Jenny's Blog

Where classroom lessons meets the world

Gestalt March 18, 2010

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 11:45 am

Three definitions:

Gestalt principles, or gestalt laws, are rules of the organization of perceptual scenes.

This idea of seeing the whole before the parts and even more the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts is Gestalt.

Gestalt principles of form perception: Gestalt psychology attempts to understand psychological phenomena by viewing them as organized and structured wholes rather than the sum of their constituent parts. Thus, Gestalt psychology dissociates itself from the more ‘elementistic’/reductionistic/decompositional approaches to psychology like structuralism (with its tendency to analyze mental processes into elementary sensations) and it accentuates concepts like emergent properties, holism, and context.

My attempt at illustrating Gestalt:


My Aesthetic Style – a rough draft March 13, 2010

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 8:36 am

I’m a resourceful designer with a high sense of pride and a desire for perfection. With a clean style and a sense of purpose, my designs focus on simple yet bold. Strong passion, inner determination, and pride are contributing factors on how I craft designs.

I was recently assigned the task of determining my aesthetic style. I took a shot at it above. Any thoughts on it?


What I Learned from “Ways of Seeing”

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 6:55 am

The book, Ways of Seeing, has an interesting way of discovering what art can tell us besides just showing us a picture. Essays and visual essays are used as a way to get the reader to think and question what is really being said through art. The book presents different themes: women and men, nakedness vs. nudity, possession, wealthy vs. poor, and materialism.

Each chapter focuses on one of the themes and explains with visuals what the artist is really saying. In the chapter about oil paintings, chapter 5, the book reveals that the artists are illustrating procession and the importance of it with every oil painting – with a picture of a hall with paintings covering every inch or a table filled with different items. Land owners and other individuals of wealth wanted to show their wealth to people and that was accomplished with paintings. One sentence stood out to me as curious within this chapter – “mythological scenes functions like a garment” on page 102. Displaying procession can take many forms. Here the authors explain that mythological images are hollow, there is nothing inside them besides the straight forward story they are telling.

Another interesting chapter is 7 on publicity (or materialism). Here instead of artists telling us through the medium of art, companies (designers) are telling us stuff through print ads. An interesting theme here is that they are convincing people they need things because they will be more like the wealthy, happy, successful people in the pictures. As long as they look like and do what the people in the image then we will have everything too. On pages 136-137 the authors show a pairing of several images – an old painting and a new image. Within the pairings, the new image has copied the other almost to a point of plagiarism. The prints are relying on the same themes that have been around for a long time.

After reading this book, I have walked away with a little more knowledge on how to look at images and objects. There is always more then just the image. The artists is trying to say something – whether it is positive or negative.


Signs: Symbol, Index, and Icon March 7, 2010

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 3:08 pm

A sign can be defined as a lettered or patterned board that conveys meaning, command, or directions. Another kind of sign is more intangible or spiritual, like, “a sign of success.” For a graphic design discussion, let’s stick to the first definition. Generally speaking, there are three types of signs: symbol, index and icon. Depending on the project requirements, we may be asked to design one or more of these sign types. Let’s look at the differences and some examples of each.


A symbol does not have direct connection to what it represents. The meaning usually needs to be learned through association.


This is a symbol created by Disney. She is a symbol because this drawing can be any female character. One will need to know the animated movie to be able to know that this is Princess Jasmine and associate it with Disney.

The gecko has nothing to do with insurance, but everyone knows when they see this cute little gecko that he is representing Geico insurance. He is a symbol for Geico.

This image of an anchor is a symbol of hope in most cultures. Hope is the main theme behind the image. Without culutural knowledge, someone might just see this image as an anchor.


An index is a sign that directly points to the message or instruction.


This sign is an index because it tells the audience that he or she must be at least 40” tall to take this ride.

This is an index sign, giving direction and information.

These images of bicycles are considered indices because they are instructing or informing the viewer. Even without the text underneath the image, you would have a fair idea of what to do.


An icon is directly related to what it represents, the meaning is immediately evident and it can be a smaller part that represents a whole.


Mickey Mouse is one of the iconic figures for Disney. He is an icon for the company because he is the character that Walt Disney started the company with.

Everyone knows that when they see this icon they must watch out for deer crossing the road.

The RSS image is an icon because it simply represents a concept. It does not tell the view to do something, nor does it have an underlying concept. It is just an image that if the view saw it, they would understand what they where referring to.


Sobottka, Jason, 2010. HUM311 lecture.


Accessibility in Print February 13, 2010

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 3:00 pm

Accessibility has become a very HOT topic in recent years with the design community. Websites, because of their nature, are very high on the watch list when it comes to accessibility. The internet is open for all and because of that, should be useable by all. Wendy Chisholm, author of “Universal Design for Web Applications”, was recently featured on a podcast that discussed this very topic.

It seems that technology is not designed to fit everyone – the general masses yes, but a significant portion no. In 1999 Wendy Chisholm wrote the book “Universal Design for Web Applications”. This book was soon adopted by most of the world as a set of guidelines for how to design with accessibility in mind. During the podcast, Wendy Chisholm mentions three things that needs to happen for all design to be universal:

  1. Technology needs to have accessibility built in.
  2. A cultural shift need to take place.
  3. People with disabilities need to be involved in the development.

A very interesting point that was brought up was that by applying accessibility principles to web design, then the different search engines would pick up more of you tags. Wendy Chisholm said to think of “Google as a blind deaf user”.

But web design is not the only discipline that needs rules of accessibility. Some interested points have come up in regards to the print industry and accessibility. Different steps can be taken to both improve readability and accessibility. In some research, I came across two different presentations that spoke to print documents and how to improve the design:

Cover page from CNIB Clear Print Guide Presentation

Cover page from CNIB Clear Print Guide Presentation

Clear Print Accessibility Guidelines ( and Easier Than You Think by Barbara Skoglund ( Both presentations highlight different actions designers can take to improve a document. Some of the obvious ones are larger fonts, fonts that are clear and concise, spacing between letters and lines of text. The most interesting thing mentioned in these two presentations was when Barbara Skoglund mentioned Styles and Formatting in MS Office software.

I have always been a firm believer in using Styles and Formatting in Word Documents. They allow for clean, easy to use and edit documents. The few minutes it takes to set up Styles is well worth it in the end. Barbara Skoglund’s presentation mentioned that the screen reader does not read formatting in a document. However, with structured documents using Word’s Styles and Formatting window, the text is tagged with more information that the screen reader can use during read back.

One type of impairment that seems to be skipped is color blindness. Color blindness affects many different people and if not taken in consideration during the design process can have a great impact. As designers we use color in ways to help organize, produce structure, provide interest, etc. For someone who is color blind these elements can be missed entirely. As designers, it is important that we create our designs with the intention that they be used by everyone. One important thing I remember from my last quarter of classes is that if you design for the extremes, you design for everyone. Looking at providing more education in design schools about accessibility and the different areas to be watchful of is one way we can start to improve accessibility issues. As designers, clients rely on us to provide the technical expertise and knowhow. If we don’t know how to design for the most people, how can we expect our client will.

We must stay educated and knowledgeable in all areas of accessibilities. Everyone will benefit from universal design. As Wendy Chisholm says, before there can be complete change three things need to happen: 1 Technology needs to have accessibility built in. 2 A cultural shift need to take place. 3 People with disabilities need to be involved in the development. If these happen, then the world will be a better place.

The Laws of Seeing February 8, 2010

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 6:59 am

What we see is just a manipulation of information that our eyes process. Wolfgang Metzger book, the Laws of Seeing, introduces the concept that although objects are present in the world, our eyes have a tendency to follow rules that can eliminate objects from our mind. “Wolfgang Metzger’s main argument, drawn from Gestalt theory, is that the objects we perceive in visual experience are not the objects themselves but perceptual effigies of those objects constructed by our brain according to natural rules.” These natural rules lead to perspective. All the different topics that Metzger covers – visible and invisible forms, groups, shape, brightness, and form – can affect perspective.

Each type of principle has several laws that govern sight. The book Laws of Seeing not only introduces them, but discusses them in detail. One interesting topic was the chapter on camouflage. Within this one chapter there are six different laws ranging from the Law of Similarity to the Law of Good Continuation. Each of these laws has a certain jurisdiction on how we see objects. Making the distinction between an object and its background can be difficult when they look the same. Although Metzger uses animals as examples of the different laws, these same rules are also applied to design. By understanding the laws that govern sight, you can break them to create focus and interest in a design.

As Metzger mentions, visible sight is not the only area affected by the different laws. The Law of Greatest Order is one rule that struck me as interesting and as having great impact on other fields. This law impacts how a person categorizes information and develops an order of importance. One example that Metzger brings up is how police investigators can look through details and eye witness reports and eliminate unnecessary information from the story. Knowing the Law of Greatest Order can impact the design field in a similar way.

Design is a form of communication: it sends messages, relates stories, and holds information. A design audience is required to process the detailed information within a design and use it in some fashion. The Law of Greatest Order allows the audience to be drawn into the design and take away the information they need. As a designer, it is important “to consider [this] processes as fundamental to productive thinking.” A reader needs to have an order to follow – a beginning, middle and an end. With the Law of Greatest Order the designer is giving the reader a line to follow through the design without actually creating any obvious structure.

Perspective has become a theme in the concepts that I have taken away from the different books I have read this quarter in my design theory class. In the Laws of Seeing, perspective is influenced by the information that is processed by our eyes. The different laws explain how our perceptions can change based on the information gathered by our eyes. With the Law of Similarity, our eyes perceive that there is no line between the object and the background. What we see and how we see it depends on the different factors of the environment around us.

In another recent text, the Ways of Seeing, what the eye sees and how it is translated into art and design is centered around perspective. Perspective is based on the individual seeing an object and can change from individual to individual. Even the with rules and laws of seeing, different people see different things even when looking at the same thing. The impact of perspective changed with the camera, but the rules of seeing only became clearer. With the camera we were able to reproduce images of camouflage working in the natural world and to see the difference brightness makes on an object.

Metzger, Wolfgang; Spillmann, Lothar (Translator). (2006) Laws of Seeing. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press. Retrieved from


The Gestalt Experiment February 1, 2010

Filed under: Design Theory — Jenny @ 7:34 am

Gestalt theory can be simplified into this phase: “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. It is when an image can be seen as whole even though there many different images that create it. For an experiment, I was asked to show a slide show of pictures to three different people and record their responses.

Having taken the experiment myself, I was curious to see if others would react the same way or not. In each of the three experiments, I started the same way: I asked each person if they would be willing to look at something and tell me what they saw if they saw anything. After I showed the participant Condition 1 I followed it with Condition 2.

In the next few paragraphs I feature the different participants and their reactions to the experiment.

First participant: this individual is a writer that does not consider them self to be visual. At the end of Condition 1 when they were quite, I asked the participant if they saw anything in the last image. They mentioned that they could slightly see a face within the shapes. At the end of Condition 2 I asked the same question. The participant relied with the same response.

Second participant: this individual is the art/design person in my experiment. It was not until the last slide on Condition 1 that this person saw the horse and rider. On the second condition, they saw the image on slide 11.

Third participant: on Condition 1, the third participant saw a smiley face on slide 8 and then the horse and rider on slide 20.

Forth participant: the forth participant never saw the horse and rider. Puppy, duck, and a penguin were the shapes that they saw.

Fifth participant: the fifth participant saw nothing during Condition 1. On the last slide on Condition 2 they saw someone riding a horse with a hat and cape.

Sixth participant: the sixth participant is the most interesting case. On Condition 1, the person saw a horse and rider on slide 1. As this person intends to go to law school, I find it interesting that they saw the “whole” on the very first slide.

After seeing participant 6 see the image on slide one I was very impressed. It was a nice sign that they saw the entire picture with only the parts. In law, sometimes you are only able to see certain parts of a story. Knowing that this person saw the Gestalt image on the first slide means that they can see the full picture.