Design classics by anonymous geniuses

From Wired:

Franco Clivio has been collecting stuff since he was a kid. Over the course of decades the industrial designer has gathered thousands of seemingly junky objects (everything from Slinkies to scissors to hangers and pencils) and cataloged them with the discipline of a scientist. But before you write off the items as trash, you should know that each piece in Clivio’s collection is there for a reason. “These are objects that make you smile, that demonstrate a high degree of functionality,” he said in an interview a couple of years back.

In 2009 Clivio published a book called Hidden Forms, which looked at the collection in depth. Now he’s displaying 1,000 of these objects at Milan’s Triennale Design Museum in an exhibition called No Name Design. The show explores the overlooked beauty in the everyday objects we encounter, and true to its title, most of these items are products of an anonymous design process. “These objects, often anonymously designed, pay homage to the ingenuity of craftsmen and engineers who provided solutions to a variety of problems,” he writes in the exhibition notes.

Design classics by anonymous geniuses

The nostalgic pull of TV networks’ forgotten indents

This article by Allan Ripp in the Atlantic struck a chord because I found myself watching the Granada and Thames TV indents on YouTube the other day too. Nostalgia is a funny old thing.

NBC actually launched the bird not to promote its programs but as a marketing gimmick by corporate parent RCA to get consumers to purchase its color TVs. Just as I envied friends whose fathers drove cars with power windows and FM radios, I resented the fact that as late as 1965 I was still sentenced to watchingWalt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color in wonderless black-and-white. Back then, you could buy a tinted plastic sheet that affixed to your B&W screen and gave a pretense of color—I remember seeing one at an Italian restaurant our family frequented and couldn’t understand why Ricky and Lucy kept changing complexions. When my parents finally purchased a 24-inch RCA color set with stumpy legs, I barely left their bedroom, often sprawled on the floor much closer to the cathode screen than the recommended six-foot safety zone that reportedly protected your brain from rot.

And not only was there glorious color—there was something called “hue,” which created myriad possibilities for enhanced viewing. I was forever fiddling with the extra dial to get the infield grass the right shade of green during the baseball game, or to capture the deep blue of Mr. Spock’s shirt, though sometimes it was fun just to see what Walter Cronkite looked like with a purple face (does anyone ever touch the hue setting anymore?). Eventually we upgraded to a large Zenith console (with curved, French provincial legs), announcing to all that we’d finally arrived to a wonderful world of our own.

Read the rest of this wonderful piece here. Below is a compilation of UK TV indents from over the years, including Channel 4, Anglia, ATV, Border, Carlton, Central, Grampian, LWT, Thames, Southern, TVS, HTV, Yorkshire, Tyne Tees, HTV West, Granada, Scottish TV, and Ulster.

 

The nostalgic pull of TV networks’ forgotten indents

The office cubed

From Wired:

In 1964, the iconic furniture design company Herman Miller unveiled an office plan unlike anything anyone had ever seen. Called Action Office, it was the brainchild of Robert Propst, who was among the first designers to argue that office work was mental work and that mental effort was tied to environmental enhancement of one’s physical capabilities. Rather than a furniture item or a collection of them, Action Office was a proposition for an altogether new kind of space.

Most office designs at the time were about keeping people in place; Action Office was about movement. Advertisements for the system show workers in constant motion; indeed, the human figures in the images often appear blurred, as if the photographer were unable to capture their lightning speed.

The items Nelson had designed for Action Office were beautiful, at once homey and utterly modern, nostalgic and forward thinking. His desk surfaces rested on cantilevered die-cast aluminum legs; for the standing desk, a chrome brace doubled as a footrest. A “communications center” with a telephone was acoustically insulated.

The office cubed

A 26-story history of San Francisco

I really enjoyed this epic article on the history of San Francisco as seen through the windows of 140 New Montgomery, an Art Deco 26-story building in the SoMa district. The writer is Alexis Madrigal. Read it now!

The building looks like it is made of stone, perhaps granite blasted out of the Sierra Nevada range to the east. And at the very base, there is stone.

But it ends about five and a half feet up the facade. After that, it’s terra cotta to the top: clay.

The company that made it is called Gladding, McBean, headquartered in Lincoln, up north of Sacramento. They made the cladding for many of the buildings at Stanford. They’re still around.

Their work is ubiquitous in the old downtown core of the city. In the 1920s, Gladding McBean averaged work on more than 20 buildings a year in San Francisco. By 1928, the year after 140 New Montgomery was completed, the San Francisco Examiner declared “with clay from a hole in the ground in Lincoln, California, the modern city of San Francisco has come.”

Nonetheless, the point remains: the building isn’t made of stone. It just looks that way.

Recently, a company that makes software to manage computer memory moved its headquarters to the 15th floor. It’s called  Terracotta.

Read the rest.

A 26-story history of San Francisco

Designs for learning Chinese characters

From the Guardian:

“Two’s company, three’s a crowd” may be a proverb for those scared of groups, but it’s also a handy way of remembering your Chinese. The character for person looks a bit like someone walking in profile: äşş. Take three of these, huddled in a little group, and you’ve got a crowd: 众

Such is the beautiful graphic logic revealed in a new book, Chineasy, which shines a spotlight of childlike clarity on the seemingly impenetrable world of Chinese ideograms. For anyone who’s tried to learn Mandarin (and I am one of them), the painful hours of repeating stroke after stoke, until those tiny knots of random scratches are carved into your memory, can be enough to make you give up – particularly given the daunting fact that an average Chinese adult will have mastered around 5,000 such characters. Never mind the 50,000+ that await.

But in the hands of author ShaoLan Hsueh and graphic genius Noma Bar, the process is broken down into a visual story, depicting exactly why these mysterious bunches of lines are the way they are, and how they combine to form different words. It doesn’t quite make Chinese easy, but the prospect of learning it has never been so visually appealing.

Designs for learning Chinese characters

The Alvin Brass Bullet

Well, I’m sold. From Wired:

First popularized by German pencil-sharpening giant Möbius & Ruppert, the Alvin Brass Bullet has been honing graphite writing implements for more than a century. Mechanically, it’s as simple as it gets: Twist the pencil against the low-angled razor to sculpt a perfect point. But what sets the Bullet apart is its design. Made of solid brass, with a diamond-knurl grip, it won’t show its age for decades. Dull blades are easily replaced, and the off-center alignment of the sharpening chamber allows for shaping a needle-fine tip without breaking the lead. It’s an honest tool, heavy and rough like a carpenter’s handshake. It won’t make you a better writer, but the sweetness of its rewards—the satis­fying scrape, the long curl of shaved wood that emerges as you twist—will make you want to write more.

The Alvin Brass Bullet