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Posts Tagged ‘Scott Stowell’

Post-Compostmodern: Now What?

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We’d be lying to you, dear readers, if we didn’t admit that before this weekend’s Compostmodern conference, we were in a very bad place.

Maybe it’s just the typical occupational hazard that comes with being a blogger. But when you’re bombarded, every day, with designers touting the eco-sensibility of their newest utterly useless product you should buy for only $499.99, architects who want to be praised for using some non-toxic paint on their latest 500,000 square foot monstrosity, and creative people using up valuable resources to launch misdirected movements about using up valuable resources, it’s enough to make us want to reach our hands through internet until we can wrangle the mouse from their smug little hands and whack them over the head with it until they get it.

So when spoken word artist Dawn Maxey stood up and read her little poem on eco-hype yesterday (read the full text), we wanted to run up on stage and kiss her. Oh, how we feel you, sister.

Valerie Casey addressed that eco-fatigue we’ve all been feeling. But she coupled it with a very interesting point about movements in general–they spike, then dip, then slowly gain more solid acceptance over time. So don’t despair, we’re all just feeling that spike. The dip has yet to come.

Except now, this movement belongs clearly to designers. Activism didn’t work, said Adam Werbach. We are in need of better stories, said Alex Steffen. We need to stop making stuff, said everybody. And Casey made a great argument for why designers by nature are perfect to spearhead change. But when Casey showed the slide above, which was sent to her by, in her words, a “very prominent and well-known designer,” it really got us fired up. Because every single company we heard represented at this conference–Mark Galbraith and Nau, Jane Savage and Nike, General Electric and VSA Partners, yes, even Werbach and Wal-Mart–has realized the importance of not just being designer-centric, but being designer-dependent in order to make big changes. People: There. Is. No. One. Else.

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Can Death Be Too Designed?

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On Wired’s Underwire blog, Sonia Zjawinski says yes, the New York Times Op-Ed has “overdesigned” its latest visualization of 2,592 soldiers killed in Iraq. She equates the latest chart, published this week, to this Groovisions illustration:

While I fully support the idea of creatively charting numbers that are sometimes hard to grasp or visualize, this chart loses its power in its overly designed nature.

That may have been the designer’s intent, she concedes, but in the comments an astute observer accuses Wired of the same thing:

It’s no worse than some of the graphics displaying stats in Wired. Particularly the nutritional values and air delays graphics in this month’s issue. They could do with being dumbed down a bit more…

Of course we thought immediately of Good’s Transparency section, where designers crunch numbers with a style that’s often extremely colorful and playful, even when dealing with heavy issues. As Scott Stowell told us in December, there’s been plenty of controversy about whether or not that content has been appropriate.

Back to the NYT’s chart…it certainly does convey the magnitude of those killed. But we have to admit our first response was, wow, that would make some really nice kids wallpaper.

More Highlights and Reflections From Cause/Effect

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It must be some kind of record: 70% of the speakers at the one-day AIGA NY conference Cause/Effect brought us to the brink of tears. But until the end, we really weren’t sure why.

We even found ourselves pretty much speechless at one point. The presentation that went beyond words, meaning a blog post really couldn’t do it justice, was Alan Jacobson’s powerful work on a memorial in Rwanda as part of the Barefoot Artists program. Read up on the project on their site and don’t miss a chance to catch Jacobson present in person.

Although we missed Steven Heller‘s propaganda parade, Seymour Chwast‘s poster-rama and Mark Randall discussing the Urban Forest Project (catch coverage over at Core77), we have more detailed reports about Carin Goldberg, Bobby Martin, Frank Baseman, Phil Patton, Nicholas Blechman, Marc Alt, Scott Stowell, and Chris Hacker, who were truly all great.

All the young designers were stars. Seth Labenz and Roy Rub presented the fascinating results of their experiment “Uniting.” And the final panel of the day, a three-fer of social entrepreneurship had the always delightful Randy Hunt and his Amazing Project, and two extremely eloquent show-stoppers: Kristin Johnson‘s Practical Small Projects, bringing solar energy to Mali, and Lara McCormick‘s Stop and Start Over (another Sappi grant winner!), an addiction recovery site and community that’s designed to appeal more to the young audience looking for help.

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The only minor disappointment was the One Laptop Per Child presentation by Lisa Strausfeld. Cute as they may be, we got little, if any, insight into how the laptops really work, and we’re still not sure why the beautiful interface is appropriate for kids who have never used a computer, especially since a CBS News story showed kids easily using regular laptops. Also puzzling was that they did no testing of the interface with African kids. They had just gotten their shipment of laptops that day, so maybe they need to play around with them some more before presenting again.

But overall, the day was expertly assembled and orchestrated by chairs Mike Essl (who doubled as an on-stage tech guy) and Emma Presler (wearing a tres snazzy scarf). We noticed a similar thread running through both Cause/Effect and Designism 2.0 (without the “banal-retentive,” of course): The most striking projects were really not about design in the traditional sense, echoing Milton Glaser‘s sentiments at Designism about the dissemination being more important than the device. In fact, we thought, these people didn’t really act like designers at all. More like MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipients, Nobel Prize winners, UN ambassadors. And that realization was simply overwhelming.

Marc Alt Introduces the Center for Sustainable Design

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Last year, AIGA officially launched the Center for Sustainable Design, of which Marc Alt is a co-chair (along with the Academy of Art’s Phil Hamlett). Today at Cause/Effect, Alt gave a tour of a new site the group has produced that has lots of original content, and a long list of resources created for designers.

But perhaps most exciting is that Compostmodern, an impressive San Francisco-based AIGA conference, is now the official Center for Sustainable Design conference. Next year’s event will be on January 19, and already some favorites like Alex Steffen, today’s crowdpleaser Scott Stowell, Valerie Casey from IDEO and Mark Galbraith of Nau are on the roster. Register here.

Scott Stowell Does Some Very Good Design

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We went to a party last night at Good’s pop-up store here in New York where we met editor Morgan Clendaniel, publisher Max Schorr, creative director Casey Caplowe and designer Tyler Lang. So it was only fitting that at today’s Cause/Effect we’d see Scott Stowell of Open, whose firm has been the driving creative force, along with Caplowe’s team, in cranking out this fine mag (which as you can see above, kinda, was shelved with the gun mags when the design issue featured an AK-47 on the cover).

The philosophy of Good’s design is “totally mainstream, to preach to the non-converted,” drawing from great old mags like Esquire, Colors, Time Out, and even some of the extinct features from Wired. Built into the magazine are all sorts of opportunities to work with illustrators and designers, on variety of visual devices–games, if you will–to let them play.

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This is how Good works for readers, Stowell says. They engage you with the form, give you content, and if you’re paying attention, you get rewarded with little visual details. Example: We love the icons that break down the content into categories, but had to admit we never really looked at them. Take a closer look next time you read the magazine, and you’ll see that icon for health, for example, is not what you’d expect.

They also work with readers, engaging them in the Good Projects, which are open-source creative projects that are found on the back page (they’re all still active, by the way). Check out the good design/bad design project.

Good is very design-savvy; they are the only mag we’ve ever heard of to actually print a typographic correction, stating that a word on the spine should have been in roman not italics.

In fact, Good is so design savvy, they’re having a design party with HauteGREEN at that pop-up store in New York on Tuesday night. If you’re in the hood, be sure to stop by. We hear Allan Chochinov will be presenting highlights from Core77′s gift guide. We hope the dolls are coming, too.

Debbie Millman’s Party Packs the House

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As we lamented that we couldn’t be there to toast Debbie Millman‘s book release (and revealed we were drinking ourselves to sleep instead) one faithful UnBeige reader had the presence of mind to document the evening. Jonathan Selikoff got three shots, including one of Millman basking in Massimo Vignelli‘s charm above (those Vignellis sure do get out a lot). He also tells us that just as Simon Williams gave a nice, rambling toast on behalf of Millman, there was a chant of “Debbie! Debbie! Debbie!”

Also spotted by our informants: Paul Sahre, James Victore, Felix Sockwell, Rodrigo Corral (who designed her book’s cover), Khoi Vinh, Scott Stowell and Emily Oberman, plus a report that in the elevator on the way down, a woman said that if a bomb had gone off in the room, the NY design scene would cease to exist. Sounds like our kind of party.

More pics…

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From the Mouths of Legends: Quotes from Wim Crouwel and Massimo Vignelli

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We’re feeling especially quotable today, so in addition to the wise words uttered by Steven Heller, we’ve also got some sage wisdom from the Wim Crouwel/Massimo Vignelli AIGA NY talk last night, moderated by Alice Twemlow (who we hear was “fantastic”). Serifcan Ozcan and Scott Stowell, both of Open, compiled these memorable moments, which you can print out and put alongside those Heller ones you’ve already hung on your wall.

Crouwell: “The grid is like the lines on a football field. You can play a great game in the grid or a lousy game. But the goal is to play a really fine game.”

Vignelli: “Emigre is the worst thing that ever happened to this country. It’s unbelievable the damage they have done. A total disaster. [laughter] You laugh, but you should cry.”

Crouwel: “Neutrality has its own aesthetics.”

Crouwel: “Design is something to help society. You can build. You can add to it.”

Vignelli: “My desk is the only place where I’m happy. I hate vacations.”

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Official UnBeige AIGA NEXT Roundup

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Even though we still can’t get that Command X theme music out of our head (damn you all, Open, Agoraphone and The Plasticines!), we’ve finally had a few days to contemplate the AIGA NEXT conference in its entirety. Although we had a slight peek at the innerworkings while serving on the planning committee, in the end we were just sitting there in the audience watching, as surprised (and/or delighted) as you were. Here are the highs and lows:

Command-ing the lead: We admit, we had our doubts about a “Project Runway” for graphic design. But not only was Command X the highlight of the conference, it gave great insight into how design actually works–and how fast, funny and brilliant designers are. Winner Nichelle Narcisi‘s incredible finale also ended the conference on the perfect teary, triumphant note.

Talkin’ ’bout my generation: Maybe it was simply in line with the theme (“Next”), but we can’t applaud this conference enough for shifting attention to the youngsters. The brilliant Command X forged seven new young superstars and the 20 one-minute presentations that opened the first night were all by up-and-comers (and better than we ever remembered). It was great to see the older and wiser take a backseat to youth for once.

Someone get this guy an agent: Drew Carey should not have gotten Bob Barker‘s gig on “The Price is Right.” That job should have gone to a man who is long overdue for his big showbiz debut, Michael Bierut.

Everything in moderation: Golden-voiced Kurt Andersen was the best moderator we’ve ever seen at one of these things. Witty, efficient and blissfully deadpan, Andersen asked incredibly intelligent questions tempered with just enough cynicism to keep things real.

Three people we’re running away with: Janine Benyus, Marian Bantjes and Alex Steffen wowed us with solutions that proved great design is natural, personal and sustainable, and, in the end, always–always–beautiful.

You can’t win ‘em all: Of course, there were a few duds. Momus‘ mainstage presentation was probably brilliant but unfocused to the point of befuddlement. Wrapping a design conference with an awesome visual application that doesn’t work on Macs was a big mistake. And even though it made good diversity efforts, the lineup was incredibly New York-centric. One might even argue specifically SVA-centric.

Worst information graphics: Upon entering the Denver Art Museum for the closing party, guests were handed a map which hinted at treasure troves of food and drink stashed in various corners of the galleries. Never mind that the Denver Art Museum is a perplexing heap of angular ADD (Daniel Libeskind must design like he talks), the ambiguous map forced us to mount great expeditions in search of circulating lamb lollipops and the elusive chicken potstickers. Luckily, the martini bar was in plain view.

Best party: Duh.

Best overheard quote in design history: When another designer worried that a former employee may have been bipolar, Dana Arnett brought perspective to the situation: “Bipolar can work, though. They present one idea, then they present another totally different idea. It’s great for clients.”

Sure to see traffic spikes this week: Design Observer lead with the most overall impressions, mentioned in many affinity sessions, at least seven times on the mainstage, and in all the conference materials as a sponsor. Second place goes to Very Short List, which got two plugs on the mainstage (Andersen is a founder, ahem).

Okay, we get it, you’re Democrats: We stopped counting the anti-Bush attacks after we hit the number of years he’s been in office. We know that designers are traditionally left-leaning. But any Republicans in the audience would have been pretty darn uncomfortable, and we’re not sure that’s altogether appropriate.

On the other hand…: There was something to the fact that the same day Al Gore won the Nobel Prize, one of our own jetted up there to work closely with him on his Alliance for Climate Protection. Or maybe that because of AIGA, people across the country will be be voting on redesigned ballots next election. Or maybe it was just AIGA president Sean AdamsJFK-like good looks. Whatever it was, we swore we felt a huge shift happening in the world of design, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.

All UnBeige AIGA NEXT coverage.

The GOOD, and the BAD, But What About the Ugly?

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The entirety of Good’s design issue is now online (the one we were raving about earlier this month) and even if you’ve got plenty of work to do this afternoon, we recommend reading it. We couldn’t wait to share one piece authored by Scott Stowell of Open, who is also the design director of the mag, called Project 006: Good or Not. Each Good ends with a similar project for its readers and this one should be fun for all UnBeige readers as well:

Cut out the “GOOD” and “BAD” cards from a copy of the magazine, or print them out, and when you see a piece of design you think is particularly good or bad, photograph it with the correct label and upload it to Flickr.

You heard the man. Print out the labels above (or make your own, you are designers) and upload your photos to the GOOD or BAD Flickr set.