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.

A Case For Art and Architecture Books

When most people think of a book, rarely do they think of it as a work of art. Most of us think of books as a tool for the communication of ideas and information. If the layout, typesetting, and design are well executed the book becomes a seamless experience. You might be attracted by the cover, subject, and writing style, but it’s still just a book. The publisher Taschen has found a way to transcend this concept by producing limited edition books that elevate the content to a true art form. 

I often turn to the Taschen website for design inspiration simply because their book designs are so good. Page layout, use of typography, color pallets, etc. When it comes to visual design, Taschen nails it. Lately, I have been returning to the Limited Edition section of the site, not for inspiration but out of pure lust for what can truly be called works of art. Case in point “Piano Virtuoso” a $1250.00 limited edition, 200+ page tome on the life work of architect Renzo Piano. 

This book is limited to a run of 200 and comes delivered in a hand-built wooden crate that is identical to the ones his studio uses to deliver architectural models to his clients. It has a hand-pulled lithograph of an original drawing by Piano that is signed and numbered of the Menil Collection Foundation in Houston, Texas that also elevates this to a status beyond what we typically consider a “book”.

With this being limited to an edition of just 200, and a price point of $1250.00 I’m going to have to be content either browsing online and dreaming or opt for the less expensive version of the book with no hand-built case or lithograph. One of the local Barnes and Nobel stores actually has a copy of the non-limited edition books so I had a chance to actually see to see it in person last week. 

Like everything Taschen produces, the quality is top-notch. Beautiful page spreads that built a visual rhythm as you scan from page to page. There is an elegant use of photography, illustration, and type that helps to anchor the body copy and showcase Piano’s genius. Gatefold spreads are used to show the architecture in the context of its surroundings allowing for panoramic views. The copy is crisp and concise giving just enough information without becoming overwhelming or granular. The book does a great job of building the story of Piano’s career to date and the many existences of his singular aesthetic.

As for the Limited Edition version f the book being a work of art, I would contend that it’s close. It’s definitely a piece of fine craft when you think about the hand-built case and the limited edition print that come with it. Maybe not a work of fine art but a highly collectible hand-crafted object showcasing the art of a genius. If I could justify it, I’d add it to my small collection of Taschen XXL books. From the photo’s I think it looks absolutely amazing. That wooden case is exquisite. 

Ahead of 2020, Beware the Deepfake – The Atlantic

There is plenty of political implications in the video below, but that isn’t why I’m posting it. The animation is really really nice, and when coupled to the voice over it becomes an engaging piece that draws you in and holds your attention for three and a half minutes.

Produced for the Atlantic this team of designers, animators, illustrators, and writers have crafted an informative short that addresses an issue that is going to become more problematic in the near future. The use of Deepfake technology.

I watched this first with the sound on, taking in the entirety of the messaging. Then I hit the mute button and watched it again. There is a great rhythm to the piece. Sections flow together and create nice visual layouts. The sparse color pallet adds to the drama and focuses your attention.

I don’t care what your political stance is, or which side you choose to vote for or why. This technology will have some crazy implications for things beyond elections in the near future. Oh, and be forewarned. If you google Deepfakes to see examples of how this is being used, there are a ton of adult videos that will show up.

“We are crossing over into an era where we have to be skeptical of what we see on video,” says John Villasenor, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Villasenor is talking about deepfakes—videos that are digitally manipulated in imperceptible ways, often using a machine-learning technique that superimposes existing images or audio onto source material. The technology’s verisimilitude is alarming, Villasenor argues because it undermines our perception of truth and could have disastrous consequences for the upcoming U.S. presidential election. I’do think deepfakes are going to be a feature of the 2020 elections in some way,” Villasenor says. “And their shadow will be long.”

A full credits list is at the end of the animated short if you are interested in the team that put this together.

I Bought a CPO i3 Not C3PO. I Kind of Feel Like I’m Driving a Star Wars Car Though.

A little over a year ago I began looking for a new car. The lease on my GTI was coming to an end in August of 2019 and I was thinking about going electric. Since the VW electric models wouldn’t be available in America for another 12 to 18 months, I began researching the usual suspects, Tesla, Nissan, BMW, Chevy, etc. What I discovered was there are quite a few models available. All of them have pros and cons, and the prices ranged from reasonable to astronomical. What I didn’t expect was to find was what you could get if you looked at certified pre-owned models of specific brands.

After almost a year of looking, reading, watching YouTube, test driving, pricing, and pondering, I decided to purchase a certified pre-owned BMW i3. Why? Because I found out I could get into a 2-year-old car with about 20,000 miles on it for less than half the sticker price of the new car. And since it is a CPO BMW it comes with an additional warranty.

I chose this vehicle for several reasons. Proven Brand, Styling, Technology, Fun Factor, and Size. There is also that I never have to buy gas thing too.

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The styling can be quite polarizing. In most cases, people either love it or hate it. I love it. I feel like I’m driving a little space pod most of the time. It’s short, squat and tall. It doesn’t look like any other car on the road on both the exterior an on the interior.

With wheel s pushed close to the corners, it accentuates the stubby look of the i3. Its window line expands at the small rear doors, dips into the body line, then pinches together at the rear. Visually this creates a flow down the body line that I like quite a bit. One disadvantage to this is that the rear windows don’t lower. Technically it’s a 4 door car, but the rear coach (suicide doors) are more like funky half-size extensions of the front doors. The car sits on 19-inch wheels that seem impossibly thin, designed to reduce friction with the road and improve range. At times they almost look like mountain bike tires though. One nice thing that BMW did was to leave the iconic kidney grills on the front. Technically they don’t do anything, but without them, I’m not sure the i3 would read as a BMW since it’s such a styling departure from every other car they make.

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The interior is a mash-up of environmentally friendly materials produced from sustainable and recycled sources. The i3 I purchased doesn’t have leather seats, by choice. I actually prefer the look of the cloth seats over the leather or leather and cloth combo. If you did opt for the leather seats though, the tanning process is done with olive-leaf extract rather than chemicals to keep it greener. It’s hard to describe the materials used. You need to see them in person, and while at first, it might seem like a bit too much they work well together combining into a series of well-matched textures.

Another thing I love about this car is how big it feels on the inside. With no transmission hump, the floor is flat adding to the feeling of space. The interior roof gives plenty of headroom. At 6 foot 4, this is a big deal for me. I will say this, the back seat is cramped for someone my size. It’s probably cramped for anyone over 6 feet, to be honest. This is, after all, a car designed for city driving and to only seat 4 people. Cargo space is ample, and with the back seats folded down, it’s pretty amazing how much stuff you can get in this car.

From a technology perspective, the i3 doesn’t disappoint. Actually, for my model year, it does in aspect, (I’ll get to that in a minute). The i3 dash consists of 2 floating screens. There is the unit directly in front of the driver that contains the speedometer, battery usage, and the gauge showing energy use and regeneration. This screen can be configured to display any number of items from the iDrive system in the car.

The second screen is equally configurable and primarily houses the infotainment system which includes navigation, phone systems, messaging, radio and media displays and more. Below it is 6 buttons that can be programmed to do everything from radio presets to function as shortcut keys for any additional functionality.

All of this is connected to the center console dial of the iDrive system located in front of the center armrest. I’m not going to go into detail with all of the functionality here. Let’s just say that the system is deep and has a bit of a learning curve. Coming from 8 years of VW’s it was quite a bit different.

In addition to the built-in systems, there is also an iOS and Android app available that can be used to control the car remotely. It allows you to climatize the car, lock and unlock doors, set charge times, send destinations to the car, and more.

Other tech tidbits include the ability to lock the doors by touching a small patch of raised ribs on the door handle. Unlock the doors by simply sliding your hand inside the door handles. Unlock and lower the windows by holding the unlock button on the key fob. One foot driving using the regenerative braking system. Self-parking (yes it can park itself, but every driver should know how to parallel park or forfeit their driver’s license). Adaptive cruise control and more.

I didn’t get the REX (range extender) version. I don’t need the range extender. I never drive more than 120 miles in a day so the BEV (battery electric vehicle) i3 was perfect for my needs. After 90 days of ownership, I can honestly say I have never had any range anxiety at all. Frankly, I don’t think most drivers would. The navigation system can be configured to show you every charging station close by as you drive around town so you will always know where you can charge up if you need to.

One thing I wish this car had was Apple CarPlay. It doesn’t and I miss it. You can, however, upgrade the main head unit of the car with this upgrade from Bimmertech. I watched the install video and it looks like something anyone with a bit of technical know-how and set of tools could do themselves in a few hours. I have a feeling this voids the warranty on the car so I’ll be waiting a couple of years before I do this.

Speaking of upgrades, the battery is upgradable as well and Lion Smart announced an upgrade option a couple of months ago that would extend the range of BEV i3 to about 400 miles. No word on when this will arrive, or what it’ll cost but if you own an i3 and plan on keeping it for an extended period of time this is something you might want to look into.

One great thing about living in Kansas City is the fact that KCPL has partnered with ChargePoint and many local businesses to install level 2 charging stations all over the city. Each grocery store run, trip to the library, visit the Kaufman performing arts center, Nelson Atkins Musem, Restaurants in the Cross Roads or dozens of other places guarantee that I can plug the i3 in and charge it up.

Every Hy-Vee has at least 4 ChargePoint charging stations

As for fun factor, the i3 is a hoot to drive. It really is a blast. The electric motor delivers instant torque with a distinct “push you back in your seat” feeling. Acceleration is quick delivering a 0 to 60 time in about 7 seconds. It handles like a BMW with responsive steering. You have to drive the car to understand how the i3 performs.

The car is absolutely silent aside from a bit of road noise from the tires, and an almost imperceivable whine from the electric motor. It’s one of those things you notice at first and then become so used to it you don’t realize how loud the interior of other cars are until you ride in one with an internal combustion engine.

So, is a certified pre-owned BMW i3 worth it? Yes. Think about this, you can get a low mileage, highly optioned i3 for about half the price of new. If you get a CPO i3 you get 2 years of warranty on a car that require little to no maintenance. In my case, I got a $60,000 car for a little over $20,000. It had just over 20,000 miles on it, was a one-owner vehicle, and was purchased from a reputable BMW dealer here in the Kansas City area.

If you use a site like Car Gurus you can find plenty of examples just like this all of the United States, and depending on where you live have the car delivered to you for less than a grand. Sites like Carvana, and Carmax also have i3 inventories available for delivery. The only downside is the car won’t be BMW certified, and the warranty options might not be as good.

If you are in the market or are thinking about going electric, I highly recommend going with a CPO i3. Save your money and skip the Tesla. Skip the Bolt, Volt, Leaf, or any other traditional-looking EV sedan and get something a bit more unique looking.

Oh, and while you could buy new and get a $7500.00 federal tax credit, chances are it still won’t be as affordable as going with preowned. If you are curious about why EV’s depreciate so much, Doug Demuro has a great article here that answers, or attempts to answer that very question.

BETC Rebuilds The World With Lego and Some Help from Traktor

For the first time since the 1980s, Lego has unveiled its first brand campaign. Produced by the French agency BETC in conjunction with multi-award winning collective Traktor the project titled Rebuild the World features a live-action film and micro-site designed to send a positive political message about the power of creativity to enable change.

BETC met Lego 18 months ago and worked with the brand’s internal agency to develop the concept, Rebuild the World. “We thought about what would be important for Lego to say today,” said BETC founder Rémi Babinet. “They are one of the most loved brands in the world, no one argues with Lego! It’s like Apple in the beginning; innovation and creativity are both brand and philosophy. That’s rare in the commercial world. The problem it has is that while it is known for the educational aspect of Lego, that perception is a problem for all the parents who don’t have an affinity with the brand. They think it’s about following instructions. But it’s more than play or education – it’s about creativity. To be creative today is the way to achieve something, to navigate the new world. Mathematics and rationality used to be the most important skills, but now creativity is the most valuable skill, and Lego can enable that.”

The tagline “Rebuild the World” resonates beyond Lego itself, to chime with the issues of the contemporary world. 

It is a tag line that everyone can relate to when associating it with the Lego brand.

In keeping with the campaign message, the video goes against expectations by not featuring a single Lego brick. Instead, it is a live-action and CGI adventure caper that sees a rabbit chased by a hunter with a bow and arrow, overcoming every challenge thrown at him with increasingly creative solutions. This was inspired by Lego’s ethos for problem-solving. BETC chose to go down the live-action route because, as Rémi states, “When you are in the head of a child, the bricks become the real world, the world they create with Lego is a real story for them.”

Rebuild the World Micro-Site

Every tiny detail of the film has been considered to reflect the Lego universe and its billions of fans. In the town of Valparaíso in Chile, buildings were repainted to match Lego brick colors. Clothes worn by all the characters in the video are 2D printed like Lego characters. If you look at the bad guy, his shirt, tie, jacket, and binoculars are all printed onto one T-shirt. 

The cars and trees match the cars and trees of a Lego kit. The people bend backward at the hip or turn their head around just like Lego people do. Every scene features a builder to reference the iconic Lego figurine. At one point, a line of ducks crosses the road, which references Lego’s first-ever product. Even the props, such as the camera, cups and the bow and arrow, are made to scale, oversized like Lego accessories.

“There were no limits,” Rémi says. “Lego was a cool brand to work with. It was an opportunity to find things you can never do with other brands. So this film is about what your imagination can do with Lego.”

For all the out-of-home imagery and animated vignettes, which will roll out globally on billboards from London to Los Angeles, BETC did use Lego bricks, shot by photographers who are used to working on luxury brand campaigns – “We wanted to capture the incredible beauty of the bricks. These images subvert stereotypes, challenge expectations, and at times send political messages. They are simple ideas, but often at a societal level. Rebuild the world could be just for fun, or it could address issues in the world today. You can transform the world as you want. It’s not a political campaign. You could go far with these messages, we tried lots of things… but this is a balance between meaningful and fun. It’s conscious, but in the end, it’s only about kids.” – Rémi Babinet.

The entire campaign is reinforced with a solid micro-site, social media, print, and outdoor campaigns. As we roll into the holiday season, it’ll be interesting to see the shorter 30-second broadcast versions of the ad plus any additional online vignette videos that are produced to bolster the entire campaign.

Fashionably Telling Time for Less Than Two Grand

A few weeks back I was talking with a friend at happy hour about a new watch that I had recently acquired. My friend is a bit of a fashionista but, has never popped for a more upscale watch that would complement his fashion sense. As we talked it became apparent that the reason for this is the misconception that you have to shell out a huge sum of money to get a luxury level watch that will appreciate over time. 

With that said, I ask him what his criteria was for a nice watch. His budget, style, movement, etc. It came down to this. $500.00 to $2000.00 max. It had to look stylish and compliment his wardrobe. The movement was, to him irrelevant. ( I told him that he should look for an automatic ).

While sitting at our table enjoying our cocktails I busted out my iPhone and did a quick search for timepieces and showed him a handful of watches he could get that wouldn’t break the bank and met the rest of his requirements. And that got me to thinking. What are ten stylish, well-designed watches that come in at $1500.00 or less that could appreciate in value, or at least hold their value? A timepiece you would want to pass on to your kid. That you could wear every day and know that it complimented what you had on. 

Here are the criteria I set. 

$2000.00 or less in price

Stylish and well designed

An automatic movement if possible

Limited edition if possible (helps keep the watch value)

Nothing too flashy or gaudy

Here is my list, in no particular order.

Bravur Geography GMT Limited Edition Watch

This is a beautiful limited edition automatic in gold and forest green. It’s powered by a rhodium-plated Sellita 3301-1 with a decorated rotor. The Geography GMT comes in at $1850.00. There are only 25 of these that are going to be made. Each watch is built to order by hand. 

Zodiac Jetomatic Limited Edition

The Jetomatic Limited Edition is a homage to the original Zodiac Pilot watch from the 1960s. This watch features a 40mm stainless steel case and black leather strap. The large numerals and Super-LumiNova print allow readability in all conditions and an oversize crown for time setting even with gloved hands. This COSC-certified chronometer watch is limited to 82 pieces and features an automatic movement. Don’t be put off by the fact that Zodiac is owned by Fossil. These are great watches. This tips the scale at $1495.00

Oris Aquis Limited Edition Ocean Blue

This limited edition floods the Oris Aquis with design details like a gradient blue dial and an aqua-blue ceramic blue insert. In addition, there’s a token made from recycled PET plastic on the case-back. 2,000 of these watches will be made and presented in a box made from algae with plastic inlays. This can be found at websites like Watchmaxx or Jomashop for between $1500.00 and $1995.00

Nomos Glashutte Orion 33 Duo

Nomos makes some amazing watches with some pricing out as high as $10,000.00. You don’t have to spend that kind of money to get a nice luxury watch from them. The Orion 33 Duo is a beautiful timepiece. It’s stylish, minimalist, and elegant. The stainless steel backed watch comes in at $1600.00. If you want something a bit more, you can get the sapphire crystal backed watch for $1900.00. This is a brand I really like. The Autobahn is on my list to acquire at some point in the future.

YEMA Superman Heritage GMT Watch

You want a Rolex Submariner but you don’t want to spend that kind of money. There are plenty of watches that reflect the styling of the classic Rolex but one I like is the recently released YEMA Superman Heritage. This French brand has been in business since 1948, located in Morteau just five miles from the Swiss border. This watch features a GMT complication which means the wearer can set the watch up to display one, two, or even three separate time zones, making this an exceptionally useful watch for people who travel frequently. It’s available in three color schemes, red and blue, red and black, or blue and grey. At $1499.00 it’s a nice entry-level alternative to that Submariner you want.

Shinola Vinton 38mm Stainless Steel

Shinola makes a ton of watches. Most of them are not really my taste or style. Most of them, in my opinion, seems a bit chunky or they are just too large for my wrist. The Vinton, however, works for me. The 38 mm case is a solid choice. The styling is simple, clean and easy to read. It’s distinctly American. All Shinola watches are hand-assembled in Detroit using an Argonite 715 quartz movement with Swiss and other imported parts. At $550.00 this is a nice daily driver.

The Bulova Oceanographer Limited Edition

With the bright orange dial, you are definitely going to make a statement with this watch. Bulova even says on their website “Designed to be Noticed”. This is a tribute to the 1970s Bulova Oceanographer and is limited to a production run of 666 pieces. It comes with limited edition packaging and at $1495.00 it gives you the opportunity to show off a bit without busting your budget. I love the black and white unidirectional bezel, over that orange three-hand dial. Well done Bulova.

Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage

I think this watch is absolutely stunning. Underneath the boxed sapphire crystal sits the Startimer’s blue sunburst dial. The hands remind me of the Omega Speedmaster’s, and the 42mm stainless steel case is handsomely sculpted. The back of which has a really nice engraving of the Alpina logo and a jet aircraft. The watch is finished off with a black leather strap that just goes with the stainless and blue of the case and dial. At $1395.00 this would be a great entry-level collectors watch.

Zodiac Super Seawolf

The Zodiac Super Seawolf is an homage to the original dive watch from the 1960s that has been updated to the 21st century. The Super Seawolf features a stainless-steel case and uni-directional mineral crystal top-ring, matte blue dial, stainless-steel 5-link bracelet with a C3 SuperLuminova hands and indexes. The Sea Wolf conveys Zodiac’s commitment to definitive style with timeless roots. I am so happy that Fossil bought this company and is helping to breath new life into them. By the way, Zodiac releases limited editions of their watches on a regular basis so keep a lookout if you are into collecting. The Seawolf can be had for about $1395.00

Dan Henry 1964 Gran Tourismo Chronograph

Dan Henry is a world-renowned watch collector. He is well respected in the industry and is sought out for his horological expertise so it’s no surprise that his collection of watches feature impeccable styling.

The 1964 Gran Tourismo Chronograph is directly inspired by a mashup of vintage Heuer Carrera references. I love the look of this watch, especially with the Panda dial. Inside the watch is Seiko’s ever-reliable VK63 meca-quartz movement. Yes, I know it’s not an automatic but at $250.00 who cares. This watch is limited to a run of 1964 pieces and is still available on the Dan Henry website.  

So there it is. 10 watches ranging in price from $250.00 to $2000.00. All of them look good on the wrist and some will definitely become collector’s items and probably appreciate in value. You don’t have to sacrifice style, design or quality just because your budget is limited. Start with an entry-level watch and a goal in mind go from there. If you like the way the watch looks and how it makes you feel, go for it because that is what is most important.

Checking Out The Sunflowers In My “Flyover State”

One of the nice things about having a Friday off is you get the opportunity to go to a place like Ginter Farms outside of Tonganoxie Kansas to test out some new camera gear.

One of the nice things about having a Friday off is you get the opportunity to go to a place like Grinter Farms outside of Tonganoxie Kansas to test out some new camera gear. 

As far as the eye can see. Well, almost.

Yesterday I took the Olympus Pen-F and the 14-42mm pancake Zoom to Ginter farms with my friend Tim to take some shots of the sunflowers that are open to the public. While the sunflowers were still spectacular, they weren’t nearly as tall as last year due to the weather this season. Late snow followed by an early heat spell and record-breaking rain almost did the crop in this year. 

Fortunately for us, we had 3 to 4-foot tall plants with plenty of blooms, And the crop was just as dense as always. It was the perfect backdrop to test the camera, the new lens, and a couple of trusted lenses I’ve been using for years. 

Each flower was covered with pollinators doing their thing. Shot with the 14-42 Pancake.

The verdict. The camera rocks, the lens is good but not great. I don’t mean the lens is bad, it’s just not as solid as my 12-40 Pro. It’s not as fast, or sharp which is expected since it costs about one-third of the pro lens. With that said though its diminutive size makes it perfect for travel which is why I picked it up in the first place. 

Shot with the 12-40 Pro.

As for the camera, I couldn’t be happier. This tiny body packs in powerhouse performance with the same sensor as the EM1 MKII and the same color engine as well. My only gripe is it’s not weather sealed. (neither is the 14-42mm lens so it really is a minor issue).

Shot with the 12-40 Pro wide open.

If you get a chance to go I highly recommend it. Ginter Farms is just one of the many reasons I tell people Kansas is not a flyover state. Like the Flint Hills, Tall Grass National Preserve, Monument Rocks, Little Jerusalem, Mushroom Rock State Park, Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, the Oxford Grist Mill, and so much more it’s a perfect drive-through state. I think the next photo adventure in this flyover state will be at Marais des Cygnes Wildlife Area in South East Kansas.

Monument Rocks from an earlier road trip.

The Anticipated Death of Illustration Never Happened.

When I first began my career the world of design, marketing, and advertising was 90 percent analog. There were phototypesetting tools available, but most of the work was very much old school. The copy was written up on typewriters, layouts were assembled via paste-up, color separation was done by hand and illustration was created with paint, pencils, ink, and other tangible items.

I remember having a discussion with a colleague in the early 1990’s where he proclaimed that the art of illustration was over. That digital had ushered in the end of an era and that Photoshop and Illustrator (maybe Freehand) were going to rule the world. Fast forward a couple of decades and take a look around. Just like the Kindle and iPad were going to kill off books, digital didn’t kill off traditional illustration methods.

There were extraordinary eras of illustration before mass media changed our viewing habits. Illustration was the most primary means of illuminating the word on paper. Today, when we get our words and images on screens as small as a watch face the role of illustration, might have shifted, but it is more free and varied than ever. Designers, artists, and illustrators are holding their own producing content for every kind of media.

Taschen recently released a new book “The Illustrator. 100 Best from around the World” showcasing 100 illustrators compiled by Steven Heller and Julius Weidemann over a ten-year period of time.

This 600-page book contains examples of work, bio’s of the artists that created them and truly shows sheer quality, diversity, intensity, comedy, and the vivacity of the work that is being produced. From veterans like Brad Holland, whose works for the New York Times’ op-ed section revolutionized illustrative content in the 1970s, to rising stars like Robin Eisenberg, with her pastel aliens cruising in spaceships on album covers, the 100 artists in this collection are just the tip of the iceberg, but they represent a compelling snapshot of the styles, techniques, and use of color by artists across the world.

What an inspiration.