Analyzing Cameras Part 1

The past weeks we’ve dealt with product design (example chairs) and graphic design (example print media). This time we learned about the historical and technological development of cameras. As usual the students were overwhelmed with an enormous choice of objects to work with:

all cameras

This is how it looked like 🙂

In this first session we only discussed the history and development of the camera (and what this meant for photography). The professor introduced to us how the process of taking pictures technically changed starting with the camera obscura:

camera obscura

This is it: The camera obscura!

I’m not going to describe everything in detail since there is enough technical know-how on the Internet already! But here are some general points to sum up our findings:

  • cameras were initially invented in Europe and developed over time with some great additional inventions in the USA (Kodak, Polaroid) and Japan (Nikon)
  • new chemical processing methods emerged reducing camera size and prices making photography an everyday experience for many
  • analog cameras (including the camera obscura) are still perfectly able to take pictures (provided the mechanics are working and the chemicals and lab equipment are available) whereas digital technology is developing so fast that some cameras have become useless over a time period of  only one decade

Oh, and some spillovers paved the way for nowadays very popular 3D-effect in movies/photos:


Here is one of the earliest stereoscopes ever. The 3D-effect is nonetheless impressive!

Part 2 follows (and then it’s time for the exams for me!!!)

Analyzing Chairs…

…doesn’t sound like art? Probably not, but it sure sounds like (product) design 🙂

Last week in Fine Arts we got a little surprise when we entered the auditorium:

lined up chairs

a bunch of chairs lined up in the lecture hall

The professor enjoyed our puzzled faces for a moment and handed out evaluation-sheets. We were supposed to form small groups and pick a chair to analyze within 20 minutes. My group decided to go for the most inconspicuous model:

SE 68

SE 68

The SE 68 was designed by Egon Eiermann (D) in the 1950’s and is distributed by “Wilde + Spieth” (D) for 270 Euros apiece. I was surprised to find out it’s a designer chair since you can see it in many educational institutes and big halls. It’s nothing fancy!

But let’s sum up the evaluation-sheets:

  • Basic data: Name-SE 68; Object category-furniture/chairs; Function-sitting; Materials-light wood/metal/rubber (bottom of legs); Manufacturer-Wilde+Spieth; Designer-Egon Eiermann; Price-270EUR etc.
  • Form analysis: Main Parts-back rest/seating surface/legs; Color-black/metallic; Surface Character-flexible back rest separated from seating surface/ergonomic design
  • Function: Practical Function (ergonomics, handling)-parts are rounded/tilted (ergonomics); Symbolical Meaning-nope; Overall Effect-harmonious etc.
  • Context: Target Audience-big groups of people (events, educational institutes); Comparison with Competition-relatively unflashy, simple; Communication (marketing strategy)-“This chair is meant for everyone (short/tall, overweight/thin, young/old), who needs to stay seated for a longer period of time, but nevertheless he/she is not able to fully relax (no bolstering) so attention is kept on a high level.” etc.

Most of the information could be gathered by simply observing the chair. For the function-part we just slipped into the role of a random student looking for a place to rest his/her exhausted body (and mind) 😀

After a few groups presented their findings the professor too analyzed some prominent chairs. Now I know chair≠chair!


Some time ago I talked about media and gave you a short definition. This time I’ll take a look at signs.

First of all, there are three different types of signs:

  • Icons (depicting and actually representing the object shown)
  • Indexes (signs which are connected to what they represent through some kind of  a sensory feature like smelling, tasting, feeling, hearing, directly seeing EXAMPLE smiling facial expression is an index for happiness to us humans and sourness in milk products is an index for them being bad)
  • Symbols (having a deeper meaning and representing more than what is simply shown)

Here’s an example: Save Icon I bet you’ve seen this “icon” before now!  It’s one of the most famous save icons. Well let’s actually assume it is an icon. Every time you click on this icon you should get a floppy-disk since icons depict AND represent what is depicted! But since you do not get a real floppy-disk every time you click this image it’s obviously not a real icon (yes, this means the guys who started calling it this way didn’t do their homework). Naturally it’s not an index either since you do not have any direct contact to a floppy-disk in whatever way. So the only type of sign left is a symbol and this is exactly what most “icons” on our computers are: symbols. The floppy-disk represents the “action to save a file”.

I hope this example somehow helped you understand the distinction between the three kinds of signs 🙂

But let’s continue! What’s the difference between a sign and a medium you ask? Well as we already know a medium tells you about more than what it actually is. A sign on the other hand describes something it’s not itself. An example would be the color red in a traffic sign which certainly doesn’t just mean “red” but “ATTENTION! “ Or when your facials muscles pull together and form a smile. This doesn’t simply mean “flexed facial muscles” but more something like “I’m content and happy”.

But how do signs get their meaning? It’s very simple: As soon as you are taught a meaning to a sign it gets one! Let’s say you’re an analphabet then all the letters here would be just meaningless signs to you. Hence signs depend on your experience to get recognized! That’s the reason why the same symbol has different meanings for different cultures (or has none for some). A sign is useless without the necessary knowledge to be interpreted with!

Especially as a designer and artist you have to be really careful and thoroughly consider what reaction a sign (-combination) is going to evoke in the subject it’s directed to!

On the Meaning of Design

In our first class in fine arts we tried to figure out what “design” actually means and what it’s good for.

First of all think about what the word “design” does when added to another word. Like in designer footwear, designer furniture, designer screw driver etc. Obviously it acts like a quality enhancement, meaning that designer clothes are better than normal or discounter clothes. But why do companies bother to produce designer couches or bottles? Aren’t the “normal” ones just as usable? The answer is yes, everything’s fine with most normal products and services BUT the market is immensely flooded with different providers so only the “special ones” get more attention. Design is the perfect way to make YOUR products stick out of the average and sell.

Therefore market research is crucial for every provider. With enough good information the product or service can be improved enough to sell better, though it might not be literally better than what the competition is offering. It’s only better adjusted to what the customers think they need. Advertisement is business worth millions!

There are some basic rules a good industrial design has to follow:

  • use people’s need to express individuality and prestige (social/cultural function)
  • keep costs as low as possible for the client (economy)
  • find the best and most inexpensive materials and ways of production (technology)
  • consider important ecological issues like energy balance, recycling and consumption of raw materials (ecology)
  • design an appealing form that at the same time integrates all the factors mentioned before (aesthetics)

As you can see there is a lot more to design than simply creating beautiful objects and images. That would be something free artists can consider an option 😉 If you want to read more on Art vs. Design click here.

Media and Communication 1

In our first lesson on Media and Communication we tried to find a definition of “media”. The discussion we had was really philosophical at times and we came to the conclusion that the term “media” is indeed very flexible.

I’ll give you a short summary on our findings anyway:

  • a medium is always a communication carrier ( here’s a little memory hook: medium is the middle value like in “small-medium-large”, so media is what stands between you and the communication (information) meaning it’s the bridge bringing the information someone gave to you)
  • The effect of media depends on the experiences and background knowledge one has (Let’s assume you show a documentary on steel factories to a tribe living in the jungle. They’ll probably take it as something one can see in a vision rather than information on steel working processes, since they do not know what steel is but they do know visions.)
  • Since everything communicates in a way we have to define media more precisely. Let’s take a doorknob for example: When you see it you know “Aha. I can open the door when I use this knob.” So basically the doorknob is a communication carrier giving you the information that you can open a door with it. But does that mean it’s a medium? Sure, the designer of the knob communicates with the user through a certain appearance he gave to it. Is it a knob one has to push or pull or turn? And what if it is old and rusty? It tells you exactly this: “I’m an old doorknob.” But see, it cannot give you any other information except about itself.  And that’s where media helps out. Its most basically defined as an object that has the ability to tell you more than just what it is. So if you buy a paper and every page is printed with “I’m a paper. You can buy me, you can read me, you can burn me etc.” than it would have no value as a medium anymore!

All points I gave you are of course still in the rough, since we only tried to find a definition 🙂 More on the topic, next week!

Oh right, we got our long-term homework: Pick a medium you like and give a presentation with a concluding discussion round. Additionally we have to document everything, writing about it on the internet is allowed, too 😉