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A tour of quotidian English design

As representative and advisor for the Design Communication Arts program, I find myself noticing the good, bad, and ugly of design in the world around me with new appreciation. Never before have I so often paused at a particular design choice and asked myself, Why that typeface? Why that color? And, more importantly, What problem was the designer aiming to solve? What story is he/she aiming to tell?

And, what better than moving oneself 8000 miles to a new place for comparing and contrasting the wonder of workaday design. In my case, this comprised of a ten day trip to southeast England a few weeks ago – I’m not talking about any of the glitsy, high-budget design projects of London – there wasn’t a gherkin or ArcelorMittal Orbit in sight. These are the supermarkets, the florists, the newsagents of a typical, medium-sized English community. And these are the design choices that gave me pause:

Why fill the pound symbol with the Union Jack? In my experience, very few English homes display the Union Jack compared to American homes that display the Stars and Stripes. Is this supposed to foster a sense of patriotism in the customer? Is thriftiness a particularly British quality? I can’t imagine ever seeing a sign in a Los Angeles supermarket with the words, “We’re crunching prices for America.” Why are the letters in “PRICE CRUNCH set as if they’re experiencing an earthquake? (My LA eyes no doubt affect how I interpret this.)

Why is “tea time” in soft italics but “treats” is not? When, exactly, is tea time? I think it’s a late afternoon thing, though some Brits also use “tea” for what we’d call “dinner.” At the least, I felt excluded from whatever audience this was meant to reach.

Well, this sums up why you generally need flowers in life, doesn’t it? Either for smiles or tears — sometimes both. Are the italics meant to soften the name? Why fuschia?

This package design almost defies commentary. Why the rising sun – am I meant to eat it in the morning? How can bread be made of malt? Is “squidgy” a good form of energy? What do the giant grapes along the bottom have to do with anything?

I did slip one photo taken in London in here afterall, but I think it’s worth it. This is for a cafe that billed itself as a “British bakery.” Of course, you’ll recognize the iconic font from the famous wartime “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. Why use it again here? Is it meant to foster a sense of patriotism? A sense of shared history? Why model the design for a modern business after this particular era?

What design decisions in the world around you have gotten you thinking lately? Let us know by emailing photos, antecdotes, etc. to dca@uclaextension.edu.



It’s All About the End User


Recently, instructor Zelda Harrison shared some great insight into her upcoming course, Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign (Online).

Below, she shares more insight into this course and this highly relevant aspect of design:

As a practising or aspiring professional in Design & Media you’ve probably heard comments like this before:

“it’s no longer about designing artifacts, it’s about designing experiences”

“branding is dead, it’s just not enough to have a cool logo, packaging or website anymore”

“we’re transitioning into a ‘relationship’ economy…”

Whatever you feel about the ongoing debate about where we’re headed, one thing seems to be clear to everyone: successful design is very much about the End User. For the End User, with the End User and sometimes by the End User.

What this means to you as a Communications professional is that it’s time to upgrade your toolkit. After all, you have (or will) invested a lot of time, effort and talent into ensuring computer proficiency, craftsmanship, and a critical eye. Like any good solder, you’ve enlisted in a life-long battle to keep your creative juices flowing. But how exactly do you figure out this End User?

Not that the “target audience”, “consumer”, “client” didn’t matter before. She–and for the most of modern marketing, the target has been female–has always been part of the script. Communication, messaging, branding and packaging were all destined to make her feel empowered and comfortable in her choice of products and services. But there was always a vague sense of who exactly “She” was….In the days of Don Draper, skilled advertising execs and shrewd observers of human nature were paid top dollar for relying on their guts. Later, with the influx of technology, the use of bar codes and behavorial studies, Quantitative Data analyses and Focus Groups helped define creative briefs. The more creative and savvy amongst us used this information to develop ideas about lifestyle, create “personas” and archetypes.

Here’s the rub: there is a growing sense that these tools are outliving their usefulness in a post-consumer economy. In light of the increasing complexity of communities, demographic shifts, the astronomical changes in media and their effect on human motivation, heavy reliance on instinct and surveys could be a dangerous thing. What marketers have long feared just might be coming true: that the “average user” or “typical consumer” might be extinct or, worse still, was just a myth.

Today’s successful companies and service providers are astutely observing that it is no longer viable to develop a product or service at considerable cost and based on the organization’s perception of the market. They understand that it is not enough to “sense” the consumer’s needs, or to “survey” the consumer (oh sorry, I mean End User, and you’ll see why in a moment). You need to get under their skin.

To re-hash the classic example of best practices in product development supported by insightful marketing, let’s think about Apple. Apple took a product that had existed for seven odd decades –the telephone — and created a revolutionary product. The iphone was an overnight sensation not based on features of varying levels of speed, computing accuracy, mobility or even design –anyone remember the Razr and Chocolate? – Apple understood the need to have a product that melded seamlessly with the End User’s needs and lifestyle. Apple commercials and communication rarely talked about the phone after the initial (educational) pitches, it was always about you, how your life was made simple, how you got the things you needed to get done. The staying-connected, being-entertained, finding-your-way-aroundtown, getting-something-to-eat, photo-album all rolled into one. In fact, the iphone is so much a part of my life that when a friend pointed out that the iphone was first launch in 2006, I was astonished.

So as a designer on a team of marketing, branding and/or product professionals you add value as the one who translates marketing/creative brief into reality. Designers are valued for their “empathy”, the expectation that they are naturally in tune with the needs, and lifestyle of the End User. You are expected to walk in the End User’s shoes, to get under their skin. How? This is where the concept of the “AnthroDesigner” emerges. The AnthroDesigner seeks informed understanding of the End User through anthropological observation.

The AnthroDesigner skills include:

conducting user research

evaluating people’s thinking and behavior in the context of their cultural structures

assessing their value system

The AnthroDesigner uses this information to create prototype for products, systems or communication as well as the creative brief.

This Spring, UCLA Extension invites you to explore the power of Anthropology + Design with the course Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign (Online). It starts on Thursday, April 5, 2012 and promises to be a fascinating 12-week study of diverse cultural systems, the role of environment on branding and communication, and the current evolution of audiences. The course not just for designers and visual communicators: Architects, Engineers, Social workers, Branding strategists and other marketing professionals are very welcome, in fact a multi-disciplinary environment is key to AnthroDesign. Being familiar with creative software packages, experience with sketching and building prototypes will be helpful in fulfilling class assignments.

For more information, please contact UCLA Extension at (310) 825-9971 or (818) 784-7006 or email the instructor Zelda Harrison at zelda@centercrosscultural.org .

Join us and have fun designing for humans!

Course Spotlight: Your Idea as Innovative Solution

If, like me, you hear “strategic thinking” a lot, but you’re not quite sure how to show you’re good at it, the upcoming class Your Idea as Innovative Solution may be for you.

Instructor Scott Hindell is a favorite of many, and can guide you in your approach to some of design’s most difficult problems. Here is what other students have had to say about him in this course:

Very helpful in designing and presenting innovation from different points of view.

Very passionate and knowledgeable. He is a great teacher.

Scott tackled our now-famous “course spotlight” questions:

Why is this course important for my design education?

We are hearing a lot about innovation these days, but most of it sounds like a race for bigger, better, faster, cheaper. A walk down the aisle at WalMart shows us what that gets us. Incremental improvements aren’t what businesses need. They are looking for quantum leaps in value, and research is telling us designers are the best people to lead us where we need to go. Designers are turned on by new ideas, the unknown, the unconventional. They like to produce the unexpected. Unfortunately, designers aren’t always the best equipped to deal easily with their ideas.

What will I take away from this course?

The real opportunity is to combine your design talent with the art of persuasion. It’s not as difficult as one might assume. Most think you must become an advocate for your idea, which means committing to a tireless defense of that idea. Surprisingly, it’s not that difficult, it just requires a little bit of strategic thinking.

Do you have a sample exercise/assignment?

Yes! Exercise – Students are directed to choose one of the three following research methods to observe Starbucks users:

Choice #1 (Narration) – Ask one user to describe aloud what they are thinking during a complete visit to Starbucks. Then submit a description of the most notable observations.
Choice #2 (Still-Photo Survey) – Capture a series of pictures of specific objects, activities, etc. during a complete visit to Starbucks. Then submit these with descriptive titles and/or captions.
Choice #3 (Surveys & Questionnaires) – Ask at least 3 Starbucks users a series of targeted questions in order to ascertain particular characteristics and perceptions of users. Then submit a summary of the most notable findings.

The primary goal of the exercise is to help students develop good observation skills, and most importantly, empathy for people’s differences.

When this course was offered last, I sat in the night this assignment was reviewed. It was way more illuminating than you may expect! The photo documentation and presentation was also engaging. It led to a great conversation about branding and personas.

This course credits as an elective in the Global Sustainability Certificate, as well as the DCA Certificates. If you want to see the syllabus or ask Scott a few questions, just let us know.

And register anytime by following this link.


Course Spotlight: Advanced Package Design: Concept to Completion

Award-winning instructor Shirin Raban tells us more:

Why is this course important for my design education?

In this age of digital realm and computers, hand skills can make a huge difference in quality of design. Package design, can be quite complicated in the variety of tasks and skills it requires. Developing an understanding of this process, can be quite helpful in your design thinking and strategy creation in a variety of design fields.

What will I take away from this course?

The goal of this class is to develop an in-depth understanding of the many components involved in package design, and to have a hands on experience in developing an innovative package solution from concept to completion. Your final mocked up package will be created through both team and individual efforts. This is an excellent opportunity to create not only an excellent portfolio piece, but also a case study to showcase your complete process.

Do you have a sample exercise/assignment?

We will make a trip to Whole Foods to find a package that your group thinks can be redesigned to address an environmentally or socially conscious issue related to it. You will work together to define strategies and then, you will each develop your own package including the computer design, aesthetic style and final mockup.

Enroll today!

Course Spotlight: Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign (Online)

Looking to get a jump on an elective for our upcoming User Experience Design certificate? This quarter, enroll in Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign (Online). Instructor Zelda Harrison was kind enough to tell us more:

Why is this course important for my design education?

Most of us understand the immediate benefit of living and working in a global economy. A significant number of us will collaborate with colleagues and clients in another country, and even locally, we will be called upon to develop products and communication for people who either speak a different language and/or live very differently from us.

The good news is that technology has provided us with the tools to communicate and work effectively across time zones and geographical locations. The trick is in managing the “soft skills” by developing a toolkit that takes into account the audience’s culture and values. It should be noted that when we speak of “culture,” we are talking about generational and lifestyle differences too, not just ethnic differences.

Anthrodesign is not “politically-correct” design or “designing to appeal to everyone.” The Anthrodesigner is like a detective, using anthropological observation techniques to develop an awareness of the end user, and inform herself about appropriate design choices.

When people ask you what you do, how do you explain it?

I work primarily as a designer in visual communications. I also explain that I specialise in anthrodesign, which means I have developed tools that allow me to discern the audience’s values and priorities, and therefore communicate more effectively with them.

What will I take away from this course?

In addition to honing your skills as a designer, you will have a better grasp of the research methods and how to apply them. Many designers are pretty happy with applying their skills, coming up with concepts and then perfecting the visual product.

But there are important industry changes for the designer : in a service-based economy, the “communication” and “functional” aspect of our work is informing more and more the “visual” aspect, so our primary vocation is engaging people by appealing to their values and environment, not just their taste. To do this effectively, you must “walk in the user’s shoes.”

In addition to this, many designers are now working “in-house” which means they are obliged to work on multi-disciplinary teams with non-designers. It also means that designers must understand the business and marketing aspects of the projects, ie., the audience’s needs, and participate in defining the message and product to the audience.

In my opinion, this role enhances the value of design, but it also means increased commitment and responsibility from the designer, beyond concept and design execution.

What are companies looking for when they hire an “AnthroDesigner” both in terms of skills and portfolio?

There are very few hiring companies who will reject a designer with a portfolio that demonstrates an acute understanding of the target audience and with the research and working papers to back it up. Naturally, the design and messaging need to be consistent with findings and definition of the target audience. This is something we will explore thoroughly in the class.

In the “real world,” selling/being paid the time to conduct research or dissect the target audience is very difficult, especially to small and medium sized businesses. The purpose of this class to give participants the space and time to develop analytical tools that will make them efficient and persuasive. I believe these tools will carry them for the rest of their careers.

What could be a challenge for students this class?

I can’t argue enough in support of the time honoured matra that “form follows function.” A colleague of mine, Mr. Peji, takes it a step further by asserting “form follows culture.” Students will be encouraged to use their skills and talent to define a creative brief and concepts based not on their own experiences, but on the audience’s.

Students who are unable to “walk in the shoes of the user” will find this challenge, hopefully one worth taking on.

Do you have a sample exercise/assignment?

Yes, my group, the Center for CrossCultural Design, has been compiling examples of great design inspired by anthropological investigation and crosscultural awareness.

We organised a competition to explore the application of design and culture and gave the first prize to Beth Shirrell from Kentucky. Here’s what she had to say about her work :

“Kalakari translates from Hindi to English to mean ornamentation. I explored typographic expression by creating a display font that captures and reflects the ornate culture of India. Specifically taking impetus from the countries architecture, the ancient art of henna painting, and Hindu iconography. The font is a collection of 26 majuscule forms that make up the English alphabet. The collection is entitled Kalakari Display.”

Design Researchers can be the designer’s closest collaborator and partner. For those interested in understanding the landscape of design research, check out this article by Uday Dandavate of SonicRim.

You are also welcome to explore the Center’s activity on our blog and facebook. You’ll find a smagasbord of topics ranging from geopolitics and economics to design and culture. I believe this reflects a reality of most skilled anthrodesingers : polymath approach to audiences is critical.

Course Spotlights: Web Design I, II and III


What will you learn in our web design sequence? Master instructor Mitch Gohman broke it down for us:

Web Design I: HTML & CSS
This class no longer focuses on Dreamweaver – in fact it allows students to use any software they wish to generate the code that builds websites. A great deal of the industry has moved away from Dreamweaver professionally, and it allows us to focus more on real-world web production techniques.

The backbone of this class is the relationship between HTML5 and CSS3. Students gain an intermediate understanding of this relationship to produce more compelling and modern web designs.

• S1: An Introduction to Web Design
• S2: CSS Selector Types
• S3: Relationships
• S4: Web Imagery
• S5: The CSS Cascade
• S6: Floats and Positioning
• S7: Project Review and Layout Conversion
• S8: CSS Navigations and Web Build
• S9: Advanced CSS Navigations
• S10: CSS3
• S11: Project Review and Workshop
• S12: Completion and Workshop

Web Design 2: JavaScript and jQuery
This class is about understanding user interactivity and making things move. Engaged experiences. We look at rollovers, swap images, slideshows, tabs, light boxes, banner ads without gifs or flash, parallax, AJAX.

• S1: JQuery Basics
• S2: Events and Animations
• S3: Swaps and Rollovers
• S4: Tabs and Banner Ads
• S5: Project Review
• S6: Degrading Gracefully
• S7: Parallax
• S8: Project Review
• S9: AJAX
• S10: Form Processing
• S11: Project Review and Workshop
• S12: Completion (Optional Attendance)

Web Design 3: Real World Application
Taking everything you learned from Web design 1 and 2, this course gives you the opportunity to tackle real world projects. You can look at the first 2 classes as training wheels, in this class the wheels come off and you are challenged to develop your skills through application. Imagine being guided through intermediate concepts, but also challenged to think beyond those concepts by applying what you have learned to your own creative solutions.

• S1: Course Overview and Refresher
• S2: Magazine Translation
• S3: Analysis and Class Development
• S4: eNewsletter
• S5: Analysis and Class Development
• S6: Drop Down Menus
• S7: Analysis and Class Development
• S8: Contact Us Email (with server-side and client-side form validation)
• S9: Analysis and Class Development
• S10: Parallax
• S11: Analysis and Class Development
• S12: Final

A Wide World of End Users

My brother lives in Singapore, where Chinese New Year is the biggest celebration of the year. He shared this Pizza Hut ad with me, which in turn made me think of our spring quarter course, Designing for Humans: Culture and AnthroDesign and the rich array of end users a designer can potentially reach.

Check back soon for a more detailed post on this upcoming course.


Course Spotlight: Package Design

One of our most popular electives is Package Design, where students bring all they’ve learned in the core courses to create innovative, problem-solving designs that strengthen their portfolios.

Instructor John Beach gave us some more insight into the course.

Why is this course important for my design education?

Package Design is a crucial element in the completion of your design education. It’s one of the final steps in understanding what branding is and how it directly effects the consumers process in making a choice of what products to buy, own, eat, or use. It acts as one of the final ways a producer of products can market their product to consumers.

As designers, it’s important that we help keep the client focused on what elements will ultimately make the product memorable, and under the best of circumstances, coming back for more! This course also further explores how typography, color and image can alter and persuade the consumer decision-making process.

What will I take away from this course?

This course gives a fantastic introduction to the power of strong packaging and branding by taking a look at a multitude of tasks developed to help you gain insight into what makes a great package. We start with an entertainment package. Obviously, this is a huge market in Los Angeles (specifically) and the design field in general. We will explore how to conceptually develop an idea into a container that promotes both the producers vision of their product, but more importantly, a package that the consumer will find intriguing enough to purchase, take home and use. We will explore the various methods used to design packaging. We will digitally render the first assignment.

The second assignment will be a hand building experience. Working with different substrates and templates we will explore the relationship between packaging and the presentation of food products and the challenges a specialty food product presents.

For the third exercise, we take a look at line extensions and what happens when you have multiple elements to package together. We combine vessels such as glass and plastic with paper, wood or cardboard, or if you choose, you can explore what happens in the sporting goods world when you have a product line with different sized items, and what is the best way to solve those issues.

The beauty of this class is that it gives you the opportunity to tailor your experience with directions in packaging you are most interested in. We will of course look at how packaging is changing in today’s post consumer waste world and how different elements can be altered or explored to make your solutions have smaller footprints within global consumer waste issues.

The spring quarter section of Package Design begins April 5th.

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