The web’s not what it used to be

So says this article from The New York Times — way back in 2001.

Exploration of World Wide Web tilts from eclectic to mudaneThe New York Times
The new utilitarian view of the Web marks a disappointment for cultural critics who see the medium as fundamentally more democratic than traditional radio, television and newspapers, because the barriers to entry are so low. The Web was supposed to subvert corporate domination of culture by giving a global soapbox — or printing press or television station — to anyone with a computer and a modem. While plenty of people do publish their personal musings and pictures of their babies, new data shows that for many people, the Web has become an electronic routine.

It certainly looks different these days, as this tongue-in-cheek recreation shows.

How I experience the web today

But there are still glimpses of the old web out there, if you know what URL to type — or mistype.

gail.com
Q: Why isn’t there any content here? Can’t you at least throw up a picture of your cat for the Internet to check out?
A: Sorry, I have a cat, but she’s pretty unexciting by Internet standards. As for why there is very little content here, we wanted to keep the server’s attack surface as small as possible to keep it safe.

Q: Interested in selling gail.com?
A: Sorry, no.

Q: How did you manage to get gail.com?
A: My husband registered it as a birthday gift back in 1996.

Q: How many times a day is this page visited?
A: In 2020 this page received a total of 5,950,012 hits, which is an average of 16,257 per day. Looking at just unique hits, we received a total of 1,295,284, for an average of 3,539 unique hits per day. Occasionally, we get Twitter-bombed and may get several tens of thousands of visitors a day. As an example, on July 21st 2020 we received 109,316 hits.

Q: Why is your website so popular? Are you one of those famous people that no one knows why they’re famous?
A: No, I’m not famous. It seems likely that most visitors simply mistype gmail.com and end up visiting gail.com by mistake.

For curiousity’s sake, I right-clicked to ‘view page source’ of this anachronistic little website and was rewarded with this little comment, hence the header image of this post.

Quirky, hand-written html is something I definitely miss from the old web.

“To challenge with optimism”

An additional Olympic item to mark today’s opening of the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Goo Choki Par designs official poster for the Paralympics demonstrating Para-athletic powerIt’s Nice That
The design studio aimed to convey the idea that “passion cannot be stopped,” claiming that “passion is the hope of humanity that has always been passed on through the ages.” Although GCP were commissioned to create the official poster, the team went on to create all the posters for each of the 22 sports in the games, including canoeing, equestrian, and judo.

The concept was “Unity in Diversity” and this is reflected in the fusion of materials used to create the posters. “Geometric shapes are used to simplify the appeal of the competition,” says Kent Iitaka, “and to more symbolically express the moment when the body is full of power.” Brushes, pencils, and airbrushes were used in order to express speedy movement of athletes and the powerful competition space with passion.

The studio honed in on the dynamism of wheelchairs and artificial limbs alongside the power of sound produced by the athletes’ movements. As Iitaka puts it, “The various charms of parasports, such as the sensibilities of athletes who have been sharpened in the dark, of competitions held in a world without vision, are firmly established in one graphic for each competition.” The posters on black backgrounds are used to demonstrate a competition that includes a blind class – “It expresses the presence of a player who emerges powerfully even in the darkness with his eyes closed.”

Watch the numbers

For things that can cost so much money, you wouldn’t think anyone would want to cut corners…

The case for better watch typographyHODINKEE
[O]nly a small and decreasing number of watchmakers go to the trouble of creating custom lettering for their dials. More often, watch brands use off-the-rack fonts that are squished and squeezed onto the dial’s limited real estate. Patek Philippe, for example, has used ITC American Typewriter and Arial on its high-end watches. French brand Bell & Ross deploys the playful 1980 typeface Isonorm for the numerals on many of its timepieces. Rolex uses a slightly modified version of Garamond for its logo. And Audemars Piguet has replaced the custom lettering on its watches with a stretched version of Times Roman.

That watchmakers use typefaces originally created for word processing, signage, and newspapers highlights a central paradox of watch design: These tiny machines hide their most elegant solutions under layers of complexity, while one of the most visible components – typography – is often an afterthought.

Of course, it’s not all like that.

Our favourite uses of typography in watchesA Collected Man
Good typography should be almost unnoticeable. Blending seamlessly into the rest of the design, it should tell you everything you need to know, without you being aware of it. Despite the many restrictions that are applied to dial layout, the creativity that can be seen in typography across horology is quite staggering. To put it simply, typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible and appealing when displayed. As the dial is the main point of interaction with a watch, it is arguably one of its most important parts, and certainly one that can produce the most emotion. This is why typeface can play such a vital, yet subtle, role in how we experience and feel about a certain piece.

A rather unexpected instance of a brand using a completely different typeface for just one model is the Patek Philippe 5212A weekly calendar. Perhaps designed to reflect the singularity of the rarely seen complication, this reference was printed with a handwritten typeface that, when studied, almost looks shaky. While this could appear like a mistake at first, it was revealed that the typeface was in fact chosen by their design team to “recall an epoch in the not too distant past when notes were still written by hand in paper diaries.”

Here’s more on that “handwritten” watch.

Complications Ref. 5212A-001 Stainless SteelPatek Philippe
Patek Philippe introduces a new complication to its calendar watches: the weekly calendar, a semi-integrated mechanism displaying the current week number, in addition to the day and date. A particularly useful feature for the modern businessman.

I love that, “the modern businessman” indeed. Like this one, you mean? But anyway, it’s not occurred to me until now that, for these watchmakers, typography is more numerical than alphabetical.

Breguet numeralsBreguet
Some Breguet watches display the distinctive numerals that A.- L. Breguet designed. Although he himself was no calligraphist, Breguet’s Arabic numerals show his flair for combining function with elegance. Still used today, particularly on watches with enamel dials, Breguet numerals first appeared before the French Revolution when they shared the dial with tiny stars to mark the minutes and stylised fleur-de-lys at five-minute intervals. By 1790 they had assumed their definitive form.

You can see these Breguet numerals on the Dubuis watch above, as well as the Patek Philippe in the header image. But manufacturing limitations also play their part in watch typography. Have a look at these 4s.

Decimal fontsFonts by Hoefler&Co.
Watch lettering is printed through tampography, a technique in which ink is transferred first from an engraved plate to a spongy, dumpling-shaped silicone pad, and from there onto the convex dial of a watch. To reproduce clearly, a letterform needs to overcome the natural tendencies of liquid ink or enamel held in suspension: tiny serifs at the ends of strokes can create a larger coastline, to help prevent liquid from withdrawing due to surface tension; wide apexes on characters like 4 and A eliminate the acute angles where liquid tends to pool.

Hence that flat top 4. I hadn’t noticed them before, but they’re everywhere.

David and Alexandre-Gustave

David Hockney, national (and local) treasure. Even just silently flipping through his sketchbook is a calming joy.

David Hockney shows us his sketch book, page by pageOpen Culture
Though filled up the previous year, the artist’s sketchbook depicts a quiet world of domestic spaces and unpeopled outdoor scenes that will look oddly familiar to many viewing it after 2020.

He’s not without his share of critics, though.

‘Brilliant’ or totally phoned in? David Hockney’s new design for the London Tube is sparking merciless mockery onlineArtnet News
To be fair, Hockney reportedly made the illustration for free. And no one actually thinks he forgot to leave room for the “s.” In reality, he probably made the piece on his iPad, perhaps between rounds of Fruit Ninja, one hand on the tablet, the other pinching a lit cigarette. He was likely trying to instill in the design the same sense of childlike hope that has underscored much of his recent work, such as his 116 new spring-themed iPad paintings opening this month at London’s Royal Academy of Arts.

Eddy Frankel, Time Out’s art and culture editor, has the correct response, I think.

Mind the Gap: why Hockney’s Piccadilly Line roundel uproar signifies a deepening disconnect between art and the publicIt’s Nice that
So how did an 80-year-old with an iPad manage to cause uproar? Because the government is cutting 50 per cent of funding to higher level arts education in the UK. Because kids aren’t taken around museums, because they’re not taught about why cubism matters, or why a urinal can be art.

The temptation is to blame everyday people for not getting Hockney, when the truth is that this is the result of years and years of arts education being shoved into the background and decimated through an endless, attritional cultural war. The education secretary Gavin Williamson just said: “The record number of people taking up science and engineering demonstrates that many are already starting to pivot away from dead-end courses that leave young people with nothing but debt.”

He’s genuinely gleeful about people not studying art. That’s what it means to the people in power, and that heinous attitude trickles down through every facet of society.

Someone makes a thing for the public, some like it, others really don’t — same old story.

PleaFutility Closet
Are we going to allow all this beauty and tradition to be profaned? Is Paris now to be associated with the grotesque and mercantile imagination of a machine builder, to be defaced and disgraced? Even the commercial Americans would not want this Eiffel Tower which is, without any doubt, a dishonor to Paris. We all know this, everyone says it, everyone is deeply troubled by it. We, the Committee, are but a faint echo of universal sentiment, which is so legitimately outraged. When foreign visitors come to our universal exposition, they will cry out in astonishment, ‘What!? Is this the atrocity that the French present to us as the representative of their vaunted national taste?’

Nothing lasts forever #2

After 25 years, the original Space Jam website has been replacedEsquire Middle East
The original website, launched in 1996, became a viral phenomenon in the early 2010s, as an internet that had evolved far past the 56k dial up modem found the site completely untouched from what it had once been. In an online world in which it often seems nothing is preserved, visiting the website felt genuinely like discovering the Tomb of Tutankhamun.

Web designer Max Böck compares the resources and loading times of the two versions. Progress?

Space JamMax Böck
Although connection speeds and devices keep getting better and better, the web is actually getting slower. We see the increasing bandwidth as an invitation to use more and more stuff in our websites. More images, more videos, more JavaScript. We just keep filling the available space, jamming up the pipes in the process so nothing actually gets faster. Well, at least the dial-up sound is gone now.

Here’s something from the Web Design Museum for those in the mood for more movie reminiscences.

Flash websites of Hollywood moviesYouTube Playlist
Via B3TA – “The Web Design museum are collecting flash intros to film websites, should you want to remember what the Memento site looked like in order to tattoo it on your leg so you never forget again.”

So, farewell then, [o-O]

My knowledge of product design starts and stops with Dieter Rams. Up until recently, I had no idea who Lou Ottens was or the extent of his impact.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, dies aged 94The Guardian
As product development manager at Philips, Ottens twice revolutionised the world of music, but he remained modest to the end. “We were little boys who had fun playing,” he said. “We didn’t feel like we were doing anything big. It was a kind of sport.” […]

Following the war, Ottens obtained an engineering degree, and he started work at the Philips factory in Hasselt, Belgium, in 1952. Eight years later he was promoted to head of the company’s newly established product development department, and within a year he unveiled the EL 3585, Philips’s first portable tape recorder, which would go on to sell more than a million units.

This is what an EL 3585 looks like, perfect for its time.

But it was two years later that Ottens made the biggest breakthrough of his life – born out of annoyance with the clumsy and large reel-to-reel tape systems of the time. “The cassette tape was invented out of irritation about the existing tape recorder, it’s that simple,” he would later say.

I like the idea that it’s irritation and not necessity that’s the mother of invention. But as we’ve seen before, time is unstoppable, change is inevitable, people are fickle. As Things Magazine says, “How strange to have seen your invention lauded and adopted worldwide, before slowly and inexorably fading out of view, only to have a strange reemergence right at the end of your life.” At least he got to see 90.

Lou Ottens, inventor of the cassette tape, has diedNPR
The resurgence is driven by a mix of nostalgia and an appreciation for tapes’ unique status as a tangible but flexible format. For decades, music fans have used mixtapes to curate and share their favorite songs. Unsigned bands have also relied on them as a way to promote their music. Those who have used cassettes to quickly record music include the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who famously said he captured one of his band’s biggest songs in the middle of the night.

“I wrote ‘Satisfaction’ in my sleep,” Richards wrote in Life, his 2010 autobiography. Adding that he had no memory of writing the song, Richards said he woke up one morning to find that his Philips cassette recorder was at the end of its tape — apparently, he concluded, he had written something during the night. When Richards rewound the tape, he heard the song’s now-iconic guitar riff and his voice saying, “I can’t get no satisfaction.”

Here’s more from the man himself.

Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape – Documentary Film Trailer (2016)YouTube
Cassette inventor Lou Ottens digs through his past to figure out why the audiotape won’t die. Rock veterans like Henry Rollins, Thurston Moore, and Ian MacKaye join a legion of young bands releasing music on tape to push Lou along on his journey to remember.

Mixtapes are wonderful things, so evocative. Can clicking on a link to a Spotify playlist come anywhere near the feeling of being handed a mixtape?

‘Mixture of Jane’s trendy records!!!’: discover readers’ cherished mixtapesThe Guardian
Following the death of Lou Ottens, creator of the cassette tape, Guardian readers share the romances, friendships and discoveries his invention generated.

Rubbish mixtape: fan reunited with cassette 25 years after losing itThe Guardian
Stella Wedell was 12 when she took the tape on a Spanish holiday to listen to songs by the likes of Pet Shop Boys, Shaggy and Bob Marley on her Walkman. Wedell, from Berlin, lost the tape either on the Costa Brava or in Mallorca and was astounded when she spotted it a quarter of a century later in an exhibition by the British artist and photographer Mandy Barker, who specialises in creating pieces out of plastic marine debris.

More creepy corporate cuteness

I didn’t realise this blandly cute, aggressively friendly, dumbed down graphic design style we see absolutely everywhere on the web has a name.

Why does every advert look the same? Blame Corporate MemphisWired 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.

Corporate MemphisAre.na
Tracking the illustration style of choice in our tech dystopia.

But perhaps a better name for this style is Alegria.

Facebook AlegriaBUCK
A new style guide, illustration and animation system for the entire Facebook ecosystem. There’s many imitators, but there’s only one Alegria.

This video from Solar Sands explains more.

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.

Off their rockers

The latest batch of Public Domain Review postcards arrived the other day. Mad and fab, as always.

PostcardsThe Public Domain Review
Twice a year we send out our special postcard packs — eight postcards, with a textual insert, curated around a different theme each time.

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.

Goodness me. A bold move to change an alphabet like that (I wonder how Kazakhstan is getting on), they sound off their rocker.

Speaking of which, here’s something else from The Public Domain Review.

Postures of Transport: Sex, God, and Rocking ChairsThe 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.

Chairs are weird, though, aren’t they?

Plenty of time

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 facesArun 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 IIYouTube
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.

Let’s go shopping down Memory Lane

You wouldn’t think the humble carrier bag would be such an evocative thing.

Plastic fantastic: Vintage carrier bagsThe Guardian
Hull-based artist Aaron Thompson’s Instagram project Carry a Bag Man is a trip down memory lane. … So far, he’s photographed more than 250 for Instagram, from shops such as WH Smith, Topshop and HMV.

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 cansGastro 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.

Jigsaw’s “Jigsaw” jigsaw

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 puzzleVox
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 montagesThe 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.

Someone creates a transparent jigsaw puzzle and it’s evilDeMilked
Jigsaw puzzles are a great way to pass time while you’re stuck in quarantine. However, someone came up with a way to make this fun and relaxing activity into a nightmare. We present to you – transparent jigsaw puzzles.

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.

A 224 piece jigsaw puzzle featuring 43 different cat shaped pieces that need to be herded togetherLaughing Squid
The Herding Cats Puzzle by Nervous System (previously) is an aptly named wooden jigsaw puzzle made up of 224 pieces in 43 different feline shapes. When all the cats are herded together, the result is a brilliantly colored giant blue-eyed fluffy kitty designed by Anne Sullivan.

An ‘infinite’ galaxy puzzle that can be built in any directionColossal
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.

Descend into the endlessly repetitive loop of ‘Jigsaw Jigsaw’Colossal
If 2020 were packaged in a box, it would be Darren Cullen’s “Jigsaw Jigsaw.” Just like our repetitive days and seemingly endless fascination with simple pastimes, the 1,000-piece game relies on the Droste effect and features a recursive image that spirals into the same black-and-white puzzle over and over.

I was happy to help crowdfund this when plans were first announced to make this a real puzzle. It arrived earlier this month, but I gotta say, it’s not easy. This is as far as we got.

So, farewell then, IKEA catalogue

First Argos, now IKEA.

The IKEA Catalog is dead. Long live the IKEA CatalogPrint
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.

But don’t worry. Here, via another Print post, is a full, browsable archive.

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…

Man-made perennials

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 courtyarddesignboom
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.

It reminds me a little of one of my favourite trees at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Ai Weiwei: Iron TreeYorkshire 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.

A Japanese forestry technique prunes upper branches to create a tree platform for more sustainable harvestsColossal
Literally translating to platform cedar, daisugi is a 14th- or 15th-century technique that offers an efficient, sustainable, and visually stunning approach to forestry. The method originated in Kyoto and involves pruning the branches of Kitayama cedar so that the remaining shoots grow straight upward from a platform. Rather than harvesting the entire tree for lumber, loggers can fell just the upper portions, leaving the base and root structure intact.

Perhaps they got too close to Paul Trillo’s black hole?

Old style emoji

I may have been familiar with this type of word puzzle, though I was unaware of its name or history.

Emoji 🐝4 EmojiI 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.

Not a lot of watch for your money

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 WatchPiaget
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 watchWired 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.)

OK, maybe not.

Calming colours

Feeling blue these days? We should be feeling cozy shades of green really.

Almost a year ago now, Pantone chose its colour of the year for 2020.

Color of the Year 2020Pantone
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 anxietyARTnews.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.”

What will 2021 bring?

Happy shopper #2

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 differentGood 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 EdgeMicrosoft 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-19CNBC
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-19The 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-19GeekWire
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 allThe 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 AmazonAll 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.

Out with the new, in with the old

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 more9to5Mac
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 historyThe 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.

Everything, all at once #2

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.