Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

The Price of Being Useful

Reitveldt

Red Blue Chair, c.1923

Gerrit Rietveld

Price: c.£600

Mondrian

Composition II in Red, Blue and Yellow, c.1930

Piet Mondrian

Price: c.£2,500,000

“There is nothing any less powerful in the intensity of feeling of the Red Blue Chair than in that of a canvas by Rietveld’s contemporary and Piet Mondrian… [Yet] the Red Blue Chair remains to a certain degree stigmatized by the fact of being useful – no matter how slightly.”

Deyan Sudjic, The Language of Things (2009)

When will this stigma lift?

I wonder if the Serpentine’s ‘Design Real’ exhibition might be shifting things, w/r/t design as art.

On the flip, what does The Affordable Art Fair say about art as design?

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37 things that I truly enjoyed in 2009

Google says we don’t need another ‘Best of 2009’ list, and I couldn’t agree more.

Most such lists are, at least in some small way, disingenuous.

Take Vice’s 2009 Albums of the Year list. Clever. But what does it give? What does it tell you about its author(s) – other than the fact that he/ she/ they can deconstruct their own posturing?

We might laugh (*guilty*). Although it’s quite sad. When people aren’t doing the post-modern-show-off thing they’re probably just doing the posturing thing that the post-modern-show-off thing takes the piss out. If you get me.

So, for the sake of sincerity, here’s a personal alternative. A bunch of stuff I enjoyed in 2009, whether it was published/ released/ produced in 2009 or not. It just happened to come into my life last year, and I loved it.

6 things I truly enjoyed reading

Early in November, I read the words “I am in here”. For the next month, I was gripped, and content, because I knew that wherever I went I had 1,000+ pages of Infinite Jest threatening the last threads of my beaten-up manbag.

That bag is now a goner. But if you want to read David Foster Wallace’s masterpiece in 2010, there’s still the wonderful Infinite Summer website/ round table as your companion.

Odd coincidence: most of the action of Infinite Jest (1996) takes place in 2009.

Less odd: information overload = boredom – maybe?

Tao Lin explores this question like no one else I read in 2009, and I admire the bravery of his work. Wonder if he’s a better self-promotionalist than he is a writer. Wonder if he cares, or if he’s just on GChat (to a paying customer). Wonder if he really is Carles from Hipster Runoff.

Short stories were in. I read Miranda July. I re-read Raymond Carver. I read Kmart realism and things got a bit sparse. A bit concrete. The best short book I read talked about concrete, and other materials. Dejan Sudjic‘s little gem, The Language of Things, educated me on Dieter Rams, modern art and the essence of luxury (+much much more) in the space of 218 perfectly considered pages. I raise my cap to him and recommend that book highly.

Lastly – The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. We waited 11 years for Junot Díaz to make a comeback. Boy was it worth it.

11 things I truly enjoyed watching

No new film releases blew me away last year. Perhaps I was taking more pleasure from digging – and because Audrey Q‘s flatmate works for Artifical Eye, we always had an archive to hand.

Right at the top of the pile was Emir Kusturica. I loved When Father Was Away on Business (1985), and Underground (1995) was out of this world. Gypsy-carnivalesque-slapstick-allegory. Truly magical.

UNDERGROUND Trailer by musicattaque on YouTube

If I’m remembering correctly, The Larry Sanders Show was buried in a BBC graveyard slot back in the 90s. That’s a complete mystery to me.

It made the mold for recent post-modern comedy, from Curb Your Enthusiasm to The Office to 30 Rock. Every episode I watched last year was A1.

Hank Kingsley by nominal1234 on YouTube

I’ll rat myself out here. I came to the party way too late (via the excellent Underbelly and a newfound bloodlust). But I did watch all 5 seasons of The Wire at the start of the year. Does that need any comment?

At Xmas it got all gory again with another instant classic from David Simon – Generation Kill.

Best Scenes of Generation Kill by DarkEClips on YouTube

No disaster, no massacre without redemption. If Generation Kill showed the bloody worst of Iraq, Mark Cousins’s debut as a director told an entirely different story – many stories, in truth, narrated by the children who live there.

I saw a few brilliant documentaries in 2009. (Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, of particular note). But The First Movie was the best, and the most sui generis. You must watch it.

14 things I truly enjoyed listening to

Bye bye Bmore. Hello Serato. Finally I could play records in the same way I VJ. And we played a lot of MP3s on those two control records.

Track of the year is a toss up between two glitch dubbers: Joy Orbison and 2000F & J Kamata. Since Joy Orbison also made my favourite mix of year, and he called heads, heads wins.

Joy Orbison – Hyph Mngo by HotflushUK on YouTube

Intersections on the various lines between dubstep, house, techno, UK Funky, carioca funk et al got my BPMs racing. Besides Joy Orbison, Floating Points were outstanding in 2009. Mad Decent slipped off my rader a bit, but Major Lazer kept us jumping all summer.

On the Tropical tip, Cumbia was the breakthrough sound – and Buenos Aires’s ZZK Records were always pushing the front line.

El Remolon by ZZK Records on Vimeo

Boogie made a comeback with Dâm-Funk, James Pants and a masterclass from DJ Spinna. Interesting to hear Joy Orbison et al sampling from that era. Probably not a coincidence.

Less sure why Italo is always in my beatbox (synths? irony?) but it appears to be true – Italians Do It Better. Glass Candy at KOKO was one of my gigs of the year.

Glass Candy by Evan Matthews on Vimeo

Back in March 2009, I got to meet a hero. Daedelus performed at Bardens Boudoir with his wife, Laura Darlington. We listened to The Long Lost, looked around the room, and everyone was clearly in love.

The Long Lost – Siren Song by ldtn on Vimeo

*PERSONAL ASIDE WITHIN THIS PERSONAL REVIEW*

Speaking personally, my favourite gig was the Lovebox Arthur Russell tribute night. But  I was VJing at that night. So, as I warned you – it’s personal.

Killer Whale Go Bang by seangorham on YouTube

5 exhibitions I truly enjoyed going to

I’ve already written about Walking In My Mind at the Hayward Gallery, and that exhibition has ended. I don’t think it’s fair to taunt you with the details now.

It’s definitely unfair to tell you about Roger Hiorns’s SEIZURE, if you didn’t make it. But what can I say. It was brilliant. I’m sorry. The exhibition ended on 3 January 2010. Let’s hope it will be back.

Artist on site: Roger Hiorns on Seizure by Artangel on Vimeo

I’ve heard rumbles that The Museum of Everything – a gallery devoted to outsider art – will re-open in some form, at some time, in 2010. I hope that’s true because I’d love to go back.

The Cinema Museum in Kennington does occasional open days and the next one’s coming on 27-28 February 2010. If it’s anything like the one I went to in 2009, you’ll be able to bring old 8mm and 16mm reels for restoration. Something to look forward to, eh?

But if you need a faster fix, mercifully, I can give you a recommendation. Drop everything. Get to the V&A for Decode: Digital Design Sensations before 11 April 2010 and leave plenty of time to play.

The Language of Fried Chicken

Chicken: High Art, Low Calorie is a fresh (or at least still warm) project by Siâron Hughes, showcasing the graphic vernacular of fried chicken vendors in the UK.

chicken_4

Image cred: Mark Batty Publisher.

Hughes, a talented designer and illustrator, did not stop at cataloguing the star-spangled array of signage.

She also interviewed the people behind brands such as Perfect Fried Chicken and Hen Cottage, most notably Morris ‘Mr Chicken’ Cassanova – who claims to be responsible for “90% of the logos that’s been used out there now”.

chicken_2

Image cred: Mark Batty Publisher.

The interview excerpts on Creative Review are juicy and occasionally mysterious:

1. On Origins

“A lot of people who were franchisees say from Kentucky Fried Chicken or something like that, maybe were feeling the squeeze. They feel as though they were working for Kentucky Fried Chicken and y’know Kentucky is so strict, whatever they says goes.”

chicken_1

Image cred: Mark Batty Publisher.

2. On America

“In the past Kentucky usually have a little logo, a little slogan, “American Recipe”… Because they try to pull the wool over people’s eyes, you get your Dallas, it’s American, you get your California, it’s American, you get your Mississippi it’s American …”

chicken_3

Image cred: Mark Batty Publisher.

3. On Logos

“People see them and try to change them around a little bit, and you will see somewhere along the line somebody will have something looking similar to that. It’s not all about the bits and pieces that goes with it, they will automatically try to copy it.”

KFC is still ahead of McDonald’s as the USA’s largest purchaser of chicken (says this site). McD’s have a diverse menu but chicken was never the main attraction.

The Chicken McNugget hit the market in 1983 and only after the McChicken sandwich bombed before it.

The Wire Season 1 – McNuggets by pushmedia1 on YouTube.

Much as I like D’Angelo’s parable in The Wire, it doesn’t seem quite true of the Golden Arched take on product innovation.

The Fillet-O-Fish and Egg McMuffin were both created by enterprising francisees. Herb Patterson broke corporate rank to start serving the McMuffin in McDonald’s Santa Barbara before it was an official item on the franchise menu.

But getting back to chicken.

Chicken is chicken.

And the Kentucky Fried Chicken brand is chicken. Plus ‘American recipe’.

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Image cred: Creative Review.

What strikes me from the interviews and anecdotes is that KFC weren’t hot on UK franchises trying to innovate – as Mr Cassanova said, “y’know Kentucky is so strict, whatever they says goes”.

If you worked for KFC and wanted to invent, you might have to leave and start your own business – and you might feel you needed to copy key elements of the brand to do it successfully.

So what do you call your new place – that fresh-minted copy of a copy, with new items on the menu?

“Perfect Fried Chicken. Because you can’t be Better Than Perfect Fried Chicken”.

Damn.

Maybe each new chicken joint should just take their founder’s name, like one round my way – Al Ikhwan Fried Chicken.

Or maybe someone should speak to a copywriter.

Previous logo design:

Remixing logos: Luis Vuitton sues charity campaign.

– Designer money: India crowdsources logo for the Rupee.

– How can you find your eggs in the morning? Tropicana vanishes.

Kehinde Wiley: Ghetto Grandeur

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All image cred: SuperTouch.

Spotted this fresh series by Kehinde Wiley on SuperTouch.

If you live in LA you can catch Wiley’s exhibition, The World Stage – Brazil, at Roberts & Tilton Gallery.

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Wiley got his favela models to recreate the poses of key statues in the city.

In assuming the role the of the western colonizer, they challenge their status as socially invisible – so he explains:

Kehinde Wiley – The World Stage by PGrizzy on YouTube.

I found it strange there were no women in this series, but the artist has a logic:

“By enlarge, the absence of women is the normal state within the history of art. The reasons having to do with misogyny, empire, construction of power – being the sole territory of powerful men.”

kwrtopen26

The detail on these paintings is spectacular. Get in up-close on the website and you’ll see how grandiose they are.

As hyperrealism goes, they deliver loud and clear. It’s like the opposite of, and complement to, JR’s industrialised photocopies of black and white photo-portraits.

kwrtopen211

Previous favela:

– Diplo’s first feature film: Favela on Blast.

JR’s Women Are Heroes: the other face of ghetto grandeur.

Craft, England and Codpieces

You need not see what someone is doing

to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:

a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,

a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,

forgetting themselves in a function.

“Sext” (1954) by W.H. Auden.

england-murals

Tailored by England murals on Great Eastern St, London.

I think the gentlemen and gentlewomen at Umbro have hit on something. Their new England shirt has certainly garnered attention.

This little island was once a hub of craft and industry. By delivering “The right shirt at the right time”, Umbro have collared an inconvenient truth:

We stopped crafting – and started outsourcing.

That “rapt expression” of which Auden speaks disappeared from the face of the nation. And I couldn’t agree more with Umbro’s strapline – this is the right time to look back, and move forward.

New England Shirt – The Making of by umbro on YouTube.

A few weeks ago two Brits clashed in a game of Layer Tennis (massive props to Coudal Partners, the broadcasters and creators of the event).

What emerged from this riveting rally? For one thing, both Rex Crowle and Simon Cook were obsessed with… things.

We see “things” that are British every day. We use those things too. We may even keep them in our codpiece.

rex-crowle-layer-tennis

Layer 6 by Rex Crowle on Layer Tennis.

Somewhere in the twilight of late capitalism, we lost sight of those items on our kitchen table. The necessaries in our chest of drawers.

Cookie does a wonderful job of reviving that joy of craft and “things” at his blog, Made in England by Gentlemen – go check it out.

It was there, to bring this little ramble to an end, that I discovered his apt fondness for the work of Hwa Young Jung.

In her words:

“…if you’re English these are things you might have grown up with & therefore you feel is insignificant. They are new and fascinating to me.”

Fingers crossed, as they say, that fascination can return for English folks too.

tetley-tea

Tetley by hwayoungjung on Flickr.

Club Tropicana: Drinks -20%

tropicana-new-branding

Failed Tropicana packaging by Arnell Group via Brand New.

Last week AdAge reported that Tropicana’s sales shrank 20% at the start of the year before rebranded packaging was pulled.

Designs by Arnell Group were kicked before they hit the shelves and heartily jeered on their exit.

Although recession squeeze must have played a role, it doesn’t seem to account for the whole story. Sales of refrigerated orange juice across the board only dipped 5% in the same period – 1 January to 22 February 2009.

Peter Arnell Explains Failed Tropicana Package Design on YouTube.

Unsurprising that Peter Arnell’s looked strained, and unfortunate that the Tropicana debacle followed criticism for his Pepsi rebrand.

Some remiss comments to a Newsweek reporter can’t have helped:

“I can’t believe that for the rest of my life I’m going to be known as Peter ‘Tropicana’ Arnell.” He says Tropicana overreacted to complaints. “I have my own perspective on it. But it’s not my brand. It’s not my company. So what the hell? I got paid a lot of money, and I have 30 other projects. You move on.”

pepsi_tropicana_old

Old Tropicana packaging by Sterling Brands via Brand New.

So why did he “move on”? What was wrong with the straw-in-an-orange?

Arnell clearly thought it could be improved.

Watch how animated he grows in the press conference [above] once he gets onto the “interesting little squeeze cap” that “implies squeezing ergonomically”.

Was his best insight executed with too much subtlety?

Strange that in the same week Arnell gets cussed all over the blogosphere there’s massive acclaim for another fruit juice packaging design.

strawberry-juice

Strawberry fruit juice packaging by Naoto Fukasawa via TheDieline.

Naoto Fukasawa’s inspiration for these lovely designs doesn’t sound so different to the revelation that got Arnell’s eyes glinting:

“I imagined that if the surface of the package imitated the colour and texture of the fruit skin, then the object would reproduce the feeling of the real skin.”

bananas-22

Banana fruit juice packaging by Naoto Fukasawa via TheDieline.

For me, Fukasawa’s work is a delight. Hope it’s as tactile as it looks.

And either way, the idea behind the skin is eminently clear.

Consumers didn’t find that with Tropicana. They couldn’t even find their rebranded juice in the supermarket. So they didn’t buy it.

banana

Banana fruit juice packaging by Naoto Fukasawa via Toxel.

The Destiny of the Rupee

50-rupee-front

“See, this country, in its days of greatness, when it was the richest nation on earth, was like a zoo. A clean, well-kept, orderly zoo. Everyone in his place, everyone happy. Goldsmiths here. Cowherds here. Landlords there. The man a called Halwai made sweets. The man called a cowherd tended cows. The untouchable cleaned faeces…

… in the old days there were one thousand castes and destinies in India. These days, there are just two castes: Men with Big Bellies, and Men with Small Bellies.”

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

school

Indian school via Mad Decent.

India, to the best of my limited knowledge, is a country built on codes and glimmering with symbols – however prismatic.

Soon there will be a new symbol. And it’s already caused some division.

The Indian government has launched a public competition to design a currency symbol for the Rupee. Entrants must be Indian nationals and are required to supply a bank draft of Rs 500 with their applications by 15 April 2009.

From what I’ve read, Indian designers are peeved they have to pay the government to participate. But there’s already spec work up on ‘the internet’.

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Indian Rupee spec design by Christian Büning; Design of the Euro.

Erik Spiekermann, founder of FontShop, is “afraid their brief is a little off”. Check out the discussions at Fontblog (in German) and TypeOff.

All the hubbub set me off on a dig. Beyond the obvious (£ Pound/ $ Dollar/ € Euro/ ¥ Yen), I had no idea which currencies bear their own symbol.

Do you?

Here are a few you might not have known:

currency-symbols

Left to right:

Yuan Renminbi (China), Colón (Costa Rica), Rial (Iran), New Sheqel (Israel), Won (South Korea), Naira (Nigeria), Baht (Thailand).

So apart from China, none of the BRIC economies have their own currency symbol. Although Russia’s been searching since 1999.

The majority of nations in South America and the Caribbean bear the $ symbol.

What does any of this mean? Will a new symbol for the Rupee help transform India’s destiny into that of a “nation with Big Bellies”?

And should designers be paying for their crowdsourced work to compete?

Currency symbols elsewhere:

World Currency Symbols index.

– The story of the Euro Symbol: From Logo to Letter.

Bankface? Remixing bank notes.

Eye Tricks by Akiyoshi

This one’s not for the weak-eyed, so please read Prof. Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s warning:

Warning: This page contains some works of “anomalous motion illusion”, which might make sensitive observers dizzy or sick. Should you feel dizzy, you had better leave this page immediately.”

animal-collective

Merriweather Post Pavillion (cover) – Animal Collective, inspired by Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

You’ll know if you’ve have seen this sleeve art before.

Prof. Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s experiments in “anomalous motion illusion” inspired the design of Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavillion.

rain

“Rain” by Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

After studying psychology, Akiyoshi specialised in visual perception and visual illusions of geometrical shape, brightness and colour at the University of Tsukuba.

His website gives detailed explanations of the theory behind each piece.

shaman2

“Shaman #2” by Akiyoshi Kitaoka.

Gestalt completion, eh? Fascinating how our eyes play tricks on us.

Previous op art:

House 42’s dioptical font.

– Exquisite geometric design by Andy Gilmore.

Op art goes to the Olympics.

Searching for the Perfect Loop

It’s simple. It’s short. It moves. Is it back?

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Best Friends by Christopher Smith.

It never technically went away. And maybe advertising gives me a blinkered view of the animated GIF.

It’s generally talked about as back-up – the low-fi/ if-all-else-fails option.

(I’m neither a designer nor a Flash animator, so tell me if this is baloney or codswallop.)

But could it be true? Has the animated GIF looped back around already?

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Animation from Hipster Nascar by [Unknown].

I’ve seen some impressive, artistic animations in the last few months. But maybe I’ve just been looking more closely. Got a sweet tooth for 8-bit stylings and the perfect loop.

So now everyone’s throwing themselves into Twitter and getting all over microblogs, what about micromotion?

Where can I go to watch these pithy bits of visual play?

Is there a GIF underground?

I’ll kick this off and say that Loopable is one of the best GIF blogs I’ve found. (UPDATE: just found Sweet GIFs on TrendLand and the selections there are reeeal strong.)

But disagree to hell with me if you want – I’m just curious.

And I get the feeling that renewed love might show there’s more to this little format than meets the eye.

The Art of Marclay

Can I tempt you with unwanted sound and the ragtag bits that are left behind?

Christian Marclay mini documentary by gmooney on YouTube.

I’ve not seen or heard anything quite like Christian Marclay.

Before hip-hop started cutting-and-scratching-scratching-and-cutting, he was using the turntable as an instrument.

Gestures, by Christian Marclay by louis on Vimeo.

When the 90s broke out, he took on pop and sex with the Body Mixes series.

(Anyone still concerned that Dye Holloway Murray stole Sleeveface might want to take a long hard look at the image of Jacko below.)

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Footstompin’ , by Christian Marclay by brennheit bakst on Flickr.

“I was just using what was there and reacting to culture and my environment. If you watch MTV it’s all about sex. It’s how they can keep people watching. You can’t be a successful pop star without being overtly sexual on screen.”

I don’t know how he’d feel about the Caramel Bunny. But they’ve both still got it.

AV performance? Multiscreen sound and image remixes?

As predictably as Dwain Chambers gets no redemption, Marclay did the business:

Video Quartet, by Christian Marclay by louis on Vimeo.

I’d love to know what this man’s got planned. You’ll get short odds that advertising will steal and sanitize it.

Sometime around 2019.

(Thanks to Zamir for the hot tip.)

External links:

Christian Marclay profile by White Cube.

Interview with the Journal of Contemporary Art.

mp3 interview/ performance at Some Assembly Required.