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(RSS) Feed Me

March 9, 2010

I wanted to spruce up the homepage of this website with one more thing.  I decided to modify the (previously) ho-hum RSS Icon in the sidebar.  Recalling an earlier post on the cognitive process of creativity, and another post (very similar to this one) which illustrated this creative process in action within the context of facebook…  Here are the design constraints and design variables for this project:

Design Constraints:

  • RSS Icon Shape: the RSS icon shape must be retained in whatever design I implement.  The RSS icon shape is a universally acknowledged symbol, understood by web users to mean “Click this shape for the RSS feed for this website.”  Altering the RSS icon shape would detract from the user’s ability to understand the website.
  • “RSS Feed”–the name & its purpose: similar to bullet point one, the term “RSS feed” means one thing to almost all web users…  It is an internet tool to get updates on new content for a website.  I don’t want to muddy that at all, since that’s the purpose I’m trying to achieve: ‘by clicking this image, you will get the RSS feed for this website.’

Potential Design Variables:

  • Color: the RSS icon is not like a ‘STOP’ sign–it does not have to be red, or any other color for that matter.  The shape’s form is really the “constant” which must be retained to maintain the user’s ability to understand what the image is trying to convey–the color and texture of the image are potential variables.
  • Orientation: the RSS icon shape, as long as it is visually evident, does not necessarily have to be oriented within the plane of the webpage.

One of the constants noted above is the term “RSS feed.”  With a pun on the word ‘feed,’ I created the following RSS icon out of some wood, paint, and fake plastic greenery from a craft store:

(also: go green!)

This project made me recognize something which I had not before, about the cognitive process of creativity and the process of design.  Namely: the interplay between design constraints and design variables.  In coming up with this “apple” idea for this project, I had leveraged one of the design constraints (the word ‘RSS feed‘) directly into the iterative mental process of adjusting the color and orientation of the RSS object I was creating.  I varied the color and orientation of the RSS object so that it would suit the constraint of ‘RSS feed’ even better than if there had been no relation between this constraint and the variables at all.

An analogy for this process in the world of mechanical design might be designing with fibrous composite materials.  When designing a structure with fiber-based composites, certain structural shapes are more suitable than others…  This is because the fibers comprising these suitable shapes can be oriented to optimally bear whatever load the structure is subjected to.  So, given the ‘orientational strength constraint’ of fibrous composite materials, you will want to ‘vary the shape’ of the structure to favorably agree with the constraining nature of the material you are designing with…  Just as I had ‘varied the RSS Icon’s color and shape’ to favorably align with the constraint of the icon’s purpose: to serve as an RSS feed.  This could even be one good working definition of optimal design–adjusting the design features which can be varied in order to agree, as best as possible, with the design requirements or constraints.

Finally, the ‘spark of insight’ which enabled the pun on ‘RSS feed’ is just another example of the cognitive process involving ‘constraints/variables’ in creativity, too.  This time, the ‘constraints/variables’ are phrases and word definition.  Observing the phrase “RSS Feed” one can then ask the question–what are the conceptual features of this term which can be varied?  One feature of a phrase which can be varied is ‘definition of its individual terms’ (i.e., the definition of a pun).  This is what I chose to vary here–the alternative definition of ‘feed,’ as in: to eat.

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