Earlier this week, we were wowed by an elaborate parody of a certain purveyor of anachronistic Americana: Remade Co. cleaved its supposedly superlative subject like an axe splitting a cord of firewood. Today, we'd like to share another brilliantly conceived and produced multimedia project from NPR, one that expresses the opposite sentiment, supplanting the thickly-laid irony with earnest, beautiful reporting from Mississippi, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Colombia. Planet Money Makes a T-Shirt was originally Kickstarted six months ago, bringing in over ten times its $50,000 goal, and the meta-level T-shirt reward tier (the only one available) was both the means to support and the premise of the investigative journalism project.
That $590K most certainly paid off: A custom web experience drives the compelling narrative, which presents an incredible amount of quantitative and qualitative information in an easily digestible format: tightly-edited video complemented by just the right amount of text, stills and archival photography.
Portland-based video production company Cineastas completely nails it when it comes to giving us in-depth "documentaries" on makers of all trades in just a couple of minutes. Previously, we've shared their videos featuring Nike shoe designer, Mike Friton and Walnut Studiolo.
This time around, filmmaker Tristan Stoch sent us a video featuring Hillsboro, Oregon-based Murray Carter, the 17th Generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith. Originally from Halfax, Nova Scotia, Carter found himself in Japan at the age of 18 and wound up spending six years as an apprentice under a Japanese bladesmith. Now, after 26 years in the trade, Carter has hand-forged over 18,000 blades.
Not only is the video full of beautiful shots showing the process behind Carter's blades, but he also gives some great insight about finding happiness in our chosen trades. And blade enthusiast or not, we all can relate to that. Check it out:
At some point in the past few years, the concept of the 'book trailer' has now become de rigueur in book publishing, at least when it comes to marketing new works of nonfiction: Writer Kathryn Schulz mentions it in the opening of her much-circulated recent essay on her Twitter habit. Some might dismiss it as a case of 'dancing about architecture' but what the hell—here's a teaser for Leander Kahney's forthcoming book Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products.
Little kids often dream of being on TV when they grow up, but Dan Hellman and Eric Chang dreamt of making furniture. Now that they've established Brooklyn-based Hellman-Chang into a globally-known furniture brand (see our last post), it is their furniture, and not themselves, that they'd like to see on TV. Or on the big screen, for that matter.
And it's happening. Design-savvy viewers of the Today Show may have noticed a certain iconic table has recently been added to the interview portion of the set, and other Hellman-Chang pieces have popped up in well-known NYC-based productions. Here we catch up with company co-founder Eric Chang, who tells us what H-C's been up to and what this facet of their strategy means for the brand:
NOWNESS is pleased to present a new short by Stefan Henrichs featuring "lauded industrial design iconoclast" Konstantin Grcic fawning over Enzo Mari's "Box" chair. (We're also fans of the legendary Italian designer.)
Originally trained as a cabinet maker, Grcic made the bold step into industrial design before studying at the Royal College of Art, London. "As a craftsman I became so fascinated by machinery and this idea of working through the processes and limitations of design," explains Munich-based Grcic... "The machine really forces you to work and think as a designer."
Not that the video diptych is self-serving in any way—he doesn't refer to his work at any point—but one can imagine that Grcic hopes his own Chair One for Magis inspires the same reaction from some of his admirers. Then again, what artist or designer wouldn't want to hear a bit of high praise from one of their esteemed peers?
Just about anyone can probably come up something cool to do and a most of us can probably actually do some of those cool things. A select few of you (I'm not counting myself this time around) are also able to document those things with photo and video and present them in a way that's more compelling than your average Instagram or Vine, and possibly make a buck or two doing so. NYC-based artist and filmmaker Casey Neistat happens to be able to do all of the above extremely well, and, after years of putting together wild, wacky and otherwise out-of-left-field short films, someone at Mercedes-Benz took notice. That's right: Casey Neistat made a car commercial. And it's awesome.
(For those of you who might retort that it's a contrived attempt at 'shaking up' a staid format—the car commercial—ask yourself this: would you not do the same thing? And would you even come close to the result?)
Granted, it's one thing make a car commercial and another thing to embed it in a Friday afternoon blogpost (credit also to the automakers themselves), so in the interest of highlighting the substance behind the ecstatically over-the-top finished product, Neistat has done us the favor of posting a three-part making-of doc, and it's as good as anything he's ever done... including the commercial. This, readers, is what storytelling is about.
We've devoted a fair number of pages and pixels to that singular design object known as the bicycle, and whether you're a leisure rider or all-weather commuter, weekend warrior or retrogrouch, there's no denying the functional elegance of the human-powered conveyance. Thus, when Harry Schwartzman reached out to us about lending our support to the inaugural Bike Cult Show, a celebration of the beautiful machine and a local-ish community of individuals dedicated to building them, we were happy to support the cause.
With the first annual Bike Cult Show just around the corner, we're pleased to present our fifth and final builder profile, a short film on the inimitable Jamie Swan by filmmaker Isaac Schell.
Swan may not command the broad recognition of, say, Richard Sachs or Peter Weigle, but he is certainly a legend in the cycling community, in which he is a self-proclaimed "Keeper of the Flame." At least some of Swan's renown is simply due to the fact that he's only built a handful of frames since he put together his first one back in 1981—they'd be grail bikes if he actually had a wait list—yet he's anything but a recluse. On the contrary, Swan is glad to take the role of mentor and spirit guide (for lack of a better term) for savvy up-and-comers: He admires the current generation of craftsmen who are making a living building bikes precisely because he's never had to do so.
Nope, those aren't 3D-printed; they're handmade. Ex-chemistry teacher Bobby Jaber—the giveaway to his old profession is that he refers to PVC as polyvinyl chloride—"wanted to combine art and science," and now that he's retired, has thrown himself wholeheartedly into clay.
Buckyballs, icosahedrons, octahedrals and other complex geometrics might not be as lucrative as fictional colleague Walter White's "Blue Sky" product, but they seem to bring a good deal more spiritual peace. Additionally, California-based Jaber has been invited to show (and sell) from as far afield as the Netherlands.
In the following mini-doc, we get to see Jaber doing what I think many of us secretly crave: To create our own things in our own studios, absent market pressures and briefs from higher-ups. (Be sure to stick around until after the credits, when there is an outtake of what appears to be Jaber seeing an iPad for the first time!)
In its first iteration, the Leatherman multi-tool was a Double-Oh-Seven-worthy gadget idea, born out of a traveler's frustration and initially snubbed by major tool companies. These days, Leatherman is a synonym for any dozen-in-one dream tool you can fit in a pocket. The idea came to Tim Leatherman back in the 1970s, when the recent mechanical engineering grad and his wife Chau decided touring Europe in a questionable Fiat would be a good use of a year. Leatherman found himself regularly eyeballing the guts of the car, wishing for one tool he didn't have in his Swiss Army Knife: pliers.
Back in Oregon, he spent the next several years developing a design for the tool he had craved, patiently supported by Chau. After partnering with a friend with a machine shop, he pitched the first Leatherman multi-tool to knife and tool companies to resounding disinterest... until Cabela's unexpectedly ordered 200 for their mail-order catalog. They featured it on their back cover and ordered 500 more before the first order was filled. With that, the Leatherman snowball was off and rolling.
30 years later, the Leatherman Tool Company is still growing. Every Leatherman tool is made in Portland, OR, where the company employs 525 people full time, and runs 24-hour production at three locations. The smallest space is the site of the original machine shop, and the largest is the 90,000 sq. ft. factory, which I recently got to tour because I am an important regional figure.
After chatting with ID honcho Blair Barnes, I left the aggressively air-conditioned design and business offices and entered the stream of activity on the factory floor. Like most factories, this one is laid out for efficiency. Production flows from one side of the building to the other, starting with the lifeblood of the factory: a custom die shop. The die shop (curtained off to outsiders) houses what I imagine to be wizardly figures, conceiving, crafting and repairing the dies used in each machine. Having the designers and machinists in close proximity with production makes it quicker to design new dies and fix broken ones than sending things out of house.
Michael Bierut surmises that he lost a bet, but it turns out that it's kind of a real thing: apparently Mr., um, am is involved in a 20-week Wall Street Journal initiative in which startups are competing for the title Startup of the Year with the guidance of several well-known entrepreneurs. The entire process, which kicked off about five weeks ago, will ultimately be chronicled in a documentary; the call for entries (for which the deadline was back in April) notes that the startups must have less than $10 million in revenue and have a proof-of-concept or prototype to qualify.
Earlier this week, a Japanese commuter accidentally fell through the gap between train and platform. The accident happened at the Minami-Urawa station, which I've traveled through many times as I used to live near it; I don't recall the gap being any wider than normal, five or six inches, so the woman must have been slight of form. And she fell in up to her waist. In any case, after ordering the driver not to move, a train official got on the PA and asked commuters on the platform—average men and women who presumably do not have Henry Cavill's gym body—to help shift the train.
Several dozen people are not enough to lift a 32-ton railcar, but they are enough, working in concert, to press against the train and cause the suspension on the other side to fully load. With one side sprung and the other unsprung, the gap widened enough for a conductor to pull the woman free. CG reenactment (with considerably less bodies) below:
Our friends at frog design recently released a short documentary on Industrial Design in the Modern World, a kind of iterative manifesto (the consultancy's first but certainly not their last), featuring several key players of the design team. We had a chance to catch up with Creative Director Jonas Damon on the broader message of the piece, as well as his thoughts on user experience and a possible revision to Dieter Rams' canonical principles of design.
Core77: Can you elaborate on the points you touch on in the opening monologue? Specifically, to what degree do 'traditional' (or outdated) forms and materials embody value or character? For example, I recently came across an iPod speaker in which the dock opens like a cassette tape deck, evoking a certain nostalgic charm despite being rather impractical (it was difficult to see the screen behind the plastic).
Jonas Damon: The opening monologue is about the physical constraints that have guided forms in the past vs. forms today, and the opportunities that arise from the absence of these constraints. 'Honesty' in design is a widely admired quality, and in the past that honesty was expressed by skillfully sculpting with and around a given product's physical conditions, rather than just hiding or disguising these. So when products were more mechanical, they had a more imposing DNA that informed their character; their mechanics largely defined their identities. Many product types came preconditioned with an iconic, unmistakable silhouette.
Today, most products in the consumer electronics space can be made with a rectangular circuit board, a rectangular screen, and a rectangular housing. Therefore, the natural expression of these products today is limited to a rectangle—not really a unique identity. Expression of character becomes more nuanced and malleable. With that newfound freedom, we have to be more sensitive, judicious and inventive. These days, 'honesty' is more complex and difficult to design for, as it's about the intangible aspects of the brand the product embodies.
Traditional forms and materials have cultural value because of their iconic, built-in character. The starting point for many contemporary consumer electronics forms is generic and sterile, so historical forms are often tapped to artificially trigger our memory-based emotions. It's been a popular fallback that we may be a little tired of these days, but on occasion its been well executed, and even that can have merit.
Of course, the 'flat black rectangle' effect also implies a shift from traditional form-follows-function I.D. to a broader, UX-centric approach to design (i.e. some argue that Apple's focus on iOS7 is simply a sign that they've shifted from hardware innovation to the UX/software experience). What is the relationship between hardware and UX?
Hardware is an integral part of UX. A true "user experience" is multi-sensory: when you engage with something, don't you see, feel, hear, maybe even smell that which you are engaging with? (I'm not sure why anybody refers to solely screen-based interactions as "UX"; that notion is outdated) As an Industrial Designer, I am a designer of User Experience. ID has gotten richer since we've started considering "living technology" as a material. By "living technology," I mean those elements that bring objects to life, that make them animate and tie them to other parts of the world around us: sensors, screens, haptics, connectivity, software, etc. By claiming these elements as part of our domain (or by tightly embedding their respective expert designers/engineers in our teams), we are able to create holistic designs that are greater than the sums of their parts.
The folks at IDEO New York have come up with a short video about "embracing ambiguity," a parable about three designers navigating the foggy seas. Not only is it a charmingly crafty affirmation on resourcefulness and perseverance, it features a small dog in a sailor cap. Watch:
The video is precisely the kind of diversion that the Economist might cite in their brief profile of the esteemed design consultancy. A recent Schumpeter column ambiguously embraced IDEO's approach to both "designing things that you can touch" and, increasingly, "re-engineering services."
There are three main elements to IDEO's "design thinking." The first is "lots of different eyes." It employs people from wildly different backgrounds—surgeons and anthropologists as well as engineers and designers—and lumps them into multidisciplinary teams. The second is to look at problems from the consumer's point of view: for example, conducting detailed interviews with patients about their daily pill-taking routines and how they feel about them. IDEO likes to focus on the outliers rather than the typical customers—people who have demanding medical regimes or who constantly forget to take their tablets—on the assumption that this produces more useful results.
The third element is making everything tangible. The company produces mock-ups of its products and processes, to see how people react to them "in the wild." The London office, in newly trendy Clerkenwell, contains an old-fashioned woodworking room and a newfangled 3D printer. There is much talk of "thinking with your hands" and "rapid prototyping."
The article does raise the topic of 'design imperialism,' but concludes with measured optimism about the future of service design—read it here.
Tomorrow is the big day for cycling fans the world over: in just over 12 hours, nearly 200 of the top cyclists in the world will embark on the first stage of the 100th Tour de France, which will start for the first time in Corsica (in fact, this will be the first time the Tour has visited the Mediterranean island.) The riders will log some 2,100 miles over the next three weeks as they travel throughout the scenic French countryside, including a double ascent of the iconic Alp d'Huez (perhaps to compensate for its omission from last year's route); I recommend the New York Times' race preview and Peloton's "Tour by the Numbers."
With Tour footage is always a quick YouTube query away and the Bicycle Film Festival underway in New York this weekend, here are a few related vids to psych you up not only for the centennial Tour but just, you know, riding a bicycle in general. First up, via Coolhunting, is a timely short film about Rapha Condor JLT team, providing an "intimate portrait of veteran rider and team leader Kristian House and up-and-comer Felix English."
For better or for worse, we've grown a bit skeptical about the ever-popular making/manufacturing videos that seem to be par for the course for any remotely heritage brand / artisanal crafting concern / handmade thing these days. Which is not to say that there aren't good ones out there: as a recently-launched series of short fims entitled "The Makers of Things" beautifully captures the spirit of making without compromising the integrity of its subject matter—not least because these fellows have been at it for decades longer than most, offering an intimate picture of what a "lifetime of making things looks like."
No. 1: The Scoiety
Filmmaker Anne Hollowday has spent the past year producing the series of four short films documenting the work of the remarkable Society for Model and Experimental Engineers (SMEE). "Their common tools and methods mask a huge array of interests and skills, from experimental tinkerers to woodworkers and librarians, all brought together under the roof of their South London headquarters."
Established in the UK in 1898 by Percival Marshall, the Society has survived two world wars as well as the introduction of technology barely dreamed about at the beginning of the 20th century. It now has hundreds of members from across the world, all united by their passion for making and creating.
Having spent the better part of my childhood in the suburbs of Minneapolis, I suppose I simply took the shape of the state for granted—it never occurred to me that the tiny protrusion on the northern edge of the state was an aberration. Maybe I subconsciously presumed the U.S. had somehow annexed the Northwest Angle in a largely forgotten border dispute with Canada... which, it turns out, isn't that far off from the truth. Indeed, it's the only part of the continental 48 that is above the 49th parallel, as I learned in this short video about the longest land border between two countries (and at risk of stretching for a design connection, it seems that geopolitical borders are the ultimate constraint):
If you look along the International Boundary between Canada and the United States in any forested area, it will appear simply as a 6 metre or 20 foot cleared swath stretching from horizon to horizon, dotted in a regular pattern with white markers. Over mountains, down cliffs, along waterways and through prairie grasses, the line snakes 8,891 kilometres or 5,525 miles across North America, tranquil, undefended but not uncared for. The boundary vista must be entirely free of obstruction and plainly marked for the proper enforcement of customs, immigration, fishing and other laws of the two nations. The job of keeping the boundary vista in proper condition falls to the International Boundary Commission.
(You may also notice that this is the second episode on "Bizarre Borders"; the first one, on single-border nations, is also interesting—I, for one, learned that the Gambia is properly preceded by a definite article—albeit shorter and less in-depth, partly serving as an intro to the U.S.-Canada vid.)
This week New York City saw the trial launch of Street Charge, a series of tree-like structures sprouting up in public spaces. And as the name suggests, they charge your phone, providing several different types of male connector. Observers will note that there's no effective way to wire these things, parked as they are in the middle of public plazas; that's why there's solar panels up top, sucking down glorious free juice from the sun.
Here's the thing: Every news organization is of course calling them "AT&T Street Charge," as they are the ones sponsoring the objects, and many are reporting that the project was initially inspired by Hurricane Sandy and its attendant widespread power loss. But while AT&T's corporate muscle helped realize StreetCharge, it is of course an unsung industrial design firm who first came up with the idea—well before Sandy—and who has been toiling away behind the scenes to make the design work, in partnership with solar technology company Goal Zero.
The Street Charge concept was born in the Brooklyn offices of design firm Pensa, back in early 2012. In this episode of Core77 TV, we get the inside story of Street Charge from Mark Prommel, Pensa Partner and Design Director.
Last week, we learned (or relearned) Dieter Rams' Ten Principles of Good Design through a nicely-executed animation by Design Silesia. Today, we have a series of animated shorts from the Open University, a UK-based distance-learning institution. I can't speak to the university's academics, but it happens to be one of the world's largest universities and is accredited in the States. In keeping with the nontraditional structure—students typically study remotely, whether they are in the UK or elsewhere—they've also taken to producing short educational videos on YouTube, and the latest series of shorts happens to be about "Design in a Nutshell."
The Bauhaus segment is a gem—I learned that Gropius's seminal school of thought marked the genesis of the "art school as an alternative way of life," as well as a few fun facts about Marcel Breuer. Good stuff.
At this point in history, every last one of us is knee-deep in the YouTube era, the gold standard of user-generated content, where a new flash in the pan surfaces every day. Although Colin Furze is among the lucky ones who have managed to secure a bit of longevity, his latest stunt is the first time I'd heard of the Stamford, Lincolshire-based persona, a BMX rider turned plumber turned stuntman and video maker—and longtime DIYer / pyromaniac.
Furze combines Jackass's seminal let's-do-stupid-sh*t approach to reality TV and Casey Neistat's art of crafting subversive viral videos with an ill-advised disdain for safety equipment and an appropriately maniacal cackle, brazenly attempting to pull off projects so outrageous that they don't require a don't-try-this-at-home disclaimer. A nice primer on his antics circa 2011 includes his 72-foot-long motorcycle and insane bonfire, both of which were deemed worthy of world records, as well as his bread-&-butter of speed-related thrills. Always looking to outdo himself, he recently posted his first proper filed test of his latest and greatest invention, the JET bicycle—no, it's not an acronym, you just have to yell when you say it—a.k.a. "the most dangerous unsafe bicycle in the world." Although the superlative remains unsubstantiated, he's might just be right:
Design Silesia, a blanket organization for promoting design in the Silesia region of Poland, is pleased to present their first 3D-animated short film, illustrating Dieter Rams' "Ten Principles of Good Design." (For those of you who don't know them by heart or have them tattooed down your forearm, we've enumerated the secular decalogue below.)
"He's just a guy who makes YouTube videos" is probably about as dubious as it gets when it comes to a description of someone, but I assure you that at least a couple of Dave Hax's vids are worth watching. He's a DIYer in the loose sense of the word—meaning that he just as often takes the acronym to mean Destroy-It-Yourself. He recently posted a short tutorial on how to make a miniature bow-and-arrow, with flaming ammo to boot. I have yet to try it myself, but it looks pretty neat:
This video has been making rounds for a hot minute now, but considering that it's a fitting follow-up to my post on the mad skills of Ines Brunn (and, of course, the inimitable Danny Macaskill), Tim Knoll's "Original Bike Tricks" are well worth a look if you haven't chanced upon it yet:
Maybe I shouldn't have been so blown away by the so-called "must-see video" that I posted yesterday: commenter Peanut pointed us to a manufacturing video with a similar visualization treatment by a Greek film production company called Deep Green Sea. It turns out that "Alma Flamenca" is but one episode of an ongoing series of videos called "The Art of Making," which are essentially poetic (and well-executed) takes on the tried-and-true how-it's-made vid.
Based on the usual bit of cursory investigation, Alexandre Chappel's minimal online presence is a felicitous albeit frustrating complement to a video he's posted: according to his now-defunct Wordpress blog, he was an Industrial Design student at Oslo School of Architecture and Design as of 2011, at which point his "main passion is cars and everything that has something to do with them."
Lately, however, it seems that he's turned his attention to a more mundane object: the lowly pen. That, and motion graphics, as he ably demonstrates in the beautiful video below, entitled "Precious Lines."
The HUD- (or Google Glass-) like information mapped onto the world offers a tantalizing taste of the grail of augmented reality largely because the simple vector schematics complement the close-cropped shots of machining to a tee. It's all about the details: the fact that the text echoes the focal length of the shot at 0:55; the way the shaving at 1:45 looks like a line; and the text aligned with the drawer at 2:42 are all executed flawlessly.
I don't know much about the enigmatic fellow behind Death Spray Custom besides the fact that his given name is David Gwyther and he's based in London, and his morbid moniker is simply "an identity that is used to front my adventures in surface design. It is intended to be a playful riposte to an often serious world of art, design etc." Per the same interview with CycleEXIF last year, he's "mostly self taught," and contrary to McLuhan, he believes that "the medium isn't the message, the painting part is a small fraction of the process. I'd like to add I'm not a bicycle painter by any means, just an artist who likes two wheels."
I'd known about his custom paint work for bicycles for some time, but true to his word, he comes up with wicked paint schemes for a variety of mostly speed-related objects—auto, helmets, tools, etc.—and executes them to dazzling effect. His portfolio is well worth a visit, from the Tool Box (featuring a slogan that is unprintable here) to a NASCAR-worthy Chevy Silverado and all variety of helmets and bicycle-related objets d'art.