5 fun places for artists in SF

SF Art Institute

  • What: Free figure drawing every Friday. 5:30–8:30 pm | Studio 13
  • Why: Most spots in the city will charge you for figure drawing, so this is a pretty great deal. The room is also well-lit and atmospheric, and you get a nice view of Coit Tower if you walk around the SFAI buildings.
  • More info

23rd street studio

  • What: Also figure drawing ($18)
  • Why: Because the guy who owns this is really, really charming. He’ll invite everyone to the dining table during the long break in the middle of a session AND  bakes treats and makes everyone tea AND we’ll talk about our favorite movies from the week. On top of that, the poses that the models do here tend to be more dynamic than what I’ve seen elsewhere.
  • More info

Clay by the bay

  • What: Ceramics!
  • Why: Because their classes are great (says my friends – I haven’t been). I keep missing their classes, because of work trips
  • More info

Case for Making

  • What: Well-curated art supplies
  • Why: Because it’s really pretty, because it’s next to Trouble Coffee, because the owner has workshops during the week, because she got a commercial license like a decade ago and decided at some point that she would sell all of her favorite supplies there.
  • More info

3 fish studios

  • What: Print-making studio/store
  • Why: Because they made the print with the bear hugging the state of California piece that’s now on every other tote bag in Valencia. This is another place I haven’t been to. It’s hella far, but close to Case for Making – so recommendation would be to check them out together.
  • More info

Bent/Curved Wooden Staircases

These stairs are my Thursday morning inspiration. I love the thought that went into these designs; the architects didn’t just think about the utility of stairs but how they would shape the space around them. There’s something that feels lightweight and carefree about stairs that bend. They look sculpted rather than assembled.

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A thought about art museums

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While admiring the many works of Rembrandt and Vermeer today at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, I thought to myself “this is so great, being able to see the original works of art from these masters of painting.” Rembrandt is able to light portraits up by focusing on a few focal points with a painting and layering light paint on dark. Vermeer’s subjects are so peculiar and interesting that I can stare at them for hours.

My personal experience of wandering around art galleries and museums is great – if I’m wandering around by myself. I went to art school and learned about many of the artists whose name I read on plaques. I was also personally trained for a few years under a master oil painter, from whom I learned about temperature, color, light and shadow. When I visit museums with friends who want to rush through all the exhibits, I try to explain as much as I can about a piece if I previously learned about its context, history and ideas.

I do this, because most museums will tell you about the piece and what it is (rather literally, sometimes metaphorically), but they won’t necessarily tell you about the evolution of that artist, unless the entire exhibition is specifically about that. They won’t tell you what makes the painting incredibly special.

They’ll tell you that it’s a lady with a child, painted in a style that mimics 18th-century London art. When they show a one-off painting that Picasso created late in his cubism phase, museums will tell you about the style, but they won’t always explain the progression of his work that led to this piece. Have you been to a modern art museum lately? How many people end up taking a photo of something that looks cool but is entirely meaningless to them?

Art museums have a tendency to reflect history and movements. They document thoughts, ideas and views from many centuries and artistic periods. I wish, however, that they would help the average person understand art more clearly. More than the “what,” we need the “why” and the “how” of art.

Science museums often have interactive components that help you understand the concepts behind each exhibition. What if you had an art museum with a section that allowed you to paint in the style of an artist or a design museum that lets you actually sit on different Eames or Jacobsen chairs or try out different types of tea kettles instead of displaying them?

Rather than making art an exclusive thing that we stare at on museum walls, we should make it more accessible. Then perhaps, more people will understand its value and purpose in everyday life. 

What UX designers do

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I’ve been asked what a UX designer does for the past 4 years, so I decided to list out the answer to “but what does that mean?”

  • we work with project managers, researchers and engineers to figure out what users need and why
  • we figure out what how and where users can access what they need by sketching, wireframing, listening
  • we drink a lot of coffee
  • we design interaction patterns that work with the target platform, product, branding, etc
  • we prototype these patterns and test them for usability issues
  • we iterate and fix problems
  • we drink some tea
  • we work with engineers to implement designs through assets, style guides
  • if we work at a large org, we work with lawyers, writers, visual designers, directors, designers on other teams, ux engineers, production designers, translators, accessibility-experts and program managers to make sure our work is aligned with everything else
  • if we work at a startup, (mostly likely) we are the researcher, the designer, the prototyper, the project manager and, occasionally, even the engineer
  • we look at everything for inspiration – design blogs, architecture, mechanical objects, fashion, app stores and bookmark what we find in our brains or in a folder somewhere
  • we occasionally can’t think of good blog post topics and end up blogging about this

 

Good User Experience

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Look up to see what books the different floor hold. Vancouver Library. Source

2010 Erica Velasco Photographers
2010 Erica Velasco Photographers

Dancing shoes for when you’re tired of your dress shoes. Source

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Glasgow architecture school shows you where the bathroom is with descriptive icons.

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This armchair knows what you really need. Source

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Yes to not hollering over people’s heads at the restaurant. Source.

Mousarris

We’ve all used chairs and tables at home and at the office, and most are first and foremost made to to be functional. Furniture probably isn’t the first thing you think of when you think about art and design, but it’s a huge area that allows for a lot of playfulness and creativity.

When chairs go beyond functional into the realm of sculpture and art that it turns from an object into a question.

Furniture by Stelios Mousarris

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The chair is trying to break free of gravity that’s pulling it to the ground.

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Persian rug becomes a chair

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Inception! …coffee table!

Intentions & Execution of Design

“Look at this website,” my coworker said with his eyes rolled. I swivel my chair and peer at his screen. The website features a multi-colored word art title with a textured background that may have been popular twenty years ago. We both groan at the lack of professionalism the site shows.

We’ve all experienced the frustration of seeing bad design. Our gut reaction as designers is “someone ought to fix it.” Sometimes, we take it upon ourselves to fix it.

Several years ago, I saw a popular website that was promoting goods made in the US. The content was great, the navigation worked, but the styling of the website was appalling. There were boxes upon boxes, unnecessary drop shadows and weird illustrations that didn’t really make sense to me. I decided right there and then that I was going to redesign the site and then send the site owner my work.

I spent a weekend coming up with a new design for the site. “This is so much better,” I thought as I stepped back from it.  I emailed it to the owner, happy with the result.

A few days later, I got an email back. It went something like this: “Your designs are lovely, and I really like the ideas you came up with. But I’m really proud of the little drawings I did for this site, and I want to keep them.” I was exasperated. The drawings on the current site were, in my opinion, terrible.

It was then that I realized something. Even though my execution of the website was more modern and professional, the site owner clearly wanted her personal mark on it. I realized that maybe she wanted the website to be funky and unpolished. I was the arrogant designer, coming in and telling her to change something that she clearly did not want to change.

Jared Spool, keynote speaker at the User Experience Professionals’ Association Conference (held yesterday), spoke about this exact topic. In his presentation, a designer named Tyler Thompson saw the boarding pass for Delta Airlines, which can be difficult to comprehend at first glance, and decided to redesign it so that it could be “better.”

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Tyler’s design is beautiful. It uses modern fonts and rich colors. The flight, gate, seat and zone are clear to the customer. But Jared pointed out a few things about this design: the colors bleed out to the edge, it uses white stock, and it uses high-definition fonts that require printing at 300dpi. Delta’s low-resolution, thermal printers can’t do these things.

If Delta were to actually use Tyler’s design, it would have to replace 10,000+ boarding pass printers, change paper size and add cutting for bleeds on top of creating a new supply chain for colored inks.

Which design is better now? It’s easy to create designs without understanding the real constraints, but the best design is the end is one that satisfies real world needs. As Jared said, “to improve design, we must work on both the intention and the skills of rendering.” We can’t only improve the rendering.

Both my own website redesign from years ago and Jared’s talk have taught me that we, designers, need to have a little bit of humility. We can’t just tell someone how to do something “right” if we don’t know the context around which the original design was created. It’s easy to be nit-picky, and there are circumstances where better design is absolutely called for. But it’s time we stop to understand what situation we’re in so that we can do things with the right intention and execution.

Sketching with Posters

I occasionally make posters to get and emotions thoughts out. Since I work at a product company it’s easy to get stuck working on the same types of things all the time, so I thought I’d change it up by taking some of my free time to throw up words up in the air and see where they land. I challenged myself to create each poster in 10 minutes.

Poster 1-01           Poster 2

Poster 3 copy           poster 4 copy

Poster 5 copy           poster 6 copy

poster 7 copy           poster 8 copy

poster 9           poster 10