Working at the United Nations, there’s a tendency to relegate design to “making things pretty” or as a last resort in a communication plan, where presentation and usability (i.e. design) take a backseat in a lot of cases to other more “important” work. When in actual fact, having a clear plan, strategy, content and design are all one in the same where each part has a purpose. For example, having great content doesn’t necessarily mean people will pay attention, and designing something without content and knowledge (“the meat”) just doesn’t work.
Design is about how something looks and functions, as well as a way of thinking that can impact our lives – look at how the above photo of the ribbed vault in the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque is both beautiful and functional or watch the below interview with graphic designer Michael Bierut on his mentor Massimo Vignelli and logo design.
“What people don’t understand, and I think some designers don’t understand, designers only make a vessel to hold things that have to be filled in over time… It’s just a newborn, it doesn’t know nothing. We don’t even really know what’s it’s going to look like when it grows up. And thus it also is with symbols and logos too.”
One of the most interesting points in the 7-minute video is where Beirut talks about how Vignelli saw the chance to design the iconic signage for the New York subway as “the opportunity to do something of consequence”.
This video is part of a documentary series called the Creative Influence, which gives a cinematic look into the lives and work of creative professionals and how they find inspiration from the world they live in.
One week ago today, I was in Hong Kong for a quick trip to meet up with family. After having traveled and lived in Asia for the last few years, Hong Kong should’ve been a pretty easy vacation destination. It’s well-connected, modern, and has a great variety of food. I’ve been through Hong Kong airport probably ten times, but actually never left the confines of the airport… until last week. And, boy, was the place a bit of a surprise!
Since 1998, Hong Kong has been a special administrative region of China following being a British colony for about 150 years. Not much has changed since the handover according to people I talked to… English and Chinese are still very apparent and live (some what) in harmony with one another as the region has grown into a financial hub. Yet there’s definitely cases where speaking and reading Chinese comes in handy.
The clearest case of this harmony are in the numerous signs and advertising that crowd the city! With a population of approximately 7 million (in 2010) and a density of 6540 people per square kilometre, it’s no wonder why there’s stacks and stacks of signs, posters, etc. trying to get your attention no matter where you look. It’s a bit of sight that will make you dizzy… yet represents the craziness that’s Hong Kong and overtly loud Cantonese culture (if you don’t believe me, go for Dim Sum or Yum Cha and tell me I’m wrong!)
One unexpected thing was the fact that Hong Kong is actually ‘green’ outside the main city areas. According to the Govt of HK website, only 25% of land is developed and 40% of land is designated as parks and nature reserves. So if you’ve had enough of the consumerism, in-your-face-advertising, noise and people, there’s plenty of green space to take a breather.
Simple, yet powerful, the above photo is all about making a choice that decided the future of a nation… It’s funny how black text on a white background is still the ‘go to’ way to communicate despite all the technology and different ways we can share information and communicate. Sure, there’s instant messaging, facebook-ing, tweeting, and who knows what else, but the simple act of writing or printing a few words on a piece of paper is still so powerful.
The same goes with signs – they are practical, useful, yet simple in helping us understand and make decisions. You’ve seen them in shops, at the airport, when you’re driving and there’s a science and art behind these everyday things that help you live your life. Ever heard of “wayfinding”? Check out this article for a brief intro into the “The Surprisingly Complex Art of Urban Wayfinding“.
I’ve noticed people fumbling with the phones and/or other hi-tech gear to take someones phone number. There’s plenty of ways to take down someone’s digits – Bluetooth data transfer, digital signatures, manual entry into your phonebook, calling a person so they have your number – actually we’re pretty creative when trying to save a phone number! BUT it’s just so much easier (and faster) to have a pen and a piece of paper. Here’s an experiment: the next time you’re talking to someone, ask them for a pen and see if they have one or if they turn to their mobile phone or tablet to take down notes!
If you’re wondering about the photo above, yes, that’s NOT New York… that’s Timor-Leste and that’s the logo I designed for an Asian Foundation project on Community-Police Partnership (the one on the far right). The whole process was an experience and interesting working with Asia Foundation and their local partners on figuring out how to represent their project as a logo and to have it make sense for the local communities, police, and governments working together.
It’s been a busy week in NYC… Museum of Natural History, walks in Central Park, basketball in Brooklyn, shopping, eating… did I mention that there is a lot (maybe too much) to do in NYC? There are also lots and lots of signs and symbols that are iconic in NY or if not, will be difficult to forget when I’m not in the city anymore. It’s funny how are memories are based on signs and symbols that we see. We may be have five (or sometimes six) senses, but it seems the visual one gets the most work out.
That’s the logo I designed on the far right
Cab drivers are crazy but I haven’t seen any accidents
Good ol’ public transport
Cool central point in NYC
Rose Center for Earth and Space | American Museum of Natural History