Archive for February, 2006

Resources: Sustainable – Retail

Sunday, February 26th, 2006

I read an article in the New York Times entitled Earth-Friendly Materials Go Mainstream by Ernest Beck (January 5, 2006, page D8. You have to log in to read this article, unfortunately). The author features retail establishments that sell environmentally-friendly building materials and discusses the trend toward sustainable do-it-yourself retail products.

Here is a list, which I’ll add to as I find things, of companies that sell sustainable products to the public. These companies don’t all have on-line sales, but they are interesting because they contain a great deal of information on sustainability in general, list manufacturers of green products, provide detailed descriptions of specific materials, and often give prices. That these sites are appearing shows that environmentally-friendly building materials may be going more mainstream.

  • Eco Depot, a source for environmental and green building products.
  • Environmental Building Supplies focuses on “natural and renewable materials, like FSC-certified wood products, wool carpets, cork and natural paints.”
  • Environmental Construction Outfitters specializes in “environmentally responsible building products and systems.”
  • The Green Fusion Design Center is a “retail store, gallery and education center featuring green building materials and natural home furnishings, a book store, and a marketing galley.”
  • Greenmaker is “a wholesale and retail supplier of smart, efficient, and healthy building materials for commercial, residential, and mixed-use projects.”

I’m seeing more “green” materials in mainstream stores as well, and this is a good trend. Although the term “green” is imprecisely defined and overused as an advertising ploy, it does serve to educate the public on the issue of sustainability – an important step in turning the tide toward a more sustainable economy. It is my hope that all of us will do what we can to support sustainable efforts, even if the steps are small and the “greenness” of the product isn’t perfect.

Trait drawings

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

A day or so ago, I wrote about my difficulties translating between verbal and visual and my current Furniture Design studio exercise of turning six personal traits into drawings. [Verbal::visual, Feb. 21, 2006]

Well, I did sit down to draw and after about 50 sketches, this exercise began to make some sense. Here are the final six drawings. The drawings represent Trapped, Tactile, Strong, Driven, Flexible, and Inquisitive.

This trait list was developed from my original list of 10 traits that I felt described me, added to and changed by my classmates and teacher.

The next step is to take one of these drawings and develop a chair from it. So far, so good. This is getting to be fun.


Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Words are not a problem for me. I’m a decent writer. Drawing is not a problem either. I’m good enough at that. But the connection between words and drawings eludes me. Other people can look at a sketch and associate the sketch with words. A sketch of a circle might suggest “completeness,” say. But when I look at a sketch of a circle I see a circle. I understand its circle-ness, but I can’t translate the circle I see into the word “completeness” without engaging in a process not unlike looking up something in the dictionary. I can parse it out after some thought, but the association is not easy.

What I’m discovering, however, is that as a designer, I need to develop the mental agility to jump easily and intuitively between what is verbal and what is visual. Verbal and visual must become somehow joined or at least enjoy a seemless relationship.

I remember my first design studio. The professor asked us to depict four adjectives on four concept boards using magazine cutouts. I picked my adjectives and collected a nice pile of magazines, sharp scissors, and some glue. Then I hit a wall – I didn’t have a clue how to translate my adjectives into a collage of pictures. I struggled through the concept boards without a great deal of satisfaction.

Turns out, we had to pick one of these collages and, from it, derive a written statement to use as the concept for our term project, the re-design of two condominium units into a single condominium/studio. I staggered. This was too many layers of translation for me – from words to images back to words and then into images again. But I persevered and ended up liking my project. Surprisingly, it actually did relate to the adjective-derived concept board, so I clearly learned something. (Click here to see the process book for that project, Green’s Condominium, or here to see the concept board, sketches and drawings in loose form.)

My current studio, Furniture Design, is progressing along a similar, but perhaps more personal path. After doing a series of 3D sketches associated with a given list of emotions (see my 3D sketches here), we were asked to create a list of 10 words that described us – a list of personal traits. We worked in teams to refine these words, eventually reducing our list to 6 words. Now we are charged with creating a series of 3″ x 3″ sketches that express these traits. These drawings will become the basis for our designs for a chair. I am again having to translate from words to drawings and, as before, it makes me apprehensive.

I still have no clue as to how to draw an emotion or a trait, but I’m going to get out my pencils and paper and start drawing. Something will develop that may or may not actually evoke the trait, but it will be interesting nevertheless and may, I hope, make for a decent chair design by the end of this two week exercise.


Wednesday, February 15th, 2006

Creative Generalist, one of my favorite blogs, had a post that caught my eye. Entitled Versatilists, the author discusses a book by Thomas Friedman called The World is Flat in which Friedman offers up the term “versatilist” to describe people who are “able to apply a depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences” (quote from the Creative Generalist). Here’s an excerpt that the Creative Generalist took from the book:

Specialists generally have deep skills and narrow scope, giving them expertise that is recognized by peers but seldom valued outside their immediate domain. … Generalists have broad scope and shallow skills, enabling them to respond or act reasonably quickly but often without gaining or demonstrating the confidence of their partners or customers. Versatilists, in contrast, apply depth of skill to a progressively widening scope of situations and experiences, gaining new competencies, building relationships, and assuming new roles.

Although I haven’t read Friedman’s book, the idea of a versatilist intrigues me. As I’ve discussed in a previous post, I’m interested in how the design market perceives generalists vs. how they view specialists. My first impression is that large design firms prefer specialists and that generalists are more valued in smaller firms. But now here’s another category that seems to bridge both worlds. Would a designer with generalist tendencies be able to find happiness in a large firm as a versatilist – specializing, yes, because that’s what the market may require, but having freedom to learn beyond one narrow area and apply skills to a number of specialties?

The Creative Generalist goes on to question the concept’s sustainability in the real world, however, arguing that the way of contemporary business requires employees to be either generalists or specialists. I’m not sure I agree. It strikes me that while having a staff of specialists ensures that project teams have deep knowledge, it’s not a bad thing to have a few talented people around who can lend a larger perspective to a project and be useful if project needs don’t neatly fit into the available specialists’ areas of expertise, specialists get sick or need extra personpower to meet a deadline, or some other unexpected gap arises.

Being a versatilist could be a decent solution for generalist pegs who are being forced into specialist holes. Seeking out versatilists for staff postions could be a wise investment for large firms.

A&D community – what’s the reality here?


Saturday, February 11th, 2006

Recently I participated in Student Mentoring Week, sponsored by the IIDA. This program pairs design students with working designers for a day of job-shadowing. The designer-mentors schedule activities for the students to provide real life experiences in the design field. The program is terrific because it gives students a quick look at life beyond the classroom.

Life on the job is, of course, very different from the classroom. Although we learn a great deal in our design programs, we don’t learn how to fulfill the requirements of a design job. This phenomenon isn’t just in design. Any new job in a new field requires one to start from scratch. Mentoring Week gives us a glimpse of what we have to look forward to and it’s valuable in putting things in perspective, letting us get to know the range of possibilities, and giving us some things to think about.

But the term “mentor” has always brought up a lot of questions in my mind. I’ve heard time and again that students and new employees should have a mentor. The promise is that the mentor will provide valuable advice, guidance, and assistance in getting a job or an advancement. But I’ve never heard a satisfactory explanation of how one actually gets a mentor. Do we simply wait until, miraculously, someday, a wise person approaches us and offers to be our mentor? The chance of that happening seems rather remote. On the other hand, do we approach an experienced (and undoubtedly very busy) person and point-blank ask her or him to be our mentor? That seems far too brash. The answer must be somewhere in between, so the question is: what does a student or an inexperienced employee do if he or she would like a mentor, but doesn’t have one?

Maybe I’m reading too much in to the definition of mentor. Maybe a mentor is not a person who takes you under her or his wing, but rather a person who simply likes you and is willing to chat with you once in a while, or someone who thinks your work is good and wouldn’t hesitate to say so if anyone happened to ask. I don’t think I’ve ever had a mentor, but perhaps I have and just didn’t recognize it.

At any rate, the idea is a good one. My Mentoring Week experience convinces me that we students (and new designers) need a lot of guidance. We need people who are willing to take the time, as the designers who participate in the IIDA’s program so graciously do, to show us the ropes and to help us understand that there is much we need to know but don’t learn in school. My hope is that experienced designers assume this responsibility and take a moment to mentor a less-experienced person.

Thanks to the IIDA for sponsoring this valuable opportunity for students.

Experimentation – 3D Sketching II

Wednesday, February 8th, 2006

The 3D sketching exercises continue in my design class and it’s getting to be more fun. Our first assignment was limited to linear shapes; our second assignment allowed us to use linear shapes and curvilinear shapes such as spheres, cones, ovoids, and cylinders. To see my 3D sketches, click here.

I feel as if this exercise is loosening up my hand, which is the point. It’s easy to be stiff in our design attempts. Not only are we unsure of our efforts, but we are all under such time pressure with classwork, jobs, and families that spending time just experimenting is not usually on the radar. When time is limited, everything has to count – if I need seven compositions and I have time for seven, each one has to be safely acceptable. Trying shapes and arrangements I’ve never used yields compositions that don’t work and that takes time. But the failures give us practice and teach us what doesn’t work, and that improves our skills.

The same goes for 2D drawing. Teachers say to sketch, sketch, sketch, but who has time? The teachers are right, however. In Modern Architecture class last semester, we were asked to do 12 sketches of modern buildings. (Click here to see my sketches.) I really noticed a difference in my abilities from the first sketch to the last. As I experimented and practiced, my control over my pencil grew better, my eye for proportion improved, my speed increased, and my drawings loosened up and took on more life. Twelve sketches made a difference – what if I had had time to do 50?

So, experimentation and practice yield better results, more creativity, and more competence in the classrooom. I’d argue the same holds true in the job context. If design jobs are too over-booked to allow for experimentation and the inevitable failures that attend it, then our creativity and our ability to be terrific designers is bound to be compromised.

Practice makes perfect and experimentation is key to creativity, but how can we find the time in our over-scheduled lives? How do designers and firms balance the very real business need to produce a volume of work on time and under budget with the vital need to allow time for experimentation? Somehow, it has to be done.

Exp. req.

Monday, February 6th, 2006

I’m glancing through the Post‘s want ads just to see what’s there. There seem to be a few more listings in the “architecture” section than usual. Oh, good. I look closer, with interest, but I bump up against those two short words that stop me every time: “exp. req.”

I’m still a design student and because of time constraints and finances I haven’t really started looking for work in the design field, though I have been paying some attention. I hear that business is booming and “everyone’s hiring,” but all the job opportunities I see on the firms’ websites, on internet job listings, or in the paper require at least two years of experience. Understandable – it’s expensive to train a new person – but it’s discouraging nonetheless and elicits a lot of questions in my mind.

Is it really a Catch-22 where no-one gets hired without experience but no-one can get experience because they can’t get hired? Does it mean right-out-of-school designers have to put in some time in a non-design job in the design industry to get some sort of, well, semi-experience? Otherwise, how do young designers get started? And then, how do older career-changers approach the market? Do our previous job and life experiences count for anything?

You’d think at my age I’d have figured this out, but I feel like a complete novice when it comes to design job hunting. I’m hoping, when the time comes, I’ll figure out some way to market what I do know and, somehow, get around that “exp. req.” hurdle.

Four things (just for fun)

Sunday, February 5th, 2006

This blog, so far, has been too serious. Recently, surfing around in my architecture-related links, I found about three sites that have this “Four Things” chain-letter-type post going (I first saw it on A Daily Dose of Architecture). Lists are kind of my thing – they help me remember stuff- and this blog is about letting people know who I am, and why not do something more fun? So here goes with my version of the list:

Four jobs I’ve had (that are not on my resume):

  1. Butcher in British Columbia
  2. Fish and chips fry-cook at the beach
  3. Apple packer in Missouri
  4. Printing press and package-tying machine operator at Stanford

Four films I watch repeatedly (well, maybe not repeatedly, but that I wouldn’t mind watching again anyway):

  1. Napoleon Dynamite
  2. Enchanted April
  3. Rat Race
  4. Ocean’s Eleven

Four places I’ve lived:

  1. Sandpoint, Idaho
  2. Austin, Texas
  3. Half Moon Bay, California
  4. Pago Pago, American Samoa

Four TV shows I like:

  1. The Daily Show
  2. Seinfeld
  3. History stuff
  4. Nature stuff

Four places I’ve been on holiday:

  1. Deer Valley YMCA Camp, PA
  2. Paris
  3. Kauai
  4. Kejimkujik

Four of my favorite dishes:

  1. Anything with cheese or cream (oh, my waistline)
  2. Shawarma
  3. Spinach
  4. Roast Chicken with Garlic, Rosemary and Lemon

Four websites I visit (almost) daily:

  1. Google
  2. Wikipedia
  3. My own blog
  4. Archinect

Four places I’d rather be right now:

  1. Somewhere tropical
  2. On my bike
  3. In my garden
  4. Dancing

December ‘05 & January ‘06 index

Wednesday, February 1st, 2006

I’ve been blogging for about a month and a half now. Here is a list of my posts for December and January – kind of an index.