Visuality

The Practice & Art of Thinking


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REASON – A USEFUL COMPONENT FOR PROBLEM SOLVING

I normally would present the complete ‘picture’ – in this case, the ‘method’ for problem solving – and then explain what I mean by the individual components of the method. This assumes that the method consists of a combined set of components, which is the case here.

I am using this approach for the simple reason that I think the ‘journey’ (to use an over-used term) is important, allowing us to develop and visualise a personal version of the whole, which would be negated if presented with the conclusion upfront. I will add, many principles of the method have already been touched on throughout this blog.

The method consists of a mix of concepts and specific principles. In this post I will be looking briefly at aspects of the concept of ‘Reason’.

The notion ‘reason’ is important but we tend to park it in the ‘hard basket’ for the simple reason that it has connotations of ‘philosophy’ and such discussion can have the feeling of talking to someone who has forgotten to take their medication – it all seems a bit ‘random’ – as some New Zealanders would say.

Let us quickly look at why reason is important. A great example is that captured in one of Popper’s books (title at end of post), where he suggests that a healthy society is one that is open to ideas and reason. In contrast, non-open societies are (as Popper states) ‘barbaric’, with no capacity for sympathy or understanding for others and diversity of opinion (I could not agree more. We can currently see this happening in our world).

urlWithout the ability to reason, we cannot progress and understand the world around us. We reason to consciously make sense of things and to establish and verify facts. This is exactly what one needs to do to get to grips with any problem situation.

We tend to confuse the term ‘reason’ with logic and use them interchangeably but they are different. To explain, we can use the example of the difference between movement and locomotion. All locomotion is movement but not all movement is locomotion. A tree moves but it does not locomote because it is rooted in the ground. Likewise, all logic is reason but not all reason conforms to the standards of logic.

If logic is the map of what’s really “out there”, reason is the process of trying to read and follow the map. Using another example – reason is the application of logic to one’s perception of the real world, like engineering is the application of physics.

Simply put, reasoning is the actual process of evaluating information and applying logic to arrive at an appropriate (correct) conclusion.

It might now be clear to see why refining our skill of reasoning is essential to good problem solving. It should be considered as the overall concept of the method of problem solving – the balancing force.

I have used the metaphor of the spinning top before (see here in relation to design thinking). We could consider reason as the overall resultant force that keeps the spinning top performing at its optimum – in this case, good problem solving could be seen as a spinning top humming away, where reason is the element that feeds all the other forces and ensures they are performing at peak condition.

From this, it is not too difficult to see why it is vital that we are eloquent at reasoning and understand the importance of reason in relation to good problem solving practice. The cartoon below by Luiz Oswaldo Carneiro Rodrigues stresses the point that data should not be forced and distorted to do what you want it to do. One needs to use reason at all times.

Treat Your Data with Reason - Not With Force. Cartoon by LOR

Treat Your Data with Reason – Not With Force. Cartoon by LOR

I look briefly at reason and ‘listening to data’ shortly in the future.

Book: By Karl Popper – The Poverty of Historicism; The Open Society and Its Enemies. First published in London in 1945, Russia in 1992 and US 2013. This book was on the Modern Library Board’s 100 best nonfiction books of the 20th century. It criticizes Marx, amongst others, for relying on historicism to underpin their political philosophies.


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Visual Problem Solving

This blog has up to now explored many aspects of visual thinking directly and indirectly.

The aim was to have diversity on the topic that would explore some aspects of thinking, rationality and simply how to think better so that we can contribute positively with our interventions.

The topics have not been exhaustive, the aim was to simply map the range and diversity of how we think and make sense of the world.

I am not one for quotes, but the ones below make the point better than if I were to write an essay.

“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”

“And he has Brain.”pooh

“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”

There was a long silence.

“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

 

“Don’t you understand that we need to be childish in order to understand? Only a child sees things with perfect clarity, because it hasn’t developed all those filters which prevent us from seeing things that we don’t expect to see.”

Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

The point I am trying to make is that we sometimes get too clever and forget the basics and loose trust in out own capabilities. This leads us to desperately seek the magic formula out there, because we have lost the confidence in our basic abilities of thinking and making sense of the problems we are faced with.

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The basic principles of thinking and asking critical questions – dumb questions – like the ones that children sometimes ask – is important and we should become confident to explore basic principles.

Visual thinking, although it might come across as a fad, I deeply believe is a very basic skill that we have lost confidence in. It is not a technique nor a method, but one of those skills that we as humans are excellent at and should reignite our innate abilities and use it with confidence.

In future posts I will be exploring more frequently issues related directly to problem solving and specifically how to use visuality to make good informed decisions.

There are tons of methods that promise to help us solve problems – I do not criticise any, I only suggest that there is a danger with any approach that promises that if you follow x and y steps this will be the panacea to all your needs.

The only caution I make is that there is the danger that one loses the basic skills to think and hands over control to a method that in many cases has been removed from ‘the context’, thereby loosing the essence of its original intention because it is being used incorrectly or applied incorrectly resulting in and creating more problems than the one’s we truly solve.

We tend to clutch at quick fixes because we deeply fear to make mistakes. This attitude was drilled into us at school. We learned that mistakes are bad, and we were punished for making them in some way. Yet, if you look at the way humans learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we had never fallen, we would never have walk. The same with thinking, we need the courage to think again.

As Toni Morrison said, if “You wanna fly, you got to give up the s..t that weighs you down.

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Beauty in the Tech Age Part 1

The notion of beauty is one of those cyclical arguments; we will never have a universal set of rules that defines beauty.

The reason for this is really not too complicated – we are all individuals and culturally diverse. The problem is that humans have a tendency to be imperialistic, controlling and arrogant. In our ignorance, we seem to be quite comfortable imposing our value system onto others. Possibly, this is the reason for many of the problems we are faced with today (such as wars and national conflicts) but this is another conversation.

The structuralist paradigm of ‘one size fits all’ is a form of small-minded parochial thinking. For some reason, we are threatened by ‘otherness’. We seem to want to force everyone else to our way of thinking. This is the case with politics and religion, even music. My opinion, my taste, my view is better, correct and the only one acceptable. Why is this the case? I will not attempt to explore this complex question in this post. Rather, I am hoping that we are now in an age where it is not only okay to be unique but, also, we have come to see cultural diversity as something that should be encouraged, respected and celebrated.

Globalization does not help but rather than seeing it as a destructive force, we can see it as a reason to strengthen, invigorate and give us a conceptual base to reinterpret our unique traditions and evolve them within this new context of globalization and technology.

iToday, diversity is ‘beauty’. If we were all exactly the same, that would be a terrifying ‘desert’ and the ‘ideal’ human would very quickly become ugly and boring to us. Beauty is a consequence of the times we live in. It has shifted to being of a passive nature to one where we, as a society, are participants and co-creators.

diversity

We need to mature further as humans to accepting and appreciating the pleasure of what other people see and treasure as beautiful.

I will explore beauty in the age of technology next week in Part 2.


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The Things We Miss

The video below captures some great shots of moments that we lose and are not able to commonly see and appreciate.

They call it ‘Timefreez’ – quite appropriate – and the technique is called “bullet-time”.

I find it interesting because, by using this technique, we are able to explore the dynamics and fleeting seconds of form in space. It’s not only a great art form but also reveals the stuff we sort of know is there but are not sure about.

The second video shows how a 360 degrees Timefreez project is created. 

 


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Text Is Image

Who would possibly say that words could be so beautiful? Well, the visuality of words, the form, rhythm and composition is, as shown in the video below. Text becomes the image, in this visual form, text is no longer simply the passive transmitter of meaning as is the normal function of text, it is elevated and transformed, gaining extra depth and meaning.

The Vimeo video by Trevor Kelly of “Modern Man” by George Carlin from his Life is Worth Losing special on HBO, is a great example of Kinetic Typography.

The video is not only funny but the typographic animation of the text engages the viewer’s attention by forcing him/her to visually track moving words. The text is transformed into a symbol that has character expressed in motion, color and shape.

The composition and shapes of the text adds to the meaning and creates a dimension only possible by visuality – it gives shape and form to the spoken word.

In this visual system, text is no longer neutral – the observer is engaged and not allowed to distance themselves and their feelings. Text acquires power and dense meaning is encapsulated in an image. Text becomes the image – the form shape not the neutral static carrier of meaning.

We need to remember that this visual form was originally started by Saul Bass ( have done a post recently on Saul).

I hope you enjoy the video.

I will be presenting more sophisticated Kinetic Typographic work in future posts.


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György Kepes – A Highly Influential Unknown!

A “highly influential unknown” seems like a paradoxical statement. However, there are many such people – people that ‘do’, write, speak and teach, because they are compelled to do so and because they are consumed by their passion.

György Kepes  a Master of Image and Information

György Kepes a Master of Image and Information

György Kepes (1906-2001) is one such brilliant person of the design discipline. The fact that he was an introvert might explain his obscurity.

I suspect that this unknown figure is about to become known to a broader audience, not only because we are becoming more literate and interested in design, but also because the topics that he pioneered in his lectures and writings — the fusion of design with other disciplines (a topic I have explored in various posts) — are now coming of age.

Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London, considers him to be an important figure in our contemporary society: “He had a holistic approach to knowledge, and the links he made between art, design and other disciplines, especially science, are so important now.”

The quote from his book ‘Language of Vision’ reinforces what he strongly believed in:

“The language of vision, optical communication, is one of the strongest potential means both to reunite man and his knowledge and to re-form man into an integrated being. Visual communication is universal and international: it knows no limits of tongue, vocabulary, or grammar, and it can be perceived by the illiterate as well as by the literate. Visual language can convey facts and ideas in a wider and deeper range than almost any other means of communication. It can interpret the new understanding of the physical world and social events because dynamic interrelationships and interpenetration. Vision is primarily a device of orientation; a means to measure and organize spatial events.”

The quote above reinforces many points I make throughout this blog.

On arriving in the USA, Kepes founded a design school “New Bauhaus” in Chicago, together with his mentor Moholy-Nagy. In 1942, he was offered a teaching position at the Brooklyn College where he met and mentored Saul Bass (the topic of my next post).

In 1945 he moved to MIT and surrounded himself with scientists, architects and technologists, who helped him to refine his thinking and work. In 1967, Kepes founded M.I.T.’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies to conduct research in the development of what we now call digital imagery. This structure has become a model for art and technology programs through the world.

In 1956, he published his book ‘The New Landscape in Art and Science’, in which Modern-era artwork was paired with scientific images that were made with devices such as x-ray machines, stroboscopic photography, electron microscopes, sonar, radar, high-powered telescopes and infrared sensors.

One Integrated Flow of Production from the Early Series (Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington DC)

One Integrated Flow of Production from the Early Series (Smithsonian Art Museum, Washington DC)

From The Nature and Art of Motion, Edited by Gyorgy Kepes, Published George Braziller, New York

From The Nature and Art of Motion, Edited by Gyorgy Kepes, Published George Braziller, New York

kepes_braille_c

 

György Kepes, Balance, 1942

György Kepes, Balance, 1942

Kepes’ work has influenced many people who have become influential figures in the development of digital images, which now fill our computer and phone screen – Muriel Cooper, John Maeda, Ben Fry and Casey Reas. He was also had strong influence on Saul Bass.

His theories on visual perception and, in particular, his personal mentorship, had a profound influence on young MIT architecture, planning and visual art students. These include Kevin Lynch (The Image of the City) and Maurice K Smith (Associative Form and Field theory). I will devote future posts to exploring the work of these fascinating people and how they have contributed to visual thinking. For now, I include an image from each of them below.

Muriel Cooper: Information Landscapes

Muriel Cooper: Information Landscapes

 

Book cover by John Maeda

Book cover by John Maeda

BEN FRY - alternative web browser called "tendril"

BEN FRY – alternative web browser called “tendril”

Casey Reas – Process, Transformation, Growth

Casey Reas – Process, Transformation, Growth


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SoundCloud

I feel like I have been missing something – SoundCloud has been around since 2007 and I have just stumbled across it quite by accident.

SC Logo

SC Logo

SoundCloud is an online audio distribution platform based in Germany, enabling users to upload, record, promote and share their originally-created sounds.

Co-founder Alex Ljung said in an interview with Wired Magazine:

“We both came from backgrounds connected to music, and it was just really, really annoying for us to collaborate with people on music—I mean simple collaboration, just sending tracks to other people in a private setting, getting some feedback from them, and having a conversation about that piece of music. In the same way that we’d be using Flickr for our photos, and Vimeo for our videos, we didn’t have that kind of platform for our music”.

SoundCloud depicts audio tracks graphically as waveforms. I like it because it is visual, simple to use and people can visually make comments on specific parts of the track (known as time comments). These comments are displayed while listening to the part of the sound they are referring to – seriously ‘nice’. You can re-listen to any section of the track and get to it precisely by simply pointing to it, unlike other systems that you need to remember a number, or slide your clumsy finger on a clumsy slider and hope that you can get to the section that you want to get to.

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There are other standard features such as reposts, playlists, followers and complimentary downloads.

SoundCloud also provides users with the ability to create and join groups that provide a common space for content to be collected and shared.

Music is distributed using widgets and apps. The widgets can be placed in individual websites or blogs and SoundCloud automatically tweets every track uploaded. The API (application programming interface) also allows other applications and smartphones to upload or download music and sound files.

I am having a sensory and visual ball!

Rui Having fun. By Rui

Rui Having fun. By Rui