Product Design

Moleskine for e-Book Notetakers

Corporate anthropologists who observe consumer behavior watch out for “workarounds” — solutions that people rig up to overcome shortcomings in the design of a product. These are typically one-off designs that are sometimes ingeniously clever and sometimes humorously strange and barely workable.

In coming up with a Moleskine cover for an Amazon Kindle e-book, Moleskine admits it eavesdropped online when bloggers posted workaround suggestions or wrote wistfully of the satisfaction they got when jotting notes on paper.

“The very idea of this new cover came from ‘notebook hackers,’ who create their own custom-made accessories weaving together paper pages and digital tools,” Moleskine says on its website. “Throughout the web, hundreds of communities and discussions can be found where such Moleskine ‘hackers’ publish their own invention.”

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RSA Animate: Moving Motivation

Teachers often write important points on a whiteboard to emphasize things they want students to remember. This is even better.

The Royal Society of Art (RSA) in London has collaborated with illustrator Andrew Park to animate talks given at RSA. This video takes an excerpt from Daniel H. Pink’s lecture on “Drive: The Truth About What Motivates Us” and visually brings Pink’s key points to life. In addition to “Drive,” Pink is the author of “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future” — both recommended reading.

Yes, this video is long (10 minutes), but Pink, as always, has thought-provoking things to say, and Park’s sketches are fun and fascinating to view.

Public Art Programs

Art Exhibit for the Birds

Placing manmade installation art in a national park seems counterintuitive since national parks were established to preserve and protect wildlife habitat. But the 1,491-acre Presidio is unlike any other national park. Set in San Francisco’s tony residential area, it overlooks the Golden Gate entrance into the Bay, the reason why it served as a military outpost for 219 years (successively under Spain, Mexico and U.S. rule) until Congress closed the army base in 1994 and made it into a national park. Today, the Presidio is a mix of forested hiking trails and historic buildings converted to other uses, including the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Its proximity to urban surroundings has also resulted in some interesting collaborations. In 2009, For-Site Foundation (a nonprofit dedicated to the presentation of art about place) in partnership with the Presidio Trust invited 25 designers, artists and architects worldwide to propose custom-designed habitat for the wildlife living in the park. From there, 11 concepts were chosen for a site-based art exhibition called “Presidio Habitats: For the Place, Of the Place.”

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Sasquatch Festival Posters Leave Big Footprint

The remote reaches of the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest are rumored to be Bigfoot country — the place where a gigantic creature, called Sasquatch, has been photographed by people with vivid imaginations and blurred-focus cameras. Every Memorial Day weekend since 2002, music lovers have descended on Bigfoot’s stomping grounds, setting up tents and RV’s near the lake to enjoy the three-day music festival. The closest town is George, Washington (yes, you read right) — population 528, give or take one or two people, about a three hours drive from Seattle and five hours from Portland, Oregon. The music is lively and eclectic, the scenery sublime, and the posters made for each performing act are the next best thing to a Bigfoot sighting. Here are just a few.

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Barcodes That Make You Smile

You’ve heard of vanity license plates; now think of vanity barcodes. In the U.S., Vanity Barcodes, a business started by Reuben and Yael Miller of Miller Creative in New Jersey, has turned these boring UPC codes into decorative elements. They have a number of barcode designs in stock or will customize one to your preference.

The idea of disguising this inventory management device into something else is believed to have originated in Japan with Design Barcode in 2004. The agency made the barcodes an integral part of the packaging design, tying it into the brand or cleverly building the stripes and digits into a line drawn picture.

As simple as this concept may seem, it’s not one that designers should try on their own. As both Vanity Barcodes and Design Barcode emphasize every manipulated barcode has to be thoroughly tested to make sure it gives accurate readings when passed through a retail scanner.


ESPN FIFA World Cup Murals

ESPN took a different approach to promoting its coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup to be played in South Africa from June 11 to July 11. Through its ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, New York, it commissioned a Capetown artists group, called Am I Collective, to paint 32 murals that spoofed each of the countries participating in this year’s soccer tournament. The paintings integrated cultural themes, caricatures of real players, and visual commentary on each team’s World Cup standing. Soccer fanatics may understand the symbolic meaning of some of the depictions; the rest of us take pleasure in viewing the images.

This take-off on the famous painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware during the Revolution against Britain alludes to the fact that Team USA will face a formidable challenge in the opening group stage matches against England. The team USA boat bears the nation’s motto “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “Out of Many, One.”

The heist film “Ocean’s Eleven” inspired this poster showing coach Martin Olsen and the team from Denmark ready to steal the trophy.

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Clever Marketing or Simulated Sex?

We know that sex sells, but at what point do you cross over the line from suggestive to simulated? For the past week, the @Issue editorial team and interested others at Studio Hinrichs have been engaged in an ongoing dispute. My opinion and that of several others (who just happened to all be women) was that this commercial bordered on soft porn (the next ad in this series even more so). The male designers in the office watched the commercial attentively before describing it as “stylish,” “well-designed,” and “clever marketing.”

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“Television,” for example

Visual tone of voice – it’s a much-discussed concept in design. How do you let the product, company or service speak for itself through choice of typography, color, pacing, and style of imagery? How do you communicate mood, energy, personality, urgency? What we liked about this video by Beth Fulton of b.fulton multimedia production in Atlanta is that you can feel the frenetic quality of the poem by screenwriter/actor Todd Alcott, even without hearing Alcott’s frantic voice. First look at the video with the sound on and then watch it again with the sound off. Consider how different the poem would have felt if the typeface was more ornate or the pacing was less erratic and staccato. Although the Fulton/Alcott video is more compelling than, say, giving expression to a brand, it does show us that when the visual tone of voice is on target, the message is far more memorable.


Things Go Better With Coke

If you think you’ve seen this chair before, you have. Emeco’s Navy Chair has been around since 1944. So why was it such a sensation at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair in April? And why is Design Within Reach hosting events to tout that it has the retail exclusive on the product? It’s because this 21st century model is made from recycled plastic Coke bottles – 111 of them, more or less, hence its name the 111 Navy Chair.

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Inked: Tattoo Lifestyle Magazine

The stylish-looking Inked magazine is a sign of just how far tattooing has evolved from the days it was thought of as the mark of hardened criminals serving 20 to life and sailors who spent too much time in exotic ports. Tattooing has gone mainstream. It has moved from being a symbol of outlaw rebellion to a fashion statement. It is now the sixth fastest growing retail business in the U.S., with the fastest demographic growth among middle-class suburban women.

Just as tattoo parlors have moved from dank back alley places into upscale salons on main street, so has the way they are depicted in magazines. Inked more closely resembles GQ than a “babes-on-bikes” kind of soft-porn rag. Film, music and sports celebrities often grace the pages of Inked, and stories range from fashion to people profiles. This is a trend-conscious lifestyle magazine featuring a diverse range of subject involving personalities that happen to be tattooed.

Actually before creative director Todd Weinberger was brought in to relaunch Inked in 2007, he had been the creative director for both Philadelphia Style and DC Style. That high-end sensibility is evident in the quality of the fashion photography and sophisticated use of typography.

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Sagmeister’s “Here for Good”

From the ever-inventive designer Stefan Sagmeister comes this TV commercial for Standard Chartered Bank. Sagmeister’s approach to typography continues to shock and delight. Who can forget his 1999 poster for an AIGA lecture that displayed the words actually carved into his skin? Sagmeister has also turned typography into an environmental art form by constructing words in — and out of — nature. You can’t help but read and reflect on the message.

The advertising commercial for Standard Chartered Bank aptly represents the multinational scope of the company’s business, which was formed in 1969 through a merger of the Standard Bank of British South Africa, founded in 1863, and the Chartered Bank of Australia, India and China, founded in 1853. International and exotic, steeped in cultural traditions and totally modern, the TV spot makes the bank’s philosophy feel sustainably organic and mindful of the global markets it serves.

Global Trends

Why Do We Have Such Ugly Money?

This week the U.S. Treasury unveiled new $100 currency redesigned to discourage counterfeiting. If counterfeiters are deterred by ugliness, this should do the trick.

Okay, we understand the need to incorporate high-tech security features, but was it really necessary to make statesman Ben Franklin look like comedian Jack Benny? Who’s idea was it to stick the Liberty Bell in an orange inkwell and feature the back side of Independence Hall instead of the front? And why was Franklin dressed in a lavender jacket and shoved off-center so an offensive blue 3-D security ribbon could run down the middle? It seems like our most revered American symbols are being mocked.

Still… if anyone offered to give us a suitcase filled with ugly new $100s if we’d stop complaining about the bad design, we’d gladly accept.

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Book Excerpt

“Your Good Name” ( and How to Create It )

Editor’s note: Here’s more thoughtful advice excerpted from branding expert Marty Neumeier’s book, The Brand Gap. Marty is the director of transformation at Liquid Agency.

Why are there so many sound-alike names? The short answer is this: Most of the good names are taken. Between a rising tide of startups on one hand, and a flood of URLs on the other, companies are continually forced to dive deeper for workable names. The latest trend is to push the boundaries of dignity with names like Yahoo!, Google, FatSplash and Jamcracker. Where will it end?

It won’t. The need for good brand names originates with customers and customers will always want convenient ways of identifying, remembering, discussing, and comparing brands. The right name can be a brand’s most valuable asset, driving differentiation and speeding acceptance. The wrong name can cost millions, even billions, in workarounds and lost income over the lifetime of the brand. George Bernard Shaw’s advice applies to brands as well as people: “Take care to get born well.”

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