Archive for Interactive / Web

On Words

Is all this really necessary? For everyone? All the time? Microsoft Word 2003 window, new document; shown approx. 50% actual size

For something with such a simple purpose, and an even simpler name, Microsoft Word sure does seem complicated. From the moment a user opens a new document until they finish—a three-word note or a three-thousand page novel—they are surrounded by an acerbic cadre of mismatched toolbars, icons and menu options. The vast majority of these are never used. Many of these never should be used. Most people using Word don’t need to do complex math equations or manage mail-merge settings, they don’t need hundreds of oddly-colored warped lettering options and they don’t need to create a web page; they need to write a paper.

As part of a cooperative workshop one of the Visual Communication Design professors at the University of Washington set up with one of Microsoft’s design leaders, the few of us who chose to participate were asked, “What should Word be like?”

DPJ Word interface mockup, new document; 1024 x 768px + / 2004

Writing often requires intense focus. The primary goal of my prototype was to provide the least distracting, most intuitive and flexible interface for paper writing, editing and reading, while integrating simpler navigation of documents large and small… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Interactive / Web


What Happenned?!!

Election 2000 introductory screen; Flash interactive interface; 1024 x 768px. / 2004

All U.S. citizens are deeply affected—for better or worse—by the president in office. However, very few people know the intricacies of the presidential election process. This is not surprising, as it is super freakin’ complicated. The problem is that most are too jaded to care, even when their country is on the line.

For Interaction Design, one of the Senior year courses in the University of Washington Visual Communication Design program, we were given the task to explain the unexplainable to your average ignorant know-it-all who doesn’t want to be explained to. The aim of this project was to create an interactive interface to help inform the average high-school or university student about the United States presidential election process. As with several classes before, the project was divided into two distinct phases: In the first, we worked in groups to research the process and the various forces involved and brainstormed different interpretations thereof. In the second phase, we set off individually to define and create interactive Flash-based demonstrations of our particular concepts.

I had the good fortune of having three brilliant brains with whom to storm in phase one: Stephanie Cooper, Luke Jung and Tim Turner. As part of our comprehensive research process, we developed various interpretations of how the presidential election could be understood. We first set out to describe the components, both legal and otherwise influential…
[roll over images to enlarge]

U.S. presidential election variables, influential and legal; digital output; 11 x 8.5in. / 2004

We then divided the country (as elections do so well) to figure out how the importance of different factors were distributed geographically… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Copy / Writing, Information / Mapping, Interactive / Web, Naming / Words


Working with Nature

National Park Service Research Opportunities promotional brochure; front cover; 5 x 8.5in.; accordion fold / 2003

Because I am into competitive cycling and ride outside all the time, many people assume that I am one with nature, which is actually pretty far from the truth. It’s not that I dislike the great outdoors, but the thought of being in the woods doesn’t give me any kind of rush. However, there’s a big difference between knowing nature is there and being on a mountain. There are some points of our environment that are undeniably awesome, and I got to experience many firsthand in a project for the National Park Service.

Our design team at the Design + Innovation Lab, including myself, Jim Nesbitt and Jason Tselentis, and directed by Doug Wadden, worked with The National Park Service to create an informational brochure and comprehensive web reference for their collaborative research program, dubbed simply “Research Opportunities.” This program invites public, private and academic researchers to conduct their studies in seven Pacific Northwest parks. This symbiotic relationship allows researchers access to some of the greatest ecological resources in the Northwest, while the Park Service gains additional relevance by being linked to significant scientific research and discovery in prominent publication… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Copy / Writing, Interactive / Web, Print / Editorial


Let Me Introduce You To…

No matter how long it lasts and what happens along the way, the most fascinating aspect of any relationship is almost always the beginning. When was the last time you met someone new? When was the last time you met someone that made you feel new? How did it go down? Can you believe it happened? A proper introduction isn’t just an exchange of information; it’s a chemically transformative event that forever changes the course of your life. In 2003, the heads of state at the University of Washington engaged our team at the Design+Innovation Lab to help them properly introduce the school to the world wide web.

As a great ad man (or woman—I’m not sure) once warned on behalf of a deodorant: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, leading up to our project, more and more people were getting their first impression of the University of Washington from its web site and, frankly, it stank. The UW is an expansive, influential institution of over 50,000 students, faculty and staff that has been an established leader in many academic and athletic programs for well over a century, and it’s Seattle setting is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It had the brains, the brawn, the experience and a pretty sweet place. But then was a transitional era in the understanding of communication and media, and web site design was oft-still an afterthought doled out to reluctant comp-sci geeks. As such, the UW’s site betrayed a persona that was uncharacteristically inscrutable, unsightly and unwelcoming; you probably would want to steer clear of interacting with this one.

By the end of this summer-long project, our team—comprising myself, then fellow Visual Communication Design (VCD) undergrad student Jim Nesbitt and then VCD grad student Jason Tselentis, and directed by Doug Wadden, then Chair of the UW Division of Design and now Executive Vice Provost of the entire University—had redesigned the UW web site; a not-inconsiderable feat. However, we initially were not charged with doing anything with the actual site; we were only supposed to design an introduction to it… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Copy / Writing, Interactive / Web


Building, A Brand

Washington State Convention and Trade Center building (back/garden) / photo taken 2003

Sometime in the 1940s or ’50s (I’m not sure of the exact year), the term “corporate identity” was coined by Lippincott & Margulies—one of the first major design firms in the world—to describe both the idea that even large businesses have inherent, relatable characteristics, not unlike human beings, and the practice that could express their character through a fitting, comprehensive and consistent design program. An organization’s identity is expressed in every way they communicate, from their name and logo to their brochures and web site, to the way they answer the phone—whether those “touchpoints” are designed by professionals or not—so this was an important “call-to-action” (to use another industry term) for organizations to pay attention to everything they were communicating, and, ideally, to pay top-notch professionals like L&M to help them make sure they were doing so effectively.

Sometime in the 1990s, the term “brand” began to take over as more formal business strategy was becoming more prominently integrated into large-scale identity design programs, and it quickly went from buzz word to industry category, on which uncounted firms jumped. I have always found this nomenclature shift ironic. “Branding,” literally translated, is the superficial process of stamping a logo on your property (livestock, originally); this superficial logo stamping is exactly the perception that the “new” practice of “branding” was supposed to be rising above. Meanwhile, the word “identity” could already encompass every aspect what an entity is, from what they do to how they express it. But like many P/C nomenclature shifts of late, whether rational or not, “branding” has taken hold, and “identity” (preceded by “corporate” or not), has been deprecated.

Whatever it’s called, my formal introduction to the process of figuring out what an organization stands for and expressing it in a fitting design program was in a class called Identity Systems in the Visual Communication Design program at the University of Washington, sometime in 2003. Like a few other courses in the program, this one was broken into collaborative group and individual phases. Three-person groups were assigned one of four or five major local entities and tasked with research and analysis of the entity, en-route to the creation of a strategic brand platform. Based on this platform, we were then set about designing a fitting logo and building a supporting visual identity system, individually… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Copy / Writing, Identity / Systems, Industrial / Product, Interactive / Web, Signage / Display


A Fast Train to Nowhere

Seattle Monorail Online web site / Welcome page; 1020 x 440px. / 2002

Every time I visit Seattle (my hometown), which tends to happen more than once a year, I find it surprisingly different than I left it last. Startups become stalwarts, old favorites become new failures and areas of complete desolation become constructed destinations. But, until very recently, the ways to get to and from any of them had hardly changed a bit. Despite its squeaky-green image, Seattle has always been a car town, with a public transit system whose progress comes and goes in fits and starts but never seems to get anywhere useful by any reasonable timetable. As someone who grew up without a car and as a recalcitrant fan of progress (perhaps even Futurism, to some extent), one of the most personally frustrating examples of this city planning torpor is the Seattle Monorail.

As of 2002, when I decided to use it as it as my muse for a web site design class in the Visual Communication Design program at the University of Washington, the Seattle Monorail had been the beginning of something great for about forty years. Originally built in 1962 to shuttle visitors between downtown and the Seattle World’s Fair, the Monorail had since served as little more than an icon of the city’s once future-driven spirit, though there was a resurgent and concerted effort to evolve the system into something much more impressive. In fact, the wheels had been in motion, so to speak, for several years and, despite the work of some determinately opposed political factions, it looked as if the Monorail might actually realize its potential in the foreseeable future.

Even considering its terribly stunted scope of service at the time (it ran just over one mile, end-to-end—only about .1 mile longer than it had run in 1962), the Seattle Monorail was a fascinating entity, in that it was at once an historical landmark, a thriving attraction and the major source of inspiration for what possibly could have been the future of Seattle’s public transportation system. This web site was to celebrate the Monorail system’s rich heritage, facilitate its everyday usage and promote its promising future. As such, I architected the site accordingly, creating sections related to the system’s past, present and future, and built relevant content into each section… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Copy / Writing, Interactive / Web, Photography / Film

Comments (2)



Prosophobia promotional poster; 24 x 36in. / 2002

The most celebrated role of the designer has always been that of creator of positive change through innovation, but battling the public’s inclination to treasure the old and suspect the new has historically been tough going. The current of ominous world events (especially at the time of this project’s conception, painfully close to 9/11) only serves to shore up such public reservation. For many people, the comfort of the familiar is too valuable to risk on new ideas. This promotes a homogeneous, retro-centric design market in which the new is often merely another iteration of the old.

Prosophobia (“fear of progress”) was a concept for an international design conference that would explore why many of these constructs exist and how we as designers can continue to champion progress in this environment. Featured presentations were to be given by historians, behaviorists and economists, as well as a diverse range of design leaders successfully implementing progressive work, despite this prosophobic culture.

Being a design event (and a design school project, no less), a promotional / informational poster was a critical application, and set the visual theme for the balance of the comprehensive identification and communication suite. After several dramatic, antagonistic early concepts, including a God-like hand pushing down the sunrise, a Volkswagen “New Beetle” reversing into the viewer and even a revolver loaded with antiquities and ready to fire, an approach more considerate of both sides of the matter prevailed. The front presents the issue in a re-contextualized image reminiscent of the silent film era, showing a figure literally hanging onto the past for dear life, while the flip-side speaks to the present (signified by digital visual language) offering information on the voices on offer in the conference, and an invitation to participate in the future… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Copy / Writing, Identity / Systems, Industrial / Product, Interactive / Web, Naming / Words, Print / Editorial, Signage / Display


There is No “Inc.” in “Team”

UBC monogram mark for Union Bay Cycling / 2001

A competitive cycling team, like all other kinds of teams, is a of a group of people with a similar interest; in this case, the team’s chief objective is to win bike races. The primary vehicle of a cycling team’s identity is the uniform that team members wear out racing and training. This identity is complicated, however, by the fact that competitive cycling is one of the very few sports in the world based on a sponsorship model, whereby commercial interests pay for some aspect of team operations in return for visible recognition on these uniforms. Almost invariably, this leads to a team’s identity being inextricably intertwined with the identity of their lead sponsors, which can change relatively frequently.

For example, most people would say that Lance Armstrong raced the last season of his career with the Discovery Channel team, and that, before that, he was on the U.S. Postal Service team for six years or so, even though these were, for all intents and purposes, the exact same team, managed by Tailwind Sports.

Union Bay Cycling (UBC) is a large Northwest cycling organization built around an elite-level team that races in local, regional, and national events at the pro/am level. UBC has been around, with the same leadership and core group of riders, for over a decade, but major sponsorship changes had made it seem like three or four disparate and relatively short-lived teams. For UBC, I worked with the team director to develop a long-term solution: a core identity system that accommodates prominent and unique recognition for lead sponsors, but embodies the unique heritage and dynamism of the team riders and stays consistent even with major sponsor changes.

I began with the UBC monogram mark (above) that would immediately identify all communication touchpoints of the team: stationery for proposals, press releases and other correspondence, the web site, T-shirts, gear bags, and so on, and, of course, the all-important team kit, including jerseys, shorts, socks, water bottles, gloves, helmet graphics, and several other tertiary clothing articles.

Union Bay Cycling jerseys (long-sleeve front | short-sleeve back) / 2003; I also happened to have designed the Holcam logo on the jersey shoulders (but not their web site) / 2001

The blue grid, an established device of the team, was reworked and became the foundation of this flexible system. The title sponsor was rewarded not only with the most prominent logo presence, but also with an expressive element emerging from the grid (in this case, the hands of Ashmead College, School of Massage), and other sponsors fit into pre-established hierarchical slots based on their respective levels of contribution…
Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Content / Architecture, Copy / Writing, Identity / Systems, Interactive / Web, Packaging / 3-Dimensional, Print / Editorial, Uniforms / Apparel

Comments (2)

Please Get Down

I turned twenty-something once. Actually, I have turned twenty-something several times now. On some of these occasions, I have had parties (or get-togethers, as I like to call them). But once, I turned twenty-something and I had a get together and I decided to make kind of a big deal of it.

To build awareness of my upcoming event, I developed a whole campaign of advertisements that I ran on my web site (then, beginning about three weeks before the soirée, and sent “email-blasts” to all invitees with every new publishing. Seen below is the bulk of the series. (You can click on the images to see how they appeared on my site originally.)

I started with a very oblique teaser:


Please Get Down party announcement / teaser. (original photograph by Matt Johnson / 1995); I lifted the term “Please get down” from the most exasperated, impassioned plea in the jam-out-session of “Jolene,” probably the best song ever written/performed by Cake. | web site; 500 x 300px.+ / 2001

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Interactive / Web, Print / Editorial

Comments (4)

Stuck in the Middle

desk job

My first full-time desk job. Can you sense my enthusiasm? / 2001 (photograph by Lisa Torrence)

In order to engage context in a quotidian discussion about the various caste systems of ancient cultures, a feisty grad student T.A. in one of the many requisite Art History courses I have taken challenged our class section to define the contemporary stamp: “middle class.” Immediately, salaries rang out, one range louder and more determined than the last, until crescendoing in discordant numerical jangle; income could not objectively define it. Quietus gave way to a chorus of key possessions: Cars, houses. Okay, but what if the car is a Maserati? What if the house is a shack? Scenarios of familial constructs similarly swelled and crashed. These lines of criteria could not strike a clear chord of class definition.

The T.A. sat back and let the class caterwaul and self-dismiss various notions before bringing the struggling group back to cue. Coyly, he then rested the discussion by quoting a friend of his, who had jokingly defined a member of the middle class as anyone who “has a job.” The point of this was that such class distinctions are laughably vague and infinitely subjective (a job is not a job is not a job), but the passion with which people attempt to define them proved how deeply invested we are in socio-economic ranking.

While I had technically had three jobs prior, my quest for a “real,” middle-class-making job began sometime late in the Spring of 1999. I thought I had it in a full-time, long-term temp position “working with computers” that I had taken up after finally quitting my four-year run as a bike mechanic. Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before I realized that I wasn’t all that great at “computers” (at least, not in that context), and I let my hours decline steadily, until they were almost zero, and then they were zero. At that point, I had no income.


“Yo’ face is my case!” My head was barely scratched, but it did bleed a fair amount. Those scars on my arm are tire tracks, by the way. / 1999 (photograph by Ira Wamble)

As fortune would have it (if luck did not), I had been hit by a car that spring while riding my bike (two cars in the same accident, actually), which was an incredibly traumatic event that in turn paid me an agreeable insurance settlement. I ended up living on this modest reward, a tiny savings, and not much else for quite some time as my job search became more and more frenzied. By November, I paid rent by scrambling together the entirety of my bank account, the cash in my pockets, and loose change I had collected in a jar (seriously). The promise of middle class never tasted so sweet or came with such timely appreciation as when I was offered a job as an in-house “Junior Designer” at Sierra On-Line, Inc., just before Thanksgiving, 1999… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under Interactive / Web, Packaging / 3-Dimensional, Print / Editorial, Type / Fonts

Comments (1)

Next Page »