Design Friday

Design Friday. Swiss Air.

Tomorrow I am traveling to Los Angeles for the Adobe Max conference, and since I’ll be flying I thought an appropriate Design Friday topic would be something that relates to the airline industry. I thought about making a statement focused on the subject of how people dress when they fly these days, or on how the leg room has gotten smaller while humans continue to get larger, but instead I decided to talk about Swiss Air’s fantastic printed material from the golden age of air travel. The 50’s through the 70’s.

I gathered most of these images from the ultimate Swiss Air fan site, so unfortunately there are some huge differences in sizing in the slide show below. I wish I had larger versions of some of the Ticket holders and the Timetables, but I didn’t prep these images and there is only so much scaling you can do.

The number of designers that worked on this material of the years has been huge. They include noted Swiss designers like Hans Neuburg, Robert Roser, Rudolf Lukes, Rolf Harder. No matter who worked on this material though, one thing is clear. There is a very conscious effort to make even the smallest material well designed. Each piece effectively uses grid systems, bold color, modern type, illustration and photography to convey the message in an appealing easy to understand form. When I look at these documents and think about the in-flight magazine I’ll have a chance to browse through tomorrow, it makes me long for the days when flying felt special, not like taking a bus at 30,000 feet.

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Design Friday. The 1969 Mercedes-Benz C111 Concept.

Lately the Design Friday posts have focused on a specific designer, and not necessarily a specific piece of design work. Today I am going to change it up a bit and talk about something that is an amazing piece of design work, and lives in the world of priceless and rare.

I have always been a car guy. Not a gear head but a car guy, as in I am all about the design and styling of the automobile and less about getting my hands dirty building a hot rod. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate horse power, and the engineering that goes into the vehicle. It simply means that I am initially drawn to the styling and the appreciation of power comes when you drive it.

In 1969 Mercedes introduced the beautiful C111 gullwing. At the time it was going to have a list price of $8700.00 if it made it into production. (which makes me wish I had my USB powered time machine finished.) The C111 was a series of experimental automobiles produced by Mercedes-Benz in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The company was experimenting with new engine technologies, including Wankel rotary engines, turbo diesels, and turbocharged gasoline engines, The basic C111 platform was used as a testbed, but ultimately a number of these car were made available for sale .

The car featured gullwing doors, angular body styling and luxurious interior trim and appointments. At the time the C111 was a Mercedes super car that rivaled any of the Italian high-end sports cars on the market.

The first version of the C111 was finished in 1969. It featured a fiberglass body, that allowed the designers to create long flowing lines that helped to set the look of the car apart from the competition. The C111 was powered by a mid-engine three-rotor direct fuel injected Wankel engine, that produced a370 horse power, which for 1969 was pretty impressive. With a top speed of 180 mph, the C111 was a direct competitor with the  likes of Ferrari, and Lamborghini. The coupe’s lightweight skin, opened up new possibilities in the aerodynamic design of sports cars.

The C 111 never did appear in showrooms. Instead the coupe was an extension of the development of the Sport Light models from the late 1950s, it was to serve as an experimental car. A study in design, aesthetics, materials and technology. Despite interest from Geneva show-goers in the late 60’s, the C111 II never made it to production largely because of the engine. “The Wankel engine was not yet mature enough to be handed over to customers in line with company standards,” said the car’s developer Dr. Hans Liebold in 2000.

As I look at the images and video of the car, I can immediately see how it influenced so many others that followed it, and not just those made by Mercedes. I am drawn to the sweeping lines, the low wide stance, and that amazing orange and black paint job.

Design Friday, Illustrator Miles Donovan.

I have always said that artist Robert Rauschenberg was ahead of his time. Rauschenberg’s densely layered paintings and prints are stacks of images and colors, that have influenced thousands of artists and designers over the last 50 years, myself included. When I look at his last works that were printed by Gemini GEL in Los Angeles, there is a creation level of what I call a “Photoshop Aesthetic” to them. I don’t mean this in a negative way, instead I mean it in the way that Photoshop is so pervasive in visual culture, that it has certain looks. Rauschenberg had that look decades before Adobe even existed, and before Photoshop was glimmer in John Knoll’s eye.

The reason I am saying this is because today’s Design Friday choice is London-based Illustrator Miles Donovan, and his work reminds me of Robert Rauschenberg, and that is a good thing.

Donovan’s work is a lush blending of photographic images, colors, and words all stacked together to create a solid final image. His gift comes from an ability to visually edit his compositions in a way that allows them to speak more clearly. All to often, designers become seduced by the software and the medium. They tend to push visual metaphors, and add layer upon layer of information. Donovan on the other hand stacks just enough to convey the message, and keep the composition interesting. Miles Donovan Balances vintage images, with current, rich color pallets, and limited sections of editorial to create some very wonderful and refined work.  Looking at his online portfolio, you can see how his eye has evolved from the earlier works to the current. Some of the older pieces are very densely packed with multiple layers obscuring each other. The color pallets are more limited in range, the focus is less organized, but when you view the collection as a whole you see the connection and growth as an illustrator. Even his black and white collages have that same visual quality, that design balance, that helps his work to stand out. I can’t wait to see what direction his work takes next.

Design Friday. Jasper Morrison.

Over the last few weeks I have been watching a BBC show that unfortunately isn’t available here in the USA. The broadcast is “The Genius of Design”, and it focuses on design topics and practices from industrial design to graphic design and all touch points in between. I was lucky enough to find the first 5 episodes online, and after some lengthy downloads, took time to watch them. (no I won’t post links to the copy-write protected content, you must find it on your own.)

One of the people who has been interviewed throughout the series is Jasper Morrison, who is quite arguably one of today’s most influential industrial designers. And because of Morrison’s profound influence on the world of design, he is the subject of today’s “Design Friday Post”.

If you want to truly understand Jasper Morrison’s work, you should flip through a copy of “World Without Words”. This is a series of images that Morrison compiled in 1988 from a collection of second-hand books and postcards. The images range from one of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion houses and Gerald Summers’ one piece plywood chair to a fisherman’s hut on Hastings’ shingly beach, each image illustrates the wit and elegance with which Morrison has revitalised rationalist design.

Morrison was born in London in 1959 and grew up there as well as New York City, when his father an advertising executive was posted in the United States. He studied design at Kingston Polytechnic and the Royal College of Art. In 1986, a year after graduating from the RCA, Morrison opened his Office for Design in London.

Morrison cites his early influences as his grandfather’s study – a light, bright room furnished in the modernist style and an Eileen Gray exhibition he saw at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. During his student years, Morrison became interested in the work of modernist pioneers – such as Buckminster Fuller, Gerald Summers, Jean Prouvé , Le Corbusier, and Eames. In 1981 Morrison saw the first exhibition of the Memphis Movement’s furniture designs in Milan, This exhibition became a major inspiration for his thinking on design. Later Morrison described the experience as: “Just fantastic. Here was proof that none of the old design rules mattered any more.”.

Jasper Morrison has always been a designer that focused on industrial production. Rather than making a single piece, or short run of production mockups by hand, Morrison went to small industrial workshops which would make up small quantities of objects from ready-made industrial components. His 1984 Flower Pot Table, for instance, was made from a glass circle supported by a stack of ordinary flower pots.

Over time Morrison won commissions from SCP in London; FSB, the German door handle maker; Cappellini, the Italian furniture manufacturer; and Vitra, the Swiss furniture company whose chairman, Rolf Fehlbaum, contacted Morrison after seeing a slide presentation of A World Without Words.

In 1988 Morrison created “Some New Items For The House”, a room set for the Berlin Design Werkstadt exhibition. The set consisted of chairs, tables, a chaise longue, four walls and a door – all made from plywood. At first glance, the objects looked banal with their simple lines and familiar forms, but closer inspection revealed the quiet intelligence with which Morrison had refined them. Critic Charles Arthur Boyer, described the pieces as Morrison having “crystallised” his design ethos: “to produce everyday objects for everyone’s use, make things lighter not heavier, softer not harder, inclusive rather than exclusive, generate energy light and space”.

Morrison has pursued that specific goal ever since. He still works for Vitra and Cappellini, and has now nurtured a strong working relationship with other clients including Flos, the Italian lighting company; Italian plastic manufacturer Magis; Rosenthal, the timeless German porcelain manufacturer; and Italian design the giant Alessi. The perfectly plain 1998 Tin Family steel kitchen tins he produced for Alessi and 1997 Moon tableware for Rosenthal echo the apparent simplicity and underlying subtlety of his aesthetic, and the “archetypal objects” that Morrison searches for constantly with his design process.

Critically, Morrison’s clients have also allowed him to experiment with new materials and technologies. The results include his 1999 Low Pad Chair for Cappellini, which was inspired by one of Morrison’s favourite mid-20th century chairs – the Danish designer, Poul Kjaerholm’s 1956 steel and leather Chair, but used a new method of condensed upholstery to create a comfortable, but durable padded leather seat. Another technical coup is his 1999 Air Chair, an elegant, relatively inexpensive moulded dining chair made from a single piece of plastic using Magis’s new gas injection technology.

In recent years Morrison has tackled even more complex commissions: notably by designing a light rail system for the city of Hanover in what he described as “an exhausting, but not unenjoyable” two-year project. He has also collaborated with the Swiss architects of London’s Tate Modern museum, Herzog & de Meuron, to furnish its public spaces with his Low Pad Chairs and 1998 Op-lá tray table for Alessi.

In 2000, Jasper Morrison departed from his self-imposed rule of concentrating on industrial production by accepting a commission from a museum in the Provençal village of Vallauris to produce a limited edition of ceramics made by local artisans. The result, as Morrison himself admits, shares the sleekness and formal clarity of his industrial designs. Rather than being flattered by his interest, the European craft community was outraged. “Why work with the ancient skills of the Vallauris potters,” railed an editorial in one craft magazine, “to make something that looks as if it came from a factory?”

In the early 2000s Morrison set up a new studio in Paris and proceeded to divide his working life between there and London. He acquired new clients such as Rowenta, the French household appliances manufacturer for which he is developing a new range of kitchen products including kettles, irons and coffee machines. Morrison also sustained his relationship with established clients by designing new projects for Cappellini, Magis and Vitra.

Design Friday. Alvin Lustig, American Design Pioneer.

In Alvin Lustig’s short career he virtually defined the modernist look for a generation of Americans in the post World War Two decades. Lustig’s contributions to the world of design touched so many points of interest that he would have easily been a credible candidate for  the AIGA Lifetime Achievement award when he was alive.

By the time of his early death at the young age of 40, in 1955 Lustig had already introduced already introduced the principles of Modern art to graphic design that have had a long-term influence on contemporary practice. His ideas about what good design is and how to achieve it were carried forward with an almost religious zeal that was also championed by other designers of the day. Lustig, like others fervently believed in the curative power of good design when applied to all aspects of American life.

His work was often considered generalist yet as a graphic designer he excelled and established standards and rules that are still practiced and followed to this day. His works from the late forties still have a fresh quality to them, that in today’s digital age are mimicked by designers even if they are not familiar with Lustig’s contribution to the world of design in the mid-twentieth century. If one were to reconstruct, based on photographs, Lustig’s 1949 exhibition at The Composing Room Gallery in New York, the exhibits on view and the installation would be remarkably fresh, particularly in terms of the current trends in art-based imagery.

“Lustig created monuments of ingenuity and objects of aesthetic pleasure. Whereas graphic design history is replete with artifacts that define certain disciplines and are also works of art, for a design to be so considered it must overcome the vicissitudes of fashion and be accepted as an integral part of the visual language.” Steven Heller, Eye Magazine.

Looking at Lustig’s work as a whole, his 1949 paperback cover for Lorca: 3 Tragedies, might be considered a small portion of his overall legacy as a designer. It is however a masterpiece of symbolic acuity, compositional strength and typographic craft that appears to be, consciously or not, the basis for a great many contemporary book jackets and paperback covers. This work truly defines Lustig’s style and sums up the visual aesthetic of his short career.

Design Friday. Bruno Munari.

I was asked a few weeks back why is it almost all of my “Design Friday” posts deal with designers, or design companies from more than 20 years ago. Well there are a number of reasons for that. First I have always looked back at what was done by great designers from previous decades. You can’t move forward if you don’t know what came before you. Second, it is because most of the people who I have presented in this series of posts have left a huge legacy to the design world. These are people and companies that have influenced so many designers and design styles, that they really can’t be ignored. I will say this though, the 1 year anniversary of this blog is coming up next month, and with it there will be a change in the Design Friday posts. I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet but I think anyone that reads this will be pleasantly surprised. Now on with this Friday’s subject.

When I was a kid, my mom would read to me on a regular basis, and she kept almost every children’s book she ever bought for my brothers and I. One that stuck with me visually was Bruno Munari’s Alphabet. The illustrations, color, and letter forms were etched into my brain at an early age. Munari was once called by Picasso, “The Leonardo of our times”, and his body of work and genius reflects why Picasso said that.

Munari presence in the design world spanned so many decades of Italian culture – moving from the 1930’s through the 1990’s with ease and grace. He influenced various fields including painting, sculpture, industrial design, illustration, graphic design, pedagogic methods. Through out Munari’s career he was fascinated by infancy, and how children view and see the world. After the birth of his son Alberto in 1940, Munari developed concepts for generating an awareness of the world based on the visual world, and conceived experimental laboratories for children and continued to develop the Munari method.

As early as the 1930s, Munari had been trying out radical innovations in graphics and typography, but it was not until after World War II that he began to design and produce book-objects. His children’s books were simple, provocative learning tools. His books for adults, on the other hand, were useless objects, Unreadable Books, which were meant to challenge the very concept of a book. In 1950 Munari began to experiment with light projection through colored plastic to create colored-light compositions. The use of polarized light, special lenses and motorization enabled him to achieve more complex and variable results and led to the production of his first colored-light film, “I colori della luce”, from 1963 with electronic music.

Design Friday, Edgar Olivas Day of the Dead Posters and Postcards.

Designer Edgar Olivas, has created a series of amazing postcards celebrating the “Day of the Dead” holiday, and this series of images led me to his online portfolio, which made me look, which made me say, “Design Friday Post Material”.

The Day of The Dead Holiday, might be one of the more important holiday traditions in Mexico. It is a holiday that is filled with symbolism that appears in many forms.

Presented with sugar skulls colorfully decorated, skeletons with wide and feathered hats in cut paper, dancing clay skeletons, entire dioramas made up of hundreds of skeleton figures, this comprises a small glimpse into the unique conception of death; the happy death, the silly one, the funny one, the inevitable. For over 400 years the dresses of the Mexican death have not changed that much, so, Edgar Olivas postcards give “death” a fresh new look that updates the traditional with a fresh new feel.

Edgar Olivas created six different characters each of which represents one of the six underworld gods and goddesses. Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacíhuatl lord and lady of the darkness and the underworld. Chalmecacíhuatl, the sacrificer; Nexocho, the joker; Micapetlacalli, the dead’s box and Nextepehua, the scatterer of ashes.

Olivas says, “The grin. In all these characters the grin is related to Mictlantecuhtli’s mocking smile. Some anthropologist say that this enigmatic gesture, depicted in one sculpture, seems to smile or mock ironically of those who face or will face him one day.”

The style of the postcards and posters are represented in a style called “Didoque”. which emulates baroque ornamentation created from letter forms and glyphs of Didot typography. The works are colorful and alive, filled with so much visual energy. This series represents a small portion of Edgar Olivas work. To get a better feel for this designers gift check out his full portfolio here.