More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.
The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.
Take my word for it, my farming credentials are impeccable. I’ve grown up around commercial fruit and vegetable farmers my entire life, and I know that the tasty, tree/vine-ripened, organically safe stuff rarely make it onto the supermarket shelf because retailers want their produce uniform in size, unblemished and picked firm and barely ripe so they won’t spoil before sold. As a result, mega-tons of fruits and vegetables are rejected for purely cosmetic reasons. Millions of people are suffering from malnutrition and billions of dollars of food are tossed out because they don’t rise to the aesthetic standards of clueless urbanites who believe that beauty trumps taste. What’s equally sad is that many city-dwellers don’t know how a real tree-ripened apricot, peach or cherry should taste. Shame!
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.
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.”
Public service announcements (PSAs) mean well, but often times they play on people’s fears, guilt or soft-heartedness to get viewers to pay attention. That’s why these PSAs from the British Heart Foundation are so refreshing. Produced by Grey London and directed by Steve Bendelack, the new Mini Vinnie CPR ad is a sequel to one done featuring British actor/pro football player Vinnie Jones. Embedded in the spoof are some valuable tips on how to give hard and fast hands-only CPR in an emergency. These entertaining ads follow in the tradition of the British Heart Foundation’s PSA, starring British actor/playwright Steven Berkoff on how to identify the symptoms of a heart attack. They are all about stayin’ alive.
The new Philips Sonicare commercial presents the history of mankind as told through a manual toothbrush. The spot poses the question: With so much advanced technology available, why do most people still clean their teeth using the same “stick with bristles” method devised more than 5,000 year ago? Then to make sure viewers understand just how long that is, ad agency Ogilvy & Mather and director Jonathan Notaro of Brand New School show an actor in appropriate attire and backdrop brushing his teeth for 5,000 years, transitioning from caveman to modern-day city dweller. Shot on location in Budapest, including at a Victorian train station and on studio lots, the film is elaborately propped, with toothbrush man zooming effortlessly along, shedding costumes and environments as he goes.This was made possible by tying him to a dolly and dragging it through the various period-specific sets, while the wardrobe was changed using green-screen animation on mannequins.
Johannesburg-based ad people Jeff Tyser and Kerryn-lee Maggs traveled through seven African countries in 150 days, covering 22,500 kms. They didn’t bore their friends and colleagues with hundreds of snapshots of themselves standing in front of scenic lookouts, etc. Instead they presented the highlights in succinct infographics. Very effective and memorable.
The village of Catuera in Paraguay is literally built on a garbage dump that grows by more than 1,500 tons of solid waste each day. The people, including children, who live around this trash heap survive by sorting and recycling the garbage.
Several years ago, Favio Chavez, an ecological technician who worked at the landfill, befriended the poor scavenger families and became acutely aware that the children who worked on the trash pile yearned for something uplifting in their lives. He decided to share his love of playing music by teaching the children to play instruments. At first, Chavez used his own musical instruments to teach them, but so many children wanted to learn that he tried cobbling violins and cellos out of oil cans, jars, scrap wood, forks and other junk to give them something to play, After about four years of experimenting, Chavez and his team began discovering which materials created the best sound. The result is a youth orchestra, now 30 members strong, that produces the sweetest sounds from their recycled instruments. Recently their story has been turned into a documentary, directed by Graham Townsley. It’s an inspiration on many levels.
The words “typeface” and “character” are fitting terms to describe fonts. When listening to good designers talk about them, you would think they were gossiping about people. They talk about their emotional qualities, complain about what they perceive as their flaws, get blushingly specific about their physical beauty. For them, some typefaces are casual flings, good for a quickie when the mood strikes and the lighting is right; with others, they are in love and ready to commit for life. For many designers, a studying letterforms is more engaging than reading what the collected letters have to say.
Is it possible to brand a thrift store stocked with donated goods and make it a look like a place where you’d want to shop? Goodwill in San Francisco is doing just that by giving its in-store signage, website and fleet of trucks a complete makeover.
THNKR is a new YouTube channel launched by Radical Media last July. It gives viewers access to extraordinary people, stories and ideas that are transforming the world. Its programming lineup is divided into four categories – Bookd exploring noteworthy books, Prodigies profiling young geniuses, Podium exploring the art of public speaking, and Epiphany featuring renowned thought leaders. Each episode presents provocative thoughts intended to “change your mind.” Here, Maira Kalman, visual columnist for the New York Times, talks about the differences she sees between thinking and feeling, emphasizing her points with her delightful illustrations.
Rob Forbes, founder of Design Within Reach, has founded another company – Public Bikes. To introduce consumers to his new venture, Forbes recruited 27 world-renowned designers and illustrators to create art posters around the concept of “public.” All of these posters are being gathered into a book called “Public Works,” sold as individual posters, and shown in exhibitions slated for San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.
Forbes, an avid biker, urban dweller and environmentalist, explains the impetus for his Public Works project was to bring greater attention to the critical issues of public space, access and livability of cities. “In recent decades, our cities have been evolving from manufacturing and industrial centers into cultural hubs,” Forbes says. “The 20th century movement that encouraged people to leave cities for the suburbs has now been reversed. For the first time in our history the majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and this trend appears irreversible….People choose cities for what they offer: connections with people, ideas, stimulation, opportunity, creativity, and diversity. Our public spaces should facilitate these connections, not stifle them.… We believe that more of our urban streets and sidewalks should be reclaimed for walking and bicycling, and that our public spaces should be developed for better human interaction and conversation.”
Delhaize, a supermarket chain in Belgium, issued its own private label brand of regional wines and commissioned Spanish design studio Lavernia & Cienfuegos to create a label that looked festive and fun and great for casual entertaining. Quirky characters carved out of cork represented the regional origin of each wine in a playful, unpretentious way. The label design positioned the house brand as a value product with personality.
For more than a century, the QWERTY typewriter was the most important business tool in any office. Millions were made and sold. Then in the 1980s, along came the desktop computer and within a decade, typewriters were destined for the trash heap. Where most people saw outmoded technology, illustrator/sculptor Jeremy Mayer in Oakland, California, looked beyond the typewriter’s original function and saw an intriguing array of metal shapes and forms that could be reassembled into full-scale anatomically correct human and animal figures.
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?
About 12 years ago, we posted a quiz, called “The Human Touch,” in @Issue, challenging readers to name the face in the trademark. We are updating it here because back then, there were too many to fit on a spread, so some favorites had to be left out. Also, in the ensuing decade, new brand “people” have emerged and some have been given much-needed facelifts. The reason why companies give their brand a face hasn’t changed, however. Faces are often more memorable than an abstract mark. The right face can humanize a product and give it personality. It can imply the endorsement of an expert. Or it can just make the brand seem more likeable and fun. See if you can connect the face with the brand. The answers are on the next page.