Show & Tell #8 had 2 firsts. Firstly, a special guest who joined in the chatter and also talked with refreshing honesty & pragmatism about scale. And secondly everyone managed to keep their presentations to five minutes, well almost. Here’s my round-up.
Aman has been faced with a rather challenging commute lately. And so in his own words, he’s been trying to plan & schedule everyday activities with a more conscious regularity. That in turn caused him to think about how designers deal with regularity and what it can do for them. Aman’s talk started with referencing Michael Bierut’s workshop at Yale where students performed a “design operation” once a day for 100 days. Unknown to many, this idea was borne out of Bierut’s reaction to the 9/11 attacks. He says,
“It actually came out of something tragic. I’ve lived in New York City since 1980, so I was here during the 9/11 attacks. Everyone was so shaken up, and I recall wanting to do something therapeutic for myself—something to get in touch with something that had atrophied a little bit…” Read full interview here.
Michael Bierut’s ‘100 Days of Design’ class at Yale inspired other projects like #The100DayProject by Elle Luna & 100 Days Project by Emma Rogan, as online platforms where people can take up their own challenge and share progress. Across these different versions, some things remain constant. One, the seemingly simple goal of showing up day after day after day. Secondly, the focus on a process or sequence which is long-drawn, away from instant gratification of the end-product. Persistence brings an interesting side of exploration to fore—it’s an alternative route to discovery that is cumulative and reflective. It is something to think about amidst the everyday hustle of quicker, faster results.
Below is a series of works (on right) created by Jessica Svendsen during the workshop with Bierut, exploring new expressions of the iconic Beethoven poster by Josef-Muller Brockman (on left).
A different view of regularity emerged in Pragun’s piece on mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot who coined the term ‘fractal’. Through his work on the ‘theory of roughness’ and ‘self-similarity’ in nature, Mandelbrot created significant headway into the field of fractal geometry as we know it today. He coined the term ‘fractal’ basing it on the Latin frāctus meaning ‘broken’ or ‘fractured’, and used it to extend the concept of theoretical fractional dimensions to geometric patterns in nature. He offers the idea of fractal as a way of visualising infinity and complexity. He was able to show how visual complexity can be created from simple rules. He said that things typically considered to be ‘rough’, a ‘mess’ or “chaotic’, like clouds or shorelines, actually had a degree of order. Fractal geometry offers a systematic way of approaching phenomena that look more elaborate the more they are magnified, and the images it generates are themselves a source of great fascination.
Vidushri talked about designing book covers for series, running through a spectrum of approaches that deal with variation & consistency in unique ways—and the challenge of creating impact at the level of a single publication and across a set. From the Kafka series by designer Peter Mendelsund with its recurring leitmotif of the eye, to typographic symmetry of Great Journeys by David Pearson & Victoria Sawdon, this was a smorgasbord of the visual kind. Vivek’s telling of the MIT Media Lab identity design by Michael Bierut, Pentagram provided another look at planned variation in identity.
Sijya talked about detailing and authenticity pushed to the T, in the design of graphic props for the Grand Budapest Hotel (film by Wes Anderson), by Annie Atkins. While watching the film for the first time, I struggled with the temptation of constantly pausing scenes to take in the spectacular visual that was each frame. Atkins’ superlative efforts to create and recreate the imaginary world in the film with the acute reality of real life, therefore comes as no surprise. But what does surprise, is the decision to devote equal attention to props that may have a split second of onscreen presence, and sometime even none. What a beautiful way to make the imagination a living breathing reality for the stakeholders in the film, and in turn strengthen their performance for an external audience.
“We’re not always working for the cinema audience, sometimes it’s purely for the director and actors… We’re building this world brick by brick and if that means stamps, then that’s what it means.” —Annie Atkins, Full interview here
Khyati shared some books from her childhood, realising now how the seemingly innocuous details of content design helped nurture a deeper understanding and love for science. There are many such seemingly un-designed artefacts around us in daily life, which shape the way we live/think/behave. Left below is what Khyati read in junior school, below right is what she made in design school.
Amit Gulati, founder of Incubis, one of India’s foremost practices in industrial & spatial design joined us for this session of Show & Tell. Amit was trained as a product designer at the National Institute of Design, and co-founded & grew Incubis across 2 decades and is also a prominent voice in India as a design mentor and evangelist. Amit shared two projects: the design and conceptualisation for India’s first budget hotel chain—Ginger and a low-cost infant warmer for rural areas with GE Healthcare and used these as examples to talk about how design for pared down cost does not necessarily mean a stripping down of features. Instead he talked about a new way of looking at these challenges that makes the most of constraints with empathy, innovation and smart prioritisation of desirables. His point that the low-cost infant warmer had to also work hard to establish a comforting aesthetic was heartwarming, because often the tussle between utilitarian & emotional quotient in product design especially for low-cost, critical care is won by the former, with the emotional quotient or aesthetic being disregarded as a luxury element.
And to wrap up the round-up here’s a very graphic short film based on the book The Dot and the Line: A Romance in Lower Mathematics, written and illustrated by Norton Juster. Produced by MGM, and co-directed by Chuck Jones & Maurice Noble, the film was released in 1965 and went on to win the Academy Award for animated short film. Shreeya shared the delightful film as part of her piece on Maurice Noble, a prolific background artist and layout designer who was part of many iconic animated films in a career of 60 years, from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Fantasia to Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century and the Road Runner series. Moving on from his initial commission with Disney, Noble moved away from ‘fussy realism’ to using graphic shape & colour to bring character into his background designs.
“I call it stepping into the picture. You look around and say, ‘Gee, what’s this all about, and does it feel right for this given picture?’ And then you go ahead and design from that standpoint.” —Maurice Noble, Interview
Maurice Noble is not as well known as many of his collaborators like Chuck Jones, but here’s a great podcast at 99percentinvisible.org to learn more.
So long folks, and see you in 2 weeks!