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Archives: June 2008

SparkAwards to Recognize Great Design, from Architecture to Web

sparky.jpgThey call it “a bold new competition.” They say it “leaps beyond the mid-century view of design.” They are a design initiative known as Spark, which is holding a great big design competition—emphasis on great, as the jury is chaired by Pentagram’s Kit Hinrichs and composed of members such as Chee Pearlman, Mark Gobe, and fuseproject’s Josh Morenstein. These design luminaries and many others will be judging the SparkAwards, “the world’s first multi-level design competition,” which (much like a certain blog) aims to encompass everything from architecture to product design, cars to washer-dryers, computers to books, advertising to advocacy. The organizers are now accepting entries in a giant list of categories from “all designers, art directors, design firms and departments, ad agencies, marketing and branding practices, clients, manufacturers and student or novice designers.” The first deadline of the two-phase entry process is August 1. Get the full scoop here.

George Lois Maddened by Mad Men

mad men.jpgIn Sunday’s New York Times magazine, Alex Witchel looked at the AMC network’s retro hit Mad Men, which begins its second season on July 27. We confess that we watch each episode twice, once with the sound on and then again on mute, so as to better contemplate the stellar sets, vintage props, and bold-hued womenswear (kudos, costume designer Janie Bryant). But we’re not sure if series creator Matthew Weiner would approve of our approach. “The design is not the star of the show,” he tells Witchel. “I don’t want to be distracted by it.”

Witchel’s piece examines how Mad Men depicts the advertising world of the early 1960s, psychoanalyzes Weiner (perhaps he eschews on-the-nose writing because of “the lack of direct communication with his parents”?), and surveys some Madison Avenue veterans on how life at Sterling Cooper (the show’s fictional ad agency) measures up to the reality as they remember it. Famed art director George Lois is not amused. Read on for his wrath.

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Ocean Liner Memories for Sale Tonight at Christie’s

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Before the days of “design hotels” and Raymond Loewy-appointed Concordes there were ocean liners, crossing and cruising while playing out a luxurious game of oneupsmanship when it came to speed, size, and over-the-top decorative flourishes (verre églomisé, anyone?). This evening in New York City, Christie’s will auction 257 lots worth of ocean liner history, from a cork-filled canvas life preserver recovered from the wreck of the Titanic and a rare list of second class passengers aboard the doomed maiden voyage to a 1935 lithograph of Cassandre‘s iconic Normandie poster (pictured above, at far left) and a life ring from the ship.

smoking room.jpgOther items in the sale that caught our eye include a dashing French Line uniform, with a red wool “mousse jacket” that features a carapace of metal buttons and a certain Marc Jacobs flair; a trio of nautical-themed Hermès scarves (also designed for the French Line); and a mid-century French modernist chandelier (pictured above) made by Gilbert Poillerat for the André Arbus-designed first class smoking room on board the France. Meanwhile, in our heads we’ve designed the perfect gentleman’s study around the set of four running lights, complete with protruding wires, salvaged from the mast of the Norway. For those who can’t make it to tonight’s sale, which will decide the fate of the only ice bucket we’ve ever coveted, we advise you to curl up with maritime historian extraordinaire John Maxtone-Graham‘s latest book, a fascinating and beautiful look at Normandie: France’s Legendary Art Deco Ocean Liner.

A Talk with Mr. Stereophonic: Bang & Olufsen’s Chief Designer, David Lewis

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Okay, after all that fussing and getting steamed up over nothing, we need something calming to go over. So we turn to music, or rather, the thing that plays the music. The Wall Street Journal has up a really great interview with David Lewis, the chief designer at Bang & Olufsen (the company who makes those sound systems you’d love to have but can’t even so much as afford their smallest tweeter). It’s a pretty terrific read, learning how the company creates their products, particularly with their decision to forgo hiring an in-house staff and instead using freelance designers. Lewis is great too, talking about the process between he and his staff, the massive changes in the company’s management (which seems to happen every couple of years), and how they manage the pressure to keep up to date:

The whole scene has changed. Ten years ago, a 20-year-old television was still fine. Today, technology ensures that a TV that old is totally outdated. Even so, for a company B&O’s size, products have to last long. B&O can’t afford to make such a product and discontinue it a few months later. We wouldn’t dream of doing something that wouldn’t hold. This is part of the culture.

Today there’s too much pressure, not just for designers. It’s disappointing in a way. You can miss cool things — afterthoughts, great little ideas — in the design process because it goes so fast.

The Chubby Fingered and Long Nailed Among Us Demand iPhone Design Changes

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We must’ve woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning or something, because here’s another piece of writing that has us upset. We’d heard little flitters about this here and there, in between all the initial hubbub last year, but when seeing the whole collection of complaints put together in “The iPhone Fingernail Problem,” it kinda makes us want to yell at something. Basically, the story boils down to a number of people complaining that the iPhone is a) unfair to people with large fingers and, even more ridiculously b) somehow misogynistic because it’s hard to use if you have really long fingernails. So, obviously, these people want Apple to go in and redesign the absurdly popular device to fit their unique needs. Really, you’ll enjoy reading the whole thing a lot more if you play banjo music in the background and read each quote slowly and using your best yokel accent.

‘Greening’ Isn’t Always So Good

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We’re sure to get lots of hate mail for this one, which we’re okay with (better angry mail than a life of sob-filled solitude, right?). So after reading stories like “The New Trophy Home, Small and Ecological,” which is about people like John Cusack and Pierce Brosnan jumping on the green bandwagon by thinking about purchasing $2.8 million dollar, gigantic luxury homes that will produce their own energy, despite the fact that it will take the power of seventeen villages to build the behemoths, we get a little cynical and return to a story from a while back about the co-opting of the green movement, taking the message from “Buy less and use less” to “Don’t change a thing and maybe even buy more! Just make sure it’s vaguely, sorta green-ish!” And when we’re really fired up at this black and white perception of earthiness, we like reading stories like this one in the SF Gate about the big troubles with building using recycled home furnishings, because it shows that things aren’t so simple in dealing with all the junk we have and keep making. Okay, lecture over. We’re going to go back to clubbing baby seals.

A Look Back at Six Months of Design Fellowshipery at Chronicle

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Wonder what it’s like to spend time with our friends over at Chronicle? Now over at the publisher’s blog, the lucky people who were selected for the company’s five Design Fellowship, each with their own emphasis, from industrial to publishing design, are writing up what their experiences were like in the form of “colorful analogies” and showing off the wide variety of projects they worked on during their time there (including Chloe Fung‘s terrific new packaging for our friend Amy’s Little Pea book). Here’s from Brad Mead:

The Publishing Design Fellowship is like seeing a giant squid wearing sunglasses. It’s intimidating and surreal until you actually encounter it. Then, it’s still awe-inspiring, but not quite so foreign and you actually begin to feel like you have something in common with the thing you so admired. Plus it looks totally cool.

Louise Sandhaus Shakes Up L.A. Design History

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As Frank Lloyd Wright once noted, “If you tilt the whole country sideways, Los Angeles is the place where everything loose will fall.” Designer and CalArts faculty member Louise Sandhaus has sorted through the rubble to better understand how the city formed its unique graphic design style. The findings of her ongoing project, “Earthquakes, Mudslides, Fires, and Riots: California and Graphic Design,” are on view through July 13 at L.A.’s Municipal Art Gallery, reports Hugh Hart in his recent piece in the Los Angeles Times.

“Half-seriously, I began thinking in my crackpot imagination that graphic designers here [in L.A.] don’t stick to tradition because the ground isn’t firm enough,” Sandhaus told Hart of the idea she hatched five years ago for a book proposal. “These great shifts might be connected to disaster, but earthquakes, mudslides, fires, and civil uprisings also produce change.” Bolstering her case in the exhibition are posters, magazine ads, book covers, and fonts dating from 1935 to 1985 and infused with surf, sun, and the occasional controlled substance. Among them are hand-drawn covers for the free newspaper Kalifower, such as the one above from January 1970, which goes along with this week’s Bucky Fuller theme (the cover story notes that geodesic domes “are lately enjoying an unprecedented popularity for reasons of their essential usefulness”).

Meanwhile, Hart adds a bit about the show that didn’t make it into print, telling us that “one of the categories for [Sandhaus's] concept is ‘Sun-Baked Modernism’—exemplified by the uber-elegant book cover designer Alvin Lustig.” As if you needed another reason to look forward to Steven Heller‘s imminent book about him.

Philippe Vergne Named Director of Dia Art Foundation

vergne.jpgAs the Metropolitan Museum of Art tends to the task of replacing one Philippe, the Dia Art Foundation has snatched up another, today announcing the appointment of Philippe Vergne as director of the 34-year-old nonprofit institution. Vergne, currently the deputy director and chief curator at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, starts at Dia on September 15. He succeeds Jeffrey Weiss, who resigned in March.

As Dia director, Verne will oversee not only the glorious Dia:Beacon museum but also the foundation’s long-term art installations scattered throughout the country (Robert Smithson‘s embattled “Spiral Jetty” among them) and a contemporary art program in New York City that is still in need of a home. “Beyond being an institution, Dia is a laboratory and a muse. It represents a necessary, dynamic model—one that has challenged, refined, and deepened the rules of institutional engagement with artists, their art, and their audiences,” said Vergne is a statement issued by Dia this morning. “I am looking forward to working with and learning from Dia’s outstanding staff and its highly dedicated board in leading this unique and inspiring institution towards a new chapter.” Want to know more about Vergne? Click “continued…” for a full bio.

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Qatar Steel Hires Designer Syd Mean to Predict the Future for Them

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Proof that we will all soon be living in a time when everyone in the world is envious of a small stretch of ocean-front land in the Middle East, PSFK is reporting that the Qatar Steel corporation has hired industrial designer and artist Syd Mead to paint a portrait of what their home town of Doha might look like in the near future. Mead, who, among a billion other projects over the years, consulted on the looks of almost every influential movie about the future, including Tron and Blade Runner, offered the company up a painting with space ships and crazy Zaha Hadid-esque skyscrapers. That’s cool and all, but we think the real story is just below the surface. We think the people at Qatar Steel hired Mead, saw what he came up with, sat down with the checkbook and a handful of architects and designers and said, “Okay, here’s a blank check. Make everything in this painting happen in about two years. Start with those hovering spaceships. Those are wicked cool.” (It should be noted that we don’t really think they say ‘wicked cool’ in Qatar’s native tongue, but we desperately wish it were true. In our minds, they’re also saying it in a New England accent, too).

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