Past, Present & Future


We Are What You Buy

Stephen Bayley is a British design critic, cultural critic and author. He is also responsible for the implementation of the much loved London Design Museum.

In the wake of the London 2012 Olympics his criticism on merchandise and its relation to the visual excitement and experience of the 2012 Olympic Games brings a much needed twist to our normal perception of the events. While I don’t normally post editorial content or opinions, and while Bayley’s criticism might be filled with humor and ubiquitous sarcasm, I believe that beyond his colorful personality is an important message to the design world.

When he speaks about the Olympic merchandise being sold in London, he states that the choice of product “Assumes a very low level of intelligence amongst the public.” Regarding the image seen below, he then asks “How is the person who consumes this bit of ‘tat’ going to be changed or enhanced by possession of it? It’s ugly, it’s cynical, it’s stupid.” As he tosses the product onto the ground I can’t help but agree with what he is saying.

He explains many examples of souvenir commodities as ‘patronizing, exploitative and useless.’ The products contain a message slapped haphazardly onto a preexisting form with preexisting connotations. From my perspective, the only reason these products are consumed is because of the text written on them. Merchandise, giveaways, and promotional items are often an afterthought in the design process. They are created after the implementation of a design system, often by a third party. Many items sold that are commemorative or nostalgic in purpose often require no level of thought, and represent nothing close to a personalized experience. They simply act as successfully as would a sign that reads “I was in London and the Olympics were happening.” Why is it that this would be less impressive to bring home than a snow globe essentially communicating the same message.

As a designer I am constantly thinking about how we can enhance our experience in this world, and I believe for many people these experiences are hard to recognize. They often happen in our subconscious and many do not realize how much our visual world affects our human experience. It is important not to dumb down our culture with what is familiar and easy. We should always strive to think and create new experiences for the masses. That is our job as designers and communicators and the minute we give up on that goal, our culture is bound to suffer.

I support many of the design decisions made during this summer Olympics. For 5 years I have heard the negative feedback regarding the Olympic Logo and identity system. While there are always things that could have been done better, I support London and their vibrant design community for challenging the public to think outside the box.
[via YouTube & Vice Magazine]

You can see more of this Vice Magazine trailer below;

116 Years

The Times has created an impressive infographic visualizing the modern Olympic results, in three events, during the 116 year history of the modern games. Visualized are the long jump, the 100m swimming freestyle, and the 100m dash. Each chart shows where past Olympians would stand at the time of the top competitors finish.

It is fascinating to see how much better, faster, and more determined we have become. Some of these accelerated results may stem from pure human achievement, and some may stem from advances in technology and evolution of the game in question, but whatever the reason these graphs are a reminder of the greatness we can achieve. All in all, it is a wonderful visualization.
[via The New York Times]

Virtual Travel: The Heidelberg Project – Detroit, Michigan

The Heidelberg Project is a unique art environment located in the heart of Detroit’s East Side. The project’s main focus is to take a stand to save forgotten neighborhoods and to heal communities through art. Founder and artistic director Tyree Guyton uses everyday, discarded objects to transform a once closely abandoned area into an area full of color, symbolism, and creativity. The project has been around for about 26 years and  is recognized around the world as a demonstration of the power of creativity to transform lives.

When I stumbled over the project on Google Maps while perusing through Detroit I couldn’t help but smile at the colorful houses and art displays juxtaposed against the normal images of urban decay. If you would like to peruse the project on your own, check out the Heidelberg Project Google Street view!

[via Google Maps]

Affectional Affliction

As children we find comfort in familiarity. We are told to stay away from strangers, and are apprehensive when we encounter something new or different. Imagery and visual perception plays a huge role in the way we maneuver through life from childhood to adulthood. Anthony Smith, a young New Hampshire boy, wears a hearing aid and recently informed his mother that he didn’t want to wear it. Anthony is an avid fan of comic books and superheros. His bedroom is decorated with posters and bedsheets depicting the characters and imagery we all know and love. He sees these images every day, and they bring him happiness and joy. However, Anthony started to realize that none of the super heroes wore hearing aids. In his eyes, they don’t need to face adversity, or use aids to get through life, they are super after all. Realizing the hearing aid has positively influenced her sons life, his mother took measures to ensure her son felt confident about himself and his needs. She wrote Marvel Comics seeking examples of superheros that experienced hearing loss. To her surprise Marvel quickly responded with an image of the superhero Hawkeye, who wears hearing aids due to 80% hearing loss. Alongside this example they sent a drawing of a new character who wore a hearing aid. He is named “Blue Ear” after the name Anthony and his mother have given to his hearing aid.

The things we see affect our lives immensely. These images sent by Marvel will likely change this Boy’s perception of his life for many years to come. This act of kindness may have only taken a short time to implement, but an hour of work on their part probably meant the world to this boy. This type of strength in the sense of visual perception, I believe, is too often taken for granted.

Today, I can smile.
[via My Fox Boston]

Boarded Up

There has been a ton of construction on my street lately. Buildings are being torn down and replaced with new, modern structures. Change is good, but the process towards that change is often hectic, chaotic, and beautiful.
[Astoria, NY]

Siine Dynamic Keyboard

Recently in development, the Siine Keyboard (for Android) has developed icon shortcuts for faster, more coherent responses when texting, tweeting, facebooking, etc. It makes writing cumbersome text a breeze by including common messages and expressions in a easy to navigate format.

The process of texting with Siine keyboard is kind of like baking a cake: you pick a combination of ingredients (expressions like “hey, what’s up?” or “what’s shakin” and “what are you doing tonight”), add some personalization to the message and then click send. Bon appetit!

With the swipe of a finger you can say everything you want to say. I’m excited to install this on my phone! [via Android Pit]

WLT World

It’s not very often that a post falls under all three categories of Past, Present, and Future. However, the blog I Love Typography has succeeded! They have embarked on a project to document the worlds most beautiful signage through mobile snapshots coupled with geotagging. This project analyzes the history of signage retrospectively, shows us what signage still exists, and ensures that the future will still hold these beautiful images when the physical pieces are long gone.
[via I Love Typography]

Success? Success.

While flipping through design books at The Strand bookstore, I came across this quote. There is a fine line between successful communication and over the top, distracting design. However, I think trying to surprise and challenge people through design is something we should always strive for. [The Strand—New York, NY]

Never Forget

These Post-it Note watches (designed by Doriane Favre) are a clever, modern alternative to remembering information—rather than tying a string around your finger. You can buy them here.
[Via design/milk]

Chip It: Color Palettes

The paint gurus at Sherwin-Williams has created a color picking web-app that creates comprehensive color palettes from almost any photograph or image on the web with just one click. The result is called Chip It! and while this tool is meant to help people buy the correct paint colors, I can see myself using this tool regularly in my own work. This is very nice change from the normal, invasive, and unusable promotional “apps” that seem to dominate the internet lately. Enjoy!

(After writing this post, a friend informed me of the Sherwin-Williams Android app Color Snap. Check it out!)