After hours: NAFA Visual Communication course review

In my earlier blog post I gave a short description of a graphic design course I signed up for at NAFA, Singapore. Check that post if you wanna know about the content of the course, organization, scheduling etc. In this writeup, since the course is already over, I’ll just add on some new thoughts on course quality!

The academy gives rather generic information about the content of courses and I couldn’t find a review anywhere online, I figured I’ll write my own impressions about the course and how useful I found it (in case somebody wants to sign up in the future and wondering if its worth it).

What I was looking for (quite a lot ;p):

  • Strong theoretical principles of design and related aspects. I already had some practice so I mostly wanted the academic knowledge (usually the stuff everybody wants to skip when doing a degree but I guess perspective changes when older ;p)
  • Learn the science on how do humans perceive colours, what colours (and why) go well together and others don’t, similar about shapes, distance, perspective. How light changes the perception of all those things etc.
  • How do shadows, shading and reflections add depth to design etc.
  • What are different schools/ historical trends in design. How to compose a design (how should a scene look like and what effects do we get by including certain compositions), how does design effect vary depending of objects in the scene (humans, animals, items ?)
  • What are the typical errors and achievements coming out of implementation out of all of those…

What I got:

  • (very) little theory
  • lot of tips and practical knowledge from experienced pros
  • beginner Illustrator/Photoshop tutorial

So comparing my expectations with reality – mostly the course failed to deliver on what I originally wanted and I got little answers to the questions I had. Having said that, it’s not all bad: the course was at times somewhat interesting in the direction it went and I learnt few of things I didn’t know.

The biggest benefit in my view: the teachers push you to work on projects at home as there are a lot of assignments (good!). Furthermore, personally for me, somehow it was a starting point to investigate literature and study the things I wanted to know on my own ( so in other words: bummer for the the course but at least I got motived/pushed into the right direction).

Outside of the fact that the course missed my expectations, I have a feeling it’s rather bad value for money (even tho it’s not particularly expensive). During Visual Communication 1 (Principles of Design), most classes started late and actually teacher had very little to say, so finished early as well. Furthermore, after the few initial introductory classes the majority of this course is just consultations. Teacher approaching each student individually and giving his feedback on the project progress that student develops at home (basically you get ~5 min chat out of what’s supposed to be 3 hour class).

Visual Communication 2 (Digital Design) is more rich in practical knowledge, at least at the beginning. The first 5 classes are packed with learning Illustrator tools one after another, afterwards unfortunately it turns into the same as Principles of Design. Come to the class and teacher basically tells you to do your work (and ask questions if you like).

During the second semester, Visual Communication 3 (Typography & Colour Study), we got surprisingly a bit more theory and slides than VC1/Principles of Design (like I wanted ;p) but unfortunately I think it lacked a form of short in-class exercises that would somehow help to sink in what teacher talked about.

Finally, Visual Communication 4 (Digital Design 2), is exactly the same formula and impressions as Digital Design 1. Except that instead of Illustrator tutorial, it’s 2 classes on Indesign and 3 on Photoshop.

To sum it up you can check out the results of my homework assignments in my portfolio page (and also compare to few projects I could publish and did before the course):

Final note: during a single year NAFA can have multiple classes for the exact same course and those are run by different teachers (usually they do it part time too ;p). From my conversations with students from other classes, it turns out that this can make quite a difference (different home assignments, slightly different exercises/curriculum in class).

After hours: NAFA Visual Communication course

I’ve been doing all sort of design and drawing for quite a while now. For fun, privately but also for my projects at work. Web design, DTP etc…

Everything I did, I learned with trial and error and own experimentation, without doing any proper courses or studying design at a university. Recently, however, I thought it would be a good idea to get some theoretical background to boost whatever practical design skills I got throughout working on my projects.

So … I signed up for a part-time course on Visual Communication at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore. It’s a rather old and renowned public education institution in Singapore. The course has an interesting curriculum and allows to have a day job + attend classes in the evenings. There are 4 parts to it:

  • Visual Communication 1 – Principle of Design (10 sessions x 3 hours)
  • Visual Communication 2 – Digital Design I (10 sessions x 3 hours)
  • Visual Communication 3 – Typography & Colour Study (10 sessions x 3 hours)
  • Visual Communication 4 – Digital Design II (10 sessions x 3 hours)

Parts 1 and 2 go concurrently for about 2 months and afterwards parts 3 and 4 for another 2 months.

The academy gives rather little information on what the courses contain, so in the reminder of this post I’ll explain it from the participant point of view and in another post I’ll update with my review on the entire course once I’m done with it.

“Visual Communication 1” main theme is logo/business card design and teacher passing some of his professional experience with addition of little theory (backed by some minimalist slides).

“Visual Communication 2” is basically an Illustrator tutorial going through some most typical functions (and exploring them from different angles) and concluding with work on a packaging design project.

Each week those two run concurrently but are not directly related (ie what you hear in class on principles of design is not practiced later in Illustrator class), however in totality of things logo design is done in Illustrator, so the lab class somehow supplements the logo assignment.

After hours: Portfolio publishing – CMSes review

I made a little review of dedicated content management systems for publishing online portfolios (e.g. for designers etc.). Be advised – all this info is fully subjective.

I did this for a (web designer) friend and my judgements are done based on “how easy it is to setup the portfolio” vs. “how much you can customise it” to look individual and make the portfolio itself a showcase of ones design skills 🙂 Also I looked on “how easy it would be to add new projects”.

Publishing this in case somebody like me is looking for a list of such systems.

Name (+my rank ) Real (Cool) Examples Short Review
— CMS with Hosting —


Fairly rich but only their hosting. The free version is quite
limited (number of projects, images etc.). In my opinion unless you really like this, own hosting is better.



Similar like Cargo but more simple.
— Need own Hosting —


– simple
– different type of gallery layout, different themes
– in the basic out of the box version add projects/portfilio entires
under predefined sections (on-going, projects, Info)



More the same direction/type as Indexhibit but probably better
developed and maintained.


– does not have interface to manage content, everything is just
by copying files- extremely lightweight, it doesn’t seem to have many options
for configuration-
everything is organised by text files with content & HTML
templates that are filled with this


Very much like a online file browser that can be themed rather
than a full CMS.


Similar like Subfolio its more a script rather than a full CMS.


Looks ok and has good reviews but is not available for public and I
couldn’t get it.


Normal CMS, its not designer or portfolio oriented but very

After hours: RDF Detective Plugin for Chrome

For quite some time now, I stopped using Firefox and switched almost completely to Chrome. Unfortunately, the letter has much less plugins, including no solid plugin to detect RDFs linked inside html documents.

In Firefox Semantic Radar used to do the job but I got tired of running both Firefox and Chrome when i was working with RDF so….I’ve written my own plugin for Chrome – RDF Detective 🙂

It works almost identical to Semantic Radar, in documentes loaded by the browser it detects:

<link type="...rdf+xml....">

and displays a little clickable icon to open RDF in an external viewer (you can edit the viewer in the plugin options by default I’ve set it to SIOC Browser).

Hopefully, when i get more time I’ll hack the plugin to have more preferences and add few other things. For now, it does its job good enough to use (for me), this is how it looks:

At the moment, I’ve published it only on Google Extensions website, if you feel like testing, head over there and install it. So far I only tested how it works on Mac Os X, running Chrome 5.0.342.9 beta, so feedback welcome!

Update: tested for Windows7 + Chrome Works as well!
Update2: New version out! RDF Detective 1.3 now supports RDFa detection (renders a different icon and allows to open RDFa in a different viewer then RDF). I also added experimental support for detecting what RDFa namespaces are used and in relation to that render the icon in different ways. Currently 3 options: if there is only Facebook or Opengraph namespace their specific icons get rendered, if there is more annotations of other namespaces then a generic RDFa icon is shown.
Update3: The source code for the extension was published at:

After hours: Making a FOAF profile for your homepage (part A: the tools)

FOAF is a data schema for describing personal data on the Web and is one of the most known in the Semantic Web world. Basically, its a way to publish information about yourself on the web in form of pure data, just like im doing on this webpage of mine but readable for machines! How to do it and why ? Read on!

Part A: The Tools

So far I’ve only had a FOAF file hosted at my old workplace but now I thought that like every normal(tm) person I should put it up on my homepage. This time tho, apart of the regular personal details I wanted to include all the other data from my page so: publications, projects, link to cv and so on. Simple ? Not as much as you might wish. Here are some tools I’ve tried to make it faster then writing the RDF code by hand:

1st try: Protege. Import the foaf ontology, make the instances and fill out the forms, and thats it! …..but wait not really. Its not too user friendly even for somebody who knows more or less all the Semantic Web technologies…

2nd try: TopQuadrant Composer. Same story, import the ontology, make the instances and…damn its exactly the same story…just a little bit less confusing.

3rd try: Dedicated user friendly apps. So I abandoned the ontology design tools for more simple stuff. Ye some work(tm) and some are even quite nice looking but they kind of don’t let fill out all that I wanted (read projects, publications..). So maybe some other time.

4rd try: “reuse, reuse, reuse”. So finally I’ve decided not to trouble myself with any tools and go back to the stone age and write everything by hand…well almost.

Recipe for writing your own FOAF profile fast(tm): google out a known (Semantic Web) person/geek , download his FOAF file and modify it in an xml editor. It took 30min vs. 3 hours or so trying to find a nice app 🙂

Here’s my profile.

ps. I used Wikier’s (aka Sergio Fernández) profile to make my own. Cheers mate!
ps2. If you are waiting for a earlier promised “why to make your foaf profile”. I have to disapoint you. If you are a regular person that does not have much to do with Semantic Web, then to my knowledge there is absolutly no reasonable practical cause why one should make his FOAF profile…not yet at least.

After hours: Bibliography in WordPress

So while building this page I figured I wanted to have some kind of easy tool to maintain my publications and projects lists. After some searching I found 3 interesting WP plugins:

  • WP-Table Reloaded – adds a nice looking GUI in admin panel to create and manage tables
  • bib2html – generate html directly from bibtex file and put into WP page (unfortunately discontinued and not working in WP2.8)
  • BiblioFly – generate bibliography from its internal base (each resource has to be entered by hand with a GUI in admin panel)

Out of the thee, WP-Table is apparently the best maintained plugin but its not directly aimed for generating the bibliography. Nice GUI, lots of options and CSS customizable.

On the other hand, Bib2html appears to be the best bibliography dedicated solution (especially when used together with i.e. Zotero to organize bibliography). It has good features but hardly any GUI and unfortunately it doesn’t work in the latest WP (2.8).

Than BiblioFly is something in between: like WP-Table has a GUI and internal database but its only aimed for bibliographic references (without bibtex import option like bib2html) and seems in a bit worse shape then WP-Table.

More to come when i decide which one to use.