Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

26 MARCH, 2009

The Library Rethought

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How to one-up the Greeks and what Shepard Fairey has to do with Copenhagen circa 1891.

Libraries have a special place in history as a hearth of culture that kindled the greatest feats of science and the grandest works of art. Yet today, they’re in danger of being left precisely there — in history. As our collective use of libraries dwindles in the digital age, five brave efforts are innovating the concept of “the library” in ways that make it as culturally relevant today as it ever was.

PENTAGRAM FOR L!BRARY

Almost nine years ago, NYC design studio Pentagram got involved with the Robin Hood Foundation in an inspired effort to build new elementary school libraries throughout NYC’s five boroughs — the best architects were to build them, private companies were to fill them with books, Pentagram were to design the inspirational atmosphere and craft the entire identity for what became The Library Initiative.

But they found something interesting — even though the libraries were mostly located in high-ceiling old buildings, shelves could only be as high as the kids could reach, leaving a lot of space between the top of the shelves and the ceiling. Pentagram saw this space as a canvas to fill with something wonderful, so they partnered with a handful of top-notch designers to create murals that are just that — absolutely wonderful.

Today, these inspired murals can be found in more than 60 libraries across the five boroughs, featuring the work of designers and illustrators cherry-picked by the Pentagram team — from a series of photographic portraits by Dorothy Kresz, to a visual interpretation of words through silhouettes by Rafael Esquer, to books hidden in images in the iconic illustration style of Christoph Niemann.

Needless to say, we love the idea. Design is only as valuable as the change it ignites — in our understanding of beauty and truth, our conceptual and aesthetic literacy, yes, but also in our greater social sensibility. And harnessing the power of design to enhance “literal literacy” by turning libraries into cooler, more inviting hangouts for kids, well, that’s just pure beauty and truth.

LIBRARY OF HUMAN IMAGINATION

We’ve featured philanthropic geek Jay Walker‘s Library of Human Imagination extensively before.

So for today’s refresher purposes, his fantastic TED talk should get the job done.

We’d love to see Jay open up his library to those with the greatest urgency of fostering the spirit of human imagination — children. Because whatever is behind the doors of our cultural library, a school bus should be in front of them.

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS ON FLICKR

It’s always a delight to see the stiffest and most traditional of institutions embrace fundamental elements of today’s social spirit.

Which is why we love seeing The Library of Congress on Flickr. Their collection features nearly 6,000 images of historic hallmarks — from the evolution of the women’s rights movement to incredible World War I panoramas to a breathtaking century-old grand tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Go ahead, get nostalgic over ages you didn’t really live in to remember. It’s okay, we did too.

LIVE FROM THE NYPL

Turns out, you can actually talk in libraries. Some even hand you a mic — at least if you’re on one of the NYPL Live panels, a fantastic talk series by and at The New York Public Library. The events are available as free audio podcasts on iTunes, with short video highlights viewable online.

We were recently taken with NYPL’s REMIX event, an excellent discussion titled Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Moderated by cultural historian Steven Johnson and sponsored by Wired, the conversation between Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig and now-legendary street artist Shepard Fairey, whose Obama “HOPE” poster became the most iconic political design of all time, offered a fantastic discourse on the intersection of creativity and “fair use” — a particuarly timely discourse amidst the AP’s preposterous lawsuit against Fairey.

Watch the full program online for brilliant insight into the absurdities of today’s copyright legislature and the unnecessary ways in which it hinders the inevitable mergence of  today’s mashup culture.

INTERNET ARCHIVE

Web entrepreneur, activist and digital librarian Brewster Kahle, possibly the most influential figure in today’s digitization movement, is out to gift the world with universal access to knowledge.

Since 1996, his Internet Archive has amassed an enormous collection of cultural artifacts — text, audio, moving images, software, even archived web pages — offering permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars and anyone else interested in the cultural anthropology of our civilization.

We really need to put the best we have to offer within reach of our children. If we don’t do that, we’re going to get the generation we deserve — they’re going to learn from whatever it is they have around them.

Inspired by an inscription above the door of the Boston Public Library — Free To All — Kahle set out to, essentially, “one-up the Greeks” by building a hub of culture that puts Egypt’s Library of Alexandria to shame, using technology to bring all of the world’s knowledge to as many people as want to make use of it — everything that was ever published and meant for distribution available to anyone who ever wanted access to it.

Kahle’s TED talk is an excellent introduction to the many facets of this monumental movement, which will no doubt reshape today’s relationship with history and tomorrow’s conversation with today.

Explore the Internet Archive and, while you’re at it, consider that the very act and opportunity of doing so makes you the envy of the Platos and the Gutenbergs of history. And, really, how incredible is that?

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24 MARCH, 2009

Meta-Vinyl Creativity

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Clocks, wine, and what Frank Sinatra has to do with couch cushions.

We love vinyl. And we love people who channel their love for vinyl into something tremendously creative. Here are 3 such vinyl visionaries we just can’t get enough of.

THE GRATEFUL THREAD

Jami and Nicholas Worth, a.k.a. The Grateful Thread, are an American 3D animator and French architect living in London.

Their strong design background and love for all things music result in such wonderful goodies as recycled vinyl wall clocks, LP-inspired couch cushions, and recycled vinyl jewelry.

If SXSW had a gift shop, we think it would be full of The Grateful Thread‘s quirky, delightful little gems. So get your hands on some and go a-braggin’.

via Inhabitat

VINE-YL

VINE-YL is the self-admitted bastard love-child of a wine geek and a record freak. And we think the kid is a wunderkind.

It’s simple. They pair a record and a wine that go together beautifully, film a video that tells you just why the two are such an exceptional match, and give you a review of both that’s as professionally sophisticated as it is unpretentious and relatable.

They update every Thursday, so check back often.

VINYL ART

We’ve featured mixed media artist Daniel Edlen‘s brilliantly inspired work before. But his Vinyl Art deserves all the credit it can get — it’s a truly unique message-meets-medium portraiture technique, using the physical canvas of artists’ talent — their records — to paint portraits of them in white acrylic. The result is simply stunning.

Daniel has painted some of the most iconic performers of our time, from Armstrong to Zeppelin, but bur favorite has to be Sinatra — captured in his mischievous youthfulness, Old Blue Eyes peeks at you from behind a record label the color of his legendary nickname.

It also doesn’t hurt that Daniel is one of the brightest people we’ve met on the Interwebs — and there’s something about respecting the artist beyond the merit of their art that makes the art experience itself all the more gratifying. So do check out his phenomenal work, and follow him on Twitter for a glimpse into the mind of incredible talent.

19 MARCH, 2009

The Creative (Re)Touch

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Aliens, the real Iron Man, and what an orangutan has to say about your electric bill.

A common booby trap that befalls design rookies is the tendency to get all giddy and excited over the various tools and filters of visual editing software, spitting out visual atrocities each more garish and over-the-top Photoshoppy than the next. But, like Spiderman’s aunt likes to say, with great power comes great responsibility — the mark of an exceptional designer is the gift of conceptual vision, the mastery of technical skill, and the wisdom of restraint.

Here are three such creative visionaries, who use the tools of image manipulation to craft sophisticated visuals that capture compelling concepts  or, at the very least, tickle our curiosity and our visceral appetite.

CHRIS SCARBOROUGH

Chris Scarborough makes photographic caricatures, in a good way. He takes ordinary subjects’ existing features and exaggerates them to a dehumanized extent, creating an air of unearthly eeriness about the images.

In some, the manipulation is so subtle you can barely detect it, yet you can’t help feeling the haunting alienness oozing from the image.

ERIC JOHANSSON

23-year-old Swedish interaction designer Eric Johansson has a rare eye for capturing that elusive quantum intersection of reality and the surreal. He takes ordinary landscapes and subjects, transforming them into sometimes slightly creep, often amusing, and always fascinating what-if’s.

Johansson’s work is part Alice in Wonderland, part Tim Burton, part the slapstick visual puns we all make in the privacy of our own creatively restless minds.

Explore the rest of Johansson’s portfolio for a whimsical journey to all the places your mind has always dreamt of going.

CHRISTOPHE HUET

Professional photo whiz Christophe Huet, a.k.a. “The French (Re)Touch,” is a modern-day illusionist. He works with the world’s best creative teams to craft an alternate reality of delightfully surreal images.

His work is an elaborate production that involves entire armies of art directors, makeup artists, actors, extras, creative directors, photographers, fashion stylists, set directors, assistants — you get the picture. And the picture happens to be exceptionally striking, both visually and conceptually — like the brilliant campaign Huet created for French anti-AIDS organization AIDES.

What we find most compelling about Christophe’s brand of creativity is that it is vocally visceral, but it does more than to merely amuse — it uses that visceral element to create visual metaphors that illuminate culturally relevant and socially important issues.

Like this brilliantly simple yet brilliantly powerful illustration of the link between our daily habits and the living beings they affect — a crisp reminder that “the environment” isn’t just some abstract concept we donate to at the Whole Foods checkout aisle.

See Huet’s entire portfolio for images that make your eyes pop while drawing them a little bit closer to your brain.

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17 MARCH, 2009

Product Design Spotlight: The Little Bottle That Could

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Why the key to revolutionary innovation is being completely incompetent.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Kimmo for pointing out that we (as in our source) had gotten both the designer’s and the product name wrong. Thanks, AdAge, for the always-reliable information…

Is it possible to create a plastic bottle that isn’t just a despicable hallmark of human wastefulness? According to Finish designer Stefan Lindfors, yes.

Linfoss has created PLUP, a donut-shaped plastic bottle that not only revolutionizes the aesthetics of beverage manufacturing, but also solves some of the industry’s largest functional and environmental problems.

One of the biggest shortcomings of traditional bottles is that they can’t be stacked. Which means they take up too much space to store, they tip over on the table, and they’re a nightmare to transport. With PLUP, a waiter can put several bottles on a stick and take them to the table, and you can use the string that comes with the product to attach it to your belt when you go for a run on a hot day or just roam around town.

I think it’s very important that you don’t have too much knowledge of the industry as a designer, because it prevents you from flying high enough. If you do have a lot of knowledge, you have to have the ability to let go of it in the creative process.

But here’s the best part: PLUP is made of a modified PET polymer, which is not only highly recyclable, but also extremely durable, making the bottle as reusable as your average Nalgene, but without the carcinogenic connotations. At the same time, the design — pure aesthetic brilliance — is “cool” enough to actually encourage such reuse, transforming the bottle from a functional aid into a lifestyle accessory.

plup Okay, we lied: The real best part is that in every country where PLUP is distributed, a major share of the profits from each bottle sold goes to a charity fighting a major local environmental problem. (In Finland, for instance, donations go towards cleaning up the Blatic Sea, which is the world’s most polluted natural water resource.)

See the interview with Stefan and watch as PLUP transforms the packaging industry’s sorest spot.

via 3-Minute AdAge