Why does every advert look the same? Blame Corporate Memphis – Wired UK It’s an aesthetic that’s often referred to as ‘Corporate Memphis’, and it’s become the definitive style for big tech and small startups, relentlessly imitated and increasingly parodied. It involves the use of simple, well-bounded scenes of flat cartoon figures in action, often with a slight distortion in proportions (the most common of which being long, bendy arms) to signal that a company is fun and creative. Corporate Memphis is inoffensive and easy to pull off, and while its roots remain in tech marketing and user interface design, the trend has started to consume the visual world at large. It’s also drawing intense criticisms from those within the design world.
“It really boils my piss to be honest,” says Jack Hurley, a Leeds-based illustrator who says his main output is “daft seaside posters.” Hurley was familiar with the style from Facebook’s login page, but had started to see the illustrations, with their sensible, slightly strange characters, while walking around his neighbourhood as well. “I live in a student area and there are some real scumbag letting agents,” he says. “Suddenly they’ve got all this marketing with the bendy-arm-people.”
There’s just so much of it, as this collection curated by tech writer Claire L Evans shows.
It starts with a critique of a ludicrous food delivery advert before going into more detail about this style and where it’s come from. But stick around for examples from the 1920s of this flat geometric style done right.
The ‘textual insert’ this time was especially loopy.
The prezent sistem, baist on the prinsipl ov yuezing no nyu caracterz or acsented leterz, iz surtinly not so elegant or so sientific az a sistem bi which sum fifteen nyu caracterz shood be aded tu the egzisting alfabet. But such an alfabet wood meen the scraping ov aul our egzisting founts ov tiep, tiep-rieterz, ets., ets., besiedz being dificult ov acwizishon for the adult jeneraishon. Thairfor such a reform iz unliecly tu cum for meny a dai, if it ever cumz at aul; and we se no reezon whi th children ov the neer fyuetyur shood not, bi a practical mezher ov simplificaishon, be releeved ov the sensles laibor which nou absorbz tu no purpos a hoel yeer ov thair short scuul lief.
From “Tu the Reeder” in the inaugaral issue of The Pioneer ov Simplified Speling (March, 1912) the flagship journal of the Simplified Speling Soesiety.
Speaking of which, here’s something else from The Public Domain Review.
Postures of Transport: Sex, God, and Rocking Chairs – The Public Domain Review What if chairs had the ability to shift our state of consciousness, transporting the imagination into distant landscapes and ecstatic experiences, both religious and erotic? In an essay about the British and American fascination with rocking chairs and upholstery springs in the 19th century, Hunter Dukes discovers how simple furniture technologies allowed armchair travelers to explore worlds beyond their own.
Rocking chairs (and seats that rocked) carried an erotic charge in the nineteenth century. For a certain type of Victorian mind, easy chairs made easy women. Polite society sat erect.
We should always take the time to appreciate well-designed details. Designer and Apple fan Arun Venkatesan has done a wonderful job here explaining the context behind some of the Apple Watch design cues and references.
The iconic watches that inspired Apple Watch faces – Arun Venkatesan [T]he analog faces reveal what Apple does so well — taking the familiar and making it their own. Over the years, they have released quite a few faces with roots in history. Each one started as an iconic watch archetype and was remade to take advantage of the Apple Watch platform. … Let’s dive into five Apple Watch faces — California, Chronograph, Chronograph Pro, Count Up, and GMT.
The intricacy of these old watches is amazing, so sit back and relax to some smooth jazz whilst this rusty old Rolex is repaired.
Restoration of Rusty Rolex – Water damaged 1996 GMT Master II – YouTube This 1996 Rolex GMT Master II suffered badly. Soaked in water, it spent two years in a drawer. The amount of rust was unbelievable. Actually, apart from the case and bracelet, only 8 of close to 100 internal parts were preserved. But the core challenge was to preserve the mainplate: the very base of the watch that holds all components together.
Many of them are likely to bring back fond memories of the shopping sprees in January sales from years gone by. “The effort put into advertising back then was so much more creative and out-there,” he says. “It’s great to look at a bag and get that burst of nostalgia as soon as you see a design you’ve totally forgotten about.”
But what shall we buy with our hundreds of carrier bags? Thousands of beer cans, of course!
The archaeologist who collected 4,500 beer cans – Gastro Obscura Maxwell’s work blurs the line between rubbish and relic, raising the question of when beer cans become valuable artifacts worthy of study and preservation. But in many parts of the country, any object on public land that is at least 50 years old is considered historic and therefore eligible for protection under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966—as long as they meet certain criteria. This makes the ability to date beer cans a useful skill for archaeologists.
For Maxwell, this trash was a treasure trove. “The cans were weird and old and mysterious looking,” he says. “They had punches to open them instead of pull rings, and all I knew was that they predated me.” Maxwell learned to decipher their stories by pouring over collectors’ guides and trade magazines, and summers spent hunting along the highway developed into a lifelong passion for collecting and studying beer cans. Over the decades, Maxwell amassed 4,500 cans, which he recently cut down to 1,700 due to a lack of storage space.
What used to be seen as quite a dull, old-fashioned way to pass the time has swung back round again and become very Instagrammable.
Everyone wants a puzzle – Vox Puzzles have become increasingly popular — especially for millennials — in a way that outweighs what I thought might be the white noise of my personal preference for them. On Instagram, hashtags like #jigsawpuzzles and #puzzlesofinstagram yield tens of thousands of posts. TikTokers and YouTubers often post time lapses of themselves assembling beautiful, difficult jigsaws.
You don’t have to limit yourself to completing just one jigsaw at a time, though.
Surreal jigsaw puzzle montages – The Guardian “A jigsaw puzzle manufacturer typically uses the same cut pattern for different puzzles,” Klein explains. “This makes the pieces of their puzzles interchangeable and I find that I can combine two or more to make a surreal image that the manufacturer never imagined.” … For his work, Klein uses vintage puzzles from the 1970s-90s, the selection of which can take years: “It’s an obsessive but enjoyable treasure hunt,” he says.
Jigsaws are certainly no longer what they used to be.
Assemble the jagged pieces of this shattered puzzle and fix ‘The Accident’ – Colossal While most shattered glass heads straight to the trash, Yelldesign’s panes actually can be reassembled into a single sheet, turning a groan-inducing mistake into a delightfully tedious activity. Comically titled “The Accident,” the acrylic puzzle is comprised of 215 jagged and cracked pieces resembling a broken window. Yelldesign warns, though, that although you don’t have to worry about getting cut or scratched by the pointed edges, assembly isn’t an easy feat.
An ‘infinite’ galaxy puzzle that can be built in any direction – Colossal The team over at Nervous System recently designed this fun Infinite Galaxy Puzzle that tiles continuously in any direction. Pieces from the top can be removed and added to the bottom, and likewise from side to side. So regardless of where you start the puzzle can continue in a seemingly infinite series of patterns.
I love the idea of a seemingly infinite jigsaw. Here’s another, and my favourite. From Darren Cullen, whose Spelling Mistakes Cost Lives project is more used to producing hard-edged, satirical advertising campaigns than dizzying Christmas gifts.
The IKEA Catalog is dead. Long live the IKEA Catalog – Print The company has announced that after seven decades—following an “emotional but rational decision”—the publication is coming to an end. As for the Swedish furniture purveyor’s corporate reasoning, the lines are familiar—IKEA has become increasingly digital, and the catalog has less and less of a place in the modern world. Interestingly, IKEA is also nixing the digital version of the catalog, as well.
Premiere for the IKEA catalogues online! – IKEA Museum For over 70 years, the IKEA catalogue has been produced in Älmhult, growing in number, scope and distribution. From the 1950s when Ingvar Kamprad wrote most of the texts himself, via the poppy, somewhat radical 1970s, all the way to the scaled-down 1990s and the present day – the IKEA catalogue has always captured the spirit of the time.
OK, don’t mind me, I’m just going to sit here for a while and work my way through all the catalogues from the 90s; Billy bookcases, Poang chairs, prehistoric laptops…
Time for another post about trees, I think. Here are a couple of links that have been languishing in my drafts folder for a while.
Gramazio Kohler Research, ETH Zurich plants ‘future tree’ in Swiss courtyard – designboom This structure — known as the ‘future tree’ — combines state-of-the-art design techniques, material science, and robotic fabrication to create an eye-catching architectural object. Demonstrating the latest research of Gramazio Kohler Research at ETH Zurich, the ‘future tree’ consists of a funnel-shaped, lightweight timber frame structure built by a robot, and a bespoke concrete column created using an ultra-thin 3D printed formwork. The entire design and fabrication were developed as inseparable and fully digital processes.
The photographs documenting its construction are extraordinary.
Ai Weiwei: Iron Tree – Yorkshire Sculpture Park Iron Tree is the largest and most complex sculpture to date in the artist’s tree series, which he began in 2009. Inspired by the wood sold by street vendors in Jingdezhen, southern China, Iron Tree comprise of 97 tree elements cast in iron and interlocked using a classic – and here exaggerated – Chinese method of joining. Iron Tree expresses Ai’s interest in fragments and the importance of the individual, without which the whole would not exist.
Artificial trees of a different kind, now. OK, so the trees are real, but their glitch-art shapes certainly aren’t natural.
I may have been familiar with this type of word puzzle, though I was unaware of its name or history.
Emoji 🐝4 Emoji – I love Typography Rebus writing substitutes pictures or symbols for words, but not in the same way that pictograms do. With pictograms, a picture of, for example, a bee simply represents the insect. But in rebus writing, a picture of a bee is used to substitute for the letter b or its sound — as in the title of this article. Likewise, a picture of an eye represents the letter i, and so on. The use of rebuses turns what is otherwise an unremarkable broadside advertisement into something much more engaging, fun, and valuable.
Although emoji started out as a limited number of symbols, they were eventually expanded into a dizzying number of pictograms and ideograms, many of which can be used in rebus writing. The ancient Sumerians, Egyptians, and Chinese, to name just a few, used rebuses thousands of years before emoji appeared on our screens. And it would appear that our fascination with symbols, of all kinds, and our willingness to experiment and use them in reshaping how we communicate is motivated by the very same thing that inspired our very distant ancestors — a desire to communicate better.
You can never have too many watches, I say. I used to have a very thin one, a Swatch Skin possibly? It was nothing like this one from Piaget, that’s for sure.
Altiplano Ultimate Concept Watch – Piaget Altiplano watch, 41 mm. Cobalt alloy case. World’s thinnest mechanical hand-wound watch : 2 mm, a total fusion between the case and the Manufacture movement. Manufacture Piaget 900P ultra-thin, hand-wound mechanical movement. Winner of the prestigious “Aiguille d’Or” watch price at the 2020 Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève (GPHG).
It’s only 2mm thick? Yep.
The incredible inner workings of the world’s thinnest watch – Wired UK The Piaget Ultimate Concept first launched as a show-stealing proof-of-concept in 2018; now the watch is now in fully commercialised form (confusingly, still with the “Concept” nomination). It’s a mere 2mm-thick whisper of mechanical virtuosity that’s unlikely to be trumped in thinness any time soon […]
Made to order, the watch is described as “price on application”, though WIRED understands it to be well to the north of 300,000 Swiss francs.
So what’s 300,000 Swiss francs in sterling? Perhaps it’s one of those hyperinflated currencies like the Zimbabwe dollar and this amazing watch is within reach after all.
(For instance, did you know that a German 5 Million Mark coin, worth about $700 in January 1923, was only worth about one-thousandth of one cent by October 1923. And in Hungary, their highest banknote value in 1944 was 1,000 pengő, but by the end of 1945, it was 10,000,000 pengő, and the highest value in mid-1946 was 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 pengő.)
Color of the Year 2020 – Pantone Suggestive of the sky at dusk, the reassuring qualities of the thought-provoking PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue highlight our desire for a dependable and stable foundation on which to build as we cross the threshold into a new era. Imprinted in our psyches as a restful color, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue brings a sense of peace and tranquility to the human spirit, offering refuge. Aiding concentration and bringing laser like clarity, PANTONE 19-4052 Classic Blue re-centers our thoughts. A reflective blue tone, Classic Blue fosters resilience.
I had picked a blue too, back in January, but obviously, with such a subjective topic, not everyone agreed with the choice.
“In choosing blue Pantone has missed the mark once more” – Dezeen Certainly, the dominant narrative in many other 2020 COTY camps has been green. Whether dark or bright, neon or dusky, colour companies and trend forecasters from Dulux and WGSN to the US-based Behr paints, plumped for the colour intuitively associated with regrowth and rebirth. Green reassures us at a primal level and speaks of optimism. Crucially, it’s representative of the wider ecological story that’s top of the cultural agenda right now. In this way, green chimes with the zeitgeist and its ascension of the colour charts is born of authenticity, not marketing.
Interestingly, that critique was written back in December 2019, before we knew the full extent of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on all our lives. They were focussing on greens because of environmental connections, not realising what 2020 had in store for us.
The surprising power of color to ease quarantine anxiety – ARTnews.com Global sales of Curator’s three most popular greens—Fisherman’s Boat, Dock Leaf, and March Day—increased by 59 percent during the pandemic while a few of its neutrals—Scalloped Silk, Soft Bisque, and Stoney Way—increased 57.8 percent. Rather than urban excitement, the selection conjures an outdoor adventure, or perhaps the waiting room of a well-appointed doctor’s office. We want to be reassured, not overstimulated, by our wall colors. It’s a contrast to Pantone’s 2019 color of the year, the electric Living Coral, which was described as “vivifying and effervescent.” “Everyone is a bit upset; they want things clean,” Cohn said. “They’re choosing positive colors because when things are negative, you want to be out there with something positive.”
The shops need customers, but do the customers need to be in the shops?
Black Friday’s just round the corner, or is it?
When is Black Friday 2020? The deals aren’t canceled, but shopping will look different – Good Housekeeping Black Friday is going to look a little different this year. Even if you’re used to going in person to a certain store every year for its Black Friday sales, this year you’re going to want to call ahead and confirm that they’re going to be open on the big day. If you are going out, you can assume most stores will have COVID-19 safety protocols in place and limits on how many people will be allowed in the building at once, so endless lines and door-buster stampedes are going to be a thing of the past.
Holiday shopping will certainly be different this year — less crowds, more clicks.
Reinventing online shopping on Microsoft Edge – Microsoft Design As new shopping behaviours emerge and retailers revamp their selling strategies, we investigated how the browser can play a more active role to help navigate online shopping instead of being the traditionally dormant gateway to websites. Our vision is to empower people to make confident purchase decisions by saving time and money. By automatically applying coupons and surfacing price comparisons in the browser, we are taking our first step towards realizing this vision.
So it’s safer online, but safer for who?
Amazon says more than 19,000 workers got Covid-19 – CNBC The information comes months after labor groups, politicians and regulators repeatedly pressed Amazon to disclose how many of its workers were infected by Covid-19. Early on in the pandemic, warehouse workers raised concerns that Amazon wasn’t doing enough to protect them from getting sick and called for facilities with confirmed cases to be shut down. Lacking data from Amazon, warehouse workers compiled a crowdsourced database of infections based on notifications of new cases at facilities across the U.S.
Almost 20,000 Amazon workers in US test positive for Covid-19 – The Guardian Athena, a coalition of US activist groups campaigning for greater regulatory oversight over Amazon, called for immediate investigations into the company by public health officials as well as regular reporting on the number of employees with Covid-19. Athena’s director, Dania Rajendra, said in a statement: “Amazon allowed Covid-19 to spread like wildfire in its facilities, risking the health of tens of thousands of people who work at Amazon – as well as their family members, neighbours and friends. “Amazon is, in no uncertain terms, a threat to public health.”
Inside an Amazon fulfillment center, masked up and spaced apart during COVID-19 – GeekWire Not far from where hundreds of robots were buzzing about the floor of Amazon’s sprawling BFI4 fulfillment center south of Seattle this week, a human stood in her own wheeled contraption. The innovation-in-progress, intended to allow a supervisor to roll up to various work stations and provide support behind a protective barrier, is one of the more striking ways the tech giant is addressing employee safety in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But we just can’t get enough of it, can we?
How Amazon became a pandemic giant – and why that could be a threat to us all – The Guardian A few weeks ago, Amazon announced results from the following quarter, and yet another boost to sales and profits. Now Christmas looms, while lockdowns have returned across the world, sending even more customers its way. Every time “nonessential” bricks-and-mortar shops are told to close, you can sense the company once again seizing its chances, and a great social and economic transformation gaining pace. […]
“You’ll never get a major retailer boasting about opportunity in the middle of a pandemic,” [says Natalie Berg]. “But it’s clear that the timing and very nature of Covid has been fortunate for Amazon. I think they’ll be the only retailer in the UK, possibly the world, to come out stronger on the other side. If there are winners and losers of the pandemic, Amazon is hands-down the winner.”
The Truth About Amazon – All 4 As the high street goes into lockdown, Amazon is booming. This Supershoppers special reveals how to buy smart off the online retail giant, from the best bargains to avoiding scams.
I got off the iPhone conveyor belt around iPhone 4, I think, so all the recent talk about the new Windows Phone-style widgets within iOS14 has passed me by.
These iOS 14 apps offer home screen widgets and more – 9to5Mac Apple has officially released iOS 14, iPadOS 14, and watchOS 7 to the public. The updates bring many new features to iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch users, and third-party developers have been hard at work on updating their apps to take advantage of Apple’s latest tools.
I know I’m biased but– I don’t know, is it all starting to look a little too busy? I’d much rather look at these homescreens.
iOS: A visual history – The Verge Although it may be difficult to imagine now, when the original iPhone was introduced, it was actually well behind the competition when it came to a strict feature-by-feature comparison. Windows Mobile, Palm OS, Symbian, and even BlackBerry were all established systems in 2007, with a wide and deep array of features. Comparatively, the iPhone didn’t support 3G, it didn’t support multitasking, it didn’t support 3rd party apps, you couldn’t copy or paste text, you couldn’t attach arbitrary files to emails, it didn’t support MMS, it didn’t support Exchange push email, it didn’t have a customizable home screen, it didn’t support tethering, it hid the filesystem from users, it didn’t support editing Office documents, it didn’t support voice dialing, and it was almost entirely locked down to hackers and developers.
Yet all of those missing features hardly mattered and nearly everybody knew it.
You could say that Matan Stauber’s final year project at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design took millions and millions of years to create.
Histography – Timeline of History “Histography” is interactive timeline that spans across 14 billion years of history, from the Big Bang to 2015. The site draws historical events from Wikipedia and self-updates daily with new recorded events. The interface allows for users to view between decades to millions of years.
I feel old. Stephen King’s It celebrated its 34th publication anniversary earlier this month. To mark the occasion, Dan Sheehan from Literary Hub has gathered together a whole bookcase of horrors. Or not.
10 covers for Stephen King’s It, ranked from least to most terrifying – Literary Hub Dutch paperback edition. My personal favorite. The cool 80s glam rock lightning bolt in the background. The Saturday morning cartoon font. The stupid kid’s stupid face. The fact that the balloon is too prominent, the wrong color, and actually looks kind of friendly. The words “de stank van HET” lined up with the kid’s mouth as if he is whispering in Dutch (objectively the most ridiculous-sounding language) to the friendly balloon. It’s all great. Alas, it is not very frightening.
This couple hired a robot photographer for their wedding day – My Modern Met
For anyone wondering about how the guests felt about having the robot photographer at the wedding, the groom assures that Eva was positively received by the entire wedding party. “This was a fantastic addition to our day and our guests are still talking about it,” Gary told Bride Magazine. “It made a nice change from the normal photo booths.”
But don’t worry, Eva isn’t designed to replace real photographers. Gary and Megan hired a professional photographer, too. “The robot is a great alternative to traditional photobooths, which are slowly going out of fashion,” Service Robots says. “Hiring both a traditional photographer and a photobooth robot like Eva means newlyweds can look back on crisp, professional shots as well as more candid, fun and cheeky photographs taken with the robot’s help.”
I know nothing about guitars (or ukuleles, for that matter), but I can tell that playing this “self-playing” guitar would not be as simple as that description suggests.
Self-playing electric ‘circle guitar’ can pick at up to 250 bpm – designboom Anthony Dickens has built the circle guitar with the help of a team of brilliant engineers to generate sounds, textures, and rhythms that would be impossible with a conventional electric guitar. What differentiates the new design from other electrics, is the motor-driven spinning disc in its body that rotates at up to 250 bpm under the strings. This innovative feature makes it possible to exceed what the musician’s hand can achieve alone.
OK, so I can’t pretend to understand even half of this—mechanical step sequencer discs? hexaphonic pickups?—but it’s great to see the start of what is in effect a brand new type of instrument, one I reckon Wintergatan’s Martin Molin would love to get his hands on.
If redesigning musical classics is your thing, check out this other designboom post I came across, via Moss and Fog. Looking closer, you can see it’s from 2017, so I’m not sure if this ever took off, but I’m smitten, to say the least.
The Elbow cassette player is a turntable tonearm for tapes – designboom In an industry obsessed with nostalgia, the humble cassette seems to have missed out on the craze that turned old school records back into a music must-have. Yet Brainmonk, the design team behind the Elbow clip-on casette player, have other plans to give the traditional tape the attention it deserves. Described as a ‘portable cassette player reduced to the core,’ Elbow gets rid of the heavy plastic casing that’s usually found on a tape players and strips it back to a single clip-on pulley that almost leaves the cassette to play itself.
After looking into this a little more, I can see that it didn’t take off. According to its Facebook page, the project is suspended, and they’ve not bothered renewing their website domain. This Verge write-up perhaps gives us a clue why.
As shown in an earlier post about light switches, it’s the little things in life that can make all the difference.
A short history of door handles – Apollo Magazine We have all become suddenly more aware of the moments when we cannot avoid touching elements of public buildings. Architecture is the most physical, most imposing and most present of the arts – you cannot avoid it yet, strangely, we touch buildings at only a very few points – the handrail, perhaps a light switch and, almost unavoidably, the door handle. This modest piece of handheld architecture is our critical interface with the structure and the material of the building. Yet it is often reduced to the most generic, cheaply made piece of bent metal which is, in its way, a potent critique of the value we place on architecture and our acceptance of its reduction to a commodified envelope rather than an expression of culture and craft.
At least someone’s making an effort.
Sekhina designs minimal concrete light switches and plug sockets – Dezeen Hungarian design brand Sekhina has made a series of light switches and plug sockets from concrete as an aesthetically pleasing alternative to plastic. Billed as the first of their kind, Sekhina founder Gábor Kasza made the concrete covers for switches and sockets after not being able to find any similar products made from the material.
Thinking big – Futility Closet Parliament considered the plan [to straighten the Thames] but never implemented it. “Revely had rather an awkward way of letting loose his real opinions; and he habituated himself to a sarcastic mode of delivering them,” read his obituary. “It need not be added, that such qualities were not calculated to render him popular.”
There are some more images of Revely’s plans on IanVisits, a London heritage blog.
NASA’s ‘worm’ logo lay dormant for 28 years. So why are people so obsessed with it? – Fast Company
Danne says these simple, elegant, and versatile visual elements also underscore a deeper meaning. “NASA is very romantic and sexy,” he says. Especially when compared to other government agencies, like the Department of Transportation. “They both have motion built into their matrix, but NASA is the only one that has adventure and exploration.” It represents an entity that takes humans to the furthest possible realms; In just four letters, it “personifies innovation and moving ahead.”