Rory and I just hit the fifth episode milestone of the Sway podcast and we use the occasion to take some time and talk about the design work that has meant the most to us in shaping who we are as designers.

Episode 5: I feel like a creep

Inspired by the last episode’s discussion on manifestos and our guiding design principles, we use this episode to talk about the one piece of design that has had the most influence on our own practices and was fundamental in shaping our view of design. Rory talks about Tibor Kalman’s lecture Good History/Bad History and how that has guided his thinking on process, aesthetics, and design history. Then Jarrett talks about how Project Projects’s identity for SALT showed him that design was much bigger than he originally thought and how one can use design to foster your own interests.

I know I said it last week too, but I really feel this week was our best episode yet and we’re starting to find our voice. If you haven’t listened yet, this would be a good episode to start with as it’s just an hour of two guys celebrating and geeing out over design they love.

Matthew Carter’s TED Talk, My Life in Typefaces

I especially enjoyed the bits on the two years of designing Bell Centennial and the process of designing Verdana and Georgia, the first screen/pixel-first typefaces. I’ve been thinking about typefaces as objects lately and how easy it is to overlook them, even for designers. Hearing about the research and time he put into these faces shows how apt Carter’s comparison of type design to industrial design is.

To promote MIT’s Muriel Cooper show, the Walker Art Center interviewed David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger, the curators of the exhibition. I loved this bit on designing between spaces, (a topic that seems to be popping up around here a lot lately):


  What do you think was her interest in transitioning between spaces, from print to digital, or from flat to dimensional?
  
  DR: Muriel was frustrated with the limitations of the printed page, and always interested in quicker feedback, non-linear experiences and the layering of information. She used an offset printing press, as she said, as “an interactive medium.” So when she first encountered computers, it was clear that these would present even greater possibilities.
  
  RW: Integrating word and image on screen (“Typographics”), in a way that filtered and communicated information based on the reader/user’s interest, was her goal. The computer screen offered more depth, and information environments — real or simulated — offered more possibilities for orientation within this space. It was crucial to her that information be usable. She saw the designer’s job as creating dynamic environments through which information would stream, rather than designing unique and static objects.

To promote MIT’s Muriel Cooper show, the Walker Art Center interviewed David Reinfurt and Robert Wiesenberger, the curators of the exhibition. I loved this bit on designing between spaces, (a topic that seems to be popping up around here a lot lately):

What do you think was her interest in transitioning between spaces, from print to digital, or from flat to dimensional?

DR: Muriel was frustrated with the limitations of the printed page, and always interested in quicker feedback, non-linear experiences and the layering of information. She used an offset printing press, as she said, as “an interactive medium.” So when she first encountered computers, it was clear that these would present even greater possibilities.

RW: Integrating word and image on screen (“Typographics”), in a way that filtered and communicated information based on the reader/user’s interest, was her goal. The computer screen offered more depth, and information environments — real or simulated — offered more possibilities for orientation within this space. It was crucial to her that information be usable. She saw the designer’s job as creating dynamic environments through which information would stream, rather than designing unique and static objects.

“Art that pretends to seriousness, whether moral or philosophical, tends to come in clearly marked packages: “For Intelligent People Only” is stamped right on the tin. “Highbrow” reading. Art Movies. Literary Fiction. Fine Art. But because it’s made with such vast and rich resources, and because so many people get to experience and share it, mass media can sometimes offer inclusive, human and dynamic dimensions often denied to more recondite forms of art. Mass media can more easily approach universality, for example. It can be truly for everyone, of any age, class or level of education. It can be freer, lighter, funnier.”
“It was in college when I realized that graphic design was all about writing—that was an unbelievable discovery for me. I had always viewed writing and art as two separate things; I had chosen the art path and my sister had picked the writing path. I knew that I liked language and words, especially cartoons and visual puns. Even in high school, I liked creating conceptual illustrations that were visually funny, but I never saw myself as a writer. Then I took a typography class at Cooper Union and realized there was an intimate relationship between writing and design.”

An Essay on Design

All the lights are off, save for the one on my desk. It casts a stark diagonal line separating the light and the dark across the keyboard where I type these words. I just put two ice cubes in a small glass and poured some Bulliet whiskey. I take a sip and sit down under the light.

There is a common phrase that goes writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I think Theloneous Monk said it. Or was it Elvis Costello? No one seems to really know for sure. Whoever it was, I think they meant that using one medium to discuss another medium never works—you can’t talk about one thing through another. The work must speak for itself. But it feels fitting to be writing this essay on design because I’ve started to see design and writing as the same thing—both of them are a way of forming ideas and giving ideas form. In fact, the Dutch word for designer is vormgever which translates literally to “form giver”.

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It’s been a while since I’ve shared a mix so I thought it appropriate to put together a little playlist of songs to help usher in Spring. It’s called Southern Constellations and clocks in just a little over an hour. It drifts between upbeat songs that feel like the new life the season brings and slower, acoustic pieces that feel like sitting on a porch at night with a glass wine. You hope you enjoy it.

You can stream it on Rdio or download an mp3

Here’s the tracklisting:

Hold Me - Royal Teeth
Bright Whites - Kishi Bashi
Lifetime - Noah and the Whale
Forever - Painted Palms
Thunder Clatter - Wild Cub
Neil Armstrong - Allo Darlin
Kong - The Notwist
I’m Goin’ Down - Bruce Springsteen
Young Fathers - Typhoon
Ilsa Drown - Death Vessel
Heirloom - Sufjan Stevens
The Jubilee Choruses - Sin Fang Bous
You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon
I Don’t Want To Know - Fleetwood Mac
(Nothing But) Flowers - Talking Heads
Holiday - Vampire Weekend
Son of a Bitch - Highasakite
Tear You Down - RAC

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a mix so I thought it appropriate to put together a little playlist of songs to help usher in Spring. It’s called Southern Constellations and clocks in just a little over an hour. It drifts between upbeat songs that feel like the new life the season brings and slower, acoustic pieces that feel like sitting on a porch at night with a glass wine. You hope you enjoy it.

You can stream it on Rdio or download an mp3

Here’s the tracklisting:

  1. Hold Me - Royal Teeth
  2. Bright Whites - Kishi Bashi
  3. Lifetime - Noah and the Whale
  4. Forever - Painted Palms
  5. Thunder Clatter - Wild Cub
  6. Neil Armstrong - Allo Darlin
  7. Kong - The Notwist
  8. I’m Goin’ Down - Bruce Springsteen
  9. Young Fathers - Typhoon
  10. Ilsa Drown - Death Vessel
  11. Heirloom - Sufjan Stevens
  12. The Jubilee Choruses - Sin Fang Bous
  13. You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon
  14. I Don’t Want To Know - Fleetwood Mac
  15. (Nothing But) Flowers - Talking Heads
  16. Holiday - Vampire Weekend
  17. Son of a Bitch - Highasakite
  18. Tear You Down - RAC
“What is my opinion on feminism in design / on the future of design / on the impact of technology / of plagiarism vs. homage? It doesn’t matter. What is your opinion? This is what original thinking and research is about. Learn to form your own opinions and find the evidence to support them. You may come to a conclusion that we, the not-really-dead, find unusual, surprising or “wrong”, but if you’ve got the evidence to support it (i.e. “I believe Bantjes’ work is this, because of what she said here, here and here, and here’s the image evidence to support it” rather than “I hate this; I like that.”), I’m sure we’ll find it interesting and it may even help us see ourselves as others see us.”
Ada Calhoun—writing for The New York Times about Bjarke Ingels new Lego museum—on Lego’s history:


  When Ole Kirk Kristiansen founded Lego in 1932, the company made wooden toys, but after World War II, it switched to plastic. The Lego brick as we know it today was developed in the mid-1950s. From the start, it was a feat of classic Scandinavian design: clean, practical, reliable and somewhat revolutionary with its “clutch power,” which made it easy to snap and unsnap. Today, Lego enthusiasts marvel that those first Legos still fit perfectly with the current ones, and that six identical eight-studded bricks can be combined in more than 900 million ways. “The human condition is, sadly, divisive,” the British television host James May said on an episode of his show “Toy Stories,” on which he explored a full-size house he built entirely out of Lego bricks. “But there are simple spiritual experiences that unite all of humanity in unqualified communal joy: sex, the dance, foot massage — and to those I would add the simple sensation of pressing Lego bricks together.”

Ada Calhoun—writing for The New York Times about Bjarke Ingels new Lego museum—on Lego’s history:

When Ole Kirk Kristiansen founded Lego in 1932, the company made wooden toys, but after World War II, it switched to plastic. The Lego brick as we know it today was developed in the mid-1950s. From the start, it was a feat of classic Scandinavian design: clean, practical, reliable and somewhat revolutionary with its “clutch power,” which made it easy to snap and unsnap. Today, Lego enthusiasts marvel that those first Legos still fit perfectly with the current ones, and that six identical eight-studded bricks can be combined in more than 900 million ways. “The human condition is, sadly, divisive,” the British television host James May said on an episode of his show “Toy Stories,” on which he explored a full-size house he built entirely out of Lego bricks. “But there are simple spiritual experiences that unite all of humanity in unqualified communal joy: sex, the dance, foot massage — and to those I would add the simple sensation of pressing Lego bricks together.”

“I made a sideways move from art history into writing, and I think this, in part, is why I also find the stern distinction between fiction and nonfiction odd. It’s not at all a natural way of splitting up narrated experience, just as we don’t go around the museum looking for fictional or nonfictional paintings. Painters know that everything is a combination of what’s observed, what’s imagined, what’s overheard, and what’s been done before. Is Monet a nonfiction painter and Ingres a fiction painter? It’s the least illuminating thing we could ask about their works. Some lean more heavily on what’s seen, some more on what’s imagined, but all draw on various sources.”

I think the fourth episode of the Sway podcast is my favorite so far. We start to get into some more focused topics, which in my opinion, makes for a better listening experience. This episode is all about the First Things First manifesto and we get into some interesting discussions around it. Enjoy!

In this episode, we spend a lot of time talking about the new 2014 edition of the First Things First manifesto. We compare it to the 1964 and 2000 versions and how we approach it different now that we are working designers. This leads to a discussion on our personal manifestos and the things we value in our own practices. We wrap up this episode comparing the design and science disciplines, using Anthony Bourdain and Neil deGrasse Tyson as examples for a hypothetical television show that can teach the public about visual culture.

“Developing a structure is seldom that simple. Almost always there is considerable tension between chronology and theme, and chronology traditionally wins. The narrative wants to move from point to point through time, while topics that have arisen now and again across someone’s life cry out to be collected. They want to draw themselves together in a single body, in the way that salt does underground. But chronology usually dominates. As themes prove inconvenient, you find some way to tuck them in. Through flashbacks and flash-forwards, you can move around in time, of course, but such a structure remains under chronological control and can’t do much about items that are scattered thematically. There’s nothing wrong with a chronological structure. On tablets in Babylonia, most pieces were written that way, and nearly all pieces are written that way now.”

Exchanging energy

I can still feel some of the energy of a good concert a few days later. I think it is at concerts that I feel most alive. I liked to go to concerts often because I feel like a good musical performance can remind you of what it means to be human. Something profound happens when you put a bunch of people in a room with some music. Suddenly everything else fades, all of our differences fall away, and for a few hours, we sing and dance and clap and scream together. Somewhere in the middle of the excitement, we become one. I’m among friends.

Willie Williams, the set designer who designed U2’s 360 Tour, says his job is about exchanging energy. It’s his job to create a space for energy to move freely from performer to audience, audience to performer, and between the audience. When that energy moves it can be transcendent. You get feel like a part of something bigger. You get the sense that something bigger is going on here. The experience takes on a spiritual dimension.

I never leave a concert the way I entered. The world feels different when I walk out of the theater. I leave having experienced an exchange of energy. My ears are ringing. My heart is leaping. As I return to the real world, the cool breeze hits my sweaty face, there is still some dance in my step. I feel connected. I feel—even if just for a bit—a little less alone.