Dilation – Design Strategy Blog

Back Ground ( how and why )

I have been thinking for many years now ( since 1980 ) that a new design strategy might be useful for both design doing and design teaching. To that end I have researched and compiled materials that will integrate disparate prior art ( without exclusions ) in a new and easier understanding of design space. Easier to grasp, understand and teach. Currently this material is being assembled in a book suitable for class room and other various delivery methods, such as web down load, etc…

“Dilation Design Strategy” is the title I’ve chosen for this book. Dilation might be thought of as a fuel saving device for a faster, cleaner sugar burn allowing more energy to find it’s way to the task at hand and less energy to be wasted on uncertainty. I have been tinkering with dilation design strategy for over twenty five years now and I am still excited at the prospect of more tinkering. I’m still amazed by how well it works.

Dilation works well because, it is conceptually simple, sophisticated and at the same time functions in the real world and software environs with equal ease and can manage any given space. Not just squares and rectangles etc… So astonishingly simple in fact, that I wonder why it took so long to reveal it’s self, but it did. Teaching times are greatly reduced because, a dilation can be many different things simultaneously, that is, disparate methods of many specialized design fields are reduced to a single field of understanding without altering the specialized fields in any way. More accurately, Dilation Design Strategy is a paradigm shift, as I understand the word, as it includes the whole constellation of current thought while introducing a new set of possibilities or a different way of understanding prior art. In this particular case a more integrated and simplified one. Simple enough for a child to learn and sophisticated enough to satisfy complex design needs today and for the forseeable future.

Dilation strategy being employed around the world since at least the stone age, in one way or another, is an essential part of new developments in imaging software but, for reasons I can only speculate of, was not researched or developed for class room use. Art and Design foundation teaching still relies on a profusion of disparate methods developed within specialized fields for seemingly different goals. Although almost all of the principles of dilation as a strategy could be, by the fourteenth century, observed in perspective drawing, that technology remained fixed in focus on “imitating reality” and itself remained a somewhat cumbersome specialized field; now eclipsed by 3D software programs. That dilation could be usefully employed as a comprehensive design strategy on it’s own merit escaped notice.

What is a “foundation in design” anyway? Once “Design” is introduced in the classroom, institutional offerings differ greatly. A amazing diversity of approaches: from “developing a verbal – visual vocabulary” to “elements and principles” and “design brute” or “sacred geometry” abound. Some classes focus on form; others on research . Some reinforce digital means, while others see pencil and paper as the most legitimate path. Verbal, visual, vocabulary sounds a tad odd, no? Well, no worries, before any of these things can come into an organized understanding at all, they have to have a place to be. Instead of floating around like disembodied heads in a horror movie and ending up in a briefing meeting knocked about like tennis balls, there needs to be a place somewhere for all this stuff to be arranged. If only to keep it out of the ventilation system.

Design space is where all the language about design and designs themselves float about in a Brownian motion of random bumping, drifting hither and not. Design space then is where the foundation on which all other things must stand or fall. If foundation exists at all. In truth “design” does not have a “foundation” and wouldn’t work if it did. Foundation implies something substantial ( concrete ) on which something heavy must rest. The concept of foundation originated in the old stone age ( Mesolithic ) and of necessity foundations became massive and heavier as buildings grew larger. All over the world practitioners of foundation technology developed arthritis in their joints from the burden of lugging stones from miles around. What must have been a very painful practice continued for thousands of years. I don’t know why, but think it must, in some way, have involved an in ability to extricate the fabric of their lives from the stone lugging technology. Perhaps acquiring food was some how connected to the stones as it is unlikely people would willingly subject themselves to a painful life time of hauling rocks. Regardless of why people did things in the past we don’t think of design students with logs and leavers dragging the stones of their foundation from class to class, so, perhaps it would be useful to dispense with the term foundation altogether. The analogy no longer reflects the reality. New technologies require our burden to be carried around in our brains and likely we will all be developing brain arthritis soon, unless of course we find ways to lighten the load. I won’t break into a full on rant about the profusion of hardware and software “solutions” each of which come with a bible sized book, updated annually; that everyone reads in their “spare time.” Not here at least. I do think, however, the burdens of foundation can be substantially lightened. The stuff of design is quite insubstantial as it must be to be workable.

I have seen the trick where a magian pulls a rabbit from a hat, though I know the trick involves slight of hand and the that rabbit was in the hat all along. Designers on the other hand, must know real magic and pull the new from nothing at all. I have not once seen an architect pull a concrete block from thin air, but I have seen architecture that is pure magic. I have heard mute stone speaking to me; often rudely too. To pull substance form a void requires a solid understanding of the insubstantial stuff of the void; Harry Potter and Tinker Bell can’t do it with a wave of a wand, but designers can, if they know how and if they don’t they aren’t designers. They are stylists. The creative void that designs come from has some qualities and these can be easily learned. Quickly learned if necessary, but there is no advantage in rushing here. The ethereal is best contemplated by an open window on a sunny day after a full massage, a light lunch or sex, without the least concern for the frenzied world rushing by outside. If you have never experienced a detached calm naturally you probably have ativan somewhere in the house. Take one.

Relax… When I was a child my grandfather said to me “a wise man knows a little bit about everything a lot about nothing.” I hadn’t the slightest notion what he meant. Now, after many years, I can share with you the nothing I know and a little bit about everything else as well. Not too sure how much longer it will take to become wise.

I was an avid fan of geometry in my youth, I don’t touch the stuff now, well, maybe socially once in a while, but with moderation, and like most mythologies had long ago forgotten the simple origins of it all. So when, with the arrogance typical of my breed, I set out to “rebuild the foundation” I was compelled to revisit the source. Here is what I found. Design comes from nothing there or nowhere. Design space is void, shocking I know, but true, nothing there at all my lovelies.

Happily, for designers the place is a void with interesting attributes for which we have some simple conventions made of insubstantial stuff that can survive in a void and, like you now gazing out the sun dappled window completely unburdened of real life, each of these simple conventions drifts weightlessly in the void. To be precise, there is only one tiny weightless convention from which all others are constructed and upon which the mighty colossus of design finds it’s foundation. The point. Yes dear ones, the long forgotten point. No, not the point of font sizes, the other point, the point that has no dimension, “lest it be a volume,” no height, no width, no depth, the weightless wonder point that is it’s self nothing at all. The point with which Euclid constructed his infinite plane. Remember, string them together and make a line? Not a real line but, a conceptual line, or stack em to make a plane. Surely, the creation story is not so long forgotten. In the beginning there was the point and it was null and void. Drifting lazily, as you are now, whole clouds of points waiting to be chosen; many could be called effortlessly into your service…

Well, with a bit of thought could be called almost effortlessly, that is.

I started at the beginning again; being compelled to actually think about the implications and importance of nothing at all and documented an exploration of randomly placed dots, representing void points, who’s interrelations I would almost exhaustively study, or who’s belonging set could be categorized for some future reference. Within a week or so I had accumulated sixty or so pages ( 8.5 x 11 ) in a file folder. I learn by doing.

What I learned was: connecting interrelationships between points ( connect the dots ) was a fascinating study on it’s own: quickly lead to infinite sized sets – no big surprise: that even the slightest change in parameters dramatically changed pattern appearance: regardless of how randomly dots would be placed on a page certain patterns would reemerge: my youthful passion for design, slightly dulled by work, kids, too many things to do, was completely rekindled and then some.

My arrogant plan however, to rebuild foundation design, came to and abrupt halt. Noticing patterns in random dots is not exactly a complete design strategy. To make matters worse, part of my arrogant plan was to refute Gestalt Theory as I had always harbored distrust or misgivings about it. Just one of my weird hunches. Turns out random collections of dots are a perfect place for Gestalts to jump out of and they did just that. All of them and some new ones too the Gestalt folks hadn’t mentioned. After trying to salvage my arrogant plan for a few days I gave up and filed the project in my image bank – a few file boxes full of projects, theories and rubbish stored on a shelf in the basement. I tinkered with random dots off and on because, I enjoyed it but, didn’t open that particular box again for about a year…

Now, it’s going to seem like I’m wandering off here but, I need to digress a bit. You see, the box incident, what I call this one year laps in plan now, sheds a bit of light on something important. I think of myself as intelligent, observant, creative and able to focus on whatever it is I’m doing with an above average ability to see the big picture and an above average ability to extrapolate the larger picture from the qualities that a few scattered details might present. That said, I can also fail to see something under my nose, fail to “connect the dots,” be uncreative and spend two dumb ass hours looking for my car keys. I can go for an evening walk and notice, for the first time, a garbage can size boulder on the front lawn of a house five doors down; a house I’ve walked past for two years. A garbage can size boulder that has been around here much longer than I goes completely unnoticed for two years. What I’m saying is, it is very possible to miss the obvious, or put another way, the best place to hide something is out in plain view. Sometimes I’m just not paying attention or my attention is on some other thing. Of necessity a person, group or culture will tend to focus their attention on their own particular interests and within those interests whatever seems most important at any given time. The purpose of guerilla tactics in design or war is to shift attention to some other issue as attention can become powerfully fixed. Getting and fixing attention and then inserting suggestions is a technique of hypnosis. Enough digression.

I recalled that when I filed away sixty or so pages of connected dots ( 8.5 x 11 ) in a file folder in that particular box, I noticed a diagram from an earlier project that was nearly identical to one of the new diagrams I was now filing away. A light didn’t go on, I didn’t say aha!, in fact I didn’t think a damn thing; just closed the lid and walked away. That particular box was exactly the thing I needed at that exact time and I just walked away from it for a whole year. An earlier project, “Universal Parallels and Cross Cultural Similarities in Image Form,” ( more simply, “hey, these look the same” ) had been stowed in that particular box about seven years earlier, just after our first born arrived with his guerilla tactic of stealing all my attention. What might have happened didn’t. I might have noticed then that certain primary relationships between dots on a page lead directly to a different and very powerful way of understanding design space; a way of understanding I had approached years earlier from a number of different directions, but had failed to “gleep” all the implications of. Starting over from the very beginning allows one to choose a different path.

“Universal Parallels and Cross Cultural Similarities in Image Form,” ( or, “hey, these look the same” ) hereafter referred to as HTLS, was my greatest passion in my art school days. My premiss had been that many image form similarities were a by product of brain function rather than the, then popular, image migration theories in archeology and anthropology circles. Another of my weird hunches and I still hold this view. Research supported this view by demonstration of a single generation field ( related to a grid but not the same) for vastly divergent image schemes, across fields of endeavor, cultures, history, and intention. HTLS and “connect the dots strategy” ( CTDS ) belonged together. A new project now called “HTLSCTDS” was just too ridiculous to call anything and so, I found an new name: Aedh ( meaning fire ) as my creative fire was now a blaze.

After my initial elation had subsided to a level that allowed me to get some work done, I set about reorganizing the material of both projects in a way that would be intelligible to others. “Dilation Design Strategy” the book is a clear, simplified, version of it all with only minimal theoretical bla, bla, bla, to allow ready access to what dilation design strategy” is all about and how to put this simple tool to work.

That said, “Dilation Design Strategy” isn’t a set of rules or laws and I admonish not to adhere too rigidly to any system of grids or guides. Dilation is an understanding of design space that underscores the incredible freedom designers can bring to their work and play. It is a well crafted navigational tool for getting around in design space if and when you need one. By design space I mean that place where the elements and principles of design are extruded, dragged, dropped and plopped, mutilated, fanned over, tormented, sentimentalized, cajoled, blind folded and shot, carefully contrived, and otherwise presented; that vacuum all of life has rushed into at one time or another to fill.

Remembering design is also narrative and meaning and a host of other things like empathy and community and that these can’t come from systems, not even plastic ones, I implore not to overly attach to structure. In the end we all must trust our inner thoughts, feelings or our hearts, to make choices. If you find dilation a useful tool great, if not, no worries. The world won’t stop spinning, in fact, nothing at all will happen. For myself now, more than a good nuts and bolts design tool, Aedh is a philosophical expression or a way of looking at life, the world and the universe.

I can only promise, should you engage Dilation Strategy, you will be surprised and rewarded regardless of the depth your inquiry. I also promise, not to bullshit you with air headed nonsense and provide clear demonstrations at every juncture. There is still much unexplored territory and room for an endless amount of play. I hope you will find these rewards as well.



  1. Ahhh haaa… Now that’s better to understand… Thanx for pointing me in the direction… Kudos to ya on this one…


    Comment by Chiaroscurist — September 30, 2007 @ 9:37 am

  2. Hey.. what happened to my first comment…? Is this site being censored…!??? Yikes… I would never have expected that here…! My previous one was my second… Hmmm… there’s somethng up here that is looking to be going sideways… Guess that’s in the design…!???

    Comment by Chiaroscurist — September 30, 2007 @ 9:40 am

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