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Under the weight of new information (to be continued).

18 May

Hello again…

It’s been a week or two, but I am back from Montreal with an abundance of new information to process. Specifically, I have:

a) Over 1 GB of imagery/sound/video

b) Two handwritten journals

c) 24 returned surveys

d) random memories

Needless to say, what little I knew about Montreal before (see earlier post) has turned into the opposite problem. I am now processing this information to create some new work for the DesignInquiry Journal as well as for an exhibition at Montreal’s upcoming Portes Ouvertes 2011. Stay tuned.

It pains me to admit that I still don’t understand the Expos logo. But I have been to the site of Expo ’67 and back….


Expo ’11!

3 May

I’ll be in Montréal, Quebec all next week participating in an innovative program called DesignInquiry. DI describes itself as “a non-profit educational organization devoted to researching design issues in intensive team-based gatherings. An alternative to the design conference, it brings together practitioners from disparate fields to generate new work and ideas around a single topic.” The topic of this gathering is the city of Montréal itself, which is the first and only North American city to be recognized by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) as a “City of Design.” According to DesignInquiry:

From the cultural legacy of Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics, to numerous examples of contemporary creative work including art, fashion, performing arts and architecture, Montréal is clearly a creative hotspot. Its languages, its prejudices, its line-ups, la mode: all of these elements inform Montréal’s global disposition and local temperament. So, are design qualities somehow inherent in Montréal’s topographies, its citizens, its outputs? What makes a “City of Design” more relevant or significant than any other similarly vaunted location? Are these qualities designed by designers or do they evolve out of the way people use the city? Can we identify the characteristics of the dialog between the city and its users? (Can we emphasize the dialog by adding something or taking something away?)

The notion that design practice, and the presence of designers, can alter the trajectory of a city for the better is an assumption that beseeches exploration and testing. Meeting Montréal’s flora and fauna—getting used to its habits and communicating with its inhabitants will be the core of DesignInquiry-slash-Montréal. We are there as designers, exploring this design town.

I am most excited to participate in this exploration precisely because Montréal is one of the few major North American cities I haven’t yet explored. Visiting a new metropolitan area has always been a big deal for me. Call me a dork, but I love to pour over maps (duh), written histories, and guide books before I visit a new city. I know I’ve done my research when someone on the street asks me for directions, and I can actually help them out. Yeah… ok… I’m a dork.

When I applied for this program a few months ago, my knowledge of Montréal was limited to these few subjects:

1. Expo ’67 (thanks mostly to a They Might Be Giants song)

2. The 1976 Olympics

3. My childhood neighbors, who lived there briefly after moving from Belgium

4. Poutine (knowledge of)

5. The really weird logo of the (now-defunct) Montreal Expos

6. The Canadiens (Original Six, right?)


7. Leonard Cohen. 

What will this list look like two weeks from now? The anticipation is killing me!

Because I know freedom when I smell it.

10 Apr

What has happened in the men’s anti-perspirant aisle?! My husband asked me to pick up “some deodorant.” Easy enough, right? But no, I had to choose between “swagger” and “Denali” (as in National Park?) and the delirium that is the Axe line.

Ultimately, I went with Old Spice’s “Matterhorn” scent, not just because it made me think of yodeling (and/or the ride at Disneyland), but because the sticker says “Smells like Ice, Wind & Freedom.” And how can you argue with that?

Ok, ok… and I like the graphics too. Check out the gondola!

Where the rivers have no name.

30 Mar

Dear Design 3,

Here is the article I was telling you about this morning in critique. It’s about the failure of the Google Map to label the names of rivers. It’s a quick read, and very entertaining.



Josh Wallaert: “Google Maps, Give Us Our River Names.” Design Observer. 3/22/11

Exploring the ruins of a scientific playground

22 Mar

Standing astride the river, with one foot on the plains of Vidalia, Louisiana, and the other on the bluffs of Natchez, Mississippi, my mind was tricked into believing that this could have been a playground and not a complex hydraulic model, an operable toy replete with countless options to alter a small, contained (and fake) universe. — Kristi Dykema Cherame

There’s a fascinating story in today’s Design Observer describing the history of a deserted hydraulic model of the Mississippi River system. The model, located in Clinton, Mississippi, was started  in 1943, using prisoners of war (this was during WWII) to begin the first stages of construction. By the 1990s, advances in computer modeling made the physical model obsolete, and the project was abandoned.

I’ve always found twentieth-century ruins especially spooky and disquieting: a site called Opacity has done an especially good job over the last few years documenting abandoned hospitals, factories, and jails in the US and abroad.

Today, the project is slowly being taken back by the earth. “What remains, concealed by invasive vegetative overgrowth, is the model,” writes Cherame. “And it is surprisingly intact and fairly evenly weathered after two decades of abandonment. The overgrowth has created a protective barrier of holly and poison ivy, making it nearly impossible to see from the park and protecting it from misuse.”

But it was once a tourist attraction. And what fun! Below, a vintage postcard:

A mixed bag of curiosities

18 Mar

Every day, I find interesting things on the web that warrant consideration for placement on this site. If I had more time, I’d post them immediately. But I like to mull things over a bit, which leaves me with a rather large folder of bookmarks of items not posted. In the interest of cleaning out that folder (or at least making it smaller), here are 10 items that have interested me over the last month or two. Take ’em or leave ’em:

1. Loads of vintage German VW Bus graphics.

2. The Japanese kanji character as food pictogram.

3. Audi’s very own corporate typeface.

5. 50 designers illustrate 50 state mottos.

6. One year in ninety seconds.

7. Amazing chalk lettering by Dana Tanamachi.

8. Hitotoki: “Mapping moments around the world.”

9. 54 cereals loved and lost. (No claims on nutritional value….)

10. The CitID project. They accept submissions, and I don’t see Oshkosh in there. Need something fun to do over break?

Never stop looking! Even over spring break….

Japan: comparing before and after

13 Mar

These interactive satellite photos from the New York Times explain in an instant what words cannot. Japan’s prime minister has called the combination earthquake/tsunami the country’s worst crisis since World War II.