Brain Pickings

Designers & Books: What Iconic Designers Are Reading


How to hack into the minds of the world’s leading design practitioners and critics.

We love design. We love books. And we’ve always found designers to be among the most intellectually curious, disciplinarily promiscuous, creatively voracious minds. So we’re thrilled for the launch of Designers & Books — a fantastic new portal for peering into the private libraries of the world’s most prominent design thinkers and doers.

Launching with 50 designers — including icons like, Milton Glaser, John Maeda, Elizabeth Diller, Norman Foster and Tim Brown, and Brain Pickings favorites like Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister and George Lois — the project spans a wide spectrum of design disciplines, from architecture to fashion to urban design to cultural interpretation, and kicks off with 678 books.

In addition to designers’ picks, reading lists are available from leading design writers, curators, educators and critics — or, as the site calls them, commentators.

So if you’ve ever wondered what graces the bookshelf of TED founder Richard Saul Wurman, the original information architect, wonder no more. (A handful of information design standbys, a few obscure yet indispensable vintage treats like Paul Kee’s The Thinking Eye, and Stewart Brand’s culturally cultish Whole Earth Catalog.)

Similar to the way that ‘good design can make your life better’ — we also believe that ‘good books can make your life better.'” ~ Steve Kroeter, Founder

Despite the clear gender bias and some glaring omissions (Hey, Tina! And what about MoMA’s Paola Antonelli, arguably the quintessential design advocate of our time?), Designers & Books is a fascinating and rare glimpse of the creative and intellectual fuel that powers some of today’s most influential design thinking, and very much worth your digital minute.

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Aaron Koblin on the Digital Renaissance


We’re big fans of creative technology rock star Aaron Koblin, whose Sheep Market, Bicycle Built for 2,000 and Johnny Cash projects we’ve featured previously.

In this excellent interview, the fine folks of Emergence Collective track Aaron down at Sundance, where he’s working on Google’s Life in a Day crowdsourced film project, and ask him some compelling questions about computational aesthetics, the digital renaissance, and the future of creative technology:

  • Are there networked aesthetics which can be visually identified?
  • How will moving images change in the next 20–30 years?
  • What do you think about this word ‘user-generated content’?
  • Do you identify with the current artistic trend to shift away from product towards process?
  • What indicators are there of a digital renaissance?

We’re seeing what happens when you reach a point where computational resources are no longer the most significant factor in thinking, where we don’t have to bend our will to what we’re able to do. We’re really able to stop thinking about [computational resources] and bend them to our needs and our interests. It lends itself to a complete different type of a creative process, where you can really explore and experiment a lot more freely than one could before. […] Perhaps most significantly, it lets us create our own limitations, and I think those generally can be a lot more meaningful than the ones arbitrarily put on by the media.” ~ Aaron Koblin

You can find Aaron’s work in a couple of our favorite books on the convergence of computational software and creativity, FORM+CODE and Data Flow 2: Visualizing Information in Graphic Design.

HT @edwardharran

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Word on the Street: Found Urban Type Timed for Social Commentary


For the past 30 years, photographer Richard Nagler has been capturing urbanity’s ephemeral moments of existential irony by pairing found typography from the urban landscape with perfectly timed random passersby. His original inspiration for the series came one summer in the late 1970, when he was wandering the streets of Oakland and noticed the word TIME bolted in large letters on the side of an old building. As he looked up, a very old woman gazed out at him from a window near the type sign, and in that micro-moment he founded embedded a powerful visual metaphor for aging and the passage of time.

Word on the Street is a fantastic collection of Nagler’s richest such images from the past three decades, which iconic poet Allen Ginsberg eloquently and accurately described as “visual poetics.” Sometimes shocking, often surprising and invariably compelling, these portraits invite you, with a wink, to complete the barely bespoken narratives and look for those hidden yet staggeringly obvious human truths that interlace with the fabric of mundanity.

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Image courtesy of Richard Nagler

Thoughtful, amusing and deeply human, Word on the Street is an absolute treasure trove of meticulously timed serendipity, captured with a keen eye for poetic irony.

via NPR

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Animated Soviet Propaganda


What warthogs and vultures have to do with the most critical polarization in world politics.

There hardly is a time in world history more politically polarized than the 20th century, which divided the globe in two camps — capitalism and communism — divided at the height of the divergence by the infamous Iron Curtain. The Cold War was very much a war of ideologies and each side relied heavily on the ideological unity of its people, often employing the power of the visual arts — graphic design, animation, illustration — to drive its message home. While the U.S. was producing seminal design work under various WPA programs, the U.S.S.R. was busy churning out its own brand of political propaganda art.

Animated Soviet Propaganda: From the October Revolution to Perestroika chronicles the visual legacy of 60 years of Soviet political history between 1924 and 1984. Forty-one beautifully animated black-and-white and color short films, never before available in the U.S., depict — and exploit — national stereotypes with remarkable visual eloquence that bespeaks the complicated non-relationship between the East and the West during that critical time in political history.

Ideological messaging aside, the films feature some astounding animation techniques that grace today’s trendiest cinematic vocabulary, from stop-motion to paper cutout animation to impressively intricate puppetry

The ambitious collection is divided into four parts, curated not simply by chronology but by recurring themes. American Imperialists features 7 films from the Cold War era, depicting Westerners as money-hungry industrialists who inevitably collapse under the weight of their own greed. Though mocked and derided, it’s interesting to note that Americans nonetheless remain human — which is not the case with other antagonists in Soviet propaganda, as we’ll see in just a second.

Fascist Barbarians is a 17-film reaction to the Nazi invasion in the beginning of WWII. Here, the Nazis are dehumanized and frequently portrayed as undesirable animals — pigs, vultures, warthogs.

Capitalist Sharks is a 6-film assault on the bourgeoisie, weaving sci-fi narratives to envision dystopian scenarios for capitalists’ world domination.

Onward to the Shining Future: Communism features 11 films that romanticize the state and promise a utopian future of universal well-being.

Harvested from Moscow’s iconic Soyuzmultfilm Studios, Animated Soviet Propaganda is an absolute gem of historical insight and a living hallmark of the swaying power of visual communication. With more than 6 hours of rare footage, the collection is not only a priceless political trophy but a prized possession for any design and film history nerd.

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