Is Typography Art or Design?

Recently, I’ve been looking at design works that look like art, and art that looks like design. It makes me think, how we should differentiate the two. Or should we even try?

Is Typography Art or Design?


One work in particular is LENBACHHAUS by the artist, Thomas Demand. It serves as signage for the Lenbachhaus Museum. On the surface it seems more like something the architect designed to identify the entrance. But here’s how the museum describes it.

Far more than just a nametag, the sculpture, which stands out from the façade by virtue of its color, is composed of individual letters. Their bodies, set off from the façade by a few inches, grow out of an antiqua base, tapering toward the beholder to form a sans-serif typeface. The two-tiered lettering of the metal sculpture is held together by wedge-shaped crosspieces, creating a three-dimensional effect and heightening the interplay of light and shadow. The slender lines of the unadorned metal letters are illuminated, so as night falls, the sculpture continues to highlight the new entrance to the museum. The antiqua typeface was borrowed from the design first used when the Lenbachhaus was founded in 1929; the sans-serif, meanwhile, matches the museum’s current typographic identity.

They think it’s a sculpture. Demand, not known as a graphic designer usually creates life size installations of ordinary scenes in cardboard. Yeah, that escalator is cardboard. He photographs the installation and then destroys the original sculpture.

Is Typography Art or Design?

Here’s a design by Stefan Sagmeister.  Sagmeister is a graphic designer whose work is hard to define. My students often refer to him as a typographer. I’m not sure why. On his site, he’s describes himself as a graphic designer. But his design for the Adobe Max Conference looks like art to me. It was actually a 24 hour performance piece where he and Jessica Walsh spent 24 hours creating a variety of designs. The performance was streamed on a Times Square Billboard.

Is Typography Art or Design?

So the question arises, is it just old people trying to draw distinctions between art and design? It may be. We can go back to definitions of aesthetics of beauty by Immanuel Kant and try to parse words. It’s a great philosophical exercise. But in the end, as an educator, I think it may be time to let it go. We may be drawing boundaries that limit students’ ability to express themselves. Some of my past students create works that when I was in school, definitely would have been considered fine art. Peter Clark is an ex-student working for AutoFuss.  Below is an installation he created with some other designers. His major was motion media, a design degree.


This is his design for an event call OFF2014. He created an animated title for Anton & Irene. Click here to see a video of the process.


Is Typography Art or Design?


The time may have come to just push students to create their best work. If it jumps outside one area, let it. Being that everyone is a designer now to some degree through social media and all, maybe the artists are the ones doing it better.

Use LinkedIn As Your Personal Advisory Board

JobBridge evaluation

Monday, I got some expert tech advice from Kevin Lawver. He’s a software developer with an impressive resume including thirteen years of web development at AOL. He called me in response to a message I’d sent him via LinkedIn the previous week. I asked for some general advice on the pros and cons of Instagram as a revenue and awareness source for non-profits. I know next to nothing about technology. He knows everything.

How’d I know to contact Kevin? I went through my connections in LinkedIn. He’s local, knowledgeable and a nice guy. Plus, he’s wearing a Viking helmet in his profile picture. How could I go wrong?

I often use LinkedIn to answer questions like this. Rarely, am I disappointed in the results.

I reached out to Kevin because my students have created an awareness initiative through a collaborative assignment in my class. The project asked students to design a social innovation. It’s pretty open. Anything related to bettering humanity or the environment could apply. The problem now is that the students did such a great job, a local non-profit wants to use it. They even got a call during their final presentation from the head of the organization.

In situations like this, where I need good answers, I go to LinkedIn. And you should too. My experience is that people in there are helpful and smart. Since Kevin is an expert, I feel much better advising my students on how to move forward. He explained everything I needed to know, and he followed by saying he’d be willing to help in the future.

Creative projects are open-ended endeavors. In the process, we often get outside our skillsets. When we do, it’s best to get expert advice. Hundreds of thousand of experts are sitting inside that network. From my experience, most are willing to help.

This isn’t an ad for LinkedIn. I’ve just found that by being an active user, I’ve gained a greater ability to solve problems. In the long, messy process of experimentation associated with creativity, it gets scary when the project moves outside your area of expertise. By building your network of connections and joining groups, you essentially build your own advisory committee.

Here’s another example of how I got help.

A while back, I designed a solar light with an ex-student, Ian Nott. The only problem was that we had no idea how to make it work. We’re designers, not engineers. It looked cool, but we needed it to work. So, I posted a question in a LinkedIn group called, Invention Entrepreneurs. It was as follows, “I need help matching a solar panel with my LEDs.” It took a few days for anyone to respond. First, I got a short response that was very general. Then, Phil Rink, a mechanical engineer responded with a three paragraph explanation on matching solar panels and lights. It was amazing. He even directed me to specific websites. Our problems were solved.

 Use LinkedIn and Your Personal Board of Advisors

But that’s not where the story ends. Since then, I found that Phil writes children’s books. Recently, I bought “Keyston Species” on Amazon for my son. I read it first to make sure nothing weird was in there. It turned out to have a great storyline, and its education too. Now Phil has another positive review on Amazon.


I used to think of LinkedIn as a bunch of self-promoting ego-maniacs writing crap to sell themselves. And honestly, that’s why I started.  I have a book on creativity that I keep re-writing. I thought I’d post a bunch of times and build as many contacts as I could so I could sell more copies. My LinkedIn Rolodex is over 2,000 strong. But what’s really happened is that I’ve learned a lot from some enthusiastic and helpful professionals. In turn, I’ve helped anyone who has contacted me. For many of these, my unique skillset was exactly what they needed. The best part about all this is that I haven’t spent a penny. I use the free version of LinkedIn.




In the Age of Abundance, Software is Free for Creative People

Autodesk 123D

In the Age of Abundance, it’s amazing what’s free for creative people. All you have to do is look for it. As I’ve mentioned before, there are great classes offered online for free. The Y Combinator startup class in my last post is just one example. But in addition to education, the tools are free too. For 3D rendering, look to Autodesk. There are nine of these Autodesk 123D online apps that offer and incredible array of 3D rendering capabilities.

Catch: Create 3D scans of virtually any object.

Circuits: Design, compile, and simulate your electronic projects online.

Creature: Have a perfect character idea in your head? Bring it to life with this free app for iPad!

Design: 123D Design is a free, powerful yet simple 3D creation and editing tool which supports many new 3D printers.

Make: Turn your amazing 3D models into even more amazing do-it-yourself projects.

Meshmixer: The ultimate tool for 3D mashups and remixes. Mash, mix, sculpt, stamp or paint your own 3D designs.

Sculpt: Push, pull, pinch, paint, smooth, tug. More fun than a Renaissance studio, cleaner than clay.

Tinkercad: Get started with basic 3D modelling – no downloads required.

Sandbox: Here you’ll find some technology in progress.


If you think these are to complex and you’ll never figure them out, think again. Two years ago, I put my son on one to see how easy there were. He was ten at the time. Within a few hours, he had the Design app figured out and made the coffee cup below. Yeah, to him that’s a coffee cup. It look s more like a transformer/tank. You have to drink out of the spout on the right. He filleted and chamfered all the edges on his own. By the time he finished, he could manipulate the program to a high degree. The only thing I showed him was how to get into the program.


I think the reason he did it so easily is that these programs are similar in nature to minecraft and the Lego Digital Designer. They have a modular sense of construction and the navigation tools are similar.

If you are still intimidated by software, take a look at this video. Using the Catch app, all you have to do is to take some pictures of an object and the program will stich the images together for you, creating a 3D rendering. Take some time to poke through these apps. It’s well worth your time.

How Sculptures Are Becoming Spaceships

How Sculptures Become Spaceships

For decades, the gravity defying sculptures of Kenneth Snelson have risen to the skies with a unique state of energy. These expansive nests of cable and steel rods possess a tranquil and rhythmic aesthetic quality linking geometry with art. It’s a process Snelson has perfected over the years. His sculptures are always a hit with the art-loving community and the not-so-art-loving community. He calls his combination of tension and compression, “tensegrity.” He and Buckminster Fuller seem to have come up with the idea together.

But as things go, good ideas have a multitude of applications. And now there is a new use for tensegrity—spaceships. NASA is now planning to build tensegrity robots called Super Ball Bots. These flexible robots are to roll like tumbleweeds around on the surfaces of planets sometime in the near future. NASA plans to drop the robots from high altitudes and just let them squish on the surface of the planet. Once they’ve done that, they’ll flex back into form and be good as new. Their combination of tension and compression makes these structures both flexible and durable. Without a central body, they basically look like a ball of sticks. Each little stick has its own brain and motor. Each brain works fairly independently and gang together to create an interesting system of interconnected computers that can continue navigating the robot even if some fail. The bots navigate by the each motor tightening or releasing tension in the cables.

How Sculptures Become Spaceships

It’s interesting to find useful solutions in one domain and then see those same principles jump to solve problems in other domains. You can call it synthesis, emulation, association or whatever. But in general, it’s creativity.

Should the market define our values?

'Moral principles' highlighted in green

Should the market define our values?


As we continue forth into an economy based more and more on market principles, interesting questions arise. Part of the issue is technology.  Technological innovations have enabled the market to invade every part of our lives like never before. But another part of the issue is that many believe the market to be amoral. True market interactions are between two consulting parties. But is that really true?

In my mind, the creative people moving the market and technology forward should be asking the big, philosophical questions shaping our society as we advance into a more market based morality.

A couple of years back, Michael Sandel wrote, What Markets Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. It’s a fascinating look into what can actually be bought and sold today. As a consequence of market based pressures, many of the morays of old seem to be fading into the past. Thusly, a lot of interesting ethical questions arise. Here are a few.

  • Should we teach our children to break in line? The market believes line-breaking is moral. First class flyers go straight to the front of the line at airports, past all the poor folk. Most amusement parks offer fastpass tickets.
  • Should we profit from the deaths of others? The market believes yes and no on this one. Companies now carry life insurance on low level employees. Essentially, they think blue collar workers won’t live that long. Oh, the beneficiary is the company, not the employee’s families. In a failed attempt, the defense department once proposed a website to for gambling on which world leaders would be killed first. Dubbed the “terrorism futures market,” it would have essentially crowdsourced certain analytics pertaining to world stability. This could have saved money and improved global insight.
  • Should justice be equal for the rich and poor? We all know that has never been the case.

And how invasive should we allow our technology to become? According to Clark Howard, Microsoft’s Bing app agreement allows the following.

  • Record audio from your phone at any time without your prior knowledge
  • Add or modify calendar events and send email to guests without your knowledge
  • Add, remove, or change events
  • Read stuff that’s on your phone in many different ways

So as we look to the future, we should have this conversation. And those creating the innovations of tomorrow should be thinking about how invasive we want market mechanisms and technology. What should we monitor and what is off limits. I’d bet nothing will be off limits in the future.

So when does technology make a person not themselves—after a heart transplant, arm transplant, brain transplant, or head transplant? Do cyborgs have rights, and what about robots? I’ve shown this video of the Big Dog robot to a lot of people. Often times they express empathy for the robot, especially when it is kicked.

The matrix always seemed like a Sci-Fi fantasy. But really, it’s not that far away. Ask the big questions now.



Those in task oriented jobs beware—even honey bees

Those in task oriented jobs beware—even honey bees

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, technology has been steadily displacing certain types of workers. The more physical and task oriented jobs have been going the way of John Henry. The good news during past centuries was that even though some jobs were being eliminated, technology was actually creating more jobs than it rendered extinct. Telephone operators for example, didn’t exist before the telephone. Today, it’s hard to tell if technology is creating new jobs or just lessening the need for humans altogether. Hopefully, that trend of technology creating more jobs will continue.

If you are looking to inoculate your career against the technological invasion, you may want to be more creative. The skills that creative people possess are more difficult to automate. They include: empathy, flexibility, storytelling, synthesizing ability and the ability to conceptualize abstract problems. Additionally, jobs in general are certain to be more cognitive in the future. And the jobs focused on physical tasks, like digging ditches, will be in very limited supply.

A couple of innovations showing in the news this week demonstrate all too well where the future of jobs isn’t. Walmart just began promoting new designs for its fleet of 18-wheelers that Jennifer Booton from Fox Business aptly called a “Fleet of Transformers.” Her article, Walmart’s Future Fleet of Transformers, is both exciting and a little scary. They are sleek and futuristic, using the latest in all technologies. But the real innovation seems to be coming in the way in which they travel. Walmart wants to enable “platooning” with these vehicles. That means they ride bumper to bumper down the highway. To do this, they need to be automated and to communicate with one another. You don’t have to think long to imagine that Walmart is looking to get rid of drivers.

Those in task oriented jobs beware—even honey bees

Platooning Transformers is on the large end of the spectrum, but what about small things? Even honey bees might be out of a job soon. With the declining populating of pollinators due to mysterious causes, scientists have been working on micro-drones as substitutes. Dina Spector’s article, Tiny Flying Robots are Being Built to Pollinate Crops Instead of Real Bees, demonstrates that automation is coming to all domains, even the tiny ones. Micro-drones have huge implications because now even the tiniest of tasks can be automated.

Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be Invented

With all the 3D printers, flying drones and app designs getting so much of the attention related to innovation these days, it’s easy to think technology is the answer for all things creative. But on the contrary, there are still tons of low-tech creative solutions to be designed. Many times, because of the simplicity in many low-tech solutions, they are the most useful. And what an amazing rush to create something new from things like cardboard, yard sale finds, or just plain garbage.It just takes is some open-mindedness, experimentation and time. Take a look at these examples of low-tech innovation.

Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be Invented Plastic Bottle Light



Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be InventedRocket Stove 


Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be InventedCardboard Help Desk


Forget High-Tech, Plenty of Low-Tech Solutions are Still Waiting to be InventedPlastic Disaster Relief Shelter


Here are some related posts on some related creative strategies

Creativity and Innovation: Lead User Innovation

Creativity and Complexity: The Solution is Often a Product of How You See the Problem

Creativity and Curiosity: Doodle Your Way to Ideas


The New Instagram for Doctors Targets the Innovation Gap

The New Instagram for Doctors is an Exemplar of Opportunistic (Creative) Thinking


Dr. Josh Landy saw an opportunity when he noticed Doctors sharing images in a collaborative effort to learn from one another. What has now become dubbed the Instagram for Doctors” is a file sharing app that exploits the gap between new and old social media offerings. For the most part, doctors were sending images to each other to share case studies and ask questions. But there was always a privacy issue and the collective images weren’t being stored for future use. Now, using the newly established model of an Instagram-like app, doctors have a new repository for learning and sharing.

Figure 1, available at the app store or Google Play, is a perfect example of the opportunistic style of thinking I described in a previous post, To Be More Creative Find Opportunities, Not Problems. To find opportunity, look to recent innovations. There is always a gap between what exists and what could exist. Now the gap for opportunity is on both sides of Figure 1. How about an Instagram for other domains? Or, how about a more specific way for surgeons in the ER to communicate through a secure form of social media that doesn’t tramp on patient rights? I don’t know about you, but I’d like for my physician to get help from others if he/she were unsure.

Can Creativity Be Taught?

Recently, I contributed to an interesting discussion in LinkedIn about whether or not creativity can be taught, and whether or not our educational system promotes creativity. The reactions about creativity being learnable were mixed. The reaction about our educational system was pretty consistent—our educational system doesn’t promote creativity.

Creativity can be taught. The trick is to define it clearly so that you know what you are talking about. Creativity is generally accepted as being the production of something novel and useful. Having such a clearly defined view of it helps because it eliminates most of the mystery around the term. All you have to do it so to make something that solves a problem and is a little different from other things currently out there.

People often associate creativity with artists. And in doing so, they tend to combine creativity and expression as the same concept. Creativity and expression are very different. Expression is the manner in which a feeling or concept is conveyed—very different from creativity. In fact, there are many artists who aren’t creative. And many of these artists don’t intend to be. Whole schools are based on this. Ateliers are schools that teach old master techniques to artists. They aren’t based in creativity at all. These build the time proven skills related to things like classical rendering. The works produced in these schools are expressive, but only creative in the sense that these students are learning new things.

Like any other subjects, creativity can be taught. Some people are better at some things than others. Some people tend to be a little better at math or athletics than others. But that doesn’t keep us from teaching everyone math or from encouraging everyone to participate in athletics. And that’s how we should view creativity, skill that can be developed in everyone.

Creativity and Innovation: The Power of Gravity and 3D Printing Sand

Creativity and Innovation: Using the Power of Gravity and 3D Printing Sand

It is amazing how technology has given us the tools to create energy from pretty much anything. The gravity light is an amazing invention that uses gravity to power a light. Originally started as a crowdsourcing project on Indiegogo, it now has been tested in many countries effectively delivering a half hour of light from the gravitational force on a bag of dirt.

If that’s not enough, you can 3D print sand in the desert with solar energy. The Solar Sinter, the invention of Markus Kayser, systematically melts sand using a Fresnel Lens. Fresnel lenses, which used to be fairly common, are the front part of a rear-projection TV. Here’s how to salvage one. How hot can a Fresnel lens get? Try melting a rock at 3800F.