Human error or bad design?

hawaii emergency alert bad designemergency drop down menu bad design


Remember the poor guy who got blamed for mistakenly sending the alert about the incoming ballistic missile? It’s not all his fault. Bad design is at least partly to blame.

The emergency alert system in Hawaii apparently is tested by selecting the correct message from a drop-down menu (see the second image). In this case, the wrong message was selected. This is not hard to do. Have you ever used that kind of menu to select the name of your state and accidentally got the wrong one — usually the one above or below?

Drop-down lists often lead to these kinds of errors and should not be used in situations like sending critical messages. As Don Norman, director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego, says in his Fast Company article,

“When choices are life-threatening, there are several easy options to avoid the problem. The main, elementary design rule is: never do a dangerous (or irreversible) action without requiring confirmation, ideally by a second person who is separated from the person doing the action.”

The entire article is well worth a read.

Thanks + answers

THE WAY, Epilogue
Previous: Part I, Part IIPart IIIPart IV

The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation

Thanks to everyone who came to the opening of The Way. The gallery was jam-packed (especially so, due to its small size!), and it was great to have so many people looking at the work and curious about its origin.

The mystery song that inspired  everything, and the answer to the ‘common denominator’ question from the last post is El Paso by Marty Robbins. Steve Martin, The Grateful Dead, and Vince Gilligan all used the song in their work.

See all the work in the show here, or just go for a walk in downtown Salina and visit the Window Gallery on Santa Fe (address is 116 S. Santa Fe).

What’s the common denominator?

Previous: Part I, Part IIPart III

The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation

Did you guess the mystery song yet that inspired all the work in The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation? Figure out what Steve Martin, The Grateful Dead, and Vince Gilligan have in common, and you’ll have the answer.

Hope to see you Friday, May 5 from 5:00-7:00pm at Window Gallery on Santa Fe, 116 S. Santa Fe in Salina for an informal opening reception.

Revealing corners.

Previous: Part I, Part II.

The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation

These are snippets from a few of the works in The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation. All the pieces center around the lyrics of a single song. It’s been so much fun indulging my musical obsession, doing research, and finding connections that inspired the work.

Hope to see you Friday, May 5 from 5:00-7:00pm at Window Gallery on Santa Fe, 116 S. Santa Fe in Salina for an informal opening reception.

Parts and pieces of an obsession.

If you missed Part I, go here.

Many people have asked what the musical inspiration is for The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation — the song that’s been on an endless loop in my head for more than a year. I’m not telling… yet.

It’s been fun letting my imagination run wild with drawing, painting, collage, digital art, scherenschnitte (akin to the popular craft of ‘fussy cutting’), and even a little photography.

Visual elements from the song that repeat throughout the work include:

  • roses
  • bullets
  • stars
  • dancing
  • eyes

And there are lots of broken hearts. Stay tuned for more clues.

The opening reception for the show is Friday, May 5 from 5:00-7:00pm at Window Gallery on Santa Fe, 116 S.Santa Fe in Salina. Hope to see you there!

The long life of a little obsession.

The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation


About a year ago in a conversation with friends, someone mentioned a particular old song. I remembered the melody, but hadn’t heard it in ages. For some reason, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I finally broke down and bought the song on iTunes. I sang it all the time — while drying my hair, while doing laundry, while driving. I looked up YouTube videos of the singer performing it. Mental images related to the lyrics started forming in my head.

So when I was asked to put together an exhibition for the Window Gallery on Santa Fe during the month of May, I figured I might as well make good use of all these visual ideas!

The title of the show is The Way: Experiments in Theme & Variation. Sounds kinda hifalutin’ — right? Actually, it’s an eclectic collection of work, with most of the pieces based on techniques and styles that I’ve been wanting to try.

You’ll have to guess what the song is and how the pieces relate. I’ll send you a few hints between now and the opening. Hope to see you at Window Gallery on Santa Fe, 116 S. Santa Fe in Salina on Friday, May 5 from 5:00-7:00pm.

Why didn’t I think of this!?

Stephen-Alcorn-Milton-GlaserI’ve professed my admiration for Milton Glaser for years. When I saw this series by Stephen Alcorn, I was immediately envious — and very impressed.

Stephen had early exposure to Glaser’s genius (his father, John Alcorn, worked with him at Pushpin Studios), which provided inspiration for this project, and I love his emphasis on learning from history and then thoroughly exploring his subjects.

Now I’m inspired by Alcorn, and am having lots of ideas for subjects to obsess about.

Presidents’ Day 2017

Presidents' Day 2017

To celebrate Presidents’ Day, I followed the recent suggestion that historian Clay Jenkinson made to the current president: read through some of his 44 predecessors’ inaugural addresses. He specifically mentions these:

It took a little time, but it was well worth it. In those speeches I saw vision, respect for others, calls for unity, and humility — they sang the Song of America. There were also reminders that we, everyday citizens with our own ideals and actions, hold the key to America’s future.

BTW, you can listen to Clay Jenkinson portray our third president every week on The Thomas Jefferson Hour. That’s well worth it, too.

Every day I’m truffling, truffling.

truffle on plate truffle on plate truffles on plate

truffle on plate truffle on plateThe owner of Sweet On You chocolate shop asked me to be her featured artist for November’s First Thursday Artist Rush. She asked (and I agreed) in August. My plan was to do a set of six pencil drawings of truffles on plates. I did one drawing right away, then got very busy with client work, and didn’t start again until mid-October. So for more than two weeks I spent every spare minute ‘truffling.’

Oscar-worthy design

Did you watch the Oscars? The entire production was, of course, too long, and there weren’t many surprises. For me, one thing stood out (aside from being thrilled that J.K. Simmons won Best Supporting Actor!): the title sequences that introduced each category.

The talent behind these graphics is Henry Hobson, a British film director and graphic designer now residing in L.A., working with the animation studio, Elastic, and producer of the show, Lee Lodge.

While all the categories were executed brilliantly, the Production Design category was my favorite. Props from each film were arranged on a flat surface — simple but so engaging. The layout, color, and shadows told the story and brought the feeling of each film to life. These remind me of photos from Nick Bantock’s Egyptian Jukebox (photo by Pamela Velner).






And take a look at their Best Picture sequence.

Hobson has worked on the Oscars for seven years, and has been moving the title sequences away from using actual clips of the movies. These graphics are an excellent example of the power of design to represent an idea or product without being literal.

“The Oscars is the celebration of film, but there’s also a degree in which we can celebrate and tell the story of the filmmakers’ journey through design,” Hobson said. Inspiration from film title master and Hobson’s hero Saul Bass is evident in this project (I’m looking at Saul Bass’ poster of Vertigo hanging in my studio as I type!).

Seeing work like this makes me fall in love with design all over again. I’m in search of a project where I can use this inspiration.