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Posts Tagged ‘design

“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.

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Written by LW

April 11, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Less, but better”*…

 

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Dieter Rams is a giant among modern industrial designers; his clean, “functionalist” work inspired legions of modern designers– perhaps most visibly his work for Braun, which clearly shaped the thinking of Steve Jobs, Jony Ive (and before him, the folks at Frog Design)– perhaps most noticeably in the design of the iPod…

rams ipod

Rams’ 1958 portable radio for Braun, alongside the iPod

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But have we, in fact, learned the lessons that Rams worked so hard to teach?

Is it perfect timing or merely perverse to release a documentary promoting the design philosophy “Less, but better” during the holiday season? The opening moments of Gary Hustwit’s “Rams,” about Dieter Rams, is more likely to have you revising your gift list than tossing it out. As the camera pauses on the details of the eighty-six-year-old design legend’s single-story home, built in 1971 in Kronberg, Germany, you may find yourself wondering if you, too, need to buy a wall-mounted stereo (the Audio 2/3, designed by Rams for Braun, in 1962-1963) or a boxy leather swivel chair (the 620 armchair, designed by Rams for Vitsoe, in 1962), or to take up the art of bonsai, which Rams practices in his compact, Japanese-inspired garden.

After this montage, the sound of birds chirping is replaced by the sound of typing, and we see Rams seated in front of the rare object in his home that’s not of his own design: the red Valentine typewriter, designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King for Olivetti, in 1968. (Rams doesn’t own a computer.)

If you listen to Rams… rather than just look at the elements of his edited world, you will appreciate how his aesthetic and his ethic align. “Less, but better,” the title of his 1995 book, is, Rams says, “not a constraint, it is an advantage which allows us more space for our real life.”…

Ive has always acknowledged his debt to Rams (he contributed a foreword to Sophie Lovell’s book “Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible”) but, as the Philadelphia exhibition text suggests, Ive, embedded within Apple’s upgrade cycle, may have missed the point: “the rapid obsolescence and environmental impact of these devices sits uneasily against Rams’s advocacy of long-lasting, durable design.”

The minute design twitches of each year’s Apple launch are a far cry from the revolutionary change that the click wheel ushered in. Newfangled ports, rose-gold backs, the elimination of the home button—these don’t change our relationships to our phones, except to annoy…

The provocative story in full: “What we learned from Dieter Rams, and what we’ve ignored.”

Rams’ “Ten Principles of Design.”

* Dieter Rams

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As we savor simplicity, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to Walter Dorwin Teague; he was born on this date in 1883.  An  industrial designer, architect, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and entrepreneur, he is often called the “Dean of Industrial Design,” a field that he pioneered as a profession in the US, along with Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, and Henry Dreyfuss.  He is widely known for his exhibition designs during the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair (including the Ford Building), and for his iconic product and package designs, from Eastman Kodak’s Bantam Special to the steel-legged Steinway piano.

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Written by LW

December 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears”*…

 

city of the future

Concept for Babel IID. The line drawing to the left shows the Empire State building for scale. Arcology, Paolo Soleri, 1969.

 

For centuries, architects and urban planners have mixed the mundane with the fantastical as they imagined the cities of the future. While some ideas toyed with the building blocks, others reflected a desire to fundamentally reshape urban life — and to solve some of society’s most pressing problems. Their plans were a mix of ambition, realism, fantasy, and folly — but were the resulting ideas visionary, or just dreams of worlds that could never feasibly be built?…

From Christopher Wren and his plan for London after the Great Fire of 1666 to Buckminster Fuller and Paolo Soleri, a consideration of visionary urban planning: could fantastical plans for the cities of tomorrow solve the real problems of urban life? Consider the case at “Architects of the Future.”

For a treatment of urban history from a different perspective, see “The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live.” See also “Science Fiction Cities: How our future visions influence the cities we build.”

Then, for an alternative to the top-down, utopian approach to urban planning, read Jane Jacobs.

* Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

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As we contemplate community, we might spare a thought for Hendrik Petrus Berlage; he died on this date in 1934. The “Father of Modern architecture” in the Netherlands, Berage was deeply influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  But he was probably most impactful in his influence on most Dutch architectural groups of the 1920s, including the Traditionaliststhe Amsterdam SchoolDe Stijl and the New Objectivists.

220px-Berlage source

 

Written by LW

August 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There are few things so pleasant as a picnic eaten in perfect comfort”*…

 

From campground to crab shack to suburban backyard, the picnic table is so ubiquitous that it is nearly invisible as a designed object. Yet this ingenious form — a structurally bolted frame that unites bench seats and table into a sturdy package — has remained largely unchanged since the 1930s. Having transcended the picnic, it is now the ideal setting for any outdoor event that compels us to face one another squarely across a shared surface…

These qualities of familiarity and abundance have made the picnic table an American icon. On the website of The Home Depot, buyers can choose from among 102 models, priced between $109 and $2,260. That seems an impossible variety, and we should be grateful that we typically don’t make the purchasing decisions. For most of the past hundred years, we have occupied picnic tables chosen by others, by the operators of car washes and rest stops and fairgrounds, and it is never uncomfortable…

Dig in at: “An Illustrated History of the Picnic Table.”

* W. Somerset Maugham

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As we parse the pastoral prandium, we might spare a utilitarian thought for Jeremy Bentham; the author, jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer died on this date in 1832.  Bentham is considered a founder of modern Utilitarianism (via his own work, and that of students including James Mill and his son, John Stuart Mill); he actively advocated individual and economic freedom, the separation of church and state, freedom of expression, equal rights for women, the right to divorce, and the decriminalizing of homosexual acts. He argued for the abolition of slavery and the death penalty, and for the abolition of physical punishment, including that of children.

Bentham was involved in the founding of University College (then, the University of London), the first in England to admit all, regardless of race, creed, or political belief.  On his death, he was dissected as part of a public anatomy lecture– as he specified in his will.  Afterward– again, as Bentham’s will specified– the skeleton and head were preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet called the “Auto-icon”, with the skeleton stuffed out with hay and dressed in Bentham’s clothes.  Bentham had intended the Auto-icon to incorporate his actual head, preserved to resemble its appearance in life.  But experimental efforts at mummification, though technically successful, left the head looking alarmingly macabre, with dried and darkened skin stretched tautly over the skull.  So the Auto-icon was given a wax head, fitted with some of Bentham’s own hair.

It is normally kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of University College.  The real head was displayed in the same case as the Auto-icon for many years, but became the target of repeated student pranks, so is now locked away.

 see a virtual, 360-degree rotatable version here

Written by LW

June 6, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Successful design is not the achievement of perfection but the minimization and accommodation of imperfection”*…

 

click here for larger version

From legendary designer Raymond Loewy [see here], a chart published in 1934 that shows the evolution in design of items such as cars, telephones, stemware, railcars, clocks, and women’s apparel. Loewy was known was “The Father of Streamlining” and these drawings very much reflect his design style. (via @michaelbierut)

Explore at: “Raymond Loewy’s 1934 chart of the evolution in design.”

Then check out MacRae Linton’s conversion of Loewy’s chart into a proper timeline.

* Henry Petroski

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As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that music industry insiders Johnny MercerBuddy DeSylva, and Glenn E. Wallichs founded Capitol Records.  By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records by artists including (Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Kay Starr) and was established as one of the “Big Six” record labels.

In 1955, Capitol became a subsidiary of British label EMI and began construction on a new headquarters building designed by Lou Naidorf.  Known as “the House the Nat Built” (as Nat King Cole was the label’s steady sales leader), it was the first circular office building in the world.

Capitol, which had an output deal with its UK parent, built on their early 60s success with the Beach Boys by acquiring the Beatles record rights in the U.S. (though they passed on other EMI acts like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, The Yardbirds, and Manfred Mann).

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Written by LW

June 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Brief murmurs only just almost never all known”*…

 

Q1: What is, traditionally, the principal unit of measurement for measuring floorspace in Taiwan? Taipei 101’s floorspace of 379,296 square meters converts to about 114,737 of the unit in question.

Q2: If you’re playing Magic: The Gathering, what slangy verb (synonymous with poke, zap, and Tim) might you use to signify dealing one hit point of damage to a target?

Q3: Analogies: Rosalind is to Ganymede as Éowyn is to Dernhelm as Fa Mulan is to whom?

Q4: What fictional wanderer, introduced in a 1933 book often read by Captain Kangaroo, lives with “his mother and his father and two sisters and three brothers and eleven aunts and seven uncles and forty-two cousins”?

Q5: What networking utility, first written for 4.2a BSD UNIX in 1983, sends echo request packets and reports on echo replies?

All is revealed in the 21st installment of James Callan‘s wonderful series of newsletters, “Five Questions, One Answer.”

* Samuel Beckett, “Ping.”

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As we sign up for the next pub quiz, we might spare a thought for John Baskerville, English printer and typefounder; he died on this date in 1775.  Among Baskerville’s publications in the British Museum’s collection are Aesop’s Fables (1761), the Bible (1763), and the works of Horace (1770).  And as for his fonts,  Baskerville’s creations (including the famous “Baskerville”) were so successful that his competitors resorted to claims that they damaged the eyes.

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Written by LW

January 8, 2017 at 1:01 am

“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”*…

 

Architect Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus in 1919 in Weimar by merging the state schools of fine and applied arts. In this pamphlet with a frontispiece by Lyonel Feininger, he called on artists to return to craft and to collaborate on architecture, and outlines the new school’s curriculum.

The Harvard Art Museums hold one of the first and largest collections relating to the Bauhaus, the 20th century’s most influential school of art and design. Active during the years of Germany’s Weimar Republic (1919–33), the Bauhaus aimed to unite artists, architects, and craftsmen in the utopian project of designing a new world. The school promoted experimental, hands-on production; realigned hierarchies between high and low, artist and worker, teacher and student; sharpened the human senses toward both physical materials and media environments; embraced new technologies in conjunction with industry; and imagined and enacted cosmopolitan forms of communal living. The legacies of the Bauhaus are visible today, extending well beyond modernist forms and into the ways we live, teach, and learn.

In its mere 14 years of existence, and across its three locations, three directors, and hundreds of students from around the world, the Bauhaus entertained diverse political and artistic positions, and served as hothouse for a variety of “isms,” from expressionism, Dadaism, and constructivism to various hybrids thereof…

Tour the collection at “The Bauhaus.”

* Walter Gropius

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As we grapple with Gropius, we might spare a thought for another kind of utopian– physician and health-food pioneer John Harvey Kellogg, who died on this date in 1943, aged 91.  For 62 years before his death, Kellogg operated a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan that was run along holistic lines:  a vegetarian, he advocated low calorie diets and developed peanut butter, granola, and toasted cereals; he warned that smoking caused lung cancer decades before this link was studied; and he was an early advocate of exercise.  For all that, he is surely best remembered, for having developed corn flakes (with his brother Will, who went on to sweeten and commercialize them).

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Written by LW

December 14, 2016 at 1:01 am

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