Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

03 DECEMBER, 2009

We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion

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Four years and 12 million feelings later, a book that lives up to its grand expectations.

In 2005, visionary artist-storyteller Jonathan Harris (whom we’ve already established we love) embarked upon an ambitious experimental journey into human emotion. The project, titled We Feel Fine, soon became an icon of interactive storytelling and data visualization. The premise was simple: Every few minutes, an algorithm would scrobble the world’s newly posted blog entries for occurrences of the phrases “I feel” and “I am feeling,” and harvest human emotion by recording the full sentence and context in which the phrase occurs, identifying the polarity (happy, sad, depressed, etc. ) of the specific “feeling” expressed. Because the blogosphere is lined with metadata, it was possible to extract rich information about the posts and their authors, from age and gender to geolocation and local weather conditions, adding a new layer of meaning to the feelings.

The result was a database of millions of human feelings, growing by about 20,000 per day.

This week, Harris and co-author Sep Kamvar release We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion, a remarkable book exploring the 12 million human emotions recorded since 2005 through brilliantly curated words and images that make this massive repository of found sentiment incredibly personal yet incredibly relatable. From despair to exhilaration, from the public to the intimate, it captures the passions and dreams of which human existence is woven through candid vignettes, intelligent infographics and scientific observations.

With its unique software-driven model, We Feel Fine is a revelation of emotion through a prism of rational data that only makes the emotional crux deeper and more compelling. It’s the rich symphony to PostSecret‘s scattered and sporadic soundbites, transcending mere voyeurism to offer a complex, layered context that spans sociology, psychology and digital anthropology.

From sentiments about cities to approval ratings of celebrities to the effects of gender and age on emotion, We Feel Fine picks at the fabric of feeling and thought from all sides and angles to reveal a complex portrait of human essence.

You can peek inside the book online and even download many of the pages as PDF’s.

For more about the challenges of translating a web narrative onto a print medium, how the idea for the book first came up, and what’s next for Jonathan, check out our exclusive Q&A with him for Wired UK. And grab a copy of We Feel Fine: An Almanac of Human Emotion — for yourself, or as one of the smartest holiday gifts out there.

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02 DECEMBER, 2009

The History of Jazz, Animated in Shadow Art

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What five rooms and bleeding-edge software have to do with the cultural heritage of music.

We love, love, love jazz. And we have a soft spot for good animation. So we’re all over Silhouettes of Jazz — a brilliant animated short film from SIGGRAPH Asia 2009, outlining the history of jazz in a virtual shadow art museum.

Shadow art is a unique form of sculptural art that exploits the fact that we can recognize objects from their shadows or silhouettes. Improvisation, a key ingredient of jazz music, is mirrored in the ambiguity of a shadow sculpture: many different 3D shapes can cast the same 2D shadow.

The film focuses on five milestone eras in the evolution of jazz — the early music of field workers, ragtime, New Orleans jazz, swing, and bebop — each represented by a separate room, in which 3D sculptures cast complex shadow images in different directions simultaneously, making each form interpretable as multiple symbolic objects.

The animators used a novel computational method, building 3D shadow volumes through global geometric optimization that allows the artist to later edit the silhouette using 3D modeling tools.

Silhouettes of Jazz does for jazz what This Is Where We Live did for book publishing, a visual and conceptual delight from start to finish.

Thanks, @TrackerNews

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02 DECEMBER, 2009

Alphabet Books Rethought

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Contortionists, negative space, and what Claymation has to do with the Kama Sutra.

We love books. And we love nontraditional takes on the traditional. Recently, we’ve looked at hypertextual books, ambitious carved-out reproductions of history books and Pictorial Webster’s. Today, we look at three inspired examples of innovation on the most rudimentary gateway to language and literature: The alphabet book.

THE HUMAN ALPHABET

In 2006, we had the pleasure of meeting the phenomenal Pilobolus dance company, an incredible group of choreographers and dancer-athletes who produce some of the best original work in modern dance today. So imagine our delight when we discovered photographer John Kane‘s The Human Alphabet — an ambitious and striking alphabet book, using the bodies of Pilobolus dancers to construct each of the letters through ingenious grips, bends and twists of the human form.

With its superb photography, vibrant colors and jaw-dropping acrobatic contortionism, The Human Alphabet is bound to astonish. If language had a Kama Sutra, this would be it.

THE HIDDEN ALPHABET

Curiosity is the fundamental fuel of learning. Mix that with children’s boundless imagination, and you’ve got a powerful recipe for inspiration-education. That’s exactly what illustrator Laura Vaccaro Seeger does in The Hidden Alphabet — a visual gem of a book, where a black mat frames an object on each page, then peels away to reveal its starting letter.

Risking to live up to a designer cliche, we do love our negative space. And The Hidden Alphabet plays with it brilliantly — when the black mat is lifted, each object becomes a significant building block of the letter’s negative space, with a clever perspective shift from foreground to background that plays on the popular figure-ground optical illusions.

Besides the innovative visual format reinterpreting the traditional approach of matching each letter with a word, Seeger’s choice of the words themselves — “inkblot,” “partridge,” “quotation mark,” “yolk” — is equally refreshing and adds a whole new layer of sophistication to the artwork.

ABC3D

We’re suckers for a good pop-up book, but Marion Bataille‘s ABC3D takes it to a whole new level.

Slick, stylish and designerly, it’s hard to capture its tactile, interactive magic in static words — you have to have it in your hands to truly appreciate it.

The Washington Post hit the nail on the head:

Does for paper what Claymation did for mud. It’s a three-dimensional, interactive, cinematic treat for the littlest fingers right up to the oldest eye []

A perfectly architectured A sets the pace from the very first page.

A neat pop-up with the i and j sharing the same dot.

As the spread is opened, the two vortices in the S rotate.

And just when you think ABC3D couldn’t possibly delight and surprise more, it does: We’ve seen a trailer for an album, a trailer for a typeface, but a trailer for a book?

Bonus points for the track (which reminds us of Squirrel Nut Zippers, our favorite quirk-swing band) — and even more bonus points for offering it as a free download on the book’s equally well-designed website.

From the lenticular cover, which changes by the angle at which you hold it, to the metamorphic X, which becomes a Y as you flick your hand, ABC3D is an absolute treat for kids, industrial design junkies and the typeface geeks alike.

BONUS

UPDATE: We’ve just been alerted (Thanks, Coudal!) to an absolute gem we had no choice but to include here.

Remember The Indie Rock Coloring Book? Now, from the wonderful Paste Magazine, comes An Indie Rock Alphabet Book — an equally wonderful delight for hipster parents and their hipster-to-be kids.

From Animal Collective to The Zombies, by way of Joy Division, Tom Waits and ?uestlove, the book is written by Paste editors Kate Kiefer and Rachael Maddux, and brilliantly illustrated by so-indie-he’s-off-the-Google-radar artist owen the owen.

An Indie Rock Alphabet Book is a get-‘em-while-they’re-young necessary tool for engineering tomorrow’s musicologists. After all, the first step to that Rolling Stone internship application is spelling your name correctly. And, really, who wants to learn with “cat” when you can have “Cat Power”?

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