Wet paint

Bringing Baroque painting into the twenty first century — but without the paint.

Baroque underwater photography by Christy Lee Rogers
Photographer Christy Lee Rogers produces luminous scenes of swirling figures swathed in colorful fabrics. She creates a painterly quality in her large-scale images not by using wet pigments, but rather by completely submerging her subjects in illuminated water and photographing them at night.

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Some incredible imagery. This video gives you an idea of her process, and what her models have to go through.

Muses Underwater by Christy Lee Rogers

It reminded me of David Bickley’s Swim piece, though that’s more Impressionism than Baroque.

Creative credit cards

Here in the UK, we’ve had credit cards since the 60s, though the term was thought to be first coined as far back as 1887 by the novellist Edward Bellamy. So perhaps this fresh look at their design is overdue.

Portrait bank cards are a thing now
Consider the ways you use your bank card on an everyday basis, whether handing it over to a cashier, swiping it to make contactless payments, or inserting it into an ATM. How are you holding the card as you do all those things? Vertically, I’m willing to bet, or in portrait orientation, to borrow a term. And yet, the vast majority of credit and debit cards are designed in landscape, sticking to a thoroughly outdated usage model. This is the senseless design inertia that the UK’s Starling Bank is rowing against with its newly unveiled portrait card design, which was spotted by Brand New.

There’s more info on the reasons behind the change on the bank’s website.

Introducing our new card
Design usually evolves to solve something or to meet new needs, and bank cards don’t look the way they do by accident. They were designed landscape because of the way old card machines worked, and they’re embossed with raised numbers so they could be printed onto a sales voucher.

But we don’t use those machines anymore, so when you think about it, a landscape card is just a solution to a ‘problem’ that no longer exists. At Starling, we think it’s important that we can justify every decision we make – and we just couldn’t find a reason good enough to carry on using a design based on antiquated needs.

That first article from The Verge identifies a number of other banks and companies that have gone vertical. I’ve had a portrait Co-op membership card in my wallet for ages now, since their rebrand.

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Speaking of credit cards, here’s an interesting article about how companies across the globe are turning to AI to help assess credit ratings in what they claim to be a fairer and more transparent way. That’s the idea, anyway…

Algorithms are making the same mistakes assessing credit scores that humans did a century ago

It used to be that credit card companies would just be sneakily looking at transaction data to infer worthiness:

In the US, every transaction processed by Visa or MasterCard is coded by a “merchant category“—5122 for drugs, for example; 7277 for debt, marriage, or personal counseling; 7995 for betting and wagers; or 7273 for dating and escort services. Some companies curtailed their customers’ credit if charges appeared for counseling, because depression and marital strife were signs of potential job loss or expensive litigation.

Now the data trawl is much wider:

ZestFinance’s patent describes the use of payments data, social behavior, browsing behaviors, and details of users’ social networks as well as “any social graph informational for any or all members of the borrower’s network.” Similarly, Branch’s privacy policy mentions such factors as personal data, text message logs, social media data, financial data, and handset details including make, model, and browser type.

In these situations it becomes hard to tell what data, or combinations of data, are important — and even harder to do anything about it if these automated decisions go against us.

Coffee, squared

An entirely appropriate material for the job.

Coffee cups made from old recyclable coffee grounds
Product designer Julian Lechner became obsessed with trying to find a way to reuse coffee grounds to create a new material. After 3 years of experimentation, Kaffeeform was born by creating a new formula that creates new products out of old coffee. Lechner takes recycled coffee grounds and natural glues to create a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to products based on mineral oils. All Kaffeeform cups have the appearance of dark marblewood, smell of coffee, are very light, and finally, are dishwasher-friendly and long-lasting, so they can be used over and over again.

What a great idea. What else could we design in this way? Egg boxes made of egg shells? Edible cutlery?

Brainy music

Music can affect us in different ways, but here are two I hadn’t considered before.

First, an article about Brain.fm and how it’s using AI to create music (or is it just sound?) designed to help you focus.

The science behind the ‘beats to study to’ craze
According to Woods, good focus music has no vocals, no strong melodies, ‘dark’ spectrum, dense texture, minimal salient events, heavy spatialization, a steady pulse, sub-30-200Hz modulation and above 10-20Hz modulation.

This is compared to an example of a more traditional approach to music that can help you work — the “lofi hip hop radio” playlist from YouTuber ChilledCow, described as “the type of tune you’d put on at a backyard barbecue: mellow beats with an analog flair.” When discussing Brain.fm, its ‘composer’ admits that:

All of his parameters for good focus music are understandably clinical. “These acoustic features I’ve been talking about, they’re things about sound, not things about music,” he admitted. “The world that musicians live in has key signatures, time signatures, major and minor keys. I haven’t been talking about that at all, but what this ‘lo-fi’ [channel] shows is those things can be enormously important.”

I think I know which I prefer, but it’s an interesting project nonetheless.

And for a completely different take on how music affects the brain, take a look at the artwork of Melissa McCracken. She has synesthesia and paints what she sees when she listens to music.

The artist who paints music
Basically, my brain is cross-wired. I experience the “wrong” sensation to certain stimuli. Each letter and number is colored and the days of the year circle around my body as if they had a set point in space. But the most wonderful “brain malfunction” of all is seeing the music I hear. It flows in a mixture of hues, textures, and movements, shifting as if it were a vital and intentional element of each song.

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It’s all absolutely gorgeous, and the video Kottke links to really gets across her passion and talent.

The Artist Who Paints What She Hears

Design Museum’s political exhibition gets political

It was supposed to be an exhibition about politics …

Design Museum to exhibit political graphic design from past decade
An exhibition at London’s Design Museum will present the most poignant political graphic iconography from the past decade, created in the wakes of events such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, Brexit, and Donald Trump’s presidency.

… but the Design Museum’s Hope to Nope exhibition is caught in a political controversy of its own. Here’s a post from one of the groups of artists involved, BP or not BP.

Artists say ‘Nope’ to arms
This morning, we’re part of a large group of artists, designers and activists who have written to the Design Museum asking that our work be removed from the current Hope to Nope exhibition of political art. […] Why are we demanding our stuff back? Because last Tuesday, 17th July, the museum hosted an arms industry event as part of the Farnborough International arms fair.

They’re not the only ones unhappy with where the Design Museum gets its funding from.

30 artists have requested their work be removed from Design Museum exhibition
The letter states that, “We refuse to allow our art to be used in this way. Particularly jarring is the fact that one of the objects on display (the BP logo Shakespeare ruff from BP or not BP?) is explicitly challenging the unethical funding of art and culture. Meanwhile, many of the protest images featured in the exhibition show people resisting the very same repressive regimes who are being armed by companies involved in the Farnborough arms fair. It even features art from protests which were repressed using UK-made weapons.”

The letter and full list of signatories are published in full on Campaign Against Arms Trade website.

Design Museum – Campaign Against Arms Trade
It is deeply hypocritical for the museum to display and celebrate the work of radical anti-corporate artists and activists, while quietly supporting and profiting from one of the most destructive and deadly industries in the world. Hope to Nope is making the museum appear progressive and cutting-edge, while its management and trustees are happy to take blood money from arms dealers.

The Guardian quotes a statement from the Design Museum in response to this.

Design Museum challenged over private ‘arms industry’ event
“The Design Museum is committed to achieving its charitable objective to advance the education of the public in the study of all forms of design and architecture and is thus a place of debate that, by definition, welcomes a plurality of voices and commercial entities. However, we take the response to Tuesday’s event seriously and we are reviewing our due diligence policy related to commercial and fundraising activities.”

They’ve acknowledged (kind of?) the controversy on their exhibition webpage …

Hope to Nope: Graphics and Politics 2008-18
As of 1 August, some artwork has been removed from the exhibition, before the exhibition closing date of 12 August, at the request of the lenders. As a result, and until the end of the run, the exhibition will now be free to visit. […] ‘We are sorry for any disappointment caused for visitors. We believe that it is important to give political graphics a platform at the museum and it is a shame that the exhibition could not continue as it was curated until its original closing date’.

… but have not made their peace yet with the artists and designers involved.

Design Museum attacks its own exhibitors, defends working with arms dealers
We were shocked to see the Design Museum’s latest statement about our request to remove our art from the Hope to Nope exhibition. Rather than engaging with the issues we and other exhibitors have raised, the museum has instead made the bizarre (and offensive) suggestion that over 40 artists and groups featured in its exhibition have all somehow been duped by some mysterious ‘professional activists’.

Before they were famous

Some uncommon views of very well-known structures.

Famous landmarks, before they were finished
It isn’t always possible to find an unusual perspective on famous landmarks, but photos taken during their construction can often provide one. In black-and-white or grainy color, they’re filled with promise but not yet substance—scaffolding around a skyscraper skeleton, pieces of a sculpture in a workshop, the foot of a tower reaching into nothing.

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Blame typewriters?

I love typewriters. I used to own quite a few old ones, including a stupidly heavy Underwood. So I found this Medium article quite difficult to read at first.

Death to typewriters

What are you talking about, they’re amazing machines!

You see, I blame typewriters for double-handedly setting typography back by centuries. Type before typewriters was a beautiful world filled with hard-earned nuance and richness, a universe of tradition and craftsmanship where letters and their arrangement could tell as many stories as the words and passages they portrayed.

The article’s author, the typographer and designer Marcin Wichary, sets out a very compelling case and illustrates very clearly the influence typewriters have had on typography.

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Those habits wouldn’t matter that much, originally; books and newspapers during that time proceeded with more sophisticated machinery and largely excellent typography. But, typewriters transmuted into teletypewriters, then into teletypes, then into “glass teletypes” (teletypes with actual “glass” computer screens), and eventually into computers. … And thus typography of early personal computers was essentially typewriters, realized in pixels.

He outlines in the rest of the article the ways he’s working with Medium to improve on-screen typography and reverse the damage caused by bad typewriter habits. These are set out in detail in Matthew Butterick’s book, Practical Typography.

Typewriter habits
I’ve claimed through­out this book that many bad ty­pog­ra­phy habits have been im­posed upon us by the type­writer. Here, I’ve col­lected them in one list. … 2: Two spaces rather than one space be­tween sen­tences. … 7: Pre­tend­ing that ac­cented char­ac­ters don’t exist. … 13: Ig­nor­ing lig­a­tures. 15: Be­liev­ing that mono­spaced fonts are nice to read.

Whilst I still love typewriters as objects, as word machines, I can absolutely see their point. I’m not sure about a typewriter revolution, but I can definitely see the need for a typography one.

Looking up

There’s a bloody lunar eclipse this evening, although the thunderclouds that are accompanying our unusually warm summer may get in the way. But whilst we’re on the subject:

Figures in the stars: How cultures across the world have seen their myths and legends in the stars
Let’s compare 28 different “sky cultures” to see differences and similarities in the shapes they’ve seen in the night sky. Ranging from the so-called “Modern” or Western constellations, to Chinese, Maori and even a few shapes from historical cultures such as the Aztecs.

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And as we can see here, attempts to map and explain our place in the universe go back a long way.

Cosmography manuscript (12th Century)
This wonderful series of medieval cosmographic diagrams and schemas are sourced from a late 12th-century manuscript created in England. Coming to only nine folios, the manuscript is essentially a scientific textbook for monks, bringing together cosmographical knowledge from a range of early Christian writers such as Bede and Isodere, who themselves based their ideas on such classical sources as Pliny the Elder, though adapting them for their new Christian context.

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Simon Stålenhag’s sci-fi to hit our screens

I was happy to read that the work of sci-fi illustrator Simon Stålenhag may be on our screens, in the not-too-distant future.

Simon Stålenhag’s dystopian art to come to life in a new Amazon sci-fi TV series
Its eight-episode run will tell the tale of the town of people who live above ‘The Loop’, a machine built to unlock and explore the mysteries of the universe. A cast hasn’t been announced, but we do know Mark Romanek (Never Let Me Know) will be directing the pilot, while Legion‘s Nathaniel Halpern and Planet of the Apes sequels director Matt Reeves are on board as executive producers.

They’re talking about his book Takes From The Loop, but my money’s on his other work, The Electric State, being the bigger winner. As I mentioned before, this one may also make it to the big screen, if the Amazon page for its Kindle edition is to be believed.

Iconic icons

Via kottke.org, here’s a great write-up of the contribution Susan Kare made to the success of the Macintosh. She started as a typeface designer but is best remembered for much more iconic work.

The sketchbook of Susan Kare, the artist who gave computing a human face
Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac’s GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn’t been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing — each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen.

[…]

There was an ineffably disarming and safe quality about her designs. Like their self-effacing creator — who still makes a point of surfing in the ocean several mornings a week — they radiated good vibes. To creative innovators in the ’80s who didn’t see themselves as computer geeks, Kare’s icons said: Stop stressing out about technology. Go ahead, dive in!

All these years later and her designs are still seen as culturally significant.

London’s Design Museum announces 2017 exhibition programme
“‘Designed in California’ is the new ‘Made in Italy’. … This ambitious survey brings together political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences. The exhibition reveals how this culture of design and technology has made us all Californians.”