Toward Artisanal Design

I was talking with Bryan Leister this past weekend about what design is and the challenges of design in the future. He described it as selling artisanal tomatoes. The challenge for designers in our time is to convince the general public that heirloom tomatoes are better than hothouse tomatoes. This, he said, is a design problem. I think he’s right.

I think of this as a movement toward artisanal design; it’s against the grain, and a challenge to show that the atypical is preferable to the typical. But design can and should support the creation of a world where the context of use and the personality of the creator are as important as the shape itself.

Neo Rauch

I’m looking forward to tomorrow evening; Neo Rauch will be speaking at the Denver Art Museum. Some of the most engaging and provocative work of the last generation. More of his work at David Zwirner Gallery.

Artists on Art: Neo Rauch
Thursday, September 20, 6:30 pm

Artists on Art: From Any Angle Logan Lectures 2007 features lectures by ten contemporary artists. In September, we welcome artist Neo Rauch, who createa unsettling disjunctions of space and time in his work.

Lecture starts at 6:30 pm; doors open at 5:30 pm. For more information, visit

The Middle Path to (Design) Wisdom

“Everything is shit. The word art must be redefined. This is the age where everyone creates.”
–Patti Smith

“The blogosphere is itself a commodification of authenticity”
–Andrew Keen

Clay Shirky posted some thoughts about humility and arrogance in design on A Brief Message this morning. I’ve been considering some similar ideas over the past few months, as have many others, I’m sure. It’s almost impossible to avoid the topic in the design community, with all the discussion of crowdsourcing and folksonomies and metadesign and web 2.0 and…

I appreciate Clay’s thoughts on the ugliness of myspace (true) and the arrogance of apple (also true). As a design strategist working with interaction and innovation, I spend a inordinate amount of my time considering ways to bridge the gap between the worlds of user-generated and expert contribution; sometimes the distance feels too great to fathom.

There was even something of a internet dustup earlier this year when Andrew Keen published his book “The Cult of the Amateur”. Crowdsourcing? But what about virtuosity? You think you’re an auteur? But what about youtube? What do you say, Clay? Andrew, any comments for the crowdsourcing crowd?

Okay, this is the world we live in, and it’s our challenge to find a way to make these work together. So here’s what I would like to do; I propose setting up a tag-team cage match between the avatars of the leaders of different factions of the media world. Maybe we could do it in second life.

In the red trunks, Mark Cuban, telling stories of the long tail ghetto. You want to get paid for that? Well, unless you own the Dallas Mavericks you’re going to need OPM (other people’s money).

In the blue trunks, it’s Jimmy Wales going all wikia on everything. The future is open source. Hey, everyone is an expert in something, right?

Jimmy gets in a couple of virtual smackdowns, and Cuban tags off to the talented single moniker duo brangelina. Big Hollywood talent and money in the ring, what are the little guys going to do?

Wales escapes to his corner and is replaced in the ring by Lonelygirl15, and she gets additional support from Ask-a-Ninja. Wow, this is going to be some match. Who will be standing at the end of the day?

In truth, the process and results of design are changing. Processes tend to be more collaborative and distributed than in the past; this is true both when working with expert teams and with the folks creating their own folksonomies. In some cases, we’re building an iterative framework to allow the design to define itself over time. In other cases, we start with a expert vision, and refine and revise as we move forward.

There is still a long way to go. New paradigms are being developed; we are still exploring technologies and have yet to really understand the potential for stories in this newly connected environment. We’re still watching the Lumiere brothers fly to the moon, and we haven’t had our Eisenstein show us the potential of cinematic montage.

There is room for both the expert and the amateur in the world of design. Wisdom will come from knowing which approach is appropriate and when.

Mile High Stories: The Italians of Denver

Mile High Stories is a project I’ve been working on with Daniel Weinshenker and Tim Roessler for a few years now. I just updated the Mile High Stories site, with a new wordpress format and youtube videos.

The new site includes ten new stories that were created for the “Italians of Denver” exhibit at the Colorado History Museum. The one I’m including here is one I worked on with Jess Girardi called “The Old Trombone”. Jess is a great guy who has been playing and teaching music in the Denver area for fifty years.

If you are interested in the experience of Italian-Americans, check out the Italians of Denver archive. And, we’re always looking for other stories of and by people in the Denver area. If you’ve got any suggestions definitely let me know.

Substance: Diverse Practices from the Periphery

One of the most compelling exhibits of the year will be taking place this fall at the Center for Visual Art in Denver. Curated by Lisa Abendroth of Metropolitan State College of Denver, the show brings together a broad range of innovative designs focused on improving the quality of everyday life.

Lisa has put the focus of the exhibit on three parts of the “design story”; cause, method, and impact. By understanding the need, using a people-centered approach, and developing solutions that are appropriate, efficient, and elegant, the designers included in this exhibit have created solutions that show the value of design thinking in real-world situations.

Kicking off the exhibition will be a presentation by Kenneth Jewell of Continuum speaking about their work on Nicholas Negroponte and the MIT Media Lab’s “One Laptop per Child” project (aka the $100 laptop).

SUBSTANCE: Diverse Practices from the Periphery
September 6 – November 9, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007
6 – 7 pm: Lecture: One Laptop per Child – Kenneth Jewell, Continuum (Boston, Milan, Seoul)
7 – 9 pm: Opening Reception

Thursday, October 11, 2007
6 pm: Lecture: Patricia Moore, MooreDesign Associates (Phoenix, AZ) and Bryan Bell, Design Corps (Raleigh, NC)

Friday, October 12, 2007
8:30 – 10 pm: Gala Reception in conjunction with the AIGA NEXT national design conference

More information is available on the CVA website at