Steve J. Moore

Posts Tagged ‘steve moore’

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.

The Constant Conference: Building a PLN with Twitter, Blogs, and Plurk

In Education, The Web on March 4, 2009 at 10:10 am

I don’t want to mix amongst my personal and education blogs too much, but I’m really overdue for a post on here and I’ve been thinking about this topic for a while. Rather than re-rewriting my ideas about this subject, I think it’s okay (considering my only slightly overlapping audiences) to re-post. “Repost”, by the way, should totally be a legal Scrabble word. I’m just sayin’.

Below is an entry from my Education blog “teachersaid” posted on February 12, 2009.

The long-term subbing job I have has allowed me some great opportunities so far. I’ve got my foot a little farther in the door at this school, for one thing. I know about job openings before they happen and I can speak easily to other teachers and administrators. Since I work at a computer all day (I’m a computer aide sub), I’m able to spend a great deal of time reading and completing my homework. I don’t think I would have attempted going to grad school full time right away if I had a teaching job right now. This way, I’ve been able to ease into my program and give it great attention.

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Furthermore, and perhaps most beneficial so far, I have been able to build and maintain a powerful personal learning network (PLN) online. I started using Twitter (@stevejmoore), Plurk (stevejmoore), and GoogleReader (Steve) to connect with teachers and administrators across the country and beyond. I’ve been able to find blogs, ask burning questions, and ultimately make significant connections with people whom I would have otherwise never met.

You’re obviously here, so I have either asked you to visit this page or you’re already hip to the benefits of reading Education blogs (maybe you’ve built a PLN of your own too). In case you’re with the former, I’ll explain each service that I use as a teacher, a grad student in Administration, and as a writer.

I’ll use a macroanalogy that most everyone should be able to grasp: the conference. When you go to a conference of any kind there is a similar format. Why do we go to conferences? To learn new information about our profession and to build relationships with other professionals. In my experiences, there are three basic environments at conferences: the keynote speech, focus groups (workshops), and mingling (unstructured). I use a digital counterpart that meets each of those networking criteria.

Blogs

These are the keynote speeches, the main events of conferences and PLNs. All social media networks lead to blogs at some point. This is where authors, the pros pen their prose. Like at conferences, there is usually one big headliner who sets the tone for the whole, and several more mini-keynotes that function as bullet points to the larger headline. This is a good way to stucture your blog reading. Have fewer big blogs you read and focus your attention on. These are bloggers whom you may not ever personally contact or meet like LeVar Burton or Erin O’Connor, but whose material is widely read and considered a part of many larger conversations. Then, there are a myriad other bloggers that you can find whom are more specific in their situation and whom you may come to know personally due to their smaller readership.

For example, I’ve come to know Scott Elias, a principal in Colorado through my spiderweb-like PLN. I live in Springfield so I started searching Twitter for teachers using the service nearby through a service call Twello. I found Melinda Miller, an elementary principal in nearby Willard, MO. I started following her and checking her blog regularly. Through her, I found Scott. He and Miller run a blog and a podcast together called The Practical Principals. I’ll write more about them in the Twitter section.

Twittertwitter

If blogs are the main event, then Twitter is the exact opposite. When you’re at a conference, you spend most of your time socializing and browsing: snacking on Chex Mix, drinking mysterious hotel punch, and browsing tables of displays that other people like you have set up. Maybe you’ll exchange emails, web addresses, and chat about your classroom practices. Maybe you’ll end up collaborating on a project together in the future.

This casual open forum is like Twitter. This service is like walking into a giant ballroom full of people and eavesdropping on conversations as you walk through. When you someone posts a link, it is like one of those displays leading to more information you may or may not be interested in. The bottom line is that you are exposed to a great deal of people and materials very quickly in little snippets. Twitter is a social gateway for building longer conversations, it’s like browsing the internet and making bookmarks of people rather than sites.

I mentioned Scott and Melinda before in blogs. Twitter is different than a blog because of the length. Twitter is often referred to as “microblogging.” There you are limited to 140 characters to express your opinion, state your question, or reach out to someone. At the risk of sounding very 1996, I’ll liken Twitter to a chatroom, one that never ends though. The more you use it and the more people you follow, the larger and more powerful your PLN can become.

Plurk

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Lastly, I discovered Plurk through Paul Bogush. His blog was nearly named the “Best Education Blog of 2008” by the Weblog Awards. I found him on the awards page and started reading his work. I started following him on Twitter and saw that he linked to something called “Plurk” on his blog page as well. Being the curious person I am, I decided to check it out. At first, I thought that this service was a lot like Twitter, only newer and more strange. I started following Paul and his “plurkers,” as they’re called.

You see, Plurk isn’t open and microcosmic like Twitter, nor is it as large in structure and as singular as a blog. Plurk is like the part of a conference inbetween the casual browsing and the big group keynote speeches. The small groups or workshops on specific topics, that is what it is. You can participate in whichever ones you want and the people running the groups are usually very casual about it. Plurk has a character length like Twitter and resembles another form of the chatroom. The difference with Plurk is that conversations are grouped by the person publishing each comment.

Just like at a conference, with Plurk, your reputation counts for something. You earn Karma through your volume, regularity, and quality of comments. Plurk is a great place to go with a question for other teachers.

I See the Moon

In Writing on August 21, 2008 at 9:01 am

At a Red Light Where No One Waits

Even after years of church,
I see the prayers
I have not prayed,
not the ones to come
later on,
but rather those meditations
of my heart
that I did not speak
with closed dark eyes
hands folded out of habit.

I see them in a crosswalk
not walked across
and at a red light
where no one waits.

I see them in tea leaves
steeped and sipped
but not Seen.

They live in the wood body
of a guitar in my closet
whose diaphragm waits taut
for breath so it may sing again.

They live in O and N
on a damp window pane,
where lips were near
and love is vain.