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“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” ― William Morris

Inspiration – Paul Klee at The Tate Modern

Posted: January 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Graphic Design, Inspiration, Interaction Design | Tags: , | No Comments »

I love the Tate Modern. It’s handy for where I live and work, the annual membership is very reasonable and the members cafe at the top has great views with a decent cappuccino (though perhaps not enough power sockets for long work sessions).

What I love most about having a Tate Membership is that I get to see great shows like Paul Klee over and over again. It’s like having an all you can eat art buffet, though whereas with free chicken wings you sometimes have to stop eating before you explode, great art can be enjoyed over and over again with no ill effects*.

The current Paul Klee exhibition (and indeed to a lesser degree the Mira Schendel) fall into this category of exhibitions that keep on giving. Klee’s canvases are, for the large part, very small, detailed and intricate with amazing colour interactions. His methodology, born out of the Bauhaus, is visible through the huge selection of paintings in the show. Layers of fine watercolour, sometimes solid, sometimes dashed onto the thick card he favoured, combine to create colourscapes that almost shimmer and move as you look at them. Where pencil and line are used, they are so fine as to be almost indiscernible from more than a few feet away. The detail hidden in each picture means you have to come close and almost touch the canvas to see it all. Thankfully with so many works on display you can normally get some quality time with pictures that draw you in closed.

Personally I find the timing of this exhibition to be extremely appropriate with the recent release of iOS 7. The latest Apple mobile OS update thrives on translucency and subtle colour graduations that interact together as they overlay, creating effects that draw us into the interface and make it feel more alive. My initial reaction to the new ‘flat’ iOS layout was that it was very much a clone of Android and Windows Phone. Having used it for a while it is the subtlety of interaction and play that really separates it from its brethren. You can really feel the work that went into the animations, transitions and colours – even if they are sometimes a bit too white and bright for my tastes. Looking at Klee’s watercolours you have the sense that Apple designers may have all been to a Klee exhibition at some point. Or that we should at least get some inspiration from this master’s work to create new apps that feel alive and engaging rather than just flattened. Similarly the Schendel exhibition, with her layers of perspex, rice paper and other materials suspended in mid-air reminded me of the interface depth that Jony Ive refers to in his presentations on the new iOS.

Whatever you take from this the main message is simple – great art is inspirational, and the Klee show is truly great art. So head down before the show ends on 9th March 2014.

* Disclaimer: This is only my opinion. If you have ill effects from overdosing on art then perhaps consider not eating so many paintings. Consult your nearest art professional for formal advice.


Book Review – 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

Posted: January 1st, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Bookshelf, Inspiration, Interaction Design | Tags: , | No Comments »

101-things-i-learned-in-architecture-school
I picked up ‘101 Things I Learned in Architecture School‘ at the Tate Modern the other day and it felt so good in my hand that it easily found it’s way to the cash register. To me that’s the mark of a good product, when you hold something and don’t want to let it go, a tactile feature that many book manufacturers now use to remind us why the all-powerful Kindle is not the only way to read. Of course you can’t, as they say, judge a book by it’s wonderfully thick card cover, but thankfully this little gem of a read more than matched up to that initial feeling.

Written for students of architecture, the book collates 101 little factoids and observations drawn from a lifetime of teaching and practicing architecture. Each double faced page has a simple, clear sketch, coupled with trim, concise and informative text to describe the point being made. It’s the sort of book you can pick up when you have a few minutes, dip into, read a tip then put down – though likely you’ll find yourself engrossed for longer than you intend.

Although I’m not an architect, the insights into the understanding of human behaviour, visual communication and spatial planning are fascinating and resonate with many aspects of digital product and service design. Architectural tips such as designing a small entrance way that leads into a larger space to create a sense of awe, made me contemplate how that might equate to the user flow through an app or site. Or recognising how the empty spaces between buildings vary in importance from dense urban sites to suburban sprawl and the effect that has on the places that people gather.

At some point we can only hope that someone, perhaps you good reader, creates such an engaging text that directly relates to digital products. In the meantime this is a great source of inspiration.


Nature Inspired Design

Posted: April 21st, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Inspiration | Tags: , | No Comments »

The National Geographic has a fascinating article on how scientists and engineers took inspiration from nature for a swathe of inventions, new and old. Combined with some beautiful photography, the inventions covered range from glare-free screens, through cars with less drag to the classic velcro. It’s a fascinating read, and reminds us how inspirational the world can be.