Saturday, 27 February 2010

Being Female...

A woman’s role has changed dramatically over the past 60 years in society. Due to the fact that men were away fighting for their country, women were employed in sectors that were ‘men only’ roles in the war era. This role reversal no doubt had a catalytic effect on a woman’s place in society.

Females have been getting more and more powerful breaking into a culture that was previously ruled by men and with a change in morals, women are no longer seen as the stereotypical homemakers. Mothering, cleaning and washing are all being exchanged for power and new responsibilities with some men taking upon the new title ‘stay at home dad’. With more and more women following this ‘girl power’ trend, more pressures seem to be attached to this new lifestyle…

Becoming the ‘perfect’ woman is one of the biggest demands facing them today. With magazines flaunting the latest skinny celebrities and fad diets, our physical perception is under constant scrutiny – what we see now as normal would shock people 20 years ago. The size zero fad that is circulating us at the moment seems to be igniting the idea in women’s heads that this is what we should all look like. With 2 in 5 girls feeling worse about themselves after looking at pictures of models, actresses and singers, what is it that is poisoning the minds of these youngsters? Is it that they are more susceptible to influences than girls a few decades ago? From a very young age, girls are bombarded with what it is to be a ‘real’ woman and one of the areas that is greatly criticized is the role of Disney in young children’s lives.

Accused of stripping real events of character and substance and then replacing it with a purified format, critics claim that Disney removes all negative aspects to create a world of fantasy that we are all willing to escape to. Creating a ‘faultless’ world where men are strong and handsome and women have long, fluttering eyelashes and narrow hips that they can use to manipulate men, children struggle distinguish a difference between this false representation and the real world. One of the best examples of this is Snow White, a young, pretty and sweet natured girl who is upset and runs into a forest to escape. Stumbling across seven dwarf men she takes it upon herself the role of mothering and cleaning for them. Living a so called happy life things soon turn nasty and she needs a man to come and save her so that she can live happily ever after. Planting the seed in young girl’s minds that they need a man to always save them, studies conducted claim young girls feign and shriek that they are in trouble and need a man to save them, a result of Disney? When I was in a school play and I played Snow White how was I to know that the women I was really representing was a vulnerable woman in need of a hero? That wasn’t what I believed to be representing so maybe Disney isn’t as innocent as I thought…

With Disney being one of the most powerful companies in the world controlling what we watch, read and listen to, other companies are jumping onto the bandwagon and using advertising as a way of manipulation. Celebrity endorsed campaigns are big at the moment where the status of the celebrity is used to sell a product rather than allowing the product to speak for itself. With this comes complications and constant comparison is becoming a damaging factor for women who continually compare their bodies to that of the models used in these campaigns. You could argue that this is just another pressure of the modern women but this worshipping has had such a damaging effect on what women think is healthy and as a result having a detrimental effect on their health. A 19 year long study by Helen Sweeting highlighted the fact that ‘young girls had become the most depressed section of the population’, surely this should be one of the best times of their life? With girls are young as 10 being diagnosed with stress and an 80% increase of hospital admissions of teenagers over the last decade it is clear that these girls really are not happy!

Eating disorders, plastic surgery and plastering yourself in make up, are all the sorts of things that young girls are having viewable access to. Children are being allowed more access to television and Internet where they are able to view so much that previously wasn’t obtainable. Just looking through the Internet about the hardships of modern girls, my screen was filling with images of young girls facing a current battle with anorexia, I was actually so disturbed looking at the bodies of what these girls thought were healthy that I actually had to stop looking. Who really is to blame for this and why has it been progressively been getting worse? Social networking sites allow space for bullying if a girl is not ‘socially perfect’ and more access into gaining a greater view of what other girls look like. Forgetting that everybody is different these girls are trying to comply with the common trait of beauty. Even while you are on these sites, there are constant adverts at the side of the page with airbrushed models claiming that you can look just like them. What was once a place for girls to chat to friends is now becoming yet another area that can lead girls to believe they are ugly.

The advertising industry is also guilty of ‘sexing’ women up. With women stripping and appearing on the front of magazines semi naked, women feel empowered by this new freedom. This damaging effect has led many male and female teenagers to think that it is acceptable to hit a female and force her to have sex. Some women are now presenting themselves as willing participants and are sending the wrong messages that are being read as ‘gagging for it’. With emotion free sex being celebrated, some women feel the need to broadcast how many partners they have had and with celebrity role models who are supposed to be setting a good example publicly broadcasting their sex lives, we think that this is an acceptable thing to do too. Celebrities are becoming a more important part in society with young children looking more than ever to celebrities for guidance, but with the worrying figure that one in three girls look to Katie Price as their role model, it doesn’t say much about the future mothers. Eating disorders, excessive use of plastic surgery and wild binge drinking nights are all issues surrounding Katie Price - she is someone who personally I would not want my daughter to look up to!

More and more pressures are facing young girls now and one of these is their parent’s. With higher expectations now for girls to be successful they are facing a constant battle to perform to the high standards being set. Doing your best now just isn’t good enough and along with all the other problems young women are facing, their lives just feel like a constant battle. Feeling under appreciated these girls are turning to other methods to try and feel a little bit of happiness and rebelling is being accepted as part of growing up. With a rise of 50% of violent crimes being committed by girls and 21% of these reaching courts, these worrying figures suggest that these girls are making a desperate cry for help. When questioned about their violent behaviour, some girls replied they liked to show that they were strong (acting out against the Disney stereotype of women?) and that they saw it as a bit of fun. Fighting, drinking alcohol and even making up crimes are all becoming common hobbies for young girls now and the worrying thing is some don’t even seem to care!

Being a woman myself, I am staggered at just how much pressure there is out there to be perfect! Some of the things I have discussed have influenced me in the past but I have been lucky in the sense that both my parent’s are very level headed and haven’t allowed me to go off the rails. Supporting me in whatever I do, I have never felt pressurized like some of the girls that I read about and it’s a shame that they are not being allowed to live their lives the way the want. Opening my eyes to the influences that are out there, it is clear that young women are suffering and something needs to be done to help them. Before when I learned about the role of women in Disney, I thought it was nothing to worry about. With most children fondly remembering watching hours and hours of Disney at a given time, myself included, I did not see what the real worry was but now after delving into the topic a little further I realise that Disney is only one of the worrying factors that is having a detrimental effect on females.

With thanks:

Friday, 26 February 2010


As designers we are constantly having to come up with design solutions, but sometimes these solutions have already been invented!

By looking more at the natural world we are surrounded by the design solutions. Consciously embedding these elements into design, we can create exciting new concepts by using old methods. Studying the way nature interacts with one another, scientists are now trying to encourage designers to take on board the results to help them solve problems sustainably.

Woodpecker hammer

Hitting a tree trunk with 25 pecks per second, the woodpecker is able to apply such pressure causing an outstanding level of impact. Using the woodpecker as inspiration, designers created a 'new' design that enabled the user to gain maximum power from the hammer and distribute the force from each blow.

Lotus: self - cleaning properties

With the ability to repel dirt, many companies are trying to create materials with similar properties to the Lotus leaf. Using only rain to clean, the microscopic bumps are mimicked in products such as paint, glass, etc reducing the need for detergents and labour.

'Shark Skin' Suit

Michael Phelps swimsuit was such a brilliant way of advertising Biomimicry. Presenting it on a highly publicised platform such as the Olympics allowed more people to gain an insight into the ideas surrounding the topic. Drawing inspiration from shark skin, designers were able to create a swimsuit that would allow the best conditions to swim faster - something essential to Phelp's profession. Scientists found small teeth located on shark skin, facing different positions along the body, to allow the most efficient path of water thus resulting in faster movement.

Biomimicry is now being incorporated into the structures of buildings, creating a more sustainable method than man made concepts that are sometimes not as successful.

Honeycomb housing

Theories and constructural laws are being used instead of drawing inspiration from specific species, allowing these natural laws that exist amongst some of the most interconnecting ecosystems to question the way things look and work.

Examples of Biomorphic Architecture

With thanks:

Thursday, 25 February 2010


Today as part of our sustainability project, we discussed some aspects of our lifestyles and the effect they had on the planet. With the alarming fact that on average, in some countries such as Canada and USA, people are consuming at such a rate it would take 5 planets to support their habits, we were shown a website that would calculate our own consumption levels.

WWF footprint calculator

Before I calculated my own levels, we did a few examples with some of our classmates and as we went through the questions I found myself mentally answering these in my head, thinking surely I am quite Eco friendly and comparing my lifestyle with theirs. With my mum being quite excessive over the whole recycling thing, almost everything in my house is recycled...from the normal items such as paper to more unusual things like sweet wrappers she uses as art materials for her playgroup art projects, you name it she has a use for it!

Splitting the test into the sections travel, home, food and stuff, the 'WWF footprint calculator' aims to tell you as accurately as they can how harmful you are to the environment - I have to say I was a little shocked!

My results showed that I was living as though I had 3.22 planets to support me! The first emotion I felt was sadness! I mean I'll admit I am one of the first to criticise people when they are being 'unenvironmentally' friendly, e.g. taking the car when they can easily walk the journey, so to be told that I was harming the world a fair bit wasn't something I enjoyed.

My footprint calculator

Personally I think the parts that boosted my need of resources was the fact that I have a car and my love for food, meat in particularly! Maybe the fact that I spend more than 10 hours on a bus getting to and from University, the charms for my expensive bracelet for my birthday, all the products I use for my face and hair all had something to do with it too?

Okay so maybe I am not as environmentally friendly as I had first thought! It's clearly not enough to just recycle products and not waste food but it has taken this free test to show me this. Obviously I can't change all the aspects that were harmful in this test but it has made me think a little more about my choices and might make me question myself more before doing something. I just hope my mum doesn't read this blog or she'll go into recycling overdrive!

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Disneyfication of Culture

When I first heard about this lecture I thought great, we're going to be talking about Disney. As a child I grew up watching the films and had probably every single Disney film there was. Even now that videos are no longer used I have replaced those copies with DVDs so imagine my surprise when the lecture we received talked about how Disney may not be what it seems.

With great relevance to the assignment at the moment, Hamid talked about how things can be portrayed to us and in a child like innocence we cannot see the true meaning behind it. Henry Giroux criticised Disney and their market aims to their young target audience arguing that these vulnerable children are learning about life through the eyes of Disney, which is something Giroux thinks is culturally incorrect.

Taking myths and Victorian fairy stories, Disney softened these and turned them into palatable stories. Built around the idea of happiness and innocence experienced as a child it is difficult to see the true meaning behind them.

What I found most interesting about the lecture was the wee film we watched at the end, discussing the issue that Disney films are not realistic. Disney can sell ideas through the images that they present to us which they describe as being dangerous because it is hard for children to distinguish between fairytale and real life.

The women conveyed in the film are all stereotypical of Disney to have the lack of ability to save themselves and feel the need to use their body to manipulate. Now although this may be true for some women, most women would laugh at this suggestion that they are incapable to survive without men.

In the film that we watched the example of women struggling was in Beauty and the Beast. As a child I used to love this film and never picked up on anything being discussed by these women! They talked about it being a platform of abuse - where the idea that the women is being abused and standing up to the man but then in the end running into his arms, undermining herself. Now I'm no feminist but I can see the point being made her, in saying that though I think that these women are reading far too much into this matter! For me this just raises the argument that adults see things completely different to children, which is fine, but life as a child is innocent and I'm sure Disney is the least of parent's worries in educating their children in the hardships of life.

With thanks:

Adding Text

Does text help aid people with a deeper understanding of an image?

With many people latching onto the idea of protection, it was clear that the words I had chosen were helpful cues to them. For others though these cues proved to be useless – they could tell me a story about the images but not the one I wanted. Was it because they were not looking out for these clues? Did the words not trigger anything similar to my thoughts?

Starting of with 1 word it was apparent that some people did not respond in the way in which I wanted them to – was it the wrong choice of word? Even changing the word and pairing it with another image didn’t always prove successful either.

n: Laura Lawson
a: 17
g: Female
o: Student
(Word: guard on Knight)
The little girl threw the balls over the fence and guard gave her a row.

n: Wallis Grant
a: 17
g: Female
o: Student
(Word: guard on girl)
Set in a Medieval castle. Little girl who is lost, wanders in through gate to the castle.

n: Amy Vine
a: 18
g: Female
o: Student
(Word: guard on knight)
Little girl gathering apples climbed over big iron fence. Walking through trees, knight gives her a fright.

Why is it that these three subjects didn't respond to the word on the images? Not one of them responded to the cue in the way in which I wanted them to. Some use the words in their description but not in the correct context, this led me to believe that the word I had chosen was not the most suitable. Drastically moving then to four words (a word for each image), people found it easier to pick up on the underlying theme of protection.

n: Kirsty Braes
a: 20
g: Female
o: Student
(Words: Guard - Knight, Girl - defend, Cameras - watch over, Fence - shield)

Straight away Kirsty was able to pick up on the protection aspect which made me think that I had then made it too easy and obvious by including too many words. Reducing the words gradually allowed me to track the effects (and not influence people’s reactions so much), although it was hard to spot a reoccurring trend due to participant’s answers. Clearly some people are more susceptible to cues than others!

n: Fiona Sichi
a: 19
g: Female
o: Student
(Words: Guard- Knight, Watch over – Cameras)

n: Sarah Mettleton
a: 20
g: Female
o: Student
(Word: Defend on knight)

n: Gillian McKinnon
a: 37
g: Female
o: PA
(Word: Watch – cameras)

This experiment has proven valuable for me gaining an insight into how people see ‘polysemic’ images and how we as designers can help lead people to a similar manipulated response. As Barthes discusses in ‘The Rhetoric of Image’, it is important for us to understand what the type of message we want to portray is and use our skills to provoke the same reaction from others. After my experiments, I disagree with Barthes and in fact think that text is an important aspect of an image, especially in advertising. Narrowing the scope allows us to control the message we send to people and controlling them in a ‘puppet’ like manner in reacting the way in which we plan.

When Barthes argues in the Panzini advert that you don’t need text to decipher the image, to a certain extent, I believe you do. I mean even though the writing is in French we can still take messages away from the image but really if Barthes hadn’t broken down the image for me then maybe I would not have interpreted it the way in which he describes. Surely it is a designer’s job to create an image that both you and I would see the same but do we always need text to aid us in this? Surely if we pick an image correctly then the text would only help reinforce the idea. There are so many what if’s and buts surrounding this topic and hopefully if I have enough time, it is something that I would in the future like to explore more of.

Initially I thought that people may not get the images that I chosen but sure enough most people did but Barthes explains that there are many messages that can be taken from an image so even though people did not necessarily get the message that I wanted them to get, doesn’t mean that they got it wrong – there are no right or wrong answers. Aspects that should be taken into consideration when creating this message are things like location of upbringing and at present, age, gender, religion, occupation, cultures, etc. These will all help us determine the response given and hopefully allow us to design successfully!

N.B. I know the module handbook stated that we were to use the 3 original images for adding text but I also tried it with the 4 images too.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Creating a scripted story

'Protection' Brainstorm

After considering the stories that I recieved from the first part of the assignment, I decided to focus on the protection aspect. Thinking carefully about what image to use as the fourth, I decided to think about the word of the first images that popped into my head was CCTV. With 4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain I thought it fitting that these protective devices were my fourth image.

Target story: a sense of protection.

CCTV cameras

Relating this assignment back to Roland Barthes who says that "all images are polysemous", it is important to understand that although they all have a lot of underlying messages, some images have been chosen deliberately to provoke a certain response. It is clear that with careful consideration of images we can control what others see but it is important that in the first instance the message we want to be portrayed is what others read from the image.

Thankfully most people picked up on the protection aspect. Although they received the same images as the previous group, the fourth image seemed to allow them to describe things in more depth. The more you looked at the images the more you could try and decipher from them but by adding a fourth image, I was trying to narrow the message taken away from them. Below are a few examples of the story's I received.

n: June Paton
a: 70
g: Female
o: Retired

n: Martha Grubb
a: 75
g: Female
o: Retired

n: Emilie Ranaivoson
a: 19
g: Female
o: Student
"It's the story of this little girl who was watching a tape her mom filmed on camera, while she was going to a costume party as a knight. but because her costume was a bit too heavy, and messy, she got stuck on the fence and fell. To make her feel better, her mom gave her fruit."

These responses were all valid but were not what I was looking for so I decided to order the photo's for the next participants to see whether that would help alter the response.

n: Ross Lesslie
a: 22
g: Male
o: Student

n: Qing Ye
g: Female
o: Student

n: Lin Ma
a: 20
g: Female
o: Student

n: Angela Laing
a: 46
g: Female
o: Catering Assistant

It is clear that careful consideration of images can result in controlling what you want others to see. I was a little unsure if people would pick up on the idea of protection when creating their stories and my thoughts were confirmed with the first few responses but by altering the order in which people received the images I was able to change the reaction.

Sunday, 14 February 2010


The next assignment that we have been asked to complete is particularly useful in understanding how images are open to interpretation and how text aids us to this. Understanding the term polysemy (diversity of meanings) in a practical sense was more beneficial to me as I find it easier to understand things when I see it done or are able to do it myself. With the main aim of the task to experiment with images and objects and understand how they can be used as a research method to grasp a key theoretical concept in visual language it was important to get the correct material.

Trying to create a story using 3 images doesn't sound particularly difficult but when I was looking for the images I found it quite hard to find three that were different from one another but that would have enough in them to discuss. The three that I did eventually choose, for me, were quite unusual and had no obvious links, something that I deliberately did as I wanted people to really think about what they were looking at.

Selecting three images:

a girl

a gate

a suit of armour

Asking people with a range of ages, it was interesting to see what people took from the pictures and the connotations that they had attached to them. I started each questioning with the three images in an envelope and allowed each participant to open the envelope and hold the images the way in which they felt most comfortable. Some spread the images out, some held them - looking at one image at a time - and others laid them on their lap.

I tried to variate some factors in each experiment to see whether it affected the way the participant responded. Some of these variations included: age range, sitting down on a chair, sitting on the floor, order of the photographs, inside/outside, the way in which I worded questions.

I felt it was important that I asked each participant to describe what they saw in the image first before asking them to create a story otherwise they might have struggled. Possibly in future experiments I could just ask for a story straight away and note how that affected the response. While mentioning people's reactions, it was useful in noting how people reacted to me when I asked them for help in the experiment. Some were more 'up' for it than others, mainly the younger participants...

n: Cara Watson
a: 9
g: Female
o: School child

What can you see in the images?
Wall, window, wee girl, fruit, trees.
Knight, wall, sword.
Wee gate.

The little girl had fruit before her bed. She awoke and started to shout for her mum but she didn't hear. A knight comes into her room and says 'don't be afraid!' who then takes the little girl on an adventure to the forest. When she returns no one believes her, until the same thing happens to all her nursery friends.

n: Ceri Watson
a: 7
g: Female
o: School child

(Ceri had already made up a story before I had even showed her the photographs about witches and a forest, bless!)

What can you see in the images?
A gate with arrows on the end, rusty, white bits.
Man used to fit in suit, knife coming up, wall behind.
Girl with fruit, pigtails, blonde hair

Once upon a time, there was a man in the kingdom who tried to fight a dragon in the woods but died. His wife tried too but failed. The little girl is the lady's daughter.

For this part, I asked both the girls at the same time to see whether it affected how they responded to the images, but surprisingly they both seemed to answer individually. Both girls touched the pictures and interacted with the task well and Ceri told me many stories and treated the task like a game, unlike her mum who struggled a lot.

n: Ros Watson
a: 41
g: Female
o: BMW sales representative

What can you see in the images?
Cheeky girl (reminds her of daughter Ceri), What is she holding?, innocence of a child but cheeky.
Old railings, cemetery, time gone by.
Banbara Castle, old iron suits, era gone by.

Girl is kidnapped and locked up, the kidnapper wearing the suit of armour.

My auntie really struggled with this and I had to tell her stories that I had previously received (otherwise I could have been there all day!) What I found quite ironic about the story that she gave me was the fact she used the idea of the armour (protection) in a negative context. All the other stories I received talked about the armour in a more positive sense. Is she worried about her children?

n: Gerry Watson
a: 44
g: Male
o: Housing Officer

What can you see in the images?
girl protecting fruit.
suit of armour.

Girl protecting balls, armour protects person and gate protecting property.

n: Craig Watson
a: 14
g: Male
o: Student

What can you see in the images?
gate/fence - decayed
knight - armour
girl - Little, cute, fruit/vegetables.

Little girl puts on armour and falls over fence.

n: John Laing
a: 50
g: Male
o: Quantity Surveyor

What can you see in the image?
girl holding fruit, pigtails - different hair bobbles, big eyes, Snoopy on t-shirt, outside.
gate tied shut with wire, not been painted in a long time.
suit of armour next to door/window - hinge, no one in suit.

The little girl managed to get past guard - so small he didn't see her. She stole fruit and managed to get back with the fruit without seeing her.

n: Calum Laing
a: 16
g: Male
o: Student

Girl trying to protect balls, knight protecting her. The fence is what he needs to climb to get to her - a barrier.

It was strange how three images could spark so many stories within people and although some stories were quite similar there was also quite a lot of variation amongst the responses. It was interesting though how all the adults picked up on metaphorical things where as the younger participants told their story, well, childlike.
How is it that our perception of a story changes with age? It made me wonder whether children are more imaginative or whether our ability to describe things is simply made more complicated with the vast amount of knowledge we obtain? With the youngest pair picking up on things visually that the adults missed who paid more attention to the connotations and the mood in the images it begs the question does a child's mind work differently than an adults or is it that we take in all the visuals but are more concerned with the 'grown up' answers?

Thursday, 11 February 2010


We have now been given the next part of our brief for our sustainability project where we have to renovate a run down house for a client called Emma Fraser.

Emma is a book restorer who is looking for the house not only be her home but a place she can also work from with a studio space and reception area where she can deal with clients. It is really important that we understand all Emma’s needs as this is a place that she would theoretically spend a lot of time.

Meetings with the client in person allowed us to get to know her a bit better and understand what sort of job she does and the things that she requires. Asking questions from what materials she liked to what does she likes to do in her past time, we were able to gather a rough idea of what she would and wouldn’t want from the house and getting a general feel for her needs. This was useful but when Emma talked about all the equipment that she used for restoring the books it was hard to imagine what these looked like and how big they were…next came the visit to the lab she works in. It was really good to actually see the equipment rather than just visualising it and estimating roughly how much space it would take up within the studio. Taking photo’s and asking yet more questions we were able to step into Emma’s life and get yet another insight to the way she worked. The part I found particularly beneficial to look at was the desk where she worked at. Here I was able to see how she liked to organise things and set things out when she was working, something that I just wouldn’t have got from a question and answer session.

This is really relevant just now with the assignments that we are doing in the Design Studies part of the course – getting to understand the people we are designing for. It’s been helpful for me for the two to be running along side each other and some of the skills that I have already learnt doing the previous assignments have proved useful when conducting this new brief. I have been able to apply new skills that I have learned practically in this project so far to the Design Studies assignments and gained a greater understanding of how much you need to get in the mind of the client. Book restoration is nothing that I know about but after quizzing and looking at how the client works, I feel I know enough now that I can begin to design a space most suited to her.
Take this afternoon for example, while travelling back on the bus home after getting a tour of the lab I tried to place myself in Emma’s shoes. The studio will be the main part of this project as this is the place that she would spend the most time during the day (Emma stated that most likely it would be 9am-5pm) so it will be important to consider certain issues of comfort: height of the desk, width of the working desk, the light that would enter the studio (this is very important to take into consideration for restorer’s as the light can interfere with the books), where the machinery would be placed within the room, etc. With so many things to think about, the way in which I was visualising things allowed me to start thinking about possible design solutions.

Meeting with the client is such a useful process for me (even if the project will not really go ahead) because I am getting used to working with a real life client and designing for them. The process behind this project is a good way to learn more about working alongside the client and listening to exactly what they need and want.

After completing the first part of the brief, (refer to earlier blog - A picture can tell a thousand words (series9)) I didn't understand how beneficial this part of the project was until after this week. This week we focused on trying to get into the mind of client, before we were actually working like the client would be (okay so maybe not exactly!). I found myself sprawled out over my bedroom floor - constantly trying to find more room to do my work - a problem that might be similar to Emma. It wasn't until now that I realised how helpful it was to actually practically get involved in the thought process that we need to undertake.

With thanks:

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Rhetoric of the Image

by Roland Barthes

Cheeso! Talk about another easy read...

Some things are just plain hard to describe using text! Images are so important to convey a message and idea but with people taking different messages from these images it is important that the images are chosen correctly.

"How does meaning get into an image? Where does it end? And if it ends, where is it beyond?" Barthes.

Starting with the images used in advertising, Barthes talks about the significance of central pictures behind a company's face. These central images are deliberately chosen by the company whether it be to provoke a response, persuade people to buy, etc. Using the example of an advertising image from Panzani, Barthes argues that the only barrier in trying to solve what this advert is about is the text, at the bottom right hand corner (which is not present in the image below).

Even without the use of text, the image should still be able to stand alone and be accountable for selling the product.
We are presented with the image that the food has just been bought from the market, it's freshness being reinforced. Also the way in which the food overflows from the bag suggests that it has been bought for 'oneself' rather than the bulk buying we favour so much now.
The colours used in the poster heighten our connection with the Italian authenticity - all quite stereotypical of the colours associated with the cultural life of Italy.
These are only a few observations made from the poster, but Barthes goes into some detail about the other messages hidden within the poster.

Something that reminds me slightly of this is an experiment that Derren Brown conducted with the use of subliminal messages. Companies are forever trying to sell us their products with the main selling point being celebrity endorsed campaigns but what Derren Brown showed was that the way in which we are presented with subliminal messages could result in the change of our on behaviour - most people acting completely out of character. The message behind his experiments was that we are all susceptible to subliminal messages!

Derren Brown: How to control the nation
(I tried to find a video of the specific part I wanted to show on YouTube but there wasn't any. The above link is from Channel 4, where you can watch the whole episode.)

If these subliminal messages were removed from the context, what would happen? Would we still be left with enough information? What if they were presented to us in a slightly different way? Would they have the same affect on us? The list is endless...

The linguistic message
Most images used in posters will have a general meaning so that everybody has the basic understanding of what the image entails but depending on what we have been taught when we were younger will depend on how we interpret the other messages embedded within the image - the symbolic and not the literal message. It is important though that when we are deciphering the message that we do not jump in and make assumptions and rely on stereotypes without failing to understand every part (a point argued by a psychologist Sam Gosling in his book "Snoop", who discusses that we are too quick to assume things and rely on stereotypes to fit something to how we want it to appear).
When translating the image certain things to take into consideration: does the image rely on the text to emphasize the point trying to be made? Do we need the text/could the image be readable without it? Does the text confuse what is trying to be perceived?

"all images are polysemous"
Arguing that every image has a deliberate message behind it, Barthes discusses the point the definition taken from the image is important and that sometimes the use of text fixes this idea. In an example of a very open image, text is used to tie the idea together so that people are still free to exercise their imaginations but still understand the general gist. The text almost acts as a narrator does to a play, we are all able to absorb the parts we want to see but the text acts as tie, binding what we are seeing with what we are supposed to see and understand. Capturing our gaze is the function of the image, anchoring our thoughts is purpose of the text, linked hand in hand, image and text are there to heighten our understanding.

The denoted image
The images that are chosen have code hidden within in it and it is very rarely that a hand drawn image would be used as so many interpretations can be taken away from it and the individualistic style is great. The way in which we draw is riddled with connotations likewise a photograph, the only difference with the photograph is that the control over the angle, distance, speed, etc is easier to control. The denoted image therefore is the symbolic message and does not imply anything within the image but allows us to differentiate freely the meaning behind it.

Rhetoric of the image

The exposed meaning is opened to different interpretations depending on one's knowledge. Using the example of the image of the overflowing shopping bag above, the term 'Italianicity' is used often to describe it but this not being a real word so why is it used? Combining all stereotypical things of Italy, we understand what this term means without actually being taught about it's meaning. Although the connotations in which we receive from images will be different to every individual, most people looking at the image will be able to see it's 'Italainicity'. Some of the observations made will be common sense and this is quite a deliberate thing but Barthes stresses that it is important that we do not simply 'invent' what we want the image to say.

Meyer Schapiro is mentioned at the very last part of this chapter. On first reading of his name, I have to say it did not ring any bells, but now I am no longer ignorant after delving slighting into his past. Very much a visual person, Schapiro was credited for his knowledge on people's style within art. Arguing that our circumstantial placing has a lot to with our artist style and is useful in revealing what the artist is like. I suppose this ties quite nicely with what Barthes is talking about; things like context and personality affect our response to images.

With great relevance to the tasks being carried out in the second assignment, it was useful to read this chapter before conducting the tests. Understanding why images are used and the messages that are behind them are important too. Now when I am conducting the assignment I can be aware of people's thoughts and understand the feedback that they give me.

With thanks:

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Service Design in Practice

With David Townson

Beginning the lecture referring to an article that appeared in The Independent newspaper (Friday, 6th February 2009), “Too many design students, not enough jobs?” I was not exactly filled with confidence about the forthcoming lecture. With the shocking figure that on average most people will have 14 jobs before the age of 38, David made the point that our generation did not really ‘stick’ to any one job. Moving our skill set around, I personally did not see too much of an issue with this figure(and as I later discussed in my seminar that followed that day, the more jobs you have the more skills you are likely to learn). To get a job in the design field you have to be blooming good in your field or you have to have an alternative strategy to what you’ve learnt from DJCAD. I agree with the last point, I study Interior and Environmental Design but it does not mean that I will be employed in that part of the sector and what David asked us to try and do was to try and think quite broadly in what we would like to do and how we could use the skills that we are learning all the time in different parts of the industry.

The main point I learnt from yesterday’s lecture was that collaboration between the designer and the audience is very important. By involving people and talking them through the design process they are more likely to adopt the solution.
With examples from lift sharing with a small pocket of the community to helping a lightweight tubing company open up to a larger market, we were allowed to understand this point further.

An example: Lightweight Tubing Company
Already an accomplished company within the cycling field providing lightweight tubing for punctures, they felt a little unsatisfied. Wanting to increase their market, the company sought help from the Design Council. With there support, the company were able to redevelop elements within their current company and were able to connect to other industries. One of these advances, for example, was the light weight tubing being sold to some car manufacturer’s who used it to make lightweight cars.

A problem that designers can have is trying to be too clever. Talking about a visit to Manchester, David talked about an example where a designer tried to solve a problem but in trying to do so they in turn created another.
Picture the scene… it’s miserable and grey outside and raining heavily. You’re running late for a meeting, your umbrella has just managed to hold up in the gale force winds and you share an uncanny resemblance with a drowned rat. You walk into a plush hotel entrance, umbrella leaving a trail of glistening rain drops. You’re struggling! You glance anxiously about and your heart skips a beat…a stand holding bags for your wet umbrella is there, brilliant! Not so fast. Sure your problem is primarily solved and you do not soak the whole place with the rainwater but what happens when you want to dispose of the bag…there is no bin on the stand. A prime example where designers have failed to solve the whole problem. The had covered safety, ergonomics and function but had forgotten all about disposal. In a world that is constantly changing it is important for designers to adapt to the new problems facing our society and try to solve these as best as they can, without creating unnecessary issues!

I really enjoyed this lecture and felt it was useful in getting us to think broadly as a designer and understanding fully the people that we are designing for. A point that David raised and I thought was relevant was do we as students get advice in career prospects from tutors. The whole lecture theatre echoed 'no' and it was quite nice for an outsider to tell us that even if we ourselves are a little unsure of where we want to end up, it pays to be open to every possibility including service design...possibly just trying for a sale...?

With thanks:

Thursday, 4 February 2010

A picture can tell a thousand words (series9)

An example of the final idea.

When I think of a book, I think of a story. Some people may think of childhood, pictures or bedtime. Whatever your interpretation of it, many other people might not agree with you.

The next part of our sustainability project asks us to create a book using our subject that we had to discuss in groups (Environmental Design) as the central theme. With no other input, we have to interpret the brief and decide what we think a book is. By using the information that we gathered in the research part we have to decide in what way we want to use this to communicate our ideas...

A clipping of the brainstorm.

A little unsure at the beginning of what I wanted to do, I decided to brainstorm the idea of a story. Trying to think quite broadly, I tried not to think as a designer...
Chinese whispers and digital stories are all ways to communicate a story but they are not your conventional book.
Looking at different types of unusual books that had been created I stumbled across a lot of interesting ideas.

Black Spot Books

Ed Hutchins, Starbridge

Jennifer Collier, Letter Dress

Each one of the examples above convey a different message so it is important for me to think carefully what I wish my story to communicate.There is a saying that a picture can tell a thousand words so bearing this in mind, I want to create a response to the brief that is visual.

Digital Stories:
Does a story have to be physical, something that you can hold in your hand? Can it just be a series of images?

Some examples of the digital strories I created using Photoshop.

Physical Models (and the final concept):

When working on the group research part of this project, I found that each of the group topics interlinked and connected to one another so I want this idea to be the underlying constant within the story. My solution to this was using a piece of thread. Each picture in series9 is connected to another image - all connected in some way. Using the one piece of thread this was not an easy task and I cannot tell you the amount of times I had to pick knots out of the thread.

Pages from my sketchbook, showing my thought process.

With thanks:

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Consumption of Design

It is quite easy as designers to put the blinkers on and design for what we think is right but sometimes it is more important for us to listen to others and the opinions that they have – especially from those that are not involved in the design field. Ignorance is sometimes something we suffer, whether it be intentional or not, designing for aesthetics more than function…all common traits of a designer.

Using cultural studies, the focus is on how we as a society consume. For example, “how objects and spaces are valued, thought about or, more straightforwardly, used by their public rather than on the quantitative aspects of the size and the structure of the market.”

‘Consumption’ can be split into six categories:
One. “Consumption is intrinsically a cultural process”. This is something that we are probably all guilty off; buying for the sake of it. I know I am. My previous iPod was working perfectly but because Apple advertised the new iPod video and my friends were getting new ones I felt I ‘needed’ a new one too. Planned Obsolescence is something this is contributing to our disposable culture and Apple are as guilty as anyone to making us believe that our items are no longer worthy. (You’ll be pleased to know though, that I recycled my old iPod by giving it to a friend and I still haven’t given into the iPod Touch – even though I really want one!)
Two. “Consumption entails an exercise of private, personal choice within the market”. Creating a market where people are given the freedom to choose rather than being ‘brainwashed’ into making a choice on a purchase.
Three. “Consumer culture is identified as a culture of freedom and individualism”. Arguing here that now our consuming has become a part of us where we actually enjoy disposing of things and people do not feel obliged to pass judgement, because lets face it most of us are doing it too.
Four. “Consumer culture is founded on the constant expansion of demand”. Indeed we are always willing the designs to create something new but when the process in which they do so is detrimental to our environment, is it really worth it?
Five. “Consumption becomes the leading device through which individuals construct their identities”. In an even more conscious society we are constantly trying to keep up with the latest fashion and create our identity’s, meaning that the way in which we want others to see ourselves are constantly changing.
Six. “Consumer culture incorporates virulent mechanisms for the production and representation of commodities as signs”. We are now looking at what other people are wearing, using, etc and are almost becoming like robots. Seeking approval from others in what we purchase, companies are latching onto this idea and using peer pressure and celebrity endorsement as a way in selling their products.

The design practice responsible in the cycle from production to over consumption is something that is becoming more and more dominant. What can we do?

An example of celebrity endorsement, David Beckham and Sharpie. David Beckham is more dominant than the product itself, highlighting the fact that he is more 'important' that the product itself.

With thanks:

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you...

Subject: Sarah 'The Magpie' Mettleton
Discipline: Interior and Environmental Design

Although Sarah is in my class, I do not know her all that well and thought that this was the opportune moment to delve into her life.
Swapping our photos with one another, it was hard not to ask questions about them and tell each other funny things about the moments captured...

(My thoughts are in black and the feedback from Sarah is in red).

Photo 1:

I love this photo so much! For some reason you can just sense the warmth coming from it. Clearly someone has made a joke before that camera has captured the moment and everybody looks so natural, laughter flowing. The mood that is being given from the snapshot is that of happiness and there does not seem to be any tension at all. I wonder who has taken the photo because it is clearly someone they know as it is not a posed shot and all the family members that I know of are in the photo.
It looks like a family day out and I know that the person's hand that Sarah is holding is her boyfriend Ross. You can tell they are comfortable with one another and Ross is pulling her hand slightly towards him, enforcing the fact that he will look after her and protect her.
Sarah's mum appears to be comfortable with Sarah and Ross but her dad is walking beside them, showing them who's boss? He is possibly quite protective of his little girl - even if he thinks Ross is a nice lad. The fact that he is laughing towards them though sends the message that he trusts Ross and there is no tension at all between the pair. Walking alongside her mum, her brother looks as though he is still looking out for his little sister. I think she is the 'baby' of the family there is an added sense of protection towards her.

I found out that the person that is actually taking the photo is Sarah's sister and the family were unaware that she was taking the picture - a truly natural shot! Sarah confirmed what I had thought about her being the baby of the family and that she was a bit of a daddy's girl, both of us coming to the conclusion that this is probably because she is the youngest.

photo 2:

This photo was quite hard to talk about as there is not a lot happening in it but I felt it was quite an important one as Sarah's brother features quite a lot in the other photo's. It is clear that from a very young age her brother has taken it upon himself to take up the role of protecting her. This could possibly be because of the age difference between the pair. Both look very relaxed in each others company and they probably spend a lot of time together. He is holding her towards him and clearly feels a strong bond. There is a photo that Sarah also gave me for this assignment which shows her and her brother more recently and it is clear that this bond is still apparent - clearly he looked after her well throughout childhood. When getting her photo's for the assignment, Sarah told me that her sister was getting them for her so I was quite surprised that when I got them she didn't appear much in them. Is she closer to her brother? Maybe his sister is happier to be out of the snapshot but Sarah and brother can still see that she is there? The amount of females in the family could explain why the house is so female orientated...3 woman to two men.

Sarah's brother still looks after her and after telling me about the age difference between Sarah and her brother and between her and her sister (brother: 9 years, sister: 13 years) it is apparent that she is so close to her brother because of this.

Photo 3:

This is more a practical kitchen rather than a 'showy' kitchen and is the only room in the house (photo wise) that is not a feminine colour, suggesting to me that Sarah's father or brother spend a lot of time in here. There is a drying rack for the dishes on the sink but I doubt this will get used much if there is a dishwasher - the family possibly lead a very busy life and it is easier to load the dishwasher than to wash them by hand. I think that holidays are quite important to the family as there is a lot of holiday memorabilia on the walls and magnets on the dishwasher. The magnets could be momentum's from previous family holidays or significant tokens. Holidays are probably one of only times that the family get to spend time together.
The kitchen is quite dated (some objects look as though they have been inherited) and I sense that the family would rather spend money on themselves than the kitchen. The cooker is quite new looking and could possibly have been replaced not too long ago.
There is mail sitting on the bunker and it looks unopened - fast paced family life, didn't have time to open it before having to go away and do something of more importance?

Here I learned quite a bit about Sarah's family and the reasoning for the presence of things in the kitchen - the dishwasher is always used (unless pots are too big to fit in thus washed by hand)! Also because they are quite a big family it is easier to put it all in the dishwasher. The family lead a hectic lifestyle and the messages that I picked up from the unopened mail were correct; her father works long hours and her mum is always too busy to open the mail when it first arrives.
The sentimental bits in the kitchen, I've learnt have been passed down from grandparents and some of these were received as wedding gifts. Her mum insists on having these on show and I love the fact that these help make the house so homely and do not feel the need to comply to modern, minimalistic living.

Photo 4:

At first glance, I can tell that the room belongs to someone that treasures objects. There are lots of little sentimental items kicking about amongst the toiletries but you have to look closely to find them. The painting of Sarah was done by her boyfriend and it is something that she obviously cherishes as it has pride of place in her room. It is not hidden amongst the other bits and bobs. The way the painting is positioned suggests that even though it is out on show, it is something that has a greater significance to Sarah than to any visitor. Facing her bed, it seems likely that it has been deliberately position so that Sarah can see it when she is in her bed- a place where she probably spends the most time in her room - anyone visiting the room wouldn't notice it on first entry.
I notice that there are no posters in her room but there are quite a lot of photos sending the message that the main influences in her life are family and friends. The colour of the room is very feminine and so I doubt that she shares the room with her brother but maybe her sister? If so she might not anymore but has done in the past and now her bed has been used for storage - using furniture for something other than it's designed purpose.

You might be wondering why at the start of this post I nicknamed Sarah 'The Magpie' well all is explained now...She is a hoarder! We've seen this trait before...inheriting this from her mother. The painting of Sarah was the main talking point here. She told me how she had placed the picture where it was because she was worried that it would fade with the sun - something that I had never even thought about! It used to sit somewhere else in her room but because of this fact she moved it to it's current position. Something that I feel I got right was that the way it is positioned now, Sarah can look at it from her bed but from the top bunk: her sister still shares the room with her and sleeps on the bottom bunk.

Photo 5:

Looking at the picture at first glance the room looks reasonably tidy but on closer inspection you can see all the bags on the top bunk, possibly trying to tidy up before taking the photo? Or not having enough time to tidy up before coming back to Dundee? Sarah has customised the room around her and something tells me that the toys placed on her bed are probably something of significance (one maybe from birth?). The fact that Sarah still has these toys on her bed confirms that they are something that is important to her because most people tend to get rid of them by the age Sarah is.
The chest of drawers, next to the window, look as though they have been inherited from someone as they do not fit in with the décor of the room but clearly something that is trying to be fitted in.
There are no ladders up to the top bunk suggesting that to get to the top bunk you would have to clamber up. I think though that this is more likely for storage, Sarah for me seems to be a hoarder. If you look under the bed as well there are boxes, holding Sarah's possessions. It strikes me that she values the presents so much that she has given to her so she tries to put out as many as she can on show and those that she can't, she stores in boxes.
Watching movies is an obvious hobby for Sarah as her DVD collection is on show and easily accessible (just behind her bed). If there had been a closer shot of the collection, it could have proved useful for understanding her personality more.

Sarah confirmed that she has a certain hoarding habit! She loves everything she receives and the toys in the room comfort her.
What threw me slightly was that Sarah shares the room with her sister and that the colour chosen was a compromise (Sarah likes pink, her sister likes purple thus the lilac room was born)! The chest of drawers don't belong to Sarah but her sister who wanted a set after her grandmother had one just like it (her mum and dad had to spend so long trying to find her a set identical to it).
Something that I really wanted to know was about the DVDs, so I asked what Sarah's favourite film was. Green Mile, Disney, Marley and me (this one has sentimental values attached to it).

Photo 6:

The positions of the cushions send the message that this is quite a relaxed house - no one is running behind you trying to tidy up. One of the pillows has a remote control on it and this couch is obviously somewhere you can just crash down and get lost in your own thoughts: once your done, you can just get up and go. The remote control has been left behind on the seat again emphasizing the fact that there are no strict rules of tidying up after you - a laid back family.
The chair in the left hand corner of the photograph looks like it is the most important chair in the room. Whoever sits here has tidied the pillows after themselves and both the visible lights in the room are positioned to this area. It is also next to the window for maximum natural light. There is a box of hankies, a coaster for a mug and, underneath the hankies, a book - a place where this special person can relax and take time out from their busy day. From other photos you can tell that this seat is the only seat that does not face the television in the room so this could have been deliberately chosen as the 'quiet corner'.
Adjacent to this seat is the dining table. This has been positioned in the corner of the room but it is not hidden, it becomes part of the space. The table could have been placed here deliberately though as it sits next to the wall that holds all the family's achievements and pictures - possibly a source of conversation over meals? The table has place mats on it and could mean that the family eats a lot of meals here or, and referring back to the laid back nature of the family, it could mean that they are just left there, fooling people like me!
Again this room is quite female orientated: the colours, doyleys, cushions and the flowers on the dining room table all contributing to the idea that the females rules the roost!

Everyone in the Mettleton family hates the pillows except Mummy Mettleton and so she is the only one that tidies them back into place, hence the tidied pillows on the 'special' seat. This belongs to Sarah's mother who likes to sew here, so I picked up about the light being the main source of the chair's placement. Also her mother doesn't like watching TV so by placing the chair in the corner she can't see it.
Something that I failed to really notice was that this is such a cosy room and that this is the place in the house where everyone comes together. This communal space is relaxed and homely, explaining why they are trying to fit in as much in the room as possible e.g. the dining room table. Wanting to spend as much time as they can in the room, Sarah's mum has sacrificed her private and quiet room and allowed a massive TV to take up residence here.
The pictures on the wall are a reminder of all the family's achievements and Sarah tells me that there has been a place reserved for her on the wall for when she graduates.

Just some annotated notes of the feedback I recieved from my analysis.

Revealing what she saw from the pictures it was interesting to hear what thoughts these snapshots had allowed her to conclude. She asked me whether I was closer to my dad than to my mum...I would say that I am equal to them both but because it is only my dad and I in my family that like football there is probably more of an obvious bond - something that people maybe see of more than the bond with my mum (I love you both the same! Just in case you're reading this (-:). This is quite similar for Sarah who shares a more obvious bond with her father because of football, although this bond has formed over their 'love' for Manchester United. Not even going to pretend I didn't gag here when she told me this!
Sarah talked fondly of how her living room was the communual place of the house and how she loved spending time here. This is the complete opposite for me. We rarely spend time in our living room and this shocked Sarah as her's obviously means a great deal to her, holding so many memories.
One thing that suprised Sarah was the points that I discussed in photo one about her dad's and brother's body language. With this being one of her favourite pictures, she had never noticed the protective manner in which they were posed - obviously still looking out for her. Something Sarah said though that I thought was really nice was that it looked to her as though Ross was being welcomed into the family and her dad is looking at him, laughing and joking with him.

With reference to the Johari Window, a model that helps us understand how we as humans interact, I can understand this assignment fuller.
Nicknamed the 'window' because each quarter is like a pane in a window, each 'pane' has a different meaning.
Our personal awareness is divided into four types: open, hidden, blind and unknown.If I use examples of this assignment it is easy to understand.
1. Open - what I know about myself
2. Blind - what I do not know about myself
3. Hidden - what I know about myself but that Sarah does not know, and
4. Unknown - what is unknown by me and also by Sarah.

This model is quite useful in explaining my own and Sarah's reaction to our comments. I would say that Sarah was an open and blind person (I mean this is in the nicest way possible, honest!). Her personality could also be described as hidden as there was a lot of messages in the photos that I missed e.g. what she shared with me about her sister. I would say that my personality could be described as open and hidden as there was many things that Sarah said that I already knew about myself but there was things about my personality that Sarah never picked up on...

With reference to the lecture that we received two weeks ago with Jonathon Baldwin about 'The Canon' (the source in which we gather our opinions on what is good and bad), it is clear to see that 'The Canon' in Sarah's life are her parents and her older siblings. With Sarah being the youngest in the family it seems as though each member has passed on their own personal opinions to her. The close bonds within this family is something that I can sense has made Sarah the person she is today. After looking at the photographs, I feel that the family life that Sarah has had is one that she aspires to have herself.
Having such a strong influence in her life, Sarah has been instilled with a strong sense of values which she has her family and friends to thank for.

This assignment was so much fun and it was strange how someone almost a complete stranger could tell so much about me. We spent most of the time laughing and had such a good time with this assignment (even though I think it has been one of the hardest ones too!). Not only did we have to talk about a stranger, we had to be sensitive to the other person's feelings. Also when taking the photo's I guess I was a bit conscious of what I included in them, even though I never tidied, I still watched the way I took the snaps. I guess what they say is true, 'impressions do count'. It has made me think more about how I conduct myself and appear to others...

The lesson I guess we can take from this assignment is that as designers it is important to fully understand our clients before trying to design for them. We have to be sensitive to their personalities when designing so as not to offend people. Considering every single angle is important, as sometimes things can be overlooked that could prove vital in an attempt to design a solution to their problem. Our responsibilities as researchers require us to unpick the story and use skills that we have learned to apply them to the situation.

With thanks:
Sarah Mettleton and the Mettleton family.