June 23, 2003 Program Summary

Visual and Media Design (Part 2): Marketing, Managing, and More extended our overview of visual design and animation from the perspective of marketing and managing media projects, and continued our exploration of digital portfolio examples.

Sowing, Cultivating, and Pruning Your Best Work
by Adele Sommers and Michael Raphael

In the second part of this series, we explored the topic of visual and media design from the point of view of carefully planning and pruning one's work to cultivate only the best elements. Bruce Mills, principal of Lone Pine Studio in Paso Robles, shared his unique perspectives at our June 23rd event.

Bruce introduced a bonsai pruning metaphor as a model for creating a portfolio, a marketing program, or managing any other dynamic system associated with one's life or career. Japanese companies often use such metaphors in the development of unifying themes for product development teams. This methodology can apply to any type of portfolio created in any medium.

After pruning some of his fruit trees last winter, Bruce said subsequent comparisons of pruned and not pruned trees showed “it was easy to tell which had vitality.” His observations suggested new ways to “overlay metaphors from other sciences to solve problems.”

Speaking in terms of portfolios, and how a portfolio “is a miniature representation of your life’s work,” Bruce further defined the online portfolio as a “dynamic system, a model vision of vitality and goal setting.” He also said it is a long-term project that may be enhanced, with “pruning off of non-useful parts”—electronic bonsai in action, so to speak. He also said taking action, and having a plan for action, is crucial, adding that pruning “is a sometimes ruthless process.”

Think of your portfolio as a dynamic system

1/Imagine your portfolio as a tool for visualizing and managing a dynamic collection of samples and problems solved. In the beginning, Bruce explained, the key is to save everything—this stage compares with sowing an abundance of seeds. Since you don't know yet what you'll want to cultivate, you should let a variety of elements sprout before thinking about thinning and pruning.

2/After planning and planting, next cultivate for viability and vitality,” he continued. This stage offers an opportunity to remove nonproductive, parallel, or competing elements, and eliminate the confusion of uncontrolled growth.” The use of cultivation and pruning principles will help ensure that your portfolio reflects only balanced and aesthetically pleasing structure, form, and content. Your audiences will then be able to see what you see.

3/Bruce recommends that you shape your portfolio to create a showcase for your vision.” Think of the branches of your portfolio's tree as its navigational structure. Depending on your intended audiences, you might consider using a simple indexing or labeling scheme, for example, to quickly direct viewers to categories of samples. Alternatively, a series of paths might take viewers through entire problem-solving processes. Each approach offers unique benefits to visitors.

4/Finally, maintain your portfolio by planting and pruning regularly,” Bruce advised. By harvesting the fruit and sharing your vision, you and your audiences will reap the desired benefits from your carefully tended orchard. Furthermore, your diligent trimming will reward you with easier maintenance in the future.

To download Bruce's presentation materials and site map, click here.

Panel discussion revealed more design principles

Our returning April 28th speakers Chloe Andresen and Justine Nielsen joined Bruce to share more visual and media design principles. During a second view of Chloe's Web site, the following observations emerged:

  • Media design represents a third dimension” of visual design. It creates a richer experience, intended to control the attention of the viewer. Tradeoffs usually occur in terms of development effort, download time, and resolution.
  • Whimsical presentations with non-obvious interaction cues create mystery and invite exploration and discovery. Knowing your intended audience's expectations can help you determine whether to use this approach.
  • A way to mix whimsy with practical disclosure might involve the use of an auto-cycling demonstration. A short sequence might be timed to execute after a period of inactivity, and would display the means by which to engage with the interface. This technique draws people to interact with kiosks, for example.

Chloe also pointed out ways to avoid common design mistakes when creating Web sites and other productions:

  • Try not to make assumptions about your target audiences' needs. Their tastes may be very different from yours. In interviews with clients, start with no assumptions and get to know their preferences before launching your design effort.
  • Do formative (in-process) evaluations throughout your development cycle; don't wait until the end. At the end of the design and development phase, do summative evaluations to assess how well the audiences' needs have been met.
  • When doing cost and schedule estimates, be sure to at least double each one to help guarantee a more realistic result.
  • Shallow navigation in a digital portfolio can be an effective way to expose your work quickly. Consistency in navigation is also very important.
  • Use color carefully. Bright, saturated colors suit informal projects; muted, less saturated colors work best for formal projects.
  • Be alert to information overload. Sometimes less is more.
  • Designers should think about ways to stretch their design skills, going beyond what is most comfortable for them. Chloe's livingcontrast.com Web site is an example of the concepts she presents (such as stretching her design skills).

Photography by Mary Meyer.

Visual and Media Design (Part 2): Marketing, Managing, and More
Date: Monday evening, June 23, 2003

Bruce Mills, graphic and media designer (Lone Pine Studio), followed by an informal Q&A “jam session” with returning April 28th presenters Justine Nielsen and Chloe Andresen.


Visual and Media Design (Part 2): Marketing, Managing, and More” picked up where we left off in April with demonstrating a variety of visual and media design techniques. In this session, we added new perspectives on promoting and managing media projects, a domain in which Bruce has considerable experience. Bruce introduced a Bonsai pruning metaphor as a model for creating a portfolio, a marketing program, or managing any other dynamic system associated with one's life or career.

Additionally, our April presentations left us anxious to know more about the topics below, which we explored in more depth this time with our panel of experts:

  • Basic visual design and media design -- principles everyone should know
  • How to determine which visual and media design approach will appeal to your target audiences
  • The most common mistakes that people make in their visual and media design projects
  • What distinguishes technical illustration and animation from other visual/media design directions
  • Ideas for arranging the content, organization, and navigation scheme of a digital portfolio
Door Prize: "The Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers," by Scott Shelby (2003).


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