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radical craft

Rocky Gets Yarnbombed in Philadelphia

This week, an iconic figure in Philadelphia wore something decidedly different than his usual, stoic tough guy demeanor would suggest. Local “yarnbomber,” meaning one who uses yarn as a type of graffiti, Jesse Hemmons, sneaked a cozy pink sweater onto the statue of Rocky Balboa which sits in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On the sweater reads, “Go See The Art.” WHYY spoke to Hemmons after her yarn attack, learning that she did it after seeing much longer lines in front of the statue than at the museum immediately next door. Pre-Rocky tag, Hemmons has seemingly established herself to be the go-to yarnbomber in Philadelphia, judging by the projects available to view on her site. In particular, we really enjoyed her recent train car seat efforts. Back to Rocky, here’s a great quote from her conversation with WHYY:

“When we were finished installing, there was this group of men–probably mid-20s early 30s–they looked like they had really been excited about getting their picture with the Rocky statue,” said Hemmons. “Then they see a pink sweater. They were very disappointed. They kind of took their picture with not much enthusiasm, which I thought was funny.”

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Official UnBeige Radical Craft Roundup

You can read full coverage of Art Center’s design conference here, but here are a few uncategorizable highlights from our three days in Pasadena:

Best sponsored meal
: Immediately following The Sir Isaac Show, Target transformed the hospitality tent into a pink-lit, floral-covered, Sinatra-spinning wonderland, with black-and-white checked vinyl bags for all.

Best idea: Bringing the terribly talented and pixie-perfect singer-songwriter Tift Merritt onstage to woo the crowd from their after-lunch lull each day.

Best gift bag item: A 209-piece Highway Haulers Lego set.

Best new friend: Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales pinged us when we were the only two users logged on to Bonjour/iChat, and invited us to lunch.

Best moment: When Bob Mankoff presented the finalists for the create-a-caption New Yorker cartoon contest (with an image especially selected for the conference), each punchline united the audience like the best four design-insider jokes we’ve been waiting our whole lives to hear.

Best spotting: William Drenttel, Jessica Helfand and Lorraine Wild, across town, at a different party, Saturday night.

Best speaker accessory
: Constance Adams’ bright red sneakers with her classy grey suit showed that the space architect carries over her personality-meets-functionality mission to every aspect of her life.

Best party: We hear, 3am Friday night at the Ritz-Carlton bar.

Best Hockenberry quip: “I was trying to figure out why I felt so comfortable up here, but then I realized–all the chairs in this room have wheels on them!” (John Hockenberry, the conference moderator, uses a wheelchair; the seats in the room were 650 Steelcase Think chairs.)

Best overheard quote: “Did you go to TED this year?”

Best immortalization of an UnBeige writer
: Jeff Decoster captured us pecking away for the conference sketchwall. Can’t say we weren’t an easy target since, like we said, many times we were the only laptop light in the sea of Steelcase-blackness.

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Getting To The Radish Of The Art Center Conference

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Conference themes are a tricky thing. When the theme is especially catchy, presenters and attendees cling to it with fervor, peppering their phrases with the keywords until at the end of a long weekend, you’ve become distracted by too many helpings of radical and craft.

But Art Center’s Mark Breitenberg took the stage late Friday with a explanation that we wish we had heard earlier on (and indeed, a version was found within our hard copy programs):

“Radical, of course, also means “root,” and is thus an ideal partner for “craft”: the very root of making.”

So the inferred meaning of the word radical is actually closer in meaning to “radish,” something Erin McKean confirmed later on. “Stories from the Source,” the subhead featured not-so-prominently on conference materials would be the way we’d rather describe this perfectly-executed lineup of experts sharing the roots of their craft.

Full UnBeige coverage of the Art Center Design Conference can be found here.

Erin McKean Wants To Probe Your Lobe

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Erin McKean, who is known as America’s Lexicographical Sweetheart, and who is now the official UnBeige Lexicographical Sweetheart, was looking especially sweetheartish in a plaid Donna Reed dress and a cute yellow cardigan when she presented at the Art Center design conference.

She’s editor-in-chief of the Oxford University Press dictionary, which you can find here. There’s no online equivalent, but if you buy the book it includes a downloadable version for your PDA. McKean pointed out the lack of innovation in dictionary design, something that has given her lexicographical nightmares for years. The illustrations have become simplified and dull, the entries are typographically uninspired and, of course, no online presence. She wants people to embrace the process of finding, learning and checking the words that they use daily. She wants people to say “I love using the dictionary.” She points to Le Petit Larousse, a gorgeous illustrated multimedia French dictionary as something to aspire to. You can probably see where this is going, so we’ll just come out with it.

She wants you to redesign the dictionary.

Give it some thought. Maybe you already have some ideas. Mock up a few entries. Tell Maira Kalman. Assign it to your students. Help this fine, funny woman to create the definitive reference companion that’s exactly that–a companion, not a cold, rigid reference tool. You can email her at dictionaries (at) oup.com. She answers every piece of mail she receives.

Hockenberry Q&A: A question from the audience claimed that designers need more words to describe what they do. (Yes! We say that all the time!) They proposed the word “productize,” which we’ll create the definition for now:

productize verb 1. the process of taking an idea from concept to market.

How does a word like this get into the dictionary? McKean says she wants to see the word in the wild. So, please, help us set productize free. There it goes…see you in the dictionary, productize!

Radical Craft Yields Pretty Things

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John Hockenberry claimed he took extra long to pick out his outfit this morning since he knew he’d be introducing these three fashionistas today at the Art Center conference. First up was Harold Koda, curator of the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, who said, “Thank you John. ‘Miami Vice’ is coming back.”

Koda gave a sprightly presentation on the history of couture. He named Balenciaga as the greatest house of fashion currently in existence, although we’re infinitely more interested in a designer whose name escaped us–they use molds and bacterias to stain their fabrics into a “lunar landscape,” as Koda called it.

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We were totally excited to see Claudy Jongstra. You’ll remember her as the sheepherder hottie on the cover of Metropolis for her revolutionary felt made from a flock of 200 rare sheep. And she designed costumes for “Star Wars.”

So we felt a little crestfallen when her colleague appeared instead.

Oh, wait. It was just an introduction. She’s here. We think she was introduced by a sidekick because her sidekick has slightly better English. Her creations add an emotional element of softness and warmth to fashion, architectural detail, and furniture. Hella Jongerius’ Kasese Sheep Chair to the right. Her sidekick calls it “wool-being.”

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Fresh from his breast grappling, Isaac Mizrahi bursts forth flamboyant and funny. He claims he hates fashion, but we sooooo don’t believe him. He does a Q&A with the audience, the only speaker to work the room so far. He talks about being an empire, which he is. And he does it brilliantly. Are we on his reality TV show right now? It feels like it. Someone please watch it and let us know.

Radical Business: Steelcase, IDEO, Tide, Milk and Bananas

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Day three of the Art Center’s Radical Craft conference: craft gets entrepreneurial.

Jim Hackett of Steelcase showed us the workspace of the future, You_Be (a play on ubiquitous computing, which we now know a lot about). This collaboration with IDEO was a challenge because they were designing for spaces that are inherently not fun, yet we’d happily sit in a three-hour meeting in this place. Check out their extensive research about designing for people in groups.

Claudia Kotchka is design director for the largest consumer product company in the world, the same company that touches the lives of people worldwide three billion times a day. Yes, Procter & Gamble, the company responsible for thrusting 40 different kinds of Tide upon us. She says she had a hard time explaining good design to the P&G team: “It was like describing love.” She showed them the OXO measuring cup (pictured above). They got it. After years of packaging being cluttered with Shrek images and 33% MORE!, she promised us that “we hope that everything you see and touch, you love.”

Jeff Goodby, the silver ponytailed wonder, showcased his achievements within the 30-second form, which he calls “necessary art.” It reminded us that he’s the reason we love advertising, although we’re sad almost every day about the six million “Got ____?” ripoffs that poured forth in the wake of milk. Did you know that the Michel Gondry video of the Gary Jules song from “Donnie Darko” (an incredible cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World”), was adapted into a Banana Republic ad by Goodby? That makes us a little sad, too.

Yu Will Love This Film

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Director Jessica Yu’s presentation at the Art Center conference gave us what we thought was a sneak preview of her documentary of outsider artist Henry Darger, “In the Realms of the Unreal.”

Turns out although we’d heard about Darger, we completely missed this release (2004!). Yu described the challenges of bringing Darger’s largely undocumented life to the screen–he was a janitor, impoverished, and wrote and illustrated a 15,000 page fantasy saga featuring a troupe of young girls engaged in an epic religious war. But her choices, including an exquisite animation technique that’s perfect for Darger’s expansive murals, sent us furiously clicking over to Netflix. Trust us: Move to Top of Queue.

Dave Eggers Needs Your Help

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After Dave Eggers’ endearing presentation on the design detail of his 826 Valencia locations–you know, like the pirate supply store in SF that doubles as a tutoring center, or the superhero supply store in Brooklyn designed by the super Sam Potts–he made a plea to any designers living in a city where they have an 826 to please volunteer. They have plenty of writers, he says (indeed, we thought it was just a place for writing workshops) but they are always in need of designers.

So help him out, won’t you?

The Original 826 in San Francisco

www.826nyc.org

www.826la.org

www.826seattle.org

www.826chi.org

www.826michigan.org

(thanks to Jon Selikoff for the assist)

Bob Mankoff Is The Man

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Did you know that you can buy pretty much any New Yorker cartoon, printed on pretty much any piece of merchandise, at the Cartoon Bank? Well, now your life is that much closer to complete.

Head Cartoon Bank-er and New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff was the closer Friday night at Art Center’s Radical Craft conference, and although a “Family Guy” clip showed later accurately reflected our somewhat ambivalent relationship with the pretentious toons, Mankoff picked the cleverest of the crowd-pleasers and sent the audience off in stitches.

Mankoff studies cartoons at the University of Michigan, where watching eye movements and pupil widening can actually explain how “funny” a cartoon is. He also spoke about rejection–an essential piece of the cartoon craft. Let it be known that his own cartoons were rejected many (many) times before he sold one, then another, before he became the official Mayor of Toontown.

Chairman Sagmeister Charms Again

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We’ve definitely heard this story before, but somehow it never gets old. Five years ago, Sagmeister took a sabbatical–a year without clients, he calls it. It was 1999, things were good back then, and it was the kind of thing that world famous designers would do.

Sagmeister was complacent. He took his diary (one that he’d kept since he was 14) and drew out a few dozen “truths.” These maxims became the subject matter for a year of artistic explorations. So, if, perchance a client did call (and, of course, they did, this is Sagmeister), he’d trash the brief, and give them a piece of art.

It totally worked.

So instead of the standard French billboard or Japanese annual report or SVA poster, Sagmeister created images of his words to live by. His quotes are composed in the environment, Ed Ruscha or Jenny Holzer style, but made of cacti or electric tape, urine or hot dogs, or filmed in New York over the course of a day.

“Assuming is stifling” said one of his lines. And it’s true. When you think you can’t do something with a design project, it’s not the client constraints or budgetary constraints, it’s your own issues. Don’t assume you can’t deliver aluminum tubing, gracefully composed in an Arizona pool.

What Sagmeister did was subvert the graphic design process, both in theory and in execution. The fact that it worked? Well, we truly believe it’s not just because he’s a world famous designer. Don’t assume. Make something you believe in and people will see your passion it in.

Hey, like the man said: “Having guts always works out for me.”

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