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Hack The Box: Re-Programming the Museum Experience

18 Mar


I’ve had the opportunity to do some really interesting and fun things in my capacity as an instructor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design (CCAD). Last week was no exception. Between March 13-15, Corcoran College of Art and Design and Bethesda-based Brivo Labs engaged in a cutting-edge, meticulously planned, creatively consuming, brain-numbing-in-a-good-way design charrette to re-think the way that we experience the museum, as experienced through today’s (and the future’s) vast, and growing, technological capabilities.  (Whew. Did I say that right?)

The entire group consisted of about 15 rockstar graduate students from CCAD’s interior design and exhibition design departments, about 5 faculty mentors and 3 administrators from CCAD, many employees from Brivo, a few people from Top Coder (a company that I could write another whole post on). For the final presentation we were all joined by a handful of esteemed curators, webmasters, CEO’s, and other key members from important institutions in the worlds of art, architecture, and technology.

I was a faculty mentor for Team Retail (which I’ll explain below). I think we were also called Team Shop. Or Team Store. But we referred to ourselves as Team Retail from the first day.

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In an attempt to summarize this endeavor briefly, the schedule was as follows:

On Thursday we met at Brivo headquarters in Bethesda for an introduction to what they do and a discussion of how we could best create a conceptual synergy. We got to play with some neat gadgets and learn about things like beacons, which look like this  (note: this faceted silicone thing is the housing/casing, and not the actual “brain” itself, which is buried inside):

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In short, Brivo Systems provides cloud-based security solutions and Brivo Labs does all kinds of neat stuff with technology that I am just beginning to wrap my head around, so I will keep my explanation of what they do to that. Their website can pick up where I leave off.

We were split into three teams, each one working within the confines of the Corcoran’s historic 17th Street Beaux-Arts building as a test-case:

Team Entry had the task of addressing how we discover and first approach and engage with the museum.

Team Exhibition had the task of addressing how we understand, interact with, and experience the actual art.

Team Retail had the task of addressing how we engage with, locate, and participate in the retail experience of a museum. I was a faculty mentor for this team, which was comprised of five interior design grad students, two exhibition design grad students, members of both Brivo and TopCoder, and another faculty member.

On Friday, we met at the Corcoran Gallery of Art to explore the space as a whole as well as take measurements, document, and collect data about our respective spaces.

If you wanted to, you could even sneak away to see some of the current exhibitions and happenings. I walked into “Loop,” which is a personal favorite.

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I was also mesmerized by students and volunteers working on a huge Sol LeWitt line drawing in the atrium. Where else could you see something like this happening?

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Our team chose to spend the bulk of that time discussing ways that we could incorporate technology into the retail experience, and we worked closely with our Brivo and Top Coder tech-brains to distill those ideas into a what was ultimately a solicitation for solutions on Top Coder’s website.  What basically happened, was we came up with a concept for an App that would tie the museum experience to the retail experience, driving traffic back and forth between the two both while in the museum and after leaving the space. This would create a chicken-and-egg/cyclical effect of looping the two experiences together, which would result in repeat visitors to the museum and increased sales in the shop. The App would play heavily on the concept of gamification, creating incentives for ultimate cash-in in the retail store, and would work for those who choose to have active engagement through a device like an iPhone or tablet (either their own or one provided by the museum) as well as those who choose to have passive engagement through wearing a day-pass around their neck or carrying a member ID card (which would be equipped with a unique identifier such as a RFID chip). I’m going to stop going into detail here, because 1.) I could go on forever and 2.) I don’t want to give anything away that people might be hacking away at in the coming months.

I am really geeking out here, you guys. I can’t tell you how FUN this was.

On Saturday, we all reconvened at Brivo to have the official charrette day, where we put our brains to work. Starting at 8am. For 13 hours. Without leaving the building at all on a REALLY nice day. In a room full of dry erase fumes. But we made it through to the other side, and we’re fine. Better for the experience, actually.

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Saturday was a complete fog of diagrams, whiteboards, tracing paper, Google Drive and Dropbox exchanges, coffee (OH! the coffee we consumed), jelly beans, and power cords. Somehow, in the midst of all of this, we even managed to try out some toys that Brivo had for us to play with. Among them:

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GOOGLE GLASS! I don’t even CARE that I appear to have premature wrinkles on my forehead. I don’t even care. My husband was so jealous.

The day looked a lot like this for all three teams:

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Then 6pm rolled around, we breathed for a few minutes, and we set up to present our conclusions and proof of concepts to the critics. That looked a lot like this:

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Team Retail was even able to show a peek at the wireframe model of the App we conceived of. Can you believe that?  After formulating a concept, submitting a request to the TopCoder community of hundreds of thousands of programmers and coders, and letting things happen overnight, a “winner” from halfway across the world came up with a viable working model for the actual App. This is an example of the incredible synergy that this three-way partnership was intended to create: my mind is blown.

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The end of the evening was full of high-fives, thank-yous, and mutual admiration for what ended up being an awesome and exhausting collaboration. I didn’t play sports in high school, but it felt like we won a division championship or something. (Showing my nerd card. Again.)

One of the things that I have yet to mention is that this event was planned right before the recent announcements concerning the fate of the Corcoran Gallery/College, so many of the groups had approaches that necessarily addressed questions like “What happens to the collection?” and “Will the museum be free?” Those questions in and of themselves are big things to tackle, so doing that in conjunction with the larger purpose of the charrette was an enormous feat on top of another enormous feat, and these groups handled themselves like pros. I’m proud.

This three-day exercise, in conjunction with the conceptual nature of CCAD’s curriculum and the unique resources we have as an institution, are hallmarks of the Corcoran Experience for its students. The Corcoran College of Art and Design, and the Gallery, have a culture that is unique to the art community, unique to the museum world, and unique to the Washington DC area. At this time, the logistics of what happens to the space, its people, and its inner-workings are up in the air as to the what, when, who, and how. There are six thousand ways that things could shake down in the coming months, and I’m sure three thousand of them are incredibly beneficial to everyone involved. But as an alum of the Corcoran, a current faculty member, and someone invested in seeing its vibrant and unique culture survive and THRIVE, I think it’s important that we highlight experiences like this one as an example of what we need to preserve and perpetuate in order to keep the mission and voice of the Corcoran alive and well.

In any case, WHAT A GREAT experience for everyone involved! I hope it’s just the first of many more like it! I’ll echo the many “thank yous” exchanged around the room on Saturday, and say that each person involved the charrette – Brivo, Top Coder, the Corcoran folks, and the critics – was not only a valuable resource but a complete joy to spend in intense weekend with.

You can read the full press-release of the event here.

Many of the images in this blog post were taken by me. Many came from other participants, and can be sourced here via re-posted Instagram or Twitter pics.

Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.


Original Fabric Designs from Spoonflower

19 Dec

I just wrapped up another semester with my graduate students, and as usual, much of their work was very impressive and my creativity is recharged from being in the classroom.

One of the projects that my students engaged in this fall was the creation of a series of original textile repeats with digital design software. After they made tweak after tweak, we had them produced in the flesh by Spoonflower. Spoonflower is a textile company based on North Carolina, and they allow users to upload original designs and have them printed onto one of the many fabrics they work with for a pretty reasonable cost: it is a fantastic tool for me to use in the classroom, because it makes the designs that my students work so hard on come to life in a way that is motivating and full-circle.

We ordered a sampler, which is 30, 8” x 8” inch samples of fabric printed on one yard (for under $40 – can you believe it!?). Each of their original repeats appears 4 times, as they were uploaded at a 4” x 4” size. This was the sampler before we cut it, all laid out in its colorful splendor on my living room floor:

Spoonflower Sampler

Spoonflower Samples

Here are some of the details of the samples, after I cut them up and pinned them up to create on-the-spot coordinated collections in class. For those of you who have used Adobe Illustrator, you will appreciate that it is no small feat that many of these students had no prior experience with the software, and in about 15 weeks, they became masters of the Pen Tool. I am very, very proud of them.

Spoonflower Samples





Spoonflower Samples

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When I was in graduate school, one of the most magical things was seeing your work come to life, which isn’t always possible when you’re working with buildings and rooms and furniture and fabric. So obviously,  I’m really elated that the students I work with in digital design can see their own textile designs take shape so easily. Now they can design fabrics and order them by the yard if they wish to!

If you’re interested in any of their creations, send me an email so that I can put you in touch with the designer: Spoonflower sells any public users’ fabrics by the yard, however, to protect their privacy, I did not upload any of the designs used in class as “public” designs.


Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.

Vignelli’s Subway Map

10 Aug

Recently I did an exercise with my class about subway maps, and we started by looking at the iconic (and in my opinion, beautiful) map that Massimo Vignelli designed for the New York City subway in the 70s. I adore this map, and though I’m not particularly attached to NYC, I entertain hanging it on my wall in some form from time to time.

This is just a detail, but it captures the vibrant color and bold lines that I love. (image via The New Yorker)

Subway Map

Here is another detail, featuring the man himself (via here):

Vignelli Map

Here is the full-version, which has a huge impact in real life but probably looks underwhelming tiny and on-screen. (image via here)

Subway Maps!

I even love the cover of the fold-out. (image via Flickr)

Subway Maps!

You can read more about the map here at Design Observer. (Have I mentioned before how much I love Design Observer? It’s always a great place to start when you’re in need of inspiration.)

I think this aesthetic – which I think of as a stripey, bold, geometric application of color – is why I like the art of Markus Linnenbrink so much. I first fell in love with his paintings, but also am interested in the installations he started a bit after those. This one in particular really reminds me of the Vignelli map with its graphic lines. (image via here)

Linnenbrink Installation

Both the map and Linnenbrink’s work are evocative of Jim Lambie’s tape installations, I would argue.

Here’s one of Lambie’s installations at the Tate in London (via Apartment Therapy):

Jim Lambie

And another at MOMA in NYC:

Jim Lambie

To break it down further, I even see lines that are similar to the original Vignellli map in things like rugs… (via here)

Rug Company Homegrown Blue

…posters (via here)…

Lost in Translation Poster

…and vintage magazine articles like this one from Better Homes and Gardens from around 1975, which was when the map was in use (via here).

Vintage BHG Kids

It makes me wonder what these artists and designers were inspired by, and if they ever looked to this same map when they were creating.

Sometimes, inspiration comes from the most unexpected and seemingly irrelevant places…


Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.

Super Mario Inspired Metro Map!

19 Mar

Graphic designer Dave Delisle has created a fantastic map of the Washington Metro, in the style of Super Mario Brothers. It even includes the new silver line!


Super Mario Metro!


You can purchase a print here. I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting one for my public-transit-obsessed son.


Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.


Chevron Here, Chevrons There, I See Chevrons Everywhere!

18 Jul

Chevrons are everywhere, and they show no signs of going away. This is just fine with me because I really like their bold and graphic impact: pillows, rugs, and even furniture can be punched up with a little zig-zag! I’ve found a few unique interpretations of the chevron that I adore nthat differ from the typical color-on-white graphic we’re used to seeing.  Take a look…

This mirrored chevron entertainment console from the home of Laura Day was featured in a 2010 issue of Lonny. It’s so subtle but makes such a huge impact. 

(image via Lonny)

I love this yellow room with the custom carpet and coordinating art panels:

image via The Tile Shop Design by Kirsty)

 These “Scattered Chevron” drapery panels from Anthropologie are a much less jarring take on the wide bold chevrons we’re used to seeing:

(image via Anthropologie)

For a twist on floor textiles, Flor even offers a carpet tile in what they call the “Sophistikat” pattern. I love it…especially the subtle imperfection of the way the edges meet (or don’t).

(image via Interface Flor)

This watercolor is simple yet so interesting. I’d love it in an all white room, or against a navy wall. 

(image via entrenous)

And finally, these refinished Queen Anne chairs from Etsy seller Nenavon (unfortunately, already sold) are just adorable!

(image via Etsy seller Nenavon)


Have you seen any other chevron-themed decor items you love lately? If so, please share!


Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.

Pantone Adds 175 New Colors!

7 Jun

From time to time I post about Pantone: the company that deals exclusively in color. Their swatches and precise matching systems exist to create standardization among the color industry.  Sound complicated?  Think of it this way: if you’re a corporate entity with a blue logo, your logo isn’t just any shade of blue. It’s a very precise, specific blue, and if you match it to a Pantone chip then you can order all of your signage, t-shirts, paper products, and even fabric for the chairs in your lobby to be “Blue XYZ,” thereby creating a specific and stable identity.

Pantone "chips" -- get it? That's a little design humor for you... (image and design via

I’ll be the first to admit that I have little to no use for Pantone swatches in my design practice.  As of right now, I have no clients who demand super precise dye matches, and I have no trouble finding complementary colors among the thousands of options out there. I conceptualize colors, hunt the right ones down, and through a combination of visual instinct and trial and error I find the right ones: mission accomplished! But despite my tried and true method, I love to look at Pantone products and I dream about purchasing their very expensive swatch sets and color books for myself one day.  They just feel so…fancy. And professional.  And rainbow-ey.

Well, the rainbow just got bigger, because Pantone has added 175 colors to their line! Watch the video here describing their process of creating a new color:

I love how a guy in the video refers to color as an “instantly accessible, over-the-counter antidepressant.” I couldn’t agree more!

Their 175 new colors are particularly suited for fashion and home, and include additions such as Mykonos Blue, Cherries Jubilee, Storm Front, and Marmalade. (Yum!) You can read more about the “new” colors here on Pantone’s website.

Happy Color Shopping!

 Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.

Must Read: Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design

18 May

Nerd Alert!

Here’s a book that design lovers won’t be able to put down, and others might find just a little interesting. It’s called Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design and it’s by Michael Bierut, a writer for the popular, often-but-not-always-very-design-industry-specific blog, Design Observer.

I am happily and excitedly going to be teaching a graduate studio in the fall that focuses on conceptual development and communication, and this book is a wonderful companion for that class.  Though it talks a lot about graphics (as Bierut is a graphic designer himself, and at the famed Pentagram, no less)  it is effectively interdisciplinary in its discussion of client relationships, concept generation, public perception, and it even touches directly on architecture for several essays.  I can’t stop myself from going back to it for inspiration for studio exercises. 

A fun bonus that makes this book even more appealing: each essays is set in a different font. What a great detail that almost anyone can appreciate – there’s even a legend for the different types in the back of the book.

If you’re interested in picking it up I encourage you to do so and browse some of the essays: none is longer than three pages, and though you may find yourself googling lots of graphic designer’s and architect’s names, it’s well worth the read. You’ll find yourself learning about everything from how product posters actually get made, to what happens when an architect makes a grave mistake that means a skyscraper has been constructed in a structurally unsound way. 

…and while you’re browsing the book, there’s no better coffee mug to be your companion than this one:

Pantone Mug (image via

Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.

Fascinating, Colorful, I-Want-A-Poster-Of-This Infographics

21 Sep

Detail from "Colors of the Social World (Wide Web)" by ColourLovers (image via ColourLovers)

ColourLovers is a site that allows people to share palettes, ideas, articles, and all things related to color.  It kind of reminds me of Adobe’s Kuler website, which I discovered in grad school.  Not only is the ColorLovers website beautiful but their blog is really interesting…if you’re into gorgeous charts and sorting crayons and Skittles like I am.

Dominant colors in Twitter pages, by state. (Image via ColourLovers)

They’ve created a huge series of infographics called “Colors of the Social World (Wide Web)” that document the colors people use on their Twitter pages.  I think it’s as fascinating as it is beautiful.  Enjoy it here, and don’t forget to click on the hi-res version for the full impact.

Design consultations for all styles and budgets: JGB Interiors.

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