Bram Pitoyo, Etc., Interlude, Read Better

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

Make Your Blog Read Better, at Blog World Expo 2009 -- Transmedia and Social Change, at Henry Jenkins' JOUR499

This Friday, I will be speaking at Blog World Expo 2009 on How To Make Your Blog Read Better. You’ve probably seen an earlier version of this presentation at Portland’s Beer And Blog, presented a year and-four-days ago—the weekend after my bike was stolen. This one will view practical steps to better legibility and readability of website text in light of what developments have occurred this past year.

Next Wednesday, I will be lecturing at Henry Jenkins’ Transmedia Storytelling and Entertainment class at USC on the topic of Transmedia and Social Change. I’ll talk about principles we can learn from disparate fields of study—specifically: video game, user interface design and architecture—to craft, design and built spaces that encourage players, users and inhabitants to do the right and ethical thing.

I will let you know if any of these two events will be made available via a live streaming channel or video recording.

Good night.

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Bram Pitoyo, Interlude

Internalizing Sustainability In Design-Business Environments

The word ‘sustainability’ carries with it several inherent meanings. I would categorize these into three different schools. So when we talk about “sustainability,” we can mean:

  • The nature or environment
  • The next generation, long-term thinking
  • A system with self-supporting patterns

There is, I believe, no single correct definition for the word, because to think that one objective meaning can be extracted from one phrase is a fallacy. But if all of those are true, then what is the most helpful for us to use in this thinking?

1. The nature or environment

Idea

This is the school of thought that is perhaps the most clear in intent and execution, but also came early in the movement and are thus grossly overplayed. The idea is that that we must not destroy the environment that we lived in—where by “environment” we really mean “everything, not including humans.” It thinks of nature as resource, and human as consumers. And the only way to consume more is to conserve more. Thanks to its relative maturity and development (the relative maturity of the people who champions for this idea is another matter entirely,) the Nature/Environment school of thought is the one idea that we hear the most on public conversation and political/commercial rhetoric. Sure, the framework may be limited, but to many people, this school is the gateway drug to more awareness.

Action

Between planting a tree, biking to work, buying locally, turning off electricity and buying carbon offsets and wind power, thinking in this manner, taking measurable actions toward sustainability is simple.

2. The next generation, long term thinking

Idea

The tenet: This school no longer sees human and nature as two separate parts, but rather, as inseparable whole, eternally interdependent of each other. Human stewards. Nature provides. The hope: by taking humanity into account and thinking about problems more in terms of what the next generation will face and less of what we will face, actions could be taken to solve future’s problem today. The clearest example of this thought in action is in the philosophy of “designing for the future.”

Action

This is where things get a little more abstract. The action part of this school gets more into the process, rather than the implementation, of design. For instance: using biodegradable materials in design and modernizing manufacturing processes to achieve more efficiency and reduces waste in power. This school is where the thinking that being sustainable will not only benefit the environment, but also the business, come from. Or, in other words, the thinking that “what’s good for the environment is good for business.”

3. A system with self-supporting patterns

Idea

This school takes the next generation idea further, by positing that, not only is human and nature inseparable, but their relationship forms a complex symbiosis. Way too complex, in fact, than any one of us could ever hope to understand—and so we have to think about it as one system. Move one node, and the whole grid is impacted. Do it right, and everything will go better.

In other words, in a system with self-supporting patterns, we’ve changed the pattern too much into ones that inform the system to move in a direction that is not necessarily in our best interest.

In its purest form, this school rejects abstraction by saying that it only distances us away from the problem-at-hand, in favor of taking every single factor possible into consideration when thinking about things.

Action

The problem, they say, is that—to go back to our node-and-grid analogy above—we’ve moved both the wrong node and in the wrong direction too much that there are very few simple things we can do to repair it. Biking to work may save money, but is your bike made sustainably? Buying an organic food product may be better for the environment, but is all party involved in the process, from cradle to grave—from the land itself, then farmers, suppliers, businesses, advertising agencies to retail associates—compensated fairly, and worked in ways that not only takes the earth into account, but also works for the betterment of human development?

The most helpful definition

Though most complicated, abstract and impractical, the System–Patterns idea of sustainability fits our framework better. Here are some reasons why:

  • Avoiding separation of Human–Nature as entities (or indeed, even acknowledging it) means divorcing from a Cartesian point of view
  • Forgoing easy solutions with immediate effects (not because they’re necessarily bad, but because they’re most often oversimplified) means thinking of things as webs of relationship
  • Acknowledging complexity and integrating it in the framework means that we’ll more likely to make better solution, if only for the fact that we put more time to think and plan before we actually implement

Where we went wrong

The Western world have just embraced these thoughts. This is good, and is certainly better than where we had been in the past. But this also means that we, our culture, didn’t grow up with these ideas, and thus couldn’t necessarily internalize it. Sure, we may do the right thing, but only when we try.

Let’s imagine for a moment that any thing that we do won’t actually harm nature. Would we still do things that will harm nature? It’s a safe bet that the answer is probably no. Given a world with no resistance, we probably won’t do things that would work with the earth, instead of against it, by natural tendency.

And this, the natural tendencies both manifested through and taught by culture, is where we went wrong.

Is there hope?

Yes. Eastern and other indigenous cultures developed and grew up with the notion of ecology. It’s just that we sometimes mistook it for unsophistication or tried to fit it into our cultural frameworks (as we naturally behave.)

For example: do you know that the Yin–Yang model does not imply a separation of Yin and Yang (much like how we separate light and dark, male and female, hot and cold, and so on), but rather, a dynamic interplay between the two? For instance, rather than implying that “absolute goodness” is better than “absolute evilness,” the Yin–Yang model explicitly stated that both good and evil must exist in order for the ideal to be achieved. And “perfect balance,” far from being a notion where everything is static and unchanged, instead imply a fluid, ever progressing movement where the two continually interact with each other.

I think that we should learn from them, and maybe start to adopt their way of living and thinking into our culture and business.

Design Business Environment: Where Sustainability Fits In

Today, we know that what’s good for the environment isn’t always good for business. It’s good for the right kind of business and not the others. A lot of businesses today realized that by touting themselves as being and acting sustainable, consumers are willing to pay a premium, thus creating higher profits.

This isn’t wrong, but if we are to take the System–Patterns principles and apply it here, it’ll be inadequate. These businesses are considering sustainability as a competitive advantage by rethinking design processes, distribution management, marketing efforts and other steps in the product lifecycle. But what if they consider ecology a core foundation, not just an added value? And what if they reinvent business (and profit) models, not just the processes?

Remember the two phrases often uttered in talks about new businesses?

  1. Good design makes good business
  2. Good environmental practice makes good business

I propose we change this into something along the lines of:
Good environmental principles helps make good design better, which in turn helps make good business.

What you can do today

Start with the environment as a core foundation. Don’t just “duct tape” it into your business, and don’t worry about taking every little detail into account at the micro-level either. If ecology informs and guides every one of your business element, you don’t even need to take it into account anymore. It’ll be second nature to how you operate, design and make profits. And, if you ask me, doing things out of nature is always easier.

And if we can make the process easier to more people, maybe we can also move toward a regional design business environment where sustainability is not just practiced, but internalized.

The future: is “sustainable design” the right term for the job?

If words influence the way we think, then we should start using terminologies that align with the way we want to be. In light of this discussion, “sustainable design” may be inappropriate. Consider the fact that the processes of learning, problem solving and creating, all parts of this whole we call “design,” is an inherently sustainable process. Better yet if it takes the principles discussed above into account.

But by taking the word “sustainable” and stick it next to “design,” we have created a separation between “sustainable design” and “non-sustainable design.” It’s true that the former is better than the latter. But design should not be thought of this way. “Sustainability” in the future, should be a function of “design” rather than an added feature. It’s like saying that a keyboard should be able to input alphabet characters, because it is made to do so.

Therefore, it should be just enough to, in the future, say “design” and expect “sustainability” to already be integrated fully into it.

Your job is to try these principles today.

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Bram Pitoyo, Portland Creative/Tech Event Review

Michael Curry at Cre8Con: An Event Review (Part 2 of 8)

Michael Curry

Michael Curry Design

This morning, I want to talk about basic tenets on creativity and how I learned to work.

As a lone artist, sitting alone with a painting, having one yearly show somewhere. I spent the first 12 year of my career doing this. Until people found out that my work in the gallery consists of making things move. It was “theatrical.” So they asked me to put some of these sculptures on stage.

What I found there was fascinating, because it was the first time I collaborated with other artist.

I went into this art with an Oregon blue-collar worker background. And I studied a run-off-the-mill artistic aptitude, then took it further. Dealing with the basics was the key to my success. In fact, the things I do now resembles much of what I learned in basic painting. I regret to say that a lot of newer designers don’t have a strong skills in basics.

I sort of bank internationally on the idea that I live in Portland, Oregon. There’s a perception that this area is full of creativity and a pioneering spirit. The perception that details and skills matter. The perception of a holistic and altruistic attitude about art. People outside the area even talked to me and said that they love the idea that people are sitting out there in Oregon and thinking about our projects all the time.

In Europe and Asia, there’s a lot of disdain for a lot of things American, but the design world hasn’t been touched by this. At least in my field, US has an unbelievable reputation abroad as being a maverick who stands up and say “this is not good.” They are aware that the innovation, love of risk and lack of pride and ego ego that we have that makes us able to break out of the norm or tradition. Maybe we exude confidence?

You have to learn to take the spark and turn it into practice. This is the difference between a creative thought and a creative practice. Thought is a moment. It’s about keeping that creative spark hot and taking it further.

All creatives have ADD. ADD allows you to bounce back and forth between the brains. It’s almost as if you have a file system and a pile system.

How to get random creative thoughts. This is an important thing to understand. It can come naturally, or you can get it from a subject.

But here’s the first you don’t do: you don’t reference anything else for a while.

My big beef is this: once you get an idea, you immediately assemble a pile of research and picture. My idea is to take what I call “the golden minute.” You have to give yourself at least 5 minute gestating this into your own gut before you choose to go forward or look at anything else.

This spark of an idea is going to be an intuitive blast. For me, there is no such thing as “random” in an artist’s mind. Because everything is a summation of nuances in her mind from her lifetime.

A hunch should be taken seriously. It’s like an archeological dig. Write it down. Keep it going. Don’t start researching. It doesn’t come in a flash. It comes in a simple thought. A color. A music. The type of fabric that a story exudes. This sort of indirect textures and nuances that came from that will add up to form something really powerful.

Also, don’t get others to do anything for you. Stretch yourself, then do it with others. People I work with who are very successful are pre-computer. There has been times that I’ve done no research before I come up with something, and somebody tells me “somebody else has already done it”—but only very rarely. This is what separates the good from the bad. I can almost tell you that those who took the chance and risk succeed, and one that relies on focus group fails.

However, you must also manage your risk. I do safe Disney commercial project. But along my schedule, I do things that I don’t understand, that I won’t make any money for. Introduce an adventurous avenue or sub-area of your mind that complements your more banal area. Later in my career, I get to design most of what I built. My company sometimes wonder: why are you taking this project if we’re not making any money off of it?

This is why I’m drunk with theater: I got to make sculpture, then give it to an artist who not only puts it on, but also makes it into something else—and my audience pays to be there!

I’ve asked architects and graphic designers to think more of their works as a characters. Theater always seem like a character to me. Think of spaces as living and breathing. We think of characters all the time. Designers’ ways of thinking should be no different.

[Video: “Serious Play”]

So the real question is: how do I be original and not derivative?

  1. Give yourself first blush at an idea before you look for advice.
  2. This ADD thing, you have to learn to work with them. You foster it, because there’s no such things as a bad idea. Believe in the resolution of random idea that, if being thought as minor, might be a missed point.
  3. I apply strange factors to idea. I call them “filters.” Freeze your idea. What does it look like frozen? What does it look like when it melts? Also, walk around it. A lot of really creative people walk around.

Understand that, even though you’re learning about creativity, you’re never going to learn it in your lifetime. So refine what you already got.

There is a known factor for creativity in Portland, and we need to use that. We can make our city a more commanding presence in the art scene. So do your part. Thank you.

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Etc., Links

Sunday Evening

This weekend has been weird.

Friday was awesome a gorgeous day at the mountain learning how to snowboard. The sun was gorgeous; I ended up with a pretty good sunburn as well. The next morning I felt as though I had been run over by the car a few times, but all is good.

Today there was some interesting market research for a really exciting client. Every time we go to do some work there is always a million ideas that come up in conversation.

Tonight is homework and application time; also really exciting because of the opportunities available.

If anyone is looking for inspiration on Design and the Design Process check out Watches Tell More Than Time by Del Coates. He explains the concept of Concinnity as related to design and it really hit home for me. I don’t want to try and explain it because he does an excellent job in the first chapter of his book. I would recommend reading it because so far, I agree with everything he has stated about design.

Now it is back to homework. Enjoy this post and i hope it brings some new inspiration about design in general.

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