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The Creative (Re)Touch

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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How Happiness Happens

What a 102-year-old Spanish man has to do with motion typography and the secret of happiness.

We’re going constitutional today — Brain Pickings is after the pursuit of happiness. And we’ve uncovered three gems that attempt to unravel the quintessential human mystery: What is happiness, and how the hell do we get our little hands on it?

COCA-COLA “ENCOUNTER”

Generally — and perhaps cynically — speaking, the goal of marketing is to show us all the ways in which we fall short, stealing happiness away from us only to sell it back to us at the price of the product. So when it comes to branding, there’s no greater feat of identity than owning the construct of happiness itself. Which is exactly the branding platform Coke has been building for the past decade.

But cynicism aside, Encounter, Coke’s latest spot from Madrid agency McCann-Erickson and director Andy Fogwill, is a delightful bag of mush, the kind that makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside despite your every instinct to cringe at the underlying marketing ploy.

You may not be any more inclined to drink Coke now, but maybe you’re just a little bit more likely to, you know, go live the happy life. And isn’t that daily little bit all it comes down to?

via Creativity Online

AUTHENTIC HAPPINESS

Back in 2006, we were fortunate enough to study under Dr. Martin Seligman, not only a renowned TEDster but also former chairman of the American Psychological Association elected by the largest margin in history. More importantly, Dr. Seligman is the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, a nascent branch of psychology concerned with the empirical study of positive emotions, strengths-based character, and healthy institutions.

The Authentic Happiness program is Dr. Seligman’s primary brainchild, a research-driven cluster of positive interventions aimed at increasing our level of happiness — our ability to feel more satisfied, to find more meaning in life, to be more engaged and present in the moment — regardless of our circumstances.

We couldn’t recommend the program enough — it’s free to join and easily the best thing you’ll do for yourself all year or, perhaps, ever. So go ahead and head over to the Questionnaires Center for an accurate assessment of where you fall on the happiness spectrum right now, what your greatest psychological strengths are, what you need to work on and how.

There may not be a blueprint for happiness, but these are the most powerful drawing tools and the widest canvas you’ll ever find.

TED ON HAPPINESS

What’s a Wednesday without some shameless chest-beating? Yep, we have a new episode on TEDify, a TED-based quest for the most sought-after piece of existential human truth, that most fundamental question: What makes us happy?

See the full list of speakers and catch up on the TED talks sampled here — take it from a cynic, happiness can be synthesized, but it requires that you unearth all the right elements to ignite the reaction. And we happen to think TED is the proverbial periodic table.

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Product Design Spotlight: The Little Bottle That Could

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.

plupOkay, 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

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Monday Music Muse: Dan Auerbach

Resurrecting rock, or what Southern porches have to do with Brooklyn hipsters.

Every once in a while, we wonder what happened to rock. Real, gritty, sung-from-the-back-of-a-smoky-bar rock. When did it stop being “in”? When did it steal candy from Brooklyn’s hipsters and get reported to the uncoolness police?

Luckily, we don’t subscribe to such regulations. Good music is good music. And Keep It Hid, the solo debut of Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, is pure rock indulgence, good music supreme.

You can just see him pouring himself a somber glass of whiskey, sitting out on a Southern porch with his old guitar and a half-smoked cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, trying to unravel the paradox of melancholic anger while thinking of your sister in ways you don’t want anyone thinking about your sister.

With sound that’s part Johnny Cash, part Gnarls Barkley, part Lenny Kravitz’ infamous guitar, Keep It Hid takes real rock by the grimy collar and drags it out of its pop culture slump.

via Very Short List

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