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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Environmental Graphics

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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Illustration

The All-Important Sketching Stage

Without a strong concept, illustration is just glorified doodling. The same can be said of design as well. Those entering these professions need to exhibit more than technical skill; they need to engage their minds and imaginations to get at the crux of the story they want to tell.

I was reminded of this while watching Craig Frazier’s video. A prolifically talented illustrator who still sketches thumbnails with pen and ink and cuts his final image out of rubylith film, Craig explains. “If there is anything magical about making illustration, it happens at the sketch stage. That’s when the idea comes out of the pen. The DNA of the illustration exists right in the sketch. If it is not there, it is not going to show up later on.”

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Publishing

The Art of Book Cover Design

Designing a book cover is an exercise in balance. The image or graphic has to distill the story without giving away the plot. It has to create “shelf presence” to entice shoppers to pick up the book for a closer look. It has to avoid false advertising, but can’t be boring, even if the content is. It should give shoppers a sense of the genre – suspense, sci-fi, romance, self-help, current events – but imply that the author has a unique and fascinating take on the subject. While it is true that “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” it is also true that you can design a cover that makes shoppers want to buy the book. This video from Random House features interviews with book designers from its publishing groups (Random House, Knopf Doubleday and Crown) providing insights into the complex process of creating compelling, eye-catching and meaningful book cover jackets.

Global Trends

HIGH 50: The Pre-Senior Generation

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.

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Industrial Design

Recycling the Sound of Music

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.

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Sustainability

The Scoop on Poop

It’s tempting to turn this story into a string of crappy jokes, but the subject is no laughing matter. In Seattle this week, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation hosted a two-day “Reinvent the Toilet” fair, attended by scientists and entrepreneurs eager to demonstrate their wares. To put these inventions to a credible test, the Foundation placed an order for about 50 gallons of fake poop. The Gates also offered over $3 million research grants, which were part of a $370 million grant initiative to improve the world’s water, sanitation and hygiene.

According to the Foundation, four out of every ten people around the world have no place “to go.” That adds up to 2.6 billion people without access to a toilet. Poor sanitation results in half the world’s hospitalizations. It is the cause of 2.5 million cases of diarrhea in children under five and 1.5 million child deaths a year, according to a United Nations report. Even in industrialized nations, the amount of water consumed each flush puts pressure on the environment.

In sponsoring this cash competition to come up with a toilet of the future, the Gates Foundation set several requirements. The toilet must operate without running water, electricity or a septic system. It must not discharge pollutants, preferably capture energy or other resources, and operate at a cost of 5 cents a day.

This week’s toilet fair resulted in some very promising solutions, including using soldier fly larvae to process human waste to produce animal feed. Other approaches turn human waste into charcoal and fuel. In announcing the cash prizes for the best designs, Bill Gates said, “If we apply creative thinking to everyday challenges, such as dealing with human waste, we can fix some of the world’s toughest challenges.”

Although coming up with the next toilet isn’t as glamorous as, say, creating the next Eames chair, it shows that design runs deeper than cosmetic solutions.

This video was produced by Loaded Pictures, with illustrations by Jay Bryant.

Advertising

Getty Presents Life in 873 Images

How do you convey to designers and publishing customers that you have a stock photo/illustration for any and every subject, medium and use? In the case of Getty Images, it has more than 38 million stock images in its database to choose from. The question isn’t if Getty has the right image, it’s how you want to tell the story. This 60-second marketing video by Brazilian ad agency AlmapBBDO zips through 873 stills from Getty’s archives piecing together a universal tale of life, from first love to old age. Each frame is up for a fleeting nanosecond – kind of like life itself.

Advertising

Origami Goes High Tech

Origami (which means “to fold” + “paper” in Japanese) is one of the oldest and humblest art forms around, dating back thousands of years, and stop-motion 3-D animation is one of the newest and most technologically advanced art forms. It’s interesting that the two mediums have found each other and it was love at first sight. As time-consuming and difficult as some origami forms are to fold by hand, paper as a construction material is sturdy but flexible, buildable at a small scale, and relatively cheap. In the case of this video ad for Hamburg’s charitable lottery, Deutsche Fernsehlotterie, a whole village with inhabitants and vehicles were brought to life out of paper. Hamburg-based agency, Zum Goldenen Hirschen spearheaded this ad, with Hans-Christoph Schultheiss directing.

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Packaging

Grape Expectations

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.

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Product Design

A Soft Drink for Grown-Ups

Two guys from the London brand/design consultancy Wonderland WPA walk into a classy bar and ask for a soft drink that is not the kind you can get out of a vending machine or in the refrigerated section of a truck stop.

That may seem like the set-up for a joke, but it is how Story beverages came to be invented. Finding the choice of alcoholic drinks in fine restaurants and bars limitless, but the availability of upscale nonalcoholic ones few and far between, Wonderland WPA saw a market niche begging to be filled. They defined a new category of soft drinks that would be offered exclusively in bars, restaurants and hotels, and created a brand identity that looked stylish and grown-up. The simple, elegant packaging enhanced the perception of being sophisticated and worthy of drinking on a special night out. Launched in August 2011, Story will initially be sold only in the UK, with plans to introduce it into export markets in 2012.

Viral Marketing

Nokia N8 Mobile Phone Film Winner

Here’s a novel way to get consumers to test out your product. In March, Nokia announced a competition to shoot a short film entirely with a Nokia N8 mobile phone. It invited entrants to send in a story pitch and offered a $5,000 filming budget and two Nokia N8s to eight finalists.

“Splitscreen: A Love Story,” directed by UK-based JW Griffiths, won the first place award of $10,000.

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Animation

Lacoste : The Man, the Brand,
the Online Pop-Up Book

Lacoste has borrowed a page from real printed books, and gone one better, with this engaging online pop-up book dedicated to its founder Rene Lacoste. The six-chapter story is set to a lively ragtime tune and sound effects. Clicking on a chapter prompts visuals to pop up, and following the finger-pointing tab reveals a “gatefold” sidebar with explanatory text, old photos and vintage flim clips. A hybrid of different communications media, the online pop-up book tells the corporate story in a fresh way.

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Product Design

Food as “Protagonist” of Manga Plates

Manga Plate

As a senior project at the Kyoto Institute of Technology in Japan, designer Mika Tsutai came up with this manga comic drawing approach to decorating Japanese-style plates. It’s a sight-gag that really works best when dining Japanese style, where each dish is served on its own small plate, rather than served with side dishes and entrée placed together on one large dinner plate.

On Tsutai’s manga plates, the food itself becomes the “hero” or subject of the story — e.g., the fist drawing striking a pulverized food mass; the strawberry slices forming the woman’s earrings, a volcano erupting a red lava flow. The presentation is meant to be appreciated as a single visual image. Even the arrangement of plates imitates the panels of manga comic strips. This is just as Tsutai intended. “By placing these dishes in a particular manner, you can transform your dinner table into a story, just like that of a page from a Japanese comic,” he says. It’s an interesting concept for those who like to be entertained while eating, but it’s hard on the cook who has to plan the menu around the storyline. Via Design Boom.

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