Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Passport to Paris

My latest artistic fling is probably one of the most fun projects I have worked on. A few months ago I went on a soul searching trip to Europe. I was gone 2 weeks and hung out mostly by myself. I was so inspired by the culture, history, and art that I wanted to create something to commemorate my experience. So when I was trying to find something to create, I thought about doing a series of posters that would highlight the different cities I had seen. But I also wanted to create something I really hadn’t had much experience making. I wanted to make a book, a tour guide book. My loyal travel companions were Rick Steve’s guide to Paris and London and I felt inspired to make something that a fellow traveler could appreciate. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the travel section of Barnes and Noble but it’s an overwhelming collection of thick European guide books. I also had only been in each city of an average of 3 days. I wasn’t exactly an expert on these cities. So I took a step back. I wanted to create something that would allow for creativity and let me explore designing a book.

I have to give you a little bit of my personal background for you to fully understand the next decision in the process. I am the oldest of 7 children and have practically raised a few of my siblings. I also spent 5 years of my life teaching swimming lessons to children. I worked as a costumed Princess at children’s birthday parties through college and I currently babysit on the weekends for some extra play money. Oh, and there was that brief stint at BabyGap. So naturally my next choice would be to create a tour guide for children. I looked online, bookstores, and on the bookshelves of the kids I babysit. There aren’t a lot of tour guide books for kids. So I decided to make a book that would allow for some education and fun. It would have to be for kids ages 6-12. 6 year olds know how to read and would be interested in having their own book. Anything over 12 is hopping into teenage territory and having teenage siblings I know that they might find a book like this juvenile and just another lame thing that have to participate in while on family vacation.

Fun Facts notes

Instead of lumping all the cities I traveled to (Dublin, Berlin, Paris, Madrid, and London) into one book, I choose to start with one city. As a starting point, I asked the kids I babysit which city would most interest them. Paris. It is the most mentioned city. I think most American kids have an understanding of what Paris is. So I started there.
I wanted to create a book that kids would take with them on their trip. I wanted it to be an entertainment piece while kids were waiting in line, sitting on a train, or walking through a boring museum. I wanted to take the historical things that I found fascinating and explain to children why they are so cool. I decide to do this through a check off system. I wanted to create challenges for kids that they could do at each site. In the book it would give a challenge and hopefully it could be educational. For example, at Notre Dame, one of the challenges is to find and stand on the bronze circle near the front of the cathedral labeled “Point Zero.”The challenge then explains that this is the place in which all distances are measured in France. It’s literally the center of France. While my audience is children, I assumed that my audience would also have an engaging adult figure. The book is meant to spark the interest and curiosity of the child and then the parent would supply more information through their own personal knowledge, adult targeted guide book, or landmark pamphlets and plaques.
Saturday brainstorming session
I also created the book to be more like a passport. Complete with French flag stickers, each time the child goes to a new destination outlined in the book, they would be able to mark the page with a sticker. This develops another level of challenge and the whole vacation becomes a game. I think American kids today are extremely competitive and have a sense of fulfillment and pride when they accomplish something. This game will make each museum or landmark another necessary piece to the puzzle they are trying to solve.

Creating a cross wrod is harder than you think
Speaking of puzzles…I’ve also included crosswords, word searches, mad libs, mazes, blank pages for coloring, and lined pages for writing. These activities will provide entertainment while waiting in line for 2 hours to take the elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I talked to a 9 year old who recently toured Paris for 2 weeks. She said there was a lot of waiting. I kept this in mind when I was thinking of content. There are also Paris inspired stickers in the back of the book because, frankly, children just like stickers and they will put them on one of the blank sheets, their clothing, or any dry, flat surface.

Originally, I planned on making this book larger and fuller. I wanted to have it be more like a scrap book where you could keep all your metro tickets, museum passes, landmark brochures, and fun photos but I thought it would be extremely difficult to ask a child to care a huge book around Paris. The smaller 3.5” x 5.5” size is a good pocket size and is more on a kid level. Kids have smaller hands, smaller bags, and smaller pockets. This is book made for them.

I hope to expand the book into a kit, something that could be separated into 3 or 4 parts. The first book would be more education, reading heavy. Maybe something they would read before the trip or while they are traveling to Paris from the U.S. The second book would be the passport that I created. The third part would be the scrapbook. The forth part would be a pouch or bag that would collect the metro tickets, brochures, and museum passes while the kid is traveling. It could also be the passport holder.
I also wanted to start thinking of a way to make it digital. With Apple’s announcement of the ipad mini yesterday, I think kids are going to start having more access to digital books. I would almost expect a family to be traveling with a tablet device now days, especially on an 8 hour plane ride.
This is just the first version of my book and I hope to keep refining it and hopefully find a way to mass produce it. The kids I babysit think it’s maybe the coolest thing ever so I’ll continue to be their Friday night babysitter.

Lastly, I would like to thank all those people who provided feedback and ideas. You’re awesome.
Jason Early, Chris Gerke, Hannah Rebernick, Elain Chernov, Lindsay Lewis, Katherine Theoharpolous, Daniel Cloward, and of course Sarah and Natalie Rovner.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Be Spontaneous.

So today is Wednesday. It's been 3 days since I launched my new site and the response has been great! I have received many compliments and 4 different calls/emails for new freelance work. I know this entry is brief but I just wanted to thank everyone for their compliments and let you know that making this small change has effected me dramatically. The thought of changing my site came rather out of the blue and I just spontaneously decided to change it.

If you ever have that urge to create something or change something, do it. I guess that's just how I live my life. Every spontaneous decision I've made, whether risky or safe, has turned out to be wonderful.

For those who know me, I moved to Chicago rather spontaneously. I visited Chicago once, for three days. 6 months later I took 4 suitcases and bought a one way ticket. 5 years later I'm still here and a completely a different, and better, person because of it. I could give many other spontaneous and crazy stories that have made my life better but I will spare you those for a later day.

Keep creating stuff! Good luck, fighters!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

New Website!

Today's artistic fling is a new website!!! I spent this weekend taking photos, organizing files and playing with bootstrap. I was introduced to bootstrap about 7 months ago. I was working on a website design and the developer suggested using bootstrap to prototype. After lots of tries and reading and rereading the website, I couldn't figure it out.

When I was at Prototype Camp in August I listened to John Haddon from nice ux talk about using bootstrap to prototype. He gave us a short tutorial and also a link to the nice ux website that would help with using bootstrap.

This week I've been thinking about my online presence. I'm so embarrassed to give people my website because it's not well designed, user friendly, or up to date. So this weekend I buckled down and got to work. I started with sketches and came up with a basic wireframe. I started working with bootstrap and seeing what limitations I had.

One of the things I learned at Prototype Camp was "hunkering." Jared Spool, the founder of Interface Engineering, started the day by talking about prototyping. He related web prototyping to other kinds of prototyping. He shared a story about studying the way carpenters work. They would sketch out the idea of a kitchen cabinet. Then they would lay all their materials out on the floor. They'd take a look from a few feet away then come back and arrange the materials. Then they'd start building. After a few minutes of construction they'd take a step back and analyze what they had been working on. Then they'd make adjustments accordingly. This is called hunkering. Every designer has an idea in their mind. They know exactly what it looks like but sometimes that idea isn't possible in the real world. Hunkering is the act of compromising both your ideal solution and reality.

Hunkering. That's what I spent most of the weekend doing. I had to reorganize files, resize photos, and play with code. The website came out a little different that what I ideally wanted but it works good, if not better, than what I had originally wanted.



Please check out the site and give me any feedback. I'll be adding more work in the next few weeks because I've been working on some new projects so keep checking back!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

"Practice Safe Design. Use a Concept."

I misuse the word consistency about a dozen times a day. Sometimes if I can’t explain my reason for making something look a certain way, I tell my client or fellow production team that I did it for the sake of consistency. How can you argue with consistency? The people I usually deal with don’t argue and I get the go ahead. But isn’t that just lazy? Yes. Yes it is. I’ve been schooled in the thought of always having a reason to back up your choices. It doesn’t sound like rocket science but a lot of the people I went to school with and still interact with today don’t understand the important of creating with a concept.
I guess this method of creating a strategy for every design choice I make was set on by a series of annoying questions. I guess it really wasn’t even a series of questions. It was just one question frequently repeated. “Why?” I was working at a studio where the boss man would just look at what I did and all he would say was “Why?” Really, I’m not kidding or even being slightly exaggerative. I would say “What do you think about this?” He would repeat “Why?” So I would just start explaining everything because I didn’t know what he was questioning. He would give feedback on what I had presented and give me ideas on how to make the strategy work better. That’s the important part. I had to explain what I was trying to accomplish with my design. If the design wasn’t correctly accomplishing the goal, then the boss man would let me know.

The interesting part about this process is that I would see the flaws in my design choices while I was explaining them. It happens to us all the time. In our heads everything makes perfect sense. But when we start to explain it, or even say it out loud, we see the flaws. In hind sight, I know that my boss was trying to get me to understand the actual problem and try to see the actual solution. If you don’t know this already, design is nothing but problem solving. There are multiple ways to solve every problem. It is our jobs as designers to find out what solution is the best option. We aren’t paid to make pretty things sparkle. We’re paid to create and test solutions.

Just yesterday I had a client come back and say they changed their minds on a cover design that we signed off on months ago. The cover didn’t have the “see-say” effect the client wanted. (For this I will direct you to Chip Kidd’s TED talk. That’s all I will say about that.)

The client suggested a different cover idea. We tried this idea when we were developing concepts for the cover. This idea was one of our firsts to be discussed and one of the firsts to be thrown out. It only focused on a small percentage of the content instead of equally representing the content as a whole. We ended up going with a concept that was a little more abstract but was able to communicate many different ideas thorough iconography and semiotics. So even though this concept was strong and had been signed off on months ago, the client still wanted something different. I couldn’t understand why. Everyone on our side knew the symbolism of the colors, photography, and textures. So why didn’t the client? The client internally asked “Why” and wasn’t supplied with an answer.
I’ve learned that you can’t wait for your client to ask you why. You have to tell them why. I will take full responsibility for not explaining to the client why we did what we did. I sent them the file with a “What do you think? Please have updated content ASAP.” That’s not how you write an email, people. Look, I’m becoming an adult. I should have explained to the client why we made the choices we did. I should have explained why each element on the cover was vital. This would have prevented rebuttals and it would have made our design and our opinions more valuable and trusted. To be completely honest, if this wasn’t a client on the other side of the country, we should have just met in person.
I know longer work with the boss man that would annoyingly repeat “why” but he did teach me a good lesson. After a while I didn’t have to have anyone ask me why. I started asking myself. Each time I sketch an idea, mock up a concept on the computer, or select a color scheme, I ask myself why. If I can’t justify a reason, I don’t do it. That just means there’s a better solution out here that is accompanied with a reason.

I am currently working as an in house graphic designer. I work with only one other creative person and a handful of financial minded people. My job consists of making infographics, conference materials, and quarterly publication that comments on the economic climate in the Midwest. Asking myself “why” before I sit in meetings with those who don’t understand design has saved me lots of pain, suffering and time. Each meeting I show my solutions and they throw back their opinions of what should be done. They change the layout and start sketching on their legal pads. Then I stop them and explain that I’ve explored many concepts and explain why what I’ve chosen works.
 I try to use words and perspectives that are important to them. For example, these people think in dollar signs. I explain how two columns will lower our paper content. I bring back up. I show them other designers and organizations that have used similar solutions. My boss (and only other creative in the office) frequently says “Explain it like they were 5th graders.” I have to remember that while I was in art school learning about complimentary colors, these people were in a master’s program learning about interest rates and inflation. They have their specialties and I have mine.

It's important to be able to communication your reasons but developing a reason while you design will not only make your solution stronger and easier to explain but it will help you find the best possible solution.