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Design and the Elastic Mind

CatalogIf you’re in the NYC area and you haven’t made it to MoMA in a while, now would be the time to do so. Design and the Elastic Mind is a new exhibit which examines how designers of all kinds are exploring advances in science and technology—not to mention the changes in how we both view and relate to the world around us—in order to rethink who we are and how we spend our limited time here on spaceship Earth. This exhibit, which takes a few hours to really soak in, makes it clear that we are on the verge of, if not deeply immersed in, a fundamental leap in our thinking, doing and being. There are sublime examples of how data sources such as internet traffic and prison incarceration-vs.-spending can be visualized in new ways and for new means. The innovative concept of “thinkering” is often evoked in the demonstration of how everyday objects can have uses and lives beyond their original purpose. In many of the projects on display the roles of scientist, inventor and designer are virtually interchangeable though they are mainly presented in the context of design. Even if you do make it to the exhibit I highly recommend spending an afternoon clicking around the wonderful website that MoMA created which reflects the character of the exhibit in its approach to user experience and information design. As a visual designer I was inspired by Design and the Elastic Mind to look beyond the current hype of green and sustainable design and reexamine not only what I do but how and why. I’ll keep you posted on what I discover.

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Reinventing the Wheel

Once again, digging through my library I find a book I meant to write about a while ago but got passed over: Reinventing the Wheel, by designer, critic and Paul Rand biographer Jessica Helfand, is a wonderful reference of pre-HTML, interactive information design. Whether they were meant to assist in determining the crop yields of hybrid corn or to help identify the branch and rank of a person in military attire, the information wheels (or volvelles as they’re formally known) featured in Helfand’s book so often demonstrate the perfect balance of form and function that so many of us strive to achieve in even our simplest of design projects. Circular designs in general (see: 45 RPM record labels) present unique design and typographic challenges. But Reinventing the Wheel’s examples weren’t merely round canvases that needed to be adorned with type and color, they were born out of the necessity to solve sometimes complex data-mining tasks with a simple twist of a disc. If you’ve ever taken apart an info wheel and seen the absolute anarchy hidden beneath the upper, slotted disc, you probably already appreciate the technical skill and grace required to simply make it work. This invaluable book is as much a collection of what’s been done as what is possible.