inspiration

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Laurie Anderson’s commencement address to the SVA Class of 2012.

I enjoyed this so, so much. Several lifetimes worth of ideas and inspiration here.

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Coralie

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Modern Zoo, part 2. I skipped B for Berthe the bat, because I love Coralie so much (le serpent corail). One by one, I’m re-drawing Lou Klein’s alphabetical origami zoo.

Lou contacted me via this site when I made the original post, and I asked him to write back and tell me about his life, since I couldn’t find anything about him online. Here’s what Lou wrote:

Since creating “Animals to Fold” (that was the name of the English language edition) quite a few years have elapsed and I’ve had a varied career in design, education and publishing in the USA and England. I taught at The School of Visual Arts in NYC, lectured in many art colleges in Great Britain but especially The Royal College of Art (5 years as a senior lecturer and 5 years as head of graphic design). During that period I also spent a semester at Yale as visiting professor and acting head of graphics.

In London I was creative director at Grey Advertising followed by establishing my own design group. During that period I created the “pencil” award which is the “Oscar” that’s given out by the British Design & Art Direction Association for design, advertising, etc. in various categories (I won 5 of them myself in the “best Direct Mail” category).

I was also consultant to Time Life Books in London and set up a design department for their British Empire Magazine project with the BBC. Eventually I was appointed Director of Design for Time Life Books in the USA. There I worked on new product development (mostly book series). All of my personal work has preceded computers and none has been digitised. The bulk of my work remains out of reach as slides and print samples in cardboard boxes in London. However, if you’d like to see some recent work. which is mostly 3 dimensional, my daughter created this web site.

Let me know what you think.
Lou Klein

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Bruno Munari, on beauty.

“If you want to know something else about beauty, what precisely it is, look at a history of art. You will see that every age has had its ideal Venus (or Apollo), and that all these Venuses or Apollos put together and compared out of the context of their periods are nothing less than a family of monsters.”
From Design as Art (1966).

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Paola Antonelli: “The museum is a mirror.”

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Another great Swiss Miss Creative Morning, this time with Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. I have a soft spot for former architects (or rather, “trained as but never worked as” like myself) because the interdisciplinary connections can be rich. She talked about this today, and her own attraction to “the curious octopus” — she says this is how she wants to live intellectually in her own mind — multiple arms reaching and grabbing and connecting architecture, design, art, science and technology. That’s how I want to live too!
I’ve seen Paola speak before and I marvel at her ability to engage an audience. I’ve never seen anyone do it quite as well as her, except perhaps this guy. She’s got an ease, a passion, a sort of casual fluidity to the way she speaks that belies her real position (considered to be one of the most powerful in the art world). Maybe it’s an Italian thing? I just got back from Rome, where this kind of bravado is really in the air.
Paola talked about design of course, and how the design community in NYC has shifted during the last 16 years. She started by comparing Milan’s regional strength (design) to New York’s (art) in 1994, when she arrived here. There’s a kind of normalcy in the way design belongs to life in Europe, and how it breeds a kind of everyday design culture that she felt was lacking in America (I admit, I still feel this). She traces this inferiority complex back to the 18th century, when we began importing culture from France. But she recognized New York’s strength in contemporary art (“in Italy art ended with Dada”) and today she traced the coming-together of art, design and architecture through technology and economic crisis from 1994 until now.
Here are a few notes:

  • Today ours is a generation of lost architects — only 70+ year old architects get to build — so many architects have turned to design (so true!)
  • While Apple has raised the everyday design standard there’s been a decrease in the object as we now turn to interdisciplinary, ethereal, conversational and experimental design.
  • Romanticized or not, Paola proclaims that this is a great moment for design — it’s a force that means good business, good politics and good image-building
  • Design education has shifted from silos to interdisciplinary programs
  • Technology pre-9/11 was a time of great promise but a lot of frustration (difficulty in making connections). Her Design and the Elastic Mind attempted to show how that has changed — how technology now seamlessly brings together design and science to create objects and scenarios, to plant the seeds. Of all of the exhibitions that she has created, this is her favorite.
  • When curating a show she likes to leave it unfinished. Like architects who have a desire to never complete the project, she says that if you leave an exhibition unfinished you give a gift to the public — you let them finish it. You leave them with somewhere else to go.
  • Her newest project at MoMA is called Talk to Me, exploring the overt communication between people and objects. Designers are the interface, bring innovation to life, write the script for this dialogue.
  • This is an exhibition about process, so rather than present a checklist, she’s blogging the show as it forms and transforms (a big “minestrone”).
  • Paola shows us a diagram: “media” (the real world) on the left, and “digital media” (the ethereal) on the right. The space in-between is where we’ll live in the future, the liminal space of augmented reality where the real and the ethereal merge
  • The “@” symbol: a non-acquisition for MoMA — her proudest in the last six months
  • With a mission to educate, she feels that this kind of museum acquisition (“tagging” rather than purchasing) is very important, a must for the collection. “It’s like the symbol is in the air, and we captured its shadow.” From the middle ages the symbol has been in use and in 1971 it was re-used, recycled and repurposed — this is what we want design to be.
  • The idea of “tagging:” objects that you really can’t have because they belong to everyone, things that are in inner or outer space (or even entire buildings — should they be part of a museum’s collection?)

More re: the “@” symbol: “The museum is a mirror, it makes us feel validated. These are the services that we already use, but can’t posses. The more design becomes conceptual, digital and liminal, the more we have to adapt our ideas about curating.”

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1936.

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“In the month of February were born Washington Lincoln and I.
These are ordinary ideas. If you please these are ordinary ideas.”

Gertrude Stein, Thornton Wilder, Random House, 1936. First edition. 2,000 copies, most were destroyed (so it is written in pencil in the inside front cover).
Is there a more beautiful book spine in the world?

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The power of pull.

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This is not a design post, but in a way it is.
I recently had the privilege of attending a launch event for the new book The Power of Pull, by the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation guys: John Seely Brown, John Hagel III and Lang Davison. This wasn’t just another book signing — Seely Brown and Hagel were interviewed by John Heilemann on stage at the Times Center and we had access to an in-depth conversation about how the world is shifting from push to pull — from 20th century strategies of total predictability and stabilization to knowledge flow. Here are my notes from the interview (I haven’t read the book yet).
What is pull? John and John identify three ways to get into the discussion: access, attraction and achievement. Access is about orchestrating the best of the best. They use the obvious (and already dated) example of the iPod — how Steve Jobs created something new by drawing out extraordinary people and resources towards a goal. Access is getting easier everyday, and today the idea of pulling powerful resources on demand is almost expected.

  • Spikes So interesting: the paradoxical idea that if the world is flat and everything/one is accessible, why does talent tend to come together in “spikes?” If you’re in a spike, you have more unexpected encounters. Where you place yourself — physically and virtually — is a choice. And if you find yourself in a spike, how do you stand out? Putting out beacons: going to conferences, hanging out in the in-between spaces and encouraging unexpected encounters. Today, attraction is about shaping serendipity.
  • Making 20th century institutions are running faster and faster in place, and losing position. The power of pull means turning the performance curve on its head by creating spaces for “making.” They use World of Warcraft as their primary example here. Fascinating — that the “guild” in WoW is the kind of space that encourages productive friction, that yields achievement, problem solving and creativity. That institutional innovation might be about finding (or creating) these spaces, and that this may be more important than technology development (a somewhat radical idea). 20th century technology was all about stabilization — sediments that accumulate over time. But there is no stabilization in today’s innovation: social media and cloud computing are more like shifting overlays, quickly changing spaces for creative engagement at the edge.
  • Edge/Flow The old model of “push” innovation was all about total predictability: find and invest in proprietary knowledge (knowledge stocks), hold closely at the core, and then extract. Umair Haque explains this so well. Today, your knowledge stocks are depreciating. To be in the flow means a big shift from the core to the edge — from knowledge stocks to knowledge flows. Flip the ideas of core and edge and you find a new source of economic value (of course, the art world learned the value of the edge long ago). Not just taking from the edge, but creating something new (making). Today, knowledge is sustained and valuable when it’s created (and co-created) and shared — when one edge engages with another. John Seely Brown says: “Be in the flow!”
  • Passion John and John identify passion as a key ingredient in pull. How do you measure passion in the workforce? The 20th century model was to leave your passions at home. Don’t bring them into the predictable workplace. This breeds disengagement (just collecting a paycheck) and if you’re faced with an unexpected problem, it’s terrible. Those with passion seek out new ways to engage. You welcome unexpected opportunities and look for them to drive performance to new levels. Cultivate passion in the workforce. John and John call this: “Up with People.”

So where are you in terms of knowledge nodes? Do you have a privileged view? Are you just a participant, or passionately creating and sharing? John and John focus on institutional innovation but I think there’s tremendous value here for the individual, for the small business. Especially designers.
If you made it this far and you want more, you should probably head on over to the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation “Edge-themes” area, where you can download some great PDFs.
Side note Anyone can learn to be a good interviewer (if I can do it, anyone can). But watching someone conduct a talk on-stage as a media performance is really impressive. I’ve never seen anyone do it as well as Paola Antonelli but John Heilemann comes close. He’s got charisma and brought a kind of intense interest and knowledge to the discussion (not only seeming to have read the book but able to converse on the fly with the Johns). I imagine this could be faked, but does it matter? The trick is to appear engaged, to stay on top of the subject, to lead the discussion. This makes for a great performance.

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37forces.

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I’ve been a big fan of 37signals for a really long time (pre-Backpack!) so the talk by Ryan Singer at SVA last night was a must-see for me.
Ryan used the ideas of form, context, forces and fitness from Christopher Alexander’s 1964 Notes on the Synthesis of Form to talk about a different way to approach the design problem. He began with a few questions: some designers consistently produce good work — what makes them different? Why does good design work? How do you design from scratch, and how do you evaluate and improve existing design?
Any design problem (“design a tea kettle”) can be broken down into form (the kettle) and context (the stovetop, the kitchen). It’s typical to start with a list of requirements and attributes that are form-determining — the water must be kept hot, but the handle can’t get too hot, the water has to pour out when we tilt the kettle, etc. But what if we shift the problem from form-determining requirements to needs and context (what Ryan calls “the life situation”)? Instead of “making a kettle” to “I want boiling water in the kitchen?” This turns the nature of the design problem on its head and radically different results are possible.
To illustrate a process for designing from scratch, Ryan moved from water in the kitchen to a more relevant example: the design of the 37signals web app Highrise.
Step 1: “Draw a boundary between the form and context.” The form is the Highrise UI. The context is the browser and the needs and life situation of the user.
Step 2: “Identify the forces that make demands on the form.” Understanding the life situation in a design problem means starting from the bottom up with questions, needs and challenges (“I want to keep track of who we talked to, what was said, what to do”).
Step 3: “Resolve related forms into diagrams.” The forces can clump together into families of forces, and the design is sketched. “Independent groups of forces becoming diagrams.” Chunks of forces that work together, that motivate the form.
Ryan used very specific examples from the design of the core screens in Highrise.
Step 4: “Place the built form into context and look for misfits.” Do it for real. Evaluate the design by identifying brokenness, pain-points and conflict. The design is good when there’s an absence of conflict. Redesign to eliminate the conflicts.
Ryan’s takeaways

  • A different take on requirements is needed: use facts about the world, instead of attributes.
  • Designing with forces means understanding why.
  • Starting with forces allows us to design from the bottom up and combine forms into larger wholes.
  • A design is good when it fits the world, not a list of requirements or a trend.

Q & A

  • On customer feedback: “Feedback is information, not direction.”
  • On making difficult design changes: “Get the stakeholders in the room to widen the space of possibility and increase flexibility.”
  • On the biggest iPad design challenge: “No hovers!”

This was really refreshing. This is very much how I design — starting with interviews and my own experiences to identify the situation in a casual, conversational way. What I uncover is almost “evidence” and I use it to construct the design problem, which is frequently different from what the client has defined. I try to minimize my own pre-determined form-giving as much as possible. (I try!) I’ve found that clients love this approach — it puts them at ease, and they feel that they’ve been heard. I love that Ryan identified a real methodology behind this madness — I’m going to read Alexander’s A Pattern Language right away.
(Wow, what is this? Seems like some bizarre website devoted to Alexander. Can’t tell if it’s officially his or not.)
(Seems like this is the official Christopher Alexander website. And a lesson in web design circa 1996.)

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Twitterface

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I’ve always been fascinated by Twitter icons and why people choose them. Some designers use type-inspired single letter icons, for obvious reasons, like Caren @litherland’s C, @pentagramdesign’s P and @AisleOne’s A. Each of these are perfect in their own way — but could I find the entire alphabet? What kind of crazy cut-up magazine kidnapper typeface would that make?
It didn’t take long to find the really great ABCs of Twitter. All of them represent design, web and type-related feeds on Twitter. As in Scrabble, a few were more difficult (and valuable?) than others, like I, L, V and Z. (I’d prefer to have single letters, but hey, it’s Landor.) Of course I changed my own icon and added myself to the list.
I’m not sure what kind of typeface this would make but as a collection (“Twitterface”) it’s really kind of nice. Can you guess the identity of each? Go here to see them all.
And now I’m wondering about the stories behind each of these — the typefaces, found letterforms and designed marks that make up this collection. If you own one of these and want to tell me about your Twitter letter send me a note and I’ll share the results!
A AisleOne
B Behance
C Litherland
D DesignRelated
E Elephantik
F Franknas
G Grainedit
H HeyDaysStudio
I iA
J CreativeBalls
K KlimTypeFoundry
L Landor_dot_com
M MomaParis
N NewsDesigner
O Kokoromoi
P PentagramDesign
Q MartaBernstein
R Retinart
S Soulellis
T Typedia
U UppercaseMag
V VandelayDesign
W Weswuz
X PleaseLetMeDesign
Y YouWorkForThem
& FeltandFitted
Z Zinnebeeld

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Modern zoo.

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I found this gem in a great old bookstore in Ithaca: le Zoo de Carton: un alphabet illustré à découper, d’après la méthode Origami (Louis P. Klein). It’s from 1963, published by Editions du Pont Royal, Paris. Each letter of the alphabet names an animal and is accompanied by an exquisite “stencil” graphic for the origami. The reverse side of each diagram is blank, so the book was really meant to be cut up into an alphabetical menagerie.
Does anyone know anything about Louis P. Klein? As a series of 26 graphics (posters, cards, whatever) the collection is incredible — they remind me a lot of the posters of Enzo Mari. Even the dotted lines are beautiful. I’ve searched online and can’t find a thing about this book, so I’m going to scan, trace and recreate each of the animals here, beginning with Alfred le singe.
Entire book set in Univers 55 & 65, btw.