Tuesday, March 31, 2009

There's architecture in them thar' hills......

A little southern slang to get started today. I've talked mostly about the structural part of design, not the organic. The landscape. April is Landscape Architecture Month and Landscape Architecture Magazine is moving to an online format, this month's issue is free. 
I am not a landscape architect, but I design landscapes and have done for years almost since birth. Grandmum was a gardener in the french tradition, well she was french so that just makes sense.

Every plant had a purpose and a story. I would sit and stare into the throat of a flower as she told me what each part meant and how important pollen was for growing plants. She was the original green gardener. No pesticides, believed in companion plantings and I never saw her water unless it was seedlings or transplants getting started. She seem to think it was best to let them adapt to their habitat, and let the strong ones survive.

What many people ignore in landscapes is that it still needs to be designed no matter how big or how small to be most effective visually and functionally. Good landscape design will take in consideration the maintenance needed to keep it that way, aesthetics, proper habitat. Most gardens need basics in composition that has nothing initially to do with the plants.

Once you decide the main purpose for your landscape: 
Entertaining, Sports,Gardening.

Take in consideration those whom will use it:
Yourself, family, kids, guests, pets and wild animals.

Then the needs can be broken down like this:
  • Height-variation in elevation either natural or constructed
  • Movement- think swings, plants that sway in the wind
  • Dirt-someplace to dig and disturb for pets, for kids and for adults. 
  • Shelter-a structure either organic or built. A place not just to keep you out of weather, but also a place to escape.
  • Fire- a place to warm and gather, also sometimes lighting.
  • Water-pools, waterfeatures, ponds, fountains, something to play in, something to listen to.
  • Elements- Wood, Stone, Iron

  • Direction- Always give people markers of where to travel, there is peace visually when given the way to go.
  • Architectural elements
These are the compressed elements of design for landscapes.

People often wonder why I don't go into the plant issue first. Because without design you can't determine what kind of plants you can use. The above list will create spaces with specific micro climates, lighting and soil composition. Then you can get down to the nitty gritty of plants.

Frederic Law Olmstead was the master of modern day landscape design, yet he based his work on the classic european estates he viewed while traveling through Europe. Olmstead is my "idol",  we share a quirky vision of the world and innate stubborness.   A great work on Olmstead is the book "A Clearing in the Distance".

FLO's  work is sprinkled across the United States, my favorite and his, was his final project. The Biltmore in Asheville. On a bad day, I trek to Biltmore,  just meandering it's grounds lifts the spirit-that is the hallmark of excellent landscape design. Cudos to the Cecil family for their painstaking care of Olmstead's creation for patriarch George Vanderbilt. Current caretakers not only have kept the initial intent, but their adaptations of FLO's concepts as the estate has grown into a high end resort and major tourist attraction has been spot on. So much so that thought the topography stays the same, each season brings with it new surprises in blooming plant displays. My favorite is the when the watergarden is in it's full glory.

Olmstead was not a Landscape Architect, he coined the phrase. Then Harvard decided he had a point and formalized a degree program.

At heart, what I love about Olmstead was that to him beauty should be within everyone's grasp and all that was needed was good design. He felt it could change the world.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

I'm having a blue moment...

I've just gotten back from much life travels and have been catching up on blogs and twitters. Twittering, that just doesn't sound right does it. Better yet, can I tweet you :-) I remember the first time I said I needed to Google some software, I thought my husband would laugh his, well you know. Google is now part of everyone's lexicon.

 Yet I have found a flaw in Google. Mind you I would love to own a piece of that company. They are geniuses in current technology. An area I am not in the least savvy on, but admire their approach to artificial intelligence. Simplifying a complicated process and making it mass market friendly. I even like saying the word, "google". You know to go ogle. Look at something with envy. How many companies envy this behemoth of a search engine.

Yet there is that flaw, and I am sure it will be addressed as they are smart ones there. Their top designer, Doug Bowman, just resigned to head off for other pastures leaving a really frank report on why. Without blaming, he was  respectful of Google's stance. He understood their constraints were not ones he could work within. Google's left brain is not balanced with it's right.

It was all summed up in a blue moment, 41  shades of blue.  There was an instance when  a designer chose a shade of blue, but  conflict when a product manager chose a different shade. The Vice President of Search Product and User Experience decided to settle things by choosing a color in the middle then getting data on 41 shades of blue and find which color people hit on the most. 

While every good designer knows that you have to understand the market you are trying to reach. Which is their job to know what appeals to a prospective client. Researching 41 shades of blue is overkill. There are too many variables in the test. In the Carolinas, you test people from Duke and they will hate that sky blue of UNC, but love that dark navy of their alma mater. Psychology affects choices.

A good designer also knows sometimes their job is to create the atmosphere where people are compelled to use their product just by the ambiance of the whole package. I think of Starbucks.
No way in college would I have thought to pay four dollars for a coffee. Yet, I migrate to Starbucks  on a regular basis. Why, because I was sucked in with the rest of you. I don't even like coffee. I like the atmosphere of people talking and working. The offerings that are custom made. The opportunity to meet a business associate in a non-work setting is appealing, breaking up the drearydom of offices or worksites. I don't think Starbucks did a market test on 41 colors of brown. They looked at the whole package, the integrated design and how the whole picture came together. That would be the ultimate in micromanaging.

Having said that, I am a colormaniac. I notice the slightest incremental difference and it is one of the areas I am called in to consult on quite a bit. My ability with color is a natural affinity as a singer would have to perfect pitch.  There are issues with the methodology Google is using to choose colors. Perfect blue cannot be found simply by presenting a color swatch.

Because color is affected by light, unless you take the two into consideration together, well it will skew your results. In your own home watch the color shift of your walls as lighting changes during the hours of a day. If it is a computer, lighting the screen will be crucial in the effect. Try going to your local Best Buy and look at the same picture on several different manufacturer screens. The colors are all slightly different. Televisions are the same as well. So, testing 41 different colors of blue is a waste of time/dollars. Also, placing a blue next to different colors will trick the eye into making that color view in a different shade. Look at blue next to white, red, green, yellow and orange. (A great technical reference on this is Color Index) Pairings make a huge difference.  Add to that the psychology. Color design involves the whole package.

So, I will forgive Google, for its faux pas in overuse of their left brained mentality. I certainly couldn't have written the program for a search engine and I'm sure they can find fault with my use of internet technology. The only difference being I've never tried to tell a techie how to do their business. 

Okay, let me have my smug moment.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Today, everyone is green....

Green design is a new term. I was green before green was cool. Today everyone is green because it is St. Patrick's Day. My daughter (above) is an Irish dancer and one of my sons plays the bagpipes. So we definitely have a bit of the spirit today. 

That's a lot coming from a first generation Hispanic, Asian and French American. I guess my parent's were multicultural before it was cool too. Then I married an Irish fellow, his family were early settlers, but he has definitely kept at heart the irish spirit.

So today, wear the green and enjoy the spirit of the day.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Calligraphy anyone....

Today is the birthday of the true queen of modern day letter arts. Sheila Waters turns 80.
Sheila's pure talent and skill have inspired legions of those in typography, letter arts, calligraphy. This is her rondel of seasons, this low res image doesn't do her justice, but still magnificent and no photoshopping or indesign tricks present.

Yet she is still humble to the core even after being commissioned for work by the Queen (though she lives outside DC). One of the truest skills in design to me is constructing a letter by hand, then to do another and for them to be consistent. No finer hand- eye skill.  My first chore in design school after learning how to draw a straight line, was constructing a classic roman letter. I once said it was equivalent to constructing the Eiffel Tower. 

In every art there is a respective bellwether. In cooking, my dear french Grandmum said it was pastry (she agreed with Julia Child). The skill in making pastry is so refined and disciplined if you can succeed at that, then you could cook anything. In design (arts end), it is lettering. Sheila is a master. 

To me, I have a list of people I collect, the ones I talk about share a major trait in common beside being good at what they do. They encourage others in their field as wells as educating the public to their craft. (Just like in the image above). Sharing wisdom is key. Her best student and most loved, and I won't be jealous, is her own son Julian. A master in his own right.  Sheila always has an open door and has answered my most foolish questions. So today, cheers to Sheila, hope you wish her well too.

If you don't have Sheila's direct e-mail, send wishes via mine and I will forward. You see I didn't ask her before I posted this, didn't want to blow her e-mail account.  red@realexceptionaldesign.com

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Thursday, March 12, 2009


Video sent by Premium-films-Tv

Take a look, I'm a coloraholic, just couldn't resist this. You will need to mute the blog music first by scrolling to the bottom. Otherwise you can mute the video, there's no talking just robot creaking noises, enjoy.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's a MRAZ kinda day...

Music plays a big part of my design work. I have to focus the brain from all distraction and put on the ipod music to create by. Singer/Songwriters folk types are a fave, but let me have some Flo Rida too. Jason Mraz is my current go to guy, been getting some good work while he's singing away on my ipod. Love the Beauty in Ugly inspired by the show Ugly Betty. Sort of what a designer does, I would like to say it a little different as we give order to chaos, but I often find beauty in ugly as well.

I figured it out a bit ago, math and music go together it seems. Pattern, rhythm, balance. Design is math based as well. Pattern, rhythm, balance. Both are affected by empathy with the client/subject.  I can't design near as well for myself as I can when you give me problem and whom it is meant to affect.

Worst clients of all: Alice, do whatever you want, I trust you. That gives me nothing to work off of, to grow from. So, I then observe, listen. enquire.

If I had a client playing a Mraz song, then I would know a bit more: be subtle, have an attention to detail. Mraz is a worsdsmith with a decidedly upbeat message even on songs that could break the heart. I do have an oh so distant connection to him, he's  from Virginia and so am I. He's from Mechanicsville, been there. He attended  school there; while at that time I was a consultant to the state department of education for the Commonwealth of Virginia for trade and industrial education. 

Now that might seem non-artsy, but at the time the arts fell under trades. The governor appointed me as a liason to the schools helping keep them connected to the marketplace, ensuring the skills they were being taught were relevant for their "trade" and to earning a living. Why? Because I opened my mouth and told him the students I was getting as interns had no street knowledge of the industry. 

All Michaelangelos in making. So, he volunteered me. 

Great guy. 

Hence, I still have it in me to to share knowledge, which is why I am doing this in the first place. Ignorance is not bliss, it is a death sentence in the marketplace.

So, for now,  Jason Mraz's inspiration has gotten me through another day. Tomorrow is looking like Styx, hmmm maybe a bit of "Renegade".  Just have to wait and see....


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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Mr. Pink and a Right Directed Brain please...

1. Daniel Pink wrote a book, wrote several books really, but the one I just read was about right and left brain and the conceptual age.

2. Daniel Pink's book was on the table next to the chair where my husband, Al,  fell asleep while in B&N. (On his behalf, we just returned from a birthday celebration) I noticed it while off to get us a cup of coffee.

3. Daniel Pink's book, " A Whole New Mind", broke my time limit of handling a book in B&N, so I had to buy it. (Time limit is 60 seconds. It's just good manners after handling something long enough to get a decent sample of DNA)

4. Read Daniel Pink's book. Found Daniel Pink's website, twitter and his speaking schedule.

5. Daniel Pink was to speak in Savannah at SCAD, Trustees Theatre. A mere 4 hours away on the upcoming Friday, following stop on this speaking leg Korea.

6. Decided to go hear Daniel Pink speak. If I am going to recommend, I have to meet the person myself somehow. So, I chose to go to Savannah, Korea doesn't have pirates.

7. Daniel Pink spoke on the first really spring like day of the year. He kept it brief, witty, honest and educational. Realized this is a keeper, a moment.

Okay,  the lists thing was for Dan, he likes lists.  As an ex-speechwriter he also says repetition with humor is good. 

Dan did a Q&A-where he was asked everything except how to attain world peace. He responded with genuine interest and wisdom. 

Notice first picture below, in which I was fortunate to get a derriere shot (bad  photo design).

 and the second photo which caught Dan staring in my direction. Probably because I just took a flash shot of a guy's bottom, really up close.

Good news was that Dan was going to sign some of his books.  Just couldn't bear to have him sign the paperback I've written in and page-wore in just a week. Al opted to pick up a proper hardback plus added Dan's other books as well. Thoughtful husband then told me I couldn't use the hardback, it was to go on one of our library shelves. Now, Dan, I never heard him say that before. We know you must be pleased.

From a lifelong designer, who has battled the L-Directed brain business mentality for years. Thanks. I too believe it takes both sides of the brain to be successful in the coming economy, in life really. An integrated partnership, or should I say a symphony. 

I'll only say this once. Read it over several times, because if you don't read, " A Whole New Mind", you will be left in the dust in our new conceptual age. This designer says, thanks Dan and thanks to SCAD for making it possible.

And please, I know the photo below looks like I a begging, I'm not. Just talking with my hands. I'm not let out from the studio much. Cheers.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Crabs and Coffee

Not that you would care, but I went to the beach this morning--for work; Hilton Head, just outside of Savannah. Every moment the beach is recreating itself by design. Above you see a small sliver of a sandbar at low tide. (photo taken by my low-tech sony phone, ahem- with no photoshopping!) Now, it exposes the delicate tubes of sand made by small crabs exiting the surface as the tide retreats. I dare anyone to build a sand tube so tiny on their own. What an architect, what a designer, and really just a wee crab. Now, if a crab can do that, we really haven't reached our potential yet have we. 

Why is this important? So I can get credit on my taxes for going to the beach is why. No, that's not good, nor is it true. It is important because nature is our penultimate designer. If I ever want to know if something is true, I refer back to see if there is an example in nature

As to me being at the beach for work, well give me a bit to load up some more pictures and you'll see why I was there. And yes, it all has to do with a new found design friend I met over coffee...

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Really, working in a left brain leaning world is difficult. I say things and people cock their head sideways like a dog...the body language of "huh". (Yes, that is my dog Zoe you see here) If one more person tells me we've never done it like that before, arghhh!  
Then really that's why we have right/left brain leaning people. We both need each other. I never thought I would have to design with words and symbols, instead of paper and pencil. Now, I design using the best of both worlds. By hand and with a computer. I'm faster by hand, but changes are easier made with computer. Integrated design. It saves time and money. 

Now, I'm trying to grasp the left brain of technology by integrating facebook and twitter,  with my regular work. I have to go where my clients go, and they are mobile enabled. (Twitter me @redbydesign)

Tip for everyone: life is changing, market is plunging. It is a good time for creativity and innovation. Historically, it is the time designers are more needed than ever. In times of affluence and plenty, people feel free to jump in and make mistakes-no master plan needed. When money is tight, well there is less room for error and designers are in demand. It's easy to prove my theory, look at previous years Oscar fashions, then look at this year. Better choices by far.

On days, when I have to venture to the left brain side with technology, Well, I'll do what I've got to do to meet deadline: I revert to playing "Right Round" (click it on playlist below) on the ipod and go with the flow till the chore is over. 

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