Confession: Even as a pre-teen, I resented Barbie. She was too blonde, too shapely, too well-dressed, too popular with the right boys (Ken), too comfortable and self-assured in any setting. She rode around in a red convertible, while the rest of us had to slump down in the back seat of the family station wagon. Her boobs were perky enough to look good in an evening gown and swimsuit. Never in our wildest dreams did most young girls feel we could grow up to be like her. She wasn’t a role model; she was an in-your-face taunt. It’s one thing to aspire to an ideal and another to reach for the unrealistic and impossible. It’s an instant inferiority complex at age 10. In retrospect, I realize that Barbie was very shallow, self-absorbed, and not likable at all. She probably was the type who would never read a book or have an opinion on anything other than the latest fashion.
So, I suppose it is a good thing that Mattel has issued updated Barbie dolls in different body types – tall, petite, and curvy. This is a follow-on to last year’s introduction of 23 new Barbies, with different skin tones, hairstyles, outfits and flat feet (not meant for high heels only). It’s a start. Now to accessorize her with books and turn her into a team player. Read More »
This 90-second plug for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show is as ingenious as it is entertaining. Featuring Fallon, house-band The Roots, and the Star Wars cast, the video shows the performers singing as an a cappella choir. Arranged in a grid a la Hollywood Squares or the Brady Bunch, each performer is shot against a plain background while giving their own solo rendition of the film’s most familiar tunes. By shooting at different times and places to accommodate the performers’ schedules, the producers were able to make Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Gwendoline Christie, BB8, storm troopers, 3CPO, and R2D2, part of the all-star chorus. The juxtaposition of colored squares and overlapping of a capella voices turned the video into a spontaneous jam session, with performers playing off each other even though they were in different parts of the galaxy.
In the U.S., most sports teams and many consumer products adopt mascots to give their brand a friendly, animate identity, but as far as we are aware, only Japan has mascots to represent prefectures, towns and public offices. Called Yuru-chara, which translates as “loose character,” the mascots generate millions of dollars in merchandise sales (keychains, mugs, t-shirts and plates, etc.) and the costumed characters make special appearances at promotional events and festivals. Without exception, the yuru-chara are cute (a la Hello Kitty), unsophisticated in design, and exhibit childlike manners. Yuru-chara proliferate throughout Japan, so much so that some prefectural governments worry that the number of little towns that have come up with their own yuru-chara are diluting the impact of the big city mascots and cutting into merchandise sales.
The best-known mascot in Japan is Kumamon (seen here) introduced by Kumamoto Prefecture in 2010 to draw tourists to the region’s Kyushu Shinkasen train line. Kumamon instantly shot to fame, and won the 2011 Yuru-chara Grand Prix, drawing more than 280,000 votes in a nationwide survey and crushing other yuru-chara competitors. The next year Kumamon single-handedly earned the prefecture more than $120 million in product sales and was even featured in a popular video game. As with most other yuru-chara, Kumamon doesn’t speak,has only one facial expression, and is of unknown gender and species. It merely dances around and makes spectators happy. Read More »
The beauty of Old World craftsmanship is expressed in this Home Run King bat trophy commissioned by Nike. Featuring the exquisite lettering and design of Salt Lake City-based Kevin Cantrell and New York-based Juan Carlos Pagan, the trophy is designed with a typographic treatment that circles the entire circumference of the bat. Richmond, Virginia-based firm, Big Secret, handled production, engineering the artwork to be laser-etched around the bat’s circumference in a seamless finish. Read More »
More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face. Read More »
Years ago last century when I was communications manager at a forest products company, my boss used to call Kit Hinrichs “that gray designer” because he always managed to use 402 Gray in every job he designed for us. Then Kit outgrew his gray period and developed a fondness for 032 Red, which to him is the most wonderful red he’s ever seen. He didn’t use it on everything, but you knew he loved it. Now he is passionate about 123 Yellow. Never try to engage Kit in a discussion about using 035 Red instead of 032, or try to sneak it by him. He’ll know. The guy’s color perception is like a dog’s sense of hearing. Very keen and nuanced.
For decades, ignorant art directors have perpetrated a big lie, reinforcing sexist stereotypes and insulting females everywhere. They have portrayed the gender of Santa’s reindeer as male, assuming that only male reindeer have antlers and the strength and endurance to haul a jolly fat man and a sleigh filled with gifts from the North Pole to all parts of the world all night. Actually, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the opposite is true. Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen are all reindeer girls. The Department of Fish and Game knows this for sure because although both male and female reindeer sprout antlers every summer, the male reindeer shed them after they have mated, usually by Thanksgiving. The female reindeer keep their antlers until after they have given birth in the spring. Hence, all of Santa’s reindeer drivers are ladies since they are the only ones with antlers in December. Had art directors been more thorough in their research, they would have figured this out, and they would have known that Rudolph’s (or Rudi, as she is known to friends) glowing red nose is not a facial deformity, but a stylish fashion accessory.
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.
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.
It’s no surprise that a bus shelter constructed entirely from Lego bricks recently emerged in front of a toy store in the UK to celebrate London’s Year of the Bus. Anyone who has ever visited Legoland knows that these colorful interlocking plastic bricks can be built into anything, of any size by people (or maybe primates in general) of any age. Like an atom, the Lego is the basic unit of playful construction. This bus shelter was made from 100,000 Lego bricks by Duncan Titmarsh, the UK’s only certified Lego professional.
To promote the seventh and final season of the “Mad Men” series, AMC asked the acclaimed Milton Glaser to design a poster that encapsulated the late 1960s. Set in a New York advertising agency, the popular TV drama spans the decade of the Sixties, beginning with the Eisenhower-Kennedy years when women wore bouffant hairdos and sweater sets with pearls and men wore grey flannel suits and hats, all the way through to the youth-obsessed counterculture era of mind-altering drugs, mini-skirts, bell-
The other day we were lamenting that good art-directed, concept-driving original photography has become a rarity when we happened upon this Washington Life Magazine piece on the Washington Ballet’s production of “Alice in Wonderland.” Photographed by Dean Alexander with creative and art direction by Design Army’s Jake and Pum Lefebure, the photo essay presents a consistent and cohesive story line, communicated through thoughtful choice of lighting, scale, pacing, mood, poses, typography and layouts. Everything hangs together as a piece. The photos have a subtle narrative flow, beginning with the lost look of Alice in an innocent baby-blue dress, all the way through to the playful mid-air leaps of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum and the White Rabbit, to the darkly surreal portraits of the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts staring provocatively at the camera. Although Lewis Carroll’s tale of Alice in Wonderland is well-known, this photo shoot reveals strong art direction by Design Army to ensure that the make-up, hair and costume stylists, the photographer, and models are all working toward the same vision on how the story should be told.
Anyone who has read an action comic book knows what a cataclysmic impact looks like. Splat! Pow! Blam! Swoosh! Clouds of dust, explosive rays, stars. Adam&Eve DDB London worked with illustrator John Rogers to demonstrate how Volkswagen’s City Emergency Brake system can avert disaster by using a comic book illustrative style and visual sound effects. It certainly beats the more realistic approach of showing blood and gore, police cars and the message “don’t let this happen to you.”
The visual identity system for Southern California-based Dripp Coffee Shop is intriguing for what is fixed and what is flexible. Designed by Turner Duckworth San Francisco and London, the Dripp branding system centers around a hand-drawn script logotype which angles upward. The rest of the visual content is structured within a grid of color blocks with minimal flat-graphic images. The flourished style of the letters sets the logo apart from the rest of the visual content and, by contrast, draws attention to itself. The silhouetted objects themselves can be changed to suit the product, season or event, as long as they retain the stylized look and simplified color palette of the brand – as shown in the set of posters below created by Turner Duckworth. This graphic system also accommodates changing needs and uses, including this sleeveless hot paper cup design by Istanbul-based designer Salih Kucukaga.
Reading about this website publication, which describes itself as a “global community for people over the age of 50,” brought to mind a recent news story about the rise of “marijuana parties” thrown by aging baby boomers living in retirement villages. The 50+ crowd is a lot more youthful and hip than it used to be. Its ranks include some of the world’s most celebrated “hunks” – Brad Pitt, Colin Firth, Johnny Depp, to name a few. So, it is interesting that the only 50+ publication that comes to mind is AARP’s. Its story content feels aimed at soon-to-be geriatrics, and its advertising weighs heavily toward adult diapers, chair lifts for stairs, arthritis drugs and walk-in bathtubs. Both the design and content of the AARP magazine feel like they were meant to appeal to the generation who lived through the Great Depression and World War II. Age 50 was probably set as the dividing line for seniors around 1950 when life expectancy in the U.S. was 65.