Industrial Design

Isamu Noguchi’s Modernist Playscape

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In September, Playscape, a children’s playground created in 1976 by Isamu Noguchi in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, reopened after a restoration funded by Herman Miller Cares via Park Pride, and coordinated by the City of Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs and Office of Parks. Playscape is the only playground designed by Noguchi in the U.S., despite his effort to develop more.

One of the 20th century’s most important and acclaimed sculptors and artists, Isamu Noguchi had a lifelong interest in designing children’s playground. “I think of playgrounds as a primer of shape and functions; simple, mysterious, and evocative; thus educational,” he said.

Noguchi’s approach to playgrounds was consistent with his design of furniture and lamps, theater sets, stone sculptures, and landscaped gardens. He brought an organic and geometric sculptural sensibility to all. “Sculpture can be a vital force in our everyday life if projected into communal usefulness,” he believed. His goal was to create art that the public could use in a social space. That included children’s playgrounds.

Noguchi pursued his quest to create playgrounds throughout his career. He designed his first landscape for children in 1933. Calling it Play Mountain, he proposed building it in New York City and envisioned a contoured terrain with many elements that would find their way into his other landscape designs. New York rejected his proposal. He tried again in the 1950s and 1960s, and was rejected each time.

For Playscape in Atlanta, Noguchi created colorful sculptural forms that invited children to explore this landscape, using their imagination to invent their own play. Dakin Hart, senior curator of the Noguchi Museum, described Noguchi’s belief “that playgrounds should not be designed like military exercise equipment for a cheaply executed boot camp…He thought kids should experience the environment the way man first experienced the earth, as a spectacular and complex place.” This is a vision that applied to all of Noguchi’s work.

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Packaging

Global Design in Burundi

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Anyone who doubts that we live in a global economy needs to look at packaging and products from the far-flung reaches of the planet. These lovely labels for sauces and marmalades were made for Italbu Charcuterie in Burundi, a little landlocked country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Italbu Charcuterie is a deli shop offering organic products made from original Italian recipes.The design firm Ya Ye lists studios both in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bujumbura, Burundi. Ya Ye’s design has a contemporary universal quality that could have just as easily been produced in New York, London or Sydney. Cultural design differences were more distinctly identifiable before air travel and multinational retailers. A World War II vet once told me that if a soldier was parachuted onto foreign terrain, he would know where he landed by the typography and architecture, even before hearing the spoken language. With the Internet today, the whole world is exposed to the same visual references and design styles can’t be pinpointed to a particular culture or part of the world.

Design Quizzes

Major League Baseball Team Names

Major league baseball teams are masters of branding, reinforcing their identity through team colors, mascots, logos, and nicknames. This quiz tests your knowledge of team names, past and present.

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Branding

52 North: The Address, The Name,
The Brand Identity

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What’s black-and-white and impossible to ignore? The graphic identity of 52 North, a hip restaurant and bar in London. UK-based design studio I Love Dust and interior architects 44th Hill used scale and contrast to make us aware of the geometric beauty of typography. The huge letterforms become another shape in a collage of stripes, dots, stars and diamond angles. In 52 North’s restaurant and bar, warm wood furnishings soften the starkness of the letterpress-style mural, but the mural itself becomes like a “menu” of decorative shapes that can be mixed and matched on packaging and printed materials, making each piece look slightly different yet part of the overall brand. It’s a complete identity program with room to grow.

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Humor

Disruptive Technology Through the Ages

Apple’s fall rollout of new products isn’t welcome news for some of us still adjusting to the iPhone 5 and getting the feel of the iPad we got last Christmas. Many of us who grew up in the analog age view every electronic upgrade as stressful and disruptive. Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always welcome. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Millennials, born thinking of their opposable thumbs as digital operating devices, don’t understand that “intuitive” is a relative and generational term. Which brings me to this classic comedy sketch created for Norwegian TV a few years back.

Architecture

Louis Vuitton’s Monogrammed Ginza Store

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Commissioned to redesign the façade of the Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Tokyo’s Matsuya Ginza, architect Aoki Jun & Associates transformed what previously was a concrete block tower into a luminous pearl shimmering in the urban landscape. Inspired by the luxury retailer’s monogram and the city’s art deco architectural history, Jun turned Vuitton’s monogram into a repetitive geometric motif. The pattern was then pressed and perforated onto sheets of aluminum and coated with an exceptionally durable pearlized fluropolymer paint. The opal hue and three-dimensional pattern give the façade a plush quilted appearance that subtly changes with the light throughout the day. At night, LED lights placed behind the perforated reliefs of the façade make Vuitton’s monogram visible in the dark. Very classy, very cool.

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Posters

AIGA Celebrates 100th Anniversary

The American Institute of Graphic Arts, better known as AIGA, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. That’s a remarkable milestone when you consider that graphic design didn’t really exist as a profession until the 20th century. Before that, printers and commercial artists handled such tasks. Interestingly, graphic design owes its rise in part to the First World War, which started in 1914 and set off a scramble for army recruitment and war bond posters. This accelerated the production of posters (and demand for graphic artists) as governments sought to rally citizens to support the war effort. The First World War also happened to coincide with the widespread adoption of offset lithographic printing, which enabled mass production of affordable pulp novels, magazines, packaging and other paper-based media.The graphic arts industry was suddenly born. Today there are more than two million graphic artists and designers in the U.S. alone.

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Technology

How Much Space Do We Really Need?

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A team at the Harvard Innovation Lab undertook a project to reveal how desktops have evolved since the first personal computer appeared 35 years ago. Photographed by dougthomsen.tv and engineered by anton georgiev, the video version below shows how office necessities (e.g., Rolodex, reference books, hand-held calculators) have gone from the actual to the virtual, from physical objects to digital apps. The video, as seen on Designboom.com, is a fascinating look at how technology has transformed office tasks. It also suggests that offices of the future should be redesigned accordingly. Corporations once filled vast high rises with thousands of employees, hundreds of file cabinets and office equipment, and rows of clerical help to handle all kinds of paperwork. Today “offices” are essentially portable. Workers don’t have to be tethered to their desks. They can stuff their laptop and mobile phone in their backpacks and set up shop anywhere. So, what is the purpose of gathering employees into a single workspace? What kind of furniture and equipment will make workers more productive and more collaborative? With so many documents stored in the clouds instead of in metal file cabinets, can the physical office layout be sized to take up less square footage? It’s time to occupy no more space than we really need.

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Design Classic

Adventures of Tintin

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In the realm of classic comic book heroes, there is Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, the Green Lantern …and Tintin the baby-faced boy reporter. A comic strip introduced in 1929 by Belgian cartoonist Herge (Georges Prosper Remi), “The Adventures of Tintin” relates tales of a Belgian teenager with a round head and a dorky quiff hairstyle who is dispatched by a youth newspaper called Le Petit Vingtieme (the Little Twentieth) to file investigative reports from hot spots around the world. Unassuming and good-natured, Tintin gamely goes wherever he is assigned, taking his little fox terrier, Snowy, with him. His travels often put him in the midst of political upheaval in the land of the Soviets, the Belgian Congo, China, Chicago, Latin America and elsewhere, and in trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, he is forced to deal with ruthless special agents, diamond smugglers, Al Capone gangsters and other villains who want to run him over, shoot him, torture him, kidnap him and feed him to crocodiles.Tintin and Snowy deal with each encounter without fear and get themselves out of each jam through quick-thinking action and sometimes through sheer dumb luck. What has kept Tintin so beloved over the decades is that he isn’t presented as an egotistical super human like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, but as an average young man who doesn’t seek out danger but doesn’t run from it either. In Brussels, Tintin and Snowy are honored with a life-size bronze statue, and they are even commemorated on a euro coin, which is legal tender in Belgium. An unlikely action hero, Tintin is probably the most admired fictional Belgian in recent history.

Design Communications

NYC Subway Graphic Standards Manual
Becomes Kickstarter Sensation

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More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.

The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.

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Announcements

@Issue Print Archive Is Back…Again

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Those of you who clicked on the Print Archive only to find a photo of covers (seen here) and nothing else, we are happy to report that you can now access the back issues online. Previously only key stories had been posted because Kit needed the intern who was scanning old articles for other tasks. Finally, everything has been scanned and you can view them in their entirety here. We are also pleased to report that for those who want the real printed publication, past editions are available while they last from Corporate Design Foundation; email peter@cdf.org. (For the record, yes, we miss the print editions too, and would be thrilled to return to ink on paper.)

View the Print Archive Here →

Humor

IKEA Marvels at the Wonders of Bookbooks

This promo could just as easily have been made to promote printing papers, instead of IKEA’s 2015 home furnishings catalog. Created by BBH Asia Pacific, the IKEA marketing video channels the Apple brand persona in style and tone with its uncluttered, plain white background and its wide-eyed, uncynical spokesman explaining the amazing features of IKEA’s bookbook catalog – touch interface, eternal battery life, instant loading with zero lag, fully charged, no cables, expandable interface, preinstalled content, touch browsing, fast scrolling, easy bookmark and sharing capabilities, and voice activated password protection. The bookbook has everything you’ve ever desired in a modern information delivery system. So simple, so portable, so intuitive, it’s a wonder that Apple hadn’t thought of it before. But let’s give credit where it is truly due – to Gutenberg and medieval bookmakers. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the “wheel”; he invented an elegant means to adapt the desirable features of print to a digital platform. The attributes that consumers seek in an information delivery device have been around for at least 600 years, and tech giants have spent the last several decades trying to replicate the kind of ease-of-use offered by paper.