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Posts Tagged ‘design’

27 FEBRUARY, 2013

A Pictorial History of the London Tube and Its Graphic Legacy

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Visual mementos celebrating 150 years since the birth of the world’s first underground railway system.

2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the London Tube, the world’s first subway system. While its map alone has been the subject of much creative interpretation and fascination, its complete story is — a whirlwind at the intersection of design, engineering, politics, urbanism, and social reform — remains somewhat poorly understood.

In Underground: How the Tube Shaped London (public library), David Bownes, former head curator at the London Transport Museum and current assistant director of collections at London’s National Army Museum, sets out to remedy this by tracing the evolution of the Tube as a technological breakthrough, a feat of design and engineering, and a powerful social force.

1863: The world's first underground railway connects the mainline stations at Paddington, Euston, and King's Cross with London's central business district. This lithograph depicts one of the first trains approaching Baker Street Station on the Metropolitan Railway.

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

1890: The City & South London Railway, linking Stockwell to London via in-between points, opens to the public. In this next step of the Tube's evolution, steam engines are replaced with electric trains, pictured in this view of a platform at Stockwell station.

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

1896: A platform at Victoria station, depicting the familiar railway newssand at its dawn

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

1905: Comic card from the District Railway, whose electric trains defied the underground's reputation for slowness and unreliability, and taught passengers the new skill of 'straphanging' during rush hours

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

1916: Edward Johnston's hand-drawn alphabet for the Underground

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

1925: Edward Johnston's instructions for the correct proportions of the redesigned Underground bullseye to incorporate the new typeface

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

1938: Despite their comfortable interior that offered a major improvement over predecessors, stock cars, which entered service in 1937-1938, were also exceptionally durable and remained in circulation for decades

Image courtesy London Transport Museum

To mark the 150th anniversary, The London Transport Museum is also putting on an exhibition titled Poster Art 150: London Underground’s Greatest Designs, running until October 27. Here’s a taste:

Pair Underground: How the Tube Shaped London with the almost true story of New York’s subway Helvetica.

It’s Nice That The Guardian

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26 FEBRUARY, 2013

10½ Favorite Reads from TED Bookstore 2013

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A full-brain reading list of cross-disciplinary stimulation.

Once again this year, like last, I had the honor of curating a selection of books for the TED Bookstore at TED 2013, themed The Young. The Wise. The Undiscovered. Below are this year’s picks, along with the original text that appears on the bookstore cards and the introductory blurb about the selection:

‘I feel … as though the physical stuff of my brain were expanding, larger and larger, throbbing quicker and quicker with new blood — and there is no more delicious sensation than this,’ Virginia Woolf wrote on the mesmerism of books. Gathered here are books to make both hemispheres throb with boundless delight, stimulation, and deliciousness.

I SAW A PEACOCK WITH A FIERY TAIL

A die-cut masterpiece, two years in the making, I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail (public library), one of the best art books of 2012, is based on a 17th-century British “trick” poem and illustrated in the signature Indian folk art style of the Gond tribe by Indian artist Ramsingh Urveti. It comes from Indian independent publisher Tara Books (), who for the nearly two decades have been giving voice to marginalized art and literature through a community of artists, writers, and designers collaborating on remarkable handmade books.

Originally featured, with more images and a trailer, last May.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS

When an anonymous advice columnist by the name of “Dear Sugar” introduced herself on The Rumpus on March 11, 2010, she made her proposition clear: a “by-the-book common sense of Dear Abby and the earnest spiritual cheesiness of Cary Tennis and the butt-pluggy irreverence of Dan Savage and the closeted Upper East Side nymphomania of Miss Manners.” But in the two-some years that followed, she proceeded to deliver something tenfold punchier, more honest, more existentially profound than even such an intelligently irreverent promise could foretell. Collected in Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (public library), one of the best psychology and philosophy books of 2012, is her no-bullshit, wholehearted wisdom on life’s trickiest contexts — sometimes the simplest, sometimes the most complex, always the most deeply human — published under Sugar’s long-awaited real name.

Turn to page 352 for a sublime taste.

BIG QUESTIONS FROM LITTLE PEOPLE

The questions children ask are often so simple, so basic, that they turn unwittingly yet profoundly philosophical in requiring apple-pie-from-scratch type of answers. To explore this fertile intersection of simplicity and expansiveness, Gemma Elwin Harris asked thousands of primary school children between the ages of four and twelve to send in their most restless questions, then invited some of today’s most prominent scientists, philosophers, and writers — including TEDsters like Alain de Botton, Mary Roach, and Richard Dawkins — to answer them. The result is Big Questions from Little People & Simple Answers from Great Minds (public library), among both the best children’s books of 2012 and the year’s overall reader favorites. A portion of the proceeds from the book benefits Save the Children.

Originally featured, with several excerpts from the heart-warming, brain-tickling questions and answers, last November.

INTERNAL TIME

“Six hours’ sleep for a man, seven for a woman, and eight for a fool,” Napoleon famously prescribed. But despite the laughably sexist hierarchy, his rule of thumb turns out to be grossly unsupported by science. In Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired (public library), one of the best science books of 2012, German chronobiologist Till Roenneberg demonstrates through a wealth of research that our sleep patterns have little to do with laziness and other such scorned character flaws, and everything to do with biology.

Originally featured at length last May.

WHERE THE HEART BEATS

In Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists (public library), also one of the best philosophy books of 2012, longtime art critic and practicing Buddhist Kay Larson constructs an exceptional intellectual, creative, and spiritual biography of John Cage — one of the most influential composers in modern history, whose impact reaches beyond the realm of music and into art, literature, cinema, and just about every other aesthetic and conceptual expression of curiosity about the world, yet also one of history’s most misunderstood artists. Fifteen years in the making, this superbly researched, exquisitely written tome weaves together a great many threads of cultural history into a holistic understanding of both Cage as an artist and Zen as a lens on existence.

Originally featured, with bountiful excerpts and photographs, last July.

AS CONSCIOUSNESS IS HARNESSED TO FLESH

The second published volume of Susan Sontag’s diaries, As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh: Journals and Notebooks, 1964-1980 (public library), one of the best history books of 2012, offers an intimate glimpse of the inner life of a woman celebrated as one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable intellectuals, yet one who felt as deeply and intensely as she thought. Oscillating between conviction and insecurity in the most beautifully imperfect and human way possible, Sontag details everything from her formidable media diet of literature and film to her intense love affairs and infatuations to her meditations on society’s values and vices. Especially enchanting is the evolution of her relationship with love over that decade and a half, as Sontag settles into her own skin not only as a dimensional writer but also as a dimensional human being.

Sample this treasure with Sontag’s wisdom on love, art, education, writing, boredom, censorship, and aphorisms.

THE WHERE, THE WHY, AND THE HOW

In The Where, the Why, and the How: 75 Artists Illustrate Wondrous Mysteries of Science (UK; public library), one of the best science books of 2012, some of today’s most celebrated artists create scientific illustrations and charts to accompany short essays about the most fascinating unanswered questions on the minds of contemporary scientists across biology, astrophysics, chemistry, quantum mechanics, anthropology, and more. The questions cover such mind-bending subjects as whether there are more than three dimensions, why we sleep and dream, what causes depression, how long trees live, and why humans are capable of language. Above all, the project is a testament to the idea that ignorance is what drives discovery and wonder is what propels science — a reminder to, as Rilke put it, live the questions and delight in reflecting on the mysteries themselves.

Originally featured, with artwork and answers, in October.

HENRI’S WALK TO PARIS

Saul Bass is considered by many — myself included — the greatest graphic designer of all time, responsible for some of the most timeless logos and most memorable film title sequences of the twentieth century. In 1962, Bass collaborated with former librarian Leonore Klein on his only children’s book, which spent decades as a prized out-of-print collector’s item. Exactly half a century later, Henri’s Walk to Paris (public library), one of 2012’s best children’s books, was brought back to life.

Originally featured, with more images, last February.

A TECHNIQUE FOR PRODUCING IDEAS

Originally published by an ad man named James Webb Young in 1939, A Technique for Producing Ideas (public library) is a forgotten gem that lays out with striking lucidity and clarity the five essential steps for a productive creative process, touching on a number of elements corroborated by modern science and thinking on creativity: its reliance on process over mystical talent, its combinatorial nature, its demand for a pondering period, its dependence on the brain’s unconscious processes, and more.

Try Young’s 5-step technique here.

THE BIG NEW YORKER BOOK OF DOGS

The Big New Yorker Book of Dogs (public library) is a remarkable collection of canine-themed treats — fiction, poetry, feature articles, humor, cartoons, cover art, manuscript drafts — by a slew of titans culled from the magazine’s archive, including E. B. White, Maira Kalman, John Updike, Jonathan Lethem, and Roald Dahl. Divided into four sections — Good Dogs, Bad Dogs, Top Dogs, and Underdogs — and spanning such subjects as evolution, domesticity, love, family, obedience, bereavement, language, and more, this lavish tome embodies what Malcolm Gladwell eloquently observes in the introduction: “Dogs are not about something else. Dogs are about dogs.”

Cover by Maira Kalman, February 1, 1999

See it in its full glory here.


BONUS: ADVICE TO LITTLE GIRLS

In 1865, legendary satirist Mark Twain did something unexpected — he penned a children’s story, in which he challenged kids to digest the intelligent humor he was, and still is, known for among his adult audiences. Nearly a century and a half later, beloved Russian children’s illustrator Vladimir Radunsky and Brooklyn independent publisher Enchanted Lion () are bringing Advice to Little Girls (public library) to life, envisioned in the style of the scrapbooks and small albums that children of Twain’s era used for doodling and collecting various curious ephemera.

This little gem was a TED Bookstore exclusive — it isn’t publicly available until April, but it’s now out for pre-order.

Complement with other little-known children’s books by famous authors of literature for grown-ups, then catch up on last year’s TED Bookstore selections.

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25 FEBRUARY, 2013

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich on Art vs. Design and the Joy of Losing Yourself in Purposeful Work

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“Art pushes the limit of human experience and language for its own sake, while Design might do this but only to humanize and integrate people’s lives in the context of an economy.”

In a recent episode of the inimitable Design Matters — which has previously given us exhilarating conversations with Paula Scher on creativity, Massimo Vignelli on intellectual elegance, Sophie Blackall on storytelling, and Chris Ware on the architecture of being humanDebbie Millman sits down with designer and typography maestro Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich. His innumerable accomplishments and accolades aside, I — a hopeless lover of beautiful and quirky alphabet books — was instantly smitten with the lovely specimen he created for his daughter’s first Christmas in 2000, inspired by the challenges of instilling an equal love of language in a bilingual child. Titled Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (public library), it features 26 different animals, one for each letter of the alphabet, constructed entirely out of the typeface Bembo. The story of the book’s genesis is as creatively invigorating as it is heart-warming:

In his most recent book, Men of Letters and People of Substance (public library) — a gallery of famous portraits created entirely out of letters and objects, with an introduction by none other than Francine Prose — de Vicq de Cumptich writes:

Design is not Art, since Art exists as an answer to a question posed by an individual artist, while Design exists as an answer to a question posed by the marketplace. Design must have an audience to come into being, while Art seeks an audience, sometimes, luckily, finding it, sometimes not. Art pushes the limit of human experience and language for its own sake, while Design might do this but only to humanize and integrate people’s lives in the context of an economy. Design needs an economic system, while Art does not. Art may become a product, but it’s not the reason why it was created, but how our society transforms it into a commodity.

In fact, this distinction between art and design seems to be a central concern: Echoing Chuck Close’s conception of artists as problem-finders rather than problem-solvers, de Vicq de Cumptich offers a succinct yet poetic definition of the difference between the two:

I like design because [in] design you have a problem and you have a solution … and you have a problem that existed outside of yourself. Art is different: [In art], you have to pose the problem.

Diving deeper into the distinction, de Vicq de Cumptich uses motive — creative impulse vs. commercial gain — as the differentiator, a proposition similar to H. P. Lovecraft’s contrast between “amateurs” and professional journalists:

Adding to history’s great fatherly advice, de Vicq de Cumptich articulates the existential urgency — and joy — of finding your purpose and doing what you love:

One of the things about work that is great is the idea of losing yourself into the work. … You have joy … to play with type, to play with image, to find similarities, to find patterns, to create ideas, to transform… So you lose yourself into the work. And that’s one of the things that I tell to my daughter: Try to find something that you’re so passionate [about] that you lose yourself in it.

De Vicq de Cumptich makes an interesting point about the role of typography as design’s lone singular agent:

The only thing that is specific about graphic design is typography. Everything else you borrow from the other arts — you borrow the image from photography, from painting — but the only thing that is specific material for graphic design is typography. So you have to know type, and you have to learn the history of type, and you have to be willing to play with type.

De Vicq de Cumptich is also the author of Love Quotes (public library), published more than fifteen years ago — a simple, elegant selection of history’s most profound words on love, rendered in exquisite typography alongside expressive photographs by Pedro Lobo.

In a meditation on the creative process, de Vicq de Cumptich ponders where ideas come from and champions the value of managing time purposefully:

Time is also essential. You have to manage your time. Your ideas have to be when you are taking a shower, not when you are in front of a computer.

De Vicq de Cumptich stresses the role of humor in making the audience feel intelligent, a core responsibility of great design also championed by Massimo Vignelli:

Listen to the interview in its entirety and be sure to subscribe to the free Design Matters iTunes podcast for a steady stream of stimulating conversations at the intersection of design, culture, and creativity.

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