Monday, December 16, 2013

Subtle Frontiers: Observations in Urban Ecology

Thesis Exhibition banners
Banner designs for the exhibition of my thesis project.

As recently promised, the website I created as my MFA thesis in graphic design is now available. Please check it out and learn about the ecology of my yard.

My thesis work was focused on me "planting my flag" as a designer: what is important to me? What work is most pressing? What do I want to do? It was clear from the outset that I would focus on a topic concerning nature. I had the idea to explore the idea of a designer playing the role of naturalist. Then followed a month of exploration and ideation exercises. During September, I tried to figure out what my subject matter should be. At this point, I thought I might present a number of different pieces each demonstrating a different visual approach to natural history. I spent hours hiking or simply sitting in some of my local naure preserves and state parks.

As I journaled and explored what was most important to me, I began to lean strongly toward doing something that worked against some of our popular notions of nature. I looked at the way the experience of nature is marketed. Often, we see images of conquest and achievement, grand and remote vistas. I wanted to focus on the intimate and common and show how surprising and profoundly complex it can be. Using my own documentation of the plant and animal life I encounter every day in my own yard, I began developing an interactive piece that allows users to "explore" the space, learning about some of my favorite (or least favorite) organisms.

As my goal was one of further developing my identity as a designer and expressing what I find valuable about the familiar nature I'm surrounded by, I put all of my time and effort into research, illustration, writing copy, and visual design of the site and the interactive graphic. This unfortunately left no time to learn to code. The site is currently best viewed on a laptop of desktop; as long as you have a recent version of Flash player, you'll be good. Subtle Frontiers is a first step, and I am next embarking on some coding self-education. In the coming months, I'll be coding the entire site from bottom up, with tablet and mobile versions. Once that is done, I'll launch a blog and begin creating new content for the site.

Let me know if you find the Mesozoic fauna that somehow found its way into my backyard...

10 comments:

  1. Looks awesome David. Great work and a great topic.

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  2. Your hard work on this is evident, David, and both the website and your exhibition (what I had been able to glimpse of it, at least) are beautiful. Focusing on 'the intimate and common' always appeals to me.

    I have not succeeded in finding the stowaway Mesozoic fauna yet, and not for want of trying. I'll keep looking...

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    1. It's meant to be somewhat explorational rather than spelling out exactly where to click, so that's to be expected. I promise they're in there, and rather prominent, too!

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    2. I'm sure! Exploring is exactly what I've been doing, though not thoroughly enough yet, clearly.

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    3. Finally found the Anhanguera and the Parasaurolophus among the sassafras. It figures they'd be in the last place I explore (I'd only partially gone through your backyard ecosystem previously, obviously meaning to return for the rest).

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    4. Sassafras ended up being my favorite, as I'd never heard of Sassafras George and it gave me the opportunity to juxtapose Hank Williams and my favorite hadrosaur.

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  4. Excellent website. I think you're certainly a designer who has found their voice, and I can see this being very attractive to clients.

    As for coding. . . many years ago I used to code html and Lingo but found it impossible to keep up and learn the software I needed to be an mograph and 3D animator as well as a designer so kicked it in to touch. A bit of coding experience is useful for mocking up though as you can retain more control.

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    1. Thanks, Stu! I have registered for Codecademy and plan on seeing it through, since I'd like to know HTML5 and CSS as well as Javascript. I've begun sketching out plans for a dino-centric interactive piece. I think I'd like to do a number of paleontological infographics and interactives as an ongoing way to learn skills and fill needs I've spotted as I've done research for this blog.

      So... onward it is!

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