Visualizing Numbers

Numbers rarely have emotional power; they usually don’t move us viscerally. So,especially people born after World War II find it hard to comprehend the enormous loss of lives on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Seventy years ago this month, 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed during the infamous landing on Normandy beach, which marked the turning point of the war in Europe. British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley put this loss into perspective by creating a tribute that they called “The Fallen.” For International Peace Day last September, the two launched a project that took two years in the planning. With the help of some 200 volunteers, the artists etched silhouettes of the 9,000 soldiers who died that day on the sands of Normandy Beach. The commemorative project took more than five hours to complete, and was washed away all too soon by the incoming tide. But this is a sight that is hard to forget. “All around us there are relics of the Second World War,” Wardley explained, “but the one thing that is missing are the people who actually died. We’ve very quietly made a big statement.”

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Visual Feast: The Art of Produce Displays

Of all the sections in a supermarket that have design display potential, the produce section is number one. Unlike branded packaged products such as cereal, ice cream and canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables are set out loose without wrappers. They come in bright colors, different shapes, textures and sizes, and change frequently with the season. Speaking personally, I tend to judge the quality of a supermarket by the freshness and diversity of its produce. Nothing is a greater turnoff than limp leafy greens and overripe brown bananas. Artfully arranged displays emphasize the natural beauty of the fruits and vegetables, help shoppers instantly see the difference between each item to quickly pick out the red leaf lettuce from the Bibb, the onions from the radish, the bitter melon from the cucumber, etc. The marvels of nature’s bounty are a joy to explore. With a little effort at design, the produce section can become the star attraction of any food market. Shown here are a display of chard and bell peppers (photo by tretorn) from ICA in Tyresö, Sweden, and a display (photo by cool hand lucas) from Zupan’s in Portland, Oregon.

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Kome: The Art of Rice

The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.

A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.

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Local Billboard Ad Campaign

Sometimes a literal visualization of a message is the most effective one. These billboards by creative agency Extra Credit Projects in Grand Rapid, Michigan, promote the services of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, an 80-bed rehab center in Grand Rapids. On the all-text billboard ads, the ailment to be treated is clear; nothing more need be said or shown to improve understanding.

As an aside, the name of the hospital itself has a fascinating origin. In 1891, a group of women in Grand Rapids sought to provide medical care for people with limited financial means by asking everyone named Mary, as well as those who knew anyone named Mary, to donate money to secure a free bed in one of the local hospitals. The so-called Mary Free Bed Guild went on to raise funds for convalescent and orthopedic centers for disabled children. In 1966, the program, expanded to care for spinal injury and stroke adult patients, was renamed Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

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LAX’s Bradley Terminal Makes Waiting Entertaining

For those who fly a lot, it may seem that when you’ve seen one international airport you’ve seen them all. If you’ve disembarked in a jet-lagged daze, you wouldn’t know where you’ve landed from looking at the identical retail concessions or the runways outside. That’s not true for the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport. It’s a great place to be if you have to wait around a couple of hours to board your flight. A 72-foot digital LED tower streams dreamlike sequences of cloudscapes and ocean waves and abstract graphics. Large digital LED screens respond to the movement of passengers, triggering images and sound inspired by travel destinations. The dazzling effects are so entertaining it almost makes you wish that your flight is delayed. The spectacular digital LED landscapes were created by Digital Kitchen in collaboration with MRA International, Sardi Design, Moment Factory, Daktronics, Electrosonic, Smart Monkeys, Inc. and Los Angeles World Airports.

Sign Painting: A Vanishing Art Form

Over the past 30 years, we have seen many professions in the graphic arts replaced by technology. Sign painting is one. Sign painting was a trade that existed in every community to adorn storefronts, banners, billboards, street signs, and buildings. The really good signs were one-of-a-kind works of art, produced by a steady hand, discerning eye, and aesthetic sensibility. Hand-painted signs revealed the pride and skill of the craftsmen. Their execution took human judgment and an active collaboration of eye, mind and hand. On a subliminal level, viewers could feel the effort of the maker. Now signs are mostly computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering. Undoubtedly, this is faster, cheaper and more uniform in quality, but like so much of our urban landscape, it lacks the warmth, soul and touch of human hands. “Sign Painters” is a documentary film (and also a book) by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon that celebrates the vanishing art of sign painting. The film is currently being shown in select locations in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. If it comes to your area, do see it.

Hyundai’s Hyper-Matrix Block Party

At the Expo 2012 in Korea, Hyundai Motor Group staged a mind-blowing display using a controller area network (CAN) called mechatronic. This is a message-based protocol originally designed for automotive applications and now also used in areas such as industrial automation and medical equipment. Hyundai’s Hyper-Matrix installation was designed by Seoul media arts firm Jonpasang. In just two months, the team built a mammoth three-sided display out of thousands of Styrofoam blocks that could be manipulated like pixels.The 11-inch cubes were driven by 3,375 customized actuators and stepping motors that moved the blocks back and forth according to a specially prescribed program. The high-speed data transfer program constantly reconfigured the cubes to create a mesmerizing show.

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Projection Mapping Feat

Directed by Filip Sterckx for a Belgian band named Willow, this music video for the song “Sweater” is a tour-de-force in 3-D projection mapping. Three projectors were used to beam backgrounds onto the floor and two blank walls, while the singer feigned movement by “strolling” on a treadmill. The video seamlessly takes the guy through multiple settings, down an escalator, across a park, on a boat and into the water with air bubbles rising from his scuba diving gear. Great concept, optical illusions and execution.

Bay Bridge Birthday Lights

The Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland and the East Bay, has always played second fiddle to the glamorous Golden Gate Bridge. Even though both spans are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, the drab gray Bay Bridge never stirred the heart the way its flashy orange sister span has. The Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th birthday was commemorated with fireworks, a fancy new visitors’ center, and souvenir trinkets of all kind. On the other side of town, it was business as usual on the Bay Bridge, with some 270,000 vehicles crossing its span daily.

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Seoul’s Emart QR Sunny Sale

Korea’s largest retail chain, Emart, found that slumping sales at midday were casting a shadow over its revenues and came up with a clever way to attract lunch-time shoppers. At its 38 locations throughout Seoul, Emart installed three-dimensional QR codes on outdoor pillars located to catch the sun. Like a sundial, the shadows on the QR code moved as the sun changed position, and passersby were alerted that they could only read the QR code’s message between 12 noon and 1 pm. Consumers who scanned the code were directed to the Emart online store where they received $12 coupons for products that would be delivered to their homes. Thousands of consumers claimed Emart vouchers, and sales increased by 25% during the lunch hour.

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Mercedes-Benz Made You Look

You read about VW’s transparent factory (below); now take a look at Mercedes’s invisible car. Mercedes-Benz’s new zero-emission F-Cell car is being marketed as a vehicle that is virtually invisible to the environment. The reason is because it runs on hydrogen fuel cells that convert compressed hydrogen into electricity to power the motor. The only emission is water vapor. To promote this fact in a memorable way, Mercedes blanketed one side of the car with LEDs and mounted a Canon 5D Mark II camera on the other side. The LEDs displayed whatever the camera filmed, causing passersby to stop and gawk at the “invisible” car.

Blackpool Comedy Carpet – Good for Laughs

One of the UK’s largest works of public art, the Comedy Carpet, opened in October on the seaside promenade in front of the renowned Tower in Blackpool. Designed by artist Gordon Young in collaboration with Why Not Associates, the typographic landscape is made up of jokes, songs and catch phrases from more than 1,000 British comedians and writers. Commissioned by the Blackpool County Council to create a piece of installation art, Young determined that “Blackpool occupies a unique and important place in the social history of Britain. Comedy in all its guises is a big part of who and what we are…. Blackpool has been a magnetic chuckle point for the nation.” Young added that he also wanted to maintain the high craft standards of Blackpool’s historic architecture, including the famous Winter Gardens, library and Tower. “

The 2,200 square meter Comedy Carpet was five years in the making. Each piece (over 160,000 letters) was cut from solid granite or cobalt blue concrete, arranged into over 300 slabs and cast into a high-quality concrete so it wouldn’t fade. The Comedy Carpet has become an instant tourist attraction, with visitors walking across the promenade and reading the memorable words of legendary comedians.

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Urban Stimuli or Graphic Assault?

City-dwellers know that we are constantly bombarded with graphic messages. It’s the “white noise” of urban living. Most of us tune it out like the omnipresent sound of traffic and pedestrian chatter.

This 2006 award-winning film, made by Netherlands-based Studio Smack for Museum de Beyerd in Breda, has become a classic. Like an x-ray, the film “Kapitaal” zeroes in only on the graphic stimuli encountered by an “unseen commuter” waiting on a platform for the train, riding the subway and walking through the city. Everything but the graphic information is reduced to black silhouettes. Signage, logos, ads, train timetables, graffiti, posters and packaging labels stand out in stark white contrast. There is no voiceover commentary, just the claustrophobic visual assault pressing in from every direction. It begs the question: How much do people really notice in a world of information overload? How can designers and advertisers avoid adding to the visual clutter and give the public something they really want to see?

Hyundai Takes 3-D Projection
Mapping to New Heights

Just over a year ago, we ran a story about innovations in 3-D projection mapping. At the time, it was largely a performance demonstration that hadn’t yet become established for commercial marketing purposes. Now it has. This dazzling 3-D mapping stunt was created in Malaysia for the 2012 Hyundai Accent, which will be debuted at the New York Auto Show later this month. The part of the video that is real is the car, which was suspended from the side of a building, and the driver who “walked” to the car and got in to “drive.” The wheels spun, but the rest of the imagery was computer generated. One thing about 3-D mapping films is that they need to show viewers the reaction of the in-person audience and even the behind-the-scene production work to truly appreciate what the producers pulled off. Otherwise, just seeing the 3-D show on a screen would lead many to conclude that the whole thing was done on a computer.

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See It, Read It, Eat It

Japanese graphic designer Masaaki Hiromura has made pictograms an integral part of the kanji characters he created for Tokyo’s Kitasenjyu Marui department store to come up with food words that can be understood in any language. The silhouette of the food appropriately replaces a stroke in the word so it can be read as text. Although Hiromura was probably focused on devising a witty and graphically interesting way to communicate to multinational customers who frequent the store, this display seems like the reverse of how written languages began in many ancient cultures. Japanese and Chinese characters started as pictographs, ideographic symbols describing objects and actions. Over time, these characters became less pictographic and ideographic and more visually abstract. What’s amusing about these pictogram characters is that we’ve come full circle.

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Typecast as a Designer

Typography has always figured prominently in the work of American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, never more so than in this installation at the temporary Stedelijk in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Kruger’s work is part of the series of “Taking Place” exhibitions, hosted by the museum to allow contemporary artists to express themselves in innovative and experimental ways in the unfinished space of the Stedelijk.

For her art installation, Kruger chose the museum’s largest gallery, the Hall of Honor, and wrapped the floor and walls with text printed at a monumental scale. The aphorisms set forth are emotion-charged, powerful and in-your-face unavoidable.

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