Author: Author

I'm a designer living and working in the Kansas City area. I'm into art, design, music, food, adult beverages, auto racing, architecture and more.

Leveling It Up, 1920 vs 2019

When I was 4 and a half I lost my grandfather to cancer. I don’t remember that much about the whole ordeal that seemed to last for an entire year. I have faded memories of my grandfather from before he ended up in the hospital, and I remember the hospital itself. Sitting in the lobby under the watchful eye of one of the nurses. I can still see the Green and White linoleum tiled floor, brown marble columns, the massive wooden desk the nurses sat at and the bronze ceiling clock to this day. To pass the time while my mom and grandmother were visiting him, I would look through the Sears Christmas catalog and dream about all the toys I wanted. I wasn’t allowed to go up to his room because of my age and the seriousness of his illness.

After my grandfather passed there were a few things that were given to my older brother and I. All of his fishing tackle including the most amazing green Zebco fly reel. A wooden level that he had purchased around 1920 according to my grandmother. Various odds and ends like a wooden ashtray that looked like a sombrero he had purchased in Tijuana and things I simply can’t remember. All of it is gone now except for the level. I have somehow managed to hang on to it for all these years and until recently used it from time to time. It was hard to read due to dirt and the fact the bubbles had fogged over time, but it has sentimental value and there is something about the way it was built. It’s a tank.

1920 vs 2019

Late last week I bought a new gas grill that will be arriving soon and I knew I was going to need to level out the section of the patio where the grill would live. The patio tapers away from the house and I had no idea how much. I finally caved and decided to get a new 36-inch level to make sure that my handy work was going to be accurate. I jumped on Amazon and quickly saw that there are about 100 million different choices when it comes to levels. I didn’t need anything fancy, but I did want something that was solid and would stand the test of time. Something like my grandfathers trusty wooden level from the 1920s.

My level of choice was the Sands Level & Tool SL3030 Professional Cast Aluminum Level, 36-Inch level. Is it as cool as a 100-year-old wooden level? Yes and no. It’s a solid product, featuring a cast aluminum body with red lacquered edges. It looks great, and it also looks like the design hasn’t been updated since the 1960s except for the bubble assemblies which I really like. I love the fact that embossed in the casting is the company name and slogan, “Sands Levels Tell the Truth” It gives it that extra something that just completes the product for me. I also love the fact that these are made in the USA, in Witchita Kansas.

My grandfathers level is solid mahogany and brass. It is old school, it’s an antique after all. The new level is going to do just fine though. I’ll be putting it to work on Thursday when the new grill arrives and I level it out before grilling up something tasty.

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Giant Ant for the “On Being” Podcast

One of my regular podcast listens is On Being with John O’Donohue and I have been listening quite a bit more in the last 6 months for a number of reasons I’m not going to go into here. If you have some free time give it a listen, I guarantee it’ll be worth your time.

Recently Giant Ant, one of my favorite motion graphics/video/design firms was given the opportunity to put together a short animated piece for On Being and results are wonderful.

Giant Ant was given a wide open brief to work with so they had plenty of room to explore and take some risks. What they produced is a 44 second animated short that moves from illustrative to abstract and back again balanced against O’Donohue’s narration. It’s really quite lovely and frankly, I’d love to see something like this done for the entire length of the podcast. (I know time and money…)

RowFree Helps Me Row Away Evenings

I have used a Concept 2 rower for physical exercise for longer than I can remember. It is such a great workout and the C2 is built like a tank. If you can swing it, I highly recommend picking one up.

Like all rowers except for the Hydrow the workout can be a bit boring. You are going back and forth for 45 minutes to an hour with an occasional break for stretching or interval weight training. To combat the boredom I use a pair of Bluetooth earbuds that I have paired with my phone so I can listen to music or books on tape. I also have them paired with my Apple TV so if I feel inclined I can pull the rower into the downstairs media room/office and watch something on the TV while rowing.

The thing is, moving the rower is kind of a pain, and I never do it. Because of this, I started looking for a stand of some kind to hold my iPad and position it close enough to see the screen without hitting it as I rowed. I found nothing that I liked or that I thought would work. Then I found RowFree, and I’m in love.

The RowFree Mount is a quickly installed bracket that can be used with Concept2 rowers, BikeERG, and SkiERG to hold electronic devices like tablets, smartphones, and laptops.  The RowFree Mount is highly adjustable and can be used to quickly position your device exactly where you need it. 

Constructed from aluminum alloy, the bracket is light and durable. The bracket simply slips over the PM5 on my Concept 2 and then adjusts to hold my device directly in my line of sight for the entire workout routine. I love this thing. It is simple, functional design at its finest. It’s not over-thought or overly complicated. It has a simple function and it works. It doesn’t block the readout on my PM5 and it makes rowing a whole lot more enjoyable.

RowFree is a small business located in Bend, Oregon.  Their mission is to provide the best way to interact with tablets, smartphones, and laptops while rowing. I think they nailed it.

The Value of Good Design

If I only had a few extra days of vacation and a few extra dollars to spend I know what I’d be visiting in the next couple of weeks. MoMa’s “The Value of Good Design” exhibit that is currently up through June 15th. The video below is a fun two-minute look at some of the design and designers featured and some of the more iconic pieces in the show. If you’re in New York or headed there soon, this would be well worth a visit.

Featuring objects from domestic furnishings and appliances to ceramics, glass, electronics, transport design, sporting goods, toys, and graphics, The Value of Good Design explores the democratizing potential of design, beginning with MoMA’s Good Design initiatives from the late 1930s through the 1950s, which championed well-designed, affordable contemporary products. The concept of Good Design also took hold well beyond the Museum, with governments on both sides of the Cold War divide embracing it as a vital tool of social and economic reconstruction and technological advancement in the years following World War II. This global scope is reflected in many of the items on view, from a mass-market Italian Fiat Cinquecento automobile and a Soviet-era East German Werra camera to a Japanese poster for a Mitsubishi sewing machine and a Brazilian bowl chair. These works join both iconic and unexpected items made in the US, such as the Eames La Chaise, a Chemex Coffee Maker, and Irwin Gershen’s Shrimp Cleaner.

Slide Over With HMM

I spend most of my day working on a computer in programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Premier and on my iPad using apps like Art Rage, or Sketchbook. These tools allow me to create everything from illustrations to motion graphics and video. As great as all of these tools are, they can’t replace the tactile feeling of putting pen to paper and actually drawing.

As a designer, I am always looking for quality drafting tools and drawing implements. That pen or pencil with the right weight balance, and feel in the hand. While it seems like something that should be easy it’s not. The right tool makes all the difference and you can feel it as soon as you pick up a pen or pencil that has it.

Recently I discovered HMM, a Japanese company whose goal is to make “The Ordinary Classy”. The name stands for Human-Mechanic-Method and they specialize in the manufacture of finely crafted coffee ware and office accessories.

“We focus on polishing the details that make utensils unique and human. With selected materials and craftsmanship our products are classic and timeless. They are ready to embellish your daily life.” HMM

What I picked up from them is “Slide“. A winner of this year’s iF Design Award, Slide is a stylish and multi-functional ruler and pen in one. Finely crafted from milled aluminum, and coated in a matte black finish.

The sleek tool features a unique magnetic structure that allows the pen and ruler to be split up into two pieces, or be reassembled back into one with a feeling that is fluid, and smooth.

Slide has a triangular shape to the body with one side that is distinctively flat while the other two roll into a gently curved edge. It feels really comfortable in my hand. The pen writes and draws beautifully with smooth ink flow allowing for a lighter touch and more control. The pen can be used independently from the ruler or with it by simply pushing it forward to expose the tip. With the ruler attached to the pen, the back takes on the same gently curving arch with an almost indistinguishable seam between the pen and the ruler.

The ruler is all metric measurements. That makes sense since it is a Japanese product designed for the world market. That doesn’t bother me at all though. I’m not going to be using it for doing much measuring, I’ll be using it to help me draw straight lines when I need them.

The packaging is impressive as well. Well thought out and executed with sustainable materials. Slide comes in a matte black cardboard sleeve. Inside there is a stacked chipboard container that has been cut to hold the device in place. The container is wrapped in a black paper liner that contains simple instructions on how to refill the pen and use it.

Along with the packaging, there is a really well-designed catalog of HMM products. Minimal layout and simple type treatments really round out the emphasis on the quality HMM put into their product and package design.

How Things Have Changed in Paris in 8 Short Years

A photo I didn’t take at Musée de l’Orangerie. It wasn’t this empty, and everyone was snapping photos on their smartphones.

I recently took a short trip to Paris over the Easter week. This isn’t my first trip there, but it has been 8 years since I was in Paris last. The last time I was there the iPhone was still fairly new. Smartphones hadn’t taken over the universe. Instagram was still a newer social media platform and people were less obsessed with taking selfies.

Today it’s a different story. I’m going to use my visit to Musée d’Orsay as the backdrop for the biggest change I saw. Actually, it’s the same change that is happening everywhere, not just in Paris.

The change I’m talking about is the self-obsession and documentation that everyone does. And I do mean everyone. From the youngest kid with a smartphone to the oldest adult. 8 years ago at Musée d’Orsay people actually looked at the art. You could stand in front of a painting and look at it while the people next to you did the same thing.

Today however you look at the art through your smartphone, take a photo of it to prove you were there, upload it to social media, then turn around and snap a selfie in front of the same piece and move on. The engagement is no longer about the work of art. It’s about documenting your presence with the art and sharing it on a social platform. It’s not even about “Hey look at this beautiful painting I saw”. It’s about the desire to prove you were there and increase your popularity.

I say this because no one spent any time really looking at the pieces in the museum. They saw a Monet, walked up to it, snapped a couple of pics, then moved on to the next victim down the way. As I stood in the museum watching the activity, I began timing the length of interaction individuals had with the art. It was on average less than 10 seconds each. Not long enough to appreciate it, but long enough to capture it and then share it on social media.

This wasn’t isolated to Musée d’Orsay either. I saw the same thing at the Roden museum, Giverny, Musée de l’Orangerie, the burned remains of Notre Dame, and countless other spots in Paris. This was especially true at Atelier des Lumières where you are in an immersive experience with projection mapped animation and art surrounding you. The whole point of Atelier des Lumières is to be immersed in the art and experience it in 360 degrees. It’s a little hard to do when you are busy capturing a video of the experience rather than actually experiencing it.

The only location that seemed somewhat free of it was a section of the Roden museum that featured a series of plaster maquette’s in one of the upper rooms of the house.

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I really wish all of these spaces would ban smartphones and selfie sticks. I know it’s a losing battle, and could probably never be enforced, but damn they totally ruin the experience for those of us that really want to enjoy the masterworks contained within.

Now, where is that photo I took on my phone of the…

For the 50th Anniversary of Man on the Moon I Picked Up the NASA Graphics Standards Manual

On July 20th, 1969 I was seven and a half years old and I still remember being glued to the TV as the first live broadcast from the lunar surface was beamed back to Earth. The family was downstairs in our family room/office. Walter Cronkite was giving the play by play and then they cut to a grainy picture of Neal Armstrong as he stepped off the ladder and spoke his now famous line. ” That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

I have always been a bit of a space nut. I think being born at the beginning of the space race helped solidify that in me. I’ve been fascinated with everything from the space flight itself to the amazing illustrations produced for NASA.

With this year marking the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, I decided to break down and pick up a copy of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphic Standards Manual. It’s been out for a few years and has been on my short list so I finally decided to pull the trigger and pick it up.

For a designer and self-professed space nerd, this is pure heaven. This is a few hundred pages of the design systems put in place by Richard Danne, Bruce Blackburn, and the staff at Danne & Blackburn in 1974.

This reissue is a modern spin on the original which was a series of bound documents designed to be distributed to internally and externally to coordinate the NASA brand for the world. The reissue book is all about faithfully reproducing what Danne & Blackburn while infusing history and additional details. Details like the anti-static foil sleeve that it arrives in.

The book is an authoritative reference compiled from scans of 35mm slides presented to NASA in 1974, normally shielded from those without clearance.

The manual covers everything from spaceship graphics to brochures, including specific details on how to type a letter using the NASA letterhead.

This is the ultimate “brand bible” for the formidable application of a graphic identity system in an otherworldly institution. The NASA Graphics Standard Manual is a meticulous facsimile of Danne & Blackburn’s 1974 re-branding of the agency. An authoritative reference compiled from scans of Danne’s own personal copy, the book also includes an introduction by Danne, alongside an extended essay on the culture of the agency by Christopher Bonanos.