what about design?

I first saw the poster in the local Apple store, and I fell in love with it instantly!

It reminds me of Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Despite of being called genius, crazy ones, outliers…, these are individuals who are committed, engaged, and possess a great amount of perseverance! They don’t follow the status quo, they don’t follow the norm. But, they make a difference!

How would I make a difference…? By communicating effectively… via visual communication!

Design, to me, used to be an intuition,… at a moment,…. spontaneous.  I knew I was missing something, but what?

St. Clair’s explanation of Visual Grammar and Visual Principles showed me a new perspective in understanding design. The Visual Space actually has its organization!

The discussion on the left and right hemispheres (note 2) helped me understand why left-brain dominant people sometimes have such difficulties understand the right-brain counterparts.

Gestalt claimed that human beings have the natural ability to organize images based on similarity, proximity and others. And mostly the interpretation can be drawn from personal experience and familiarity.

With these in mind, I am starting to see my surroundings differently now. To start off, my two favorite artists immediately came into focus, Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Mondrian (1872-1944). Their compositions portray a series of emphasis on colors, patterns, repetition, balance, …..

Kandinsky Pattern, Variety

Kandinsky Pattern, Variety


Kandinsky was also an accomplished musician, he used color in a highly theoretical way associating hue with pitch, and saturation with the volume of sound. He even claimed that when he saw color he heard music.

Kandinsky - variety, unity

Kandinsky – Variety, Unity

Mondrian Proportion, Rhythm

Mondrian Proportion, Rhythm


Mondrian believed it is possible that, through horizontal and vertical lines constructed with awareness, but not with calculation, led by high intuition, and brought to harmony and rhythm, these basic forms of beauty, supplemented if necessary by other direct lines or curves, can become a work of art.]

Mondrian Rhythm, irregular,proximity,

Mondrian – Rhythm, Irregular, Proximity,

Wright lines,pattern,harmony

Wright – Lines, Pattern, Harmony


In the same timeframe, Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) also playfully employed straight lines and colors into his works.

Wright variety,emphasis

Wright – Variety, Emphasis

As a teacher of the Chinese Language, I am more reminded of Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences which suggested the natural intelligence of each individual determines how one best learns. It is critically important that my instructional design includes the variety of visual principles to aid my visual communication with the students. Particularly when it comes to explaining the etymology of the characters, I must draw their attention to the visual elements of each characters. Design, as Daniel Pink puts it, is utility enhanced by significance! … and I’ll be on my way to change the world!

The following two video clips explain the significance of understanding the etymology of characters for anyone who may be interested to know a little about Chinese characters.


Note 1: St. Clair explained that Visual Grammar distinguishes dot, line, shape, space, color, texture, value and form, and these elements are further arranged into Visual Principles of Unity/Harmony, Variety, Balance, Emphasis, Rhythm, Movement, Pattern, Graduaion and Proportion. Visual thinking is spatial thinking. Bicognitive refers to the ability in visual thinking as well as linear thinking. Arnheim noted that artistic expression is a form of reasoning.

Note 2: The left hemisphere is specialized for linear thinking, logic and analytical abilities. The right hemisphere is involved with  concrete thinking, processing of spatial patterns relations and transformations. It appreciate the complexity in complex sounds, music, voices and tones, and face recognition.  The right hemisphere is the imaginative and creative part of the brain.

Daily Create Reflection

Creativity is not a talent; it’s a way of operating. ~ Cleese

I have been told that I am very creative, resourceful and spontaneous.

I have only skimmed though the Csikszentmihalyi’s transformative theory of Flow and John Cleese on Creativity before I started the Daily Create activities. It’s not until after the 7th DC, I sat down again and watched these two video clips in greater detail.

After I finished watching them, I was able to reflect on the 7 DC’s that I completed. I was kind of glad  that I did not watch the clips in detail in advance, otherwise, I would not have had the same realization that I had then. I would have been too purposefully trying and looking for all the fine points the two speakers made – it would have ruined the spontaneity in my creation.

You see, I am a ‘serious’ person when it comes to work and assignments. Somehow I have a clear distinction between work time vs. play time. Doing work with a playful mind is a big stride out of my comfort zone. This old baggage is mostly because of the choice of words. Growing up, I was taught that ‘play’ are what you do to relax and is never productive, whereas ‘work’ is productive. )

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Decision... Decision...

Decision… Decision… (photographed by Joanne)

… start generating random connections, and allow your intuition to tell you if one might lead to something interesting. ~ Cleese

I took a few minutes to ponder the daily choices I have to make… Walking around in the kitchen trying to find inspiration, checking out the items in the refrigerator, moving from the kitchen into the garage… and saw a few of my crocs lying on the floor. I have over 10 pairs of crocs! And every morning I will decide which pair to wear. On some days, I may have a green on my right foot, and a yellow on my left foot. Running late … and do not have enough time to ponder.

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My most valued tools..!

My most valued tools..!   (photographed by Joanne)

… step back and contemplate the wider view. – Cleese

It did not take me long to have an idea about this prompt ….  I AM a nerd and, in some ways, like to do certain things in an old fashioned way! I do not own a microwave oven.  I use the regular pots-and-pans for reheating leftovers… just like my grandma. The first idea I had was actually my round-bottomed wok. It was when I started writing the idea down on a piece of scrap paper, I noticed the pencil and paper that I was using. YES! I still like to write myself a note with them. In fact, I worry about some of my students’ inability to write without using a keyboard.

So I might add…  personal experience   contributes greatly to being creative.

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paired opposites...

Paired opposites…   (photographed by Joanne)

it’s also easier to do little things we know we can do, than to start on big things that we’re not so sure about. ~ Cleese

“What happens if I do this? What would happen if we did that? What if…?” ~ Cleese

The ultimate opposite that came to my mind is black and white.

I have a black and white Border Collie.

I contemplated switching the two colors around, but quickly realized that I probably need Photo Shop to do that.  After trying 30 minutes with the limited editing tools I have, I came to decide that I would switch out the background on the image.

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Happy Birthday, DC!

Happy Birthday, DC! …..(photographed by Joanne)

Intermediate Impossibles – try loosening up your assumptions by playing with deliberately crazy connections.  ~ Cleese

Humor is an essential part of spontaneity, an essential part of playfulness, an essential part of the creativity… ~ Cleese

While pondering what I should portray, I decided that it would not be a regular celebratory item for birthdays or anniversaries. I wanted to highlight the objective of DC, and encourage the audience to participate in the creative process.

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A poem about Cats.....

A poem about Cats….. (written by Joanne)

Creativity is not possible in the closed mode. ~ Cleese

This DC prompt caused me the longest pondering time!  I am a DOG person, not a cat person (although I do like Garfield and Hello Kitty)!

To help me loosen up, I started going through the checklist of the 5 conditions: Space, Time, Time, Confidence, Humor. I stumbled right there on #4:confidence and #5: humor ! I am not good in writing poems. In spite of maximum pondering time, this one did not turn out as I had hoped for.

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Is the background blurry.... nah....

Is the background blurry…. nah….(photographed by Joanne)

When you’re playing, nothing is wrong. ~ Cleese

This is actually my first DC, as I started the assignments in the evening of Jan 10.

When I first read the description, my Closed Mode kicked in!  I started to get a little tensed. My first thought was: I don’t have a real camera, nor a lens that can help me to blur the background. I went straight to the posted tutorial hoping to get some ideas. I then googled the topic ‘panning’ on iphone. I found a couple of articles about using the ‘panorama’ option to ‘pan’.  I thought about standing on the street corner to photo the passing cars, but then scratch the idea because it was already too dark outside.

The rolling apple example gave me the idea of a rolling orange.  Using the panorama feature on my iphone, I must have taken 50 different shots with different moving rates… only to find out later that panning is not ‘panorama’. But the bright side? I have learned how to use the panorama feature while taking a picture.  Here I come, Great Wall, and Grand Canyon!

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Excuse ...

Excuse …(written by Joanne)

Humor is a natural concomitant in the open mode, but it’s a luxury in the closed. ~ Cleese

Give your mind as long as possible to come up with something original. ~ Cleese

If writing is one of my worst skills, then humor is the runner up! This is an area that I could work on.

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My favorite place to work...

My favorite place to work…(photographed by Joanne)

You must make a quiet space for yourself where you will be undisturbed. ~ Cleese

This is my favorite (& normal….) work space where I can spread thing out and be messy. But I know where things are….  The other quiet ‘space’ is when I lie down in bed at night, moments before falling asleeep … my mind will travel through n dimensions and sometime generates the most creative and productive ideas.

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Food, Glorious Food ....!

Food, Glorious Food ….!  (photographed by Joanne)

these new connections or juxtapositions are significant only if they generate new meaning. ~ Cleese

I like to cook. I like taking pictures of the food I cook or eat.

Having a Flickr account now gives me an idea to compile a ‘menu’.  Whenever I offer to cook for someone, they can just go to this ‘menu’ and ‘order’ what they like to have.

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by Joanne

Bridge over fast-running water.. (sketched by Joanne)

Nothing will stop you being creative so effectively as the fear of making a mistake. ~ Cleese

….while you’re being creative, nothing is wrong. There’s no such thing as a mistake, and any drivel may lead to the break-through. ~ Cleese

I can’t draw!
Granted, in my class, I often doodle stick figures to make a point. And my students will laugh about them.. but the laugh also helps them recall the content. So is it the ‘Open Mode’ on their part such that the affective filter is lower and they are more relaxed to seize the learning moment?


The very essence of playfulness is an openness to anything that may happen, the feeling that whatever happens, it’s okay…. ~ Cleese

In John Cleese’s speech, he described that Creativity occurs when one plays for one’s enjoyment.  Though I don’t disagree, I would submit that if we enjoy our work so much that ‘working’ is just as much fun as ‘playing’, not only we would be highly creative, but we would also be in flow as suggested by Csikszentmihalyi’s seven indicators in his Flow theory.

Edward de bono, a pioneer in lateral thinking, described the PO tools of Intermediate Impossible, Random Juxtaposition, and Change without Rejection, which led to his later work of using the Six Thinking Hats method in communicating and establishing productive work teams.

You can act without certainty – your action might not be right in the absolute sense, but you are ready to “change it as soon as circumstances demand”. ~ De Bono