January 1, 2009

Design Feast Highlights for 2008

This year has been another rich demonstration of imagination. At Creativity Online, folks like Paula Scher of Pentagram and Helvetica filmmaker Gary Hustwitt gave their Design Highlights for 2008 (subscription required). It compelled me to compile my own personal list. Here it goes:

Aligned to the urban educator and writer Jane Jacobs’ statement “Design is People,” my first acknowledgement goes to those who are surviving the sharp edge of this economy by improving how they live and work, thinking of ways to better collaborate, and ultimately extending empathy beyond the workplace into the home.

From small- and large-business owners to freelancers and in-house practitioners, this first highlight of People justifies a list on its own. My constant search to uncover interesting content for design webliography Design Feast brought these design highlights to my attention (listed in no particular sequence):

Webapp Creators
The web’s means and languages have unleashed a creation-rush of web-based software and services. I wrote about the debut of my friend’s MetalMiner IndX(SM) webapp, which helps those in the metals industry. Transforming a suite of ideas into a suite of online tools must have been a satisfying journey. Equally notable was the launch of Sifter, a “hosted bug and issue tracking application focused on making work less tedious,” as well as the very simple StickyScreen created by Jack Cheng. This micro-sampling of entrants doesn’t negate the diverse range of existing webapps that were re-launched with significant updates by their makers.

Living the Blogging Dream
Achieving a blogging rhythm is no small effort. It’s hard work to sustain the drive to deliver content, particularly design-centric matter, each day, every week, such as acejet 170, AisleOne, analogue, A Daily Dose of Architecture, Design Thinking Digest, grain edit, GraphicHug, The Groundswell Collective, Karrie Jacobs, Logic+Emotion, swissmiss, Thinking for a Living, and The Curated Object, among a great many others. The design blogosphere is thick, even murky, but the authors behind these efforts are role models for those who aspire to start a blog—or Wiki, Tumblr, etc.—of their own (one rigorous posting at a time), and not let it become too idle.

Design studio Brighten the Corners wrote, illustrated, designed and published a children’s book Victor & Susie. Designer Duane King of the educational site Thinking for a Living published a self-titled booklet dedicated to open source design education. Designer Mark Boulton wrote A Practical Guide to Designing for the Web which will be released early next year. Whether finding a partner in a colleague, printer, distributor or utilizing a service like Lulu and Blurb, the urge to make and publish a book is within reach, and requires no one’s permission.

Photo Essayists
The coupling of images and words is enjoying a big wave of engagement in the form of online narratives. Notable examples include the Photo Essays of Jan Sochor, Chaplin: A Life, The World’s Photostream of Public Radio International (PRI), and Erik Gauger’s travel writing in Notes from the Road. Pangea Day is indeed every day.

Regarding singular picks, these left a strong first impression that still lingers (again, in no particular sequence):

A Working Library

I’ve found myself visiting this library more frequently than physical ones—a pity I know. Reader, writer, and designer Mandy Brown’s thoughts about the connectivity of books and the reading experience motivate me to truly reflect on the visible word and its handling. A Working Library defies the misconception that a blog can’t be both intimate and insightful at the same time.

With all its languages, the web is a canvas for designers and developers alike. Sahadeva Hammari and Ian Van Ness of Boy Girl Talk help both find and realize collaboration for big ideas online. The synergies sparked from designers to developers and vice versa are well served by this resource.

Gary Vaynerchuk’s Favicon
This icon design probably didn’t debut this year, but it was a new discovery for me at the personal site of the creator of Wine Library TV. At 16 by 16 pixels, the Favicon bears an accurate resemblance to its subject. The attention paid to the smallest personal branding details commands respect.

How do you design? A Compendium of Models
Hugh Dubberly’s organic gathering and cataloging of 100-plus-and-counting design processes is a ginormous effort aimed at offering a useful loupe or circus mirror to the “How” of design. I anticipate the educational reception of Hugh’s curating of design-thinking-and-doing.

Opening of the Summer Games in Beijing
As described in an earlier posting, the prelude to this past Summer Olympics was an impressive demonstration of site-specific installation art and gave unique expression to milestones of Chinese invention and history. Filmmaker Zhang Yimou’s orchestration, done on a massive and ultra-coordinated scale, was moving in a multitude of ways.

President-Elect Barack Obama’s Campaign (but not its identity design)
Much well-deserved coverage has gone to the design and utilization of the typeface and logo in Obama’s Presidential campaign. But a nod should also be given to other inspired initiatives that connect design and the U.S. government: Design anthropologist Dori Turnstall galvanized the U.S. National Design Policy Summit, Designer William Drenttel wrote an open letter about A Design-Oriented National Endowment for the Arts, BusinessWeek contributing editor Bruce Nussbaum wrote an open letter about an Innovation Dream Team. These are aligned to the spirit of other programs, such as the planned Artist Corps and Kiff Gallagher’s formation of MusicianCorps.

Sean Tevis’s Comic-Strip Run for the Office of Kansas State Representative
Though he lost his election bid, information architect Sean Tevis won in his unique approach to campaigning. He tapped into his skills in web design and technology to create a visual storyboard, presenting his positions on issues with a sprinkle of humor and fresh references to popular culture. See the interview about Sean’s approach which helped make the race a close one. Let there be a sequel.

T-Mobile G1
This is a biased pick due to my documentation about its use. Nevertheless, it’s my first “smart device” and the G1, with its Android software, has made my steps into mobile virgin territory smoother and more connected.

Typography for Lawyers

Typographer-turned-Attorney Matthew Butterick has done a good deed in making a guide of typography tailor-made for legal practitioners. Having worked in the litigation field, I appreciate Matthew’s effort to educate his colleagues. Why is typography important? Butterick answers with a resource that’s smartly put together and, in a way, cements good typography as the law in and out of the courtroom—for lawyers and jurors alike.

Arriving at this list was a little easier than I thought, as it consists of design works that have been particularly memorable to me. Whether they be a few or a group of one, what are your Design Highlights of 2008?

As you ponder the answer: Thanks for visiting and reading, and here’s to an excellent new year of designing!