Pop Culture

Lego Shelters the Imagination

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.

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Humor

Smart Cup or Empty Vessyl?

On Comedy Central’s Colbert Report last week, Stephen Colbert questioned the marketing strategy behind the new Vessyl Smart Cup produced by San Francisco-based startup Mark One. Designed by Yves Behar of fuseproject, the Vessyl is a digital cup with molecular analysis sensors that display the exact content and calorie count of the beverage within. In terms of attractive design and ingenious technology, the Vessyl is spot on. But to Colbert’s point: is there really a mass market need for it, especially at a cost of $199 per cup? Market research is a critical pillar of product development; without it, what you end up with is a geeky “parlor trick” that draws ooohs and aaahs, but few sales.

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Design Education

“30 Weeks” To Teach Designers to Lead

Name one major company founded or headed by a designer? (Apple doesn’t count since Steve Jobs wasn’t actually trained as a designer.) If you can’t come up with one, you’re not alone. Designers create, they invent, they innovate, they make products and brands more successful, more visible, more desirable, but other than running their own design studios, they typically don’t lead businesses. “30 Weeks: A Founders Program for Designers” in New York City is determined to change that. Operated by Hyper Island, a Swedish educational company, and supported by Google in partnership with the SVA, Parsons, Pratt, and The Cooper Union, the experimental program wants to transform designers into founders through a 30-week course in start-up mentorship, discussions with industry leaders, group critiques, tools, hands-on help, and an environment where participants can focus on their own products. Enrollment for the 2014 program, which starts in September, is closed, but it is worth following nonetheless to see if designers can be trained to take the lead.

Advertising

Schwartz’s Explosion of Flavors

How do you make herbs and spices tantalizing on a visual and auditory level? Asked by Schwartz Flavour Shots to create an ad that turned its seasonings into a complete sensory experience, Grey London unleashed Schwartz herbs and spices in an explosion of colors choreographed to a classical arrangement by M.J. Cole of Soho Music. Directed by Partizan’s Chris Cairns, the Schwartz Flavour Shots commercial used pyrotechnic designers to trigger 140 separate explosions of spices. Several sacks of black peppercorn, turmeric, cardamom, paprika, ginger, cumin seeds, chili and coriander were synchronized to blast off on cue to the notes and chords of Cole’s piano score. Filmed at Pinewood Studios in the UK, the commercial had to be shot in one take. The final result was an exciting visual feast.

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Design Education

Founding Fathers Stiff Flag Designer

As we celebrate Independence Day in the U.S., it seems fitting to give credit where credit is due to Francis Hopkinson, who substantial evidence shows designed the first American flag in 1777. Hopkinson, a New Jersey lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, had a natural love of heraldry and art, and dabbled at graphic design (a profession that didn’t exist back then). During the American Revolution, Hopkinson was serving as chairman of the Navy Board’s Middle Department, when it got an urgent request to come up with an official banner of some sort that soldiers could carry into battle. At the time, the rebelling colonies were flying a flag that featured a variation of the British Union Jack in the canton surrounded on three sides with horizontal red and white stripes. (It looked like a knock-off of the British East India Company flag.)

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Advertising

Guinness “Made of More” Brand Campaign

Guinness is a popular Irish dry stout that lends itself to cliché ad images of ruddy-faced Dubliners drinking in pubs or a testosterone-infused sports bar with buff guys guzzling beer while gorgeous women with pearly white teeth, red lipstick and long perfectly coiffed hair laugh flirtatiously at their cleverness. What is totally unexpected in Guinness’s “Made of More” brand campaign is seeing nattily dressed men in the Republic of Congo going out on the town. Yet London ad agency AMV BBDO linked the Guinness ad series to a real group of dapper Congolese gentlemen, known in Central Africa as the Sapeurs – La SAPE or Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo. By day, the Sapeurs are ordinary workingmen – farmers, taxi drivers, laborers, and the like. But after work, they dress up in stylish and often colorful attire to express their own individuality and creativity. “Even if I don’t have money in my pocket, I only need to wear a suit and tie to feel really at ease,” said one. Despite living in an impoverished war-torn region, the Sapeurs abide by a code of honor that respects peace, self-dignity and politeness. They are role models in their community. They live by the beliefs expressed in 19th century poet William Henley’s Invictus — ”I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

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Photography

Brazilian Ad Man Turns Photo Portraitist

One of the most inventive and experimental minds in the arts, Vik Muniz has made portraits out of sugar, dirt, dust and chocolate sauce, and now he has made portraits out of photos. Based in Brooklyn, Muniz started out in advertising in his native Brazil, redesigning billboards for greater readability. After picking up his first advertising award at a black-tie gala, Muniz attempted to break up a fight between two gala attendees, and was accidentally shot in the leg by one of the brawlers. The shooter paid Muniz not to press charges and that gave Muniz enough money to move to New York where he took an interest in sculpture and photography. Muniz, who says he has an interest in making pictures that “reveal their process and material structure,” made this series of portraits out of old photographs and then photographed the portraits.

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Brand Logos

Gotham Writers Right On the Mark

Founded in New York City in 1993 by two writers Jeff Fligelman and David Grae, Gotham Writers’ Workshop has since grown into one of the nation’s largest adult education writing schools offering both private and online classes in every genre, from fiction to screenplays to poetry to memoirs. After 20 years, however, Gotham felt it was time to move from a more generic-looking logotype to a customized brand identity.

Brooklyn-based design studio Hyperakt was asked to evolve the brand to give it greater presence. After conducting in-depth research, Hyperakt distilled the essence of the brand message to “craft igniting creativity.” To better represent the scope of Gotham’s offering of online classes and events, Hyperakt recommended that the name be shortened to “Gotham Writers,” dropping the word “Workshop” completely. “The shift better represents the school’s community of writers and promotes a sense of belonging,”

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Fine Art

And You Thought That Paper Was Just for Printing!

Even standing up close, Beijing-artist Li Hongbo’s sculpture of Michelangelo’s David looks like it is made out of marble or porcelain, but when it is gently pulled up, the bust stretches out beyond recognition, and when released, springs back to its original shape like a Slinky toy. The raw material that Li Hongbo uses for his sculptures is paper, thousands and thousands of sheets of paper. His average classical busts require gluing more than 5,000 sheets of paper together in a honeycomb pattern, using pressure to hold the sheets together. From there, he saws, cuts and shapes the huge block of glued paper to arrive at a rough sculpted form. Li Hongbo then shaves in the finer details and uses sandpaper to smooth the surface.

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Environmental Graphics

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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Advertising

60-Second Sitcoms

An entertaining TV commercial is better than watching a 30-minute sitcom — and this ad for Adobe Marketing Cloud by Goodby Silverstein & Partners proves the point. The 60-second “Click, Baby, Click” spot shows how an innocent act can have reverberating disastrous effects in a broad range of markets and industries around the world — unless, of course, businesses protect themselves with the online services of Adobe. So many great commercials today are written like a comedy skit, reeling the viewer in and then delivering the marketing sell at the very end.

Environmental Graphics

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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Announcements

Massimo Vignelli, 1931 – 2014

We recently lost one of the giants of our profession, Massimo Vignelli. An internationally acclaimed modernist, Massimo left a strong mark on our collective culture. Having had the privilege to know him personally, I also came to appreciate him as a warm, personal and extremely generous individual. Massimo was highly principled, joyous, robust, and thoughtful, but above all, he was a man of great passion who lived deeply. I saw this last year when I asked Massimo, along with 14 other designers, to describe how he sees San Francisco for a promotional project. I expected remarks about cable cars, steep hills, great restaurants, the Golden Gate Bridge,etc. Massimo’s response was lyrical, elegant, insightful and heartfelt – like the man himself. I held onto his description to remind myself that at the heart of visual arts is a poetic soul. Here is Massimo’s impression of San Francisco:

“Summer temperature, suddenly a chilling wind, a drastic drop in temperature and awesome clouds billowing over the hill toward me. A preview of the end of the world. A city inside a cloud. Would I survive? Is it real? The rampant clouds are rolling one over the other, gradually absorbing the city, vanishing it around me.”

Massimo, we will miss you.

Illustration

Brave New World for Cats

If cats were 13th century cartographers, this is probably how they would map out their known world. Or so it is suggested in this series of print ads for Whiskas pet food, created by AMV BBDO in the UK and illustrator Dave Hopkins. The vintage-style maps were drawn from a cat’s perspective, with feline significant names given to landmarks in the Living Room Plain, the Garden Outback and The Kitchen Valley. Ottoman Overlook, Settee Ridge and Magazine Mound are key features called out in the living room. Toaster Volcano, Sore Paw Crossing stove zone, and Shelf Highlands are marked in the kitchen, and in the garden, the area beyond the Great Wall is labeled “Here There Be Monsters” with two unfriendly dogs stationed nearby. The compost heap is named Pew Gardens. The sepia-toned maps are a delight to study, and they are presented with confidence that viewers are sophisticated enough to know the Whiskas brand and a fair amount about typical cat behavior. The only real branding in the ads is the Whiskas name in its familiar logotype set in a shield that vaguely looks like a silhouette of a cat’s head. The signature purple color of Whiskas packaging is completely absent.

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Packaging

A Perfect Gift of Pencils

Who would have thought that a box of No. 2 pencils could exude style, sophistication and Art Deco flair? But leave it to New York-based designer Louise Fili to use her mastery of typography, pattern, color and all things Italian to create a product that you would be proud to present as a gift – and thrilled to receive. Invited by Princeton Architectural Press to design a line of elegant gift products, Fili came up with a boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils. Fili felt that the two-sided pencils seemed perfect, thus the name “Perfetto.” On her website, Fili explains that her design was inspired by her collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes. “Our most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework…red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.” Fili says that they chose not to use blue because it was our least favorite color. Instead she says, “We opted for our signature red and black.” There’s no eraser because that would spoil the beautiful symmetry.