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David Womack

To kick things off, I think it might be interesting to take Brian's idea of "design rules" and to ask whether these, or any rules that govern visual display, can be applied beyond, to use Tracy's wording, "distinct hardware." Is meaningful design for multiple devices actually possible? Or is design always device dependent (even though information of course can move between devices)?

Maybe we can come up with a few examples of devices to ponder?

Brian Lucid

A few (jumbled and incomplete) thoughts.

I think that it is imperative that these "rules" transcend hardware.

The design rules in which I describe should be based upon core formal concepts as they are applied to content to create understandable relationships of form and meaning -- contrast, hierarchy, rhythm, etc. etc.

By their very nature these rules should be "device independent" and -- to a point -- abstract, as they
relate to issues of content structure and the many ways that could become visualized. Take "CSS Zen Garden" (http://www.csszengarden.com/)
as a very very limited example - one content, many rulemakers.

But, I should extend this idea to say that such properties are not anchored to the visual. The
semantic relationships expressed through contrast, heirarchy and rhythm (as examples) are formal
relationships that can be applied to sonic design (or performance, or film editing, or a myriad other ways we communicate) just as well as to the graphic language. Challenging students to move between such media is something I have often used to help them better understand the nature of the issues of which we are speaking.

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Now, in terms of one designed statement working across multiple devices: I see this less of a "rule" issue and more of an implementation issue. Once rules are defined, how we choose to encode those rules into algorithm often defines how portable such definitions are. One concrete example of this is the difference between coding a web page using pixel measurements and using EM measurements. One is fixed measurement that refers to a specific type of hardware, the other is more fluid, defined by a set of scaling internal relationships. Another example would be defining a object's spacial location with absolute or relative values. Latitude and longitude are specific and fixed, the other is based upon context: "yeah... keep going the way you are going then take a left at the next light...".

By building rules based upon inter-dependent relationships, we have the ability to make those rules change and adapt to different situations, while keeping a common core... we even have to ability to create systems that react to things in ways we did not even expect...

A few questions I would like to pose:

David, how do you define "device"?... how broad is such a definition?

We have many graduate students here who create design for devices of thier own construction to solve
specific design problems. Some of these pieces are necessarily unique, one-off objects. Others grow to be platforms upon which new design can be overlaid. One example of this is http://www.proximitylab.org/

Is there value in specific objects vs. platforms for representing multiple things? What are our
expectations of designing for multiple devices? Where
are the boundaries, and are boundaries needed?

For example: How do I contrast viewing a web page on my cell phone against glancing over at one of David Rose's Ambient Orbs? (http://www.ambientdevices.com/).

David Womack

On the first part: "But, I should extend this idea to say that such properties are not anchored to the visual. The semantic relationships expressed through contrast, heirarchy and rhythm (as examples) are formal relationships that can be applied to sonic design (or performance, or film editing, or a myriad other ways we communicate) just as well as to the graphic language." If these properties are not anchored to the visual, then what is gained by approaching them from the perspective of graphic design? To play devils advocate, wouldn't a perspective that was more "semantically" oriented--such as literature, music or mathematics--offer a more appropriate platform for structuring information?

I think/hope that this is the primary question that the conference is setting out to tackle.

Your point that not all code that expresses-relationships-which-manifest-themselves-visually (sorry for the awkward construction) is created equal is well taken. But most digital designers that I work with still design with a specific device in mind. When we start really talking about multiple devices--text readers, interactive billboards, micro-networks that connect your running shoes to your iPod to your doctor's office--I just don't see how hardware can be transcended by a one-size-fits-all approach to rules governing visual display. But, I could be completely wrong...thoughts anyone?

Brian Lucid

“If these properties are not anchored to the visual, then what is gained by approaching them from the perspective of graphic design? To play devils advocate, wouldn't a perspective that was more "semantically" oriented--such as literature, music or mathematics--offer a more appropriate platform for structuring information?”

A great question... and one in which I will dance around and wave my arms frantically in the hope that you will not notice that I am not really offering a concrete answer...

I suppose one big problem is that "graphic" within "graphic design"... Is it a bad thing if a designer comes to the understanding that sound is a better medium through which to communicate a specific content? The more I work in dynamic media, the less comfortable I am wearing the "graphic" label... given the choice I simply title myself as a designer.

I feel that it is important that we empower our design students to attack a design problem in any method they see fit.

Of course, my "graphic design" training has trained me to look, organize and transform content in a way that is different than other disciplines... and hopefully given me a different kind of sensitivity to that magic process where "form" intersects with content to create meaning, even when such elements start to leave the familiar world of visual communication behind...

Now, this type of design can only grow from a strong familiarity with the medium in which one works... so I feel ill equipped to speak about the formal relationships that are manipulated within writing and mathematics. (I have an MFA and a BFA in the visual arts... which means I can neither read nor count! ha ha)

“Your point that not all code that expresses-relationships-which-manifest-themselves-visually (sorry for the awkward construction) is created equal is well taken. But most digital designers that I work with still design with a specific device in mind. Yes, you can use the new Apple iphone to read NYTimes.com for example, but the Apple iphone is not the device for which the site was designed and therefore workarounds are required. NYTimes.com may have to become less complex, less graphically oriented, and as a result less visually interesting as devices like iphones become the rule rather than the exception. The current site is designed for and on a 20" screen.”

yes... I must admit that as a working designer and an educator I often fall on my face when stepping out of door of my ivory tower... ha ha... but I do see this type of separation of form and content as a goal that has great value when achieved.

But it does not have to be either-or... I actually see a more modular model for such things, where content is formatted in an abstract way and there are many rulesets developed to visualize such content upon different devices. Why should the design for the NYTimes.com be "dumbed down" for all devices when we can create different, device appropriate experiences? Different machines could attach themselves to different rules. The experience should be automatic and seamless to the user.

I suppose this is has been happening for quite a while. How long have web designers been fighting the browser wars with tricks and hacks?

“When we start really talking about multiple devices--text readers interactive billboards, micro-networks that connect your running shoes to your iPod to your doctor's office--I just don't see how hardware can be transcended by a one-size-fits-all approach to rules governing visual display.”

I don't disagree with you. There is certainly a wide range of devices that have a wide range of needs (this is why I brought up the Ambient Orb) and standardization of any type limits some growth while stimulating others.

In many ways, the elements of rule-based design as I teach them are conceptual prototypes, designed to stimulate thought and sensitivity to issues of dynamic design -- which is a part of design practice that is rarely touched upon in current pedagogy. I do not believe in a "one size fits all" philosophy of design, and I am well aware of the failures of the design systems of the past. My hope is to train designers who, when confronted with a design problem, can evaluate the many different issues involved and pick the most appropriate tools and processes.

Kelly Monico

Does the “graphic” need to be in graphic design? This is a great question. Brian, I think you are right. To limit oneself to a particular media, tool or technology creates boundaries within the field. Why does design have to be visual or graphic? In many cases the “visual” component is not the appropriate media to express, organize and modify particular content. Sound being the most obvious, but not limited to designing for interaction, sensory design, live cinema, etc...

It is important that language and the words we choose to define the field and it’s potential give breath to alternate interpretations. It is easy to create boundaries with specificity in language.

With that being said, there is a trend in dynamic design that focuses primarily on the technologies incorporated or even more so, the philosophy behind the technology. Although this is a significant element, it has resulted in the visual becoming secondary and in many cases the visual component seems like an after thought. I feel strongly that when there is a visual element to design, it must be able to hold it’s own. I see this frequently in “live cinema”. In many cases, if I am unaware of the context of the piece, the visual is irrelevant and entirely insignificant. I can’t help but to wonder, can design survive on concept alone? Is the visual slipping away? Is the media the really the message?

I don’t necessarily believe that design is device dependent. Open source data technologies have provided new ways for artists/designers to develop their vision by granting technological access to create and customize the front and backend of a project. With that being said, I am not sure it is so simple to fall align with the “one- size-fits-all” approach. Take a designer like Joshua Davis whose design is dependent on the aesthetic of a particular tool, but yet can take this specific aesthetic and have it transcend to multiple devices. I am sure along the way massaging the marriage between design and technology, but the user/viewer is unaware of any hiccup in the process. Brian, I love what you say here…& "Why should the design for the NYTimes.com be "dumbed down" for all devices when we can create different, device appropriate experiences? Different machines could attach themselves to different rules. The experience should be automatic and seamless to the user."

I get it, I agree, but what I am really interested in are these rule sets you have defined. Can you go more into this? I have heard it used in several different context.

On a final note, I am noticing as these tools, technologies and devices develop,more visual components are offered and implemented, which inevitably streamline and homogenize design enforcing some silent code of design rule. If visual design can transcend hardware is the result going to be stock design?


Tracy Kroop

I've tried to refine my "braindump," but am sure that I've still left some thoughts unfinished:

I do think that "design rules" can be applied beyond "distinct hardware," but the current rule set is not always appropriate nor applicable to the demands of digital design, particularly that of a dynamically generated nature. I agree with Brian's position regarding rules based on "core formal concepts." However, current challenges we face lie in the acknowledgment that although the concepts are essentially the same, the hierarchy of these concepts will change depending on the environment/devices (for example, duration being key in some situations; contrast in others).

Meaningful design for multiple devices is possible, but the technology advances far more quickly than our abilities to keep up. I think a good example of the problems that have surfaced, and some plausible solutions are found in Suguru Ishizaki's book (based on his PhD work at MIT), "Improvisational Design." The systems he explores, though, are still device-dependent, and exist in highly controlled environments.

In addition to graphic design references, I've also been looking at the way architecture & landscape architecture approach and define environments, and how graphic designers might adapt or (re)interpret those definitions. Some of the people I've been looking at are Walter Hood, Dolores Hayden, and Beatrice Witzgall.

In terms of specific examples, 2 come to mind immediately:

Jaume Plensa's work, particularly the installation at Millennium Park in Chicago is a very successful effort of transcending the hardware—or at least our (hyper)awareness of it. His work combines water fountains with large-scale LED screens of Chicagoans, bridging the gap often found between virtual & physical environments:

http://www.millenniumpark.org/artandarchitecture/crown_fountain.html

David Small//Small Design is also someone whose work has been interesting to watch over the years, pushing the boundaries of what is typically expected within a distinct environment at times, and then creating dialogues between SmallDesign's virtual spaces and the physical environment at others. In other words, I'm convinced that sometimes the work is meant to make the user hyperaware of the hardware that houses it, and at other times is meant to blur the lines between what is tangible & what is virtual//digital.

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