I grew up in Baldwin, N.Y., a small town that loved to have parades in which the school bands, boy scouts, veterans groups and almost every civic organization would march happily down the main street. At the same time, being only... [more]
I grew up in Baldwin, N.Y., a small town that loved to have parades in which the school bands, boy scouts, veterans groups and almost every civic organization would march happily down the main street. At the same time, being only about 20 miles from Manhattan, there was an awareness of being part of a bigger, more complex and interesting world. This childhood dichotomy of the local, immediate and personal existing with the global, conceptual and universal has shaped my approach to life and work to this day. I currently have a design studio called 'superorganism' in downtown los angeles that takes a programmatic approach to designing custom lighting, furniture and architectural environments. I also have worked extensively in the visual arts and photography.
Often the repetition in advertising creates its own logic. Why is a tiger a better symbol for a brand of sugar coated corn flakes than a white seal? I like to think this character's name is "Frosty the Seal". (After all, seals often live in cold climates where it could be considered "frosty" but tigers rarely do.) The random choices of advertising cartoon characters is made apparent by the unfamiliarity of generic packaging. That's also why it's funny to see recognizable products in other countries with seemingly incongruous character mascots. On the whole, I like this package- the bright blues contrast with the natural shades of the cereal, red and yellow accents, and that happy seal who looks truly excited and proud to present "Hojuelas de Maiz Escarchadas" to the world.
At the top right corner of the bag is a wry touch. Someone thought instructions and a dotted line would be the same as adding a feature to this packaging design. Does the person who came up with this have a highly developed ironic sense of humor or are they completely lacking in any understanding of comedy?
Maybe I can use this strategy. My next post could be titled "Interesting Info Just For YOU!" with instructions to get up and read something interesting and then come back here.
The goal of urban planning is to improve the functionality of a city. It is a goal that can be quantified, measured and accomplished to varying degrees. People and freight will move more quickly, density will be higher or lesser, land values will go up, crime will go down, incomes rise and deaths descend. This is a definition of urban success that has a somewhat circular quality, a self referential loop that defines a city by amounts and efficiencies. The posts here instead look at an urban experience. The Rock Garden of Chandigarh was built secretly and illegally, the man responsible was not prosecuted or jailed but encouraged and lauded. This unplanned project in the biggest planned city in India has survived within the failed schema for a modern city that could only be envisioned but never achieved. Wayne Thiebaud is the artist most famous for painting cakes. I enjoy his lesser known views of cities that seem to capture everything urban is. Finally, a series of videos of a type of public performance that could only have meaning in a city. Between these three posts I hope I have not defined 'urban' but touched on something that is understood by anyone as 'city'. This quality is hard to design, it's easier to build a bigger road.
I live within walking distance of the largest Sears on the west coast. The actual store may not be the largest but the Art Deco building that houses it was once the western distribution center for Sears. This 10 story building covering a vast industrial parcel rises another 4 stories at one corner to form a grand crowning conference room with sets of narrow floor to ceiling windows on the four equal sides. On the outside wrapping the top of this space, to the east, south, west and north, heroic green neon letters announce “SEARS”. If you travel anywhere within miles of this beacon on the east side of Los Angeles, the glowing letters are a marker and reference, a terrestrial lighthouse, not warning of danger, but the comfort of commerce. Then there is the Sears tool catalog- a glossy collection of page after page of color photos. I love the Sears tool catalog. As a designer and fabricator I have learned that when I’m working with tools and the job is hard or not going well, that’s because there’s a better tool for the task. There is always a better tool. The catalog does not explain this, or prove it, or convince you- they show you. If you thought that 4 screwdrivers and 8 wrenches would handle any job, they show you what 32 screwdrivers, 128 wrenches. 14 drivers and 67 specialty tools would look like! The quantities are displayed in carefully choreographed photo layouts, lovingly and efficiently styled to suggest ever flowing mechanical plenty. A recent article in the New York Times talked about how the brain learns numbers and quantities. "A crude “number instinct” is hard-wired into the anatomy of the brain, recent research has found. Mammals can quickly recognize differences in quantity, choosing the tree or bush with the most fruit. Human beings, even if they live in remote cultures with no formal math education, have a general grasp of quantities as well, anthropologists have found. In a series of recent imaging studies, scientists have discovered that a sliver of the parietal cortex, on the surface of the brain about an inch above the ears, is particularly active when the brain judges quantity. In this area, called the intraparietal sulcus, clusters of neurons are sensitive to the sight of specific quantities, research suggests." The Sears marketing team has inadvertently learned how to fire the part of the intraparietal sulcus that responds to “more than I can imagine”. You don’t need to imagine, they will show you.
Or would that be the Pro-Gun Master Mega Set? A name that suggests they may transform into other tools. This page illustrates the whimsical approach to image bleed and cropping. Haphazard layout decisions lend a certain jaunty insouciance that contrasts with the highly codified photo styling.
These two examples reveal, I think, the personality of different stylists. The first image shows tools in groups of simple arcs- straightforward scientific simplicity and beauty. The second suggests an inspiration from organic structures- the lower image could be a plant from Avatar.
Sometimes Sears product design, in this case color coding of different size tools, while adding functionality has unfortunate connotations. The Craftsman logo and the colors bear too great a similarity to a famous crayon. Maybe they hoped to create subliminal desire.
These two pages also show a difference in the personality of the stylist. The upper image styling constructs a rational space. Subtle curving groups at the top form a linear wall to define the background. The midfield color elements push your eye to the foreground which is animated by simple silver fans. The individual groups are kept mostly separate with little overlap. The lower image depicts an irrational space. Repetition of swirl patterns at four corners collapses the space and hinders a perspectival reading, the great variety of tool arrangements provide reference points for the chaotic overlap of motifs. The groupings have little space between them and often run into each other creating a secondary web pattern that adds to a graphic interpretation.
At this scale, the quantity is overwhelming and the image takes on the dry quality of a map or diagram. If this were the size of a wall there would be an interesting tension between the purely visual flow of pattern and the ability to scrutinize groups or individual tools to extract discrete information. It makes me wonder about the person arranging 1,468 items for the photo shoot. Do they ever get to one corner and realize that a tool set was left out and have to start over?
This is a collection of performance pieces spontaneously staged in cities. It is a necessarily urban art form that relies on our knowing acceptance of social protocol for public spaces. The context of how we are expected to behave and the way things are supposed to happen provide the framework for events that are out of place. Performances like these fall somewhere between the unintended theater of strangers and planned gatherings such as parades, protests and entertainments.
Do-Re-Mi in Belgium
McDonalds Men's Room Attendant Times Square
A full explanation of the planning and carrying out of the McDonalds mission is here:
In 1999, an edition of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities with illustrations by Wayne Thiebaud was published in hardcover by Arion Press.
"The book, because of its approach to the imaginative potentialities of cities, has been used by architects and artists to visualize how cities can be, their secret folds, where the human imagination is not necessarily limited by the laws of physics or the limitations of modern urban theory. It offers an alternative approach to thinking about cities, how they are formed and how they function." via: Wikipedia
I can’t imagine a more perfect pairing of text and images. Unfortunately, this version is out of print and difficult to find.
Instead I have collected a sampling of paintings by Wayne Thiebaud that portray the experience of architecture and cities. To me these paintings render a vision that many travelers have attempted to capture when taking photographs on vacation. Although obviously influenced by living in San Francisco, Thiebaud’s paintings don’t reveal so much a point of view or opinion but rather present the idea of 'city' in a way that reflects the emotions of encountering a city: awe, curiosity, anxiety, giddiness, joy, expectation, disorientation. And then the questions: Where does this street go? What can you see from the top of that building?, followed by an anticipation of exploration: walking, biking, moving fast up and down, crosstown in cars, elevators, trains.
I think Wayne Thiebaud loves cities.
There is a traveling retrospective of Wayne Thiebauds work currently at the Pasadena Museum of California Art: