Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass — Kemistry Gallery

February 27, 2011, 11:37 AM


Kemistry Galley has come up again with a great exhibition. Titled Bass Notes: The film posters of Saul Bass, it shows several works of the great Saul Bass — posters, storyboards and stills — which toured the world’s film festivals until his death, in 1996. Jim Northover writes how Lloyd Northover ‘inherited’ the exhibits:

A year or so after Saul’s death in 1996, I got a call from a headhunter in the States saying that she had a brief to find someone to take over the Saul Bass studio in Los Angeles. Herb Yager, Saul’s partner, no longer wanted to run it himself, but was keen for the business to continue. Since we had been looking to set up an office in the US, this seemed like a real opportunity. After Herb was reassured that he had found suitable inheritors, the business was acquired. We celebrated the event at a dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Herb, Elaine Bass (Saul’s widow) and some of the team.

A few months later we found we had inherited something else. A travelling exhibition of Saul’s film posters had been doing the rounds of film festivals all over the world. One day it arrived back in London. We had to store it and look after it. We soon realised it was too big and expensive a task to keep it properly, so we handed it on to the British Film Institute, requesting that it should not be lost from public view, and hopefully shown from time to time.

The posters on show, thanks to the BFI, are the very same ones that formed part of the travelling exhibit. They were produced by the Saul Bass studio in the 1990s to celebrate Saul’s work. Many air miles later these historic originals are now on show here.

There are 19 posters on show including: Anatomy of a Murder (1955), The Man with a Golden Arm (1955), Saint Joan, Bonjour Tristesse (1958), Vertigo (1958), Exodus (1960), Spartacus (1960), The Magnificent Seven (1960), and a selection of storyboards (the ones from Psycho being a real treat) and title sequences. The exhibition is on till March 17, open Mon–Sat 10.00–18.00, so if you’re in London, don’t miss it.

More photos after the jump (click on the images for larger size).
» Continue reading

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Breathtaking dancing: “Sacred Monsters”, Akram Khan & Sylvie Guillem

February 4, 2011, 12:22 AM

It is a rare and beautiful thing to hold your breath while watching a human body in motion, dancing, telling a story. “Sacred Monsters” is an internationally-acclaimed contemporary dance production, presented by a mesmerizing dancing duo, Akram Khan and Sylvie Guillem.

Just leave everything and watch this:

and here is another one, a bit longer:

I just hope they’ll show it again someday in London — or somewhere close in Europe. There is a 2009-recorded version on Amazon, but I’m sure it can only give you a glimpse of the real thing.

Further reading & links:
— More about the show on Akram’s company website;
— An interview in The Independent — Akram Khan: ‘You have to become a warrior’;
— Learn about kathak, a form of Indian classical dances: Khatak Wikipedia entry.
— Listen to the show’s soundtrack on the Sacred Monsters MySpace.

Thanks bro’ for sharing this beauty.

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Ed Rondthaler on English spelling — Brilliant short

February 3, 2011, 10:02 AM

A wonderful short movie, showing the renowed Ed Rondthaler talking about how “logic” English spelling is. I love how humorously he presents the facts, reminds me a bit of Milton Glaser‘s quirky way of doing presentations.

Ed Rondthaler on English spelling from Bob Smartner on Vimeo.

/via Anton Mircea (Facecrook‘s father)

And while we’re at it, here are quite a few spelling poems, playing on the absurdity of the English language — The English Spelling Society: Spelling poems.

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Hustling the greats — cheap bravado or a genuine “naked emperor” shout?

January 28, 2011, 12:41 PM

While reading Adrian Shaughnessy’s interesting review of Kenneth FitzGerald’s Volume: Writing on Graphic Design, Music, Art and Culture book (on the Design Observer), a paragraph caught my attention especially:

It’s not only his students FitzGerald wants to refrain from gazing admiringly at the great and the good of the design world. His own combative approach to criticism means that he doesn’t shy away from roughing up representatives of design’s elite: Alan Fletcher (“The Art of Looking Sideways … a formless data-dump of quotations, aphorisms, diagrams, reproductions, commentaries, and folderol”); John Maeda (“sterile, programmed ornamentation”); Paul Rand (… students will become even more marginalized and disenchanted with their work and status if they attempt to define themselves by Rand’s fallacies); and Stefan Sagmeister (“Made you Look … a fatiguing compendium of almost every optical, production, and advertising-creative artifice devised since Gutenberg”).

I don’t think I need to tell you that this is the design’s equivalent of whistling bare-assed inside the church on a Sunday morning. Does Mr FitzGerald really mean that? Or is he just saying it to shock and draw attention? What should we believe in then, if role models or mentors are over-rated? It’s easy to say “do your own thing”, but so few of us can actually do that.

It has always been one of the best ways to get fast on top (either in gang fights or in public opinion): pick someone bigger than you — hell, pick the biggest of them all — and make him bite the dust. Should you succeed, you’re the man (until another does it to you, of course). Should you loose, do it in style and at least you’ve made the news — more or less.

It seems these days that almost everybody worships individualism. You can see it in almost everything — large businesses are slowly fragmenting, everybody tries to be a “freelancer”, everybody wants to be their own boss — an understandable thing, after all, who likes to take orders all day?. Marriages are shorter and shorter, single parentage slowly gains ground and becomes the “normal” way of growing up a kid. It’s all fine-tuning as the ultimate self-centred society. A planet of “every man for himself only”. Well, to be more precise, a “western” civilisation of loners. And these days — go figure — most of them (us) seem so bewitched by iStuff.

Well, if Mr FitzGerald wanted attention, he’s surely got it. And maybe that’s a good thing. Shouting out that “the emperor is naked” might prove a lie, but it did make you look thoroughly, didn’t it? I still think that apprenticeship as a way of learning was one of the good things we lost during the last fifty years. Having role-models can be very useful, but only as long as we never forget that role-models are meant to be surpassed.

As post scriptum, the cover of the book looks rather nice:

And while we’re at it, here’s another quote from Mr FitzGerald’s book:

It is a delusion that the activity of fine artists is divorced from commercial considerations. It isn’t even a matter of degree. All that separates art and design is the kind of marketplace one chooses to operate in.

Now that’s something with which I totally agree.

Further reading & links:
• Adrian Shaughnessy’s review of the book on the Design Observer;
• Kenneth FitzGerald’s blog post about his book.

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Logo Design Love: A Guide to Creating Iconic Brand Identities — Book Review

January 21, 2011, 8:56 PM

“Anyone involved in creating visual identities, or wanting to learn how to go about it, will find this book invaluable.” — Tom Geismar, Chermayeff & Geismar.

Now, getting one of the greatest designers to write such a commending line about your book is no small thing. Even if just for this recommendation, David Airey‘s book is worth buying. However, praises can be biased, and great designers are usually kind and helpful (read Jessica Helfand’s beautiful article on “The Kindness of Strangers” and you’ll see what I mean — no, it’s not about Paul Rand, he’s the “angry” type).

But let’s get on with the review. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last three years or just found out about graphic design yesterday, David Airey is one of the most successful design bloggers around, writing two graphic design blogs, logodesignlove.com and davidairey.com (having more than 700,000 monthly page views). His newest, Identity Designed, is a site featuring work and inside stories from great design studios around the world (I can see a book version coming soon for this one as well). Logo Design Love started as a blog in January 2008, devoted to the design of logos and visual identities. Having become so successful, it eventually led to a book offer, as David wrote in Jan 2009.

» Continue reading

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Reverting to Type — A Treat from the New North Press

January 17, 2011, 6:05 PM

Held at the Standpoint Gallery, “Reverting to Type” explores the modern execution of letterpress. Curated by Graham Bignell of New North Press and graphic designer Richard Ardagh, the exhibition showcases the work of twenty contemporary letterpress practitioners from around the world, contributions from three leading art colleges and the first eight in an ongoing series of prints with especially invited collaborators.

The show opened on 10th Dec 2010 and it’s still on till 22nd Jan 2011 (this Saturday), so if you’re in London and you haven’t seen it already, do yourself a favour and go see it — open daily from 10 to 6.

The beautiful poster and invitation for the exhibition.

Here’s a close-up teaser (more images after the jump):

» Continue reading

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Changing light metering on the iPhone with Camera+

January 14, 2011, 11:53 PM

Long before every school kid had a photo-taking phone, or even before point & shoot cameras were cheap as dirt, photography was something you had to make sacrifices for. As a student, I could only afford shooting, developing and printing two films per month at most. Each shot meant taking a really good look, carefully setting the aperture and the speed and waiting for the right moment. After that, I would jot down on a small paper the film’s position and the used settings — the only way to learn how everything worked, days or weeks later, after I’ve finished the film and see the the printed photos.

But enough about the good ol’ days. Digital photography is king, and today Flickr’s most used camera is Apple’s planetary-successful iPhone (Nokia still don’t know what hit them). The iPhone4 has a superb 5 MP camera, with a very interesting HDR ability. Like always with Apple, it’s not about the specs — I bet the 5 MP iPhone photos look a lot better than most 6 or even 8 MP other phone-taken photos, but you can call me biased. Still, typical for Apple, you can’t manually set anything except the flash (my old Nokia N73 had quite a lot of manual settings, including 8-steps exposure compensation). Light is mostly spot-metered around the focus area, which doesn’t help much, since you can’t even lock the setting in any way. So, almost each time I took a photo, I wished I had my old Canon Eos 33 with it’s trust-worthy exposure compensation dial.

In comes Camera+ 2.0.

This handy app had quite its quarrels with Apple, being pulled off the App store a few times for making use of the iPhone’s volume buttons to snap the photos — a smart idea, which says quite a lot about the developers, but Apple didn’t fell for it, considering it an illegal use of the device. The 2.0 version got approved though (minus the nifty volume trick), and comes with a lot useful features, but most of all, with a simple way of controlling the metering.

… but add a second finger on the screen and—boom!—magic happens.

It’s all done very easily: the camera focuses just as the default one, when you touch it; but add a second finger and in comes the touch exposure control. You can play around with it on the screen and see how metering the light in different areas provide quite different results, from dark under-exposed photos to bright, over-exposed ones. Here’s an example, first metering the light in the brightest area, the clouds:

A beautiful sun-setting sky: the light is metered on the brightest spot, the clouds.

then metering the light in one of the dark spots, the shadowed house:

An eerie, washed-out sky: the light is metered in one of the dark areas of the frame.

Now, some will say that’s no big deal, as the iPhone’s standard camera can do pretty much the same thing. But what will you do when you’d like to set lens focus in one area of the frame, but measure the light in another? Take this case, for example:

Different focus areas, with similar metering — also, different White Balance settings.

In the first case, the focus is almost macro-like, very close. The metering is in the same area as the focus. In the second image however, the focus shifts towards the back of the picture — but the metering remains in the same area as before. There is however something else changed now: the white balance. Enter the White-Balance-lock button, the second reason why this app is great. In the second picture, the white balance is measured on the screen, locked, then the “touch exposure ring” is moved back to the same area as in the first picture.

These two features are the things that convinced me to buy yet another photo app for my iPhone. It has plenty more, like editing (cropping, rotating, flipping), scene modes and some crappy borders (heh, must give something to the muggles as well, right?).

So, Camera+ is probably the closest thing you’ll get to a manual settings camera feeling on your iPhone. And, for just £1.19, I’d say it’s a steal :) But just in case you’re still not convinced, you can also read the Camera+ 2.0 review on TUAW.


Note:
Some might ask why would anyone bother with SLR-like settings on a phone camera. I’ll just say this: the best camera is the one you have. Hope that’s enough to shoo the trolls :)

Further reading:
• If you want to see some real old-school film photography, check out Kit’s blog — Two words: Leica Noctilux.
Stanley Kubrick’s perfectionism leading to some special Zeiss lenses /via Gizmodo.

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Paul Rand: Conversations with Students — Book review

January 2, 2011, 9:52 PM

«Everything is design. Everything!» … «It is important to use your hands, this is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.»

Starting with bold, very Rand-like quotes, Paul Rand: Conversations with Students, written by Michael Kroeger, is a small book divided in two parts: first, the conversations themselves, from February 1995 (first between Kroeger and Paul, together with his wife Marion, then between Rand and students from the School of Design, Arizona State University) and second, five homages from designers that had the privilege of studying with him closely. The author himself had the privilege of an individual one-week session in Brissago, Switzerland — as did Phillip Burton, Armin Hoffman, Herbert Matter and Wolfgang Weingart (also the book’s Foreword writer).

» Continue reading

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Book reviews — Introducing a new category on the blog

January 1, 2011, 10:27 PM

This post opens the new year with a new category on the blog, Book Reviews. As an incurable book-addict (thanks mum!), I’ve always had problems deciding what to buy first (good design & typography books are rarely cheap, especially for a student). Few websites are of real help, the best being YouWorkForThem (Amazon’s «Look Inside» feature usually being just a nuisance) — others being Jason Santa Maria’s Rec. Reading (very short on details) or Design Observer’s list (short info and far too many). There are dozens of books on typography or grid design, for instance, but few offer a helpful & thorough take on the subject — or bring anything new at all — so we’re usually left asking: which one?

Hopefully, I’ll make things a bit easier. Here are a few points that I’ll try to touch:

  1. show inside photos of the book, as they’re usually the best way to get the feeling & usefulness of the book (plus, let’s face it, we–designers first look at the pictures, no matter how type-obsessed we are);
  2. give a more personal, designer’s review of the book, explaining why it is good (or where it lacks) and what’s to learn from it (rather than just state what it’s about);
  3. compare it to similar books or give further reading recommendations (some are ok for beginners, some require previous readings or knowledge);
  4. keep it short enough — I wouldn’t want to spoil your reading pleasure — “The secret of being boring is to say everything,” according to Voltaire;
  5. quote some of the most memorable parts, the ones that should stay with you for quite some time (also reminders for myself and those that have read the book).
  6. colophon — besides the fact that many times we buy them just for their looks, you can learn a lot not just by reading a book, but also by looking at how it’s made (what typefaces it uses, what kind of grid and so on).

I’ll be reviewing one or two books per month, maybe more, if time permits (images-mostly books are easier, of course, but I try to avoid them, as there’s usually little to learn from them). Unless I buy or get something new that I find extremely interesting, all the books will be from my shelf (if you want one reviewed faster or just a short opinion, feel free to write me). Any comments, ideas or further details are more than welcome, as always.

Thank you for reading, the first review will follow shortly and it’s about one of the greats, Paul Rand — stay tuned.

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Happy New Year and a great 2011!

December 30, 2010, 12:23 AM

Thank you all for reading this year as well, in spite of the less frequent writings — it’s been quite a ride, especially moving to London this fall. Hopefully, things will get back to normal in 2011, as I really miss writing regularly (spider webs have begun to show up here and there inside my head already). I have two new projects (actually two new sub-sections of the website) that will start in January and I hope I’ll be able to get the Design Challenge team back together as well (again, to avoid the spiders getting too comfy).

May we all have a Happy New Year and a great 2011!


Colophon:
The text on the card is written with an Italic Fountain Pentel 1.3 (thanks Kit!) on a 140g Ryman A4 Notebook, photographed with an iPhone 4 using Hipstamatic (Lens: John S, film: Blanko, flash: Dreampop). The candy is from M&S — not a great taste, but good enough for decorative purposes :)

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