Industrial image

As any fan of the font Helvetica (Glenn Sorrentino, no doubt) will know, Gary Hustwit’s documentaries are good food for thought.  His 2007 independent film Helvetica, a rather notable recent example, took the fiftieth anniversary of this single, iconically-Swiss font and shaped an entire discussion around it in focusing on the art of visual communication through graphic design and typography in our modern, posterized, urban-aesthetic world. The full eighty minutes of insightful interviews from renowned designers such as Michael Bierut, Bruno Steinert and Lars Müller places this feature along the same lines as Phaidon and Die Gestalten Verlag in my home media library in terms of educational value elevated by a generous helping of inspiring eye-candy. Which is why I was so delighted to find out several weeks ago that Hustwit’s next full-length release is expected to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival at the end of March. And this time, the main object(s) of focus will be industrial design — yet another field that has tremendously impacted our living spaces, and dare I say probably even more so than graphic design.

It’s fascinating that despite the extent to which our lives are determined by the use of objects we choose to buy and surround ourselves by, it still seems that many of us know very little about who made them and the creative processes that went into making them for mass-consumption in the marketplace. Objectified seeks to redress this issue, examining the realm of industrial design through the perspectives of both our interfacing with manufactured objects through our use of them, and reciprocally the industrial designers who design them for us to use. Hustwit defines objectified as having two meanings:  one as being ‘treated with the status of a mere object’, and the other as representing ‘something abstract expressed in a concrete form’. Through exploring what ‘good design’ is, Hustwit is set to reveal a great deal about what such objects serve to reflect about us and our contemporary society — continuing the age-old form vs. function debate whilst highlighting the importance in understanding consumerism, identity, expression and sustainability in relation along the way.

Once again, it provides insights of several of the industry’s greats, including interviews with MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, Apple’s Jonathan Ive (yes, the iPod designer), Naoto Fukasawa (MUJI audio), the IDEO design consultancy, and revolutionary designer Karim Rashid. Not himself being an expert in either graphic or industrial design, Hustwit’s refreshing approach undoubtedly provides a very much needed look at not only what design is or what it does, but rather what it means and what it may one day become. His interest in the profound way that industrial designers influence the threadwork of culture and interaction is one that many more people should be inspired to share. He asks, ‘If you could get all of these designers and design experts together at a dinner party, what would they talk about? […] Maybe there’s a third meaning to this title, regarding the ways these objects are affecting us and our environment. Have we all become objectified?’ And for a $500 donation, you can become one of ‘The Objectifiers’ whose names are listed in the  credits — along with a DVD and other special merchandise thrown in the mix as objects of appreciation.

Produced and directed by Gary Hustwit, edited by Joe Beshenkovsy, and shot by Luke Geissbuhler.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Swiss Dots

Objectified (Shop)

Helvetica Teaser

British hallmarks

A little over a year and a half ago, I had featured a piece about our modern world so continuously elucidated by the visual impact of brilliantly devised manifestations of information graphics. In it, I vaguely recall having lamented over the nonchalant passing by of London travellers with respect to one diagrammatic wonder in particular: the indispensable TFL Underground map. More often adorned on tacky souvenir-shop undergarments rather than admired for the massive ease with which it allows Oyster Card carriers to get about town as best they can whilst avoiding congestion charge zones and bus routes sloth- and convulsion-prone, surely in this colour-coded map’s absence an already nightmarish logistical operation of daily tube service would be further exacerbated in levels of demoralizing pain as per experienced in rush hour commute, when the least you have to worry about is making sure you’re getting to where you actually want to go after having to change lines five times..? Which is why I was ecstatic upon hearing the news that Her Majesty’s postal service will soon be issuing a set of first class stamps to commemorate historic icons of British design. Because out of the ten monumental classics to be featured is the very inspiration behind ‘The Great Bear’ and many of the subway maps commonplace around the world.

In the Royal Mail’s visual inauguration of the new year upon us, avid stamp collectors and designers are bound to appreciate this perforated, adhesive-backed look at history via the beautifully finished British Design Classics series. Launching the 2009 Special Stamp programme on 13th January, Britain’s finest are derived at large from the 20th Century style and engineering archives of the 1930s and 1960s, and will be featured alongside a ‘prestige stamp book’ providing extensive background and history of the designs. Included will be RJ Mitchell’s Spitfire fighter, George Carwardine’s angelpoise lamp, Edward Young’s jacket designs for Penguin books, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s extinct K2 model telephone box, Robin Day’s quintessential 60s polypropylene chair for Hille Seating, Mary Quant’s risqué (in its own time) miniskirt, the soon-to-be revived Routemaster bus —  as well as Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground, of course. Perhaps the most obvious impact of British icons as demonstrated by this stamp series is that which British designers have had on transport vehicle engineering. And to mark the Mini’s 50th and Concorde’s 40th birthdays, the Royal Mail will also be printing a generic sheet of twenty stamps (Mini series designed by Magpie; Concorde by Neon) and medal covers for each (designed by the Royal Mint Engraving Team).

Enlisted by HGV to get involved with the project, photographer Jason Tozer shot alongside the team responsible for the images featured in the British Design Classics series. Working to receive the needed permissions from designers and their respective estates, they travelled to the national Motor Museum in Beaulieu to shoot one of the very first Minis manufactured, followed by trips to Stuttgart in Germany for the Concorde, a location in Surrey for the phone box, Acton transport museum for the double decker, and Hendon for the Spitfire. The remainder of the icons were shot in-studio, assuring that each was detailed in a manner true to the heritage of the designs, and soon was followed by exhaustive vetting for approval by the Royal Mail. Julietta Edgar, head of the special stamps division at the Royal Mail, stated that ‘special stamps mark unique moments, great anniversaries and vital cultural themes’. ‘Next year’s programme will take stamps further than before with a unique collection of fascinating images and subjects. For many, stamps are seen as one-inch square works of art, and we are confident that the 2009 stamp programme will live up to our customers’ expectations.’ And as the British postcode system celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this upcoming year by reviving its 1970s campaign to remind people of the importance of correct postcodes usage, what better incentive is there for accuracy than that added touch of classic British design to the corner of your envelope?

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Royal Mail

British Design Innovation

British Design Classics Preview

Scent of desperation

‘Fire Meets Desire’ screenshot

Sometimes I find it simply too difficult to understand the marketing ploys of ailing companies trying to revive their once illustrious brands in the eyes of newly discerning, disapproving customers. Granted it didn’t take much re-education to bring the American fast-food industry to its own demise, considering the operative premise behind a multi-million dollar franchised conglomerate built around the concept of bread bun, burger pattie and trans fat was doomed to clog an artery in an age when obesity is at its most alarming level. So when it had once been so easy to follow the seemingly inspired trend of blaming Big Business for one’s own individual failing to actively seek adequate, ‘slow’ nutrition elsewhere, even the banning of lawsuits by the US House of Representatives back in 2004 was not enough to stifle the battle cries of overly-indulgent self-neglecters and bad press further fueled by Morgan Spurlock’s pseudo-science Super Size Me documentary, the all-revealing publication of Fast Food Nation, and sheer good old-fashioned common sense. And despite all efforts of the National Restaurant Association to lobby for a change of heart in the public consensus over an anti-fast-food campaign so quickly picking up pace and empathy, an invitation to head over to Mickie Dee’s with a friend today is more than likely to spark a heated debate over the National Weight Control Registry, even if you do happen to walk in on healthy salad day.

But just when you thought there was no breathing room left to try, Burger King Corp. (in affiliation with the same ‘Have It Your Way Technology’ that brought about the curiously-named Simpsonize Me microsite) has recently begun to market a men’s fragrance that smells like… Well, would you believe me if I said meat? Because that’s precisely what FLAME™ is being advertised as smelling like, and with an almost revoltingly stomach-churning hook to boot, ‘the scent of seduction with a hint of flame-broiled meat’ unwittingly points to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (the 1908 meatpacking equivalent of Eric Schlosser’s famed topic of investigative journalism in 2003). Currently on sale (and sold-out) in New York for $3.99 via Ricky’s Costume Superstore, I’m not exactly too sure whose image this body spray is supposed to help: BK’s or Ricky’s? No less with a website designed to bring the bad taste of bachelor-pad kitsch to the mouth, this is perhaps the funniest product I have come across since the release of the iBod vibrator. Now only time will tell whether this is an item to be taken at all seriously, though whilst gauging shoppers’ responses thus far, I can already see that that probably won’t be the case (my favourite line, by Chris from WV: ‘this is a great way to meat woman’ [sic]). But what is likely, however, is that FLAME™ will achieve cult status, soon going on to become a limited edition item whilst further spreading news at lightning speed around the world…

And fait accompli: Burger King will have managed to stimulate (and perhaps even expand) its market-base. It serves to distract us for five minutes from what it’s really known for (angina) through a clever though awkward showing of horizontal differentiation in marketing-development structure, inevitably lending a hand to mainstream consumers and ad junkies to help associate it with the sort of macho humour that might spark a drive up in sales. But even if this does manage to once more make fast-food cool, sexy, and unhindered by public disrepute through legal castration, I think it all looks embarrassingly desperate more than anything else — much like any man who would dare to wear it.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Burger King Corporation

‘Burger chain markets meat scent’ (BBC News)

Super Size Me (SnagFilms)

Sweet sixteen

With last Monday, 8th December, having been tipped as the UK’s ‘busiest day‘ for online shopping this year, it is no wonder why Christmas shoppers should want to avoid the annual social exercise in commercial sadomasochism we know all to well. Absolutely no amount of indoctrination can distract from the silly if not mind-numbingly tiresome fact that what awaits is the biohazard of elbow-in-side queuing for thankless, hours-on-end competition for that [insert popular children’s toy here], only to find stock inevitably obsolete despite retailers’ prior knowledge of the oncoming onslaught of afterschool TV-driven demand. Not wanting to develop this ranting polemic on the institutionalisation of the season any further, I’ll refrain from complaint. Fortunately for adults, the gift-giving affair can be foregone entirely without insult or childhood trauma. And for those bold enough with seasonal nostalgia, it is indeed nice every now and then to get or make a little something special for friends and family as a token of one’s unyielding appreciation. Year after year, my family and I have re-interpreted the holiday ritual in an arts-and-crafts spin-off of Santa’s workshop at home, a sort of open-ended project for the Advent calendar and something to which I most look forward every year — even on occasions we’re not actually able to spend it together. But as this year’s recipient list incorporates several additions for whom cutesy cards and crazy-glued undecipherable objects won’t be wholly appropriate,  I must confess that I too have joined the hoards of online shoppers. After all, if the government hopes to stimulate consumer spending by a meagre 2.5 percent cut in VAT, why not humour them?

Now whether or not my contribution in shopping-list format will actually help the economy is a point in moot. But as they say, it’s the thought that counts — and this year, my most sought-after stocking-stuffer of choice is the indispensable CINEMA 16: European Short Films. For movie buffs with various tastes (especially for shorts with international flare), this DVD film collection showcases some impressively captivating classics and award-winners, each averaging at around twenty minutes long.  Compiled on the same CINEMA16 platform that has released World, American, and British short film variants over the years, these sixteen films spanning the European continent would otherwise be rather difficult to come by on their own unless hidden somewhere in the YouTube archives. Including fascinating early works of European directing legends such as Jean-Luc Godard (1957), Krzysztof Kieslowski  (1968) and Jan Svankmajer (1971), it juxtaposes over a dozen cinematographic styles and storylines that — albeit limited in time — explore in great detail the depths of the human condition and social realities. All films included are subtitled and accompanied by audio commentaries in English (often by the directors themselves), altogether providing nearly four hours to marvel at their visual mastery thus making for a welcome addition to both the filmmaker’s and aspiring filmmaker’s libraries alike.

With my irrefutable inclination towards French and Scandinavian cinema, Lukas Moodysson’s Bara prata lite and Jan Kounen’s Gisèle Kérozènea are amongst my favourites so far; and though up until now I’ve only had time to watch thirteen of the sixteen, I can safely say that it has been worth my while and I do hope that some of my friends will also enjoy despite my elimination of any potential surprise once this post goes to press… In addition (and to try to re-instill some festive spirit of suspense), a few other Christmas gift recommendations if you’re still planning to brave the high street in the upcoming week of no return: a reservation of the Typographic Desk Reference pre-release, a Moleskine 2009 edition diary, pepparkakor and glögg from Totally Swedish in Marylebone, and practically anything from Magma Books or Neal’s Yard Remedies in Seven Dials, Covent Garden.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Cinema 16

Seven Dials

Adieu, madame

Little can compare to the refreshing combination of tarte au citron plus Earl Grey and Le Monde on a rainless afternoon at one of my favourite London hot-spots, Maison Bertaux. The 136-year-old patisserie on Greek Street run by actresses Michelle and Tania Wade has been the perfect location for many a memorable conversation at a table for four, with close friends who have fallen equally in love with the gateaux, the impromptu second-floor gallery, and the unfailingly charming staff. I’ve logged in numerous hours on premises and tasted practically the entire window display; and not too long ago before unwillingly setting off home down Charing Cross, I discovered one of Soho’s best kept secrets right below: the Shop at Maison Bertaux. The boutique located in the basement of Maison B was opened back in September 2006 by Pippa Brooks (singer from new wave All About Eve Babitz) and Max Karie (fashion retail marketing guru), and is slightly similar to Brewer Street’s The World According To… in terms of what it offers. Stocking extremely well-selected pieces with obvious good taste and attention to detail, the available ranges from A.P.C., Eley Kishimoto, Obey, and Sonia by Sonia Rykiel. The Shop’s overall style is eclectic, glamorous in personality but not ostentatiously so, and is not exclusive to one age — whether that be in female age group or era in fashion. And unique accessory pieces by Vivienne Westwood, Yura and Princess Tina are some of the finest the city has to offer.

Along with Tocca products and Madame à Trois crockery trios from the 1920s-1960s, it all adds extra flair for indulgence and gift-giving, as well as maintaining personal style without yielding to any given trend. Admittedly I’ve admired the aesthetics of design-couple Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto for quite some time (also recently appointed as the new design directors of French House Cacharel). So when I found out the doily-patterned logo was designed by Kishimoto herself, I was ecstatic (shown above) — especially as it stayed true to the overall Bertaux brand heritage. The cake box bearing her insignia design for giftwrap makes for wonderful packaging, and the influence doesn’t stop there: the wallpaper and printed wood included in the boutique’s décor are straight from Eley Kishimoto headquarters. But probably what I find most irresistible in-store is the street-art line of t-shirts from Obey. Yes, that’s the same Obey of artist Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant, the graphic campaign exploring phenomenology and attempting to spark discussion regarding the nature of advertising and political propaganda through production of their own propaganda — a campaign in which no motive is obvious, thus challenging visual perception and attention to detail. In fact, it was Shepard Fairey who truly inspired the Barack Obama campaign poster movement through his own designs (see ‘Vote demographics’ for more detail).

Considering most shops these days tend to operate more like Costco (Zara, Primark, Accessorize, you name it), the Shop at Maison Bertaux is a breath of fresh air in the midst of the congested city centre. Which makes the news that it will be closing down in two weeks’ time all the sadder. Unfortunately, Brooks and Karie have decided to discontinue their venture after two happy years of satisfied customers, and I sincerely hope the credit crunch has nothing to do with it… In any case, there will be a sale until the remaining stock sells out, with Eley Kishimoto on thirty percent clearance — so most definitely worth checking out whilst in town this upcoming week. On the bright side, as a result of the success of Maison B’s blog, Madame (Ms Brooks) and fellow contributers will be continuing their insightful discussion and miscellany on the brand-new site ‘Madame says…’. And to commemorate, a short video below featuring Madame and Maison from spring last year in Soho…

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

Chez Maison Bertaux – 27 Greek Street, W1D 5DF

See also: Shop at Maison B (Blog)

Goop wisdom

On this one rare and perhaps disappointing occasion, the post that follows is written with a female audience in mind — though if a fan of Gwyneth Paltrow, it might (hopefully) constitute good news irrespective of gender… Now more often than not, you’ll find I tend to cordon off Hollywood celebrity endorsements in a strictly no-go zone. Indeed even less agreeable are the celebrities who endorse things, making a mockery both of endorser and endorsee while promulgating the absurdities of product placement and unclever, self-defeatist marketing strategies in the utmost of desperation. Most recently, however, endorsements of the star-studded kind seemed to serve a noble higher purpose as evidenced by Appian Way’s ‘5 Friends‘ campaign, ‘The Great Schlep‘ fronted by comedienne Sarah Silverman, and the efforts of Jay-Z and in order to get out the vote in this month’s presidential election. So not all just cause for the far less worthy trillion-dollar conglomerates built upon a single caffeinated beverage or four-door sedan. And today, after having been signed on to receive the weekly newsletter from Goop since the beginning of October, I can admit without shame that I have one foot willingly on the bandwagon of Paltrow’s new lifestyle web-portal.

In all irony, I’ve quite taken to seeing the word ‘Goop’ in my inbox, despite the word having no discernible meaning in particular. In fact, dare I say it, I look forward to it every week. At first I was severely skeptical about Paltrow’s anecdotal, Oprah-esque living tips and tidbits ranging from topics of fashion to motherhood to metropolitan culture-rambles. It doesn’t at all help when one reads her site bio, starting out by saying ‘My life is good…’ (is it really, Gwyn?) in order to then go on and describe her aims of promoting healthy well-being and a purified, uplifting approach to one’s every-day routine. Had she not been a celebrity, of course, then such prose would bear less of that sardonic, insultingly rhetorical twist to it. Yet again, without the fame would anyone really want to know how she lives and what she believes? Perhaps therein lies the paradox of celebrity promotion… But despite Globe on Mail’s Elizabeth Renzetti questioning why Paltrow’s site wasn’t named www. ‘Any Old Load of Rubbish’ or ‘Learn From Me, Ungrateful Peasant’ .com instead, my props go out to the actress and mother-of-two now semi-based in North London with Chris Martin and a mirage of white-picket-fence idyll.

So even if neither the swinging Sex-and-the-City nor pram-strolling yummy-mummy type, Goop really is surprisingly worth checking out. And I say that both as someone who is against celebrity gimmicks as noted above, and as an impoverished self-employed artist and student unable to make, go, get, do, be or see many of the things Gwyneth Paltrow recommends. As such, I — the endorsee — still choose to endorse the endorser. Because like Paltrow’s apparent abundance of spare time in which she has chosen to pursue this venture for the good of (wo)mankind, it’s very much like watching a sitcom every now and then: downtime’s guilty pleasure of brief and mindless entertainment. Even if slightly OTT or occasionally laden with clichés as referenced by her ‘Goop Girls’, it may just be indicative of an oncoming mid-life crisis if nothing else. Just in time for Thanksgiving in the US next Thursday, she’ll be publishing the archives of all newsletters thus far — so there’s no missing out on your own chance to ‘nourish your inner aspect’.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: GOOP Subscription

Musical chairs

Does This Song Match My Sofa?
By Kate Murphy
October 30, 2008
New York Times

IMAGINE walking into an airy Upper East Side apartment with 18th-century antiques, gilt mirrors and chintz upholstery. Now imagine Metallica playing on the sound system. Music can alter a space as much as lighting, fabrics and artwork, but until recently, most people relied on their own judgment when it came to sound. Now, though, an increasing number are hiring personal music stylists to pick out tunes for their homes just as they might hire an interior decorator to select furnishings. While Muzak has for decades created what it calls “audio architecture” for commercial environments, it is just in the last five years that a handful of music consultants, mostly in New York and London, have begun to specialize in creating custom domestic soundtracks. From Aspen lodges to bungalows in Belize, they are compiling playlists to match their clients’ décor.

“Hearing the wrong music in the wrong space can be very disorienting,” said Coleman Feltes, a music stylist in New York City. A D.J. known for creating mixes for Versace, Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana fashion shows, Mr. Feltes began his bespoke music service for individuals in 2006. Mr. Feltes and other music stylists typically visit clients’ homes or look at photographs of them to assess their decorating styles and to understand layouts. They may also peruse clients’ music collections to learn the genres and artists they’ve liked in the past. “Sometimes it’s truly awful stuff,” said Angus Gibson, another stylist, like “love and moonlight” soundtracks from Meg Ryan movies. His London-based company, Gibson Music, furnishes custom sound systems as well as the music to play on them for clients in Europe, Asia and the United States.

Even if the music a client likes isn’t insipid, stylists warn, it might be all wrong for a given space. “You’re not going to have Johnny Cash playing in a fantastic retreat in the West Indies,” Mr. Gibson said. “It just wouldn’t work.” Though they consider clients’ musical preferences, stylists said they are paid to be the final arbiters of what songs work in a space. “When clients hire me, they are buying into the Coleman brand of taste,” Mr. Feltes said. Stylists typically charge between $50 and $250 per hour of music, which they usually download onto iPods but which can also be delivered on CDs. Joe Wagner, 50, a commercial real estate developer and investor, hired Mr. Feltes last year to provide music for two homes with very different styles — a rough-hewn stone, wood beam and stucco lodge in Aspen, Colo., and a white brick colonial in Palm Beach, Fla. “I wanted music for both places that set the mood and reflected the environment,” Mr. Wagner said.

Mr. Feltes compiled about 48 hours of music divided into playlists particular not only to each residence but also the activity and time of day, like, for example, Latin jazz tracks for a lazy afternoon floating in the pool in Palm Beach or opera selections for a morning reverie while gazing at snow-capped mountains in Aspen. “When someone walks in and hears great music, it’s like looking at a wonderful painting on the wall that gives you certain emotions,” said Mr. Wagner, who gets his playlists updated quarterly. “I love that I don’t have to think about what to put on. It’s already done for me.” With so many genres and artists, it’s hard to stay on top of everything that’s available. ITunes, the online music store, has a catalog of over eight million songs. And there are countless new performers whose work is not so widely distributed.

“Our clients are the type who send people all over the world to find the perfect spoon, or doorknob or type of marble,” said Jeffrey Reed, a club D.J. and a founder of Audio Sushi, a custom music service in London with an international clientele. “My job is to find the perfect music.” Another service, Audiostiles in New York, helped Jessica Goldberg, 35, three years ago when she wanted music to match the apartment she and her husband, Billy, a doctor, had recently renovated in the West Village. With two small children, Ms. Goldberg said, “I’m not going to clubs anymore to hear what’s new.” The Goldbergs filled out a questionnaire about their daily life and their musical tastes. In a phone interview, they described their home, which has wide-plank wood floors, large windows and modern furniture. “It was amazing how they extrapolated from that what we liked and would fit our place,” Ms. Goldberg said.

Most of the tracks on the 10-hour compilation that she continues to play are by acts she had previously never heard of, like the contemporary pop singer Joshua Radin and the folk artist Brett Dennen. The playlist has an overall warm sound, Ms. Goldberg said, which harmonizes with her apartment’s open floor plan and casual, contemporary feel. “It was like they could read my mind.” Ms. Goldberg hired Audiostiles again earlier this year to create a playlist to listen to at home while playing with her children. She said she wanted tunes that were “kid-friendly” and yet “wouldn’t make me want to tear my hair out strand by strand.” The resulting list included Stevie Wonder, the Barenaked Ladies and Simon and Garfunkel. “It’s calming,” she said. Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal and the author of “This Is Your Brain on Music” (Dutton, 2006) said background music, or “auditory wallpaper,” can not only change the way people see their environment, it can profoundly affect their mood. Pleasurable music leads to the release of “feel-good hormones” like dopamine, he said.

Dr. Levitin believes that the ways people use different rooms in the home may call for different music. For example, he likes to play Alison Krauss in his kitchen because her warm voice and melodic songs match the sense of “comfort and groundedness” he feels while preparing a meal. For relaxing in the living room, he prefers the “smooth and uplifting” music of Luther Vandross. Lori Hoffbauer, a personal music stylist whose company, Groove Gurus, is based in Brooklyn, said many of her clients want room-specific soundtracks. She recalled a bachelor who wanted particularly “cheesy” amorous music (like songs by Barry White, she said) for the bedroom of his vacation house in the Hamptons. “That was one of those times when you learned more about the client than you wanted to know,” Ms. Hoffbauer said.

See also: This Is Your Brain on Music

‘In personal stereo’ (pieces at random)

Groove Gurus

Gibson Music