Noted science writer Janine Benyus, who coined the term “biomimicry” in 1997, has provided convincing evidence that there is a lot that designers can learn from nature. Often times designers aren’t so much innovating new forms and technological concepts as they are shamelessly stealing what the animal and plant kingdoms have worked out over the span of millions of years.Through biomimetics, designers are adapting nature’s best practices into products, systems and processes that are revolutionizing our lives. This video, co-produced by Vox Media (Christophe Haubershin) and 99% Invisible (Roman Mars and Kurt Kohlstedt), explains how biomimicry underlies discovery of exciting new ideas. A highly recommended must-read is Janine Benyus’s book ”Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.”
Ten Fold Engineering in the UK is bringing a 21st century twist to the concept of portable housing. The Ten Fold building unfolds and is walk-in ready in just ten minutes. No foundations, builders or cranes are required. Delivered to the site on a flatbed truck, the structure self-deploys using a hand-held battery-powered drill. Better yet, the process is fully reversible, so if you want to move, you can fold up your house as fast as it takes to dismantle a pup tent.
Nike opened a new pop-up running track in the heart of Manila, Philippines. Designed by BBH Singapore, the Unlimited Stadium installation is shaped like the sole of Nike’s new Lunar Epic shoe. Lined with LED screens, the 200-meter racetrack invites runners to run alongside their own digital avatar. But first runners must attach a radio-frequency sensor to their shoe to record their initial track time. With this individualized data, runners are challenged to outdo their avatar, besting their own record with each lap. The temporary running track is able to accommodate 30 runners at a time.
Last November Apple debuted a commercial for its new MacBook Pro. Created by Los Angeles-based ad agency, Media Labs, the commercial celebrates great inventions and discoveries that transformed the life of mankind. To the galloping pace of Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” a path of illuminated light bulbs successively explode to mark civilization-advancing bright ideas over the millennia, from the discovery of fire and invention of the wheel to the steam engine, flying machine, eyeglasses, the zipper, paper clip, space rocket, robots, microscope, and toilet paper. The important contribution that each new invention made to civilization is indisputable. Certainly, Apple’s introduction of the Macintosh personal computer in 1984 was transformative too. Not sure that the MacBook Pro’s new Touch Bar falls into that category, or is deserving of being compared to the discovery of fire. The commercial is great, but implied analogy probably should be saved for Apple’s next big breakthrough.
Move over Paris, you are no longer the “city of lights.” In the 21st century that title goes to Sydney, Australia. Its annual Vivid Sydney festival transforms the city into a magical wonderland of light art sculptures, cutting-edge light installations, and gargantuan projection mapping extravaganzas. Vivid Sydney engages lighting artists, designers and manufacturers from around Australia and the world to illuminate, interpret and transform Sydney’s urban spaces through their creative vision. A contemporary music program matches the mood of the surreal display. No need to paint buildings in psychedelic colors or shoot fireworks into the night sky. Light is a malleable art form that treats Sydney Harbor as an inviting canvas morphing, evolving and bursting into a kaleidoscope of hues that vanish with the dawn. The 2017 Vivid Sydney festival is slated for May 26 to June 17, and is the largest show of its kind in the world.
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In every big city, more pedestrians run red lights than motorists. Impatient and confident that no driver would purposely run them over, they dart across the red lights or inch off the curb and into the intersection to get a head start when the light turns green. This doesn’t happen much in Los Angeles where automobiles are “king,” and pedestrians know that they have few rights.Cars speed down city streets, daring a walker to step into their path. On the other hand, San Francisco has always been more pedestrian lenient. Motorists get annoyed with “red light jumpers” and jaywalkers, but perhaps are more forgiving because they know how steep the hills are and recognize that trudging across a hill is an ordeal for the elderly, disabled, and anyone carrying a heavy bag.
In Lisbon, Portugal, the company behind the Smart car successfully tested a novel deterrence, and it didn’t do it by stationing traffic cops at every crosswalk, handing out fines, or constructing barricades. It used entertainment. Smart Company installed “dancing traffic lights” that projected moving pictographs of passersby dancing in real time in a specially designed booth. The dancing signal was so engaging that red-light jumping was reduced by 81%. Now the question is how to get pedestrians to move along and cross the street.
No longer just a mind-boggling novelty trick shown large-scale on building facades, 3-D projection mapping technology is being integrated into everything from live concerts, advertising, gaming, theater performances, product launches, and fashion shows. Now it has gone mini and personal, performing to an audience of one.
In Belgium, animation artists, Filip Sterckx and Antoon Verbeeck, from Skullmapping, have given new meaning to the term “dinner theatre” by putting the entertainment on the plate itself. Like a scene right out of the Disney film, “Ratatoille,” the well-known Le Petit Chef in Belgium amused diners by having a little chef personally prepare their meal right before their eyes. This example of spectacular precision videomapping isn’t just dazzling audiences with its new “gee whiz” technology, but has taken projection mapping to a new level by treating it as a tool to tell a story.
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The making of “Loving Vincent” is truly an act of love. Everything from its Kickstarter crowdfunding to eschewing CGI in favor of painstakingly painting every frame by hand makes this 80-minute film a monumental homage to the life of Vincent Van Gogh and to fine artists everywhere. Polish painter Dorota Kobriela and Oscar-winning British filmmaker Hugh Welchman of Breakthru Films began work on the world’s first feature-length painted animation in 2011, and with an infusion of Kickstarter funding are pushing forward to bring their labor of love to fruition. In an interview with Voice of America, Kobriela says they were inspired to undertake this project after reading Van Gogh’s letter to his brother saying that “we can only speak through our paintings.”
“Loving Vincent” integrates 120 of Van Gogh’s greatest paintings into a storyline pulled together from some 800 letters written by the artist in the latter years of his life. The film’s plot unfolds through “interviews” with characters closest to Van Gogh and through a dramatic reconstruction of events leading up to his sudden and still mysterious death.
Anyone driving on a dark winter’s night knows that pedestrians and cyclists are difficult to see, especially if they are wearing dark colors. That is why Swedish car maker Volvo has introduced an innovative new safety feature that isn’t part of their vehicles, but is on the cyclists and pedestrians who may cross their path. Developed by creative agency Grey London and Swedish startup Albedo100, LifePaint is a water-based spray-on reflective paint that is invisible in daylight but lights up at night when encountering the glare of automobile headlights. LifePaint can be sprayed on any surface – bikes, helmets, clothes, baby strollers, pet leashes, shoes, wheelchairs, backpacks – without affecting the material or color. Completely transparent by day, it only glows when a headlight shines on it. It wears off in about a week, and washes out completely. To promote its new Volvo cx90, the car maker is giving away free LifePaint samples in bike shops in the UK before rolling the product out to a broader market.
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Trendy fashion retailer, Forever 21, recently mounted an Instagram-assisted event and invited millennials to see what they’d look like in thread. A monumental undertaking, hardware maker Breakfast New York spent a year-and-a-half building the 2,000 pound “Thread Screen,” made up of 200,000 components that manipulated 6,400 mechanical spools of multicolored threaded fabric. Each spool held 5 ½ feet of fabric, divided into 36 colors that transitioned every inch and a half.
Forever 21 then invited fans to post their photo on Instagram using the “#21ThreadScreen” hashtag. The machine “read” the submitted photos and instructed the spools to travel along a conveyor-like device until it hit the right hue, displaying the thread-assembled portrait at an 80×80 screen resolution. Forever 21 and Breakfast live streamed the photos turning into thread, and sent each participant an edited version of their own personal thread portrait. It was like totally awesome!
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Shocase is a new social network site with some of the intentions of LinkedIn, Pinterest and Facebook, but is targeted specifically to the 100+ million marketing professionals worldwide. It acts somewhat like the old Blackbook directories, but in a friendlier, more interactive and constantly updated way.
Shocase CEO Ron Young explains, “Members can present their work, skills and experience in the best light to the audience they value most; brands can find the right marketing professionals to suit their needs in any discipline. The site is designed to help build working relationships, and ultimately help members grow their business.”
Last December, the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt Museum of Design reopened its doors after being shut down for three years for renovation. Located in the old Carnegie Mansion in Manhattan, the new Cooper Hewitt has designed an experience that integrates interactive,immersive technologies into all of its exhibits. Now visitors can view digitized collections on large touch-screen tables, draw their own wallpaper in the Immersion Room, solve real-world design problems in the Process Lab, and use an interactive pen to save objects that they want to view more closely at home. The Cooper Hewitt not only shows how design has evolved over the past century, it is a living example of where it is going.
Digital billboards are making it possible to connect with people in ways we couldn’t imagine a few years ago. To mark International Women’s Day last weekend, UK-based Women’s Aid worked with WCRS London to launch a billboard campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence. The billboard features an obviously battered woman with two black eye, swelling and cuts on her face. From time to time, she blinks sadly.
Using facial recognition technology, the billboard lets passersby heal the woman’s wounds by looking at her. The more people stop and look directly at the image, the faster her face heals and returns to normal. The facial recognition technology can register exactly how many people are looking at the poster and pick out their faces from the crowd and display them through a live-feed of the street.
Years ago the CEO of a company I was working for was hospitalized at the time the board of directors’ group photo had to be taken for the annual shareholders report. Another executive who was roughly the same built as the CEO was recruited to stand in his place. Later a photo of the CEO’s head was pasted and airbrushed onto the stand-in’s torso. It looked okay, but anyone who knew the CEO found something about his pose unsettling.
For another annual report cover, we had a shot of a logging truck traveling on a freeway past a forest of gorgeous fall colors. Due to reasons I’ve forgotten, the photograph had to be flopped, so the freeway sign made it look like the truck was driving on the wrong side of the road. If I remember right, a print had to be made of the photograph so the retoucher could fix it, and then it had to be converted back into a transparency.
That was in the days before Photoshop. Because significant manipulation of a photograph was such a big deal back then, it used to be said that “the camera never lies,” Now designers are often overheard saying, “Don’t worry. We’ll photoshop it in (or out) later.” Photography has become an “impressionistic” art form. Seeing isn’t believing. Changes can be made in an instant on a computer by virtually any designer. The airbrushing and retouching professions have all but disappeared. Through Photoshop, a hybrid art form has emerged that is producing some incredible images. More and more, designers have assumed control of the photograph, and taken it out of the hands of the photographer.
A great book cover should be striking, memorable, profound, and, most of all, eye-catching. It should pull a reader across a bookstore with a flash of color or a slick effect. But today, designers must think beyond the physical bookstore and consider the digital one as well. The parameters of each differ in nearly every respect. So, how have designers adjusted? With the huge growth in online sales, has the digital bookstore begun to drive the design process?
Here are some tips offered by Penguin Random House experts on cover design and selling online.
The Sizing Challenge.
The most noticeable difference between a cover’s presentation online and in person is its size. On the shelf, a cover might be 10″x6″, but online it shrinks to about an inch on a computer screen—and even smaller on a mobile device. Given this discrepancy, you might think that the solution to this conundrum would be creating two different covers—one that works on a larger scale and one that pops at a fraction of that size. But designers warn against this. The cover is the most obvious consumer-facing branding of a book, and designers want to ensure that a reader can recognize that brand across all formats and platforms. Whether a reader sees the cover in a promotional email recommending the book, in the window as she passes her local bookstore, or online when she goes to buy it, she should see the same image every time. The consistency bolsters her relationship with the book and increases the likelihood of purchase.
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.