Archive for the 'Design' Category

Submarine Movie (Poster) Review

The designer was clearly influenced by screen-printing as illustrated by the colour choice and the  simple over-printing of a cyan square over the actor’s face. Exclusively using CMYK colours is becoming incredibly overdone. Cyan is one of the process colours and looks striking here but I’m relieved that the designer has chosen more unusual variations of yellow and magenta/red to split up the movie’s title.  I adore desaturated photograph – not quite black and white, but almost there. The boy’s expression is great, though it looks like he’s somehow looking in two directions at one..

Since the movie is presented by Ben Stiller, I was originally concerned that it might be an attempt at making a very American indie movie – basically 500 Days of Summer with a younger cast. But I find that the designer chose the very British  Gill Sans reassuring. Gill Sans is also used by the British Railway, Penguin Books and Bloc Party.

I like the subtle drowning reference. It actually reminds me of the amazing Radiohead No Surprises video. Though maybe I just have Radiohead on the mind since their new album ‘The King of Limbs’  is coming out very soon.

To read a review of the actual movie, check out the New York Times review.


Seeing Double

I’ve noticed that so many magazines are now doing double covers. It makes sense: with many magazines struggling to stay afloat, publishers and designers are experimenting with new ways to keep their magazine successful, from iPad apps, to charging for their online content, to these double covers. A double cover, er, doubles the chances grabbing a potential buyer’s interest.

The current issue of LOVE has both Kate Moss and Justin Bieber on the cover – haven’t caught Bieber fever yet? Well, surely you must still love Moss. It also offers the opportunity to post twice as many cover stories, without cluttering the front paper. More into London’s electronic music scene than Pittsburg hip-hop? Well, still pick up a copy of Fader’s Spring Style issue because they’re featuring both!

Generally in stores, more than one copy is exposed at a time. But this may be less effective in the many small bodegas dotted along NYC’s busy streets, where usually only one copy of each magazine faces forward. I wonder are publishers losing a lot of revenue by not having an advertisement on the back of the magazine anymore.. Hopefully the increased sales will pay off. I love a good magazine so I hope all these new initiatives work!

Deconstructing the Black Swan Posters

Before the release of Darren Aronofsky’s newest movie ‘Black Swan’, a number of creative posters were released to great acclaim. I remember the first time I heard about Black Swan when my friends began linking to the posters and saying how beautiful they were. They looked more like theatre posters than movie posters, which are generally not illustrated. Though perhaps because of their success and critical acclaim, more creative posters like these will be created.

The posters were clearly inspired by Russian Constructivist and  done colours associated with era- red, black and cream.

El Lissitzky was one of the pioneers of the Constructivist movement in Russia. The shapes of one of his most iconic pieces ‘Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge’ are used in this first piece. The shadows give it the style of sprayed paint. The haunting face is very theatrical.

The repetition of the dancer’s arms is reminiscent of the repetition used in photo montage. The side profile, and hands in silhouette are important symbols of Constructivism.

The final poster uses typography influenced by the era. There are now digital typefaces available in that style such as P22 Constructivist Square

I found this poster from the 1932 movie Red-Headed women which uses a very similar aesthetic. She certainly looks fiery.

The Constructivist era is one of the most referenced art periods. In 2005, Franz Ferdinand released ‘You Could Have It So Much Better’ and spurned conversations about whether the cover was a homage to the era or a direct rip-off.

What do you think?

Not Too Quiet on the Western Front

I’ve noticed a slowly growing trend of graphic design that is clearly influenced by the wild west. Worn typography is being used everywhere, usually in browns and reds. Faded paper, like the kind you would make as a child by staining it with tea, is also very common. And, of course, the cowboy archetype has been popping up too. Could it be that cowboys are the new vampires?

The popular HBO show Deadwood is also probably a big influence, though perhaps less so than the release of True Grit in December 2010. I really hate the true grit poster. It is so bad that I still wonder if it’s meant to be ironic.  The little pointing fingers look like MS clip art, the gun shot and blood looks like a stock photos.. I don’t understand it. The Deadwood poster on the other hand is gorgeous. The unusual composition is beautifully photographed, multi-layered with perfect typography.

The new ATP promotional material is a good example of something completely un-Western adopting this aesthetic. It uses the same condensed stacked type that True Grit uses, though the letters are worn and faded to appear like a hand-rendered print.

If you’d like to create your own designs, you can use these free Western fonts! They’re a little tacky but with such great names as ‘Bleeding Cowboys’, ‘Rustler’ and ‘Should’ve Known’ how can you say no?

Need more proof that cowboys are the new vampires for hormonal teens? Check out what is #16 in the Billboard 100 this week:

Luckily, I have lots of friends who are much more fashion forward than me who informed by that the catwalks of this year’s New York Fashion week also was brimming with wild western style, including Ralph Lauren’s collection. Derek Lam and Betsy Johnson have also been doing their own homage to the cowboys. Not everyone is a fan though: writing for the LA Times about Lauren’s new collection, Booth Moore said:

“The heavy-handed Western accents — oversized steer-head belt buckles, lacey blouses with leg o’ mutton sleeves, and a rodeo’s worth of leather and fringe — took this collection dangerously close to looking like something out of the wardrobe department of a big-budget Western.”

You be the judge, but I suspect we’ll see a lot more of these types of designs, in both fashion and graphics, in the comings months. I’ll keep you posted!

Sushi Staplers to Matryoshka Measuring Cups; An Adventure through Urban Outfitter’s Design Sensibilities

The rate of inventory turnover at Urban Outfitters is about as quick as any fast food chain. Therefore, it can sometimes difficult to comment on the product’s design sensibilities. But the store’s ever-changing nature is indicative of its entire approach to design. Urban Outfitters store sells mid-range priced apparel, home wares, books and music to trendy, middle class, young adults. Urban Outfitters is the epitome of post-modernism. Though it offers an almost unlimited choice of styles and products, certain characteristics are constant in everything the store sells.

On its website, Urban Outfitters is explicit about its desire to “understand our customers and connect with them on an emotional level” so that that “the customer feels an empathetic connection to the brand and is persuaded to buy.” The store’s objects are designed to engender a sense of empathy on behalf of its consumer base by creating nostalgia for decades as recent as the 1990s with t-shirts adorned with images from 90s cartoons, lego accessories and photo books of 90’s album covers. Humor, unqualified referencing, re-appropriation and pastiche are all running threads through the store’s product line, all of which appeal to their target market.

The merchandise changes because the customer base also changes as Urban Outfitters are always targeting the same 18-25 demographic. The store is an embodiment of the ‘early adopter’ consumer. It is fickle; it embraces trends quickly, and then drops them as soon as sales begin to dwindle. In this regard, objects are trendy, go in and out of fashion and are seen as disposable. The store will fully adopt whatever motif popular at the time. For some strange reason, this month’s motif seems to be owls. (More about the owls later.)

As expected, the Urban Outfitters apparel department is subject to this ever-spinning circle of fashion more than any other area. Along with the most cutting edge trends; currently chunky knits, native American motifs and metallic ‘jeggings’, customers can find almost anything; from floral dresses, to Led Zeppelin t-shirts, to cowboy boots and everything else in between. The store re-appropriates older fashions trends and regurgitates them with a winking inauthenticity in the name irony, retro appeal or faux bohemian sensibility. Vintage styling is popular, but a lot of new clothes are simply given the look of vintage, with faded t-shirts and jeans particularly popular. Clothing is often paired in strange or unusual ways, with a mannequin in a sequined 1920s flapper dress and a motorcycle jacket – equal parts Joan Crawford and James Dean.

There are entire sections within the store that can only be classified as miscellaneous, the kinds of objects you might find in a gadget store designed for middleclass young adults. Objects here range from anything from mp3 players to stationery or photo albums. Every part of the globe is showcased in strange ways from sushi staplers to represent Japan and matryoshka measuring cups representing Russia. (I have no idea if the constant alliteration is intentional but I suspect it’s only a coincidence.) The gadgets are often witty and lighthearted, and often play with scale like the stag’s head or toothbrush. There are also owl stashboxes, owl ornaments, wooden owl frames, knit owl wine bottle cosy, owl lanterns, owl umbrella stand and owl cookie cutters for the owl lover that (clearly!) must reside in all of us.

In the gadget section, analogue is king. The store is decorated with Lamography products such as the Holga and Diana cameras and Polaroid pictures. Even if the object itself is technologically advanced, it is still disgusted as analogue, such as the mp3 player designed to look like a tape player. This nostalgia for such a recent past is unusual but is part of Urban Outfitters desire to form an emotional connection between their products their 18-30 target market.

Urban Outfitters have re-skinned and consumed a number of underground movements and long-expired subcultures – cowboys, pirates, punk and white trash to create a number of consumer items. Every reference is for the taking, to be altered and sold. Among a pile of objects, I found both an Anna Sui faux-Victorian hairbrush and plasters designed with 60s pop art patterns with Internet slang like ‘LOL’ and ‘WTF ; )’.

Urban Outfitters often receives complaints from different community groups, using by keffiyehs as fashion accessories and selling ‘Dress Up Jesus’ fridge magnets, offending the Jewish and Catholic community, respectively. But despite these few controversies, most would argue that Urban Outfitters has lost its edge and become more suburban than urban. There are expletives, like slut, pimp and bitch, on everything from plasters to plates but this feels more desperate than edgy, though this is perhaps because I am leaving their target demographic.

Downstairs in the home wares section, John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland illustrations from the late 19th Century on plates sit on the table next to the same plates covered in wacky bright contemporary illustrations. (The illustrations are mostly of owls, of course) I’m sure design purists would be disgusted at the unusual pairing, but there is no disjuncture here because nothing makes sense alongside anything else. That’s the whole point.

In Urban Outfitters, The Simpsons, Family Guy and beyond, from the self-referential to references within references, our relationship to original sources is being obscured and slowly diluted. Many designers, design critics and visual historians are concerned but I suspect the vast majority have either not noticed or don’t care. I am not of the mindset that Urban are bastardizing these objects or find these amalgamations offensive. If anything, they are what make Urban Outfitters so quintessentially post-modern. It is the strength of a young adult growing up in a media and image saturated world that the majority can look at an object and instantly grasp, or at least filter through, all the simultaneous references within it.

Urban Outfitters understands the youth market; it knows that no twenty year old is looking for a teapot or t-shirt to last them a lifetime. Despite some increased environmental awareness, younger generations will always want trendy, disposable items. Even though I have almost left their target age group, I can’t help but love browsing through Urban Outfitter’s haven of sillyness because above all, it’s extremely fun.

Falling for FAO Schwarz

The elevated plaza at 5th Avenue and the South East corner of Central Park is home to two very high-end stores; the eerily church-like Apple Store and the very prestigious toy store FAO Schwarz. Both stores are so revered that it often makes the plaza feel as metaphorically elevated as it is physically. However, it is only the former that receives attention in the design press. But through some observation and investigation, one will quickly realize how false the assumption is that because toy store’s target market is generally children that the stores are not designed. In fact, not only is FAO Schwarz highly designed, but it is also designed primarily with adults in mind.

When you enter the store, you are surrounded by stuffed animals of every type and scale. Among them is a brown bear larger than most armchairs, a snow leopard as long as dining table and a giraffe as tall than most grown men, which all stand proudly on their high shelves. These “jumbo-sized” products are on sale for between $600 and an incredible $2,500 but are primarily used for visual impact and to create a jungle-like environment. Most are available in much smaller sizes at much more reasonable prices. All of these stuffed animals are FAO Schwarz’s own brand and have the ‘FAO’ logo on their paws. That FAO Schwartz has their own brand of products adds to the prestige of the company, reminding customers that the store is an important brand in itself and not just a place to sell Mattel or Lego.  As the logo proudly states, the store was established in 1862 emphasizing its longevity and tradition. But children generally don’t care about tradition; this emphasis is purely for adults.

The adjacent shelves contain smaller items such as tin robots, wind-up trains and solider nutcracker ornaments. These toys are beautifully crafted but I suspect appeal a lot more to parents than children. They hearken back to a past time when toys were constructed from wood and tin, not bytes and pixels. In many ways, they’re trying to reassure parents that their children are growing up in the same world that they did, which of course is not true. This nostalgia seems to have informed a lot of the store’s toy choices, including the Make-Your-Own-Muppet. I couldn’t help but wonder if children even watch The Muppets anymore? Surely they would prefer a make-your-own Dora the Explorer friend instead.

Design is not just about decoration, it is often about selection. FAO Schwarz’s toy selection is so careful, that it feels almost curatorial. And like their desire to be seen as long-standing and traditional is seen through their logo, their selection process illustrates their desire to be associated with an older time. The large stuffed toys that are beyond most people’s financial reach keep the luxurious allure that makes it a high-end store. There are so electronic hand-held devices or computer games. Instead the store is filled with the outrageously expensive collectable Steiff bears, limited edition Barbies such as Mad Men or Flashdance dolls that clearly don’t appeal to children and Frank Lloyd Wright Lego structures. These products are counterbalanced with child-friendly board games, an array of dress-up dolls and toy cars, but the ratio is very much 50/50.

I really enjoy going to FAO Schwarz but I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t just appeal to the child in me, it appeals to almost all of me. Sadly, FAO Schwartz is no longer fully independent as it is now owned by the toy Toys R Us conglomerate. But Toys R Us clearly see the benefit to keeping the store as it always was, realizing the importance of making a store as appealing to parents and as it to children.

This is not to say that children will not love FAO Schwartz. Every single detail is wonderfully designed from the stanchion posts filled with bright candy, to the giant light-up piano, to the giant solider made of jellybeans with FAO logo painstakingly detailed on the back of his jacket. These details make it feel magical and unique.  I just suspect it may be the children that get tired and want to head home before the adults, especially those that only want an Xbox game.

Meeting George Lois

Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing George Lois for my radio and podcast class. The title of the show is ‘The Don Draper Effect: Personality and Persuasion in Design’. I’m discussing design without actually discussing too many objects! Really I’m focusing on the personalities of designers, their relationships with clients and their powers of persuasion.

For those of you who don’t know George Lois, he is a legendary ad man and creative director who has worked from the 1960s up until the present day. Some of his most famous work includes his covers for Esquire magazine and the ‘I Want My MTV’ campaign.

There is plenty of rumor and speculation surrounding George online. I’m obviously in no position to comment on these matters. All I can say is I found him to be pleasant, interesting and very passionate. He welcomed me into his home and showed me his impressive collection of art and design ranging from art deco screens, tribal masks, his wife’s brilliant paintings and a few Barcelona chairs. George has spoke out against Mad Men on many occasions saying “The heroic movers and shakers of the Creative Revolution…bear no resemblance to the cast of characters on Mad Men.” So I’ll be sending this card I made this morning to say thanks. (The outside reads “Fuck you Mad Men” and the inside reads “but thank you George Lois”)