Posts written in April 2011

101 Things I Learned in Architecture School

Looking for a great, quick-to-read design book? Matthew Frederick’s 101 Things I Learned in Architecture School takes less than an hour to plow through, but its multitude of ideas, quotes, and counter-points reinvigorated my design thinking this week. Each page is a single distillation of insight into architecture with an accompanying sketch to illustrate, and even though the title says architecture you could apply most of these nuggets of wisdom to any of the design disciplines. The advice ranges from broad suggestions like #17 (this is one of the more verbose entries, by the way):

The more specific a design idea is, the greater its appeal is likely to be.

Being nonspecific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one. But drawing upon specific observation, poignant statement, ironic point, witty reflection, intellectual connection, political argument, or idiosyncratic belief in a creative work can help you create environments others will identify with in their own way.

Design a flight of stairs for the day a nervous bride descends them. Shape a window to frame a view of a specific tree on a perfect day in autumn. Make a balcony for the worst dictator in the world to dress down his subjects. Create a seating area for a group of surly teenagers to complain about their parents and teachers.

Designing in idea-specific ways will not limit the ways in which people use and understand your buildings, it will give them license to bring their own interpretations and idiosyncrasies to them.

to the tersely practical, like the drawing advice from #50:

Windows look dark in the daytime.

When rendering an exterior building view, making the windows dark (except when the glass is reflective or a light-colored blind is behind the glass) will add depth and realism.

Things I Learned is another of those books that I wish someone had handed me in early art school, before I moved beyond the foundational 2D and 3D design classes. (I found it via a quote used in the Music of Interaction Design talk given at SXSWi 2011 by Cennydd Bowles and James Box, which is also well worth listening to if you need some design inspiration.)

Any other titles along these lines that I should keep an eye out for? What simple primers have inspired you lately?

Marsha Riti


Created for the up-and-coming children’s book illustrator, Marsha Riti, the design for this site is a substantial overhaul of the blog site I built for her a few years back. The new “vintage cereal box” look matches her Mid-Century inspired illustration style, with her endearing artwork featured front and center. Keep an eye out for her forthcoming book, The Picky Little Witch, from Pelican Publishing!

Highlights for this project:

  • HTML5 and CSS3 goodness! Much cleaner, lighter code.
  • Custom, lightweight jQuery plugins handle the homepage portfolio viewer as well as the “candy-striped” dual-color post titles
  • Various features of the site are implemented as WordPress custom post types, making it super-easy for Marsha to keep the content fresh.
  • A dash of Typekit-powered font embedding makes the site’s typography consistently cute cross-browser.

Visit the new site.