internet are closed to observer modification and addition is also false.  The Web allows for an extremely unique interchange of thought, be it an initial article writing, subsequent discussion or comments, or responsive posts created on other sites.  It encourages viewers and readers to have an opinion or viewpoint, and to share that with anyone else who may be interested.

To that end, the idea of a “collaborative conversation” has been applied to writing for the Web.  Myself and several other individuals have taken up this notion (originally a teaching method) to try and spur ourselves onward in our writing, for several reasons.  We wanted something that gave us a focus for our writing, even if it was an arbitrary idea or topic.  Being able to dance around an issue and comment from multiple viewpoints was appealing; not arguing or making a case for anything (per se), just observations and discussion.

The rules we follow are minimal:

  • Someone picks a topic, and we try and tie in whatever we write with that topic. Think of it as more of a theme than a thesis statement.
  • Everyone participating must post each article that is written.  For larger numbers of people writing, we may dispense with this and simply include links to each part of the series on our own posts.
  • Don’t pander to the audience. Part of this type of conversation is to think on the topic, and come up with a unique viewpoint or observation on it.  Just as in real life, we want the conversation to be interesting.

The first experiment in this followed the the idea of the Internet being a product of humanity that has also changed it irrevocably.  Future topics have been selected and we will hopefully continue what has been (for me at least) a very nice exercise in both writing and observing.

Spider Music and Sad Stories

In Music, poetry, Radio on January 27, 2009 at 12:05 pm

 Chris ThileSara Watkins, and Sean Watkins started making music together before they were old enough to drive. With violins, a mandolin, a guitar, and sirenesque voices they made five albums just this side of inspired. They took me in and introduced me to folk music as a genre; told me stories about foxes catching their dinner, lighthouses concerned with love, and little birds leaving the nest. Their sound was so rich in emotion, so authentically human, I couldn’t get enough. Why Should the Fire Die  was their most mature, and final album. We were invited continually into their lives through allegory and heard about their hard luck, their heartbreak , and their crises of faith. Then, in 2007, something very sad happened. The band Nickel Creek parted ways after over twenty years of making music together. 

 

Chris Thile had already made a career on the side as a virtuoso mandolinist even while Nickel Creek was touring and recording. He joined up with a few other neoclassical bluegrass-heads and formed The Punch Brothers. They continue to churn out overpaced octaves and twinkling tiny tunes today along with giving Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer a run for their money.

 

 

Sean Watkins took a little more time off. It wasn’t until he met up with former Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman that he got back to work. Together, the two formed Fiction Family. Not the team-up I would have suspected. I hadn’t really even heard Switchfoot since “Dare You to Move” back in 2004. NPR’s Ken Tucker gave the review that introdced me to the Family. He called their work, “spider-web music — delicate, industrious and intricate. Here today and, perhaps, gone tomorrow.” After listening to their work, I couldn’t think of a better fitting description. There are glimmers of beauty like dew drops in the sun, less filled-in areas that leave its makers vulnerable, and awkard stretching strands to some far-away branches. 

 

ffalbumcover

 

  1. “When She’s Near” – 2:55
  2. “Out Of Order” – 3:31
  3. “Not Sure” – 3:06
  4. “Betrayal” – 3:03
  5. “Elements Combined” – 3:38
  6. “War In My Blood” – 2:57
  7. “Throw It Away” – 4:14
  8. “Closer Than You Think” – 3:12
  9. “Please Don’t Call It Love” – 5:11
  10. “Mostly Prove Me Wrong” – 3:02
  11. “We Ride” – 3:18
  12. “Look For Me Baby” – 1:35

 

 

When you listen to this album you will hear the simplistic elements of Switchfoot’s New Way to be Human, but infused with the poetic wonderings of songs like Nickel Creek’s When in Rome. Especially on “Elements Combined,” we get a true marriage of styles. You hear the high-strung mandolin’s plea against Foreman’s tin-can voice singing “some day you’ll be mine.”  Other tracks like “Throw it Away” introduce us to the slow contemplation of a man drinking wine alone–the image of a closed book in the corner. This folornness is whispy like the spider web too, because it is easily wiped away by the very next track, “Closer Than You Think.” 

 

I can’t decide if I like it as a whole. At times it’s “Scotch and Chocolate” and at times it’s alt-rock in a church I heard in 9th grade. It builds its pace up, slows down, shows you a delicate flower in the road, then spends the next fifty miles mourning its loss to the wind. There are songs I’d very much like to come on the radio at random to lift my spirits, maybe to help me appreciate a sunset or to help me find my way home. “We Ride” has a sound of that sort. Ambiant and ambling, the ticking clock of the stringed instruments tumbles forward clumsily into slow drum breaks and a lyric solo.

 

Sometimes I get very tired of hearing Switchfoot’s laothesome signature ding ding ding ding… circus chime xylophone in the background (you know what I mean), but generally this album stands out as one of the more interesting trials I’ve heard this year. I leave you with their first track, and first single, “When She’s Near.”

 

Walk This Way Kanye

In Music, Radio, TV on December 31, 2008 at 1:06 pm

Minor disclaimer: I do not like Kanye West  as a person (just see his blog). Mine is far from perfect, but if you actually find a post where he writes, you will get an idea of just how childish and spoiled this overly-produced mega star is. I do, however, have room to appreciate him as an artist.

 

I do like hip-hop and rap (see post on Atomosphere). My tastes in music vary greatly and I credit myself as a person who gives people chances. So, I listened to Mr. West’s entire new album 808s & Heartbreak (I applaud him for his grammatical ommission of an apostrophe in plural but not possessive “808s”) and tried to sincerely block out my usual desire to laugh, cry out in pain, or sigh in disgust.

 

I need music to have a reason behind it. I need to believe that the person or group I’m listening to believes in a message of some sort, even if that message is “we have no message.” As I see it (before hearing 808s), Kanye believes in only himself and his continued ability to make money.

 

808

 

The track list is as follows:

1. “Say You Will”  

2. “Welcome to Heartbreak” (feat. Kid Cudi)

3. “Heartless”  

4. “Amazing” (feat. Young Jeezy)

5. “Love Lockdown”  

6. “Paranoid” (feat. Mr Hudson)

7. “RoboCop”  

8. “Street Lights”  

9. “Bad News”  

10. “See You in My Nightmares” (feat. Lil’ Wayne)

11. “Coldest Winter”  

12. “Pinocchio Story”

 

While listening, I kept thinking to myself,

 

“Geez… who wrote these lyrics…

they’re so boring…”

 

Then I realized that Kanye wrote all of it himself (of course!). Perhaps the only well-produced parts of Mr. West are his beats. Most of the words rapped in the album wouldn’t get you through a high school talent assembly. When you usually get infusions from incredible groups like Daft Punk in songs past ( I keep telling myself they just did it for the money) and you only get acclaim for your sampling feats, there’s a problem with your talent.

 

But moving back to 808s, there were several tracks that started with promise. I couldn’t help but thump my foot and bob my head in time with a few musical phrases here and there. A cool beat would develop… some nice synth motion…that’s not bad… and then BOOM— the Auto-Tune takes over and all you can hear is Kanye’s unsinging, unrapping, whine (it’s something like cats being stepped on during a bowel movement):

 

ugh.

 

It would be different if the well-managed drum machine was interrupted by someone who could either actually rap, like Mos Def, or someone who can actually sing, like John Legend. Sadly, there is no such reprieve with Kanye.

 

I know things like black lights, venetian-blind sunglasses, and pretending you’re as cool as Jesus (or John Lennon) are important, but when did making good music take a back seat to meaningless (albeit highly sellable) personalities?

 

kanye1

 

Most of 808’s is, sadly, exactly what I thought it’d be: ignorable, forgettable, and some of it just plain bad. I won’t start a separate rant here, but I’m tired of songs “feat. ‘so-and-so'” that you would have no idea of unless you were in the studio during the session and you saw them bring in lunch. Sadly, Hip-hop has become somewhat dependent upon name-dropping lately.

 

Here’s the game: lay down one hot track…

*beat boxes while holding tin foil*

release the “song” under a cool pseudonym ignoring spelling and reason (probably with Asian influence for good measure) like:

“Sh4ng Sung”shang_tsung

Then, sell your marketable moniker to big names in need of a quick shot in the arm.

“Bounce ‘dat” by Beyonce feat. Sh4ng Sung

Ca$h in!

 

 

I’m not trying to say hip-hoppers/rappers need to stop collaborating, but just save your thanks for the liner notes unles your act is like Run DMC and Aerosmith.

 

 

I’ll end with a quote:

“Unfortunately for certain media outlets, you will never be able 2 ‘Michael Jackson’ me. That means 2 make it seem like everything I do is so weird or out of place…they always try 2 make it seem like everything is about my ego! That joke is getting old.”