What Design Can Do: Spark Social Change

What Design Can Do: Spark Social Change

In its adolescence, design was invested with vision. Its ambitious exponents claimed that it could imagine new structures for society; design would give birth to an inclusive, collective language and help craft a new positive reality, delivering the world from exploitation and inequality, forging a utopian future in its place.

As graphic designer Neville Brody and historian Steward Ewen asserted during the 1989 AIGA conference in San Antonio in the great and still very relevant paper Design Insurgency, this optimistic idealism faded as design reached middle age. “Design is shackled by historical amnesia. The sense of social vision that once inspired it is but a dim memory,” they wrote. “Obedient to the orders of corporate clients, designers are cogs in the wheels of commerce. They serve as pastry chefs in glorified soup kitchens, doling out mass-produced visual gruel.” The First Things First 2000 manifesto, published by Adbusters in 1999, similarly asserted that designers pledge “to put their skills to worthwhile use” and address the “unprecedented environmental, social, and cultural crisis” of the times.

These were calls for design to envision and invent instead of advertise and confirm, to inform and educate instead of promote wealth and power; a call to arms that in the current state of affairs triggered by aggressive Trumpist instability and strengthening alt-right movements around the globe is relevant and needs urgent revisiting.

In recent months, designers and the creative industry at large have notably been using their skills to resist and organize, to inform and educate. The major effort led by the Amplifier Foundation meant the solicitation of hundreds of graphics for the women’s march from image-makers across the United States. Artifax, led by L.A. studio Use All Five, are faxing artworks by designers—including Pentagram, Open, and Isabel Urbina Peña—to local government offices to protest the Trump administration’s gutting of the National Endowment of the Arts. Art director of the New Yorker Françoise Mouly and cartoonist Nadja Spiegelman are publishing political comics newspaper Resist!. In Germany, designers at Public Positions have been combatting Syrian refugee dislocation through poster workshops.

Sites like protest-signs.com offer free, downloadable signage; 2hoursaweek.org send out daily emails with concrete actions that creatives can take; and there are countless Google Docs emerging that invite designers to add their details and make themselves publically available for organizations seeking graphics, like Designers Available. In the midst of this vital floorage of creative political energy, in makes sense that Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic have been collecting submissions for a second edition of their 2005 encyclopaedia of dissidence, The Design of Dissent.

Creative modes of resistance and collective practices exist and are being built, and it’s important to consider their significance. How can we support and contribute to their existence and expansion, and promote design with social vision so that it’s practical and enduring enough to achieve the kind of transformation it works towards?

The central issue is what Design Insurgency and First Things First 2000 highlighted, and that’s to do with definition—the pervasive understanding of what graphic design’s role in society actually is. Both manifestos locate design’s primary current role as the bound right-hand of corporate commercialism, instead of as a potential tool for social transformation.

Image by Partner & Partners.

The design of activism on the other hand, is commonly understood as just that—as a part of activism—as opposed to being an energizing example of design’s potential. There are special one-of issues of magazines dedicated to activism, there are exhibitions of protest art: design for change is given its own separate, sidelined category.

Since 1998, Artists’ Cooperative Justseeds have been producing graphics for grassroots struggles, and New York’s Interference Archive explores the relationship between cultural production and social movements through exhibitions, workshops, and talks. These groups and many of the aforementioned self-identify as activists first and designers second, and they are viewed as such by the cultural industry. What if practices like these—none of which viewed primarily as design—were not slotted into the category of activism and dismissed as such by the industry, but instead understood, discussed, and taught as the most courageous and vital examples of what graphic design is capable of?

We need to consider what we validate highest through profiles in magazines, in exhibitions, in award ceremonies, and in the line-up of main-stage conference slots. During this period of instability and dangerous normalization, design historians of the future will not look back kindly at the industry’s championing of catchy Nike campaigns over output that’s strengthening grassroots causes or directly challenging that idea that our political situation is normal and fixed.

Image by Partner & Partners.

It could be that instead of the omnipresence of stories about navigating client-designer relationships, the cultural sector focused on stories about community-designer relationships, and the intricacies, practicalities, and problems needing solutions when designing for a protest and for social transformation.

The following studios and projects reveal the challenges of visualizing a movement: the problems in need of creative solutions when design is invested in change. These challenges give way to a new set of criteria that should determine what we understand, discuss, and teach as the most important examples of what design can do. 


1. A dynamic, living, breathing movement can’t (and shouldn’t) be summed up with a singular design or image produced by one person or designer.

New York-based studio Partner & Partners puts campaigning before client work, and was founded by a team of three designers, Kathleen Scudder, Zach Mihalko, and Greg Mihalko, in 2013. Its identity for an exhibition at Interference Archive about renter rights movements has now become unanimous with housing demonstrations. Through open-source availability, this We Won’t Move poster has been used across the globe, hung in the windows of estates in London and across the wooden porches of San Francisco—a global slogan of defiance amongst a plurality of other images that resist.

Most recently, Partner & Partners designed the site for The Illuminator, an art-activist group who rose to notoriety during Occupy Wall Street, and now it’s seeking funding for its self-directed project called Next Vote, a simple website where users will reliably see upcoming elections and ballots in their zip code from local to national scale. “Our political foresight should be as familiar as checking the weather,” say the studio.

Partner & Partners locate a central, special function for print in protest: the production of posters, leaflets, flyers, and booklets takes on another meaning in our post-digital context. “If we continue to view movements from a distance, a (2D) design perspective, and never really get involved or join in a physical, emotional way, then we run the risk of perpetuating a kind of apathy, thus relying on a smaller and smaller subset of people to actually demonstrate,” say the studio. This idea chimes with a second powerful potential for print, and that’s its ability to move outside of our self-imposed online networks of insular like-minded individuals. Its physical nature not only affirms the largeness of a group—the image of thousands of signs of defiance is a powerful one—but, in the form of leaflets and magazines, it also means the distribution of messages to those who don’t readily agree with or understand other perspectives, and who aren’t familiar with certain ideals.

The output and thinking of Partner & Partners illuminates a set of questions for a new criteria when valuing design: How is it simplifying complex information in a way that inspires action and participation? Is it encouraging people to get involved, to be a physical body adding to a positive mass? Is it reaching out to people beyond those who already agree with a cause? And how it educating individuals to consider new ways of thinking?

2. Activism depends on genuine engagement, and good design is essential for that to happen. It does not have to be pretty, but it does have to be functional.

A 13-member, worker-owned cooperative, Design Action Collective creates imagery solely for grassroots organizations and activist campaigns. It’s best known image is the ubiquitous Black Lives Matter logo—a design that conveys strength and seriousness, that asserts itself as statement and fact, one that cannot be questioned. As an open-source, high-contrast type logo, it’s easily reproduced with a desktop printer or photocopier, which is key for its need to be quickly, cheaply, and widely distributed.

“When you have a large decentralized network or a coalition fighting a common campaign, there are many voices to negotiate,” says Design Action Collective, of the challenges of creating for large-scale activism. “Presenting a strong and unified visual message, and one that isn’t convoluted or watered down with all the information, is the challenge. Facts can be found on a website. The poster, social media graphic, or homepage therefore needs to strike to the heart immediately, and have a legibility or usability that can be easily understood, or that challenges assumptions and creates psychic breaks for people.”

Most of its logos and websites are conceived in a number of hours—when working on campaign or movement work, time is a luxury. “You could say we have an unconscious toolbox, where successful, tried, and true styles are stored,” say the collective. “When working with organizations connected to movements, you learn that their design needs are mostly unplanned and they might need an image ready by the afternoon. It’s important to be prepared for rapid response; we’re constantly reshuffling our schedules to accommodate the latest crisis, which in these times, is happening more and more urgently.”

Image by Mark Titchner.

Open-sourced themes have made work easier when it comes to quick turnaround. “That, however, underestimates the importance of working from the ground up with real content, creating custom architectures and designs,” say Design Action Collective. “Instead we end up forcing the content into generic tech frameworks.”

The everyday practicalities that Design Action Collective highlight suggests more criteria for evaluating contemporary design that deals with new conditions. Is it functional, even if it’s not pretty? Is it easily reproducible, if that’s what’s required? How is it navigating the need for speed under the pressure of a quick-turnaround, while simultaneously working with the bespoke needs of a cause? How is it uniting a multifaceted ideology, with various histories and complexities, into one powerful, single, resonating sign? 

3. Don’t be swayed from telling what you believe is the truth and say it in a clear way so that it that cuts right to the issue.

A central role design can play is laying truths bare and uprooting lies or close-off mind-sets. Protestors of the late 90s attempted to do this by tactical aesthetic interventions in public space; neo-situationist hijackings transformed the street into an arena for sarcastic billboard manipulation and play. Interventionists like Billionaires for Bush portrayed corporate CEOs protesting for the President, highlighting the marketing of demonstration; Adbusters shot into the popular imagination; the Pink Bloque (a riot grrl-inspired response to the aesthetics embodied by the Black Block) distributed feminist literature and zines.

At its most powerful, design has the capacity to combat false outlooks and experiment in finding news ways to replace dangerous misconceptions. Graphic designer Jonathan Barnbrook, responsible for the 2011 Occupy London logo and a signatory to the First Things First 2000 manifesto, has memorably applied a Dadaist, interventionist sensibility to his output—in 2001, he famously raised a billboard in Las Vegas baring a quote from Tibor Kalman: “Designers, stay away from corporations that want you to lie for them.”

Barnbrook is clear about design’s potential in combatting the actions of the current U.S. administration, and the essential role humor and absurdity have in this battle. “Because Trump, and the people around him, are highly narcissistic, I do believe that satire is the best approach, to constantly undermine and ridicule. I am not talking about personal insults, but a calm highlighting of the situation with clear, intelligent thought,” says Barnbrook. “To me, rather than graphics, what has been most effective has been the work of comedians on programs like Saturday Night Live—so design can take a cue from this. Speak clearly, simply, and with humor to a wide audience. Don’t always say you have the answer, just show the problem.”

Interventionists like Barnbrook and others have laid down a criteria before, one that we should add to and build from when evaluating design today: is it challenging and subverting dangerous thinking? Is it revealing lies instead of participating in their propagation? Is it clear, legitimizing, and calm, so that it cannot be easily undermined by those in power? Does it honestly reflect the designer’s own belief? Is it revealing a problem?

Image by Partner & Partners.

4. It’s important not to be nostalgic. Each movement developed the way it it did for a specific reason, and to suit a specific time.

An art class at the University of Fine Arts of Hamburg, Germany arrived at school the day after the news broke that Trump was President Elect with an urgent feeling that something needed to be done to confront the rising spectre of the nationalist and populist right. Together with their professor, the artist Adam Broomberg of Broomberg & Chanarin, the students developed a website for what would soon become the locus of a global art coalition determined to counter right-wing rhetoric. Assertively, it called itself Hands Off Our Revolution, setting out to reclaim the vocabulary of revolution that’s been appropriated by populist movements.

In the months since the site first launched, more than 200 artists, designers, and cultural figures have signed up as signatories, promising to participate in a series of exhibitions and art projects that will take place around the world. Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Anish Kapoor, and Wolfgang Tillmans are a few of the many that have put their name to the project, and to celebrate the launch, Mark Titchner created a series of gifs to disseminate across the web—a typographic statement that switches between sentiments: Hands off…our bodies…our justice…our lives…our borders…our homes.

A simple black and white web design embraces the transatlantic aims of the project, which is to provide space for different movements taking place worldwide. By not referencing any overt aesthetic, and by creating a stripped-back space, Hands Off is an open canvas. “We’re about knowledge generation and facilitation,” says Broomberg. “We’re organizing poster creation and banner campaigns, and we don’t want to impose our own graphics or sensibility onto that.”

The website’s use of Tera as a typeface (a font first recommended to Broomberg by London-based design studio A.P.F.E.L, another signatory of the cause) does subtly conveys the project’s renegade attitude, and is distinctive and timely with its unusual, spiked ends. “It’s got the right feeling, says Broomberg. “It feels like you haven’t seen it before, it’s homemade and artisan but not hokey or nostalgic.”

He’s convinced it is vital not to be nostalgic when designing for a movement, a point that needs to be seriously considered. While some designers creating imagery for protest argue that adopting or referencing graphics from history is important—imagery steeped in protest from the past reminds people of the optimistic hard work that’s been done, the change that has been accomplished—nostalgic graphics, while effective, can also be false promises. Shephard Fairey’s graphics, like his famed Obama poster, draw and play on constructivist propaganda and alludes to the iconic. Yet it is worth considering whether work steeped in halcyon political imagery that, for example, communicates the notion of a massive revolution actually jars with the potential and promise of a new campaign. The Hands Off website, on the other hand, reflects the striking, internationally networked aim of the project, an aim that is relevant in our post-globalized present.

The thinking behind Hands Off Our Revolution’s visuals adds a new set of questions when analyzing design. Is it relevant in a contemporary world? Is it resisting the urge to make false claims? How is it being implemented to reflect a movement’s goals and circumstance, and to respond to the specific needs of the era we live in now?


These practitioners and their examples make it clear that current conditions and emergencies must encourage social criticism, vision, creative self-expression, questioning, dangerous ideas and subversion in the field. Meeting the requirements of the community, and promoting the liberating power of education, not indoctrination, should stand at the center of the design process. 


from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2q5ivFs

An Abbreviated History of Design in Silicon Valley

An Abbreviated History of Design in Silicon Valley

Between the global tech firms, independent agencies, start-up scene, and boutique studios, Silicon Valley has a greater concentration of designers than anywhere else in the world. So how did this come to be? California College of the Arts Professor of Industrial and Interaction Design Barry Katz tells the history of design in Silicon’s Valley in his insightful book Make It New, which is now out in paperback. Below Katz discusses the notable people, milestones, and ideas that led to Silicon Valley’s awakening as a design hub.

Silicon Valley design didn’t begin with Steve Jobs.

I scratched all the way back to August 1, 1951 where I found the first professionally-trained designer to work in what was not yet even called Silicon Valley. His name is Carl Clement, and he showed up at Hewlett-Packard carrying around his industrial design portfolio. This instrument company, full of the physicists, engineers, machinists, had no idea what they were seeing, and even the more tolerant ones had no idea why this should be of any interest to them. Clement probably just talked himself into a job as a draftsman and then began looking for opportunities until he actually built up a design group.”

Stanford, naturally, played a role.  

In the mid 1950s, a guy named John Arnold migrated from MIT to Stanford. He was a self-trained engineer with a psychology background. He had this philosophy he called ‘creative engineering,’ which sought to blur the distinction between the creative arts and the hardcore analytical engineering disciplines. He believed that some of the creative techniques that artists use as a matter of course could be incorporated into engineering problem solving, and he brought that to Stanford. Out of that emerged Stanford’s Product Design Program. It tended to attract people who often had a pretty heavy duty technical background, but an interest or an inclination to look beyond the traditional canons of engineering.”

And Steve Jobs did too, of course. 

The turning point came 30 years later when Steve Jobs had a revelation: Jobs bet that for every hardware enthusiast who wanted to build a computer from a kit, there were a thousand software people who wanted to just buy the finished computer, plug it in, and be able to get to work. So that led him to selling the Apple II computer in a sealed box, which raised a whole new set of design questions. “Jobs said that ‘Design is not just about how it looks. It’s about how it works,’” says Katz. “So the effect is you should be able to design from the outside in and then turn around and design from the inside out.” A design culture emerged in which, if you’re not technically proficient, you’re disposed to talk to, work with, and take seriously the people who are, leading to a cross pollination of ideas between engineers and designers. “This is not unique to Silicon Valley, but I would say that the difference is out here we just do it a lot more,” says Katz.

Hardware competition among Silicon Valley companies has driven design innovation.

Consumers generally can’t discern the difference between technologically-similar products. And the tendency for technologies to converge and competing projects to become functionally comparable opens the door for what will differentiate my product from yours. What happens then is that the key differentiator between your Galaxy phone and your iPhone is not the memory chip or the processing speed. It’s the design, by which I mean the entire experience of using it, along with how it looks and feels.”

The transformation of technology from enterprise to personal has allowed designers to drive more product value.

“Computers are no longer a refrigerator-size processing unit in the backroom of an insurance company. When we start putting computers on our desktops, then in our briefcases, then pockets, and then wearing them, our tolerance for a bad experience goes way, way down and our standards go way, way up. If you’re a computer professional using a computer, you can put up with a lot. But if you’re an athlete wearing the thing, the points of pain, discomfort, inconvenience, and difficulty of use become intolerable. And that’s where design is in a position to make the critical difference.”

Product systems have further elevated the importance of design.

“We no longer really talk about individual products any longer, in which it’s just a case of styling the box. What we’ve got now is an integrated system of products rather than a single object, and design then becomes a critical component in integrating those systems. Google, for instance, began thinking seriously about design when they had a group working on Maps, a group working on Search, and a group working on Gmail. As long as they were working in isolation from one another, those products and the several others that Google had were moving in different directions. Google co-founder Larry Page realized that they needed to be pulled together. And what pulls together disparate things? Design.”

As go tech companies, so goes many others.  

When you got a company like Apple, which is the single most valuable corporate property in the world, selling the single best-selling product in the history of the world, namely the iPhone, almost every company in the world asks: ‘What are they doing that perhaps we should know about?’ It’s not just Apple, but a range of companies in Silicon Valley that have defined whole new industries: Google, Facebook, Airbnb. These companies are heavily dependent and respectful of the work of their designers. And so places like banks, management consultancies, and insurance companies that don’t make products for consumer markets began to absorb some of those lessons, even if “design” in the classical sense is of questionable relevance. This is how the whole design thinking thing began to take off as companies like IBM, SAP, or Capital One Bank began to use the underlying process, mental pictures, and methodologies–the core of design thinking–that designers use.”

Biotech is the next industry that will demand good designers.

“We’ve seen plenty of design work within the life sciences and the health sector, mostly in such areas as medical instruments, packaging, and things like that. But we are now seeing a growing interest in design strategies being applied to healthcare. I’m suspecting that biotech is now poised to make the same sort of move that software and electronics did toward the consumer markets–you know, it cost a hundred million dollars to sequence a genome 25 years ago and now you can do it at 23andMe for $100. At that price point when non-specialists, and non-scientists start buying these products, that’s an enormous opportunity for design.”


from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2pXbsyG

One House, Two Opinionated Designers, and the Joy of Collaboration

One House, Two Opinionated Designers, and the Joy of Collaboration

Ettore Sottsass was one of the most influential designers of the 20th century and David Kelley founded the design firm that ushered us into the 21st. But more than an ocean and a generation separates these two creative iconoclasts: Kelley is an unpretentious engineer from blue-collar Ohio who enjoys nothing more than a good tuna melt. Sottsass was the epitome of the Italian designer—mercurial, oracular, and slightly mischievous. Sottsass never knew what to make of Americans who eat fish out of cans (and then put cheese on it). Yet they remained the best of friends.

So in 2001, Kelley, flush with the success of his design firm, IDEO, asked Sottsass to build him a house in the horsey foothills above Silicon Valley, and Sottsass agreed. What followed was an elaborate courtship as the 80-something Italian architect and the 50-something American client, each of whom casts a long shadow across contemporary design, circled and sparred, thrust and parried, and together created an extraordinary house.



The friendship between Kelley and Sottsass goes back a couple of decades to the glory days of Silicon Valley when “disruption” was not the only thing on everyone’s minds and interesting people were naturally gravitating toward each other. Kelley had just founded what was then David Kelley Design, and a mutual friend—Was it Steve Jobs?  Was it the art collector Johnny Pigozzi?— suggested that he seek out the legendary architect who had just jolted Milan’s fashionable design world with the opening of Memphis.  

Each was, in his own way, a bit of a renegade: Kelley had barreled out of Carnegie Mellon University with an electrical engineering degree and visions of rewiring the world. After six months spent at Boeing designing the circuitry for the “Lavatory Occupied” sign on the 747 he decided that this was not for him, and migrated toward the Valley just as the digital revolution was confronting designers with an endless wave of unprecedented challenges.  First he formed the Intergalactic Destruction Company; then Hovey-Kelley Design; then David Kelley Design, and finally IDEO. Sottsass, meanwhile, had just reinvented himself for the umpteenth time: The Memphis collection—with its bizarre collection of furniture objects crafted out of rare Brazilian hardwoods overlaid with cheap American formica, chrome tubing, and a red lightbulb—was only the latest provocation. At the opening of the Memphis showroom in 1981 one of Italy’s most revered furniture designers was heard to whisper, “You see? This lot has fucked us up for the next twenty years.”

As opposites attract, they were drawn to each other by a kind of mutual fascination. Sottsass lectured Kelley about the importance of metaphor while his muse, Barbara Radice, curled up on a sofa translating Sanskrit poetry. Kelley, not to be outdone, presented Sottsass with a package of Jiffy-Pop, which the architect spent days cleaning off the ceiling of his apartment in the Via Pontaccio. They liked each other, they respected each other, they complemented each other, but most of all, each got what the other was about without yielding one inch.



Once they even decided to go into business together, launching a venture—Enorme—that would have been fatal to any normal friendship. The first product was a telephone: Sottsass designed a pure objet, accented with hints of Mondrian, Rietveldt and de Stijl, while Kelley’s firm handled the engineering. The Enorme telephone, with its logo of a gigantic Sumo wrestler, was instantly acquired by museum curators around the world—and by nobody else. From opposite sides of the Atlantic the partners watched in dismay as it passed from design to art, which is to say, became magnificently useless.

The friendship flourished, however, even as the partnership collapsed, and both began to think about what came next. Sottsass returned to architecture and to his newly-formed firm of Sottsass Associati. Riding the wave of Silicon Valley innovation, IDEO grew steadily to become certainly the largest and arguably the most influential design consultancy in history.  In time Kelley decided to move out of his loft in downtown Palo Alto and build himself a house. He did not spend a lot of time looking for an architect. 

Sottsass had already done some building in the United States—most notably a house in Ridgway, Colorado (1987-89) for the art collector Daniel Wolf and his wife, the celebrated sculptor-designer Maya Lin. But neither architect nor client had reckoned with the perversities of Silicon Valley, whose culture of technological adventurism is matched only by its hidebound architectural conservatism.  After endless applications, negotiations, inspections, and outright threats, the village elders of Woodside yielded, plans were approved, permits issued, contractors contracted, and the project got underway.

Ettore Sottsass, who believed that he understood David Kelley better than Kelley understood himself, did not begin by asking his client how many bathrooms he wanted. He asked him about his point of view on love, on food, on politics. Design, after all, is not about marrying form and functionality. It is, as he once reflected, “a way of discussing life.” Kelley tried to be helpful: He and his wife created a detailed process book of their daily life; they rented a helicopter and supplied aerial photographs of the building site; he shuttled back-and-forth to Milan, and fired off thousands of faxes. His confidence in Sottsass was great, and his requirements few: The only thing he specified was plenty of space to showcase his stuff.



David Kelley had, after all, spent twenty years at the forward edge of design, and a fair amount of stuff had come his way: a canary-yellow Ducati that he parked in his living room; a coin-operated mechanical horse (“Sandy”) spirited away from outside of a grocery store; a 1948 Wurlitzer jukebox; an old bathroom scale that gives you honest weight and your fortune for a nickel; a shoebox containing the world’s first commercial mouse (which IDEO designed for Apple); a Braille edition of Playboy, complete with a pointillist bas-relief centerfold.

Sottsass told him to get rid of it. All of it. A house is for interrogating the present, he insisted, not memorializing the past. It is a space for meditating, for conjuring, for plotting against one’s enemies, and for writing a poem. It is not a machine for living in, as the Modernists had claimed, much less a warehouse of machines for living with. And so they circled one another, warily, tentatively, like a pair of giant Sumo wrestlers.

In The Art of War, the 4th century military strategist Sun Tzu argued that the most decisive victory is one in which your opponent believes that he has won. So it is with the house, which manages to express the intellectual vision of both architect and client.  In contrast to the sprawling trophy houses built for the princelings of the Silicon Valley dotconomy, the Kelley residence is not precious, lavishly-appointed, or large.  It takes the form, rather, of a spatial meditation on what is distinctive about California, and that proves to be the landscape.




The result is a house consisting of five inside rooms with five outside “rooms”—courtyards, patios, play areas—negatively defined by the articulations of the building itself and blurred together on a single grade. Seen from the hillside above, there is absolutely no focal point, axis, or grid. Seen from a distance, it looks more like a village of little buildings than a house, with each room governed by a different architectural idiom: shingles on one, wood siding on another, brick on a third; there is a room with a flat roof, a room with a pitched roof, and a room with a barrel vault; a child’s room resembles a stylized playhouse—much as a child might have drawn it. 

The interior, likewise, bears the marks not of compromise but of a series of negotiated solutions.  Kelley’s approach to furniture is that of a hard-wired engineer:  (1) go to the store; (2) look at what they’ve got; (3) choose one. Sottsass takes a different approach: articulate a vision, then do what is necessary to make it happen. Kelley wanted smart-looking “Italian” chairs around the kitchen table. Sottsass refused: “No,” he thundered! “You want stupid American chairs,” and the solution was for Kelley to select a domestic icon—the ubiquitous, ladder-backed “schoolteacher’s chair” from which Mrs. Wormwood might have presided over the third grade. Kelley said he wanted a large open space for entertaining, but Sottsass forbade it because large rooms violate the human scale.  The solution is to break up the expansive living room-dining room-kitchen space with a forest of mysterious six-foot towers—“inscrutable Japanese boxes that make you wonder what’s in them”—that articulate the space without interrupting it.



But on one account Sottsass prevailed: The collection of industrial detritus that is Kelley’s pride and joy has been exiled to his office, relegated to his garage, given to his friends, and consigned to the landfill. In their place stands a collection of Sottsass’ own ceramics, the architect’s secret first love but in their very uselessness an affront to the practical engineer: I have always imagined them, Sottsass once wrote, as “catalysts of perception,” emblems of a cosmos that is “neither measurable nor predictable nor controllable.” Ceramics are “older than the Bible, older than all the poems ever written, older than goats and cats, older than metals, older than houses.”

Older, even, than houses.



This essay was originally conceived as the Kelley-Sottsass house was being completed in 2001. Ettore Sottsass died in 2007 at the age of ninety, and David Kelley has recently moved onto the campus of Stanford University, where he is a professor. The house is now on the market.



from 99U99U http://bit.ly/2pO6kvX

How to Redesign an Airline

How to Redesign an Airline


Look up and you’ll know: Air Canada is in the black.

Black bellies are part of its bold, sharp brand-wide redesign by Winkcreative, one both granular (the most gorgeous route map in the biz) and grand (its iconic 1962 rondelle is back). The shop, headed by Tyler Brûlé, has become something of an airline agency. Having renovated Bombardier, Porter Airlines, José Balazs’ StndAir, and Swiss Air, Winkcreative is currently tackling Air Canada, the 300-plus fleet of national carriers celebrating their 80th anniversary. We spoke with Maurus Fraser, their creative director, about what goes into redesigning an airline.


The color black is used throughout the airline’s design color scheme, which is rare for airlines.

What stands out immediately about the Air Canada redesign is the unexpected stark black component. Can you talk about how that came into the mix and how you decided to get out of the red and white colors that Air Canada has been in for a long time?

The opportunity that we saw was to really celebrate the rondelle. Air Canada had a mark designed in 1963 by Hans Kleefeld, the famous Canadian graphic designer, and they had this icon which companies would die for, and they’ve had this for so long. To not have that on the tail of the plane kind of felt like a missed opportunity. Maple leaves are quite used in Canada—you get a maple leaf in the middle of the golden arches of the McDonald’s. They put them on many things.

How did you pick the black color?

We had several versions of black: How black is black? Is it cold black? Is it warm black? When we were looking at the tones that we could use on the plane we had to work with Boeing, with the Boeing colors and they’ve got quite a small palette. Well, they’ve got sort of a wide palette, but it’s limited when you’re in certain color ranges. There was this jet black, which was just perfect for what we wanted.



Black is heavy on the eye, but it’s also literally heavy in an engineering standpoint. In an industry that wants lightness, weightlessness, was that a tough decision to make?

Black is a pigment and actually it’s not heavier than a white, as long as you have an opaque color painted on a plane. You could argue that maybe black absorbs a little bit more heat, but even in those circumstances the aircraft has been designed so powerfully, like most vehicles, that they’re designed to handle these kinds of heats and it doesn’t necessarily get absorbed that much. So we’ve been assured that it’s no heavier in all practicality. There’s a slight metallic fleck that gives it a pearlescent effect, which is actually slightly heavy and going to the clean, just the clean white, not overlaying too many colors, does actually make it much more efficient.

So you’re right. This is at the forefront of all the airlines minds, when the paint’s being painted the engineers are testing the depth of the paint; it can’t be painted at too much depth and the use of black on planes is incredibly rare. You don’t see it. There’s Air New Zealand, and there’s a great airline in Japan called StarFlyer, which is very cool, using black. But no one’s really been using it in this way that we’re doing.

It’s interesting that you mention New Zealand because they just did that flag redesign attempt that kind of went nowhere, but they had that Māori fern design. This black, white and red combination palette can be very tribal; it’s the same sort of color palette that you see on a lot of Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, totem poles.

We’ve definitely been looking at those influences, especially when you look at the nose mask that we’ve designed. We looked at, and studied the shapes of, an indigenous bird, a common loon, that has a red eye. The nose mask is a symbol of confidence and the use of black is charming because it has a bit of personality celebrating the cockpit. The pilot is a key part of this experience and nobody today really celebrates the cockpit and the pilot, although I guess years ago they did, in the World War II planes.

An airline redesign is not just object design or industrial design. It’s also fashion, interior decoration, and architecture. How did you address that breadth?

One of the things we were careful of is rondelle fever. You shouldn’t have rondelles everywhere. It’s scaling things down. Sometimes, you can get to a point where you have a successful symbol and you use it on everything. Then before you know it, you’ve got 10 of them on one application and you’re just scratching your head.

Did Winkcreative have an all hands on deck approach? Or did you bring in any extra staff?

We have been directing a team based in Canada called Mosaic. When it comes to illustration, we’ve been working with a Japanese illustrator. Working alongside our designers and art directors, we have a team of art buyers that help us find illustrators, photographers, film makers, and animators. When we’re working on identities, we’re very careful that we don’t want things to be repetitive. If we’re working with one collaborator on one project, it’s not necessarily the best person to be working with on another. 

The Air Canada redesign included the attire, too.

Did you have lessons that you brought over from being in the airline redesign business, lessons you didn’t realize you had learned until you were unconsciously, subconsciously applying them to the Air Canada project?

Yes. When we were designing Swiss Airlines In 2002, there was a lot of experimentation happening in airline design. British Airways was doing all these different art techniques from different countries. It was very exciting from a design perspective. From a branding perspective, however, it was too much of a compromise for British Airways, because they had planes flying through air that people didn’t ultimately recognize were from British Airways.

When an entity like Air Canada acts as an unofficial ambassador for how their country is perceived around the world, how do you take that responsibility and apply it to tastefully redesigning something like the seat pocket sick bags?

We’re still in the process of working on those pieces, but there’s a series of elements that we’re working on for the brand where we exaggerate a little bit of that character and charm. 

One of my favorite redesigns is the worldwide flight path map on that red graphing paper. It’s very clean, linear, with a circuit board kind of look. Very 70s or 80s, in a good way. How’d that happen?

It goes back to the golden age of travel and the things that inspired us when we go on a plane. Everything was so sharp. All the touchpoints were so well designed. When you look at most airlines, their route maps, it’s a photograph or some sort of image of the world. And then there’s these huge kind of lines that always overlap, and you can’t tell which line is going where. You know its gotten to a point where airlines don’t care.

We drew Air Canada’s route map in-house, probably spending far too much time pouring over each of those routes and angles. It’s a strong moment and opportunity for an airline to communicate to their customers. The moment you get to the pages in the in-flight magazines and you see the route map, that’s when you’re inspired to go somewhere and realize how convenient and simple it is to go there. Air Canada is really enabling you to do that.

Your design will reach a wide range of people, from those traveling to Canada for the first time to the road warriors for whom the plane has become as familiar as an office cubicle. What impact do you hope the design has across the spectrum of flyers?

To ultimately improve people’s lives. That’s an ambition that I think most designers share. If design can make your everyday life just that much bit better, then why not right?

There are some design similarities to Delta’s new branding. To what degree is that coincidental, or was Winkreative inspired by things Delta did?

Delta is a very different design and not something that influenced our work. Our use of red, white and black, the introduction of the mask, placing the rondelle back on the tail— after 24 years—and the distinctive rondelle on the belly, are not something we have seen before. 

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