Considering Design

January 29, 2021

Design is all around us...

It would have to be a deliberate act for me to avoid an interaction with an object, place, or even a person that was not touched by design in some way.

From the bed I wake up in, to the coffee machine that I almost immediately move towards, to the clothes that I put on and everything that I engage with throughout the day, these "things" provide me ample opportunity to interface with and experience them in a variety of ways.

It is Where I Live.

One of the most impactful places that I experience design is in the community in which I live. In his essay Why Design Matters , Jason Schupbach stresses the importance of design in helping communities build "just cities" and shared evidence of the impact that good design has on breaking down barriers to equality and the opportunity to bring people together.

Typically I do not spend much time thinking about the suburbs, but this essay reminded me of why I am not fond of the suburbs I find myself living in today. There seems to be very little consideration of design that truly benefits the community. I live in an area with unattractive strip malls and shopping centers that only seem to be concerned with providing parking and access to storefronts, but no concern is shown for  people to gather and interact with one another.

The architecture of most of the buildings around me lazily communicate function and cost savings over any aesthetic value to the neighborhood and they are placed and designed in ways that make it obvious that competing developers did not want one shopping center to benefit from the other. I have visited developed suburbs in various parts of the country that have done a great job of considering design and community when building out these types of areas. From town centers that replicate a "village" feel, to multi-use developments that bring affordable housing and accessible retail and business use to a central area. I have no desire to be a city planner or a developer, but I do appreciate good design in these areas, especially when I can recognize where it is lacking.

It is in My Home.

Design, in its various forms, shows up  many places in my life, most evidently in the choices I make with how I present myself outwardly. The clothes that I wear and the "style" I present, the brands that I like and admire, the type of vehicle I drive, the style of furniture I put in my home, the appliances and even my electric toothbrush- these all signal that I  am consciously and subconsciously making decisions based on design. Whether or not my decisions are  based on design utility and function, or visual/aesthetic design- design guides the choices that I make.

Almost all of these decisions are based on an emotional level that I am not always aware of. I have a love for Craftsman style homes, and it dawned on me as a young adult this was because some of my favorite memories as a  child are of the weekends I would spend at my bestfriend Robert's house. He lived in a big old Craftsman home and we would spend hours playing and having fun there and the vibe and character of that home has stuck with me for years. My love for vintage style motorcycles comes from the times I spent with my father as we raced around town on the back of his motorcycle.

My general interest in design has been influenced by a long list of family members, artists, musicians, and experiences that had some form of an emotional impact on me.

In the video, Don Norman and his theory on emotional design Professor Norman briefly describes this association as three levels of emotion; visceral, behavioral, and reflective. I am definitely impacted by all of these levels in one form or another.

It is in My Work.

Whether working with an Industrial Designer to reimagine a product form, working with  designers to create marketing content and collateral, working with others to bring new product to market, or working independently as a visual artist, design is always on my mind.

At first, my perspective on design was primarily on the aesthetic, but I have learned over the years the importance of utility, functionality and user experience and that these attributes are as important, if not more important than the beauty of things.

I've spent hours on considering the types of handles or zippers to be used on a guitar bag and trying to understand how the user would interact with these simple things. I've had to consider the material and placement of a zipper, keeping in mind that as a user put their guitar in the bag and took it out, there was a chance for them to scratch the guitar. I've had to consider the feel of a handle when someone picked up a case and whether or not the handle would "feel" secure in the users hand.

I've learned to focus on the customer as much as possible while trying to comply to the needs of the business. Often times these two things are at odds, and I enjoy the challenge of this.

Birds of a Feather, PRS Private Stock

One of the more exciting things I have worked on from a design standpoint, was my time at PRS Guitars. I had the honor of working with a team of artisans to create beautiful, heirloom quality instruments that sparked a visceral emotion from the prospective customers. These high-end instruments sold for thousands of dollars, and we had to make careful, yet bold design decisions that would inspire a customer to spend this much money. The Birds of a Feather project was one that was inspired by a desire to try something new on the fretboard of a guitar while paying tribute to the "birds" that Paul Reed Smith Guitars is known for.

PRS Birds of a Feather-

PRS Birds- Original Version

I had wanted to do something that was "on brand" for PRS Guitars, but that was also new and exhilarating and the image of a flock of birds is where I started. I eventually landed on what I called a swarm, or explosion of birds that would make up the negative space, and this negative space would eventually give way to bits of light and then into a group of birds flying into the sky. After sketching the original concept, I gave it to our designer, who then transformed it and refined the idea into the work of art that became the fretboard. The reaction from the market was positive and this fretboard design is something that continues to live on today.

Mojotone : Build. Modify. Repair.

Another fun project was a bit of rebranding and re-focusing that I did with Mojotone. After spending some time with this group, it became clear that they needed a refresh. As one of the leading guitar and amp part companies that serviced professional builders, repair shops, amp and guitar brands as well as hobbyists, we landed on the Build, Modify. Repair. initiative . The style guide we developed was inspired by the Mojotone Dijon Capacitors. These little  electrical parts had a very recognizable yellow color and I introduced this color into their branding.

Mojotone Dijon : It Starts With Parts

Personal Work.

While I do not fully consider my self a designer, I am involved with some aspect of design all of the time. I have a complicated relationship with this part of my life, but I love to create. One of the things I am looking forward to with my time at UMD and the Communication Program at Shady Grove is the opportunity to gain some practical knowledge of available digital tools so that  I am able to complete a project on my own rather than farming parts out.

Folded Coast- Album cover for the album The Comfort That You Seek
Everyone Loves A Sad Girl- Jon Croft
My Heart is A Sliver- Jon Croft
My Heart is A Sliver with figure- Jon Croft

Jon Croft