The Fourth Wall

3.26.08 Yellow!

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Most of us have a complex, possibly even difficult, relationship to the color yellow. Graphically speaking, yellow is cautionary, a loud warning. Police line, DO NOT CROSS! And, here on the residential streets of Takoma Park, SLOW that oversized SUV Hybrid DOWN! Or lose your transmission. Did you know, there is a difference between a Speed Hump and a Speed Bump?

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In our gardens, yellow is often an ugly unwanted weed, pictured above and conspiring to go to seed in order to multiply as April’s winds blow. Personally, I find it hard not to love a thing with a name like Dandylion. And, isn’t a weed just a misplaced plant? Once, my acupuncturist had Molly and I pick and boil bushels of the dandylion weed/plant to concoct an ancient Chinese skin salve. One woman’s weed… well, you get the point.

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Regardless, let’s assume you are happier with a more delicate, purposeful yellow. Ruffly Narcissus (that’s daffodils to you non-gardners) are plentiful at the moment. In fact, the Royal Horticultural Society International Daffodil Register lists more than 26,400 named daffodils! Who knew?

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I am obsessed and in love with yellow right now. Yellow scares me and pushes me away, but also, it’s seductive and appealing with its super-saturated, bright ‘n sunny, how-can-you-hate-me disposition. Yellow won’t be ignored. Yellow wants to cheer me up, no matter what. Throw in a little sugary pink and a touch of black or gray to hold it all down… and whoa, I am undone.

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Most of us were told one of two things regarding wearing yellow:

A. Never, EVER wear yellow, it will make your (likely Asian or caucasian skin) look sallow.

B. Yellow really sets off your beautiful (likely brown) skin.

Despite falling solidly into Category A, I purchased the above pictured cutie jacket at Target this spring. I don’t care if I look terrible in it; it makes me feel so happy, so au courrant.

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Surprisingly (or not) often the three of us here at designfarm come to work, from separate locations miles apart in the tri-state area, dressed as if for a color-coordinated photo shoot. I can assure you, no memo was issued. But today, we are all wearing yellow, pink and black.

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The photo above–the only photo in this post not taken during my lunch hour today–was the last photo in my iphoto library before I uploaded Speed Hump, Narcissus, Jodi, Jess, and Sarah in our spring fashions, etc. for this essay… a delicious ring I designed this week, using unbelievably irresistable miniature cakes handmade in China. Art imitates life. And life this month is in yellow and pink.

3.17.08 Colors of Takoma Park

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Finding inspiration is a part of my daily life as a designer… and color choices are an element that I make decisions about every day. The colors above have been collected and inspired by the homes in the neighborhood of Takoma Park where designfarm is located. My co-worker and I often take walks up and down the steep hills of eclectic, historic Takoma park where I can be inspired after just 15 minutes.

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How simple! Who would think that a color chosen for the exterior of a home might inspire a designer like me, possibly influencing the colors I use in projects. With spring and summer right around the corner, I am excited to see how these colors will apply to my work. It’s great to have an unconventional way to find inspiration for color simply by looking closely at my environment. Color palettes appear in nature, while shopping, at home, in a favorite painting, while traveling, through historical trends, or even in my case—outside the office door. It’s fascinating to simply take the time to reflect on what I’m seeing and how it makes me feel.

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Try thinking like a designer. Take a walk in your neighborhood…snap some photos of the surrounding environment with a particular focus on color palettes from houses, buildings, gardens, and trees. Notice how certain colors in nature can especially enhance the beauty and contrast of one another. Go shopping… retail stores are always up on the latest color trends in fashion and interior design. When travelling… note colors from other cultures, even just up the street in Chinatown or on a short weekend trip to another city.

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Looking for color might just inspire you when you buy your next outfit or pair of leggings, when you get a tattoo, decorate a room, choose colors for your wedding, or even when painting the exterior of your home. In turn, you could inspire someone simply by the colors you choose, as my Takoma neighbors have inspired me.

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3.17.08 A Brief Peek Inside “the farm”

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Design is all around us whether at home, at play, or adorning our workspace. Here at designfarm, we love to fill our shelves with inspirational items that we desire to display and find from our walks of life. From a bouquet of vintage button flowers to an endless collection of fruit stickers, these artifacts not only decorate our workspaces, but they define our unique “design” personalities. So come on in and check out a sampling of the delightful goodies we have laying around. Perhaps they will inspire you!

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You can always find unique treats on Jodi’s desk like this vase of assorted button flowers and the doll baby enjoying the sunshine one afternoon. Cute skirt, eh?

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And just a few steps away at Sarah’s station, you can gaze at a multitude of fruit stickers as well as a variety of antique souvenirs she has found along the way.

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And finally, arrival at my desk where you can find an assortment of toys, containers, and knick knacks. The “d” is from our retired logotype. I don’t know why, but I just love it!

In the end, it just goes to show that design is everywhere, including our workspaces. As designers, we love to collect items from our travels that catch our eye. Could be great lookin’ type, a funny toy, vintage photographs, or something as simple as buttons. That is a little peek of what we’re about and where we derive our creativity from. We’re collectors and designers… and we love to fill our workspaces with all that we find!

3.13.08 YOU Might Be a Designer Too

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I studied Fine Art in school and back then, when I told people I was an artist, they would look at me funny and say: “Oh wow, that’s great. I can’t draw a straight line.” As if that had anything to do with it.

As a professional designer, I get a similar reaction when confessing my occupation: “Oh wow, that’s cool. I’m not at all creative.” As if that has anything to with it.

Or does it? Creativity is generally the commodity most people think that we sell. You know, that je ne sais quois… the magic that we call forth when faced with any assignment from Foreign Policy to A Summer Concert Series at the National Museum of the American Indian. But certain buzz out there in the design community is challenging this potentially old-fashioned notion, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Witness the photo above; a breakfast served to me last weekend by my beau. He would be the first to tell you he is NOT a designer. A sensitive tough guy from North Jersey? Yep. A musician in skinny jeans and pointy shoes? Check. A bona fide jock and sports spectating fanatic? Oh yeah. A designer? No way in H-E-Double-Hockeysticks. Or baseball bats.

But. Uh… look at that breakfast! With a little PhotoShop work, this could be featured in Martha Stewart Living. Ok, perhaps quite a bit of PhotoShop work… but blame that on the yours truly, the photographer. Not the… um, designer. So let’s call breakfast Clue No. 1.

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Clue No. 2: The Collection. Yes, we designers collect stuff. In fact, whole blogs could be devoted to the collections of designers because we are obsessive, insane, manic, gotta-have-it-now collectors. I’m pretty sure ebay (go on, your boss isn’t looking, hit that link) was invented just for us… to make global collecting a click away. Pictured above, the BF’s collection of miniature buildings. He has over a hundred, I think. They are arranged to resemble amazing almagamated skylines. NYC. Miami Beach. Tolbuchin 4 689 241 . Paris. Etc. He loves the AIA bookstore. But… noooooo. He’s NOT a designer.

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Clue No. 3: Black and white photography. Beautifully framed, purposefully hung (although Peggy Lee should have been located on the other side of Duke and Ella so she faces them rather than outward, but nevermind. Details, details.)

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And finally, Clue No. 4: UniWatch. Aside from watching every one of the 2,756 baseball games played each season (he wishes!), the BF is an avid devotee of this site. Yes, it is about sports uniforms. To quote the tagline: The Obsessive Study of Athletics Aesthetics. Do you LOVE it? A site about color, typography, logos (and log creep), style, and other design issues as related to sports attire! From the site’s About page:

UniWatch is a media project that deconstructs the finer points of sports uniforms in obsessive and excruciating detail. It has nothing to do with fashion — it’s about documenting and maintaining the visual history of sports design, and about minutiae fetishism as its own reward. If that concept doesn’t make sense to you, no problem — Uni Watch definitely isn’t for everyone, and there have always been people who Don’t Get It™. But for those who understand the pleasures of detail obsession, programmatic classification systems, information overload, and sports history, you’ve come to the right place.

They’re NOT designers though. Nah, those UniWatchers are simply maintaining a visual history of design. Documenting, classifying, obsessing.

So, to return to my point, because I know I had one when I started. Oh yeah, creativity. I’m not so sure that’s what it’s really about my friends. Design is about hunting, gathering, uncovering, discovering, obsessing. And then analyzing, processing, organizing, solving, communicating, informing.

I’m not trying to devalue what we, as professional practitioners do/are/become… with our years of schooling, endless apprenticeship and hard work in the design trenches. Oh contraire! I’m just saying, let’s demystify this a little bit. Look at your own life. Or the life of a loved one. There are places that you connect the dots, bring stuff together, juxtapose the unusual, analyze, organize, create hierarchies. This is the practice of design.

But ok, it doesn’t really make you a designer. I was just kidding about that part. Another post for another time.

3.13.08 Shop with a Conscience

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As was our custom every other Friday, on a quiet day in December, the 3-person staff of designfarm came together for a brown-bag lunch meeting about design. The meetings addressed not the smaller issues of design: font choices and color palettes, even project budgets or concepts, but rather Design Issues with a capital D: Creativity, inspiration, meaningful work that is also socially responsible.

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That particular week, designfarm’s tagline, Uncommon Solutions for the Common Good, was the theme of the meeting. Where might we locate exciting new ways to fulfill on this promise?

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The answer came as we explored the internet, checking in with explosive DIY communities such as Etsy, where many of the shop-owners (including designfarm’s principal, Jodi Bloom) are professional designers by day and makers of other things by night. We visited the sites of other businesses where creativity ruled, where the boundaries were only as restrictive as the creator’s imaginations, and where people were carving out a reasonable living designing and making a contribution to society.

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The seed for MyRight2Write.com was planted at that Friday meeting, was watered daily and grew during subsequent meetings on the beanbag chairs and around the tables at designfarm.

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In just 3 short months, we went from a vague and rough concept, through lots of changes and reinventions, to the freshly launched web site you can visit today. The product–altered composition book journals–has been perfected, and let me tell you: these things are SWEET! Each is one of a kind, features recycled vintage wall paper, cool graphics (of course) and the best part: For each journal sold, designfarm donates an unadorned composition book to a public school in the DC Metro Area.

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We’ll post more stuff about MyRight2Write.com in the future. For more information immediately (especially if you are media), download our Press Release. Brilantni

3.13.08 JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER

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You know the old saying: You can’t judge a book by its cover.

PHOOEY. You sure can.

In this ongoing series of posts, we’re showing you six directions for a book cover design, including the one the client selected for publishing. We’ll include a short blurb on the project to help you contextualize and understand the problem and our solutions, and we’re asking you to pick out the one the client chose. If that’s not the one you also think is most effective, tell us which one you’d choose. In a few weeks, we’ll let you know the answer, as well as put out another exciting judging opportunity.

Want to think like a designer? Then yes, your visceral reaction counts… which cover do you simply like best? But while the winning solution must certainly look good (whatever that means), it must also be most effective in communicating content and (duh) selling books.

Here’s the info for the image pictured above:

Title: Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy

Subtitle: From Terrorism to Trade

Publisher: CQ Press An independent publisher advancing democracy by informing citizens.

Synopsis: This book is a contributed volume for the American foreign policy course, an upper level undergrad course at most universities. It’s very popular due to its current, real world cases and consistent structure and pedagogy across chapters. The book is divided into four sections: intervention policy, national security and defense policy, trade policy, and multilateral policy.