All roads really do

Show me the way to go to Rome ♪♫

An interactive map shows just how many roads actually lead to Rome
No one can give you exact directions to Milliarium Aureum (aka the Golden Milestone). Just a few carved marble fragments of the gilded column’s base remain in the Roman Forum, where its original location is somewhat difficult to pinpoint. But as the image above, from interactive map Roads to Rome, shows, the motto Emperor Caesar Augustus’ mighty mile marker inspired still holds true.

All roads lead to Rome.

Behavioural tricks within Japanese train stations

An interesting look at some of the behavioural tricks and nudges that have been designed into Japan’s train stations. The millions of commuters that move through them aren’t just helped by things like reliable trains or better signage, but by their own unconscious actions triggered by light and sound.

The amazing psychology of Japanese train stations
Compounding the stressful nature of the commute in years past was the nerve-grating tone—a harsh buzzer used to signal a train’s imminent departure. The departing train buzzer was punctuated by sharp blasts of station attendants’ whistles, as harried salarymen raced down stairs and across platforms to beat the train’s closing doors.

To calm this stressful audio environment, in 1989 the major rail operator JR East commissioned Yamaha and composer Hiroaki Ide to create hassha melodies—short, ear-pleasing jingles to replace the traditional departure buzzer.

Not all of the aural additions are as melodic, though.

To address the Japanese fear of loitering and vandalism by young riders, some train stations deploy ultrasonic deterrents—small, unobtrusive devices that emit a high-frequency tone. The particular frequency used—17 kilohertz—can generally only be heard by those under the age of 25. (Older people can’t detect such frequencies, thanks to the age-related hearing loss known as presbycusis.) These devices—the brainchild of a Welsh inventor and also used to fend off loitering teens in the U.S. and Europe—have been enthusiastically adopted in Japan.

Standing outside one of Tokyo Station’s numerous exits on a recent summer day, it was easy to see the effectiveness of this deterrent in action. Weary salarymen and aged obaachan passed under the sonic deterrent without changing pace. Among uniform-clad students, however, the reactions were evident—a suddenly quickened pace, a look of confusion or discomfort, and often a cry of urusai! (Loud!) None appeared to connect the noise to the deterrents placed almost flush in the ceiling panels above.

Strange to contemplate a sound that I’ll never hear. The article links to a YouTube video of the hassha melodies, but there’s nothing about that 17 kilohertz one, unfortunately. (Or maybe there is and I just can’t hear it.)

But it’s not just the built environment that uses these behavioural tricks. The train conductors, drivers and platform attendants do too.

Why Japan’s rail workers can’t stop pointing at things
Known in Japanese as shisa kanko, pointing-and-calling works on the principle of associating one’s tasks with physical movements and vocalizations to prevent errors by “raising the consciousness levels of workers”—according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Japan. Rather than rely on a worker’s eyes or habit alone, each step in a given task is reinforced physically and audibly to ensure the step is both complete and accurate.

キレキレ指差呼称で安全確認キレキレ車掌The conductor of metro who to confirm safety by a splendid pointing and calling.

Something I should try myself, perhaps?

*points to keyboard, mumbles something about e-mail*

Illustrating good mental health

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month, several freelance illustrators discussed their own experiences with anxiety, depression and a range of other mental health issues, with the aim of supporting and encouraging others that may be facing similar issues.

‘None of us need to be alone’: Illustrators’ raw and honest accounts of how they’ve coped with mental illness
“My experience is that many creative types often have hermetic tendencies. Working for yourself, by yourself will see you spend perhaps an unhealthy amount of time alone — sometimes this is even fetishised and encouraged with the suggestion that one isn’t really ‘hustling’ unless they have what amount to terrible habits,” says Canadian illustrator, designer, and founder of Poly Studio, Jamie Lawson.

“This is, of course, nonsense. Though it’s an attitude that I see changing in the culture, it still bears repeating that developing healthy social habits is as important for a freelancer as their technique, professional practices or work ethic.”

There are links to a range of resources and suggestions, but I think the interviews with the dozen or so artists on their issues and successes is most inspiring.

Tobias Hall on how mindfulness helped with insomnia and anxiety
What did you find helped your situation? “Mindfulness was and is the single biggest reason behind my recovery. It taught me a completely new way of looking at what happens in the mind. Over time I have learnt to identify the ‘my mind’ and ‘me’ as two separate things – I accept that I’m not always in control of the noise which goes on up there. I understand that behind all of that noise, my mind is only ever looking out for danger, as it’s evolved to do. And as such, it means I buy into thoughts and feelings a lot less than I did in the past. For sure, I still get caught up in negative thought and anxiety is still a part of my life, but my relationship with it has fundamentally changed and it’s no longer a big problem for me day-to-day.

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Illustrator Sharmelan Murugiah on coping with depression
How have these experiences stemmed from, or been tied to, the life of being a freelance illustrator? “I do feel the life of being an illustrator can be quite lonely. I am set up in a solitary home studio. I made my way into this profession via architecture and then design so I have not had those early connections with folks in the industry. The growing effect of social media on my work can also make you feel pressured. Seeing work pour out of other artists social accounts even though I know we use social media generally to present the best of ourselves online.”

How to engineer comedy

Khoi Vinh uses this wonderful Rube Goldberg video from Joseph Herscher to discuss important points about the value of aesthetics and narrative in good design and engineering.

Valuable lessons from pointless machines
Though the Cake Server relies on precision execution and basic physics and engineering principles, it’s clear from watching the behind-the-scenes video below that there is a real artistry at work, too. In comments that will sound familiar to any designer, Herscher talks about the importance of the viewer’s experience and how certain components of a Rube Goldberg help create a sense of expectation and narrative for the audience.

These machines are ingenious but, as Khoi points out, and as reiterated by Joseph in his behind-the-scenes video, a lot of the joy and humour comes from our own expectations and reactions. Like that off-screen sound at 1:15!

The Cake Server – Joseph’s Most Complex Machine Ever
I hate waiting for dessert, so here’s a Rube Goldberg machine to streamline dinnertime. It lets me keep eating, with no break before cake. It’s my most complex yet and took 3 months to make so I hope you enjoy it!

#artworldproblems

I would say staff at this museum dedicated to the Fauvist artist Étienne Terrus need to look into hiring a few skips, as they’ve got a lot of rubbish to get rid of.

‘Catastrophe’: French museum discovers half of its collection are fakes
Eric Forcada, the art historian who uncovered the counterfeits, said that he had seen straight away that most of the works were fake. 
“On one painting, the ink signature was wiped away when I passed my white glove over it.”

Meanwhile, from works of art that shouldn’t be in galleries, to those which were but are no longer.

Bad week for art world as Jeff Koons piece is smashed and imitation Happy Meal thrown away
May evidently did too much of a good job, as a cleaning crew working at the Marco Polo HongKong Hotel which hosted the Harbour Art Fair, mistook it for the real thing and threw it away. “A lot of my pieces involve very small alterations to familiar items: changes that aren’t maybe obvious at first glance,” the artist explains, adding that “initially, I didn’t find it funny at all. But later I realised it meant my imitation had been a success.”

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Keith Haring should be 60

It’s Nice That has a great piece on Keith Haring and his legacy.

Celebrating the life, work and enduring legacy of Keith Haring on his 60th birthday
Today, Haring’s characters are everywhere, on T-shirts and posters the whole world over, and he’d be very happy about this. More than anything he wanted to connect with as many people as possible and spread some joy. He’s gone but his legacy is greater than ever, and not just in culture but also in the fabric of our cities: in the words of his friend and sometime collaborator William S. Burroughs, “Just as no one can look at a sunflower without thinking of Van Gogh, so no one can be in the New York subway system without thinking of Keith Haring. And that’s the truth.”

He only had one decade in the art world and yet created so much and left such an impression. Imagine what else he could have got up to, these last 30 years.

Happy, smokey days

Ah, those were the days, puffing away around a burning maypole without a care in the world.

The vibrant world of vintage tobacco and alcohol ads
“This is a great example of the lush illustration used at the time and it shows a kind of surrealistic, whimsical approach with people dancing around a giant cigarette,” said Jim Heimann, author of 20th Century Alcohol & Tobacco Ads.

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A little busy out there

Pelle Cass must have the patience of a saint—not because of the number of photos he takes, but what must be involved in stitching them all together.

The dizzying patterns of movement at athletic events captured in composite photographs by Pelle Cass
Although the images are highly manipulated, with over five hundred Photoshop layers involved, Cass notes that each and every figure remains in the original location and position that they were in at the time the photo was taken. His compositional effort is to understand and convey the visual story that unfolded over the course of the sporting event. The artist explains to Colossal, “I scroll up and down, over and over looking for figures I think are interesting. It’s a little like slow-motion Tetris, trying to fit various shapes into various spaces. Then, with luck, a set of coincidences or a kind of gesture or spatial idea begins to emerge.”

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Some of Pelle Cass’s images were used in Nicholas Felton’s Photoviz infographics book.

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But compare those images with these from South Korea. A similar feel but without any digital manipulation.

Seung-Gu Kim creates Lowry-style photographs of South Korean holidays
Having documented the Korean relationship to the water, as well as recent trends in Korean housing – which sees cities recreating mountains within apartment complexes – one of Seung-Gu’s most recent series focussing on the irony of South Korean holidays, particularly caught our eye. Titled Better Days the series depicts how, as Koreans work extraordinarily long hours, when it comes to going on holiday, they often don’t have the time to travel very far. As a result, leisure parks and entertainment multiplexes have cropped up all over Seoul’s suburbs.

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Picturesque views of Soviet spas

You wouldn’t think that crumbling Soviet sanatoriums would be that photogenic, but these are wonderfully evocative and romantic images from photographer Reginald van de Velde. They hide evidence of terrible, ongoing conflict and suffering, however, as the area deals with competing claims on the territory of Abkhazia, following the breakup of the USSR.

A photographer’s journey through the former spas of Soviet Georgia
“There’s only one way to travel into Abkhazia via Georgia, and that’s via the famous Enguri Bridge. No vehicles are allowed to cross, so you need to walk the bridge by foot or make use of one of the horse carriages,” van de Velde recalls. “The Georgian police held us at the border for three hours for no apparent reason. Once you cross the other side, you bump into a Russian border operated by the military, doing a proper check-up as well.”

Van de Velde didn’t know what to expect once he finally got into Abkhazia. “You enter a country no one ever visits, no one ever sees. You enter this fascinating entity secluded from the outside world. It’s unspoiled, its unknown, it’s subtropical, it’s war-torn, but it’s also incredibly beautiful and pristine,” he recalls. Evidence of violent conflict is still impossible to escape. “All the roads remain severely damaged and potholed, many homes are abandoned, and when you inspect them up close you see the impacts of bullets and shelling.”

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There are more photos on the Atlas Obscura post, as well as on Reginald van de Velde‘s website.

Words on the street

From Atlas Obscura, an interview with Jesse Simon about his Berlin Typography project.

Celebrating Berlin’s typography, before it vanishes
“I came across a sign for a shop called Betten-König, an exquisite, yellow, cursive neon sign attached to the façade of what otherwise looked to be a fairly modest shop,” Simon recalls. “Something snapped into focus.” He realized that he’d been thinking about Berlin’s civic and commercial signs only in terms of their function. And yet, “this Betten-König sign, which seemed somehow too grand and too glorious for its purpose, was doing something entirely different. It brought a kind of joyous irreverence to the street,” he says.

There are some wonderful examples of street typography here, with a range of styles unlike anything I’ve seen before, I think.

Something else one finds in Berlin (and in most larger German cities) is a kind of creative tension between Western European and traditional German approaches to typography. Although German uses the Latin alphabet now almost exclusively, blackletter or Fraktur scripts were dominant in the previous centuries, and the influence is still present today. German also has its own orthographic traditions and its particular variations on the Latin alphabet, specifically the umlauted letters and the Eszett (ß). Again, this is not unique to Berlin, but is definitely a part of what makes its urban typography so distinctive.

I’ve heard of Blackletter, at least, but Sütterlin? No idea.

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Sütterlin is a form of handwriting that was prevalent in Germany during the first half of the 20th century; it fell out of common use in the second half of the century but, as with Blackletter, is still used in signage to evoke the values of a previous age. The sign here reads ‘Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus’ although this is not immediately apparent. If you stare at it for long enough (or go to the Sütterlin Wikipedia page) it begins to make sense.

The Atlas Obscura interview covers more examples but check out his Berlin Typography website for his extensive, and growing, collection. Long may they last out there, the streets will look poorer without them.