Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘vintage’

10 JUNE, 2011

Rare Book Feast: Celebrating the Timeless Character of Books

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What vintage design and half a million dollars has to do with Earth’s future.

I love books. Especially obscure ones that brim with vintage design goodness, not to mention my obsession with creative cartography and map books. So I’m exhilarated about the launch of Rare Book Feast — an ongoing video project by Nate Burgos, endearingly self-described “designer for the fortune 5,000,000,” celebrating the timeless beauty of books in the age of digital ephemera. Burgos shares my deep belief in the remarkable intellectual and creative enrichment available to us from early design history and the creative problem-solving of eras past.

This series is about the timeless character of books. Their message and what they look like are what is celebrated here. As our culture becomes digital in a lot of ways, it is all the more important (not to mention inviting) to revisit and learn from the early design challenges, creative solutions and general lessons that the ‘old’ print world keeps relevant.” ~ Nate Burgos

The series launches with a look at World Geo-Graphic Atlas — a stunning 1953 book envisioned by designer, photographer, painter and architect Herbert Bayer and co-designed with Martin Rosenzweig, Henry Gardiner and Masato Nakagawa, featuring over 2,200 diagrams, graphs, charts and symbols about the Earth in 368 gorgeous pages, with a profound underlying message of appeal to protect and preserve our planet. The Container Corporation of America commissioned the project and spent over half a million dollars on it — an unthinkable fortune in the 1940s and 50s. It was as much a feat of design as it was one of curation — in addition to the stunning original artwork, it also culled the best maps from previous published atlases. The book was given away for free to customers and colleges, ironic in the context of its collector’s-item status today: You can score a copy on Amazon starting at $800.

Each part of the world the atlas covers is a world of itself.” ~ Nate Burgos

The series is a part of design webliography project Design Feast and was directed and produced by Joe Giovenco.

via Swiss Miss

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08 JUNE, 2011

American Look: A Technicolor Homage to Mid-Century Design

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Can you identify these 49 classic pieces of mid-century design?

In February, we took a look at American Maker — a fascinating Technicolor film produced by the Handy (Jam) Organization and commissioned by the Chevrolet division of General Motors in 1960 to celebrate craftsmanship and creativity. Two years earlier, the same team produced another film, American Look, celebrating mid-century lifestyle design ranging from dinnerware to public art murals to lawnmowers. It’s Mad Men meets Eames meets Objectified meets Look at Life, an early predecessor of BBC’s fantastic The Genius of Design five-part documentary.

Now, the fine folks at The Atlantic are on a mission to identify the 49 mid-century design classics that appear in the film, which Alexis Madrigal has painstakingly screen-shot and catalogued in order of appearance. So head on over to the gallery and lend Alexis your design geekery — how cool would it be to play human Google Goggles for product design?

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03 JUNE, 2011

Bibliographic: The 100 Best Design Books of the Past 100 Years

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What James Bond title sequences have to do with the secret of happiness and the evolution of public signage.

Design is an incredibly self-referential for of expression, and that’s quite alright, as I deeply believe creativity is combinatorial — everything borrows from what came before, everything is a remix, all creative work is essentially derivative work. So knowledge of what came before greatly enriches and empowers our creativity. And, over the past century alone, countless books have been published to make sense of the landscape, language and legacy of graphic design, each exploring a specific facet of this complex ecosystem of visual communication. But how does it all fit together? That’s exactly what Jason Godfrey set out to investigate in 2009 in Bibliographic: 100 Classic Graphic Design Books — yes, it’s a graphic design book about graphic design books, and it doesn’t get any more meta than this, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Godfrey culls the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, contextualizing each with succinct background text on what makes it exceptional and important. The collection spans an incredible range of style, genre, subject matter, geography, and cultural concern, from the stories of the pioneering type foundries to vintage Polish film posters to classic graphic design manuals by László Moholy-Nagy and Josef Müller-Brockmann to contemporary design visionaries like Stefan Sagmeister and Paula Scher.

A foreword by none other than Steven Heller adds an irresistibly delicious cherry on top.

These vintage books are untapped repositories of design knowledge, as relevant today as they were when first published.” ~ Steven Heller

What makes Bibliographic all the more valuable is that the majority of the books featured have entered collector’s-item status and are quite hard — not to mention expensive — to get on their own.

A few of my favorite titles in the anthology:

  • Long before there was The Visual Miscellaneum or Data Flow, there was Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data — a seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, originally published in 1974. Features work by icons like Saul Bass, Leo and Diane Dillon, Milton Glaser, Richard Saul Wurman and many more.
  • Paula Scher is one of my big creative heroes and her Make It Bigger, titled after the most resented yet prevalent client frustration of all, looks at design’s role in corporate culture, exploring what it is that makes design a powerful and effective business tool.
  • As a big fan of found typography and architectural lettering, I can’t stress the delightfulness of Words and buildings: The art and practice of public lettering enough — a fascinating convergence of architecture and graphic design that preceded recent treats like Store Front and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by four decades, exploring the evolution of public signage and typographic wayfinding.
  • He may be known as the granddaddy of grump, a professional curmudgeon, but iconic designer Paul Rand is one of the most remarkable figures in the history of design both as a creative discipline and a business philosophy — his Thoughts on Design, originally published in 1947, is a philosophical treatise on the role of design and the importance of “function-aesthetic perfection” in modern art.
  • Stefan Sagmeister is easily one of my top three favorite designers alive today, and his Things I have learned in my life so far is quite possibly my favorite design book of all time — a poetic reflection on life, the meaning of happiness, and the human condition by way of Sagmeister’s unique, playful, irreverent visual language.

As much an incredible primer for those just dipping their toes in design as a rich and lavish treasure chest of beloved allusions for the polished design nerd, Bibliographic is an absolute gem from cover to glorious cover.

Thanks, @kirstinbutler

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