Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘design’

30 OCTOBER, 2009

Retro Revival: Man as Industrial Palace

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Vintage German artwork on digital steroids, or why you house a factory.

In 1926, German writer and artist Fritz Kahn came up with his famous Der Mensch als Industriepalast (Man as Industrial Palace) analogy. Kahn’s illustrations compartmentalized the body’s functions in great detail, brilliantly depicting human physiology through analogies with an industrial factory. His work was a visual commentary on industrial modernity and an intersection of two timeless fascinations — with machines and with the human body.

In 2006, German visual communication and animation student Henning Lederer discovered Kahn’s poster and decided to resurrect this complex and unusual way of explaining the body, growing on the original work and translating it into motion graphics. He made himself a cabinet with a mix of analog and digital objects and technologies, and set to creating Industriepalast — an interactive application based on the poster.

Lederer explores human physiology in six cycles — five representing the five main biological systems, and one melding them together into the complex human factory Kahn had envisioned.

For thousands of years, human beings have used metaphors as ways of understanding the body. We talk about our ‘ear drums’, or our ‘mind’s eye’. When we are in love we say our hearts are ‘bursting’ or ‘broken’ […] These familiar images help to explain the unfamiliar and to comprehend the complexity of our bodies.

This is the wonderfully animated preview for the project:

We find this project a particularly timely reminder of our growing inability to reconcile our incessant lust for technology with a dwindling appreciation of the purely human. In an era where incredible robots in our image draw oohs and ahhs from all sides, it’s easy to forget the complex, intricate and utterly awe-inspiring machinery that is the human body. Let’s not.

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29 OCTOBER, 2009

East Meets West: An Infographic Portrait

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German punctuality, Western ego and how to stand in line like a Chinese.

What’s not to love about minimalist infographics — such an elegant way to depict complex concepts with brilliant simplicity. We also have a longtime love affair with social psychology, some of which deals with the fascinating cultural differences between Eastern and Western mentality — from the individualistic tendencies of the West versus the pluralism of Asian societies, to how differently Westerners and Easterners read the emotions of others. Naturally, we’re head-over-heels with designer Yang Liu‘s ingenious East Meets West infographic series, tackling everything from differences in self-perception to evolution of transportation.

Born in China but living in Germany since she was 14, Liu has a unique grip of this cultural duality — and she channels it with great wit and eloquent minimalism in graphics that say so much by showing so little.

Lifestyle: Independent vs. dependent

Attitude towards punctuality

Problem-solving approach

Size of the individual's ego

Perception: How Germans and the Chinese see one another

How to stand in line

Complexity of self-expression

The evolution of transportation over the last three decades

The volume of sound in a restaurant

Catch an interview with Liu about the project over at the always-excellent NOTCOT. The book is still finable online and an absolute delight.

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29 OCTOBER, 2009

Strange Maps: The Book

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What George Orwell has to do with the Amazons of California and Utopia.

Today is the day we’d been waiting for for a long, long time. For today, Strange Maps — an absolute favorite blog of ours, a frequent source of inspiration, and one of the shiniest hidden gems on the Interwebs — is finally gifting the world with its eponymous book.

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities features 138 of the most fascinating, absorbing and remarkable maps from the blog’s 3-year history of culling the world’s forgotten, little-known and niche cartographic treasures.

From the world as depicted in Orwell’s 1984, to a color map of Thomas More’s Utopia, to the 16th-century portrayal of California as an island where people live like the Amazons, the book is brim-full of priceless anecdotes from our collective conception of the world over the centuries.

But what makes all these maps really special is that they somehow capture and reveal a great deal about human psychology and thought — the humor of political parody (Hey there, United States of Canada vs. Jesusuland), the tragicomic bias of a New Yorker’s vantage point, the odd propositions of science gone awry (No, we won’t rename the stars after famous dictators), the inflation of political ego (Sorry, China, you’re not the Middle Kingdom at the center of the world), the absurdity of rampant religious fundamentalism (Really? The final battle between God and Satan in Armageddon will take place exactly at the Megiddo Valley in Israel?), the universal and age-old mistrust of cabbies (Who knew a hexagonal layout of London would prevent passengers from getting ripped off?).

Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities is certainly unusual and idiosyncratic — in the most wonderful way possible. At the intersection of history, design, politics and humor, it’s one of those rare beasts that tackle so many facets of culture with utter ease, readability and can’t-put-it-down magnetism.

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