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.
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.
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…
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.
I have been a huge fan of Modernica products for more than 20 years. I remember getting the paper catalog in the mail and coveting the Case Study Day Beds and Fiberglass chairs. I never purchased any of the furniture, although I wish I had. What I have purchased though is the Case Study® Pearl Lamp, the perfect ellipse™, and most recently 4 of the Case Study Ceramics® series planters.
The Case Study Ceramics® series is inspired by the prolific period in architecture and home furnishing designs immediately following WW2. All Modernica’s Case Study Ceramics® are high fired, hand-made, using a jiggering tool for shaping, and are finished on a potters wheel. I love this because they could have easily slip cast them to save time and money. By opting for this approach each one is unique.
I have to admit, that the whole reason for my purchase was because these went on sale. We need new planters like we need a hole in the head, but I love them and they were 40% off at the time.
I ended up buying the Medium Apex planters in both white and pebble. The two next to each other make for a nice contrast. The third and fourth are the Table Top Diamond in reactive blue. All four come with the Brazillian Walnut bases.
From a quality and design standpoint, these really are quite wonderful. The wooden base for each fits together with precision. There is no wiggle or wobble to the stand at all. The ceramic planters are heavy with a wonderful texture. The subtle color palette blends well with the surroundings, and the overall look of each is really quite timeless.
There is a quality about the glaze that really reminds me of Heath Ceramics. I think it is the hand made quality of the planter and the application of the glaze to the Table Top Diamond planters that really brings that forward.
For me, this truly is a timeless design. While the aesthetic is anchored in Mid-Century Modern it feels quite classic and able to withstand the test of time.
Now that spring is here, and the temperatures are starting to warm into the 70’s it looks like I’ll be doing some repotting and planting this weekend.
It’s been quite a while since I posted anything to this blog. I think it has been about 17 months to be exact. Life sometimes gets in the way and in this case, it has prevented me from being able to post here for quite some time. That all changes today.
Recently I had the fortunate chance to acquire a Zodiac Aerospace GMT in Burnt Orange and Sky Blue. I’m not going to write a review of the timepiece itself. Instead, I’m going to speak to the entire package. The watch, the packaging, the presentation, because it all adds up to the overall experience. In addition, I haven’t had enough time (yes I know) to spend with the watch at this point to get into things like performance.
I’m going to talk about this in sort of a reverse order, not focusing on the watch in the beginning. Instead, I’m going to start with the way the recipient engages with the product. I’m going to start with the packaging and move forward from there.
At first, you are presented with a black box embossed with the Zodiac logo on the top. This is nothing fancy, a simple cardboard box that is nicely styled that fits with the price point of the timepiece. The top of the box slides off to reveal the interior which holds a folded microfiber timezone map, a quick start guide in colors that match the watch and an image of a retro-styled world map at the top. The Zodiac logo and Aerospace GMT sit in the lower half. The phrase “The world traveler’s watch” is styled in a nice script that adds to the retro feel of it. There is a pullout tray beneath the watch box that contains instructions on how to set the time, change the date, adjust the 24 hour hand and adjust the bracelet.
The quality of the printed material is about what you would expect. This is not a Rolex or a Heuer. It’s good but it’s not luxe by any means.
Zodiac’s parent company is Fossil and you can definitely feel the Fossil influence in the packaging materials. Fossil’s retro aesthetic is all over this, and I have to say it works. I think the packaging and support materials look great. The retro feel plays well considering that this is a reissue of a Zodiac classic.
Opening the box you are presented with the Zodiac Aerospace GMT a time, date, and GMT watch that nods heavily toward the vintage models from the 1960s. The case has been upsized to a more contemporary 40mm size. There are two versions of the watch, grey and black bezel, or in my case sky blue and burnt orange bezel. The watch is seated on a neutral grey synthetic pillow, surrounded by a grey synthetic buffer. The grey absolutely makes the orange and blue pop and the watch look absolutely stunning. According to Zodiac the blue and orange represent the sun and water.
The watch itself feels solid. It’s too early to tell about the quality of the stainless steel, but the watch has heft to it.
It feels like a quality timepiece. The orange and blue bezel have a high-gloss appearance. The markers are bright and easy to read and they have carried over from the printed material the cursive “Aerospace GMT” to the watch face.
The back of the watch shows the limited edition number, serial number, the iconic Zodiac logo, reference numbers, and the name. The logo is also presented on the deployment clasp on the bracelet.
The deployment clasp is something I am having to get used to. Unlike my other watches, it is a two-step process. You lift the front quarter of the clasp to open the mechanism and then pull the remaining portion up to fully release it. I have to say that this part of the watch seems delicate. I’m being careful every time I open it because I feel like I might bend or break it. I know the likelihood of this pretty small, but it still makes me nervous.
Zodiac is using the tried and true ETA 2893-2 movement in this watch. The ETA 2893 features time/date with added GMT functionality. It’s a 24 jewel movement that ticks away at 28,800vph and claims a 38-hour power reserve. While not a true GMT it is a “Caller” the GMT hand itself is quick-set, while the local hand stays static. I’m OK with this. I know true horologists are probably scratching their heads wondering why Zodiac didn’t develop a GMT movement of their own. I’m thinking it was to keep the cost below the $2000.00 threshold.
The watch feels great on my wrist and the color combo really stands out. Zodiac has really nailed the vintage aesthetic and produced a stylish watch that won’t break the bank. Parent company Fossil has definitely put the time and effort into reviving the Zodiac brand. It’s obvious from the quality of this watch that they have a desire to get things right and it shows.
If you are familiar with Zodiac watches then you obviously know about the Sea Wolf reissue that was released last year. Zodiac has taken the Sea Wolf case and used it for the Aerospace GMT. In effect, they have simply put in a new movement and replaced the count down bezel with a GMT one. In addition, they have added a new dial and four hands with the update. That’s it. None the less the Aerospace GMT is a stylish retro watch that is well worth the cost.
Each version of the Aerospace GMT is limited to 182 pieces.
Anyone from Hallmark that might be reading this, raise your hand if you remember “T-Ink” from 2004 and the products Hallmark produced for less than a year with the technology? T-Ink had so much potential and it simply withered and died on the vine. The T-Ink project was one of the first things I worked on when I returned to Hallmark. It was such a cool product, and could have been huge if they could have figured out how to market it better. Fast forward to 2017 and check out Papier Machine from French Designers Marion Pinaffo and Raphaël Pluvinage.
Papier Machine is a set of 13 paper-made electronic toys. Each piece of paper can be cut and folded and assembled into the final toy. Another intriguing component of Papier Machine is that while there are instructions that come with the kit, the steps are not clear cut. According to Pinaffo and Pluvinage they still want users to interpret the instructions themselves, opening up the pathway to more possibilities, especially for kids.
Like T-Ink, the printed paper is equipped with reactive, conductive, and thermosensitive inks, which actually complete the electronic circuits and allow the toys to function. The toys are designed for kids of all ages and don’t require any special tools, skills or training. The designers want Papier MAchine to be all about fun, and exploration. The 13 toys can create multiple projects that include Switches, a Gyroscope, Playing Track, Writing Track, Tilt Switch, Humidity Sensor, Wind Sensor, Mass Sensor, Power Reverser, Photoresistor, and Color Sensor. Pretty cool if you ask me.