A Brief History of IDEO: A Short Documentary Takes You Inside the Design Firm That Changed the Way We Think about Design

The design firm IDEO was founded in 1991, which may not sound like an especially long time ago, but consider it in technological terms: what kind of devices were we using in 1991? How did they look and feel? Chances are not just that the phone and computer you now carry around bear no resemblance to the ones you would have carried around — not that most of them could be carried around — 28 years ago, but that your furniture and household appliances have changed as well. And think, too, of your everyday experiences with shopping, medical care, and government services: some have transformed, usually for the better, and if others haven't, it's probably not a good thing that they've stayed the same.

IDEO has worked on the design of products and services in all those fields and others, and has indeed done much to redefine the field of design itself. The company's founders and employees tell the story in their own words in the short documentary video IDEO and a Story of Design above, which focuses on IDEO's achievements in changing the way we think about design (exemplified by the time they redesigned the humble shopping cart on Nightline).

And though IDEO as a corporate entity has only existed since the early 1990s, it has deeper roots in the history of design, appearing as it did as a merger of four existing firms, David Kelley Design, ID Two, Matrix Product Design in California, and Moggridge Associates in London. Kelley, who's also a professor at Stanford, appears in the video not only to remember IDEO's founding, but also to talk about its future.

So does Tim Brown, who after nineteen years as IDEO's CEO announced last week that he will step down, passing the position on to former global managing director Sandy Speicher. When IDEO enters a world, Speicher says in the video, "we bring our creative lens, imagining how we can make that world better. I'm careful about words like 'solution' or 'the answer,' because these are people-based systems." That remark, as well as the others made by the variety of IDEO people — in a variety of accents befitting a now-global firm with nine locations around the world — provide a glimpse into IDEO's mutually inseparable corporate culture and its conception of design. And if all their talk about reinvention, responsiveness, and asking the big questions sounds a bit high-flown, most of it may come down to an old saying that holds up in every domain just as well today as it did in 1991: There's always room for improvement.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

David Bowie Songs Reimagined as Pulp Fiction Book Covers: Space Oddity, Heroes, Life on Mars & More

In the last year, screenwriter Todd Alcott’s hobby has blown up into a legit side career.

This Etsy seller isn’t peddling kombucha SCOBYs, letter pressing new baby announcements, or repurposing old barns for use as cutting boards.

No, Alcott’s crafty fortunes fall squarely at the intersection of pulp fiction and rock and roll, with classic song titles, lyrics, and other cunning references replacing the cover text of pre-existing vintage paperbacks.

David Bowie’s lifelong fascination with space travel, tortured anti heroes, and outrageous fashion make him a natural fit with Alcott’s ongoing project, which has lavished similar attention on such luminaries as Bob Dylan, RadioheadTalking Heads, and Elvis Costello.

As Alcott, who conceives of his mash ups as tributes to his long time musical favorites, told Open Culture:

Bowie dressed as an androgynous alien, went out onstage and told his audience "You're not alone, give me your hands," I can't think of a more encompassing gesture to a misfit. No matter how weird you were in your community, you would always find someone like you at a Bowie concert. During a time of my life when I felt incredibly isolated and alone, (Bowie was one of) the key artists who made me feel like I was part of a bigger world, an artistic continuum.

Meanwhile, Alcott is tending to another continuum by posthumously pairing such late greats as Bowie and Queen’s Freddie Mercury (“co-author” of the deep sea-themed Under Pressure cover, above) with the sort of adventurous, occasionally steamy reading material that were among the hallmarks of their 1950s' boyhoods.

Many of these items have found their way to used book and thrift stores, where, tattered and worn, they provide a vast trove for someone like Alcott, who browses with his favorite acts’ catalogues deeply imprinted on his mental hard drive.

It must’ve been a grand day when he happened across the above 1970s sci fi cover. A few deft tweaks, and Life on Mars, a nonexistent “new adventure from the author of Space Oddity," was born.

(Hardcore fans, take note of the doctored publisher in the upper left corner)

Heroes, which takes its inspiration from the 1981 X-Men comic Days of Future Past, is crammed full of such Easter eggs. Can you spot them all?

What a fitting tribute to the Starman’s enduring hold on the public’s imagination.

Browse Todd Alcott’s Bowie-themed pulp fiction collection in his Etsy shop.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City April 15 for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Modern Corporate Logos Reimagined in a Classic Bauhaus Style: Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Bauhaus Movement Today

Image by Vladimir Nikolic

American children, a study found a few years ago, recognize over 1,000 corporate logos but almost no plants. To some it was a damning indictment of the modern world; to others it was nothing more than a description of the modern world (in the 21st century, after all, which skill is more help in finding food?); and to a few it was an opportunity to proclaim that, for the sake of the children, the modern world could use some better corporate logos.

Image by dellfi

The artists, architects, and designers of the Bauhaus, the modernist art-school-turned-movement with its origins in Weimar Germany, might well have agreed. Right from the Bauhaus' foundation in 1919, its members worked on shaping the aesthetics of the future.

Now, for the school's 100th anniversary (today!), 99designs has commissioned revisions of current corporate logos in the Bauhaus style. "It outlasted a century’s worth of competing styles," writes 99designs' Matt Ellis, "survived the initial criticisms from traditionalists, and although the Nazis shut down the institution in 1933, the Bauhaus movement itself lives on to this day."

Image by ArsDesigns

Ellis goes on to quote the still-inspiring words of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius: "The artist is a heightened manifestation of the craftsman. Let us form... a new guild of craftsmen without the class divisions that set out to raise an arrogant barrier between craftsmen and artists! Let us together create the new building of the future which will be all in one: architecture and sculpture and painting." This project put up the five pillars of the Bauhaus style: "form follows function," "minimalism," "revolutionary typography," "passion for geometry," and "primary colors."

Image by dnk

The reimagined corporate logos made for the centenary of the Bauhaus stand on all those pillars, turning the emblems of products and services that many of us consume and use every day — or perhaps, as we scroll through Instagram on our iPhones or Android devices at Starbucks in our Adidases, all at the same time — into designs that merge the cutting-edge aesthetics of interwar Europe with those of the thoroughly globalized 2010s.

Image by PonomarevDmitry

Whether a pure Bauhaus revival will result in the actual adoption of logos like these remains to be seen, but in a way, the exercise simply doubles down on an influence that already runs deep. As Artsy's Kelsey Ables puts it, "It is a testament to the longstanding influence of Bauhausian minimalist ideals that the selected logos were already streamlined to begin with; many of the designers who reimagined 'Bauhaus style' logos had to add visual elements. Perhaps Google and its brethren are more Bauhaus than the Bauhaus itself."

Image by ArsDesigns

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Behold an Anatomically Correct Replica of the Human Brain, Knitted by a Psychiatrist

Our brains dictate our every move.

They’re the ones who spur us to study hard, so we can make something of ourselves, in order to better our communities.

They name our babies, choose our clothes, decide what we’re hungry for.

They make and break laws, organize protests, fritter away hours on social media, and give us the green light to binge watch a bunch of dumb shows when we could be reading War and Peace.

They also plant the seeds for Fitzcarraldo-like creative endeavors that take over our lives and generate little to no income.

We may describe such endeavors as a labor of love, into which we’ve poured our entire heart and soul, but think for a second.

Who’s really responsible here?

The heart, that muscular fist-sized Valentine, content to just pump-pump-pump its way through life, lub-dub, lub-dub, from cradle to grave?

Or the brain, a crafty Iago of an organ, possessor of billions of neurons, complex, contradictory, a mystery we’re far from unraveling?

Psychiatrist Dr. Karen Norberg’s brain has steered her to study such heavy duty subjects as the daycare effect, the rise in youth suicide, and the risk of prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as a treatment for depression.

On a lighter note, it also told her to devote nine months to knitting an anatomically correct replica of the human brain.

(Twelve, if you count three months of research before casting on.)

How did her brain convince her to embark on this madcap assignment?

Easy. It arranged for her to be in the middle of a more prosaic knitting project, then goosed her into noticing how the ruffles of that project resembled the wrinkles of the cerebral cortex.

Coincidence?

Not likely. Especially when one of the cerebral cortex's most important duties is decision making.

As she explained in an interview with The Telegraph, brain development is not unlike the growth of a knitted piece:

You can see very naturally how the 'rippling' effect of the cerebral cortex emerges from properties that probably have to do with nerve cell growth. In the case of knitting, the effect is created by increasing the number of stitches in each row.

Dr. Norberg—who, yes, has on occasion referred to her project as a labor of love—told Scientific American that such a massive crafty undertaking appealed to her sense of humor because “it seemed so ridiculous and would be an enormously complicated, absurdly ambitious thing to do.”

That’s the point at which many people’s brains would give them permission to stop, but Dr. Norberg and her brain persisted, pushing past the hypothetical, creating colorful individual structures that were eventually sewn into two cuddly hemispheres that can be joined with a zipper.

(She also let slip that her brain—by which she means the knitted one, though the observation certainly holds true for the one in her head—is female, due to its robust corpus callosum, the “tough body” whose millions of fibers promote communication and connection.)

via The Telegraph

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain, this April. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Roman Roads of Spain & Portugal Visualized as a Subway Map: Ancient History Meets Modern Graphic Design

Between the first century BC and the fourth century AD, Rome displayed what we might call an impressive ambition. In his project illustrating those chapters of history in a way no one has before, statistics student Sasha Trubetskoy has shown increasingly Roman-grade ambitions himself, at least in the realm of historical graphic design. We've previously featured his modern subway-style maps of the roads of the Roman Empire as well as the Roman roads of Britain here on Open Culture. Today, we have his map of the Roman Roads of Iberia, the region today occupied mainly by Spain and Portugal.

"This map was a blast to make," writes Trubetskoy. "I chose to follow the Antonine Itinerary more strictly, which meant that I had to deal with many parallel lines." Also known as the itinerary of the Emperor Antoninus or “Itinerarium Provinciarum Antoni(ni) Augusti,” according to the Roman Roads Research Association, the Antonine Itinerary is "a collection of 225 lists of stopping places along various Roman roads across the Roman Empire." Its value "comes from it being one of a very few documents to have survived to modern times which provide detail of names and clues to the location of Roman sites and the routes of roads."

Each list, or iter, that makes up the Antonine Itinerary "gives the start and end of each route, with the total mileage of that route, followed by a list of intermediate points with the distances in between." In creating his Roman Roads of Iberia subway map, Trubetskoy made each iter into its own "line," though for some of them he had to draw from other sources: "A couple of Antonine routes were ambiguous and not easily placed on a map, while a few important routes were missing for which there is archaeological evidence."

It takes no small amount of work to convert this kind of often patchy and scattered knowledge from ancient history into graphics as cleanly and legibly designed as Trubetskoy's Roman-road subway maps. But the result, apart from offering a nifty juxtaposition of past and present, reminds us of what the roads of the Romain Empire actually meant: a degree of connectedness between distant lands never before achieved in human history. You can support Trubetskoy's efforts to show this to us in ever greater detail by making the US$9 suggested donation to download a high-resolution version of the Roman Roads of Iberia map. Rome wasn't built in a day, much less its empire: the complete subway-mapping of Rome's roads will also require more time and labor — but then, would the builders of the Roman Empire have described their task as a "blast"?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Bauhaus World, a Free Documentary That Celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Germany’s Legendary Art, Architecture & Design School

This April 1st marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, the German art school that, though short-lived, launched an entire design movement with a stark, functional aesthetic all its own. It can be tempting, looking into that aesthetic that finds the beauty in industry and the industry in beauty, to regard it as purely a product of its time and place, specifically a 20th-century Europe between the wars searching for ways to invent the future. But as revealed in Bauhaus World, this three-part documentary from German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the legacy of the Bauhaus lives on not just in the reputations of its best known original members — Walter Gropius, Paul Klee, László Moholy-Nagy, and Josef Albers, among others — but in the currently active creators it continues to inspire in every corner of the Earth.

"What do escalators in Medellín, Arabic lettering in Amman, story-telling furniture from London, urban farming in Detroit and a co-living complex in Tokyo have to do with the Bauhaus?" asks Deutsche Welle's web site. They all draw from "the influence that the philosophy of the Bauhaus movement still exerts on the globalized society of the 21st century," a time that has its societal parallels with the year 1919.

To illustrate those parallels as well as the continuing relevance of Bauhaus teachings, "we meet architects, urban planners, designers and artists from around the globe who, in the spirit of the Bauhaus, want to rethink and change the world." True to its title, Bauhaus World's journey involves a wide variety of countries, and not just European ones: different segments profile the work of Bauhaus-influenced designers everywhere from Mexico to Jordan, Colombia to Israel, the United States to Japan.

It's in Japan, in fact, that the first part of Bauhaus World, "The Code," finds the outer reaches of the spread of Bauhaus that began with the exile of its members from Nazi Germany. The second part, "The Effect," deals with the enduring influence that has turned Bauhaus and its principles from a movement to a brand, one that has potentially done more than its share to make us as design-obsessed as we've become in the 21st century — a century that, the third and final part "The Utopia" considers, may or may not have a place for the original Bauhaus ideals. But whatever Gropius, Klee, Moholy-Nagy, Albers, and the rest would think of what the Bauhaus they created has become over the past hundred years, over the next hundred years more and more designers — emerging from a wider and wider variety of societies and traditions — will come to see themselves as its descendants.

Bauhaus World will be added to our list of Free Documentaries, a subset of our collection, 1,150 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Dieter Rams Lists the 10 Timeless Principles of Good Design–Backed by Music by Brian Eno

Nearly all of us have heard the dictum "Less, but better," and nearly all of us have used Braun products. But how many of us know that both of those owe their considerable popularity to the same man? After studying architecture, interior decoration, and carpentry, the German industrial designer Dieter Rams spent 40 years at Braun, most of them as the company's chief design officer. There he created such hits as the 606 universal shelving system, the SK61 record player, and the ET66 calculator. That last provided the model for the calculator application interface in Apple's iOS 3, among other homages Apple has paid to Rams.

Rams, in turn, has been complimentary to Apple, calling it one of the few companies in existence that designs products according to his principles. Anyone can sense the affinity between the most enduring Apple products and Rams-designed Braun products, but what are those principles?

You can hear them laid out by the man himself himself in the trailer above for Rams, last year's documentary by Gary Hustwit, he of Helvetica (the documentary about the font) and Objectified (the documentary about industrial design that featured Rams as an interviewee). The list is as follows:

  1. Good design is innovative. "Design always comes about in connection with innovative technology. How can design be good if the technology is not on the same level?"
  2. Good design makes a product useful. "Good design optimizes usefulness and ignores anything that doesn't serve the purpose or works against it."
  3. Good design is aesthetic. "Objects you use daily significantly shape your surroundings and your sense of well-being. Only something that is well-made can be beautiful."
  4. Good design makes a product understandable. "It makes it easy to understand the structure of the product. Even more, it can make the product 'talk.' Ideally, it explains itself best."
  5. Good design is unobtrusive. "Products that serve a purpose have the characteristics of a tool. Their design should be neutral and leave room for the user's self-expression."
  6. Good design is honest. "Honest means not trying to make a product look more innovative, powerful, or valuable than it really is."
  7. Good design is long-lasting. "In contrast to fashionable design, it lasts many years even in our current throwaway society."
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail. "Nothing should be arbitrary or left to chance. Thoroughness and precision are expressions of respect for the user."
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly. "Design makes an important contribution to preserving the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution."
  10. Good design is as little design as possible. "Back to simplicity. Back to purity. Less, but better."

The trailer illustrates each of these principles with one of Rams' designs, developed at Braun or elsewhere: the T 1000 CD radio, the MPZ 21 citrus juicer, the 740 stool, the 620 chair. Though designed forty, fifty, even sixty years ago, these gadgets and pieces of furniture have stood the test of time. Some have even made a return to the market in recent years of our both aesthetically and environmentally conscious age. You can watch Rams on Vimeo on Demand, and if you do, you'll not only get to enjoy its Brian Eno-composed score, you'll learn much more about how Rams designed his most beloved products — and about where he still sees ways to improve them. That holds true even for his design principles themselves: "I always emphasized that they weren't meant to last forever," he says. "They should be updated."

via Uncrate

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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