Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Creativity and the Elements of Design

I don’t always take a lot of time to read. Somehow I get home from work, usually tired in my brain, and pick up a knitting or crochet project to work on. Usually that refreshes me and then hooks me in so that by the time I realize I’m recharged, I’ve worked through the evening and it’s time for bed.

One of the things I always find fascinating is the subject of design. I am hugely inspired by blogs such as that of Roger von Oech, called Creative Think. He’s done books such as “A Kick in the Seat of the Pants” and “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” Now, honestly, how could you not want to read books with names like that! He also has a creativity tool called “Creative Whack Pack.” This is a whole series of creativity challenges and principles on cards, like playing cards, that you can use in a number of ways. Pick a card, any card. Use a card a day. Work through them systematically. However you want to use them, I find them thought provoking and rather fun!

On one of the cards is printed, “Get out of Your Box.” Roger goes on with a short challenge to cut across disciplinary boundaries, look into other fields in order to learn more about your own field or to gain a new perspective on issues you deal with every day. Often gaining this new perspective can open up all sorts of new doors for discovery. For me, I’ve been known to browse through stores that I wouldn’t normally be interested in, like building supply stores or a bicycle shop, for a new or cheaper way to supply my fiber craft.

For instance, my spinning wheel, a Louet S-15, had a solid rubber tube which connects the wheel shaft to the pedal. A while back it broke. There are no spinning stores anywhere near here and I couldn’t find anywhere to replace the part – I didn’t even know what it was called. The other problem was that the screw holding the tube in place was on the backside of the wheel shaft with only about an inch of space to get to it. I don’t know about you but I didn’t own a screw driver only an inch long. I kept trying to figure out what to do, trying to think as widely as possible. A trip to the local building supply store solved the problem. For one thing, I discovered that you can get a bent-head screw driver. Who knew? Now I could get to the screw to replace the part but I still didn’t have the main piece I needed. So I wandered up and down the aisles until I came to the plumbing section. Did you know that you can get thick, flexible, clear plastic tubing in a variety of sizes? I didn’t but I happened to find that one of the sizes matched my broken piece – exactly. The best part? It cost about 29 cents a foot. When I got home, the repair took me about 15 minutes and is still spinning along plus I have plenty left over for future repairs.

Roger quotes Bob Wieder saying, “Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.” The card ends with the question, “In what outside areas can you look for ideas?”

All of that to tell you about this new book I’m reading. While looking for a book in the local bookstore (which I never found), I came across one that is really absorbing me. It’s called, “Universal Principles of Design” by William Lidwell, Kritina Holden and Jill Butler (published by Rockport). The sub-title says, “100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach through Design.” A little pompous, that title maybe, but it’s really quite a useful book. Each of the 100 design principles is arranged alphabetically for easy reference and is addressed by a brief description of the principle on the left-hand page and practical examples on the right-hand page. Although a particular design principle may be focused on a certain expression (print design or art design or software interface design), it’s fun to try to imagine how it could be translated to fiber arts. The entries are short enough to be read and thought about a little at a time, either in order or chosen randomly throughout the book. I haven’t gotten very far but was interested that one of the principles I pondered this morning while on the treadmill, I was able to apply and use this afternoon at work. Having to explain it to my co-worker helped me also clarify it in my own mind.

Some of the principles I’ve had some contact with, either through personal study or because my mother worked on a degree in Psychology while I was in school and I was her guinea pig (taking all the tests, etc.). Thanks, Mom. The book covers principles such as Cognitive Dissonance, Rule of Thirds, Archetypes, Gutenburg Diagram, 80/20 Principle, Hierarchy of Needs, Top Down Lighting Bias, Golden Ratio and Structural Forms. On each principle, the authors give the reader a number of other topics that relate to this principle for further study and even gives a listing of the principles according to whether their category:
How can I influence the way a design is perceived?
How can I help people learn from the design?
How can I enhance the usability of a design?
How can I increase the appeal of a design?
How can I make better design decisions?

A final thought in this regard. In an online Ethnic Knits group I participate in, there has been a discussion on the traditional design of Norwegian sweaters. If you’ve ever been near skiing folk, you’ve probably seen a beautiful color work Norwegian-style sweater. Traditionally, the designs are worked in black and white with a red accent color. The discussion moved into the reason for the red color, something I’ve never thought about before. Evidently, during World War II, although Norway had declared itself neutral, they were invaded by the Nazis. The resistance movement began using red ribbons pinned to the chests or lapels as a sign of their resistance movement but the Germans would tear them off. I won’t go all the way into it, but, because the Germans continually confiscated smaller items such as ribbons or hats or scarves, the resistance began incorporating red into their knitting patterns. Their design identified and concentrated the resistance and allowed the Norwegian people to make the statement they needed to make on a widespread basis. Not only did it allow them to make a statement, it was in made such a way that the design still resonates through the appeal of the mix of the colors.

I suspect the authors of this book would approve of their design.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Awesome information! I really learned a lot from this post. Maybe when I get caught up on things (does that happen?) I'll have to check out those books.