Icon

Something about icons makes them so elementary yet exacting at the same time, and that is a notion that I've had difficulty grasping in the past. Whenever a project I'm working on calls for these small nuggets of information, the designers I manage usually elicit a small groan before slumping back to their desks for an afternoon of brainstorming. And I never understood why, because it's just a picture right? Compared to whole websites or branding strategies, how hard can a 40x40 pixel drawing be?

But then I really start to think about how much an icon has to represent by itself without any other supporting feature behind it, and the careful analysis and attention that must be paid in order to prevent the viewer from misunderstanding what it stands for. There are restrictions about what it can look like, what size it needs to be, how complicated it should be, how simple it should be, etc. Suddenly, it's not so easy after all. On the contrary, these boundaries generate an expotentially claustrophobic situation that would make any head spin.

I find myself having a newfound appreciation now for icons that are done well. Lotta Nieminen's identity work for Feyt alongside RoAndCo is extraordinary in its ability to speak volumes about what the website does without overcrowding the page. The design process might have been trying, but you wouldn't guess. Thanks to a couple key images navigating my way, I will never get lost. 

Spill

These Mizukagami water mirrors, designed and created by Rikako Nagashima and Hideto Hyoudou in a collaboration featured at Japanese art gallery ROCKET, are certainly attention-grabbing, but also have the distinct feeling of almost being a mistake. Instead of each piece being a complete and seamless object, the artists have given it tendrils that drip to the ground. One in particular even has a crack in the middle which indicates the natural ripples seen when you disturb the surface of water with a rock, but can appear to be broken and disconcerting to viewers. All in all, this is one spill that I wouldn't have to clean up.

This series reminded me of Salvador Dali's painting The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory as I made the visual link between the dripping mirrors and Dali's melting watches. Dali's work focused on the fragmentation of man's world notwithstanding universal balance, which meant that in spite of all attempts to reach utopia, it is that directive that could bring about man's demise.

Is this a growing trend in our industry lately? Is this deliberate imperfection a response to the pursuit of perfection that the creative world holds as its ultimate goal? Is the latter preferred achievement that has guided many freshly graduated students finally growing old?

I see designers struggle to make their work "perfect" and display it as such so that the world can know exactly what they stand for. But to what end? How much longer can we let this unsaid requirement lead us? The Mizukagami mirrors cannot be seen as something stereotypically whole and functional, but beauty has always been seen in the eye of the beholder. As long as we stand tall with conviction and belief in ourselves, everything we produce will always matter in some way to someone. Don't try to be like everyone else. Stand out and be proud to be different.

Prism

Seeing these thread installations by Gabriel Dawe makes me think of a water mirage that desert dwellers sometimes imagine after a long, hot day - you're not quite sure if it is real or just a fantasy. Its solidity appears impossible, your body wants to move through it like a rainbow, and it is only when you get up close that you find the true implications of the sculpture.

I can sit back and look at Gabriel's work all day, because each angle brings about a different interpretation of the piece due to the way it reflects the light and creates an optical illusion with a dizzying effect. One can't dream of the time and effort it must take to put this together. Nor the focus. With work as physically and emotionally daunting as this, it is so easy to call it quits in the middle.

But that dedication to their craft is what sets artists apart. The intense concentration that gets someone going until they reach the end. The inspiration that gives them a reason to get up in the morning in the first place. How many of us can say that we know what that feels like?

Mist

The phrase, "Lost in the crowd", never seems more real to me than when I view the work of French photographer Edouard Mortec. His series Foules seeks to capture the fervid activity of the Parisian streets while ensuring that not a single person is espoused in any way. Those faces that do make it through are layered on top of each other, blurring the unique definition that sets them apart. The city almost seems too vibrant, as the sensory limits of what the viewer can take in at once are tested and pushed. Despite this, I clearly see the hustle and bustle of a busy city and the stresses of everyday life. But I also see the loneliness one feels sometimes while walking among a crowd.

It is the ultimate expression of irony, that you can be in a group of hundreds yet feel alone. You stand on a subway and look at the fellow riders around you and not one person is glancing back. It's almost as if we are subconsciously trained to hold ourselves in, contain our feelings inside, and seal any holes that might let them out. It's a defense mechanism and our way of protecting what we hold dear. When someone breaks that mold, we think they are strange.

We need each other, we just don't know how to show it. So we tredge along as these photographs show, oblivious to the rest of the world. So it goes.

Feelings

I bought my first item off of Craigslist last weekend (a desk) and went to the seller's house to pick it up. The transaction was simple, the person I interacted with was nice, and then I was on my way. Driving home, it struck me suddenly that I would probably never see or speak with her ever again. That this little blip in both of our timelines was over.

It got me thinking about the number of people I see on an everyday basis and how often I go through this same situation. Whether it's in passing on the subway, a "You're welcome" for holding the door open for someone, a deep relationship you have, or a group of individuals you work with, it is safe to say that the window of opportunity to meet someone new occurs almost daily in our lives. Serendipity has a funny way of bringing people of all creeds together. What's even more striking is what happens when these masses leave us and we reflect back to the period where we knew them when. How they touched us in ways that will forever remain in the past.

No matter how different we are, what connects us together is an intricate family of feelings that we are all born with, and this vial set beautifully photographed by Valerio Loi depicts five such affects that echo the more positive qualities of ourselves and also demonstrate the traits that we are looking for in others. The sereneness of the packaging alongside the simplest of explanations for each attribute lays it down to barest and fullest, and forces us to be honest about what we really crave.

User

I was looking through my old project notebooks recently and wanted to share some thoughts on user experience that have resonated deeply with me. The images above are screenshots of my notes from talks I've attended/listened to by great proponents of UX and empirical research such as Jared Spool and SVA's Interaction Design department. All discussions culminate in the same tipping point: How can we give users what they need and want in the simplest and easiest manner in conjunction with what we do?

It's such an elementary question, isn't it? Who knows our consumers and our products better than us?

Lest we forget that we're dealing with other human beings here and not drones, it is important to note the amount of emotional constitution and behaviorial science involved in the field of usability design. It's not a simple switch we can turn on or off, demanding certain actions based on what we create because people react differently to the same substance. We're also not allowed to assume that just because we think it's obvious, it is readily apparent to the next person. The question "Why can't they just get it?" falls on us to explore, reason, and fix.

In examining these states, we also discover how applicable they are to our daily lives outside of this realm. How the way we think determines the course of our activity. How susceptible we are to outside forces. And how we try to maintain some semblance of control. It is this process of finding out why that makes the difference. 

Spherikal

I seem to be on a roll lately of finding designs that deal with striking the balance between what could be perceived and what is actually there. Spanish motion designer Ion Lucin is no exception with his project Spherikal which explores multiple ways to illustrate a sphere without losing context of the main framework that it is built from. Using Cinema 4D and After Effects, Ion created a Christopher Nolan-esque flm which reaches the core of Gestalt psychology by commanding the audience to keep the circle in tact while viewing multiple iterations - from a spiral to a mesh wire grid to what appears to be the dark side of the moon.

Despite whatever form the sphere was at that moment in the video, it amazed me how much I still saw the outline of the shape manifest itself throughout. It's like when you read a sentence where the letters of each word are scrambled except the first and the last, and you are still able to ingest the information as quickly as you would if they were written normally. The way our brain organizes itself to compartmentalize and self-correct the flow of data we receive is incredible, like we are genetically programmed to consciously and subconsciously not miss every part of every second of every day.

Auditorium

As someone whose experience in music has shaped and given definition to the person they are today, it gives me so much joy to present today's post to you. Art director Bjoern Ewers and copywriter Mona Sibai created this wondrous campaign at the Berlin branch of the Scholz & Friends agency to promote another chamber ensemble season at the Stiftung Berliner Philharmoniker (The Berlin Philharmonic). Taking the audience to depths never seen before, the print ads, photographed by Munich studio Mierswa-Kluska, explore the nether regions of various instruments so that a closer understanding is reached of where the sound actually originates from, making viewers excited about the end result heard at a concert hall.

The way Bjoern has designed this really faciliates the comprehension of what constitutes the instrument makup. I can easily imagine a miniature crowd walking around these tiny "hallways" and "auditoriums", discovering what section of the organ or clarinet is in use as it is being played. In this intimate setting, the audience has a chance to associate the music to the instrument to the emotions they are feeling at that moment. It is this relationship that speaks to me the most, and the ads are so appropriate given the smaller nature of a chamber group compared to a large scale orchestra. 

It's been awhile since I last played my viola and I miss it. I miss being a part of something larger than myself. Seeing this campaign brought me back to a time when I was.

Save

Bringing the phrase, "Reuse, reduce, recycle" to a whole new level, industrial designer Garth Britzman uses over 1,500 plastic bottles to create a car park canopy and enrich our knowledge about what amazing things can be built from ordinary household items. When I saw this project, titled (POP)culture, my curiosity was piqued as to what those "stars" were made of. It is only when you're up close that you can tell each bottle has been painstakingly filled with the same amount of colored liquid, and the overall effect is reminiscent of what you probably see when you are underwater looking up towards the surface.

What's great about this setup is that sunlight and other natural elements will change the chroma of each bottle over time, ensuring that each person who sees this will see it differently. It must be incredibly freeing to sit in your car and look up into this beautiful view, a lovely testament to the green movement that we are constantly striving to improve.

Splash

When you are feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders, as I suspect many of you felt this past week with the rain, take one look at these water sculptures by Japanese artist Shinichi Maruyama in order to feel some semblance of hope. Shinichi's usage of liquid, a Phase One P45 camera, and a Broncolor Strobe brings us a moment in time that is unable to be recreated ever again. However, it is the manipulation of this substance, which sees it being gathered in a pool, thrown into the air, and splashed onto a surface, that tells a story about the unexpected and how things sometimes need to break down in order to come back together. 

There are so many what ifs in our lives, especially during periods of transition, and we often wonder whether or not we are making the right decisions. But I think Shinichi's work can teach us how to take things in stride because by watching his process video above, it is clear that despite the shifting of space in that split second that the sculpture exists, in the end it is all but the same element that it started with. Thus, change isn't the evil that we can perceive it to be, and maybe this different view is what we need to move forward and find something else.

Life

Ownership is a really interesting concept in the world of design because our industry is one that promotes the sharing and collaboration of ideas. Extraordinary things have come out of these partnerships (the association of Scott Schuman, Garance Dore, and Tiffany & Co. being one of my favorites), and we are left better and more aware because of them. But since so many people have had their hands in the pot, we sometimes have a too many cooks in the kitchen scenario and are unsure of who came up with the recipe in the first place. How do we know to whom to bestow proper credit?

Illustrator and designer Amy Borrell found a solution to this problem with her autobiographical book A Brief Account of a Life Lived So Far. In publishing, teams are built with an editor, writer, illustrator, and printer, and they all work together to produce the books we read and enjoy. Amy singlehandedly encompassed all of those jobs when she collected the sentiments from her experiences, collated these moments in alphabetical order, and created each section to fit within the embroidered binding she had made. She had complete control over each step of the process, and in turn, was able to pour her entire self into the finished product. There is no question here who did what, because it was all her.

Being part of a cooperative will always be beneficial, but doing something for yourself by yourself will always belong to you alone. Take that and cherish it for all its worth.

Mulberry

The mark of a successful redesign connects the past to the present and gives way for the future, and Mulberry is one of those brands that can be summed up in one word: timeless. Their look and feel is attributed to the work of London studio Construct, the brainchild of founder and creative director, Georgia Fendley, who also serves as Brand Director for the clothing and lifestyle company. Georgia's creative hand brought a new mood and tactility to all identity, collateral, and retail components without compromising the British heritage or eponymous tree logo that this establishment is built on. Her team at Construct designed everything with a sense of function and aspiration, in the hopes that consumers may touch one of Mulberry's products and know exactly where it came from and why.

Ira

Those of you who know me personally know what a sucker I am for typographic animation, and I've found another great piece to showcase on Sketch today, this time by director and filmmaker David Shiyang Liu. David took pieces of a talk by This American Life host Ira Glass and turned it into a whirlwind ride that, despite its speed, captured my attention for every word and transformed Ira's voice into something more tangible to connect to. Hearing someone speak and also seeing the text on screen combines two distinct actions so that your senses latch onto the message deeper than if you were doing just one of those things.

I want to focus on what Ira is saying too because his monologue of disappointment and disbelief describes what I see in the creative industry often. There is an underlying pressure to assert yourself and produce designs that speak to who you are as an artist, and when this doesn't happen right away, there is a disconnect. After awhile, it gets to the point where it almost doesn't matter anymore because none of it fulfills your personal standards anyway, and we end up doing things just because. The vicious cycle never seems to end.

But it's not like this forever. The key is to never give up, know your strengths, play to them, and let them grow.  Eventually, a breakthrough is reached and things fall into place. It has to, because effort is never a virtue that is ignored.

Cup

It's almost spring cleaning around these parts and I am currently on the hunt for a couple new things for the kitchen. Something I would love to get are these amazing glasses by Korean studio Tale Design, which are both minimalistic and educational in the most literal sense of the word. As the user finishes their drink in the Moon glass, the receding tide reveals the various phases of the Moon due to a unique divider within the cup that allows the liquid to delicately flow from one side to the next. For those of you who have never been to the Pennine Alps near Switzerland, never fear, since one of its mountain's peak is immortalized in the Matterhorn glass as an exact crystal replica.

Objects like this that have been consciously built as a means to engage the user is what makes product design so great. 

Hand

Remember back when I wrote that typography these days was starting to become commonplace in its old Renaissance-esque calligraphy? I had mentioned that I was looking for a style that was bold, brazen, and new to today's standards, and I believe that it has been found in Tien-Min Liao. Tien-Min's technique creating both uppercase, lowercase, and italicized letters using only black ink and her finger orientation makes you do a double-take, as you can hardly imagine something that is normally complex and calculated coming out of a substance as flawed and imperfect as the human body.  

It is interesting to note that most disections of typefaces include a rich, mathematical blueprint, and in fact, the more the equations there are, the better and more credible it is. Designers in general pride themselves on the ability to determine the best possible distance between two points because there just has to be an entity that exists which is far better than a straight line. But, and this is a concept I repeat here agan and again, what about the imagination therein that brings ideas like this to the surface? Instead of immediately taking to a pencil and a piece of paper to design her typeface, Tien-Min determined that her best tools were the ones that she was born with - her hands. From there, her process was born so that she could create something remarkable like this:

Streak

Most artists need a reference point or guide before undertaking any portrait work, but French graphic designer and illustrator Florian Nicolle doesn't require an explicit statement of what a person looks like before he starts drawing. While he structures his pieces in a way that gives us the affordance to come up with an idea of what we are supposed to be looking at, he also leaves certain parts behind so that we use our own creativity to finish them off individually. Since we aren't chained to any preconceived notion of who this character should be, we are ultimately free to decide our own analyses ourselves which ensures that each interpretation stays fresh and remains different.

Utilizing the technique known as tradigital (traditional drawings by hand plus digital touches on a computer), Florian combines the two mediums to make each deliberate brush stroke pop out even more. I want to bring your attention to the level of emotion that is laid out before you with his work because when you stare into the eyes of his subjects, their flat surfaces become instantly transformed into something that is gripping and almost real. This is the true pull that keeps viewers mesmerized, as out of nowhere, you are presented with something that is very much alive.

Snow

With Spring fastly approaching, I wanted to give us all a chance to relive this fleeting winter wonderland one last time in the form of these incredible snow crop circles created by Sonja Hinrichsen. This installation was done in Rabbit Ears Pass, Colorado with the help of 5 volunteers who trekked through the vast expanse of the Rocky Mountains to bring us a visual delight from up above. What looks like simple footsteps from the ground becomes a different view entirely once you see the bigger picture.

As an artist and environmentalist, Sonja's top priority is to maintain the vitality of nature by composing her works in a way that is impermanent, and easily disintegrated organically. In purposefully building something whose mark cannot be felt forever, she brings our attention to society's tendency to overproduce, oversell, and overprioritize materialism, and the notion of quantity over quality. When something beautiful is this fleeting, Sonja's hope is that we appreciate our moment with it just a bit more than we normally would.

Diner

Last summer, I spent the almost obligatory (for any New Jersey native, at least) weekend at Atlantic City and stayed at The Chelsea Hotel. While I did partake in boardwalk activities and beaching, I regret that I did not visit Teplitzky's, the diner that resided 7 floors underneath me, especially after seeing their menu design on Mucca. The New York based studio derived the restaurant's brand and identity in a way that instantly reminded me of an ice cream parlor from the 1950s with its eccentric typeface and pastel palette. The eatery was actually named for the hotel that used to be where its current location is now, and is a loving homage to the past.

In a place where glitz and glamour are the main ways of grabbing customers' attention, seeing this vintage, old fashioned look and feel is refreshing and a throwback to the thriving community that A.C. used to be during that period. Next time, I will be sure to stop in for a treat.