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AHE 2011 Design

AHE 2011 Design

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Design History Hoodies: Target Embraces Vintage Type

Target, already known for partnering with designers Michael Graves and Isaac Mizrahi, has entered a curious alliance with The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum of Two Rivers, Wisconsin. Drawing on Hamilton's rich vintage type collection, on July 11 Target is releasing typographically designed street wear for kids who probably don't know the difference between a serif and a sheriff.

Michael Alexin, Target's Vice President of Product Design and Development for Apparel and Accessories, told me that after Target's design team saw a film about Hamilton at the Walker Art Center, they "fell in love with the spirit and passion of the museum as well as the vast archive of historical wood type prints and original poster designs." He added that Bill and Jim Moran, the artistic director and museum director of the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, began talking about the idea of creating a collection of apparel capitalizing "on the popularity of vintage graphic prints while highlighting the museum as a national treasure."

The collection, Alexin said, is evidence of how Target is consistently reinventing the definition of partnership. "Our team previously identified an important trend in fashion that was growing: the importance of looks and styles that are inspired by American heritage and vintage. By maximizing this trend in a unique way, Target is taking an innovative approach and surprising our guests with the unexpected. At the same time, we're hopefully able to raise the visibility of the museum and introduce more people to the art of typography." What's more, he injected, "The museum has a commitment to literacy, and Target shares this value as we support reading and education through our community outreach programs."

Nonetheless, wood type is rather arcane in today's digital font world. Since the tees and sweats are geared towards kids, there must be a hook, right? "The hook was creating true vintage graphic design—with the Target 'wink,'" Alexin explained. "It's cool, authentic, and based on real graphics from America's typographic history." Apparently, wood type also has "handcrafted appeal and a vintage collegiate vibe, which we thought would be perfect to include in our back-to-school collections."

Who would have figured old typefaces would have that je ne sais quoi?

Target's goal, however, was not to make wood type fashionable—"we just found the fashion within wood type," said Alexin, who asked designers to make hand-pressed prints at the museum, take them home, and then toy with scale, layering, and color, and after injecting wit, create the "eclectic collection of vintage graphic tees, hoodies, and more." Target's fall campaign, based on the conceit that "Cool Never Fades" and what was cool 25 or even 50 years ago will be cool again, builds on the notion that the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum "speaks to this growing affinity towards heritage and a resurgence of retro among our younger guests," Alexin said.

For Bill Moran, Hamilton's artistic director, working with Target is an opportunity to make the collection much more popularly visible. Hamilton had been selling posters and other merchandise online since it opened in 1999 but with limited success. "When my brother Jim and I were enlisted as Museum Director and Artistic Director we decided to renew our efforts at creating merchandise," Moran explained. "We immediately recognized the aesthetic value of this archive as it included hand-carved, multi-colored blocks that were used to print everything from postcards to five-foot-tall show posters."

These prints were in great demand, yet only by museum patrons and occasional web site visitors. Frustrated with the lack of response, the brothers Moran considered partners who could handle the merchandise on a broader scale. "Target's design team immediately recognized the timeless appeal of mid-century American advertising and worked to build enthusiasm within the company," notes Moran. "A grassroots consensus quickly emerged that this was a story worth telling and a visual legacy worth preserving."

Obviously running a printing museum in Wisconsin, the heart of cheese country, is not exactly a cash cow, so Moran reckons that merchandising is a logical way to not only pay the bills "but also let patrons take something home when they visit." Still with a two-person staff, designing a line of apparel was not feasible. "Therefore, we hosted members from the Target design team for a three-day session where they identified a group of images that fit into their 'Vintage Varsity' design theme for fall." Moran printed hundreds of images on 70-year-old presses that the design team took back to the Twin Cities "to work their magic with. The resulting designs showcase the collection beautifully and we're really proud to have our name associated with them."

Moran hopes visibility among non-designers will increase the Hamilton's significance exponentially. "Whether you're interested in roller derby, rodeos, auto racing, or farm animals," he said like a true salesman, "the subject matter in the collection readily transcends type and printing. The fact that our museum specializes in hand-made printing seems to really resonate with the DIY crowd. Letterpress has a unique homespun feel to it and Target's clothing line definitely captures the vocabulary of the printing press." Alexin added, "It was almost impossible to stop this collaboration from happening. I have never seen our design team more excited to begin." Moran is also open to any other products that spread the gospel of wood type—tees and hoodies are just the beginning. "If it's authentic and reflects the aesthetic that can be found in the museum, we'd consider it." In fact, his long-term goal goes beyond the Hamilton, to fund initiatives that will support K-12 arts and literacy programming. "We have an incredibly diverse fan base of college students and recent grads who attend our workshops but we want to fill a dire need in arts education."

In the future he sees a Type Bus that will pick up school groups within a one-hour radius who can come to the museum to learn about printmaking using Gutenberg's technology. "A 10-year-old rearranging and printing wood type on a simple press merges art, literature, literacy in a way that nothing else does," he proudly noted. "And if that works as well as we think it will perhaps we can take the show on the road. Truly movable type!"

More information about the museum and the partnership is available in the following video:

Designing for the Classroom: A History of Herman Miller, in Photos

Perhaps best known for the Eames Lounge Chair, which was released in 1956 after years of development by Charles and Ray Eames, Herman Miller is one of the first companies in the world to mass produce modern furniture. For nearly 90 years now, the company has put out an impressive line of recognizable products (from the Noguchi table to the Aeron chair) under a string of noted industrial designers, including George Nelson, one of the founders of American Modernism, who held the title of director of design at Herman Miller for more than 25 years.

Today -- and for the past 40 years -- many of the chairs, desks, and tables designed by Herman Miller are released through the company's education division, which unites research with manufacturing to produce unique products that are meant to enhance the learning experience. This division grew out of Robert Propst's Herman Miller Research Corporation, which was focused on the way people worked in the office in the early 1970s. "Consulting with behavioral psychologists, architects, mathematicians, and anthropologists, [Probst] quickly discovered the problem was larger and more exciting than the design of furniture," according to a background document products by Herman Miller for a design show held earlier this year. "Probst's research led him to the exploration of how students lived and learned on campus." And Herman Miller, thanks to partnerships with Emory University, Georgia Tech, and many others, has had a presence on college campuses all over the world ever since. Below, we present a history products released by Herman Miller's education division, in photos.

Journal of Design History

The Design History Society and Oxford University Press continue to monitor the COVID-19 pandemic. Our first priority is to contribute to the global effort to contain and eliminate the new coronavirus. As a result many of our editorial staff, and our editors and referees, have now moved to remote working.

Given the severity of the situation, we anticipate some delays as a result of illness, and the need for staff, editors, and referees to care for others. We ask for your patience in this difficult time, and also understand that our authors will face similar additional demands on their time. Please do let us know if for any reason you are unable to meet the usual deadlines so that we can make appropriate arrangements.

Thank you for your understanding and support.

The Journal of Design History, the Society's periodical, is published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Design History Society. It is the leading journal in its field and plays an active role in the development of design history.

In publication since 1988, the research-focused mouthpiece of the Design History Society (DHS), the Journal of Design History (JDH) –- embraces the history of a range of design-related subjects, from furniture to product design, graphic design, craft, fashion, textiles, architectural interiors and exhibitions. Its orientation and reach are global. The Journal addresses the history of design from a humanities perspective primarily, but it also borrows methods from related fields including the social sciences, material culture studies and cultural studies. Having established design history as a discrete discipline, the JDH also aims to be of interest to historically aware and critically engaged design practitioners and educators.

The Journal includes articles - in-depth case-studies with a level of general appeal shorter pieces addressing museums and archives and book reviews. In addition to the general issues, special issues focus on selected themes.

Members of the Design History Society receive the JDH quarterly as part of their subscription.

Members of academic institutions with an Athens username and password should be able to access the full text of articles published from the start of 2004. If you don't have an Athens username and password, you can still read the full text of some articles from 2004 only. If you don't know what an Athens username or password are then you should speak to your college or university librarian.

The Journal of Design History is available as full-text online, with further information available here.

To receive regular e-mails containing the table of contents of the Journal as each issue is published please click here.

Armitage Lecture 2011: the design and analysis of life history studies †

Correspondence to: Jerald F. Lawless, University of Waterloo, Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.

Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Correspondence to: Jerald F. Lawless, University of Waterloo, Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.


Life history studies collect information on events and other outcomes during people's lifetimes. For example, these may be related to childhood development, education, fertility, health, or employment. Such longitudinal studies have constraints on the selection of study members, the duration and frequency of follow-up, and the accuracy and completeness of information obtained. These constraints, along with factors associated with the definition and measurement of certain outcomes, affect our ability to understand, model, and analyze life history processes. My objective here is to discuss and illustrate some issues associated with the design and analysis of life history studies. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Past & present: history of curtains

Image above: illustration by Julia Rothman

I have to confess that I’ve never thought much about window treatments in my own space. If I didn’t live on a highly trafficked street, I’d probably do without them all together. I compromise by having minimalist matchstick blinds that are left completely open throughout the day. (And I usually end up doing that dance where you realize that the blinds are totally open, it’s dark and you’re a wee bit on display. Apologies to anyone getting off near my subway stop.) So, I probably wasn’t the best person to tackle the history of curtains. Georgina O’Hara Callan is a fashion writer, devotee of textiles and founder of The Curtain Exchange. She volunteered to give us a little history on the curtain, and I hunted through the sneak peek archives for my favorite examples of window treatments in homes. I ended up so inspired — particularly by the floor-length options — that I just may rethink my curtain apathy. (And if this leaves you itching to make your own, check out Sewing 101: Curtains!) — Amy A.

Image above: From Sneak Peek: Stewart Russell of Spacecraft (see more window treatments in peeks!)

Hi, I’m Georgina O’Hara Callan! When Design*Sponge allowed me to indulge my passion for curtains by writing a Past & Present piece, I couldn’t have been more pleased. Curtains have a history almost as long as textiles, but there is much hesitation about where and how to hang them. Really, it’s like everything else in the design world you factor in form, function and style and take it from there. Once you’ve read this piece, you’ll see that there are no rules that haven’t already been broken! I love natural light, and I am drawn to rooms that are light-filled without any gloomy corners. Yet I know many light-lovers fight a battle with the idea of curtains. I think this is because curtains, in the latter part of 20th century, got a bad rap with architects and some designers. But let’s face it — we don’t need Versailles at the window. Curtains today can be as sleek and modern as your furnishings.

Image above: Curtains on the Great Bed of Ware, 1590–1660, from the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum

Before central heating and air conditioning, people didn’t always get to choose light over warmth. Curtains of one sort or another have been used to define space and create privacy. The first curtains were made from animal hides that were placed over the doorways and affixed by hooks, but hide, being rather stiff, does not drape well. With advancements in textile production, weaving and dyeing, the evolution of household textiles (primarily items designed for warmth, such as curtains, hangings, blankets and bed hangings) marched right along with developments in clothing. Early textiles were linen and flax, first spun in ancient Egypt, followed by wool and later cotton and silk.

CLICK HERE for more curtain history + a look at the best Sneak Peek window treatments!

Image above: 1901 photograph of Castle Rising, built in the 12th century, from the Victoria & Albert Museum

Although little visual documentary evidence exists from the Early and Middle Ages, it would be reasonable to imagine that occupants of early homes, particularly in the relative affluence of castles, used woven textiles to cover doors and windows. These were often tapestries and heavy cloths, anything to keep out the cold, especially if the castle or home was located in England or Northern Europe. If you’ve ever visited a castle, you know that they are often cold, damp places. Most rooms had large fires, but the windows let in drafts even through wooden shutters, so they were draped in heavy fabrics, which in turn excluded light and would have produced dark, smoke-filled rooms. Glass making was perfected in Italy in the 13th century and became a viable option for windows over the following centuries.

Image above: Vittore Carpaccio, The Dream of St. Ursula , 1490–1495 (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice)

During the Renaissance, buildings that could be recognized as forerunners to the modern home evolved, designed with glass-paned windows (albeit small panes of glass) separated by muntins, not the large expanses of glass we see in contemporary architecture today. Leaded casement windows remained in architectural style for centuries, and it is possible to see these reflected in paintings of the period. While glass let in light, it also permitted the voyeuristic stares of neighbors and strangers, and shutters and fabrics were used to conceal and reveal, but “curtain” design as we think of it today was still centuries away.

Image above: Chinese satin silk with silk embroidery, 1760–1770, from the Victoria & Albert Museum

Although the ancient civilizations of the East in Persia, India and China had long-produced textiles and used them to cover openings and separate rooms, these ideas took many years to translate to European and American homes. Trade with these ancient cultures from the time of the Crusades brought examples of finely woven textiles to Europe, loaded on ships along with spices and other novelties or carried overland along the silk trading routes. Over the centuries, textile production areas in Italy, France, Holland and the UK became well known for silk, linen, cotton and wool inspired by the treasures of the East but adapted for Western tastes.

Image above: Mrs. Patrick Campbell photographed by Frederick Hollyer, 1893, from the Victoria & Albert Museum

The mass-production of textiles is linked to the development of machinery around 1840, which replaced time-consuming handmade items. The same machinery provided ready-made clothing to everyone and changed fashion, which was, prior to that time, reserved only for the very wealthy everyone else wore homemade items and hand-me-downs. Around 1850, household textiles were available to the emerging middle classes, which sought decorative help and advice from drapers, decorators and architects to marry architectural styles with window coverings. Lace curtains, which became “net” or “sheer” curtains, became staples of every home to maintain privacy as towns and houses grew increasingly dense, with homes being developed closer together in the footprints established by town planners of older cities. For curtain architectural styles and window treatments at this point, the more elaborate and ornate, the better!

Image above: Drawing-room window curtains, 1826, from the New York Public Library’s Digital Gallery

If you look at the elaborate clothing of the late 19th century, you will see that it is mirrored in the fussy and adorned window coverings of the period and the overstuffed, decorated rooms. It is important to remember that synthetic colors were being introduced at the time, and this influenced prevailing decorative styles as well as the fabric colors selected for curtains and draperies.

Image above: Backstage, Alice in Wonderland , Maverick Theatre, Woodstock (1950), from the NYPL Digital Gallery

Two World Wars would profoundly change decorating styles as they shifted social culture. But it was after the Second World War that massive homes were broken up into apartments, and housing subdivisions and new towns were developed. By the 1950s and 1960s, curtains were essential components to most homes and were carefully incorporated into architectural style that sometimes, but not always, reflected interior styles. Many modern homes had simple, plain curtains without elaborate top treatments, similar to the tailored shift dresses of the period and a far cry from the billowy, bedecked and trimmed window fashions of the late 19th century.

Image above: This curtain was created out of linen remnants of fog linen products. From Sneak Peek: Yumiko of Fog Linen Work

Curtains include anything from a wool blanket tacked up over a door to the most elaborate layers of silk and detailed, swagged cornices. In the last decade, greater respect for architectural details has produced a decorative style whereby simple curtain panels — in cotton, linen, silk or any synthetic fabric — adorn each side of the window. Some are functional others are purely decorative. The higher the curtain is hung, the taller the room will appear. Curtain lining, intended for warmth and light insulation, may be simple or multilayered. They provide a great way to bring color and softness to a space.

Image above: Lace curtains on Anne M. Cramer’s sleeping porch in Minneapolis

Image above: Full-length curtains in the playroom at Sarah Bedford’s home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. From Sneak Peek: Sarah Bedford and Alan Hill

Image above: At John & Vivian’s Atlanta home, they took off the closet doors and had bright, sturdy drapes made by Drape 98 Express. From Sneak Peek: John & Vivian of Square Feet Studio

Image above: Floor-length drapes in Rob Brinson’s loft studio in Atlanta. From Sneak Peek: Rob Brinson & Jill Sharp Brinson

Image above: These velvet drapes in Claire Bingham’s home in Macclesfield, England, were actually found at Ikea. From Sneak Peek: Claire Bingham

Image above: The curtains in Fiona Douglas’ Scotland home are made from cotton muslin edged with a real ikat shipped from Uzbekistan. From Sneak Peek: Fiona Douglas of Bluebellgray

Image above: Love the drapery puddle in Di Overton’s home in northeast England. From Sneak Peek: Di Overton of Ghost Furniture

Image above: These white floor-length drapes are found all through this home in Barcelona. From Sneak Peek: Lisi and Alex

Image above: Simple matchstick blinds in Scarlett’s Santa Cruz home. From Sneak Peek: Scarlett of Saffron and Genevieve

Image above: Bed curtains in Raoul Textile fabric hung on the canopy in this little girl’s room. The roman shades are made out of burlap. From Sneak Peek: Angie Hranosky

Image above: Floor-length sheers from Sneak Peek: Anne McClain of MCMC Fragrances

Image above: Big pattern in Amie Corley’s St. Louis home

Image above: Jen from Cabin 7 used a John Robshaw panel, found at a sample sale, for her bedroom curtain (she also used it as the tablecloth for the cupcakes at her wedding).

Image above: Pretty lace curtains frame the view in Sande, Norway. From Sneak Peek: Gunilla and Eivind Platou

Image above: The curtains in Annette Joseph’s summer home in Tuscany are floor-to-ceiling. From Sneak Peek: Annette Joseph

Image above: Love the plaid curtains paired with the lace bedspread in Sweden. From Sneak Peek: Ulrica Wihlborg

Image above: A curtain as a breezy room divider from Sneak Peek: Sarah of A Beach Cottage

Image above: Light blue toile on the windows adds some color pop against the white walls in Emma and James’ London living room.


Britain has always absorbed invaders and been home to multiple peoples © How many settlers actually crossed the North Sea to Britain is disputed, although it is clear that they eventually mixed with substantial surviving indigenous populations which, in many areas, apparently formed the majority.

As with the adoption of 'Celtic' cultural traits in the Iron Age, and then Greco-Roman civilisation, so the development of Anglo-Saxon England marks the adoption of a new politically ascendant culture that of the 'Germanic barbarians'.

Contrary to the traditional idea that Britain originally possessed a 'Celtic' uniformity which first Roman, then Saxon and other invaders disrupted, in reality Britain has always been home to multiple peoples.

Perhaps the switch was more profound than the preceding cases, since the proportion of incomers was probably higher than in Iron Age or Roman times, and, crucially, Romano-British power structures and culture seem to have undergone catastrophic collapse - through isolation from Rome and the support of the imperial armies - some time before there was a substantial presence of 'Anglo-Saxons'.

In contrast to Gaul, where the Franks merged with an intact Gallo-Roman society to create Latin-based French culture, the new Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in Britain, although melded from indigenous and immigrant populations, represented no such cultural continuity they drew their cultural inspiration, and their dominant language, almost entirely from across the North Sea. Mixed natives and immigrants became the English.

Contrary to the traditional idea that Britain originally possessed a 'Celtic' uniformity, which first Roman, then Saxon and other invaders disrupted, in reality Britain has always been home to multiple peoples. While its population has shown strong biological continuity over millennia, the identities the islanders have chosen to adopt have undergone some remarkable changes. Many of these have been due to contacts and conflicts across the seas, not least as the result of episodic, but often very modest, arrivals of newcomers.

Who Gives The Best Info? A Short History Of Information Design

Last month, FAST COMPANY magazine published the best info-graphics of the year from their design blog. The choice was derived from FC's own postings of the most interesting info-graphics they came across on a daily basis.

FAST COMPANY, a business magazine that watches contemporary trends, sometimes writes about design in relationship to business. On their design blog, they discuss product design, architecture, digital media, and branding as they affect corporations, retail businesses, and tech businesses. They write about design the way TIME and BUSINESS WEEK do, meaning they write about it fairly generally. They write about things that people who are not designers have likely seen and understand to a certain degree.

So why does FAST COMPANY have a daily report on info-graphics? Is this a hot trend? Does the general public care about them? Much of FAST COMPANY's readership is in the tech business, which accounts for some of the interest. But the daily infographic of note? Why? Info-graphics are hardly new.

Way before the PC and 24-hour cable news, we referred to them as charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps. Charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps have always existed in business publications and newspapers and were once considered somewhat unexceptional. They were companion demonstrations to editorial stories, hopefully proving the veracity of an author's main thesis. Even though many of them were intricate, beautiful, powerful, or even witty, the editorial stories were the main course and the charts and diagrams, etc. were a side dish.

Charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps have a spectacular visual history of their own and they are collected in museums, libraries, archives, and in important personal collections. They are documented in many books. Art movements like the Dadaist's and the Fluxus group parodied them, as they are natural devices for satire.

"Expanded Arts Diagram" (detail) by George Maciunas, 1966.

When we think of the joke versions of maps, Saul Steinberg's "View of the World from 9th Avenue" immediately comes to mind or Maira Kalman's "New Yorkistan."

"View of the World from 9th Avenue" by Saul Steinberg, March 29, 1976.

"New Yorkistan" by Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz, December 10, 2001.

I am a big fan of deliberately satirical and/or impressionistic information and they are devices I often use in my design and painting.

"Diagram of a Blog" by Paula Scher, 2007.

"The World" by Paula Scher, 1998.

We all grew up with charts, graphs, diagrams and maps in our textbooks. Sometimes they inspired and edified us, or broke up boring text that we didn't have the patience to fathom. Other times, they annoyed us because, when poorly designed, they complicated information and made it more inaccessible. But we accepted their validity without question because they were in a textbook. Sometimes we memorized them. We were conditioned to believe them, but we generally believed them in relationship to another text that they illustrated.

Some mainstream publications had a very specific house style for charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps. TIME and FORTUNE magazines have a spectacular history here. FORTUNE magazine was an industry leader in all forms of illustration in the 1930's -1950's.

FORTUNE magazine cover by Walter Allner, December 1952.

In the 80's, Nigel Holmes at TIME magazine created a very specific and identifiable house style for conveying information. Previously, within the graphic design profession, the design of charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps was the least sexy part of any project because charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps were supposed to quantify information, not give it personality. They were dry, even with the most beautiful graphic implementation. They were expected to appear impartial, or at least neutral, in relationship to an article while totally supporting its viewpoint. For an editorial designer, it was much more exciting to compliment editorial content with an illustration or a photograph that conveyed some greater emotion or exhibited a strong point of view through powerful imagery. The general public seemed to respond more enthusiastically to photography or illustration, rather than the "just the facts ma'am" attitude of charts and diagrams.

In the 80's, SPY magazine popularized snarky charts about power structures of New York media or the film industry. ESQUIRE magazine had a similar graphic approach in their annual Dubious Achievement Awards. Currently, many popular-culture magazines like NEW YORK and VANITY FAIR use info-graphics to quantify things that really aren't that quantifiable, like celebrity hotness or what they perceive as culturally high or low brow. The reader enjoys the measurement but doesn't believe it as literal fact.

"The Approval Matrix," NEW YORK MAGAZINE, Week of January 3, 2011.

The term "info-graphics" became widely used with the introduction and success of USA TODAY in the late 80's. Large, bright colored daily graphics that demonstrated weather forecasts, sports scores, and financial statistics, etc. seemed more immediate and accessible than reading complete stories, or even large-scale pull quotes. The visual device of the time lured readers into the articles. Other American newspapers and publications began to emulate USA TODAY. THE GUARDIAN in London did a far more sophisticated job of it.

"Government Spending by Department, 2009-2010," THE GUARDIAN.

Bloomberg's BUSINESSWEEK recently relied exclusively on info-graphics for their year-end wrap up. Some of the graphics accurately measured things, while others just looked like they did. The style was evocative of Nigel Holmes in the 80's. The charts were understandable, but did not look especially scientific.

Several years ago, The Sunday NEW YORK TIMES introduced the "Op-Chart," which sometimes offers a full page of quantified statistical information, usually on things like the body count of dead American soldiers in the Iraq or Afghanistan war. The charts are pointed and moving. By virtue of the fact that they are placed on the Op-Ed page of the NEW YORK TIMES indicates that while the data is real, the choice and editing of the data is designed to be provocative.

OP-CHART: States of Conflict, THE NEW YORK TIMES, December 26, 2010.

For all major cable news programs, info-graphics are a must. They punctuate every announcement as evidence of the veracity and import of whatever is reported. In the past decade, PowerPoint presentation templates took info-graphics to a whole new level of ubiquity. Every internal corporate, government, or institutional presentation to a group, (about absolutely anything), will consist of a series of dull bullet points accompanied by pie charts, bar charts, triangles, and overlapping circles and arrows, theoretically demonstrating the inarguable strategic logic of any given premise that is being presented. These info-graphics that can be produced on a simple computer program are designed to make talking points look scientific, and therefore, believable.

Recently, "data visualization" has replaced "info-graphics" as the category name for charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps. The term "data visualization" sounds much more scientific than "info-graphics." "Info-graphics" has an industrial sound you know that somewhere in the process of the info-graphic creation there was a person picking the information and designing the chart. "Data visualization" has a wonderful technological ring to it. You can believe that what you've seen is truly the result of the superior intelligence of a computer program impartially and perfectly quantifying the data gathered by another computer program. No human touched it. No errors. No bias. It is the ultimate in believability. If the information moves on a computer, or LED screen, or better yet, you touch it and it responds to you, better still. More and more often data visualization stands alone as content. It neither accompanies a piece of writing to demonstrate the validity or objectify the written opinion, nor does it intend to make a parody or joke, or even create a feeling. It's intent is to demonstrate and quantify information as if the information merely exists and is not selected. When it is used effectively in advertising, it borders on dangerous. It is the world's most effective form of propaganda.

The FAST COMPANY selection of charts, graphs, diagrams and maps from their daily design blog demonstrate a lot of various pieces of data that seem to create networks. Information looks like a network when there are lots of lines connecting the various pieces of data, or when the data appears as dots that make clusters. The linear connective approach is visually akin to our understanding of the world as connected by phone or electric wires. There is something very appealing visually about the linear network approach. It makes us feel less isolated.

When there are a plethora of dots that overlap one another making clusters, the blobs created look organic. These graphic devices seem akin to the human anatomy, sort of like blood cells or DNA molecules. If the overlapping dots-becoming-blobs are in complimentary colors that are rendered transparent (red over green etc), and if they exist on a black field, they can resemble infrared photography or x-rays. This is the visual language of medical science and when applied to any form of quantified information it serves to make it more believable.

Some of topics that employed these graphic devices on the FAST COMPANY design blog were:

- Contradictions in the bible
- Why people move away from New York
- A measurement of your own interest in various things as revealed by what you twitter, etc
- The power structure of a Mexican drug cartel
- Bars that have the highest check-in ratio from men to women
- Friendships around the world

All of the charts, graphs, diagrams, and maps look interesting and involving. They are designed to appear scientific and very believable. They are immediate, even urgent, and you have the sense that you are about to learn something. They are all part of an increasing trend away from reading, reflection, and understanding the world in a broader context. Information becomes style. Information is an end in and of itself: it exists by itself, with no over view, no history, no context, and demonstrates that almost anything can be measured. It is faux info.

Ask a designer to make a diagram of your clothes closet and how many white and black articles of clothing you have worn and on what days and see if there is a pattern. There probably is one. It will make a sensational chart. Compare the amount of homeless people in relationship to the amount of trees in various neighborhoods. It sounds important, doesn't it? A diagram with those statistics might really look significant.

Faux info is seductive because it looks like a computer program has gathered all the data, put it in the proper order, quantified it, made all of the appropriate comparisons and links, and fed it to you in a scientific style that demonstrates authority and infallibility. The information does your thinking for you, and you don't have to think at all. Buyer beware.


A screen shot from the 1984 film The Terminator (top) Cover art from the soundtrack to the 1982 film Tron (bottom left) A screen shot from the trailer for the 1985 film D.A.R.Y.L. (bottom right)

We can’t forget the science-loving 1980s’ obsession with all things tech. From films like Real Genius to music videos by Thomas Dolby, an 󈨔s scientific aesthetic emerged. One key trait of this visual style was a “digital look,” which hit the film world in particular with its prevalence of grids, sci-fi-evoking motifs and computer-font-based graphic text. Cover art for the Tron soundtrack, and screen shots from the opening credits of The Terminator and the trailer for the film D.A.R.Y.L. (all shown above) illustrate the digital graphic design style.

Thanks for joining us as we explored the eye-catching world of 1980s graphic design. A special thank-you to Andrew Guengerich for designing our header image, and to Posters Please, Little Miss Red Shirt, BriansCherryPicks, and VintageStickerLove for the use of their design-fabulous images. Stay with us all week as we continue to highlight this unforgettable arena of 󈨔s style…

Designing history: the day of an exhibition design intern

What does the day of a design intern at the National Museum of American History look like? It starts off with a lot of coffee. Then we spend the day designing exhibitions!

Jimin Lee, Office of Exhibition Services intern

In all seriousness, interning at the museum under the exhibition designers Clare Brown and Nigel Briggs has been an amazingly fun and rewarding experience. For the past year, I have been working with Clare on projects such as The First Ladies, a new gallery that will include Julia Child’s Kitchen, and a few other temporary exhibitions held in the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery.

Life as an intern at the exhibition design department involves a lot of drawing, detailing, and designing. For The First Ladies, I joined the team while the exhibition was in its early stage of completion. In order to take an exhibition from a script, drafts and sketches to a show ready for production, we regularly met with a team which included a curator, project manager, exhibition designer, productions lead, collections manager, and conservator. I learned to take direction from the team and the designer in particular and to problem-solve the new exhibition layout through sketching, measuring, and drawing the layout of objects in cases through programs such as Vectorworks and Adobe Illustrator.

One of the most rewarding lessons from this internship thus far has been learning the exhibition design process. The entire team must work together, communicate and exchange ideas of content and design, and ultimately collaborate until the very last step of the project.

While figuring out the layout of the history cases in The First Ladies, we needed to create a mock-up layout of objects and labels. Following the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines of height and legibility became just as important as choosing the objects that create the story in each case. We found unused cabinets in storage and placed real objects and mock-up placeholders to test the layout of each case. In the exhibition design department, our job is to make sure that artifacts, labels, and images all work together to present to the visitor the story the museum wants to tell.

In this instance, the history cases created an intimate experience for each visitor, encouraging visitors to look closer into the cases to look at and read each artifact and label. Lighting played a big role in creating the right atmosphere and improving legibility for these cases as well as for the rest of the exhibition.

reusing old storage cabinets to mock-up new exhibit cases

The initial mock-up of the history cases took place in a rather humble unused old storage cabinet. Still, everything was carefully measured and documented, as the measurements and photographs from this mock-up session became the source for other computer aided drawings and illustrations.

illustration of the Dolley Madison cabinet

Once the case mock-up was complete and the team decided on the position of all the objects and labels, I took the measurements and photographs and drew illustrations. These illustrations are scaled to size and eventually became the team’s visual reference for the placement of objects and labels during the installation of the exhibition.

Dolley Madison cabinet as installed in the gallery

There are numerous other processes, steps, conversations, and challenges that become part of the exhibit design process. This is just a small hint of what we do at the exhibition design department!

Jimin Lee is an intern with the Museum’s Office of Exhibition Services, and a Masters in Exhibition Design candidate at the Corcoran College of Art + Design

Watch the video: Less Than 10% Of Designers Master This! Design Principles Ep2 (July 2022).


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