Craftmanship in the age of industry

However much skill [the ordinary workman] may have in his fingers and conscientiousness in his mind, he can no longer be regarded as an artist, because his skill is not that of a man making things.

From an interview with Eric Gill, creator of Gill Sans (among others), published in the April 2009 MyFonts newsletter:

The chief and most monstrous characteristic of our time is that the methods of manufacture which we employ and of which we are proud are such to make it impossible for the ordinary workman to be an artist, that is to say a man responsible not merely for doing what he is told but responsible also for the intellectual quality of what his deeds effect. The ordinary workman has been reduced to the level of a mere tool used by someone else. However much skill he may have in his fingers and conscientiousness in his mind, he can no longer be regarded as an artist, because his skill is not that of a man making things. He is simply a tool used by a designer and the designer is alone the artist.

Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way We Make Things

Without exaggerating, I can say that this is probably the most important book I’ve read in a long time. And that’s not for lack of “important” books on my bookshelf. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things is important because it introduces the reader to an entirely novel way of thinking about design, the relationship between the economy and the environment, and industrial production.

the book underwater and doing fine
Made from "plastic resins and inorganic fillers," the book itself is durable and, as the picture from a recent Algonquin camping trip shows, waterproof

Rather than a general overview of the book or William McDonough‘s architecture firm or the amazing work it has done with everyone from Ford to the Chinese government, I’d rather talk about some of the conceptual distinctions that authors McDonough and Michael Braungart introduce.

Continue reading “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way We Make Things”

Leveraging the shape of information

Came across a good presentation from 2004 by Victor Lombardi, called Incorporating Navigation Research into Design Method (PDF) that discusses (among other things) the “native shape” of information, and how to leverage it in design.

Three images, drawn from research by Elaine Toms (citation in PDF above, all images taken from PDF above) comparing the “recognizability” of three different version of the same document, which in this case is a Chinese restaurant menu. The first two versions were recognized most often by study participants

two presentations of Chinese restaurant menu items, one with original formatting
two presentations of Chinese restaurant menu items, one with original formatting

However, the third, while recognized less often, was recognized twice as fast by participants.

third presentation of menu content, using original formatting but with non-meaningful information
third presentation of menu content, using original formatting but with non-meaningful information

In another experiment by Toms that Lombardi touches on, content from one genre (e.g. content from a menu genre) was formatted in a fashion typical for a different genre (in Lombardi’s example, as glossary entries).

When participants were asked to identify the genre they selected the genre of the format, not the content. So in this case they would have said this is a page from a glossary. This again reinforces the impact that form has on our understanding of a document.

restaurant menu content formatted as glossary entries
restaurant menu content formatted as glossary entries

The take-away for web design is that when the information you’re presenting has a “native shape” — one that users will be familiar from the real world — don’t overlook it as a powerful and intuitive way of conveying meaning.