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An attempt at quantifying visual aesthetics.


"Art & Design" is not as subjective, as one might think.

Poof…faith and chance large version of altar of poof large version of win with khali

I am rather low brow when it comes to artistic production. I revel in the word horror vacui and my mind lives in the comic book world of the retro future. Some feel that much of the work I produce is in "bad taste." Something I don't necessarily or categorically disagree with, but in some cases try to disprove. I mean, the word "taste" is so nebulous and fraught with cloudy psycho-pop, artsy babble that so often occupies the conversation when one or more critics get together. I think David Hume has the right idea on taste . If I could be so bold as to attempt to condense what is his very comprehensive, well reasoned argument, I would interpret it as this.

  • Taste is honed by practice. The more you do it, the better you become.
  • The eye is educated by constantly looking at "good" art and thereby processing what you see by trying to define what makes it "good" to you.
    Look at the works of the masters, as defined by the art experts, and analyze what makes the work you're admiring, win the admiration of the majority who look at it.
  • Free your mind of prejudice. Don't allow your personal affinities to sway your ability to analyze what you are gazing upon.
  • Now this may be all fine and good to most of us, but when a student in the classroom, or any artist for that matter, tries to get their head around why someone thinks one person's work may be interpreted as being better than another's, then there is by necessity some need to quantify the reasoning, or the ugly term subjective gets tossed around. I could point back to Hume's essay for the enterprising person to read, but the assumption is that my experience trumps whatever the student might believe. I understand that the current climate of educational entitlement makes this difficult for students to accept.

    The idea of questioning authority in contemporary 21st education circles is properly or to some improperly placing instructors or faculty in jeopardy, especially the untenured kind, of losing their jobs, When beauty is assessed without any objective criteria or measurement device, then it calls into question the expertise of the faculty. What makes you an expert? I could argue that experience and education makes my judgement more nuanced than their own, but once again the questions of subjectivity remains.


    There needs to be data quantifying the "why's" of attraction (aka beauty) which can justify one's reasoning. To that end, I would like to spend a little time attempting to demystify the world of aesthetics. A pursuit that some feel may feel is a waste of time, but I truly believe it's time to "science up" art, so it can put to rest the idea that "taste" is a subjective and unquantifiable object. It's a concept that I have been working on for a while, and something that this site, at least partially, will explore over  time.

     Brian Setzer car by Dan May

    As to the why this is necessary. I refer back to the student needing to know for their own education. Somewhat facetiously to those who would challenge this my answer my second reason is simply, why not? For every endeavor currently pursued by humans, save the arts, there has been someone who periodically challenges the underlying philosophy and principles of the status quo, due to advances in technology, or knowledge, or both. The visual arts succumbs to this procedure reluctantly. This is not to say that the visual arts are not experimental in nature. The place is silly with the type of mindless experimentation that other schools of knowledge might find disturbing. I sometimes look upon it as being kin to mixing one volatile chemical with another without realizing the possible consequence of an explosion or its relative destructive  capabilities.


    But most of this adoration for experimentation is window dressing. The underlying principles of postmodernist thought seems to remain.
    Art is subjective.
    Art has no formula.
    Art is "magical".
    Something about that entire scenario has always been extrememly distasteful to me. To say that the quality of a work is based upon your "taste," which is in turn based upon your experience, culture and "education" is a generalist approach which at its core is lazy and anti-intellectual, and I don't buy it.

    Jimi Hendrix Blue by Dan May

    This may have been a good approach when the closest thing to being able to experiment with brain activity or human behavior sprang from the Frankenstein novel of the early 19th century but we live in a different time with better tools at our disposal than speculation.

    Quantifiying the rules and laws governing science and math are accepted as standards of practice within their communities, because the scientific process has gone through the rigors of time and it is now acceptable to believe in outcomes using that method. They are usually lauded for their ability to methodically analyze and synthesize data into a logically cumulative basis for knowledge which is incremental in nature. Although in today's environment of reactionary politics where religion invades everything from evolution to the weather, one might argue that they are often chided for their intellectual rigor rather than applauded, but in most circles, and in most circumstances, science and math stand on a progressive, and incremental understanding of how the universe works. Why should the Arts defy this rigor?

    The incremental knowledge acquired by the scientific method has accumulated, been tested, manipulated, and re-tested to assure its worthiness for inclusion into the lexicon of factual evidence. Scientists deem it necessary to determine the mechanism by which humans can understand the universe they occupy so they might be able to pursue a better quality of life, and just to KNOW how the universe around us works so we don't screw things up too much with our tinkering. There are univeral prinicples lying within this constuct that the arts through out with the term modernism. Why is universalism bad for Artists? Why is it considered anathema to use the term universal within the Arts community. Is it politically incorrect to assume that there is some commonality between all cultures, all races and all socio-economic levels, and therefore unlikely that the arts communities will embrace the idea of commonality? To try to quantify what makes one piece of work "good" while another one is "bad" does not have to be a subjective exercise if behavioral and cultural affects are worked into the measurement. I believe the arts prefer to wallow in the mysticism of the dark ages, rather than the rigor of scientific discovery because it requires too much additional work. Or possibly, the arts community prefers to not ruffle the feathers of the power elite who purchase much of the art. Possibly it is the economics which dictates that we should not try the scientific approach to art production because it might undermine the "magic, " and therefore lessen its value.

    I submit that the process of determining how something affects the human psyche can be just as magical as the object which acts as the catalyst. The knowledge of the mechanism by which we find things attractive may somehow offer valuable insight into why humans behave as we do. Just as I would argue that the knowledge that the universe began with a big bang at some point in time 14 billion years ago does not lessen its beauty or majesty, knowing what shade of red causes a particular response can be just as engaging to the art practitioner, as unified field theory to the astro-physicist.
    The word inspiration, talent, or gift which is commonly associated with the the arts play into the oft repeated narrative that there are supernatural forces at work. People often step away and marvel at the persons engaged in the activity. I often hear the words, " I wish I could draw," or "I can't even draw a straight line." One might as well as look at a mathemetician, and say I wish I knew about string theory. Well, wish in one hand and take a dump in the other and see which one fills up first. Which might be a grossly colloquial phrase which means wishing won't make it happen only effort will produce a result.

    Santa's helper It should also be noted that the arts are often slapped with the stigma of a childish pasttime due to its whimsical nature. Believing in the words inspiration, gift, talent, and or genius is a waste of time. Data (aka factual evidence) shows that in order for a person to be qualified as talented can be measured by the time they devote to their particular pursuit. I believe that the childish relativism that many artists complain that people consider their livelihood as being, may be a self inflicted wound. Artists MAY want to believe in magic, Santa Claus, and the tooth fairy, but then they shouldn't complain when people call their livelihood a childish pursuit.
    I suppose many Artists (and the rest of the planet) feel more comfortable with the Platonian idea that art is a lie and therefore useless, or conversely that as Greenberg argued that art objects are self referential and don't need to "look like" anything. The Platonian belief that beauty is indeterminate was based on philsophical gymnastics defining things in accordance with its utility and purpose as it affected the common good of the body politic.

    Greenberg on the other hand refuted the argument that "true art" need not look like a chair, or a woman or anything on the planet, but simply represented itself and therefore was true to its own image, whether it was a drip painting ala Pollack, or a painting of a pipe in the "treachery of Images" by Magritte.

    Treachery of Images

    I could spend a lot of time dissecting both arguments but I would be spending a lot of energy trying to convince someone of "my belief" based on my ability to write a convincing argument rather than tracking data, and delivering supporting facts which people could look upon and make a solid statement on the truth or fiction of the way the data was presented...but not on "belief."

    Sooo…rejecting Plato's premise, and not falling into a philosophical trap seems to be an appropriate first step in my efffort to quantify art's beauty. Theological, epistimological, moral and psychological relativism aside, what causes an emotional response from someone when they look at a particular work of the visual arts. What causes the allure, the wonder that one experiences. That is what interests me. Are there rules that one can apply that can be quantified by observation and documentation. Can we science up art? That is what this site will be endeavoring to throw some light upon.

    Here is a piece done recently for the Satellite exhibition in NYC.

    Satellite Collective: Dan May Blue Meaniez

    True Adventureland True

    Rose, and the Cthulhutines vs. the Bluebirds

    Rose, and the Cthulhutines vs. the Bluebirds

    Win with Kali

    The content I have provided has been designed for students to understand process and expectations for classes in visual communications design but of course, it is open for all to see. I will try to keep updating the info here throughout the semester regarding class reading and projects.

    If there is a problem you can contact me, and moan...I guess and I will try to take care of it. This site had its problems as I built it, and it is still a work in progress. I hope it becomes more flexible than the ones I have experimented with lately, and easier for everyone to access. I tried to make the layout as conistent and as easy for you to read the materias and look at the examples as possible, but everyone seems to have some braniac suggestions so again...let me know and I will try to accommodate you.

    Primarily this site is designed for students in the classes I teach to easily access source materials, but with the world of open source moocs proliferating this is my long standing attempt to provide "students" outside that venue who are interested in art and design to have access to the same materials. Some of the materials I have posted are from students. Some essays are from other educators, but most of it is mine. If you are running Internet Explorer 7 or some versions of 8, some of the videos will not play, as I have updated everything to be HTML 5 compatible. My apologies to you, but maybe it's time that you update to the 21st century??? kidding...really....

    Videos are formatted as MP4 (h.264) and OGG theora format for that purpose. I guess when Google kills that format I will have to change again, or I could format for everything, but c'mon...gimmmeeee a break.

    So the vids, some pdfs listed with class syllabi, some of my work, and as mentioned before some essays by design gurus all over de planet are done in a way that I hope make it more easily accessible to those of you using mobile devises. Some links to other sites that you might find interesting or useful are also included as reference material and I try to double check to make sure that all of it is legit and easy to use but I can't lie…well I can lie but not right now… Sometimes I can't get to all of it. Sometimes I add a link that was given to me by others who think it might be helpful and to all those people I am grateful.

    I guess that's it.

    Emerging Media (Electronic Imaging) Dezzign

    It’s not just for geeks


    Objects may appear


    it's monstertimes  boys and girls

    To provide skills for web and multimedia production and provide a basic working knowledge of applications designed for new and emerging media. There will be a great deal of ground covered while showing how the Adobe Suite of Products integrate together. We will also be dealing with issues in CSS as it relates to HTML, and the incompatibilities that still exist across browsers. Of course, this is still a design course, so the aesthetics of usability and visual appeal must be assessed with equal weight.if there are some items that are not linked correctly or you cannot download them then shame on me.

    But if you notify me by emailing me using the link: HERE I will do my best to take care of any issues that you may encounter. I will be updating the site as the semester progresses with info, terms and links to class materials and projects.


    web do you know

    Web terms download here

    Common Tags

    Some Sounds

    Download here

    Class Goals

  • 1) Effective Communication: Visual, Oral and Written Communication- Students will be able to communicate orally and in written form to support a visual arts or design decision.
  • 2) Personal and Social Responsibility: They will be able to understand art in terms of its civic and ethical impact. Students must complete a service-learning objective, and are required to join a professional organization in conjunction with their concentration.
  • 3) Critical Thinking: Problem Solving- Students are able to critically analyze visual design problems, synthesize information and create pieces with corresponding written or oral language to support their outcomes.
  • 4) Content Knowledge: Historical Relevancy: Students will use the tools and technology related to their specific concentration, and will acquire an informed voice as it pertains to art history.
  • 5) Information Literacy: Practical and Theoretical Knowledge-Students will employ traditional art techniques and technological knowledge necessary to work in the art and design community. This will provide students with the knowledge, skills and disposition required to make the transition to the professional art environment.
  • Package Design

    Boxing up Green


    packaging process men by Dan May

    Creating creative package solutions in aesthetically pleasing ways, while we learn the production of printed design products using sustainable resources and concepts.These, as always, are lessons in practice as well as theory.We will explore in each project (in no particular order of importance)

      Why is it necessary to use materials that are sustainable when creating packages?
      Why is it necessary to be aware of the amount of material being used?
      The mechanics of human behavior and altruism.
      Marketing and Truth
      limits and analysis for the production cycle

    Exploration and analysis of the limitations and physical properties of many packaging materials will be reviewed. Psychological behavior and tactile response will be investigated. What works, what appeals and what can be made to appeal to the “good” in all of us (altrusim) will be pursued, while limiting the resources that we utilize in the graphic production of packages. A project involving local business (service learning) may be later pursued. Determining imaginative graphic, technical and structural creation for a variety of products which compel “inter-activity” while incorporating principles such as “First things First" Manifesto and the ideas promoted by Cradle to Cradle, and other philosophies which deal with bio mimicry in the production process.

    For Monday

    typo cereal

    Biomimicry reminders and GMO foods

    biomimicry It's obvious that I have returned to this issue over and over again. In your book refer to the chapter on systems thinking. It goes over the process of the necessity of taking a holistic approach to designing for packages. The outline of the lecture is here as well as a design brief which is included in the pdf plus what you are responsible for on Monday. Remember you are pitching a new cereal so be logical in your way of convincing me that your approach is a winning solution.

    icons for packaging

    tmeplate link for boxes

    rfp outline

    potato crisps package design Dan May

    Above are pieces created for general foods which use proprietary typefaces in order to brand the product. comps were done for General Foods in 2004 for a product that was never produced.

    Final Project

    Here's the game info for your final package design project.

    Class Goals

  • 1) Effective Communication: Visual, Oral and Written Communication- Students will be able to communicate orally and in written form to support a visual arts or design decision.
  • 2) Personal and Social Responsibility: They will be able to understand art in terms of its civic and ethical impact. Students must complete a service-learning objective, and are required to join a professional organization in conjunction with their concentration.
  • 3) Critical Thinking: Problem Solving- Students are able to critically analyze visual design problems, synthesize information and create pieces with corresponding written or oral language to support their outcomes.
  • 4) Content Knowledge: Historical Relevancy: Students will use the tools and technology related to their specific concentration, and will acquire an informed voice as it pertains to art history.
  • 5) Information Literacy: Practical and Theoretical Knowledge-Students will employ traditional art techniques and technological knowledge necessary to work in the art and design community. This will provide students with the knowledge, skills and disposition required to make the transition to the professional art environment.
  • Get Your Syllabus Here

    Syllabus to download

    1st assignment


    File to download

    Separations and Check off list for class

    Download here

    William McDonough Video on Sustainable Design

    Introduction to Visual Communications

    Visual Literacy explored

    pygmallion 2

    The three examples above are three possible directions for the same project. One in a vernacular form, one in a modernist and finally as post modernist in its approach.

    christmas girl


    In this class students will be introduced to and then required to use the language associated with visual communications. Students will become to understand the principles and theories associated with the practice which should assist them in moving forward into advanced level classes. Using processes of critical analysis and synthesizing the information provided by faculty, students should be able to create pieces that perform to the standards associated with the Visual design profession at an introductory level. With a broad base of visual forms to experiment with, in-class exercises which are designed to challenge the visual acuity and imagination of the student, the class should give the student a level of proficiency required to be successful. Simply put students will be introduced to: –Conceptual thinking as it relates to form, content and context. –Exploration of basic skills relating to visual communications design –Understanding terms associated with the profession. Be prepared to take notes, and make sure you read the assigned materials.In this class students will be introduced to and then required to use the language associated with visual communications. Students will become to understand the principles and theories associated with the practice which should assist them in moving forward into advanced level classes. Using processes of critical analysis and synthesizing the information provided by faculty, students should be able to create pieces that perform to the standards associated with the Visual design profession at an introductory level. With a broad base of visual forms to experiment with, in-class exercises which are designed to challenge the visual acuity and imagination of the student, the class should give the student a level of proficiency required to be successful. Simply put students will be introduced to: –Conceptual thinking as it relates to form, content and context. –Exploration of basic skills relating to visual communications design –Understanding terms associated with the profession. Be prepared to take notes, and make sure you read the assigned materials..

    Though this is an introductory course to Communication Design, you will be introduced to some elements of Design including Typography, film, motion, web and other forms of artistic visual endeavor.

    Grades are based on Midterm, Final, Study Assignments from the book and on Larger projects.

    grow the page with design

    Class Goals

    By the end of the semester students will be able to communicate on a conceptual level using the language of the profession and basing their work on objective sources which stand up to scrutiny. They should be able to seamlessly create multiple ideas in a short time frame and visually organize them accordingly into imaginative comps that challenge convention and meet the needs of the client. Each project will designed to reflect an element of one or more of the goals outlined below.

  • 1) Effective Communication: Visual, Oral and Written Communication- Students will be able to communicate orally and in written form to support a visual arts or design decision.
  • 2) Personal and Social Responsibility: They will be able to understand art in terms of its civic and ethical impact. Students must complete a service-learning objective, and are required to join a professional organization in conjunction with their concentration.
  • 3) Critical Thinking: Problem Solving- Students are able to critically analyze visual design problems, synthesize information and create pieces with corresponding written or oral language to support their outcomes.
  • 4) Content Knowledge: Historical Relevancy: Students will use the tools and technology related to their specific concentration, and will acquire an informed voice as it pertains to art history.
  • 5) Information Literacy: Practical and Theoretical Knowledge-Students will employ traditional art techniques and technological knowledge necessary to work in the art and design community. This will provide students with the knowledge, skills and disposition required to make the transition to the professional art environment.
  • You will be tested on the information contained within the text, so the Text is necessary.

    Bird Translations

    Here is the pdf in case you missed it , or need to compare.

    Lecture on Modernism and Form

    The last page has the pictures that you can use in your assignment to be turned in at the beginning of the class on Tuesday. Using the pictures of the skull and by adding one word with the picture and one other element…change the inherent meaning and feeling. You can download the pdf here also.

    Lectures on Post Modernism

    Postmodernism graphic

    Many of the refernces not found in the book will be here and is easily downloadable to your desktop. Of course the term "easily" is relative to your bandwidth speed. It is a pretty big file.

    Some terms and the 'tentative' schedule of the class that we hope to cover throughout the semester

    Course Assessment

    Evaluation for this your work will be based upon how well each of you follow instructions as well as outlined in the syllabus. Typically projects are assigned point values based on degree of difficulty and time allotted to complete it.

    Intro to VCD Syllabus

    Attendance policy

    Below is a list of items which I assess.

  • Creativity
  • Concept
  • Design (ala Composition, color, form, line and value are evaluated in accordance to established ‘norms’ that will be outlined prior to each project.
  • Technical proficiency
  • Clarity of message
  • Presentation
  • Critique
  • Following Direction
  • Dezin Illustration I

    Drawrings and such

    Illustration for good girl gravy

    Thou art and outlaw illustration by dan may


    To broaden the use of the tools, the skills and define the process of illustrating in a variety of styles and forms that will be translatable to areas of draftsmanship or artistic endeavor such as animation, advertising art, editorial art, technical drawing using both manual and digital mediums. Our final project will involve in making illustrations for a book/booklet, which will be no less than ten pages long not including cover and back for manual and online delivery. This class will involve technical as well as imaginative explorations designed to test your limits and expand your abilities. We will be learning the use of composititon in a narrative form, and the use of lettering techniques will be explored as well as inventive uses of the storyboarding for use in print and other mediums Illustration traditionally is a narrative form that began in days of antiquity …say Egypt and the Sumeria…and continue today in a similar tradition in the areas of the graphic novel. Whether working independently or in a studio with other designers and artists, rarely is there an occasion when you pick up whatever tool or instrument you prefer and just begin working because you want to. Portrait artists are commissioned by the beautiful (and not so beautiful) alike. (look at the de Medici family…ugh) Designer/Illustrators draw cans of beans just as often as Posters for movies. Your commissions/work are only as good as the effort you exert. This requires creativity and ingenuity as well as technical skills. If you dislike the particular limitations put on you by a project’s parameters or ‘brief’ think of the project given to you in terms of how to supersede the banal, and make it a personal achievement. (hint : subversion is acceptable)

    Class Goals:

    1. Problem solving: Develop students’ evaluative and problem solving skills to develop a style which is individualistic in nature by setting up design problems that the student will find pertinent to defining their future ‘practice.’

    2. Communication: Enable students to effectively communicate primarily through visual form, but also by verbally, both oral and written form, defining their analytical and procedural visual arts skills as it relates to illustration for design. This goal is necessary so that students may critically and purposefully determine the pathways that they may discover are most in tune to their own process and thereby improve their skills.

    3. Practical and theoretical knowledge: Provide students with a solid foundation in the visual arts in terms of layout, composition and production of their illustration work so that it heightens their awareness of the practical and theoretical skills necessary to compete in the professional art environment.

    4. Historical Relevance: Classes will have some information in relation to the Masters and how they worked. Students will receive information designed to give them inspiration and guidance by Master Practitioners.


    All appointments must be scheduled in advance...but to be honest my door is always open. maydg@unk.edu RM 305A p: 308.865.8055

    Latest Project: Calligraphic Logos and Colored Drawing

    Check your emails for info regarding the next class. You may download files behind this photo of Hedy Lamaar. They are all in black and white and of course you have to make them color, so have fun with that portion.

    Hedy Lamar

    johnny depp cross hatch

    This was our last project

    Please have this done: 1 study -this is your observational study which you will use the system or guide we discussed in the classroom and which is explained in the PDF under Johnny's head (when you click on it).
      Using your 'canon' rough in locations for the eyes, mouth, nose, chin and cheeks using polygons and measurements of the nose as a guide. (refer to the pdf)
      use this "canon" to create a new drawing that is finished in appearance but not too complex.
  • It should be something like the photo above.
  • You will turn your sketch books in with Tuesday to be graded while you are doing in-class studies.
  • other links to vids drawing realistically can be found here. http://www.youtube.com/user/LighterNoteProd

    My Mission

    I try to assist students in becoming proficient with the tools common to the design profession to enhance their visual, analytical, and practical literacy. This enables them to work in the field or fields directly related to their specific concentration. Creative problem solving and effective practice are focused upon to assist in engaging students intellectually in the pursuit of socially productive avenues of visual expression. In all areas of study, the connection between process, research, and production advancing or promoting the interconnectedness of the visual arts to all cultures and avenues of scientific exploration remains to be a goal of mine.

    angely allies neighbors: Dan May art and Illustration, Children's Book Jimmy Rig, Illustration: Dan May

    elvgren homage for evoil


    Read Zeuxius and Parhassius and Clement Greenberg
    Zeuxius and Parhassius (more on this at art3idea.psu.edu)

    Thanks to Don Kunze Professor of Architecture and Integrative Arts for allowing redistribution of his essay on Zeuxius and Parhassius

  • Greenberg
  • On Proportion
  • Vasari Briefly on Heads and Hands
  • Grafik Design I

    The world of type and image reinforcement

    grafik ruder inspired


    Design is about iteration and experimentation towards an overall effect that works in relation to communicating an idea or concept which has a specific target audience. That's a mouth full of high minded, heavy handed art speak huh? Regardless of how it reads in your mind, typography and the use of it in correlation with an image has evolved over the centuries based on principles of geometry, cultural relativism and abstraction. This is what we will endeavor to explore. The class is structured for lecture and studio work. Meaning…take notes in class, and bring a sketchbook to work with, a toolboox , your materials will be required after each lecture. I cannot provide you with pens, pencils, rulers, markers, compasses, french curves, paper…etc. This is your responsibility. I cannot provide you with pens, pencils, rulers, markers, compasses, french curves, paper…etc. This is your responsibility. We will explore the fundamentals of Graphic Design including tyographical terms and origins with a historical, as well as analytical approach, with each approach incorporated into class room exercises, projects and experiments to reinforce it into your brainhole. Students will be required to purchase materials and text. No exceptions. I reiterate this statement as a formal reminder...a throw down if you will. Some of our work will be done on computer but initially your work will be done by hand. This is designed for you to become more intimately aware of the geometric relationships and necessity for meticulous attention to detail/ Understanding the purpose of type and its relationship with image, learning the practical aspects and aesthetics of good design will provide you with a solid basis or understanding with what makes a great composition.

    Class Goals

    1. Problem solving: Develop students’ evaluative and problem solving skills to foster self-awareness, thus allowing for the exploration, development, and heightening of individual creativity.

    2. Communication: Enable students to effectively communicate visually, verbally, and through written form by focusing on the critical and analytical visual arts skills of their work and the work of others.

    3. Practical and theoretical knowledge: Provide students with a solid foundation in the visual art: practical and theoretical knowledge,skills, and dispositions required to make the transition to the professional art environment.

    4. Historical Relevance: Each class will have some information in relation to Past and Current Practitioners and how they work(ed). Students will receive information designed to give them inspiration and guidance reading excerpts from required texts. You will be tested on the information contained within the text. The Text is necessary. You will be quizzed bi-weekly on readings assigned (in some fashion).


    All appointments must be scheduled in advance...but to be honest my door is always open. maydg@unk.edu
    RM 305A
    p: 308.865.8055

    Corporate sellout

    Time to fess up

    Reasons I became aggravated...or the Glitz and Glamour of sustainable design

    bombing the teacher

    The view commonly entertained by designers is that they perform an essential task in the service of selling visual ideas and concepts associated with products that make our lives easier . hmmmmm...

    As the famous cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” We, in the design community, are responsible for much of the desire for the flotsam and jetsam that Americans generically call goods. We export the idea that the desire for more and more stuff is ‘good,’ because it is associated with glamorous lifestyles of cultural icons. This didn’t happen overnight. It was a gradual process that has gathered momentum across a century of industrial and technological expansion unrivaled in recorded history. None of that information is new. The fact is that we are careening towards a precipice like a runaway truck full of drunken clowns. The veracity of this may be debated by politicians, but not by the scientific community. It is past time for designers to abandon an approach that ignores these facts in the name of what may be characterized as glitz and glamour, and support a more rational and thoughtful approach which can be sustained. It doesn’t mean we all have to become penitent monks who live on a subsistence diet, and chant about the woes of overconsumption, but it does mean we have to start to think more rationally about the what, why and how we produce things.

    Designers in the graphics community, of which I am part, have grown accustomed to our 19th century habit of rapid industrialization without concern for the consequences. Cause and effect, a western invention of scientific process that has served as a basis of knowledge, relies on empirical evidence to arrive at the simplest and most efficient way of explaining life around us, and so it goes with production. The simplest/crudest forms of production which do not concern themselves with anything but the products “value” without taking into consideration the by products that are created in conjunction with that process can no longer be ignored.

    Though humans may have thrived on that postulate for prosperity for the past 200 hundred years, it is forty years past time to alter that way of thinking. Bludgeoning the planet’s resources to make life easier for us in the short term can only invite more disasters that have already occurred. The fact of the matter is: we are running out of room, and running out of time. We have built a system that is not sustainable. It is driven by desire for things that have a predictable shelf life which artificially inserts value into objects that are at their heart harmful.

    ya gotta eat, by Dan  May

    Scientists, environmentalists, and even those hated politicians have been warning us for decades, that we cannot keep up the pace of consumption that we up to recently enjoyed. Though the word environmentalist, or ecologist is usually associated these days with the same class of people that the women during the Salem Witch trials were, and in some cases metaphorically given the same treatment, it is lunacy to keep thinking in those terms.

    Sustainability should not be shunned, It should be admired. It should be second nature to us. It is an altruistic ideal which is at the heart of our survival. It is how tribes of the primal past cooperated into building a civilization. Though this ideal still has a little bit of traction in this new age “of jobs at all costs” recession-like environment, its lustre is losing its shine. Its being relegated to the waste dump, and buried under non-organic b-s by a few oligarchs who fear change.

    Only a couple of years ago since I first wrote this in 2004, “sustainability” had become one of those fashionable handles that politicians and journalists shake the guts out of by its constant use and repetition until the mere hint of its mention sends people careening into the hills, jumping off cliffs, or sticking their heads in ovens to avoid from hearing it again. It has been defined in many ways. One which I find particularly strikes a chord within me is the “means using methods, systems and materials that won’t deplete resources or harm natural cycles” (Rosenbaum, 1993). Simple and effective this definition appears to be common sense. If we collectively head in a direction that promotes those ideas, everything will be ‘jake’, jim-dandy, all good. Unfortunately, when you factor in the human equation of behavioral diversity, things become much more complex.

    attack on liberty: graphic digitl illustration, by Dan May

    We are told by some politicians who wish to live in the comfortable illusion that we still live in the middle of the 20th century that more countries in the world emulate the U.S. in terms of having a consumer based economy. It implies that the consumer is the ideal life form on the planet, a very scary thought. I imagine an evolutionary leap in human form under these conditions where we become bulbous animals, barely ambulatory, using cell technology and apps to communicate with each other while automatic shovels are attached to what ever gas powered conveyance we have dreamed up to move us which may be controlled by our eye movement. The shovels scoop up whatever we find to be extra sparkly and then convey them in beltlike efficiency toward our oversized Jaba the Hut looking hyper extended jaws where we decide whether we can eat it or wear it by determining its consistency or palatability by rolling it around in our mouths.

    In short, consumers want …stuff, and that stuff may be making us into homogeneous automatons. This is obviously an exaggerated dystopian vision, ( I hope) but controlling the desire that we have for this stuff is exactly what needs to be investigated.

    Americans, on average and according to recent data, consume more ‘stuff’ than any other developed country by a large margin. A mammoth margin. A margin that if you put us in a flimsy boat with the rest of the planet on the other end …our end would sink. What that forebodes is a massive appetite for things which can not be satisfied by using the same methodology for production and waste management that is common today. We don’t have enough of what makes ‘stuff’ on the planet to sustain it. With present trends our boat hasn’t got a chance of floating, if everyone on the planet thinks, acts and eats like an American.

    Data supplied by the World Resources Institute, an environmental organization which tracks consumption rates, “In monetary terms, most consumption still occurs in industrialized nations; according to the World Bank, the 2.3 billion residents of low-income countries accounted for less than 3% of public and private consumption in 2004, while the 1 billion residents of high-income countries consumed more than 80% of the global total (See Figure 1.) In this same year the United States accounted for 4.6 percent of the world’s population and 33 percent of global consumption--more than $9 trillion U.S. dollars.” If China, the world’s most populous country, consumed at the rate that Americans did, we would need three more Earths. “The average American, for example, consumes around twenty times more meat and fish and sixty times more paper, gasoline, and diesel than the average Indian.” (Source: Earth Trends, 2007. url: http://earthtrends.wri.org/updates/)

    As designers (artists of the graphically and commercially inclined sort), our job, above all else, has always been to try to tap into what we know about human behavior, and turn it to the advantage of the people that we have been hired to serve. Those clients are usually business people who have a fast moving product that they want to sell. A design model initiated in the good old resource rich days of the early 1950s, when the U.S. dominated in production as well as consumption in the world.

    Back then was no different than how it is now, it is broadly accepted that ‘good’ design should look “appealing” in some form. What makes it appealing can be a subjective matter that we can debate, argue and disagree another time, but that which I will also call “desire ” is what the designer is employed to create. Make it gleam. Make it glamorous. Make it sparkle and shine. Designers are the cynics of Art , the handmaidens of commerce, the evil twin of the altruistic brother in the Art field, the Fine Artist.

    Designers, enhance the desire in humans to be, to do, or to buy something... anything. We are visual motivators which provide the spark that drives the commercial engine. One could argue that the human behavior that I generically label as ‘desire’ is a natural cycle but desire runs contrary to being sustainable. Humans are always desiring something new. Sales of goods and divorce rates in developed countries bear that out. Our nature is to do the opposite of what Rosenbaum’s definition of sustainable life suggests, yet it is the only logical method one can keep our planet ‘viable.’ One could scarcely argue that “natural” human desires create a wholly positive outcome for the planet we occupy. Especially for ‘unappealing’ creatures, and plants. One might characterize humans as parasitic occupiers of a benign host.

    bbq bunch, colored pencils by Dan May

    The CDC defines parasites as an organism “that lives on, or in a host and gets its food from, or at the expense of its host .” Humans until recently appear to act as in the case of most parasites, that the only interest it has is to survive regardless of the host’s health. How do they do that is simple.

    Most products humans produce depletes the resources we take for granted. We live in a finite world, but our desires are infinite so what’s gotta give? Economists long ago designed a formula for the objects of human desire. That formula is called “the law of diminishing marginal utility.“ Simply stated the more of one thing that we have, the less we want it, and the less we have of a certain item the more we want it. Human’s natural reproductive and behavioral cycle could be quantified by this formula, and it explains the mechanism for tapping into and attaining wealth based on understanding this principle. But is it really wealth? We all seem to desire the concept of “wealth.” We measure our success in life by it. E.O. Wilson, in the book, The Future of Life, suggests that we reassess economic values such as GDP and base them on a method which balances it against natural resources lost. But humans don’t respond readily to terms like GDP. They seem even less disposed to think about forests and animals (or eco-systems) that exist (or not) hundreds of miles away other than occasionally give lip service to a cause when a whale is washed on shore, or a polar bear is stranded on an ice flow. They respond more readily to what is in front of them.

    So let’s do this. Let’s take the weight of the objects we “own” and place them on a scale on our expansive green lawns, or in our living rooms to be weighed. The weight of those objects or overall mass of what we ‘own’ might be a better measure of material wealth as any other tallying system. Especially is we base our wealth or lack of it on the nebulous shifting fog called ‘value.’
    Values are rarely if ever universal. But weight or mass is another story. This CAN be quantified and assessed. The more mass something occupies the heavier it is... Simple.

    Value is too subjective. Anyone who watches television and sees the plethora of programs devoted to looking into the value of old things know that they can only be quantified by historical context, and a desire by a quantity of people to own it. Today’s junk maybe tomorrow’s treasure and what “artworks” that may have been deemed collectible by the “powers of fashion” now may at one time in the future be valueless flotsam, or vice versa. Maybe another way beyond mass to determine value and therefore our wealth is permanence. The amount of time it takes for the object of our desires to decay or lose its usefulness.

    lucifer eats color pencil and poster Dan May

    The very idea of permanence implies immortality. Immortality implies in many cultures that you must have done something good in order to be rewarded with such a gift. When it comes to structures, artworks, or anything else made by humans, we associate permanence as value of greatness. Can anyone argue the Great Wall of China is not great, or the Great Pyramids? It even says so in their name. If a building falls down after twenty years it must not have been built that well, sooo it’s not so great. It’s survival of the fittest object so to speak…If something lasts a long time, then it has more value than something that is fleeting…but many of us neglect to realize that there is a great deal of maintenance involved in giving the appearance of permanence to any object. Humans are constantly trying to maintain the appearance of many of our “great” structures and artifacts by preventive maintenance and yet they still decay. Ask any movie star who has to cheat the onslaught of time by any means necessary in order to remain to appear youthful. It’s a losing battle. The scarcity of an item or its lack of permanence may be a better gauge, therefore.

    flagsplosion: digital illustration by Dan May

    There is not a product that humans can create, nor is there an organic entity or mineral on this planet that is permanent in any real sense. The universe doesn’t operate that way. It usually decays in accordance with the laws of entropy. So……back to our measure of owned property that I previously mentioned …When that “owned” property ceases to function as originally designed it is usually disposed of in the time honored fashion of our prehistoric ancestors. We bury it or burn it. Brilliant! Now all of that mass and weight has to be redistributed somewhere to decay, and since we try to build things to last, some if it takes a long time to get down to the business of falling apart. Sometimes in order to prevent decay on store shelves, or in auto lots (etc) we make these objects out of chemicals, heavy metals and the like, using processes that are harmful and sometimes fatal to us all. So what is the solution to imbuing products with value and to retain that polish that people will want to keep and maintain them?
    With very little maintenance, ideas that humans hold as culturally significant to their identity are guarded and protected with vigor. Ideas are associated with values. Many times, our governments use threats to their value systems as motivation for war, or ‘interventions.’ Build-ups of armies and weapons to be used as protection against ‘others,’ who are a menace to our ‘values’ is often used to frighten us. Values, values, values. We all like our values. As designers why not imbue products with these values. If laden with values objects may be held onto longer past usefulness. Values transcend utility so why not make products so aesthetically pleasing and intrinsically culturally significant with these important values that it becomes difficult to even throw a cereal box away. This has been tried to a certain extent from the early 20th century Bauhaus movement to the Internationalist Movements of the mid 20th century where both movements decried useless ornamentation and for “form to follow function,” but it quickly became too reductionist and austere in appearance. Those died out as design movements due to perceived blandness, so it appears that even ideas have a shelf life. Even if this were not true, my concept of keeping the polish and glitter on products quickly falls apart when we think of how many food products we consume in a week. If we saved every cereal box, our house would soon be an aesthetically pleasing dumping ground for chotchkies, where we would barely have room to move. Obviously, this is very impractical.

    filler up; retro poster by Dan May

    To prevent the loss of resources requires more than aesthetics, more than imbued concepts, or the retooling of human behavior. (A slightly less than impossible task.) It requires that we rethink design. A designer must rely on ideas…concepts which will resonate that will keep the glitter, gleam and glamour alive as long as possible, sure, but she/he must also be aware that no matter what, decay is inevitable. Wealth is impermanent. Life is in flux and nothing lives forever.

    As Graphic Designers the products, packages, and objects that are generated at the bequest of a client should be deemed successful by how well it decays as much as any other quality, and to make sure that decay provides at worse no effect on the rest of the planet. To paraphrase the Cradle to Cradle™ folks of McDonough and Braungart…”do no harm.” Ideally, if a container for a food product, or any other product for that matter, decays shortly after the shelf life of the food it contains and its decay actually assists in making the planet healthier as the Cradle to Cradle people propose, then it should be produced above all other methods. Using the GDP formula that E.O. Wilson put forward in his book ‘The Future of Life’, the depletion of resources should try to balance with the economic benefit. With this type of thinking in effect, each would be in balance and be sustainable, and the term ‘wealth’ could be re-evaluated in terms of an alternative approach to profit and loss. The bottom line methods that most businesses follow appears to be outdated.

    A triple bottom line method, a phrase first used by British economist and sustainability expert John Elkington, balances more than profit against loss on a balance sheet. Triple bottom line proposes to assess the cost of the production in terms of the health of the eco system as a whole taking in consideration what was taken from the planet and its ability to regenerate that resource.

    gorging for progress: poster by dan may

    Elkington’s method factors in people, planet and profit…the three ps. I’ll discuss the people aspect which in short means or is equal to fair trade. We all know that in the world we currently live in, the rules are set up so that people need money to live. They are given money based on how well, or how rare their talents are. Nothing more than that. But a better way would be based on sustaining a life in a healthy way. People require enough money so that are not living hand to mouth. Being poor makes it much more expensive to live in terms of relative income than being rich. Most of your money goes to food and clothing and often times you look for lower grade materials in order to afford them.
    These materials are sometimes more environmentally destructive than their ‘expensive’ counterparts to the environment in terms of production methods, and ironically wear out faster. Simply put, cheaper products usually are made in a plant using old technologies, which require more energy, more unskilled labor, which thereby creates an inferior product and produces harmful results to the people and the planet, and it is predatory in practice.

    High calorie foods are another example of this. Corn being one of the biggest culprits of a corporate shell game of cheap production for short term benefits with long term adverse consequences. Corn production is subsidized in the U.S. , yet the production template is exported to undeveloped countries as a good crop to grow. Though studies have proven that it requires a great deal more of the water of an impoverished area to produce corn than many indigenous plants might while at the same time stripping soils of their nutrients quicker, we export the idea that corn is good. Why is this done? American corporations control the patents. American companies produce the fertilizers, the pesticides and sometimes the technology. It is good for American jobs. Even though many of the higher paying jobs in the manufacturing sector for agricultural machines and supplies are being shipped to less developed countries.

    American fast food purveyors use corn…a lot of corn…They use it as an alternative sweetener in their recipes for soft drinks, and as feed for animals such as beef and chicken. Americans buy into the idea promoted by the involved industries and assisted by the design industry that they have invented a ‘foolproof’ cheap method of production in the US, so it should work for other countries too.

    I don’t want to sound as if I think all corporations are bad, though anecdotal evidence might support it. What responsible corporations are beginning to do is make sure that off shore suppliers are providing people with a living wage, so that much of this poverty and destruction can be avoided. It is a holistic, altruistic approach, and should be applauded. Global retailers such as WalMart are beginning to take this long term approach, so are manufacturers such as Nike, but sustainable practice is still far from being widespread, nor is it as far reaching as it could be in terms of corporate wide strategies. Many companies are beginning to back off from the concept, especially in the current economic climate: aka global recession.

    Too many companies repeatedly avoid fair trade practice and use our current economic condition as an excuse for avoidance. Their claim is an old repeated axiom. It costs jobs, or it interferes with the bottom line of profit and loss. They don’t have the time or the energy to be concerned about the livelihood of workers in distant lands, or the damage it may cause to the land itself when jobs are at stake.

    About seven years ago, I was approached by a client to do some package design work for a major retailer. In the process of asking what they needed as far as concept, materials and who their target audience was I asked the person in charge of the project where this package and product was to be produced. He told me a Southeast Asian country that was going to manufacture it. Coincidentally, at that time, it had been widely reported in the press and in the blogosphere that this country’s citizens were not making a living wage and in some cases there were Human Rights violations. I will preface what I am about to say with I am not concerned as much with the where things are produced as the cost it has in relation to the three p’s.

    So back to the case I was speaking of: Some employees in this country were being treated no better than the indentured servants of the feudal age in Western Civilization. I mentioned this to the manager in charge and suggested that I had some alternatives if he were interested. He told me no it did not interest him. He was looking for the least expensive place to produce the packaging so he could maximize his profit. He argued he could not be held responsible for “cultural differences,” or “managerial approaches” of outside vendors, and questioned me as to why I should care. His argument essentially was,”Nobody in retail does this, so I’m not going to, and it’s none of your business what I do.”

    This “Johnny doesn’t do it, so I am not going to” either approach to life is exactly what we we were taught to avoid in grade school. This argument has never held water, even to our kindergarten teachers. Slavery, bribery, prostitution, a wide variety of other concepts have used this approach.

    What it actually said to me, when he used this argument, was that HE did not hold these highly marketable and ethically positive tenets as part of his belief system. It occurred to me as we ‘discussed’ this that maybe he really wasn’t interested in good design anyway. He was coming to me because I was affordable. It became apparent that we would eventually come to loggerheads over some other issue, so I declined his offer for work. Did that hurt MY bottom line, and did it hurt my career? I really don’t know, but it does provide an example that I could portray myself as a knight in shining armor. (Those occasions are rare for me anyway and need to be savored.)

    I explain to my students in all of my design classes that you needn’t demand of clients to do anything, if you want to keep them as clients, but offering suggestions or alternatives is a good start in building a sense of respect between you both. If they appear to be open to your suggestions, then that is a foundation for a good working relationship. In the cases that you must “fire” clients by letting them know that they will have to get another designer for reasons stated above, can only create a good reputation for yourself, especially if word gets around. People, in my experience, want to believe that they are ‘doing the right thing’ even if it sometimes interferes with their wealth objectives. The goal is to at least provide some options. Options that factor in the health of the planet and the health of its occupants can be a highly motivating force. Some studies have shown that a sense of altruism is strong in the vast majority of humans and we may even be hardwired for it. According to a recently published article in Science and Nature and reported by BBC writer Helen Briggs, we may not be alone in this once thought to be uniquely human trait:
    “Human society depends on people being able to collaborate with others - donating to charity, paying taxes and so on - and many scientists have argued that altruism is a uniquely human function, hard-wired into our brains.
    The latest study suggests it IS a strong human trait, perhaps present more than six million years ago in the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.

    “This is the first experiment showing altruistic helping towards goals in any non-human primate,” said Felix Warneken, a psychologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

    “It’s been claimed chimpanzees act mainly for their own ends; but in our experiment, there was no reward and they still helped.”
    (Altruism ‘in-built’ in humans, Helen Briggs, BBC News science reporter, 2006)

    elec cat

    Unfortunately, many times corporations are far from human in their behavior even though their boards are allegedly comprised of humans.

    In a study regarding psychopathic tendencies of human beings who are far from altruistic in their behavior, they identified certain traits which separate them from most of us so-called normals. What’s disheartening is that we find that corporations exhibit many of those psychotic traits. In fact the behavioral mechanisms have even been written into their management systems regarding the bottom line. The evidence of corporate behavior being somewhat psychotic is plain to see. We see it in the advertisements, public relations pieces and overall identity that designers help create.

    Below is a short list of tendencies exhibited by psychopaths.
    “glibness/superficial charm
    grandiose sense of self worth
    need for stimulation/prone to boredom
    pathological lying
    lack of remorse or guilt
    shallow emotional response
    callous/lack of empathy
    parasitic lifestyle
    poor behavioral controls
    early behavioral problems
    lack of realistic long term goals
    failure to accept responsibility for their own actions
    many short term relationships
    juvenile delinquency
    revocation of conditional release
    criminal versatility”
    (The Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, .1991, Toronto: Multi-Health Systems)

    If you compare this to many of the corporate reactions to problems associated with everything from oil spills to embezzlement, to criminal behavior, and down right negligence in infamous cases involving Enron, World Com, BP, Exxon, Bank of America, Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs,( the list could go on and on), they compare very unfavorably. What traditionally has been held as the responsibility of a corporation’s board was “maximize profitability ” to the stockholders. This leads to psychotic, and sociopathic behaviors, but it increases a stockholders wealth and therein lies ANOTHER problem.

    Wealth is a thorny issue . Success and wealth are concepts, which to some, are based on one of the basest emotions: greed. To most of us greed is bad. It is culturally, ethically and morally antithetical to our core principles in the US. But to some in the business community they conjure the name of Adam Smith and imply that Smith believes that greed is a strongly positive motivating force for the good of economic prosperity. They propose that “healthy” economies are driven by this motivating force. But this may be a mistake in reasoning, or selective excising of evidence in order to further a point that I don’t believe carries any weight.

    Here is part of the quote in question, which I believe contains the salient issue of greed:
    ‘Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.’ (Wealth Of Nations, I.ii.2: pp 26-27)

    What I propose he is saying is essentially part of every altruistic cultural lifestyle and accepted religious group, a version of the Judeo-Christian ethos …Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The motivating force may be self interest but so is the motivating force of the “Golden Rule.” This does not propose to give license to corporate boards to run rough shod over the good of the many so that they may accommodate their share holders.

    In the past, a designer’s excuses for never pushing our clients to look at the long term benefits of designing sustainably were legion. It was difficult to get a handle on all the information, many of the technologies were too expensive and too cumbersome, nobody else is doing it, so why should I. The long and short of it is that we no longer have any more options. We have to do it. We live in the 21st century, but it is not the world of Flash Gordon, Star Trek, the Jetsons, and all of that popular culture utopia that I expected, and injested when I was a kid. I used to wholeheartedly believe that all our problems could be solved by technology. That belief may be a bit jaded now. We live in a world where the reality of finite natural resources present problems that require monetary resources and brain power to solve. Both of these we have. What we need is the will to do it. That is the key ingredient that I believe we may be lacking.

    McDonough & Braungart’s advocate to try and imitate the natural processes of the planet’s closed system of finite resources to build an infinitely replenishing cycle of prosperity. Reuse, reduce, recycle and regulate is their mantra. I add two research and restore. In these processes using this approach is key.

    when hell

    There’s obviously a growing demand for everything from designer goods to luxury autos due to the inexorable steam-roller of globalization and improved economic conditions for a greater amount of people, but this may only be smoke and mirrors if we don’t act.

    We know the eventual damage this behavior of unbridled consumption will cause for the planet if there aren’t some controls put into place while we search for answers. Problems may increase exponentially.

    We need a strong push towards building awareness that we can’t keep eating the seed potatoes when we should be planting them… to adapt a phrase. We should be abandoning our parasitic behavioral patterns out of a sense of survival. Many of the people responsible for wanting the same system to continue are wealthy enough to pour money into creating misinformation against the “sustainability crowd,” but with increased education and awareness I am hopeful that this will not stand for long.

    We already know about Global Warming, and some of us believe or understand the science which confirms its reality. Whether it is due to human factors, or not is immaterial. We know that the increase in fossil fuel demand and the release of carbon gases such as methane locked into the permafrost of the Arctic and deep in our oceans trenches will have some very powerful effects on how we currently live regardless of how it is caused. An increase in droughts, violent storms have become more frequent and damaging. The diminishing land mass, slowing of the natural engine of the weather patterns that are affected by the sun’s heat as well as the cooling capacity of the ocean may make some cities uninhabitable in the not too distant future. There are also other things to consider which don’t receive nearly as much “play” in the media but could have a much more serious (if possible) effect on human civilization and planetary health. The loss of usable drinking water can be the most frightening of these, but as I said before all of this can be fixed if given the will.

    Proposing to students that they design with controls in mind, (the six rs and the 3 ps) and reminding them that they have to be inventive, use less material, maintain cultural awareness, and define the entire life-cycle of a product’s usage are some of these. It does not mean however that things need to be bland. They can still adhere to artistic standards of excellence associated with good design. It’s just a tougher row to hoe. Parameters seem often times to be limits to creativity rather than being an impetus for stimulation, but I believe that it is the hard problems which promote creativity not the easy ones.

    Even though the “r’s” of reuse, reduce recycle, regulate, research and restore may seem to me to be a hackneyed approach, it is at present the best avenue for sustainable design. The design efforts used in preparing for a project with those “r”s, along with the triple bottom line approach always in mind are essential. The solutions discovered in the process may be more creatively rewarding than the glitz and the glamour that we deem fashionable for the short term. The realization that one knows that they are trying to do the right thing should last for an age and by default is easily sustainable.


    letters and humans

    Typographic studies

    For centuries typography has been a key part of a nation as well as a civilization’s cultural identity. It has become so important that businesses spend a great deal of capital using typographic design to separate their identity with the competition.

    History further teaches us that Western Civilization typography was important to national figures to solidify political and cultural affiliations. From the Romans, to Emperor Maximillian of Germany, Louis XIV of France…even Hitler felt that type design helped define a cultural identity.

    In Eastern Cultures from as far back as historical records document, Asian countries such as Japan and China have used typography in its calligraphic form to convey emotional as well as informational content, but does typography really have an impact on our behavior? Does it really define a nation’s, a business’ a person’s personality and if it does, is there such a thing as an international geometric form which can unify human purpose and understanding as swiss typographers had hoped back in the early twentieth century.

    Will we find that typography makes a difference, and if so can we use it to help us understand why humans decipher information differently? Will we find a “universal” way to use type which optimizes the right emotional impact and mood so the transfer of information and knowledge is optimized. Or is the written word destined for the trash heap, as motion and new media increases their cultural influence.

    DESCRIPTION OF RESEARCH: Research proceeded with interviews of the principals, or representatives of Type Foundries such as Linotype in Germany, Alice Savoy in France, and Letteror in the Netherlands. They represented three different philosophies for type design that may be related to their national and personal identity.
    Studying the archives at other existing type foundries in the countries of England (Baskerville, Caslon) and Switzerland (Helvetica, Swiss and Univers), which I have yet to identify as targets for research, but have been chosen because of their culturally specific contribution to typographic structure, will be added to the cross section of study.
    Type design was broken up into categories which reflected the aesthetic philosophies of the particular subjects and were compared to their cultural past to see if there are some indications of cultural trends.
    A visual test was conducted on a cross section of people from the region to determine what they find more appealing to them. Will the type structure that they see and respond to in a positive (or negative) way. I tired to determine in the first samplings aomething about individual taste and try to see if their reactions to visual structure might be consistent with their perceptions of national identity.

    This was inconclusive in my small sample, but it did verify some 'intuitive' visual aspects about structure of type in terms of female and male identity and their relative beauty. This has assisted me in teaching a new approach to typography based on human behavior which is based on cultural cues which may be related to the nation’s overall history.

    RESEARCH RATIONALE: Does the visual symbology of type (font) design and how it is presented over a period of time offer insight into the collective psyche of a nation? Does its usage and psychological impact on an individual compare with the same process as brand strategy in developing identity for businesses in the corporate world?
    Specifically, is there a measurable effect that “universal” typography has on the psychology and evolution of national identity which can be quantified? Does the uniform visual language and symbology expressed in typography and graphic design disproportionately effect the way people act and think?
    Some recent research appears to point in that direction. Strictly using visual cues in analyzing motor response a Cambridge University study found: “…a significant association between reading skills and the performance on visuo-motor tasks.
    In order to clarify whether reading and writing skills modulate non-linguistic domains, we investigated the performance of two literacy groups on a visuo-motor integration task with non-linguistic stimuli. Twenty-one illiterate participants and twenty matched literate controls were included in the experiment. Subjects were instructed to use the right or the left index finger to point to and touch a randomly presented target on the right or left side of a touch screen.
    The results showed that the literate subjects were significantly faster in detecting and touching targets on the left compared to the right side of the screen.
    In contrast, the presentation side did not affect the performance of the illiterate group. These results lend support to the idea that having acquired reading and writing skills, and thus a preferred left-to-right reading direction influences visual scanning. (JINS, 2007, 13, 359–364.)”
    Does this test offer further insight into the way our thought processes are effected by reading from left to right and if so does visual orientation of type structure our cognitive ability in such a way that makes it more difficult for us to understand and communicate with other cultures whose typographic structure and visual language are different from our own? Is an individual’s identity and how we perceive abstract concepts inextricably tied to the way the typefaces are structured?
    Similar research into Typeface structure’s influence on an individual’s as well as a nation’s reasoning skills are found in:
    Dr. Craig Eliason of The University of St Thomas curated show: “Face The Nation” A visual journey into typeface design http://www.stthomas.edu/facethenation/redefine_hughschonfield.html
    “Art and Physics” University of San Francisco’s Leonard Shlain claims that left to right linearly designed reading skills limits our understanding of complex ideas related to space and time that some artists appear to transcend.
    “Art and Physics” Publisher: William Morrow (January 28, 1993)
    ISBN-10: 0688123058
    Author Paul Shaw documents the progression of illuminated writing which sprang from the region which Germany now occupies and identifies the cultural impact it had on the nation’s nascent stages through the 20th century.To say that type structure preference alters a person’s psychological profile may be a stretch, but patriotic fervor related to symbology such as flags and icons which are artistic representations of national identity are nurtured by official decree throughout history. ഀ“Blackletter: Type and National Identity,” Publisher: Princeton Architectural Press; 1 edition (April 1, 1998), ISBN-10: 1568981252, ISBN-13: 978-1568981253

    Here are some findings based on the sample data that I accumulated which is by no means conclusive. It was based on a small sample of fifty people aged 19-60. ...okay I will post that later.

    I Need to work on this html 5 animated graph anyway)


    Wear Idols

    Time to show why I was defeated by the man

    It's no easy task to admit

    (=|There is junk and then there is junk. I have made my share, and from one week to the next since I am as fickle as three year old discarding a toy, I will post the things that I have done and actually like. At least at this particular moment, so you can "marvel at my skills."

    Hopefully, you have a high gag threshold.

    greenie enjoy art njoy life njoy texas…who wouldn't world domination njoy worshipping cedar ridge wear idols mono print wear idols mao fiery X altrusitic rocket girl do i threaten you Retro future oil


    So...well evil


    Mess with stuff. Okay it's reaaaal purpose was to work on coporate identity and have a little bit of fun in the process.

    This movie (as the site hidden behind this link) was created in 2004 as a historical parody on the production of oil. Its name Evøil was created based on some research I did on Standard Oil and others. It was designed to appear as if it was released in the hay day of these types of promotional films in the early 1940s til the early 1960s. These types of films, produced by a variety of sources, were still used in many classrooms as instruction in American schools through the late 1960s. This film in paticular was made using found footage from the site Prelinger Archives, which deserves a great deal of the credit.
    Most of the animations along with the audio is original though. The concept, writing, editing and animations were self created using a variety of applications… with the help of a few friends.


    So this old school stuff is


    Everything is for sale and still cluttering up my studio.

    self portrait collaboration with Doug Waterfield

    Except this one below.


    ...and this one is gone: 'Marv did not like the chemicals he added to his no till corn that year'

    marv was not enjoying the new chemicals he added to his no till monsanto corn

    and this one

    uber gothic

    oops... and this one too is gone


    all about booty

    grim harvest

    This one is also gone bye-bye.

    Big Eden

    Chapter XIV. of Darwins:
    Origin of Species

    Mutual Affinities Of Organic Beings

    Classification, groups subordinate to groups

    From the most remote period in the history of the world organic beings have been found to resemble each other in descending degrees, so that they can be classed in groups under groups. This classification is not arbitrary like the grouping of the stars in constellations. The existence of groups would have been of simple significance, if one group had been exclusively fitted to inhabit the land, and another the water; one to feed on flesh, another on vegetable matter, and so on; but the case is widely different, for it is notorious how commonly members of even the same subgroup have different habits. In the second and fourth chapters, on Variation and on Natural Selection, I have attempted to show that within each country it is the widely ranging, the much diffused and common, that is the dominant species, belonging to the larger genera in each class, which vary most. The varieties, or incipient species, thus produced, ultimately become converted into new and distinct species; and these, on the principle of inheritance, tend to produce other new and dominant species. Consequently the groups which are now large, and which generally include many dominant species, tend to go on increasing in size. I further attempted to show that from the varying descendants of each species trying to occupy as many and as different places as possible in the economy of nature, they constantly tend to diverge in character. This latter conclusion is supported by observing the great diversity of forms, which, in any small area, come into the closest competition, and by certain facts in naturalisation.

    I attempted also to show that there is a steady tendency in the forms which are increasing in number and diverging in character, to supplant and exterminate the preceding, less divergent and less improved forms. I request the reader to turn to the diagram illustrating the action, as formerly explained, of these several principles; and he will see that the inevitable result is, that the modified descendants proceeding from one progenitor become broken up into groups subordinate to groups. In the diagram each letter on the uppermost line may represent a genus including several species; and the whole of the genera along this upper line form together one class, for all are descended from one ancient parent, and, consequently, have inherited something in common. But the three genera on the left hand have, on this same principle, much in common, and form a subfamily, distinct from that containing the next two genera on the right hand, which diverged from a common parent at the fifth stage of descent. These five genera have also much in common, though less than when grouped in subfamilies; and they form a family distinct from that containing the three genera still further to the right hand, which diverged at an earlier period. And all these genera, descended from (A), form an order distinct from the genera descended from (I). So that we here have many species descended from a single progenitor grouped into genera; and the genera into subfamilies, families and orders, all under one great class. The grand fact of the natural subordination of organic beings in groups under groups, which, from its familiarity, does not always sufficiently strike us, is in my judgment thus explained. No doubt organic beings, like all other objects, can be classed in many ways, either artificially by single characters, or more naturally by a number of characters. We know, for instance, that minerals and the elemental substances can be thus arranged. In this case there is of course no relation to genealogical succession, and no cause can at present be assigned for their falling into groups. But with organic beings the case is different, and the view above given accords with their natural arrangement in group under group; and no other explanation has ever been attempted.

    Naturalists, as we have seen, try to arrange the species, genera and families in each class, on what is called the Natural System. But what is meant by this system? Some authors look at it merely as a scheme for arranging together those living objects which are most alike, and for separating those which are most unlike; or as an artificial method of enunciating, as briefly as possible, general propositions--that is, by one sentence to give the characters common, for instance, to all mammals, by another those common to all carnivora, by another those common to the dog-genus, and then, by adding a single sentence, a full description is given of each kind of dog. The ingenuity and utility of this system are indisputable. But many naturalists think that something more is meant by the Natural System; they believe that it reveals the plan of the Creator; but unless it be specified whether order in time or space, or both, or what else is meant by the plan of the Creator, it seems to me that nothing is thus added to our knowledge. Expressions such as that famous one by Linnaeus, which we often meet with in a more or less concealed form, namely, that the characters do not make the genus, but that the genus gives the characters, seem to imply that some deeper bond is included in our classifications than mere resemblance. I believe that this is the case, and that community of descent--the one known cause of close similarity in organic beings--is the bond, which, though observed by various degrees of modification, is partially revealed to us by our classifications.

    Let us now consider the rules followed in classification, and the difficulties which are encountered on the view that classification either gives some unknown plan of creation, or is simply a scheme for enunciating general propositions and of placing together the forms most like each other. It might have been thought (and was in ancient times thought) that those parts of the structure which determined the habits of life, and the general place of each being in the economy of nature, would be of very high importance in classification. Nothing can be more false. No one regards the external similarity of a mouse to a shrew, of a dugong to a whale, of a whale to a fish, as of any importance. These resemblances, though so intimately connected with the whole life of the being, are ranked as merely "adaptive or analogical characters;" but to the consideration of these resemblances we shall recur. It may even be given as a general rule, that the less any part of the organisation is concerned with special habits, the more important it becomes for classification. As an instance: Owen, in speaking of the dugong, says, "The generative organs, being those which are most remotely related to the habits and food of an animal, I have always regarded as affording very clear indications of its true affinities. We are least likely in the modifications of these organs to mistake a merely adaptive for an essential character." With plants how remarkable it is that the organs of vegetation, on which their nutrition and life depend, are of little signification; whereas the organs of reproduction, with their product the seed and embryo, are of paramount importance! So again, in formerly discussing certain morphological characters which are not functionally important, we have seen that they are often of the highest service in classification. This depends on their constancy throughout many allied groups; and their constancy chiefly depends on any slight deviations not having been preserved and accumulated by natural selection, which acts only on serviceable characters...

    Student Movies

    This is to prove to those of faint heart that you don't need to be a whiz kid (1920s reference??) to do this.

    See below

    Student's Movie Examples

    In order for the page to load a little faster, I have placed links to student movies on a separate link, but the Below links are examples of student work who teamed up to make films rather than write a term paper. Students were given film styles, and tips on composition in the frame, and other technical assistance. The rest was up tp them.


    Links to student movie page.