Design and Art

Visual art and design topics, reviews, articles and random posts on art and design related issues.

Herman Miller: A Way of Living

Every once in a while, I purchase a book based on the reviews I’ve read and fully expect the actual product to not live up to the hype. Usually, it’s that thing where my expectations were inflated due to glowing reviews that tout the quality of the layouts, the editorial, photography and more. With my recent purchase of “Herman Miller: A Way of Living” I have to say the reviews were spot on. (Amazon has this for about $20.00 less)

This book chronicles more than 100 years of Herman Miller’s history and the key events that have made it a cultural icon. Broken out into 10 chapters, the book creates a timeline that highlights key achievements, people, and events that have made the Herman Miller company the powerhouse that it is today.

Thanks to exhaustive research done by Herman Miller archivist Amy Auscherman, Sam Grawe and Leon Ransmeier the book is 614 pages of history, illustrations, photography, and essays that add up to a comprehensive history that in my opinion is the best book on Herman Miller to date.

Auscherman, Grawe and Ransmeier, spent the better part of four years combing the design collections at the Vitra Design Museum, UCLA Libraries, the Eames Office, Museum of Modern Art, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation included for Herman Miller-related documents, photographs, archives, and illustrations for the new book and it paid off. They have gone into historic detail that not only delves into the company history but the influence that the products, architecture, and people brought to Herman Miller culture over the last 100 years.

The 10 chapters that go in-depth on everything from key figures in the company’s history (Nelson, Eames, Girard, Frykolm) to pivotal moments in popular culture that shaped Herman Miller’s trajectory, this book is the summation of Herman Miller’s existence thus far—the most expansive one to date.

“Even the nerdiest nerds and Herman Miller fans and people who have spent their whole working life at the company will have something to learn from this book,” she says. “I sit in this interesting position at the company where I kind of know the genesis of ideas that have proliferated and made the company what it is today. These ideas have been revisited and refined over and over again—not in a bad way. Usually, people aren’t coming up with something totally new, but they’re new iterations on something that’s already existed and making it better.”

Amy Auscherman

The book covers everything from furniture design, advertising materials, design research, human factors company culture, textile development and more. Each section or chapter is prefaced with an in-depth essay on the influence that this portion had on the company as it grew from a small Michigan based furniture manufacturer into an international powerhouse.

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Braun Audio Returns with the LE1 Reimagined by Precipice Design

Anyone that knows me, knows I am a huge fan of the industrial design work that Deiter rams did for Braun. His influence and the work he did for Braun can still be felt today on so many product lines by other companies like Apple. 

Braun has been absent from the audio world for more than two decades, but original stereo systems from the 50s, 60s, and 70s are still in demand. Not because they offer a superior audio experience, but because of the design and visual aesthetic they present.

The hottest Braun stereo collectible is probably the SK5 “Snow White’s Coffin” record player and radio. It is sublimely minimal in its execution with white powder-coated steel sandwiched between wooden side panels under a plexiglass case. The design was a radical departure for stereo gear when this was introduced in the 1950s. 

Snow White’s Coffin

One of my personal favorites from the Braun stereo family has always been the Braun Audio 1 from 1962. To me, it feels timeless. You can feel where it came from (the SK5) and understand the visual direction Rams was taking Braun over the next decade. 

1965 Braun Audio 1

In addition to the Audio 1, Braun introduced a set of minimalist speakers in 1959, the LE1. The LE1 is so simple in its design form. White rectangular slabs suspended on chrome tubular legs with a perforated black metal grill. The form is almost sculptural in quality and an even more radical departure from stereo systems of the day. You have to remember, in 1959 most stereo systems looked like a large wooden piece of furniture that would blend in with what was in your living room. The LE1 stands out. It’s meant to be seen as well as heard. 

The LE1 from 1959

The LE1 was the first electrostatic speaker available on the German market, the LE 1 provided a new housing for internal electronics produced by English engineering company Quad, then trading as Acoustical Manufacturing Co. Ltd. The LE 1’s electronics were based on the Quad ESL-57, producing a distinctively detailed sound that still stands up well against the standards of contemporary hi-fi systems today. At the time of its introduction, the speaker was technically and aesthetically ground-breaking. Within the Braun audio program of the late ‘50s, the LE 1 was intended to accompany the first Braun component Hi-Fi system, the Braun Studio 2. 

The 2019 LE01 Series

For the first time in 28 years, Braun is back in the audio business. Well sort of. Braun Audio is returning with a reinvention of the aforementioned LE speakers from 1959. A perfect reintroduction to the heritage of Braun Audio, the new LE Series focuses on the purity of design, purity of performance and the purity of sound Braun was known for in the past.

These beautifully minimalist speakers have been re-imagined by Precipice Design. The London-based design company developed all consumer and trade touchpoints including brand and product narratives, packaging, photography, iconography, digital assets (website, and mobile app), video content, and point of sale concepts, print catalogs, and advertising, helping to re-establish Braun in the premium audio sector.

When you look at the complete set of design materials that Precipice created for Braun you are immediately aware of the heritage of vintage Braun while positioning them squarely in the modern market place. The imagery that is used across all touchpoints echoes the minimalist aesthetic that Braun became known for, not simply in the products they produced but in the owner’s manuals, advertising, and packaging that was produced during their heyday.

As I looked at the new website that Precipice produced I was struck by how it so closely mirrored many of the Braun printed items I’ve seen from the 1960s an70s. The minimal color pallet, sparse layout, concise messaging. The same look and feel are carried over to the mobile app, and on to the packaging. With the packaging focusing on the purity of sound while focusing on the brand’s heritage. Only key information about the product shown on the packaging. The uncomplicated packaging is typical of Braun and reflects the aesthetics of the classic speaker through dark tones and a graphic of the speaker itself.

The speakers themselves are an homage to the original LE1 updated to reflect today’s taste and improved technologies. Where the original 1959 speaker would probably prove to be too large in today’s home environment, Precipice’s vision shows how the LE1 can be reimagined to fit more discreetly into one’s home.

The new speaker brings the same vision Ram’s had in 1959. A minimalist slab in white with a black grill floating above a chrome stand. The speaker is angled slightly backward, and the controls are almost invisible. Precipice also introduces a solid black version of the speaker and two additional sizes, all of which use the same visual language. 

Floor stands have been designed as well, but I have to say I don’t think they work as well. They seem rather chunky except where they have been extended and used with the smallest of the speakers.

There is no word on availability yet. I’m betting these will be available this fall for the Christmas shopping season. The product was introduced around the first of September this year so you would think they would be ready for sale by mid-November at the latest. Pricing will range from $1200.00 for the largest of the 3 down to $380.00 for the smallest.

I don’t need these, but I wouldn’t mind having them. Full information and specs are available on the Braun Audio website.

“The Finish Line”. Honda’s Amazing Formula One Racing Promotion.

Four things I like. Good Design, auto racing, animation/motion graphics, and high-quality video production. When these elements combine into something that epically leverages all of them it’s hard to contain myself. 

I love this video. I’m not sure who the production company was behind it, or if Honda did this in house but the end result is spectacular. The video showcases Honda’s involvement in Formula One racing opening with racing legend Richie Ginther at the wheel of the Honda RA272, which won Honda’s first F1 race at the 1965 Mexican Grand Prix. The car then morphs into Ayrton Senna’s iconic MP4/4 from 1988 making its way around the narrow corners of the Monaco Grand Prix. Then the animation jumps all the way to 2006 when Jenson Button won the Hungarian Grand Prix at the wheel of Honda’s own F1 car and team. From there we cut to Max Verstappen and his heroic win at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, and then again at the German Grand Prix.

The piece is interlaced with live-action footage from the races, highly stylized animation, nice use of typography, all built on a limited color pallet of red, black, yellow, blue and white. The style of the animation has a nice graphic novel look, that is matched perfectly to the driving music and soundtrack of engine sounds, crowd, and announcer overlays that help pull the whole thing together. The small details like the speed lines that emanate from the bold titles and the insertion of the Japanese text is a really nice visual design touch that is carried throughout the entire video.

Well done Honda. This is one of the better promotional pieces I’ve seen for Formula One. I’m not sure where this is going to run but I have a feeling during broadcast F1 races. It has a run length of 60 seconds and could be edited down to a 30, or even a 15-second spot if needed.

The high production value on this is sure to pay off. So a solid spot.

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 Over the Last 8 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.