Saturday, November 15, 2008

Dana the Art Student

I have a tendency to jump into rabbit holes. I see something interesting, check it out, and suddenly I'm in another world exploring something completely new. The journey changes, and grows, and something that seemed trivial changes the direction of everything.

It started about three months ago when I watched Garr Reynolds's Authors@GoogleTalk. Joseph had embedded it into the AU Speaker Blog as inspiration for us to make our presentations great.

This 70 minute talk made a ton of sense to me. I had my eyes opened to some ideas about how to make my own presentations and classes better, and I wanted to know more. So, I subscribed to Garr's blog, then I bought his book: Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery (Voices That Matter). Then I bought another book he recommended called Slide:ology:The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.

It was when I was reading Slide:ology that I had to step back and say, whoa. I really need to learn more about art and design and visual communication.

My new job requires an intense amount of graphics creation- both static images and recorded "movies". The technical marketing team is in charge of the brochures, product centers, the "heroic imagery" that appears on the product boxes, and tons of other marketing material that are image intensive. Some of these images are photography, others are screen captures. I am often responsible for creating these captures. I feel a bit helpless when setting them up sometimes because I need to:

1) find data that tells a good story

2) stylize it in a way that enhances that story

3) capture it from the appropriate angle

Consider an image of a surface. It could convey a totally different message if you used a black background and grey contours and captured it from above than if you used a cream background, triangles and a realistic visual style. Should it be hilly or flat? Should it be big or small? Is there a river? A mountain? A road?

Then, once I choose it, how do I place it? Where do we use it? Now of course we have creative consultants to help with the actual composition, but I'd like to not be helpless, and there is a lot we do on our own.

I also have been doing lots of animations, demonstrations, creating storyboards for demonstrations, composing images that other people will use in their presentations and tons of rendering. I just felt I was missing some pieces. I need to get better at defining the scope, understanding the audience, understanding the message that needs to be told, working through alternatives, and finally choosing the stinkin' thing. All without winding up in an endless loop of analysis-paralysis.

Once I started exploring the possibilities of taking some design classes (perhaps I was inspired by Pam from the Office) it occurred to me that I never had any "creative" type classes in my engineering education and that kind of annoyed me.

At least when and where I went to school, we didn't learn how to sketch or brainstorm, we didn't have constructive critique of our work, we weren't encouraged to do much conceptual design, sketching or iterations. And I think that this contributes to my feeling that rejected work is wasted.

Au contraire. It's just the first part of the process.

I think this is something that engineering needs more of- especially if we are going to fundamentally change the way that we create neighborhoods, that we improve cities, that we build those big airports in the middle of the ocean and those giant dams that change the landscape of the world forever.

So I'm taking some art classes from the Art Institute's Online Program. The first is called Fundamentals of Design and I just finished my first week's readings in the textbook called Design Basics.

It might as well have been a hallway of curious doors. I know it will help me absorb the ideas and put them into a context which my engineering brain can handle if I blog about it from time to time. And probably tie it into civil engineering and Civil 3D.

Ok, yeah, if I blog about it like every single day.