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Choo-Choo Choose A New Design Already*

nycsubway_socks.jpgWe stumbled across a collection of NYC subway maps and thought it was interesting that the MTA has produced close to 50 variations of the same subway map design since 1998. Perhaps they’re either too busy trying to get robots to drive the L train, or they’re too broke because they’re lying about their budget, but either way, we’ve been stuck with the same dreary map since 1998. Perhaps the MTA should do something about it?

They’re much more dreary when you view them all together. We’re sadists, so check them out in big and/or bigger sizes:

ooooh, that’s huge
get that fucking thing away from me!

The past few MTA designs have been pretty dull and tended to look like those subway maps tourists would actually buy in Times Square. We did like a couple of designs, especially this 1958 map and Massimo Vignelli’s elegant redesign from 1972:

Here’s Vignelli’s 1972 map compared to the current MTA map:

*Sorry, I’ve always wanted to use that Ralph Wiggum reference.

‘Zine Sweep

That Vogue should make us feel sartorially inferior is a given. But now we’ve been shamed on our own turf! The fashion bible’s online presence,, today introduces us to things we really ought to know more about: really cool ‘zines. (Though this is, perhaps, why has an Ellie and we do not.)

Thank heavens for some familiar suspects: Tokion‘s old news, we’ve done Peter Arkle, and Found magazine is a perennial Unbeige favorite.

But then there are these undiscovered beauties:

Parfait, hand-stitched and letter-pressed by founder Emily Larned, is:

An artist’s workbook of ideas: essays, creative nonfiction, pictures, & experiments. Topics include (but are by no means limited to): Paul McCartney’s solo records, Norwegian knitting patterns, natural history museums, Alain Delon vs. Jean-Paul Belmondo, category mistakes, modernity in the mid-19th century, reviews of out-of-print books, Red Pandas, grammar workbook errors, and the relative scariness of dry vs. wet monsters.

It’s also completely gorgeous:

You can buy Parfait from (Larned is the vice president of Booklyn, a nonprofit artists’ collective where you can also find cool stuff by Chuck Close and John Hodgman.)

Also check out Skate Tough You Little Girls, the pet project of a 32-year-old librarian skate punk; Slave to the Needles, which finds its niche in indie rockers who knit; and Larceny, published to coincide with Barry “Twist” McGee’s installation at the Deitch Projects.

(Related tangent: Dig the Deitch Project’s website, fashioned after old-school Warhol Brillo boxes.)

Thanks to Clotheshoarse for the link.

What were they thinking?

marcreport.jpgPaul Frankenstein pointed me to this poster for the Baltimore-D.C. MARC commuter train.

Now, I’m all for stark, totalitarian images that evoke repressive communist regimes and Orwellian levels of government surveillance, but really.

Actually, I’m curious about who signed off on that design.

That said, we almost did the same thing with the UnBeige logo banner. (I suggested that we use the red, black and yellow color scheme to give it a revolutionary feel, and at one point, the design included an upraised fist. Then Kenny wisely suggested that it looked a little, uh, fascist.)

That Quotable Tibor


My hardback of Perverse Optimist had been long lost, left behind in California because I’d loaned it to a friend and forgotten that I had, and then he reminded me (fool!) and then *he* couldn’t find it. So he just sent me a new (to me) hardcover in the mail. Happy me, maybe happy you, if you can stand more Tibor quotes. Here are a few from the first few pages of the book.

Rules are good. Break them.

Good designers (and writers and artists) make trouble.

And another one that I really should tape to my bathroom mirror as a daily affirmation (except that’s not so much my thing.):

Eventually you’ll forget all this but there will be plenty of new ideas to choose from. And I believe that they’ll be better.

The image above is from Colors 4 (Race), published in 1993. (What if… Queen Elizabeth was black?)

Comic Coolness

dcnational.jpgShortly after I posted about the new DC Comics Logo yesterday, Michael Bierut and I traded some email about the fact that the (better) logo that DC just replaced, known as the “bullet logo”, was designed by none other than Milton Glaser. I had read about it in the letter from the publisher on the DC site, but I was too lazy (well, busy really) to research the genesis of the logo.

dclogo80s.gifEmail from designer Jeff Stockwell this morning was the nudge I needed (Thanks, Jeff) to go do some poking around. That and a nice strong cup of coffee and that oh-so-fleeting “Today is the first day of the rest of my life!” ambition that usually deserts me about an hour into the day. Anyway, I digress. Jeff wrote:

You may want to edit your DC Comics post to include that the DC “bullet” that was replaced was designed by Milton Glaser. No wonder it was so cool and lasted for so long.

Turns out that Glaser designed the logo in 1977, which I found out on this very interesting DC Timeline, which includes bits of trivia like:

1835 (Jan) Nathaniel Hawthorne creates America’s first superhero, as The Grey Champion appears in New England Magazine.

As Michael said about Glaser + the DC bullet: Who knew?

Miss(ed) Manners

applenotecard.jpgGetting my act together with regard to social correspondence is a perennial New Year’s resolution for me. I think my poor form in this regard is some teenage rebellion hangover that I’ve never recovered from. For as long as I can remember, my mother has kept a large agenda on the dresser in her bedroom and slipped into the pages are occasional cards, bought far far far in advance, commemorating birthdays, anniversaries and graduations of friends, friends’ children and family members. I am the sort of girl you’ll find shuffling through the slim selection of Hallmark cards in the supermarket on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. It’s tragic, truly. Especially considering the high regard I have for receiving paper mail, which has only increased as more and more of my personal and businss communication is conducted via email (or IM).

Lately I’ve been of the mind that I simply lack the proper tools. I’m convinced that if only I had the finest pen and stationery, writing a pithy and warm note to my host or hostess after a dinner party would be as natural to me as IMing absurd links to my friends in California is. So I’ve been on the hunt. I could stock up on pre-printed notecards – there is a vast array of choices.

But no, right now I am preoccupied with getting engraved stationery, because hey look, I’m a classy lady. And a print geek to boot. The gold standard amongst the society folks is Mrs John L Strong. (Clearly their web presence is not a priority – the placeholder page at that URL lists the physical stores you can visit to purchase their “Fine StationAry”. Hello.) Alas, such luxury comes at a price well beyond my means. So, I’m the hunt for something of that ilk, but you know, affordable.

Right now, I’m enjoying educating myself about the particulars of making such a purchase.

Till then, I am going to make do with ThankYous of the store bought variety. If you’ve done something nice for me lately, keep an eye on your mailbox.

(You can find the notecard pictured here at Pancake & Franks.)

Brilliant BüKs

Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes fame pointed me towards Bük:

BüK is an inexpensive
pamphlet—just $1.49—containing one provocative essay,
short story, portfolio of pictures, collection of poems, or other
surprising entertainment, readable in the time it takes to drink
a cup of coffee. At 5 x 7 inches and 16-32 pages, a BüK fits
easily into a pocket, purse or backpack, where it is always ready
to serve up absorbing material by or about architects, artists, actors,
composers, critics, directors, designers, divas, educators, economists,
environmentalists, essayists, models, moguls, novelists, photographers,
politicians, poets, singers, and scientists.

As is becoming embarrasingly well-documented here, I am a freak for the magazines. These little babies are irresistible to me. I just ordered the BüK Collector’s Kit. I don’t usually fall for the package deal things, but the logo is outstanding and the kind of thing that I’d be happy to see on my morning cup of coffee.

Little Jacket – It Pays to Advertise

mmousebrownbig.gifOn my way to the gallery a few moments ago, I spotted a snipe on the future home of Lachlan Murdoch for a company called Little Jacket. Their tag line is “like design and stuff”. The caption to the poster is “Little Jacket… its kinda like givin’ a scissor kick to Paula Poundstone.” I have no idea what that means, but I was intrigued enough to pull the snipe down and bring it with me.

I went to look at their site and it turns out they’ve done some interesting project, including the Modest Mouse poster pictured here. Their portfolio shows work for a diverse range of clients: The Audubon Society, An Ice Cream Parlor and The Surf Rider Foundation to name a few.

They also have about 20 or so posters available for purchase, aside from the Modest Mouse one there are a few for French Kicks and some art exhibition related ones too.

They are based in Kent, Ohio, but they sure seem to get a around a good deal. What I like about their work is that they have established a strong style, but it’s adaptable to the particular client they are working with. That’s a hard balance to strike.

Menu Mania


There are lots of posts in the blogosphere about the New York Public library’s recently launched Digital Gallery. I posted my own NYC real-estate obsessed version last week.

The Food Section weighed in with their History in Menus item, which focuses in on one of the more unusual collections on the NYPL site, the Miss Frank E. Buttolph American Menu Collection, 1856-1930.

I had browsed the collection when the site first launched, but gave up quickly because the site was achingly slow at that point. But its mere existence got me thinking about the fact that menus are very interesting as design artifacts, even (and sometimes especially) the paper ones that litter apartment building doorways and pile up haphazardly in the apartments of almost every New Yorker I know. You can get your menus online more and more. I am especially fond of browsing Amazon‘s weird Restaurants section where the physical menus have all been scanned in individually. (Hello, business model anyone? I can’t seem to figure it out.)

The other night I was dining in high style with some friends: take out faux-burritos from Burritoville (warning: dumb musical flash scariness at that link). They recently redid all their packaging, branding and menus. My friends scoffed at the idea when I said I was almost certain that they must have paid someone to do it. (Or had someone in-house doing their design, which I kind of doubt.) I agree with them that it’s not fabulously designed, but someone did design it. Menus are somewhat unsung from a design perspective, at least to the average person. But really, when you think about it, they’re a very interesting design challenge: God knows I’ve seen some incredibly poorly executed menus in terms of information design, and of course, their look and feel can go a long way towards branding the restaurant itself.

Some places have menus that I particularly love: PUBLIC restaurant in NYC is a great example, as well it should be, the restaurant is owned by design firm AvorKO. And I’m sure none of you will be surprised to hear that I’m fond of the simplicity of Florent‘s menu. All of Keith McNally‘s restaurant menus (and branding overall) are notable as well.

What are the menus you love (or hate)? Send .jpgs or links to jen AT unbeige DOT com.

Keeping Busy, Going Slower


When I’m not blogging, or splattering milk all over my kitchen, I’m running my gallery. One of the aspects of promoting the gallery and its exhibitions that I’ve really enjoyed is printing: letterhead, business cards, exhibition postcards, all of it. I was very fortunate to have the help of lots of great, talented friends when I first opened (and to this very day). Dana came up with a type treatment for my name, and we based my colors on what I had chosen for text and background colors on my Fotolog page. Simple, but it worked.

My friend Kayhan built on what Dana started – he came and spent time in the space, talked with me about my ideas (gently steering me away from the bad ones) and came up with an identity design that is distinctive, but flexible. The simple band design, which you see on the postcard above has worked perfectly for every show I’ve had since the gallery opened – nineteen and counting!

My resources are pretty limited – I certainly don’t have the print budget that a Chelsea gallery does, but I’ve figured out a way to print cards that usually come out looking pretty spiffy. I had one unfortunate incident when I ran a print job twice, for this image: the first run way was too magenta, the second too cyan. We ended up using the second batch, but man, they were way way way off. It was crazymaking.

eshepard_armory.jpgAt first, I tried to work with small shops where I could actually get a proof before they did they job, but the cost was prohibitive. Now I have settled on a gang-run house, Compucolor. It’s not always a perfect color match but they are affordable, and fast. Dana finished this card and uploaded it to their site yesterday evening – the cards (5,000 of them) were delivered to the gallery about an hour ago. And they look awesome, I have to say!

And now, I will pimp the upcoming show: photographs by none other than one Mr. Eliot Shepard, he of fame. (Also, an occasional member of Gawker‘s Team Party Crash.) I am immeasurably excited about this show, it’s been a long time in the making.