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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Newell Rubbermaid’s new Design Center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, marks a monumental shift in the company’s design thinking and practices. This consolidation of design functions in a single location addresses how design in the 21st century has become a team activity that pulls in disciplines beyond design.
In 2012, after Newell Rubbermaid adopted its Growth Game Plan strategy focused on four winning capabilities, including design and R&D, it brought in acclaimed designer Chuck Jones as its first Chief Design and Research & Development Officer to make the company more agile and responsive to consumers through design. Jones’ reputation preceded him, having successfully built global design and development teams that boosted sales and won awards for innovation at companies including Whirlpool and Xerox. Here, Jones talks about how Newell Rubbermaid is creating a brand-and-innovation-led company that is famous for design and product performance.
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A fascinating post appeared recently on the Colossal blog about a color matching guide that predates Pantone by well over two centuries. The Dutch color guide, produced in 1692 by a person who identified himself as A. Boogert, was virtually unknown until a Medieval book historian named Erik Kwakkel at Leiden University in The Netherlands happened upon it while looking through a French database. In nearly 800 pages of handwritten Dutch, Boogert meticulously explained how to change the proportion of water and paints to achieve different tones. Along with detailed notations, Boogert individually painted swatches of the exact shade on the facing pages. In his introduction, Boogert said he prepared the book for educational purposes – which would have been a wonderful gift to the arts except that color offset lithography did not exist yet. As far as we know, Boogert was only able to create one copy of his book. Hopefully he was able to share his manual with other Dutch painters in his vicinity. It would be nice to think that Boogert played some small role in making the 17th century “The Golden Age of Dutch Painting.”
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It is nice to see that Apple is still channeling Steve Jobs in this new ad campaign by TBWA/Chiat/Day. The “Intention” video is classic Apple. Like Apple’s products and its packaging, it feels elegant, devoid of fussiness and ostentation. It communicates simply, directly, softly. It doesn’t provide boastful descriptions of its own engineering prowess or gee-whiz features. In fact, it doesn’t show or name its products at all. It tells you how it strives to deliver what you want to feel when using Apple products. It’s all about you… your desires… your pleasure. If iMac was a guy, he’d have women swooning at his feet.
No, this isn’t an annual report for a spy company. German design group, Serviceplan, came up with a memorable way to help its client, Austria Solar, demonstrate the power of its business by printing its annual report with a special ink that is invisible until exposed to sunlight. Shipped in a lightproof foil wrapper, the perfect-bound document looks completely blank, except for the blind-embossed title on the cover. Viewed under ultraviolet light, however, the words and images magically appear. It’s a neat idea, but it must drive printers nuts to press check.
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Some observations have been quoted so often that they have become adages of our profession. But do you really know who first said it? This quiz asks you to match the quote with the famous speaker. The answers are on the next page (don’t peek!!)..
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This employee handbook issued by Disney Studios in 1943 stands out in stark contrast to the sternly written handbooks given to new hires by companies today. Yes, it was for Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. And, yes, times were more innocent back then (notice the male worker ogling the female). But the Disney handbook managed to cover everything from workplace dress code, safety, sick leave (10 days a year for women; five days for men), pay day, personal mail and terminations in a friendly, good-natured tone. It communicated a sense of the corporate culture and brand personality and a spirit of camaraderie.
Companies today often argue that they need to spell out personnel rules and policies in no-nonsense legalese because people are more litigious than ever. That may be true, but typically an employee handbook is one of the first documents a new hire receives. It would be nice if it was designed to be more welcoming and more reflective of the qualities of the brand, instead of getting right down to brass tacks and talking about criminal background checks, firearms and drugs at work, and whistle-blower protection.
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Elegant. Simple. Intuitive. Graphic. These are descriptions not applied to technology until Steve Jobs dazzled the world with the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and more. He understood the purpose of design on a visceral level and not only transformed the way designers work, but elevated public awareness that design is not merely an aesthetic marketing device, but the heartbeat of innovation. Thank you, Steve. Well done. Rest in peace.
When Dutch financial company SNS Reaal produced an online only annual report, it had its designer Fabrique summarize the salient points in a simple 2 and a half minute film. No fancy computer graphics, no elaborate sets, no fuzzy corporate-speak, just three ordinary-looking people walking viewers through who they are, what they do and how they performed in 2010. The complete annual is presented just as simply, incorporating functions that let readers make a custom pdf of just the pages or paragraphs that they want to keep for reference. The first test of transparent reporting: make it understandable.
Editor’s Note: This snippet is from “The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money: How to think about it. How to talk about it. How to manage it.” By Illise Benun, founder of Marketing-Mentor.com. Published by HOW Books, 2011. It’s a book we highly recommend because it is filled with practical, knowledgeable advice, and encourages designers to respect what they have to offer and to find clients who feel the same. From time to time, Ilise has said we can reprint sections.
Editor’s Note: In his inimitable style, Marty Neumeier, author, lecturer and director of transformation at Liquid Agency, makes complex marketing principles seem logical and easy to understand. Here from his book “Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands,” Neumeier explains why in a world of “look-alike products and me-too services” it is important for brand marketers to zag when everyone else zigs.
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This was a decade when everything as we knew it became obsolete, from newspapers and fax machines to analog TVs and dial-up Internet connections. Like Midwesterners say about the weather, if you don’t like it, wait 15 minutes, it will change.
It struck us as appropriate when Design Army, a creative firm in Washington D.C., emailed out a screensaver clock for its season’s greeting. Forget a calendar, that’s too slow. This clock rolls out the time in hours, minutes, seconds and 1/100th seconds. As Design Army says about its gift of time, “make every second count.” Our sentiments exactly. Don’t blink, you might miss something important.
Downlaod Design Army Screensaver
With text messaging, Twittering and typing with two thumbs on your cell phone, spelling is becoming an inexact and undervalued skill. The question is how far can this go before the human mind fails to comprehend? Too far, we’re afraid, as this fictitious Cambridge study proves.
Meeting the right people is more important than meeting a lot of people. At least that is the opinion of trade events organizers. Recently BPA Worldwide, a global industry resource for verified audience data and media knowledge, surveyed 375 trade show exhibitors on factors they consider when measuring the value of hosting a booth at a trade show event.