Archive for June, 2008

Battersea power station lives again

One of the most iconic items on the London landscape for years as been the Battersea Power Station. Since it was decommissioned in 1983 it has fallen into ruin and has been owned by three different people.

The third and current owners have taken it upon themselves to develop the plant and the area around it transforming it to a stunning and eco-friendly housing/shopping/working/hotelling (?) complex with a huge 1000 foot tall eco dome to work as a natural air con unit, out with the bad, and in with the good – as they say.

The huge tower would be the tallest thing in the city by far and the ability to haul solar power in gives it a great green potential.

The architect responsible in designing this beautiful building is the Uruguayan, Rafael Vinoly. Primarily known for his work in every corner of the United States, his creations can be found as far afield as Tokyo and London.

Everybody really admires the lengths this designer goes to, to make things look great. A real case of innovation becoming reality in every project. Click the picture above to see the work of a another brilliant architect first hand.


Mr. T’s problems solved

Previously we posted a short piece about a new style of extender plug which looked like a ship. One of the comments in feedback was that a more useful device would be a plug which fitted all your devices and worked around the world. Well, your prayers have been answered Mr. T.

This is a device which a company in the US called Green plug are trying to get off the ground… it’s probably best put in their words…

“Green Plug is the developer of Greentalk™ – a secure, digital protocol for realtime collaboration between devices that need power and their power sources. The first Green PlugT™ implementation is a highly efficient power adapter hub that is able to simultaneously power multiple devices, each with its own energy demand. Green Plug™ technology maximizes resources, minimizes solid waste from obsolete chargers, and eliminates wasted energy. When devices collaborate with power supplies, an unprecedented amount of monitoring, control and optimization becomes possible.”

Have a look at the image above, then click it to go to their website for details on the product development. Hopefully one day this will be the answer to all our charger/power source woes… now if only it contained its own perpetual motion generator, it would be a perfect machine.

Underground Maps – Truth vs. Diagram

Since the London Underground was first opened on the 10th of January 1863 it has been an amazing system which has been imitated around the world with varying levels of success. One of the most interesting things as a designer is the way in which the various underground maps seem have taken on the basic same style and visual approach. Since the inception of the famous Harry Beck map in 1933 the general rule has been to forgo the true geographical nature of the city for a more simplified style. There is one exception, however.

New York City has the dubious honour of being a virtually perfect geographical map onto which the train lines are projected. Something which has both benefits and problems too. The main benefit is that you can actually navigate around the city, above ground, itself by the stations, as they are actually marked on the correct point on the map. The down-side to this tends to lead to a less structured and hard to read map. The main point seemingly lost when it comes to reading and using the map. Its sole purpose is to allow you to see, easily, where you need to get off your train. For instance, it matters not how far from 14th street, Penn station is, but how many stops are between.

The current incarnation of the Map, issued by the MTA (Mass Transit Authority), is a little confusing to those of us who are used the usual system (London, Rotterdam and Barcelona to name only a few examples) as, as we have pointed out already, it bends and twists to match the true locations of the stations. See, New Yorkers are used to a street system which is based upon a grid system and that lead the design of the map. Back in 1904 when the service first started, it was a true depiction of the city as that was how maps were. Nothing more nothing less.

In 1958 George Saloman gave the city its first true schematic map, doing away with the troubling geographical locations and simplifying it to its essence. It wasn’t so well received, however, removing small items such as Central Park, didn’t go down to well with a Proud New York public. The Map survived in that incarnation until 1971, when Massimo Vignelli was commissioned to produce a new map. The design was an instant design classic and is as good, if not better than the original underground schematic map of London. Beautifully designed with clean lines and a minimalism which helped everyone instantly, and more were won over by his re-inclusion of Central Park, albeit square.

This map was replaced in 1979 when it was redesigned to be geographical again in nature. But this time it was for a reason which has some credit. The designer, John Tauranac (an MTA employee), replaced the true locations of the map and the exact intricate nature of the tracks as it was intended to offer a greater level of security and piece of mind to those using the system. The reason for this was the evolution of New York into a much less safer place, where some residents might not wish to find themselves in certain parts of the city after dark, knowing that a train that they don’t feel turning to the left or right at the correct time, would lead them to get off the train before they found themselves in a situation they didn’t want to be in.

Since that incarnation the map has changed very little, only updates and minor refinements have been made. In 2007 the designer Eddie Jabbour produced his own map which is a hybrid of the 1971 and 1979 map, called the kick map. This has a rational argument behind its use, he is quoted as saying “why is it the Vignelli map or nothing, can’t we have the best of both worlds?” and some might agree, but I personally think that the Kick map covers too much of both worlds, giving too much credence to the geographical style.

I’ll end this (longer than intended) post by adding the final note to the ongoing New York Subway map saga, which is the very recent redesign by Vignelli – in 2008 he was asked by Men’s Vogue in the USA to update his map and recreate the classic diagramatical map he produced in the 70s. The map was given away in the May Issue of the magazine, and 500 signed copies were sold in the name of charity. Personally I think that the updated version is a beautiful piece of design which should be embraced by New Yorkers and the rest of the world.

Image © Vignelli Associates

Brilliant cartoon

As we’ve mentioned previously, inspiration is all around us and can be found in all forms of art and design. One of the more inspirational forms of art for me is the cartoon. We have all seen Finding Nemo and Cars, which were produced by the incredibly talented people at Pixar. What, for me, makes them so special is the manner in which the animators build into the faces a real sense of expression. Since the early days of Warner Bros. cartoons, the expressions which would adorn the faces of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote, were the deal makers for me, the humanisation of the characters helped you associate with them and the emotions they showed.

This is something that is played on by the modern animators at modern studios. The ability to melt your heart and feel real emotion with something as simple as a wry smile is a great one, and especially if the character only really exists as a bunch of 1s and 0s in a digital world. The blender software has been going for a good few years now, and has the aim of utilising open source code to produce awesome 3d rendered images and movies, comparable with the Hollywood studio level.

The latest release comes in the form of Big Buck Bunny, a 9 minute long animation produced by numerous artists from around the world. Produced by Ton Rosendaal from the Netherlands it is one of those things you can watch over and over again, I know as I have seen it at least 6 times since I downloaded it yesterday, each time seeing something else I didn’t spot before.

To see the movie you can click the youtube link above, but you can also download a much higher resolution version from the Blender website itself (by higher resolution, I mean full 1080i high def.)

Click here to go to the downloads page of the bug buck bunny website. This really is a download worth waiting for, and possibly the best 9 minutes viewing you will spend this week.

Shipping electricity

Living here in Rotterdam, you can’t help be impressed with the size of the HUGE ships which transport containers around the globe, to and from the docks here. Indeed, something I really enjoy is sitting by the mouth of the river Maas at Hoek van Holland watching these monsters moving elegantly out to sea and off to other oceans.

Now, one of my pet hates is the horrible necessity of the “extension plug” which we end up buying to accommodate that new hard drive, or the scanner, sure you know the score. This little beauty is a great answer to that problem. The body of the extender is shaped like a ship, and when you add your devices’ power packs to the sockets, you add containers to the ships.

Hell, I’m even thinking about painting my scanner power pack in the colours of a Delta Lloyd, or Safmarine container… or if anyone wants to sponsor my printer plug I would paint it in the colours of their containers.

Once again this is a great example of someone re-thinking an everyday object which we take for granted and making it into something less ugly and something you can more easily live with on your desk. As before, if you want to tell us how you would re-think something, then let us know is the comment boxes, adding momentum to our “Everybody can design Innovation award” idea.

ten thousand cents project

This is a great little thing. It looks like a simple 100 dollar note, but upon closer inspection it is made up from 10,000 little drawings. The artists, Aaron Koblin and Takashi Kawashima, produced a single image from data collected over a period of 5 months. Each small piece of the collage was produced by random visitors to a website, who were, in return paid 1¢ US for their art.

The website where the art is hosted is still available and you can see each and every one of the 10,000 pieces as they were drawn (each drawing was recorded and is played back as you roll over the portion and click with your mouse.)

I found it interesting to see just how far some people would go to make an accurate reproduction of the portion of image they were assigned, whilst others were clearly giving exactly 1¢ worth of their time. As you explore the image you can see a great example of pointillism, one artist gives us a great portrait which is not on, or part of the 100 dollar bill, and others choose to leave messages on the note. The resulting image is available for the cost of $100 and (surprisingly) limited to an edition of 10,000.

Art like this is a great use of the web and the technologies available for use upon it and also proves to us all that art can appear outside the realm of canvas and marble. Technically, the dwell times and footfall are incredible too, most websites would kill for stats like this.

Anyway, why not wander across to the site yourself and see just how interesting this project is, clicking the picture above will take you there.

A good website communicates the brand perfectly

Simple Illustration and a great fun feeling, make this website a great piece of brand communication for the Orange phone company in the UK. This is one of those feel good things that you don’t mind spending some time on, Everytime. Click the image above to go to the site to see for yourself.

New UK Coin designs – All Change

As a Brit living in Europe, getting used to the ‘Euro’ as a currency has been a slow process. The thing which has always struck me about the Euro is how modern the designs are in comparison to the UK Pound. The UK coinage has been a traditional and historically based emblem for years, and The Royal Mint (who issue the pound) recently held a competition to redesign the images which would adorn the reverse (the ‘tails’ side) of the coins.

The winner of the competition was a Graphic Designer by the name of Matthew Dent. At the age of 26 the designer took the project to heart and invested time using research and revision to produce his series of designs. Thankfully the designs for the new coins are modern in design, using historic heraldic emblems and using dynamic crops of the image to create a very modern and appealing design.

We say well done Matthew, it’s time we had a revision of the UK coinage and this design is a great example of how design crosses old and new.

100% design – Rotterdam

One of the best general Design shows in Europe comes to Rotterdam’s Van Nelle Fabriek this coming weekend. 5/6/7th June 2008. See you there.

Link to the exhibition site by clicking the Logo.

Re-thinking the thumb tack

Dunno about you, but often I hate using thumb tacks (or drawing pins as we Brits call them) because they look, so, well… tacky. I stumbled upon these great pins the other day while looking for something else (don’t the best web finds start that way?) and thought they were a great way of holding your paper to the office notice board, and making your drawings look a little bit more bad-ass too!

Based on the Ninja throwing stars we’re familiar with after watching all those kung fu movies as kids, these pins are a great example of how someone has re-thought the simple thumb tack. This leads us to ask how you would redesign something which you use everyday and take for granted? Answers below in the comments boxes please.

image ©