Monthly Archives: November 2011

Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle: My first infographic

So, I’ve just completed my first ever infographic, based on Simon Sinek’s golden circle theory from his book, Start With Why. I draw this diagram on the board the first day of class each month to help us visualize Sinek’s concepts (from his excellent TEDxPugetSound talk), and I thought, why not just create a visualization of this that students can reference on their own. I haven’t included all of the concepts Sinek covers in his talk, but the focus of this visualization is the concept of the golden circle model for idea creation. This is working draft #1, but I need some constructive feedback. What do you think? What would you tweak in this example? I welcome all constructive criticism. Please note, I do not intend on displaying this in a set of slides.

Click on the image for a larger version of the file.

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Tweak your Alignment: Governing with Grids

I just finished a consultation with a super online student (she rules–she is podcasting about roller derby AND asking awesome questions about content and her visual story), and our conversation turned to the layout and placement of images on a slide. The student showed me several examples of her previous work in which she worked multiple images on a slide. The student had clearly thought of how to unify elements and how to blend them onto a slide, but the images did not appear to fit together within that greater rectangular space of the slide. I suggested that she work on developing a grid system and designing based on that grid system. This might be because I am obsessed with alignment and spacing now or it might be that there is just something inherently beautiful to me about a well-structured grid/system of images. I’ve used grids in a few of my projects, and am consistently using them as a means of combining multiple images on one slide. It’s worked quite well for the two recipe decks I’ve created, and I’ve seen Alex Rister consistently use it as a way to transition between interrelated ideas. I figured I’d take a bit to create autumn and winter grid tributes as I am talking gridlines and unity in class tomorrow. For more on all things grids, check out The Grid System, a mega storehouse of grid-related articles, books, tutorials, tools, and more.

Link of the day: 30 Creative Minimalist Designs from Graphic Design Blog

Check out these 30 minimalist designs for examples of how keeping things simple and impacting can actually work. My favorite? The “It’s the Hat” ad from Chapeurs Hut Weber.

Brilliantly simple, irreverent. Pure joy!

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Simplicity in design: When is minimalism too simple?

While perusing and choosing today’s link on minimalist design, I ran across a series of posts from Graphic Design Blog on minimalism in design. The first article, titled “Minimalist Designs – Is it a trend or are we just being lazy?” explores the minimalist movement that has characterized the graphic design world in recent decades. When is minimalism too minimal? Is minimalism just laziness (less stuff, less work?)?

Minimalism is a trend in graphic designing that involves stripping down the design to its most basic features. Although minimalism is percieved as an effortless task…only graphic designers know it isn’t that easy. Minimalism involves extreme conceptualism and abstraction. –Graphic Design Blog

So, minimalism works, but not when it sacrifices clarity and a core message. The author asserts that minimalism without purpose can be disastrous, then takes us through several examples of minimalism gone wrong. So, what causes a minimalism fail?

1. Doing it just because, or the bandwagon effect.

No contact number, no address, not an email id. What is the point of a business card if your client is not getting the complete information about your business? --Graphic Design Blog

2. Believing that it’s easier to navigate minimalist designs.

But keeping it too minimal fails to convey your business purpose and creates a false impression on your customers. The purpose of a website is to facilitate customers and inform of your services. What’s the purpose of a websites if it does not clearly explain what services your business has to offer? –Graphic Design Blog

Want an awesome example of minimalist design that is also immersive and dynamic? Check out the Nizo for iPhone app website.

3. Believing details equal clutter. But, how do you decide what’s detail and what’s clutter?

Here the author uses the example of flavored salts to indicate that, “while it is true that too much clutter in a design can create a messy design… going too minimal fails to reach targeted audience.” I actually really love these flavored salts and their design, which is based on the periodic table. Sure, I suppose it’s for a very specific audience of nerds, but it’s still awesome. Instead, I’ll use the rebranding fail by Tropicana.

Tropicana customers railed against this redesign--many people thought their juice had been replaced by a generic brand. Sure, it's cleaner, more modern, but it's not Tropicana.

 4. Too much explanation creates confusion.

Here, the author emphasizes that content-rich and clutter are not the same thing. There is a difference between “informative design” that “is also necessary in explaining the clients about your business” and unnecessary design elements.

5. Simple is creative, right?

I think one of the best examples of simplicity and creativity that works is the FedEx logo. I recently read the story of how this logo came about. It took Lindon Leader 200 designs to land on this amazing use of negative space.

But what is the point of minimalism if it does not accurately communicate the purpose to the target audience? --Graphic Design Blog

I think about how this ties in to the design of effective visual aids. My students often feel anxiety when I ask them to create simple, clean slides. They apologize for creating something that is so simple and straightforward. I reassure them that I can tell the difference between lazy design and clean design…

This takes attention to contrast, placement of elements, and work with thinking conceptually.

This does not.

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Thinking Like a Designer

This quote from Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind illustrates the problem with the business-focused slide presentation. Think about how many deaths by PowerPoint a bit of design sensibility could prevent...

Tomorrow and Wednesday, I will be talking slide design with Alex’s class. Because I am obsessed with theory and ideology, I begin this lecture as any other by discussing theory, in this case, Nancy Duarte’s theory that great presenters can also think like designers.

In this segment of our 8 hrs. on visual design, we focus on what it means to think like a designer and how this fits in to creating visual stories as opposed to just run of the mill slides.

I generally start by asking the class what they think it means to think like a designer. What are designers like? How do they function? How are they different from the rest of us? How do you know someone is a good designer? All of these questions can lead to a deeper understanding of each of our pre-existing notions of design, whether valid or not. We then move on to Dan Pink, author of the amazing A Whole New Mind, which introduces readers to the 21st century model of thinking and being–the right-brain aptitude driven conceptual approach that leaves knowledge workers in the dust. I share with them a few insights Pink makes regarding design as well as a few of the insights he draws from others.

Pink believes design is important for three reasons. 1. It has become increasingly accessible and ubiquitious. 2. Because of this it becomes an important competitive edge for businesses, and 3. design can change the world!

Design is a classic whole-minded aptitude. It is, to borrow [John] Heskett terms, a combination of utility and significance. A graphic designer must whip up a brochure that is easy to read. That’s utility. But, at it’s most effective, her brochure must also transmit ideas or emotions that the words themselves cannot convey. That’s significance. –Dan Pink, A Whole New Mind

In developing the importance of design in today's world, Pink draws from figures like John Heskett, Chair Professor, School of Design, Hong Kong Polytechnic.

Another influence in this burgeoning definition of design is data visualizer and infographic genius, David McCandless. In this TED talk, McCandless shares with us his journey into design, his fascination with the dynamic projection of data,what he calls the “new soil,” and shows us just how dynamic and impacting a wonderfully executed visual can be.

I particularly appreciate McCandless’ take on what makes good information design. In essence, a slideshow is just that–the design and organization of data and information into a useful product…at least it should be..

Are you creating eye candy? Rubbish? Which is your area of focus in designing visual aids?

This next segment is something I have not yet used in the classroom. But, I’ve been wanting to integrate Pink’s portfolio section of A Whole New Mind into the classroom. These sections of the text feature some excellent exercises and sage advice to help develop our right-brain aptitudes. I chose a few design exercises that I use to help me develop my designability.

Good design takes practice and a shift in ideological perspective. Pink's exercises work to develop one's design ability.

1. Keep a Design Notebook.

Take note of examples of good design in your everyday life. Pink believes it helps us "understand in a deeper way how design decisions shape our everyday lives."

2. Channel Your Annoyance.

Be like Dyson. Don't like the fan you have? Design a new one. Don't think hand dryers are efficient. Propose a better model.

3. Read Design Magazines.

Pink suggests some excellent reads. Among them Dwell, HOW, Metropolis, and Real Simple.

4. Be Like Karim.

Karim Rashid, prolific designer, developed his own manifesto regarding the place of design in our everyday world. My favorite tenet in his manifesto: Experience is the most important part of living, and the exchange of ideas and human contact is all life really is. Space and objects can encourage increased experiences or distract from our experiences.

5. C-R-A-P-ify your graphic design

CRAP, developed by designer Robin Williams, is a standard to live by in the design world.

I end by sharing this idea with students. Since designers are problem-solvers, they use the mediums available to them to help solve that problem, to enhance the user experience, not detract from it. Good design is experienced, but barely noticed.

Next time, I’ll tackle the means used to create good information design. I call this the Effective Slide Triumvirate (a rule of three). Apply the three concepts of arrangement, visual elements, and animation to create slides that rule.

Fat Bastard wine: A study in micro-immersive design

I have had a wonderful Thanksgiving. I decided to spend this holiday with my North Carolina family. I not only got to meet my second cousin, Calista Hough (I am Puertorican–second cousin just means cousin to us) and spend quality time with my amazing NC peeps in a lovely environment that actually experiences season changes, but I also found time to peruse a few worthy instructional positions in both the Pacific Northwest (my chosen second home) and North Carolina AND I also had a small aha moment regarding immersive design while drinking a glass of Fat Bastard chardonnay.  As my family and I sat down to dinner, and my cousin’s husband poured me a glass of wine, I was struck by the label on this particular bottle (interesting bottle designs generally draw me in more than a wine’s reputation or description. This doesn’t always make for the best gustatory experience, but it does make for some sweet decorations).

Fat Bastard features whimsical, clean, dynamic typography, and is also quite tasty!

Fat Bastard’s logo features clean typography, simple contrast and a warm color palette. But, what really drew me in is the hippo, and his seamless integration into the design of the logo. Note how the hippo appears to indent or sink the label where he sits. It’s irreverent, intrusive, and completely whimsical. I was immediately drawn into the wine, and drawn into learning more about the origins of Fat Bastard; I wanted to know where the name came from (it’s Guy’s way of describing awesome things), who Thierry & Guy are, and how they decided on a logo. I wanted the story of Thierry & Guy (coincidentally, it’s a great story! Check it out here.) I was hooked (the wine was also quite tasty, and was indeed a deliciously fat bastard of a chardonnay). As I pored over the logo, I exclaimed, “this is so immersive! Immersive design!”

Immersive design? What is that? Did you make that up? No, no I did not unfortunately. Immersive design is a term created by 5D, the Future of Immersive Design, founder Alex McDowell. Immersive design is driven by a group of designers, educators, and artists committed to integrated, engaging design, which is achieved through storytelling in both live and virtual environments, whether interactive or passive.  What I find most fascinating about this model of design is the use of storytelling, non-linear and conceptual strategies to create what McDowell and other immersive designers refer to as worldbuilding. So, what is worldbuilding? I’ll let the 5D conference tackle this one…

Worldbuilding is the new metaphor for the design and iteration process, creating and actualizing the story space in digital narrative media. It addresses the design thinking, the process, and the experience of creating new worlds for storytelling.

Worldbuilding expresses the full arc of design’s role through production:

  • Inception – imagining and developing the world
  • Prototyping – testing the story space and visualizing the world
  • Manufacturing – building the world, real or virtual, for studio and capture
  • Finishing – honing final resolution and the experience of the world.

This method of design is an exciting discovery for me. I struggle with finding creative direction in my designs at times, particularly those that are moving away from the Keynote format (as in the current bane of my existence, a one page visualization of Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. I believe my problem stems from a lack of formal training and experience with this idea of “the full arc of design” as it relates to the creation of a final product. I think the systematic process created by 5D–moving a project from ideation, to visualization, to building, to final testing and actual experientation (experiential + experimentation)–is a particularly useful one for the use of design as a means of solving the world’s most pressing problems. I also think implementing this with my own projects, from online supplemental learning materials to in-class discussions, will help me in better in building an immersive experience for students, an experience that combines knowledge, analysis, and application. None of this may seem new to the average educator, but, from what I’ve observed and learned of our current educational model (what I refer to as fast food education, in part inspired by Ken Robinson’s “Bring on the Learning Revolution”). As a side note, if you’d like another example of information that is designed in an immersive way, check out the RSA Animates series. Here is one based on Robinson’s ideas:

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New Year’s Project: Pecha Kucha, take two

I am planning on volunteering for the first Pecha Kucha Orlando of the new year (in addition to attending the upcoming PKO on December 2nd. Yesterday, I worked on a storyboard and outline. I’ve worked out the first few slides…it’s work in progress.

Tweak your Image: The Visual Resume Final Project

Yesterday was the last day of an awesome class. I always love teaching–let me repeat that, I love it, even when the class is kicking my ass, giving me tons of resistance, and making me work work work to find ways to get them engaged. But, sometimes, I just love them a little more…I am human after all.

I cannot express how much I will miss Charlie, Matt, and the rest of their amazing class! P.S. I am not flipping the bird here, just trying to keep my beard on!

The last two days of class are slotted for the visual resume project. Now, you may think I am being trendy for moving in the direction of the flashy, supplemental visual resume, or maybe my choice is redundant. Who needs a visual resume if they have a solid conventional resume or cv? Truth be told, I started doing this for two reasons.

One is purely selfish–I wanted to create my own visual resume; I generally can find no better excuse for doing something myself than asking my students to do it. The second reason stems from my previous final project, a self-reflective creative exploration of the student’s learning journey. While amazingly successful (I loved grading iMovie renditions of “Santeria,” original songs, video games, and gorgeously designed Keynotes), it failed to fill an important void in my students’ education. I never understood how to write a resume, nor how to make myself attractive to employers except by painful trial and error. My students currently do not get valuable instruction on building a professional persona. As other courses in their programs discuss resumes, I am prevented from doing so (to avoid redundancy). So, how could I integrate a bit of self-reflection, practical practice with that professional image, and one last challenge to BE CREATIVE into one assignment?

The answer was the visual resume. I am often amused by the way this project unfolds in class. Oftentimes, the results are completely polarized. I get either amazing, impeccably designed, well-developed visual resumes that would wow even the most doubtful of employers; well-developed, designed, but still somewhat formulaic  attempts (incredible! Could the visual resume already be formulaic?); or quickly and haphazardly designed attempts at squeaking by with a passing grade. People either love or hate this assignment. Those who love it are eager for a chance to express a small bit of their vision; those who hate it say they just can’t do it or they aren’t creative or they don’t want to talk about themselves). One student spent the majority of yesterday’s class yelling at his laptop, muttering not quite so softly (I have teacher ears; I hear all) about how torturous this project was.

At the time, it annoyed me, but then I considered how much I gripe about how dissatisfied with my own visual resume I am, how torturous it is for me to make revisions to it that I am satisfied with, and how completely horrendous my latest cover letter was before deep slash and burn by the one and only Alex Rister.

What Alex and I did after the "Beards Rule" Presentation.

All of this has led to a deeper empathy (maybe) for the task I put before my students. It’s not easy for me to be satisfied with a project I’ve worked on for 8 months now. Can I really expect them to fall in love with the idea over the course of, at best, two days, and at worst as in today’s class, one day? In an effort to answer these questions, I am going to chill for a moment, let go, and accept my visual resume as it is. There are aspects of it I quite like, despite feeling entirely unsure of what picture it paints of me. It is a representation of my versatile talents, interests, and those completely bizzarre aspects of my personality I can’t squeeze into the spaces between my education and my memberships on a CV. And that is something to be proud of. Truly.

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Embrace constraints and let go: Preparing for a Pecha Kucha

So, I love Pecha Kucha. I loved the word the first time I heard it, and the concept of a global network of communicators who gather to share ideas in a dynamic way spoke to the newly born public speaking nerd in me. I have asked my on campus and online students for the past two years to prepare and present their own Pecha Kuchas. Today, my class worked on developing (even finalizing) their slides, speaking points, and ideas. Presentations are Tuesday, and I am stoked.

I gave myself the challenge of preparing and presenting my own PK, which I presented at PechaKucha Orlando Vol. 2. I was scared to death. But, I also realized after it was over that I love speaking in front of others, and I couldn’t wait to do it again! I am working on my second PK, tentatively titled The Universe is Half Full: A Trekkie’s Guide to Life, which will be all about what I believe Star Trek can teach us about living and being.

Because PK is fast-paced and dynamic by design (presenters develop and present with 20 slides which automatically advance after 20 seconds–no exceptions), one must approach preparing and practicing a bit differently from other types of presentations. I give my students the following advice as they gear up for presentation day; thanks to Felix Jung for developing such an awesome guide to preparing, developing, and rehearsing a PK over at

#1: Be you, but kick it up a notch!

Presenting is performing to an extent. Dress like yourself, but show your audience you care by leaving the tattered jeans and booty shorts at home. While you don’t have to wear a suit to present at your best, there’s nothing like a little polish to give you that much needed boost of confidence.

#2: Focus most of your tweaking energy on the opening and closing.

At a typical PK night, presenters have to combat a noisy atmosphere, inebriated patrons, and our ever shortening attention spans. After watching thousands of student presentations over the past three years, I can sincerely say that my students have a tough job–presenting to their disinterested, nervous peers cannot be easy. In either context, it’s likely that the audience will quickly forget all but the opening and closing of the presentation, as these are the moments that, when successfully executed, strike an emotional chord with the audience. That emotion lingers far longer than a chart or statistic.

#3: Forget about the slides.

No, you don't have a clicker. No, you can't stare at your slides. The first means you have to practice. The second demands that you focus on your audience.

One of the biggest anxieties of this medium is the perceived lack of control over our pace and content that comes with the pre-timed slide. That anxiety is misdirected; if anything, a PK demands complete control over your pace and content. It is this control that enables you to narrow you subject down to what can be accomplished in the short time given. Control also allows you to adapt the message to the PK pace. Where you go, how long you stay there, and how you get there are entirely in your control.

#4: Write a speaking outline, not a speech.

Common sense indicates that if you write something out and practice only from that prewritten essay-turned-speech, when presentation day comes, you will sound robotic, even monotone, you will likely freak if you make a mistake, and you will lose that very important tool of engagement–eye contact.

These strategies helped me in shaping my presentation. When it came time to rehearse, I turned to Felix Jung’s excellent guide:

#5: Practice against a timed version.

You have no clicker on presentation day, so get your mind and body conditioned to this loss of manual control. Familiarize yourself with what 20 seconds sounds and feels like.

#6: Practice standing up and looking around the room.

Many of us have the tendency to rehearse sitting down in front of our visuals, but that’s not the way anyone should or hopefully would present the information, so why practice this way? Instead, find an audience of peers you trust to give you constructive feedback and practice making eye contact and building rapport with a live audience.

#7: Let the slides do some of the work.

I’ll let Felix handle this one…

One of the most important things I learned when practicing was that I didn’t need to fill in all the details. I didn’t need to give all the backstory – just enough to establish context, and enough to be able to make my point.

Remember that your slides can do a lot of your talking for you. As an example, let’s say you wanted to talk about your younger self, and your slide is a photo of you as a kid.

Instead of saying “This is a photograph of me when I was a child,” jump immediately to the point you want to make. When the image appears, assume that people will pick up much of what’s already in the photograph.

#8: Break your talk into sets.

Splitting your presentation up into manageable chunks (Intro. Body 1. Body 2. Body 3. Conclusion, for instance) is a good practice for any type of presentation, but it especially works when rehearsing for a PK. I practiced each of the chunks of my presentation separately, slowly ironing out my actual points. I then put them all together. Having a clear sense of how each section worked on its own helped me better connect each piece by looking for actual connections. The Romans used the concept of architectural structure to help break their speeches up into manageable chunks. They visualized their speech as a building or structure, and each part of the speech as a room in that structure. Creating a mental structure (in my case, I saw my presentation as a funnel, through which information trickled more narrowly as the speech went along until I arrived at the core of my speech, Sylvia Plath’s “Metaphors.”

#9: Practice cold.

If you can present well when you are at your worst (for me, that’s late at night–I am a daywalker), imagine what you can do when you have prepared, conditions are ideal, and you can turn those nerves into positive energy!

#10: Listen to yourself speak.

I know that the process of listening to or watching oneself can be torturous (I am painfully aware that I sound like Kelly from The Office), but there was no better tool to me when practicing this speech than recording my speech and then repeatedly listening to myself. By the time I presented (about a week after I began practicing), I had the pattern and cadence of my speech down. I knew what I wanted to say without worrying about the slides going faster or slower. I caught parts that were weak in my speech and bolstered them with better support, and when it came time for me to present, I was able to focus on maintaining engagement with my audience, as opposed to glancing at notes or the screen to keep my place.

I strongly encourage you to seek out a Pecha Kucha night in your city. Breaking through your death by Power Point comfort zone and into a place where engaging and dynamic presenting IS your comfort zone takes practice and consistent work. You are given a chance to talk about what drives you, what you care about, what you want others to join you in supporting. PK’s have even become vehicles for humanitarian aid and social change. Besides all that, Pecha Kucha nights are excellent opportunities to learn and know. PK Orlando Vol. 4 is December 2nd. See you there!

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Gladwell on Jobs: An inventor? Maybe. A tweaker? Definitely.

What was Jobs' real genius? Invention or Tweaking?

I ran across this article by Malcolm Gladwell on Steve Jobs by way of following Nancy Duarte’s tweets. As should be evident by now, I take the concept of tweaking very seriously, despite it’s generational colloquial use, which references users of the drug crystal meth. I began Tweak Your Slides by providing a definition of my use of the term, which applied first to slides and learning materials, but which has expanded to every aspect of my life. I look for opportunities to tweak, to take what is and make it better, to adjust it methodically to perfection, or as near as I’ll ever get to that.

This month's fine adjustments: The six-day workout week and a 1200 calorie diet.

I will admit, that while I admired Steve Jobs as a presenter, important figure of the computer age, and complex man, I did not feel the same level of adoration that reduced many to tears upon learning of his death. I believe I’d resisted the cult of Steve primarily because of my contentious nature–I can’t stand what’s expected or predictable. However, Gladwell’s impeccable storytelling (check out his talks on TED), has caused me to reexamine what I can learn from this tweaker, this editor not inventor, a man whose real genius may have stemmed from his dissatisfaction with mediocrity and half-assed attempts at greatness. Gladwell  provides readers with more insight into how the term applies to Jobs by including the work of economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr, who examine the reasons why the industrial revolution began in England:

One of the great puzzles of the industrial revolution is why it began in England. Why not France, or Germany? Many reasons have been offered. Britain had plentiful supplies of coal, for instance. It had a good patent system in place. It had relatively high labor costs, which encouraged the search for labor-saving innovations. In an article published earlier this year, however, the economists Ralf Meisenzahl and Joel Mokyr focus on a different explanation: the role of Britain’s human-capital advantage—in particular, on a group they call “tweakers.” They believe that Britain dominated the industrial revolution because it had a far larger population of skilled engineers and artisans than its competitors: resourceful and creative men who took the signature inventions of the industrial age and tweaked them—refined and perfected them, and made them work.

Such men, the economists argue, provided the “micro inventions necessary to make macro inventions highly productive and remunerative.”

So, it was the tweakers that might have made the difference and given England the competitive advantage. It was human-capital, not environment or wealth that spurred humanity’s move into the modern age. The kind of ingenuity that saw potential in the already existing genius of man and tweaked it, distilled, tinkered with, adjusted, and manipulated to perfection.  Gladwell asserts that this ability to make micro-revisions to macro-ideas is what sets Jobs apart from his contemporaries. It also seems this tweak-centered thinking was peppered with Jobs’ impatience and and abrasive, no nonsense approach. Jobs demanded perfection, but often did so in caustic ways. His genius was such though, that others were willing to navigate the turbulent sea of Jobs’ moods, knowing he would only steer them to apotheosis. Check the article out on The New Yorker. My favorite anecdote? Jobs refusing his oxygen mask on the grounds that he “hated the design” and making the pulmonologist present him with five different masks to choose from. Even at the end of his life, Jobs remained deeply principled and passionate. I can only hope to do the same at the end of my life.

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An Ethical Island

How to Teach Without a Lecture and other fun



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