Writing. Design. Social Change.

Posts from the ‘Aesthetics’ category

The use of images is often underestimated by those new to blogging. In this slides below, I describe 7 key image strategies for student bloggers. The slides also share a variety of websites and apps to help create images for blogs.

  1. Make your own images
  2. Use images in the public domain
  3. Create a logo
  4. Employ super-sized images
  5. Group images together
  6. Create a color scheme
  7. Design moving images
Leave a comment

I’m currently teaching visual storytelling through the creation of Cinemagraphs  — photographs with a whisp of narrative. Cinemagraphs are compelling images which feature a cinematic twist through the isolated animation of multiple frames. These animated images capture a moment in time or a living portrait of a person or place.


Cinemagraphs are the animated GIF’s sophisticated cousin. My  Visual Rhetorics students had seen them all over the Internet, but had no idea how to make one themselves. To create one, students first learned to approach and compose a video shoot to convey mood and meaning. Students also learned about the basics of composition and lighting. After trimming their videos, students imported their clips to Photoshop where each video frame became a separate layer, which they then manipulated, adjusted, colored, and animated.

Although it took some effort, students loved making them.


Students in the course followed free online tutorials from Phlearn: Part 1 (video capture) and Part 2 (Photoshop editing). Spoographics and Lifehacker also have decent Cinemagraph tutorials. I’d like my students to create their own tutorial in the weeks to come.
1 Comment

DATA VISUALIZATION – the representation of information through images – is a powerful technique for conveying information to audiences. In my Visual Rhetorics course we’re currently exploring ways to creatively visualize data, while rendering information more useful, engaging, and accessible to audiences. We are also working on our visual literacy and invention skills. This means that we aren’t using data visualization software, such as Tableau, Many Eyes, or Gapminder. While these services are great, right now I am trying to get students in touch with a more humanistic approach to storytelling through data.

In the edited collection, Designing Texts: Teaching Visualization (2013), Charles Kostelnick warns that technology can sometimes impede “the student’s inclination to think creatively and flexibly about design solutions” (p. 266). I couldn’t agree more, which is why we are developing our visual literacy skills by producing some low-tech projects in class, including hand-drawn fonts, maps and homemade infographics.

Rahul Bhargava, a researcher at MIT Civic Media Lab explains on his blog, “Certainly the journalists and new explainers need to understand how to best use the tools at hand, but in addition we can help the “audience” build visual literacy by helping them create their own visual presentations of their information.”Bhargava leads Data Therapy workshops, in which he employs creative activities for building visual literacy, such as 3D data sculptures.

One classic technique to exploring a new domain is to re-use more familiar materials in novel ways. For instance, in my Data Therapy workshops I show up with a bin of craft materials and give people 5 minutes to create a physical “data sculpture” that depicts a tiny set of data I share.

With his generous assistance (and a lot of pipe-cleaners) I was able to lead my own 3D data sculpture activity at St. Joe’s. (Thank you Rahul!) Below are student’s creative data presentations of the Sommerville Happiness Survey.

Charles Kostelnick. “Teaching Students to Design Rhetorically: A Low-Tech Process Approach.” Designing Texts: Teaching Visual Communication. Eds. Eva R. Brumberger and Kathryn M. Northcut. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing, 2013. 265-8.
Leave a comment

The screen on my iPad waiting for me this morning (I hadn’t touched it yet):


With iOS7, devices throughout the land have suddenly developed newfound human qualities, like putting together better sentences from data. Honestly, the lively prose was a welcome relief – I swooned a little. But then I got that eerie futuristic feeling. Did anyone else feel it?

I recalled the old “Knowledge Navigator” videos from Apple – a far-out concept at the time. The video I remembered featured a professor interacting with an iPad-esque type device with a Siri-esque interface. Notably, the interface looked and sounded human – without the usual computerese. The video is from 1987 – conceived by the higher education marketing team at Apple. It’s not too long until I have a bow-tie wearing butler to call my own.

Leave a comment

39.9061° N, 79.4681° W

In honor of the autumnal equinox, I unearthed some of Frank Lloyd Wright’s musings about the importance of nature in design. As he wrote in 1908:

“there is no source so fertile, so suggestive, so helpful aesthetically for the architect as a comprehension of natural law.”

Concerned with creating an authentically American, organic architecture, Wright formulated some timeless “propositions” concerning architecture and design. Here they are coupled with photos I snapped while visiting his masterpiece, Fallingwater. Fall is the perfect time to visit.

1. Simplicity and Repose are qualities that measure the true value of any work of art.


2. There should be as many kinds (styles) of houses as there are kinds (styles) of people and as many differentiations as there are different individuals. A man who has individuality has a right to its expression in his own environment.


3. A Building should appear to grow easily from its site and be shaped to harmonize with its surroundings if Nature is manifest there.


4. Use the soft warm, optimistic tones of earths and autumn leaves in preference to the pessimistic blues, purples, or cold greens and grays of the ribbon counter.


5. Bring out the nature of materials, let their nature intimately into your scheme. Reveal the nature of the wood, plaster, brick, or stone in your designs, they are all by nature friendly and beautiful.


6. A house that has character stands a good chance of growing more valuable as it grows older while a house in the prevailing mode, whatever that mode may be, is soon out of fashion, stale, and unprofitable. Above all, integrity.


*From Frank Lloyd Wright. Essential Texts (2009).
*Originally published in The Architectural Record, 23 (1908).

1 Comment


James Turrell: Master of light.  Player of perceptions. Orchestrator of aesthetic experience. Opening three major shows this June at the GuggenheimLACMA , and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston – Turrell is the art event of the summer.

Never seen his work? Perhaps because many of his installations are hidden away – often in smaller museums and private homes around the world. He’s especially known for designing Skyspaces – a viewing area open to the elements. Turrell orchestrates an experience for the viewer with the use of computerized lights. The artist takes the viewer on a sensory journey – utterly transforming the viewer’s perception of color and depth based on a subtle and masterful manipulation of light.

This is what I experienced recently at The Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida – home of Turrell’s Skypace, Joseph’s Coat.” At thirty minutes before sunset, about two dozen people entered the Skyspace chamber and stretched out on the floor together. For an hour we stared at the hole in the ceiling. It went like this.

What I love most about Turrell’s work is the way he invites the viewer to participate and interact with the work. In fact, his works are nothing without our sensory perception. He asks the viewer to surrender to time. Surrender to the elements. And also to give up our endless meaning-making. When we do this, we receive a rare gift of pure aesthetic appreciation.

Leave a comment