May 1, 2022

Design Feast’s Makers Series—117th Interview: Design Leader Adam Kallish Ruminates by John Christopher Jones’ “Design Methods”—a Seminal Book that Remains Timely but Stuck in Obscurity

Penned by John Christopher Jones, an Industrial Designer and Educator, “Design Methods” is a design-related book that I remain enamored of—especially curious about its never rising in awareness throughout the community of designers. Here, one of its top admirers, Adam Kallish, reasons how this proved to be the result.

When, how, where did you discover the book “Design Methods” (1970) by John Christopher Jones?

It was in 1986. I was a Bauhaus-trained designer and in graduate school at Rhode Island School of Design where my cohort was exposed to visual semiotics. This first year was disorienting, and at times, I felt punch-drunk on concepts that bordered on metacognition. 

In the RISD library (back then, libraries were different than they are today), I was doing research for my thesis and came across a curious book called “Designing Designing,” written by John Chistopher Jones in 1973—three years after his book “Design Methods.” In “Designing Designing,” there were chapters called “A Thought Resolved,” “The World Without Imagination,” etc. Very esoteric, bordering on the poetic. In one of the chapters, he discussed “How my thoughts about design methods have changed over the years” and it was here I learned about his book “Design Methods.”

I learned later that the original title for the 1970 edition was “Design Methods: Seeds of Human Futures.” The methods he outlined in his book are the seeds that come together to propose better human futures.

Sounds like you don’t regret reading “Designing Designing” before “Design Methods” since the latter was published first?

No. After three years, Jones reflected on that three-year gap from when he wrote “Design Methods” until when he wrote “Designing Designing.” When I read John Christopher’s second book [“Designing Designing”], it opened up a world that was somewhat disorienting. But when I first read “Design Methods,” I was like: Okay, here's some structure I can grab on to. “Design Methods” is a cookbook, compared to “Designing Designing”—a reflection.

Do you recall your impressions after reading “Design Methods”—What were some immediate ones?

It was very difficult to read and understand, because his writing style is not easy to take in, as he was referencing many trends and movements from crafts to the age of the computer. There were diagrams and charts to show connections between frameworks and methods. After I read it once, I was terrified, because I was grappling with unfamiliar concepts. I decided to read it again, and then it started to make sense to me. 

What’s memorable about this book and why?

This book started me on a journey to learn about using design as a framework for change—not just designing two and three-dimensional products which is how I and many designers were trained, but one where design could be used to facilitate observation, analysis and synthesis. Design as creating cognitive systems and processes. 

Methods have techniques which Jones felt “enable people to design something, to go beyond their first ideas, to test their designs in use or simulated use, to collaborate in creative activity, to lead design groups and to teach and to learn designing.”

The book has two sections:

“The Developing Design Process” explores: what design is, traditional craft methods, the need for new methods through four key questions, the new methods reviewed, the design process disintegrated into divergence and convergence, choosing strategies and methods.

The second section consists of design methods in action through convergent methods, strategy control, divergent methods, searching for ideas, exploring problem structures and methods of evaluation.

Very logical on the face of it, but very difficult because much of what he was proposing had little precedent, and it also felt very scientific. It wasn't science he was proposing but rigor.

Table of methods from “Design Methods” (1970)—page 80 plus front and back inside covers). Adam added both the gray zones and the notations along the bottom that grouped methods according to themes.

At first, this was very scary, because how could that be considered design? Then I let go and realized that while learning the craft and practice of design that grew from a value chain of historical events—the Arts and Crafts movement, through the Bauhaus, then post-war institutions like Ulm, I recognized that design could be used to address social, political and economic issues, not just products.

Because I came from the sciences—to me, this was similar to a form of the scientific method where you have speculation which then becomes a hypothesis which then is tested by others to become a theory and then an accepted fact. Jay Doblin, the American Product Designer, was also in search of a higher meaning of design and came up with the idea of design as a state (products) and as a process (methodology).

Diagram of Design—leveraging Design Methods as a framework (Adam Kallish, Nate Burgos).

Why do you think John Christopher Jones put out this book?

“Design Methods” was the culmination of a few decades of lived experience for John Christopher Jones. He was trained as an industrial designer, but had odd ideas for practicing it. For instance, he wanted users to be involved with product development, which today sounds very common sense. But in the 1950s, this was viewed as very odd and counterculture. 

Regarding the ramp-up toward John Christopher Jones conceiving, writing “Design Methods,” what external circumstances/factors do you sense motivated, even provoked, him to realize this book?

John Christopher Jones recognized the relationship between the craftsperson and the designer by commenting that much of the content in the crafts was based on the transformation of raw materials into finished form through tried and true knowledge of incremental improvements. 

With the industrial age and mass production launching modern living standards, design needed to focus on increasingly complex problems before anything was created, for architecture, urban planning, engineering and product design were liable to create unimaginative and impersonal forms from unimaginative problem definitions. 

Jones wondered why and probably realized that design was relegated to expression toward production and had a small zone of control to really influence and impact product-based decisions that were being made by business executives, marketing and engineering. He wanted to address this power imbalance and embrace new methods from other fields and new forms of collaboration to challenge assumptions and reframe what people thought problems were.

In the early 1960s, London, there were several individuals, including John Christopher Jones, who attended the The Conference on Systematic and Intuitive Methods in Engineering, Industrial Design, Architecture and Communication Studies (1962). This event was organized by John Christopher Jones and Peter Slann who, with conference invitees, were bound by concerns with the way their modern industrialized world was being created. Designers, engineers, academics and artists attended—even Gordon Pask, Director of System Research, who came up with cybernetics, attended this event. 

At the end of the conference, J. K. Page, Professor at Sheffield University and Chairman of the conference, stated that the “only area of agreement seems to be systematic design is a three-step process—analysis, synthesis and evaluation.” He also rightly stated that “the bigger the scale (of the problem), the more difficult it becomes to make analysis cheaply.” Lastly, he speculated on the role of “design as a strategic framework (like planning) cannot control detailed design, all it can do is provide the framework for others to operate within to get to the detail.”

The participants recognized that the lone designer producing design products did not work with the complexity of a post-industrial society. Designers must work in cross-disciplinary teams where each participant brings their specific skills, language, experiences and biases to define and solve problems. In 2022, this sounds mainstream, but in 1962, this bordered on science fiction. 

The proceedings were published, which I also read from a very dusty copy found in the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, library.

Similar to his contemporary, the architect Christopher Alexander who co-wrote “A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction” (1977), would you say that John Christopher Jones, in his book “Design Methods” (1970), that he was also interested in patterns?

Yes. You cannot divorce them from the larger social, political and economic contexts at the time: England was recovering from WWII, there was still rationing and the capital was being rebuilt.

The 1950s and 1960s were also the rise of science and technology, and modern government that was going to make the world better—or the hope anyway. Both Christopher Alexander and John Christopher Jones were part of that whole generation who viewed logic in science and technology as a way to counteract the effects of World War II—the destruction.

There were growing concerns at the [1962] Conference on Design Methods, that relying too much on science and technology—in logic—might also not be a good thing, and that we cannot lose our humanity because of the benefits that we gain from science and technology. From an interview with GK VanPatter, Co-Founder of Humantific and Author of “Innovation Methods Mapping” (2016), John Christopher Jones asserted, “I deplored the move (soon after the 1962 Conference on Design Methods) towards treating designing as if it were a science, putting rationality before intuition, and largely forgetting that the purpose of design methods was to change design practice and to improve life.”

What do you surmise was John Christopher Jones’ desired outcomes from getting this book published?

It is said that every person has a book in them that is waiting to be birthed. It is also said people write books first to address their own curiosities and drive to create, before specific markets are identified to purchase a book. So my speculation is that John wrote the book to aggregate all the ideas he was exposed to and to put it into a book

It would be easy to reduce the book to a jumble of ideas and diagrams that seem to obsess over methodology. Jones viewed methodology as “mere symbolic contrivances” and “would lose its value” if it did not reflect “the personal issues which matter most to the people who will take decisions.” 

So Jones felt that people had to choose methods that were most meaningful for people to gain greater agency and control over any outcome. But any outcome would benefit from using groupings of methods to align on an agreeable and humanistic outcome. He stated that “Methodology should not be a fixed track to a fixed destination, but a conversation about everything that could be made to happen.”

Unfortunately, the book was not accepted and he even recognized that “we sought to be open-minded, to make design processes that would be more sensitive to life than the professional practices of the time. But the result was rigidity, a fixing of aims and methods to product designs that everyone now feels to be insensitive to human needs. Another result was that design methods became more theoretical, turning it into academic study of methods instead of trying to design things better.”

How would you describe John Christopher Jones’ writing style?

Difficult and poetic at first. He was communicating in the way that was comfortable to him. Once your brain acclimates to his writing style, it becomes clearer.

How does “Design Methods” fare currently as part of the design-related library?

Very well. It sits on my shelf with a plethora of other books on methods.

Strategyzer is one of the most prominent current generators of thematic books and has popularized many methods that have been around for a number of years. The LUMA Institute, which came out of MAYA Design in Pittsburgh and was just bought by Mural, has their System of Innovation of Looking, Understanding and Making

IDEO popularized design thinking and generated their method cards. All of these examples, to some extent, are emulating what the book “Design Methods” was trying to do in 1970, but there has been fifty years of iterating and a widening of design as a facilitator of change using human-centered methods. 

When “Design Methods” was released in 1970, in a world where design was viewed as corporate identity and product design, it was still focused on styling and commercialization as it was defined back then. When you and I started to collaborate about design methods over a decade ago, I went back using the internet and wanted to understand who was using the book “Design Methods.” What I found out was that designers were not using it because I found little reference to “design methods.” Surprisingly, where I did find references to “Design Methods,” it was being used by computer science and schools of engineering academic programs as a way to think about systems design.

The design community ignored the book “Design Methods” because it was a book way ahead of its time. I also think John Christopher Jones was a flawed messenger and did not think about the marketing of the book. 

This is no different than Chuck Owen at the Institute of Design at IIT who labored in the 1960s and 1970s to articulate structured planning which used mathematics and logic to map how design could affect how organizations approached a problem.

What’s the place of “Design Methods” as both attitude and document in the current community and practice of design?

“Design Methods” initially was focused on how design could be integrated into engineering and grew to recognize the multidisciplinary nature of solving contemporary complexity in all its forms. John Christopher Jones recognized the role of business, as one stakeholder among many, but did not view design methods as a business management tool. Design management focuses on how to define design as a business function and provides a language and method of how to effectively manage it. Does this sound familiar in 2022? Yes!

To me, “Design Methods” is a seminal book that is almost invisible but created the foundation spanning 50 years of experiments and movements that codified much of what is in the book “Design Methods.” Any first iteration of anything is flawed from the start because it is a prototype. Only through socializing ideas and having people use them and build upon them through trial-and-error can something grow and influence others. 

Unfortunately, the book “Design Methods,” even today, is not known hardly at all. Yet, without the work of William Gosling, Christopher Alexander, Peter Slann, Nigel Holmes, D. G. Thornley and many others that followed, we would not view design today as a discipline and community of practice that can define business models, transform markets and affect society using the design methods that were first aggregated in 1970.

• • •

📷 Title page photographed by Nate Burgos. Bookshelf-image from Adam Kallish.

• • •

📹 Watch this video-short [2:42]—part of the Design Feast series Rare Book Feast—in homage to “Design Methods” (1970) by John Christopher Jones.

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April 24, 2022

Design Feast’s Makers Series—116th Interview: Louise Sandhaus founded The People’s Graphic Design Archive that Defies the Status Quo of Graphic Design History

In the history of communication, graphic design is a cross section—a multilayered one! To help ensure that the history of graphic design is wide-ranging for the long-term, educator and author Louise Sandhaus founded The People’s Graphic Design Archive. Here, she gives context of this grassroots-project: virtual, archival and 100% crowdsourced.

How did you become interested and immersed in graphic design? Was there a particular experience that influenced you toward learning about graphic design—researching and teaching its history?

My parents were both graphic artists. It was Lorraine Wild’s “Historical Survey of Graphic Design” course at CalArts, which I took during my graduate studies, that really turned me on to design history.

When you realized after completing your book “Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires & Riots: California and Graphic Design, 1936–1986” (2014) that expanding the depth and scope of graphic design history was critically necessary, what were some of the fundamental steps you took in establishing your idea?

I actually wrote the LA County Museum of Art a letter about the idea. I presented the letter at a small gathering of designers. The letter was meant as a way to capture my ideas—I never really intended to send it!

Through The People’s Graphic Design Archive, you and your team are disrupting “the graphic design canon” ← How do you define this? And how is the Archive evolving it for the better?

What is meant by the term “canon” is still not clear to me. I believe that what we mean by it, though, is the common understanding of our history. Hopefully, The People’s Graphic Design Archive (PGDA) shows that what belongs as part of that history is much more expansive than the very limited history we’ve been taught.

What were the essential forces that formed and shaped ultimately the common, mainstream, popular state of the graphic design canon?

This can be complicated to answer! To my knowledge, the first course in graphic design history was taught by Lou Danziger and Keith Godard at CalArts, starting in 1971, according to Godard. (My correspondence with him about this course can be found in the Archive!) The idea was to show students what “excellence” in graphic design looked like. Excellence that meant good ideas and beautiful, well-crafted, formal outcomes. The course was possible in the first place because books, showing the newest work going on in graphic design, were becoming more available, although still hard to get. Nevertheless, Lou Danziger had a great collection, and it was the work in these books that was photographed and then shared.

But it’s probably Philip Meggs’ “A History of Graphic Design,” published in 1983, that became a classroom bible for graphic design history’s canon.

Wondering if without the existence of information technologies, particularly self-service content management systems and sprawling social media, and their resulting, residual effects → Would the vision, revelation of The People’s Graphic Design Archive not have been feasible?

Definitely, the PGDA, as a crowd-sourced virtual archive, is only possible because of the internet!

Went to experience the exhibition by The Art Institute of Chicago of work by Artist Barbara Kruger. In her video installation “Untitled (Artforum)” (2016/2020), there was this passage: “It’s clear that identity is back, and more urgent than ever. How can we think through new paradigms? How can we reimagine old ones.” Aligns with The People’s Graphic Design Archive, to me. Thoughts?

Definitely agree that PGDA imagines a new paradigm of what constitutes graphic design history.

Are there publications from the graphic-design-canon era that you still find enduring, relevant?

There are books that I love, like my copy of Walter J. Diethelm’s “Signet Signal Symbol,” published by ABC Verlag [1962–1989], Zurich, in 1970, that I still return to!

How did you discover Notion? How did you determine it to be the proper platform for organizing, presenting and storing the first generation of The People’s Graphic Design Archive?

We were turned on to Notion by Stephen Coles and Nick Sherman who are part of the Fonts in Use team and are the developers, with Rob Meek, of the permanent site for PGDA. Notion is an excellent wiki/database software and has been invaluable for us to realize our prototype. The permanent platform should up and running by early next year.

Being a crowd-sourced effort, what have proven to be effective ways for stimulating, achieving and managing a community to help advance The People’s Graphic Design Archive?

Social media and presenting at events have been effective, particularly reaching the design-educators community. We still have work to do and we’ll be going full blast once we have the permanent site.

How has COVID-19 affected your creativity and work?

Perhaps it’s given us focus, as there’s been SO much online activities, events, conversations and meetings of which we’ve been a part of. It was probably the wake-up call for broader social equity that had the biggest effect. People saw the need for a history of graphic design in which everyone had a voice and could be represented.

In engaging and managing all of the moving parts of being a Graphic Design Educator, Author and Founder to live and keep yourself busy, especially during this pandemic, how do you take care of yourself?

TV-candy nightly. “The Great British Bake Off” is a case in point. I also love to bake myself and find cooking relieves a lot of stress.

Oprah asked First Black First Lady Michelle Obama to answer these two questions which are echoed for your opinions:

a) What’s your no-fail, go-for-it motivational song?

Right now, it’s Esperanza Spaulding’s “Formwela 10.” 

b) What should be required reading for every human?

Jonathan Porritt’s “The World We Made: Alex McKay’s Story from 2050” offers vision and hope for our future. It’s a fictional story told from the future by an educator to his students of how the sustainable and equitable world was realized.

• • •

📷 All images courtesy of Louise Sandhaus, except for “Signet Signal Symbol”—photographed by design and brand studio DAMS.

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Visit my Patreon page where you can view my goals and reward tiers—starting at $1 per month. Starting your patronage today matters—it’ll help Design Feast remain available, even grow.

January 30, 2022

Design Feast’s Makers Series—115th Interview: Director Alysa Nahmias’ Documentary “The New Bauhaus” Puts an Observant and Journey-Packed Spotlight on Creative Visionary László Moholy-Nagy

LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) had a public, virtual screening of “The New Bauhaus”—directed by Alysa Nahmias. Awestruck by its history, imagery, storytelling, design and direction! On repeat viewing since then. Here, Alysa dives into the creation and substance of her documentary, furthermore, makes striking connections to the present—through the life and lens of creative innovator László Moholy-Nagy (1895–1946). “The New Bauhaus” is a telling sign of the times and keeps up with it in filmic rigor and splendor.

When you were envisioning this film before the pandemic and now in the pandemic, has your point of view about the film–why it’s relevant, how it’s relevant today—shifted or not and why?

That’s an interesting thing to reflect on now, several months into lockdown. Y’know, in the making of the film, and when it first premiered in fall 2019, it was really clear that there are direct lines of relevance between the contemporary world and Moholy-Nagy’s story—what he grappled with in his time on a personal level and an intellectual level. There is a relationship between his story and some of the things we’re facing culturally, intellectually and personally, even before the pandemic. For example, things like immigration. Moholy-Nagy was an immigrant in a very different time in America. He was a refugee, someone who was Jewish during the Holocaust and came to the U.S. after fleeing Germany and spending a brief time in London. When he landed in Chicago, there was an article, I think in “The New York Times,” announcing his arrival and welcoming Moholy-Nagy and other high-profile artists and intellectuals—Einstein was also mentioned—into the U.S. The article acknowledged the value of these minds—these people—for contributing to American culture and 

Thanks for reading so far this Design Feast interview.

Read this full interview and more by supporting Design Feast on Patreon. If you’re able to, please become a Patron of Design Feast today from $1 and up—it only takes a minute. Your monthly contribution will give you full access to this interview and those upcoming with extraordinary creators and their perspectives. Stay both informed and inspired.

What will stay free to completely explore at Design Feast are the 346 insightful interviews with an incredible range of Designers, Bloggers, Makers and realizers of Side Projects.

October 31, 2021

Design Feast’s Makers Series—114th Interview: Digital Product Designer Michela Graziani Relentlessly Pursues the Iconic

Particularly in the world of computing, icons are common elements. An on/off-screen icon blends aesthetics, symbolism, accessibility—all elegantly confined within a small-to-tiny finite piece of visible real estate. The challenges here are twofold: facilitating the ability to comprehend and enabling efficiency to accomplish this intuitive experience. Here, Product Designer Michela Graziani shares both her passion and process in making pictographic collections which are prolific, comprehensive … iconic!

1. How did you arrive at what you do as an Icon Designer?

As a product designer, I had to handle icons every day in the making of understandable and useful interfaces. Finding an appropriate icon is time-consuming, can be changed tons of times during the course of visual design. For these reasons, I turned to creating tailor-made icons purposely designed to fit a precise action for specific situations—an integral task here was gathering feedback from my teammates to help inform and refine the iconography.

2. Being the founder of Symbolikon and more symbols-based libraries, what were a few first steps/activities you took to start these projects?

The initial input/idea was determining an area of interest—unexplored in the icon-industry. This is the main road to take during the whole icon-product-development process. Once the road is in focus, I do a lot of research in order to define topics and categories. Research is crucial. It sets the stage for directing the entire collection while informing these steps: create a list of categories, understand what is to become the main category, figure out the features of each subcategory, along with determining common traits that each single icon should contain. These actions help contribute meaning and functionality throughout the whole icon-collection’s composition.

3. What icons are truly iconic to you? How do they reach the level of iconic?

An ‘iconic’ icon is a visual element that’s easy to remember. Sticks in your mind the first time you see it. There are many strong icons: shaped in relation to a specific object for describing action, imbued with meaning that’s one-way.

In one of my new Ikonthology compendiums, the “Extreme Horror” category is visibly iconic, because both objects and characters possess unmistakable graphic elements which can be readily perceived as simple and unique in their meanings.

4. Is there an icon-driven/inspired creation that you readily admire—What is it?

Regarding art, the public-facing images by 

Thanks for reading so far this Design Feast interview.

Read this full interview and more by supporting Design Feast on Patreon. If you’re able to, please become a Patron of Design Feast today from $1 and up—it only takes a minute. Your monthly contribution will give you full access to this interview and those upcoming with extraordinary creators and their perspectives. Stay both informed and inspired.

What will stay free to completely explore at Design Feast are the 346 insightful interviews with an incredible range of Designers, Bloggers, Makers and realizers of Side Projects.

Learn more about Ikonthology.

“With all the various genres and subgenres available, it’s hard to find any one place to gather inspiration. Taking cues from the most popular works of fiction, these icons are designed with a modern aesthetic.” Support the Ikonthology project at Kickstarter.

This interview, within the Design Feast series on Makers, was sparked into possibility-turned-reality by Cole Stevens, a brilliant Copywriter, avid Street Photographer and Creator of timely clothing brand Omegazeta—where you can align yourself with cosmic contemplation and grace your physique with uniquely existential style. Wholehearted thanks to him for introducing me to Michela Graziani and her narrative-spanning iconography.

August 15, 2021

Typeface Designer Chantra Malee Pays it Forward through the Malee Scholarship for Empowering Women of Color as They Pursue a Career in Type Design

What are you working on—on the side?

The Malee Scholarship is a not-for-profit organization that I started with Sharp Type, a boutique NYC type foundry that I co-founded with my business partner and husband, Lucas Sharp. Each year, the Malee Scholarship grants a $6,000 USD scholarship to a woman from an underrepresented ethnic group in the type industry, who is passionate about type design. Our goal is to empower these women, give them a platform to show their work, and through our mentorship program, teach them the ins-and-outs of designing type and running a foundry.

In addition to selecting and awarding an annual scholar, we also recognize 3 finalists who were top contenders for the scholarship that year and also announce a small selection of Women of Typographic Excellence who demonstrated incredible skill in type design. 

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

It takes a village! The development of the organization was challenging and incredibly fun. Throughout the process, we made sure to work with individuals whose work we greatly admired. We first commissioned Tien-Min Liao to develop the logomark, which Sharp Type designer My-Lan Thuong later evolved into a sans and serif type system, which we use as the primary typefaces for the brand. What The Studio came in later and developed our branding, and designed our website, later developed by Default Value.

Our team at Sharp Type all contribute, and I’m so grateful for their participation and hard work. Florence Fu and My-Lan Thuong have been integral to the running of our institution, and Lucas Sharp plays a big role in the mentorship program, meeting with the recipients weekly to critique their work. Together with Connor Davenport, Calvin Kwok and Justin Sloane, we’re able to pull it off.

Why have a side project?

I am from the United States of Thai, Spanish and Native American descent. I, myself, was a recipient of the Urban League’s Student Scholarship Program, which provides financial assistance to students from minority groups who are pursuing higher education. From a financial aspect, the grant was huge for me, but even more profound was being seen, and recognized by their institution. I’ll never forget their generosity. Now that I’m in the position to do so, I am paying it forward.

What I wasn’t prepared for when starting The Malee Scholarship was how much I would learn from the experience and the applicants whom we’ve met since we began. They’ve opened my eyes to global cultures and social issues around the world that I wasn’t quite familiar with. Many of our applicants have not only a passion in type design but in social justice issues as well. It’s awe-inspiring to read their stories. They encourage me to be better and I’m very thankful for them, and can’t wait to see them reach great success in type.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Chantra Malee.

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August 7, 2021

Freelance Designer Daniela Covarrubias Adores and Advocates Plants for the Home

What are you working on—on the side?

“How Many Plants” is a plant-care resource for anyone interested in houseplants, whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or just getting started. I found a lot of the plant-care information online to be all over the place and often contradictory, so I wanted to build a robust resource that would be fun to engage with and genuinely useful!

I mean, why waste time googling in circles and opening tab after tab only to be more confused than when you started? For this reason, I was intent on creating a “go-to” resource that would not only fully elaborate on the care of specific plants, but also dive deep into larger topics like propagation and dealing with pests. And as a bonus, I wanted to position the whole thing through the lens of design and interiors since that’s my field of expertise. For me, greenery is an essential part of any designer’s toolkit—equal to any piece of furniture or paint color. Plants have the power to transform a space from something pretty good to something downright magical. Often, they’re the missing piece that will make a space come to life … literally! I’m continuously amazed by what a versatile design element plants can be. They can play the role of sculpture, anchoring a space or filling an empty corner. They can bring in heaps of color and texture, playing off other patterns in the space or standing out against solids.

And while I clearly love how plants look in real life, I wanted to take a fresh approach for this project. I found that a lot of plant photography can make plants look somewhat unattainable in either their lushness or setting. Or they are photographed with retail/shipping in mind which usually means they are young, fresh out of the greenhouse and it can be hard to envision their growth. I believed a bit of abstraction would go a long way to inspire and get people excited to imagine plants in their own space. So I was super-lucky to connect with a wonderful illustrator, Evie May Adams, who was willing to dive into this big project with me and take on everything from the illustrations of the plants themselves, along with icons, interiors and tons of one-off vignettes and diagrams for the long-form articles. Truly, the site wouldn’t be what it is without the illustrations.

How do you manage to work on your side project(s)?

To be honest, I was quickly overwhelmed by the scope of the project. What I thought would take 5 or 6 months to get off the ground, ended up taking closer to 9 months. I just had such a specific (and ambitious) vision in my head of what I wanted “HMP” to be, and I was a bit stubborn about the need for it to be fully realized before putting it out into the world. I don’t necessarily think this is the best approach to a side project, but for me, it worked to keep the momentum going strong upfront so the project could then take a bit of a backseat going forward. Also, having something fully baked gave me a more complete picture of how my audience was experiencing the site, which helps me understand what people are liking or missing before building out any additional features.

It’s still a fairly new thing for me, so I can’t say for sure, but it’s my hope that the project will continue to take on a natural rhythm of lulls with more intense activity. Especially as a freelancer, this would nicely mirror how work tends to flow in my day-to-day!

Why have a side project?

While I’m passionate about the topic of plant care, this project was ultimately a way for me to learn a bunch of new skills. I’m trained as an architect and have been working in interiors for the past 6 years, so I had super-minimal web experience before creating this site. I had to learn everything from how to design around breakpoints to how to structure content for CMS and everything in-between.

I was originally inspired to create “How Many Plants” both by circumstance and by my husband, Moe. The circumstance was the pandemic, and Moe happens to be a skilled web developer that has been pursuing side projects since we met in grad school (his career was born out of a side project!). Moe and a bunch of his friends had recently started using a tool called Webflow to quickly build websites without code. And witnessing that work gave me the confidence that I could make something myself. It was also quite exciting to be able to take full creative control of a project—there was no design director, no client, no budget, no external deadline driving my decisions. This freedom was such a huge contrast to what I had experienced in architecture and interior projects. In some ways, it was daunting, but mostly it was just so satisfying. And it created an unexpected feedback loop to my day job that reinvigorated my design thinking and helped me reevaluate my approach to limitations.

• • •

Diptych courtesy of Daniela Covarrubias.

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July 8, 2021

Data Leader Kerstin Frailey Emphasizes the Need for Quality Data

Kerstin Frailey, who leads data science at market research company Numerator, recently participated in data analytics school Promotable’s webinar series. While presenting concepts such as Machine Learning and the overly propagandized “Big Data,” there was this sign-of-the-times statement from her:

“It’s hard not to care about data quality when you see what happens with data. Because data underlies every algorithm that is automatically approving or denying you a mortgage, that is automatically dismissing or accepting your application to go on to a recruiter to see. It underlies all of the automated admissions that next or current generations are having … That is all built on data. As soon as that data starts to get a little sticky, oh, the world we create in there.”

Data and the modern era do stir wonder. One constant is that data keeps accruing—becoming its own multiverse where the possibilities of use are grand and endless. In the startup ecosystem, “data-driven” is a popular prefix to distinctly qualify a product or service. When elegantly executed, it demonstrates how business, design and technology can be systematized. The emphasis by Kerstin on data’s “underlying” nature feeds into visualizing data as a shifting, sprawling tectonic layer (which, no doubt, it is) influencing everyone and everything. In its composition and expanse, data (for all its content, support and magical potential) is infrastructure.

The last line of Kerstin’s proclamation includes this poetic phrase: “the world we create.” In context, it sparkles with analytics aspiration, coupled with prospective capabilities—for the better. The wellspring here is data—running through several, practical, important applications she noted: mortgages, hiring submissions, school admissions, among a great many processes. The data-propelled world, shaped humanely, co-exists with a world energized by data that’s steered toward inflicting alternative effects—when viewed through a literary lens, they can be characterized precisely as Kafkaesque, even Orwellian.

Though not surprising, it is refreshing to hear Kerstin speak about the importance of critical thinking. Working with data makes it a must-do (as opposed to a no-brainer) for Data Quality to undergo rigor in how it’s managed. From Kerstin, this body of scientific disciplines consists of these principles:

  1. Accuracy
  2. Timeliness
  3. Validity
  4. Consistency
  5. Completeness

If quality of data suggests the quality of decision-making, then critical thinking is essential. More so, when data faces duality, exacerbated by cross-generational disparity uncovered by these pandemic times, which exposed data-driven systems not behaving as data-driven solutions. From breakages in delivering public education, to filing unemployment claims, to receiving healthcare, to booking a vaccination appointment, and so on.

Kristen's focus on Data Quality hones in on making reality an honest one—these days, a collective movement reinforced. With the beauty of objectivity in mind, here’s to the people having at it to create a world—where data helps bring out the best in everyone.

Thanks again to Promotable who pair their virtual workshops with talks organized regularly online! Explore their channel on YouTube.

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