Category Archives: design

Dance texts

Looking into ideas for promoting events, I began with historical texts, for obvious reasons. I was caught by two examples: tourism posters for Australian cities and playbills/flyers for the Savoy Ballroom.

nla-1

(1938 150th anniversary poster)

nla-2(1940s poster)

(Trove has a nice collection of these)

vintage_australia_poster-re5e8bbdb81d44925a1b3f44de1ee8f16_zwqc_8byvr_512

1930s-1940s-savoy-ballroom-flyers2

1930s-1940s-savoy-ballroom-flyers4

 

1930s-1940s-savoy-ballroom-flyers6

(via JazzLives)

But I found the tourism posters just didn’t work for my project. I was designing a flyer for a local dance, targeting a local market. Tourism posters for Sydney were targeting a national, even international audience. The images of Sydney they offered were too simple: a sun-drenched beach. An art deco drawing of the Harbour Bridge. People who live in Sydney have a much deeper, more nuanced understanding of the city. Their idea of Sydney is far more than the Harbour Bridge or beaches. It’s street corners, shops, the view from a particular hill, the colour of the water near a park, the smell of the alley behind their house, the height of the steps from the train station platform. The tourism posters simply don’t capture that complexity of experience.

harlem-street-1942-dcb96c4b6a66d63a353a451a38900a7d19730e79-s6-c30

(from the npr site)

In contrast, the Savoy’s flyers perfectly capture a truly local idea. They’re hyper-local. Designed to be handed out, passed hand-to-hand, they’re designed not just for residents of a city, but for residents of Harlem. Of this part of Harlem. There’s no explanation of ‘Savoy’, or ‘lindy hop’, or of who band leaders are. There’s a great deal of assumed  knowledge built into the creation of this text. Readers are positioned in a particular way.

Tourism, posters, in contrast, are introducing an idea of place to the reader. The Savoy’s flyers are using an idea of a place – a  community – and expanding it with suggestions about how residents might enrich that understanding. You live in Harlem? Of course you care about dancing!

And an important part of this sense of hyper-local is the up-closeness, the immediacy of the physical object itself. This is a hand bill. A flyer. To be picked up from a table, accepted from a proffered hand. And then it’s folded and put in a pocket or bag. Slid into a newspaper. Tucked into a magazine or book. Scribbled on. Shown to, and passed from, friend to friend. And there are many copies of them.

Tourist posters are posters, displayed on walls. To be looked at, not used and possessed. In a similar way, the Savoy in these flyers is owned and belongs to local Harlem residents, and the Sydney of these posters is inaccessible – to be visited just for a day or week.

Flyers are cheap, one or two colours on cheap, small pieces of paper, mass-produced and replaced by next week’s – tomorrow’s – version.

This is fascinating when you think about how these local texts work in a modern context. While modern lindy hoppers rely on the internet – Faceplant, websites, email – paper flyers are still important promotional tools.

The thought is that you show an audience  the image three times – in three different media – and then you have that image stuck in their minds.  And paper flyers are found in dance spaces. These are powerful places for dancers, associated with the physicality of dance itself.  But paper flyers only really work with the digital repetition. The winning trifecta is a paper flyer and a personal recommendation and a reliable website or email.

Looking at these two different media, I’m struck by how the Savoy’s flyers are perfect for promoting local dances to dancers. Because that is their purpose. A tourism poster, though, combining (for example), the Harbour Bridge with a dancer would be perfect for advertising a Sydney lindy exchange to interstaters or internationals.

154873-harbour-bridge-80th-anniversary

(This photo from the RTA’s Sydney Harbour Bridge 80th birthday event gives us an idea of how this could work)

Most interesting of all, though, is that the flyer is cheap.

Mimeograph-Machine

Printed cheaply, or by hand on machines like mimeographs then, they’re now photocopied. Cheap, ubiquitous, disposable, ephemeral, powerful in their reliably everydayness.

The tourism poster – with its large format, colour, and less localised content, is more expensive. Better for an infrequent event, publicised to a less-local market.

Fascinating, in combination, for the way they illustrate the global/local nature of lindy hop communities. But more interesting for the way lindy hop communities then and now are necessarily highly local. Hyper-local. Delineated by an hour on public transport or in a car. Depicting intensely familiar spaces, names, people, places. The Savoy might be a glorious, nostalgia-laden phantasm from a by-gone age for us now, but then, for the people holding its flyer, it was local community. Everyday. Ordinary. Essential. And anything but ephemeral.

 

 

 

The Social Life of Urban Spaces

I’ve been interested in William H Whyte’s ‘The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces for a while, mostly because it provides a nice jumping off place for talking about dancers and DJing, but also because there are some flaws in the work which make it worth revisiting occasionally. But I hadn’t realised there was a film version of William H. Whyte: The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces – The Street Corner.

New thoughts about the long term sustainability of dance projects

Oh! Exciting! Last night Alice and I launched our new weekly class in Petersham… I say that as though it was just us two there working the door, making up lead numbers (we only needed one more lead!), buying drinks, laughing and talking and filling the room, bringing our friends along just to see what dancing’s like, offering advice on PR, working the bar and making food. We really couldn’t have pulled it off without lots of help from all of our friends, from our respective kissing-partners (my Squeeze gets mad props for being a gun working the door, Alice’s for filling in lead numbers and both of them for being ridiculously chillaxed and having no doubt of our abilities), from the lovely Petersham Bowling Club staff, from, well, everyone we know. We are so grateful for the work people have put in, even (or most particularly) those people who were patient enough to sit through one of our rambling conversations full of what-ifs and low-number-anxiety.

Basically, we had support and help from pretty much everyone we know. And we’re so grateful. Running a dance event is a social enterprise, from beginning to end, and even though it’s a cliche, we absolutely couldn’t have gotten even this far without everyone’s support and encouragement.

I now have lots of things to write about here about teaching and running classes and volunteer labour and the economics of running weekly classes and the relationship between social and class dancing and… well, lots of things. But it’s not really cool for me to write about what is, essentially, other people’s business here on my blog. I’ll let it all percolate a little more and see if I can come up with something that’s not going to be indiscrete or inpolitic.

I’d love to talk about how we might use various media to promote our event. That’s the sort of thing my academic phd brain loves thinking about most. I spent so long researching and writing about media use in a capitalist, patriarchal culture, I just can’t stop myself then applying that work to the practical public relations strategies for a (highly gendered) dance class in a multimedia cultural environment.
I’m fascinated by the relationships between digital, print, face to face/word of mouth, radio and audio visual texts and media. I’m so interested in the way brands can be developed at a small, seriously local/micro level. I’m all a twitter with ideas about developing a sustainable business model centred on collaborative creative practice.

Every time we put together a Faceplant ad or print a poster or make an announcement at a dance or simply dance in public my brain kind of explodes with the wonderfulness of how humans work together and tailor media for our very particular uses. But I also have to stop and calm myself down: baby steps, yo.
While it’s possible to run on ahead at a million miles a minute when you’re thinking through ideas for a bit of academic writing, the actual practice of all this theory requires a slower pace. As my design subjects and dance practice have taught me, you learn a lot from actually doing something, and thinking about that thing isn’t actually all that helpful for understanding, really knowing how that thing works. I need to put the practice before the theory, but at the same time let the critical and theoretical work inform what I do. Nothing new for a feminist who sees dance itself as a feminist project. But something new for the lecturer/writer/tutor who spent so much time working on advertising and media discourse.

I guess the thing that I’m most struck by now, and will no doubt come to obsess me, is the difference between running a one-off event and a weekly event that goes on and on and on and on and on and on. Running a one-off gig is tiring and anxiety-making, but it’s over after a few months or a year. With a long-term gig like a weekly dance or class, you need stamina, and the work you do must be sustainable. You can’t make yourself ill with overwork; you can’t live in a state of high anxiety/alert or you’ll go nuts. Your work needs to be sustainable. And that means that there are all sorts of different labour politics, issues surrounding professional and personal networking, skill development and PR practices to think about.
It’s fascinating for me, because I’m so used to doing one-off gigs. Big weekend exchanges. One-night dances. One-off classes. Coordinating DJs for our local events is a long-term gig, but it’s a pretty simple one (though do remind me to talk about how we’re going to encourage and foster new DJing talent as a long term project). I have to say, right now I’m really interested in the dynamics of making a weekly gig sustainable – environmentally, culturally, socially, economically.

That first one is important because our venue, the Petersham Bowling Club, has a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, having secured some grant money for installing rain tanks, solar power and other lovely things. This is especially important for a venue that is a bowling green. Greens are traditionally environmentally and economically expensive. I’m also interested in the way dances are quite energy wasteful. We use a lot of electricity for cooling, for sound systems, for lighting. Yet we don’t harvest any of the (masses and masses) of energy our bodies expend on the dance floor. We don’t use that piezoelectricity generated by impact on the dancefloor the way some Dutch doods do. We don’t harvest the energy in the heat generated by our bodies. And that’s a lot of heat. Nor do we collect the moisture in the air from all those sweating bodies. The PBC isn’t the only venue in Sydney interested in environmental sustainability. The Red Rattler is also prioritising these things. I tend to spend more time thinking about social justice than environmentalism when I’m doing dance stuff, but I have noticed that the two issues tend to overlap in the priorities of particular venues. And the Petersham/Marrickville/inner west area is kind of keen on this stuff. As the Greens and other lefty political entities have realised.

I also think a weekly event has to be culturally sustainable. You have to offer something that not only suits your market/community in that first launch moment, but is also responsive to the changes in the wider dance community as well as individual students’ and social dancers’ needs. I think it’s important that a weekly event be responsive to the musical, cultural and creative requirements of dancers over the long term, whether they are students in the class or social dancers. That might mean adjusting class content to suit students’ interests and skills, or creating promotional material that correctly targets that preferred demograph, but it also means doing things like making musical choices that reflect broader dance community interests and responding to dance style fads and vintage/contemporary fashion overlaps.

Weekly events have to be socially sustainable as well. That means responding to the social needs and context of the local geographic area (Petersham, and inner-western Sydney) and to the social needs of dancers already in the scene. To put it clumsily (and to suit my own approach, rather than a broader critical or theoretical model), cultural sustainability is about the creative and functional things we do and make, as dancers, while social sustainability is about the interactive, human to human relationships and living. Weekly dance events can’t just be about dancing or dance-related cultural practice. They also have to be about social context and practice. Events have to be socially relevant and positioned carefully for longevity. The fact that some of our students came to their very first class simply because they’d seen a poster at the venue during the week is testament to the fact that matching venue to event is very important in targeting your preferred demograph. Dancers who aren’t coming to class are going to need a space that’s offering more than just a dance floor, if you want your event to be truly socially sustainable. That means thinking about food and drink, transport and safety, opening and closing hours and the shared values and interpersonal relationships at work in dancers’ lives. You can see how environmental sustainability can overlap with social sustainability.

And finally, weekly events have to be economically sustainable. This is perhaps the most important issue. I’m a big fat hippy socialist feminist, and I love nonprofit, community-run and ethically responsible dance events. I won’t have anything to do with an event that exploits workers or punters, or that articulates racist, sexist, homophobic or other hateful sentiments. I’m happy to do things ‘for the love of dance’, ‘for charity’ or ‘for the sake of art’, so long as that thing is a source of pleasure (rather than pain), ethically sound and socially responsible. But at the end of the day, financial responsibility is part of being a socially, culturally and ethically sustainable project.
You need to be able to cover your costs, you need to offer your host venue a sensible profit so they can justify your working relationship. You need to provide facilities that are safe, efficient and effective, and that means spending some money. And at the end of the day, if you’re doing this gig every single week, putting on classes or social dancing with all the preparation that involves (and there’s a lot of it, even if you’re ‘just’ doing a social dance), you need to give your workers – your teachers, DJs and staff – some sort of financial reward. Even if it’s just another way to show that you value their work. Even minimal pay can help relieve rent anxiety or defray the costs of transport and time and resources. Running short of money can be a serious source of anxiety for organisers, and being economically sustainable can help relieve that. Not to mention pay the bills and make the whole thing possible.

So, as you can see, I have lots to say, and lots to think about. But I can’t talk specifically at the moment, because this isn’t just my project. There are other folk involved, and sometimes knowing when to stop talking is just as important as knowing when to speak up.

website

I’m going to try to sort this site so that:

  • you don’t have to look at those boring fitness updates;
  • that annoying line/space problem on the entry titles is fixed
  • the individual entry pages look better;
  • it’s easier to navigate back through entries

Best not hold your breath.

usability evaluation: hooman

Design Item 7: hoomans.
This item will be evaluated for usability using heuristics inspired by (but not elucidated in) lecture discussions of Chignell and Valdez. As I have already discussed, these heuristics are developed by my use of van Welie et al.
As per previous usability evaluations, I take myself as the user group evaluating the item. As Nielsen and Molich argue, usability evaluation can only be truly effective with the use of a series of evaluators with different needs and interests. This particular evaluation, then, is limited as a tool for assessing the usability of this item for a broad pool of users. It is, however, very helpful in assessing the usability of the hooman for one particular user and provides a beginning point for ongoing discussion and evaluation of a series of usability heuristics.
The hooman comes in two key types – male and female – yet there are variations and combinations of these types. For this project I will assess the hooman of the conventionally ‘female’ physical sex, as that is the type I have most experience with and use most often. I will specify further, and evaluate the urban-dwelling, middle class, 35-year old, Anglo-celtic, female hooman. Sexual preference and education are key factors, and though they may be investigated in further research, the scope of this project is such that these cannot be explored here. From this point I will refer to the item as ‘hooman’, rather than ‘female hooman’, though this is not to suggest that all hoomans are interchangeable: each particular item has its own individual features and usability issues.
usefulness
The hooman body is a particularly useful item. Even with some minor damage, this item is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. The hooman can be used for a range of domestic and professional tasks, and I have not yet found the limit of its usefulness. It is particularly useful for physical activities, ranging from intensive physical exercise to creative work, but also lends itself to quiet, sustained projects which do not require any physical movement at all.
effectiveness
The hooman is an effective tool for both complex, long-term projects, and short, simple tasks. The small digits on the upper limbs are both flexible and highly sensitive and can serve as useful extensions of the high-powered internal operating system. Though the item is currently less effective for long-distance, high-powered locomotion, skilled users with the ability to refine and develop the item for this particular use would no doubt have more success than I.
learnability
The hooman is a particularly learnable item. Learning to use the hooman is both satisfying and expedient, though more complex tasks require more sustained learning periods. Though there is no help function or documentation accompanying this particular hooman, the aesthetically pleasing appearance of the item teamed with the enjoyable operating environment encourage experiential learning and skill development through use.
likability
As I have noted already, likability is highly subjective, and in part determined by the context within which an item is used. Despite this point, the hooman could have very broad appeal for a range of users. Its high learnability, combined with its aesthetically pleasing appearance (which is likable in large part for its adaptability and mutability) and extensive usefulness make it a flexible, poweful tool for most users.
Chignell, M. & Valdez, J. 1992, ‘Methods for Assessing the Usage and Usability of Documentation’, Third Conference on Quality in Documentation, at the Centre for Professional Writing, Waterloo, Ontario Canada, pp. 5-27.
Nielsen, J & Molich, R, 1990, ‘Heuristic evaluation of user interfaces’, in CHI ’90 Proceedings, Seattle, WA, pp. 249-256.
van Welie, M., van der Veer, G.C. & Eliëns, A. 1999, ‘Breaking down Usability’, INTERACT ’99, Edinburgh, Scotland, 30th August – 3rd September 1999, http://www.welie.com/papers/Interact99.pdf

visualising information

We’ve only spent a tiny bit of time on this in class, but I’m interested in visualising information. Being a word person, I’ve always tended to represent information in words. But working on the MLX websites and programs I’ve also had to figure out ways of representing information in other ways. Dancers during an exchange aren’t interested in lots of words (and are often too tired to figure them out), and, frankly, who wants to read a whole bunch of long, boring sentences when there’s exciting action things to be done?
There are a range of accessibility issues at play here as well, and reading problems are quite common in dancers.
So here’re a few sites I’ve found that tackle this issue of ‘visualising information’
This one is taken from Lapham’s Quarterly, which is a really nice online magazine/journal dealing with history, literature, art – all that high brow action. But the tone is cheery and a little wiggedy, and they tweet some really cool stuff.
vi.png
This American Infographic features “infographical companions to the celebrated radio show”. In other words, it is a series of images created in response to episodes of the This American Life radio show.
There is, of course Edwarde Tufte, king of visualising information. Tufte had a walk-on part in my last essay. With a line, I think.
Newsflow visualises news stories in real time, as they are published. This one is FULLY SICK.
Infosthetics is a blog capturing links to really interesting ‘info visualisation’ items.
textarc ‘visualises’ the words of books or text. This is magic.
We Feel Fine, visualising ‘I feel’ or ‘feeling’ text from blogs.
Visual Complexity is… well, lots of visual information stuff.
Edit: Something critiquing the ‘vizualisation cargo cult’.
Someone else getting cranky about dodgy info visualisation.
A tool for doing your own fancy visualisations.
Another Edit: Visual information and The Times through history.

reading and thinking about design in cultural context

I tend to tweet my thoughts as I do my reading for these classes. This ends up cluttering up my twitter feed with random comments. I don’t have time to write full blog entries while I’m reading (and I shouldn’t). As I read and tweet, I’m also taking notes and making comments on readings in a word processing document.
About every five minutes:
I will try to note some of my comments here as I go, instead of cluttering up my twitter feed and annoying people.
I haven’t been to the library once this semester. But I’ve done all the readings and written three assignments. Uni has changed in 17 years.
Challenging the pseudoscience of these design articles is getting tiresome.
I tired of your bullshit, design theory.
your fully justified article is blowing up my eyeballs, design article. Also, your content is desperate flummery.
Gotta remind myself: guiding motivation behind most design isn’t equity or social justice but financial gain. This is important difference.
…………………………………….
Oh man, my brains are blowing up. This article is just so… it’s like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. It drives me crazy.
I give up.
I’ll probably return to this article later, once I’ve been to the lecture. I’ll definitely return to it if I need it for an assignment. This way I have an idea of what it’s about, and can come back later. There’s no discussion of readings in the tutorial or lecture, so I don’t need to be ‘on’. I’m also finding that the readings have no reference to the material covered in lectures.
I’ve just come across an article about the India Report. This caught my eye because the report was written by the Eames – mega famous American designers – who went to India to have a look at Indian design. I’m not sure if they were invited specifically, but I do think it was a response to the Indian government asking for suggestions about improving design and industry in India. The Eames’ report was sponsored by the Ford Foundation.
The Eames recommended a National Institute of Design be established, and it was. This is just fascinating stuff. I’d be really interested to see how the report (and institute) accommodate:
– regional differences in design
– cultural differences in design within the massive and culturally and ethnically diverse Indian continent
– gender/class/etc in (then) existing design practices, particularly as they relate to rural communities and gendered design and manufacturing processes.
I’d also be be fascinated to see how and if and even whether the Institute and Report worked in a context of cultural imperialism and India-as-British-Colony. I’d be curious about value systems and evaluation of design in this context, as this is something we do in my design subject – we ‘evaluate’ designs. I’m immediately wary of the term ‘evaluate’ – to engage with an item and to assess it according to a set of design values. I smell cultural specificity, but then, the part of me that’s learning about design pragmatics, understands that you do actually have to assess designs. This is especially important if you’re working to create accessible designs, or designs which improve accessibility, particularly for less powerful or marginalised groups and individuals.
I keep stumbling over the relationship between postmodernism and…. that other thing. I think of it in terms of feminism – women are all very different, with different needs and interests, but we also share common needs and interests, and so can work as groups. I always think of these groupings as contextually and temporally dependent, and also as mobile (agile?), changing all the time.
So usability design should:
– recognise the limitations of one designer designing for a group from whom he or she differs. In other words, remember who you are, how your ideas about the world are specific to you and your experiences, and design self-reflexively
– develop useful design personas for developing objects.
I’m not entirely sure about this point as design personas are just new to me. Basically, you develop an imaginary user with very convincing attributes – age, class, etc. The best personas are the product of extensive empirical research and a designer’s long experience. I suspect, though, that it might simply be more useful to work with the intended users directly with a sort of design-centred action research approach. This is complicated, though, by the fact that designers are actually working for clients (retailers, government bodies, etc) who are requesting a design to serve a particular user or customer. So you have to accommodate not only the users’ needs and interests, but also those of the client who’s paying you. Economic factors shape commercial (and government) work, policy issues shape government work, individual notions of the product from your liason affect the design….. and so on.
I’ve just been reading about scientific approaches to design. Or using principles of scientific research (cognitive psychology in particular) in the design process. While I’m interested in one way, I’m also very sceptical in another. Though it seems like a nice approach to user centredness and usability, I think that the power and ideas remain with the designer and client, and so the process still doesn’t actually produce user-centred designs. We are still filtering ideas through the brain of a designer.
This is, of course, quite practical in one sense. A designer understands how manufacturing processes work. They understand how design processes – actually getting things done work. But they do not – despite their best imagining and empirical research – actually know what it is to balance a child on one hip while you use a washing machine. Not once, but hundreds and hundreds of times. And then, of course, we have to talk about gender and class and the luxuries (and perceptions of) time and so on.
I think of this sometimes in terms of colour blindness or perceptions of colour. We each ‘know’ what blue is. And while we can use various tools to ‘show’ us how other people perceive blue, physically, we cannot ever ignore or leave behind our ‘knowledge’ of blue from our own, everyday lived experience. So the way we use blue, though it might in some sense respond to those alternative uses or perceptions of ‘blue’, will, ultimately, be shaped and informed and structured by our understanding of blue and blueness.
….I’m wondering if design-by-colaboration is useful here? Or how to go about involving users in the design process? Or whether design needs to get out of offices and out into other people’s everyday spaces?
As I read and write about this stuff, I keep thinking about how we do audience research in media and cultural studies. How the notion of positivism – that we can somehow objectively ‘collect’ data – is anathema to solid audience studies research. Design research, though, seems absolutely founded on this notion of ‘collecting’ data. When I am absolutely sure that data isn’t found but made.
Well, we’ll see how we go. I’m a bit sorry I only have two semesters of learn during this course. I’d like to learn a whole lot more. But there’s nothing to stop me getting my independent learn on later, after I’m finished. I’m also very interested in seeing how my experiences working in a job shape the way I think about this stuff. And the new ideas I’ll come up with. It’s all very exciting.

“Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”

I’ve finally managed to take some dodgy photos of the UTS tower building on my phone. They’re not very good, I’m afraid. I’ll need to take some more. There are more pics on my flickr page, and I’ll try to get some more tonight.
This is a little film I made by accident. I’m a bit snuffly and sighy – I’m pretty snotty atm, so the sound effects are a bit gross.
The Tower building at UTS is a really good example of brutalism. Brutalism apparently refers to the use of raw concrete and materials, but the more usual connotations do seem to apply.
The building is tall and a bit of a bunker. There are fabulous views from all windows, but most of the windows in my lecture rooms are too tall for me to see out of. And too narrow for proper panoramas.
I didn’t realise I was making a movie – I thought I was just taking photos. But at least you get to see the BRIGHT YELLOW hand rails, the curved corners and rounded door corners. This is all in the stair well.
The ceilings seem a little too low and the corridors a little too narrow in this building. I think it’s because it was built in the 60s or 70s (I’m not sure when), and they used slightly smaller proportions for smaller people… well, that’s what happened in our flat. Lower sinks and so on. But I think that this might also be a deliberate design feature in the tower building. It makes the building feel as though you’re in a space ship. The bright green doors contrast strangely with the raw concrete and ‘natural’ colours. It’s all very strange. I am particularly fond of the rounded corners on the doors.
That is one big sigh.