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Gem of the Week: Wood iPods


We don’t know who this guy is, but we salute you! He made a fully functional fourth-generation iPod out of African Paduak wood, and we have to say, it’s beautiful. And so of-the-moment chic! If you want to know more about how he made it, more details here.


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Subway Series

The subway system has been on our minds for obvious reasons lately, and we recently stumbled across two interesting collections of metro miscellany. The first is more provincial in its focus —a look at all the art that decorates our fair city’s subway system (we’re a little embarrassed at how few of the works we actually recognize, but hello, cab addiction. Also, Brooklyn actively antagonizes us every time we try to cross the East River.)

The other is a compendium of international subway logos, which is, among other things, a fascinating glimpse at the many ways in which to draw the letter “M.”

We are, as in many pursuits, torn between fashion and function. Japan certainly has the most graphically appealing logos: We love the colorful matrix of dots that denotes Hiroshima’s public transit; ditto the tuning-fork-bisecting-a-circle that is Osaka and the mod green umbrella of Tokyo. But removed from context, it’s impossible to know what these symbols represent.


There are too many tired and dull logos to count, with two of the worst offenders being our own PATH train and the San Francisco BART system. Black and blue, ew. And a surprising number of logos that are indistinguishable from the Safeway sign.

The best ones favor modern and bright designs, clean lines, and are immediately recognizable as metro signs no matter where you are in the world. Cheers to London, Mexico City, and Helsinki!


When Marketing Goes Terribly Awry…

An anonymous Unbeige reader tips us off to the ad that ate Billboard magazine’s website:

If that image isn’t scary enough, trust us, there’s actually another banner ad below the fold and an animated square in the middle column. And if you manually type into your browser instead of clicking our link, you get the background wallpaper plus ad in all its full-screen glory. We of all people understand the sustainability that comes from banner ads—and we love the Butterscotch Stallion, too, though maybe not as much as this girl—but really. All of this is totally distracting us from why we’re really there: The SBC-sponsored featured artist Babyface. We’ll get to that just as soon as we finish reading “Backstreet Boys Offering Free Tour Tickets.” Hmm, perhaps there’s a method behind this distraction madness after all…

The New York Times is Such a Spoilsport

There’s more doom and gloom in today’s issue of the Times than your average Gina Kolata headline: We first recoiled at this Thursday Styles teaser: The promise that strength training speeds metabolism, allowing a person to lose weight effortlessly, is wrong. (While this has nothing to do with design, it is still disheartening.)

Then, Home & Garden kills off midcentury modern, neuters branded designers, and calls New Yorkers “chaste”. In another piece, furniture refurbisher Matthew Haly sniffs, “I’ve never paid more than $50 for any piece.” But while he disdains the Chelsea Flea Market, he coyly fails to mention where he does find said bargains. Rude.

We’re not even going to get into the Styles opener—which profiles people who are making major cash selling the equivalent of iron-on tees—except to say we do agree with Guy Trebay’s opening salvo (though we also thought briefly it might be a review of our bosses’ speaking engagement last night): NEVER underestimate the power of a martini when drafting a business plan. At least we can say amen to that.

Hello Kitty, Chinatsu, Izumi and Fujiko!

A reminder that this weekend is your last chance to catch a glimpse of elephants in underpants and all other sorts of other painfully adorable imagery at the Japan Society Gallery exhibit Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture. The exhibit

explores the culture of postwar Japan through its arts and popular visual media. Focusing on the phenomenally influential subcultures of otaku (roughly translated as “pop cult fanaticism”) and its relationships to Japan’s artistic vanguard, Takashi Murakami explores the historical influences that shape Japanese contemporary art and its distinct graphic idioms.

We got enough of Sanrio living in the Bay Area, and we can’t say we’re too into manga, but we can’t resist the utter cuteness of the two below:


In New York, the alacrity with which storefronts change ownership and completely overhaul interiors can be disconcerting (anybody else think we could apply some of that elbow grease to our city’s more vexing projects?), so we were glad to see that Williamsburg’s relatively new hipster destination, Barcade, had such a lengthy and well-documented gestation period. (We’re also relieved to finally identify the mystery bar that we overheard being described on the subway this weekend as a magical land of 25 beers and Frogger.)

In nine months, the bar went from this

to this:

to this:

and successfully married the 15-year-old boy mentality to its desire to attract a more mature crowd:

We also appreciate that the enterprising young lads who built the bar from scratch aren’t just fly-by-night retroists. These boys are clearly living the dream:

Periodically Yours

Within this blogger beats the heart of a reformed sceince nerd (oh boy, were we proud to recall the definition of “isotope” during a recent trivia smackdown) so you can bet the words “Click here for a slideshow about the periodic table” were music to our ears.

Over on Slate, writer Jon Lackman writes that the periodic table we all knew, loved/hated, memorized, and stuffed into countless three-ringed binders has undergone a makeover, courtesy of Oxford ecologist Philip Stewart. Out with the blocks and the footnotes, in with the swirly color-coded “chemical galaxy.” (Click to enlarge.)

Lackman is pretty worked up about the whole thing:

In the eyes of some, the old table is tired and dull-looking. For others, it is precisely the table’s minimalism that has given maximum freedom to the imagination. If that plain gray square in the middle, adorned simply with the letters “Au” and the number “79,” could represent gold, then what exotica might lurk behind “Rb” (rubidium) or “Mo” (molybdenum)?

We’re not thrilled about this new development either, and we already foresee a huge drawback: We hear students are using the “Internet” more than ever, and the new design is nearly impossible to read on our dinky monitor. Plus, look at the generational divide it’s already creating. We referred to the Internet as a strange and unknowable phenomenon! It’s only a matter of time before we start referring to the new design as “newfangled.” Thanks a lot, Stewart!

We’ll Have That Redesign Chicken-Fried To Go, Please

We’ve always been card-carrying, flag-waving Texas Monthly fans (which is, in our esteem, currently a better magazine than New York, though that bias could stem from our hometown’s proximity to the Mason-Dixon line) but we’ve been immersing ourselves in past issues lately for reasons that will become apparent on the mothership tomorrow. In fact, we’re so smitten with the look of the current issue that we decided to do some research into the redesign TM unveiled about a year ago.

Behold the 28-year-old creative director: Scott Dadich joined the art team back in 2000 (Yes, at age 23; yes, we’re jealous.) and as he’s risen in the ranks, the magazine’s just gotten purtier and purtier. TM, of course, has a long history of being incredibly good-looking (former AD DJ Stout is now a partner at Pentagram), but in Dadich’s hands, the book has really become something to behold.

The redesign brought more color, a playful use of parentheticals, L-shaped brackets in the gutters of edit pages to distinguish from ads, and a cool typeface, Sentinel, that was custom-made to be “distinctly Texas.” What that means, we’re not sure, but we believe it when we look at the display type that crimps where the lines of a letter meet. Just look at this “t” and try not to think of the notches in a longhorn, the curve of a saddle or spurs, and other stereotypical Tex-cessories!

Oh, and the photography’s also pretty top-notch, too. Here’s Dadich to PDN a few years back:

“The work the photographers were turning in was not that good,” says Dadich of his first year on the job. “I had several heated conversations with photographers who shot for the magazine for a long time. I put the photographers on notice that predictable and safe wasn’t going to be good enough… I’m looking for pictures that don’t default to a shooting standard of mythic Texas. We needed to go 180 degrees.”

“I have a specific goal and agenda for every piece. The photos tell a parallel story that goes to the emotional core. They build a mood, an alternate take. I want the readers to turn their head a little bit and ask, ‘What’s going on here?’”

Check and check. If you don’t stop to gawk at the queasy grotesquerie that accompanies this month’s article on chicken-fried everything, well, then, you’re made of heartier stock than we are.

We ♥ This Thread …

… on I Love Music, which envisions what would happen if other evil corporations starting co-opting famous album covers for their marketing campaigns. Here are our favorite Photoshop creations (Click to enlarge):

Tricycles, Transporters, and Rectal Thermometers, Oh My!

BusinessWeek announced this week the global winners of the Industrial Design Excellence Awards, sponsored by BW and run by the Industrial Designers Society of America. There are a whopping 158 winners, and we went through every single one so you don’t have to. (Actually, we sort of glazed over after no. 129, but we’re pretty sure it was just more iPod accessories and toilets so ergonomically designed they can go anywhere. Oh darling, let’s put the toilet between the divan and the club chair!) Anyway, we were inspired to give out a couple of awards of our own. Introducing… The Beigeness. Or something like that.

· The “Why Hasn’t Someone Thought of This Earlier?” Award
This was a tie between the Self-Watering Flowerpot and the SHIFT Concept Bicycle, which will all but eliminate the humiliating (but highly comical to onlookers) wobbly stage every kid must face when learning to ride a bike. (Which we’re kind of sad about. These kids already get free music, must they get everything handed to them?)

· The Creepiest Design Award
The Alienware ALX Desktop Computer is giving us the willies, and we certainly wouldn’t want it staring up at us from under the desk

· The Ugliest Design Award
No surprises here, it’s Nike. The Nike Considered Boot. We hate this boot. Also, your fucking swoosh is backwards.

· The Best Named Design
The BenQ LCD Monitor Crazy Arm, of course!

· The Best Design to Buy Our Boss for Christmas
The K2 T1 Boot with Boa Liner

· The Best Design to Break Out This Weekend
Another tie, between PerfectDraft, a home beer-brewing system, and the equally perfect Barrel Grill (which can hold BBQ accessories and function as a fireplace!)

· The Most Over-the-Top Commentary Award
Definitely Tucker Viemeister on the NetGear Platinum II: Imagine a Finnish housewife knitting an iPod-that would give you the idea of NetGear’s Platinum II. This is technology made human. The vent details make this product feel like some kind of embroidered plastic-an intersection of craft and high technology. The cool metal band presents the technology like a digital necklace. That info-graphic band shows that it’s active in an elegant way that would fit in a lavish men’s club or a trendy spa. Easy there, Tuck.

· The Dirtiest-Sounding Commentary Award
The Stanley FatMax Handsaw: The FatMax Hacksaw is a professional-grade high-tension hacksaw with a deep cutting capacity that can be used in tight, hard-to-reach areas. It replaces the need for both a deep throat and shallow throat saw through its unique arc shape that contains a sloping front and a deep throat in the rear. The design of the FatMax also allows for fast blade changing while maintaining the proper blade tension setting. Its I-beam metal structure conveys extreme strength and durability. With the FatMax, Stanley has been able to generate greater penetration and larger market share in the hacksaw market.

· The “These Are Like, SO, 1985″ Award
The Snap Bracelet Concept. Oh wait, that’s the SLAP bracelet.

· The “Ooh, Bugaboo, you got DISSED!” Award
The ZARA 3 stage transporter (aka a high-end baby stroller)

· We Didn’t Ask for Presents, But If You Simply Must…
The iXi Bike. iXi, we would never abandon you chained to a pole!

· Our Genuinely Most Favorite Design of the Year
The iRobot Roomba Discovery Floorvac. This really is a genius invention, and it combines two of our favorite things, robots and cleanliness! How could anything beat it?

· Most Unintentionally Hilarious Accompanying Artwork
The Vigital Digital Thermometer Family – Baby Rectal.