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Posts Tagged ‘design

“Baseball is the only thing beside the paper clip that hasn’t changed”*…

 

paper clip

 

The paper clip is something of a fetish object in design circles. Its spare, machined aesthetic and its inexpensive ubiquity landed it a spot in MoMA’s 2004 show Humble Masterpieces. This was a pedestal too high for design critic Michael Bierut, who responded with an essay called “To Hell with the Simple Paper Clip.” He argued that designers praise supposedly unauthored objects like the paper clip because they’re loath to choose between giving publicity to a competitor and egotistically touting their own designs. Bierut might be right about his colleagues’ motives, but he’s wrong about the paper clip: It’s not all that simple.

Most everyday objects—like the key, or the book, or the phone—evolve over time in incremental ways, and the 20th century in particular revolutionized, streamlined, or technologized the vast majority of the things you hold in your hand over the course of an average day. But if you could step into an office in 1895—walking past horse-drawn buses and rows of wooden telephone switchboard cabinets—you might find a perfectly recognizable, shiny silver paper clip sitting on a desk. What was then a brand-new technology is now, well over a century later, likely to be in the same place, ready to perform the same tasks. Why did the paper clip find its form so quickly, and why has it stuck with us for so long?…

It was invented in the 1890s; it hasn’t been improved upon since: “The perfection of the paper clip.”

* Bill Veeck

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As we find fasteners fascinating, we might spare a thought for Sir Karl Raimund Popper; he died on this date in 1994.  One of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century, Popper is best known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favor of empirical falsification: a theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments.  (Or more simply put, whereas classical inductive approaches considered hypotheses false until proven true, Popper reversed the logic: conclusions drawn from an empirical finding are true until proven false.)

Popper was also a powerful critic of historicism in political thought, and (in books like The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism) an enemy of authoritarianism and totalitarianism (in which role he was a mentor to George Soros).

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Written by LW

September 17, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”*…

 

MySpace

Artwork excavated from archived GeoCities pages (1994–2009).

A tribute to the lost days of unrefined self-expression on the Internet.

myspace2

myspace three

 

More at Art of Geocities.

* Thomas Szasz

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As we express ourselves we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Bob Dylan was booed off stage at the Newport Jazz Festival during his first public performance with electric instruments (and a band that included Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper)… The cat-calling began with his opening number, “Maggie’s Farm,” and continued through three more songs, after which Dylan left the stage. As a peace offering to Pete Seeger and other aggrieved organizers, Dylan returned later to do two acoustic numbers… but the die was cast; thereafter, his career was electrically-powered…

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For a sense of just how far things have come, check out Johnny Winter’s version of “Highway 61,” taped at a 1992 tribute to Dylan (on the occasion of his 30th anniversary as a recording artist):

 

Written by LW

July 25, 2019 at 1:01 am

“The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”*…

 

populationmap

Change in population aged 65 and older, 2010-2023. [Screenshot: ESRI]

 

We’re all getting older. It’s the one thing that every single person alive right now has in common. But we’re also getting older as a population, with Americans both living longer and having fewer children. Census projections show a major demographic shift already underway and accelerating in the years to come.

At the same time, populations are not aging evenly, and issues related to aging will impact individual communities in vastly different ways, boosting economic opportunity in some areas while putting a strain on social services in others.

For instance, real estate developers that invest in progressive senior housing projects now could benefit down the road as demand for modern facilities that cater to active seniors grows. Similarly, American tech companies will see opportunity in developing innovative high-tech solutions for senior care, such as health-monitoring devices, ride-share services aimed at seniors, and care-bots. (Take a look at how Japan has embraced high-tech solutions for its aging population for more on how that might play out in the United States.)

On the flip side, social safety nets are likely to face increasing financial challenges with the continued retirement of America’s Baby Boomers, the youngest of whom will reach 67 by 2031. As that happens, rural counties—where people on average rely on Social Security as a larger portion of their overall income—may disproportionately feel the economic effects of aging.

One way to sort out who will be most impacted by aging is to look at age demographics across the country and how they will change over time…

America is aging, but not evenly: “7 maps that tell the incredible story of aging in America.”

See also this essay by Don Norman, the 83 year-old dean of user-centered design (author of The Design of Everyday Things and a former VP at Apple): “I wrote the book on user-friendly design. What I see today horrifies me.”

* Robert Frost

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As we stand up to senescence, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Peter Townsend wrote “My Generation”– inspired by the Queen Mother, who’d had his 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street in Belgravia because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through the neighborhood.  The song was released as a single later that year and became first a hit, then an anthem.

 

Written by LW

May 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Housework won’t kill you, but then again, why take the chance?”*…

 

Modern Kitchen

 

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000) was the first Austrian woman ever to qualify as an architect. Following World War I, she was tasked with the design of standard kitchens for a new housing project by city planner and architect Ernst May. The Great War left rubble and a desperate housing shortage in its wake, but it also opened the way for new ideas and new designs.There was a pervasive sense among Europe’s leading designers, from Le Corbusier in France to Walter Gropius and the Bauhaus in Germany, that the need to rebuild in the 1920s, though rooted in tragedy, offered a society fresh start, and a chance to leave behind the class distinctions that were baked into 18th- and 19th-century architecture while they were at it.

Very much in this mold, Ernst May was a utopian thinker, and his International Style design for the Frankfurt project, known as New Frankfurt, featured egalitarian amenities for the community like schools, playgrounds, and theaters, along with access to fresh air, light, and green space.For her part, though she was a career woman herself, Schütte-Lihotzky believed that housework was a profession and deserved to be treated seriously as such. This counted as feminism in the 1920s, and although we might find it essentializing or insulting today, making housework easier was considered a form of emancipation for women.

This belief echoes that of American domestic scientist Christine Frederick, who conducted a series of experiments and studies to determine the optimal layout of appliances, work surfaces, and storage in a domestic kitchen. Frederick had studied the methods of mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor, who innovated the modern practice of scientific management. Taylor’s time and motion studies helped designers devise the optimal position of equipment and people in factories, by breaking down tasks into their component parts. That Frederick thought to emulate Taylor’s system speaks to a fascinating shift in how domestic work was understood in the early 20th century.

Schütte-Lihotzky conceived of the Frankfurt Kitchen as a separate room in each apartment, which was a design choice that had previously applied only to the cavernous kitchens that served great houses. She used a sliding door to separate it from the main living space. She read Frederick and Taylor’s works translated into German, and even conducted her own time and motion studies.And presaging the work of American designers Norman Bel Geddes and Raymond Loewy, who drew inspiration from trains and cars in designing their streamlined kitchen appliances in the 1930s, Schütte-Lihotzky found a model of culinary efficiency in the kitchens of railway dining cars designed by the Mitropa catering company. Though tiny, the cars served scores of diners using an extremely small galley space—a term we still used to describe apartment kitchens today.

The Frankfurt Kitchen featured an electric stove, a window over the sink, and lots of ingenious built-in storage including custom aluminum bins with a spout at one end. These bins could be used to store rice, sugar, or flour, then pulled out and used to pour the ingredients into a mixing bowl. The kitchen lacked a refrigerator, but in almost every other way, it was thoroughly modern. There was no clunky cast-iron stove, and no mismatched pieces of wooden furniture that had been drafted into kitchen duty. Even its small size was in part a nod to Taylor’s and Frederick’s principles: The lack of floor space meant fewer steps. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky introduced design ideals that still hold sway over our living spaces…

How that happened– despite Nazi resistance– and what it meant at: “The Frankfurt Kitchen Changed How We Cook—and Live.”

* Phyllis Diller

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As we dwell on the design of dwellings, we might send amusing birthday greetings to Allan Burns; he was born on this date in 1935.  A television screenwriter and producer, he cut his teeth working with Jay Ward on animated series like Rocky and Bullwinkle, then created or co-created a  number of hit live series, including The Mary Tyler Moore Show (and its spin-offs Lou Grant and Rhoda).  Along the way, he created the character Cap’n Crunch for Quaker Oats.

Allan+Burns+2016+Summer+TCA+Tour+32nd+Annual+UaB3KPmcX5yl source

We might also spare a thought for Charles Dawson “Daws” Butler; he died on this date in 1988.  A voice actor who worked mostly for Hanna-Barbera, he originated the voices of many familiar characters, including Loopy De Loop, Wally Gator, Yogi Bear, Hokey Wolf, Elroy Jetson, Quick Draw McGraw, Snagglepuss, Spike the Bulldog, and Huckleberry Hound.   He also served as the original voice of Cap’n Crunch.

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CapnCrunch source

 

Written by LW

May 18, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that”*…

 

light switch

 

The inventor of the light switch, John Henry Holmes, was a Quaker, member of a doctrine generally united by a fundamental belief in the ability of each person to access “the light within”. The light switch, of course, enables each person to access the light without, and has been doing so, solidly, since 1884.

At least until the emergence of the voice- or presence-activated smart home version of lights, brave solution to an unspecified problem. Unlike contemporary design patterns, Holmes’s switch is a simple design that has lasted for centuries. Still, entering an old house, we brush our fingertips over the wall in the gloom, tracing spatial memories, caressing plaster or brick or wood before your hand brushes against an early plastic, or even Bakelite. The switch itself still tends to be firm, the ever-so-slight sensation of rolling as it moves to form a circuit, one of the most pleasingly robust ‘actions’ that an industrial designer could imagine.

It means the resilient light switch, like the door handle, reveals the accumulated touch of all those gone before, a patina of presence. Juhani Pallasmaa said that the doorhandle is the handshake of the building; is the light switch the equivalent for the room? It is the most universal of everyday objects…

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others…

From dark living rooms to dark ecology– a meditation on the humble, but crucial light switch: “Let there be light switches.”

* Dr. Martin Luther King

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As we shine on, we might recall that on this date in 1824 Beethoven’s Ninth (and final) Symphony, Chorale, premiered in Vienna, with “lyrics” by Frederich Schiller (part of his “Ode to Joy”); Beethoven’s chorus concludes:

Be embraced, ye millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods!

Facsimile of Beethoven’s manuscript for “The Ode to Joy”

 

Written by LW

May 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Design came into being in 1919, when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus at Weimar”*…

 

Bauhaus

 

The Bauhaus—literally “school of building”—was a German avant-garde arts and crafts academy. Inaugurated six months after the end of World War I, the school encouraged artists and designers to use their talents to help rebuild the broken society.

With Germany in total ruins many thought it was time to start from scratch. The Bauhaus grammar—a triangle, a square, and a circle—evoked this back-to-basics mentality. They challenged everything, including the usual method of schooling. [Walter] Gropius borrowed the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk, or “synthesis of the arts, from composer Richard Wagner, envisioning a school that would “unite every discipline, architecture and sculpture and painting.” (Architects today love dropping the term.)

Gropius instructed students to leave “sentimental, aesthetically decorative conceptions… drawn mostly from past cultures.” Shedding decorative cruft built up over generations meant studying the “nature” of objects and designing from that. You can easily draw a line from the Bauhaus to the iPod—Steve Jobs said as much in 1983 when he addressed the International Design Conference at the Aspen Design Institute, which itself is part of the Bauhaus diaspora.

But Nazis thought the school’s rejection of traditional aesthetics was a rejection of Germanic pride. They chased down the Bauhaus from Weimar, to Dessau, then finally to Berlin, where they were forced to shut down in 1933—and in doing so, spread its influence throughout the world…

Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus movement 100 years ago on a simple but powerful rule, “our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.”  Learn more about the movement that he started and the extraordinary impact that it had: “The Bauhaus.”

*  Bruno Munari, Design as Art

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As we integrate form and function, we might send evocative birthday greetings to Mel Edwards; he was born on this date in 1937.  An abstract sculptor who worked almost entirely in steel, he marshals straight-edged triangular and rectilinear forms to make political statements.  He  has had more than a dozen one-person show exhibits (including at  the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the New Jersey State Museum), and has been in over four dozen group shows.

PS_08_Mel-Edwards_small-400x500 source

 

Written by LW

May 4, 2019 at 1:01 am

“A picture is worth a thousand dollars”*…

 

Saval-Good-Design_02

 

In 1958, the American radical sociologist C. Wright Mills was invited to address the International Design Conference, in Aspen. The lecture he gave, “Man in the Middle: The Designer,” criticized a number of its audience members for being willing dupes in the grand illusion that was consumer society. “Wants do not originate in some vague realms of the consumer’s personality,” he said. “They are formed by an elaborate apparatus of jingle and fashion, of persuasion and fraud.” In this sublime hoax, Mills argued, the designer was central. He made people “ashamed of last year’s model”; he tied “self-esteem” with the purchasing of this year’s model; and he “created a panic for status, and hence a panic of self-evaluation” that could be sated only by the “specified commodities” that he designed. This was what came to be known as “retail therapy”—but Mills suggested that, partly thanks to designers, it had become fundamental to the American economy. The result was a perversion not just of economic life but also of culture. As he put it, “The uses of culture are being shaped by men who would turn all objects and qualities, indeed human sensibility itself, into a flow of transient commodities, and these types have now gotten the designer to help them; they have gotten him to turn himself into the ultimate advertising man.”

Whether the conference organizers regretted inviting Mills is not a matter of record—toward the end of his lecture, he softened his attack by suggesting that designers could adopt the intimate, use-value virtues of craftsmen—but I was reminded of his words as I walked around “The Value of Good Design,” a small display of goods currently on show at the Museum of Modern Art. A curious bit of auto-institutional history, as well as a plug for the museum’s wallet-shredding design store, the “Good Design” show looks back at the museum’s attempt to establish canons of taste in postwar America—to play, in other words, the man in the middle between designers and consumers. As in a suburban shopping mall, the center of the exhibit is a whole car: the huggable Fiat 500, one of the most charming symbols of the Italian postwar “economic miracle.” (Unfortunately, there is no contest to win it.) Elsewhere, there is the liquid sheen of Eva Zeisel’s porcelain ware, George Nelson’s exclamatory atomic-age clock, and a Japanese-influenced bamboo-framed chair from Charlotte Perriand. To view these items is to feel immediately the induction of “wants” diagnosed by Mills. This is MoMA’s second show in a decade about its “Good Design” program, and it makes one wonder about both the meaning of those terms and what they are meant to do…

An assessment of MoMA’s “The Value of Good Design” exhibit… and a meditation on the history and role of design more generally: “How ‘Good Design’ Failed Us.”

* Marty Neumeier

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As we curtail commodification, we might recall that it was on this date in 1976 that The Steves– Wozniak and Jobs– released their first product, the Apple I.  Designed and hand-built by Wozniak, the computers were sold wholesale by Jobs (at $500 wholesale, for a retail price of $666.66, the equivalent of $2,800 today).  In 2014, a working Apple-1 sold at auction for $905,000.

AL-apple-0311e source

 

Written by LW

April 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

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