The Impossibly Cool Album Covers of Blue Note Records: Meet the Creative Team Behind These Iconic Designs

If you stepped into a record store in the 1950s and 60s, you would likely be drawn almost immediately to a Blue Note release—whether or not you were a fan of jazz or had heard of the artist or even the label. “If you went to those record stores,” says Estelle Caswell in the Vox Earworm video above, “it probably wasn’t the sound of Blue Note that immediately caught your attention. It was their album covers.”

Now those designs are hallowed jazz iconography, with their “bold typography, two tone photography, and minimal graphic design.” Of course, it should go without saying that the sound of Blue Note is as distinctive and essential as its look, thanks to its founders’ musical vision, the faultless ear of producer and engineer Rudy Van Gelder, and the roster of unbelievably great musicians the label recruited and recorded.

But back to those covers….

“Their bold use of color, intimate photography, and meticulously placed typography came to define the look of jazz” in the hard bop era, and thus, defined the look of cool, a “refined sophistication” vibrating with restless, sultry, smoky, classy, moody energy. The rat pack had nothing on Blue Note. Their covers “have today become an epitome of graphic hip,” writes Robin Kinross at Eye magazine. (And lest we fetishize the covers at the expense of their contents, Kinross makes sure to add that they “are no more than the visible manifestation of an organic whole.”)

Flip over any one of those beautifully-designed Blue Note records from, say, 1955 to 65, the label’s peak years, and you’ll find two names credited for almost all of their designs: photographer Francis Wolff and graphic designer Reid Miles. Wolff, says producer and Blue Note archivist Michael Cuscuna in the Earworm video, shot almost every Blue Note session from “the minute he arrived.”

“One of the most impressive, and shocking things” about Wolff’s photo shoots, “was that the average success rate of those photos was really extraordinary. He was like the jazz artist of photography in that he could nail it immediately.” Once Wolff filled a contact sheet with great shots, it next came to Miles to select the perfect one—and the perfect crop—for the album cover. These saturated portraits turned Blue Note artists into immortal heroes of hip.

But Reid’s experiments with typography, “inspired by the ever present Swiss lettering style that defined 20th century graphic design,” notes Vox, provided such an important element that the lettering sometimes edged out the photography, such as in the cover of Joe Henderson’s In ‘n Out, which features only a tiny portrait of the artist in the upper left-hand corner, nestled in the dot of a lower-case “i.”

Miles pushed the exclamation point to absurd lengths on Jackie McLean’s It’s Time, which again relegates the artist’s photo to a tiny square in the corner while the rest of the cover is taken up with bold, black “!!!!!!!!!!!”s over a white background. It’s “startlingly getting your attention,” Cuscuna comments. On Lou Donaldson’s Sunny Side Up, Miles dispenses with photography altogether, for a striking black and white design that makes the title seem like it might up and float away.

But Miles' type-centric covers, though excellent, are not what we usually associate with the classic Blue Note look. The synthesis of Wolff’s impeccable photographic instincts and Miles’ surgically keen eye for framing, color, and composition combined to give us the pensive, mysterious Coltrane on Blue Train, the impossibly cool Sonny Rollins on the cover of Newk’s Time, the totally, wildly in-the-moment Art Blakey on The Big Beat, and so, so many more.

Reid Miles had the rare talent only the best art directors possess, says Cuscuna: the ability to “create a look for a record that was highly individual but also that fit into a stream that gave the label a look.” Learn more about his work with Wolff in Robin Kinross’s essay, see many more classic Blue Note album covers here, and make sure to listen to the music behind all that brilliant graphic design in this huge, streaming discography of Blue Note recordings.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Hundreds of Wonderful Japanese Firework Designs from the Early-1900s: Digitized and Free to Download

The Japanese term for fireworks, hanabi (花火), combines the words for fire, bi (), and flower, hana (). If you've seen fireworks anywhere, that derivation may seem at least vaguely apt, but if you've seen Japanese fireworks, it may well strike you as evocative indeed. The traditional Japanese way with presenting flowers, their shapes and colors as well as their scents, has something in common with the traditional Japanese way of putting on a fireworks show.

Not that the production of firecrackers goes as far back, historically, as the arrangement of flowers does, nor that firecrackers themselves, originally a product of China, have anything essentially Japanese about them.




But as more recently with cars, comic books, consumer electronics, and Kit-Kats, whenever Japan re-interprets a foreign invention, the project amounts to radical re-invention, and often a dazzling one at that.

These Japanese versions of non-Japanese things often become highly desirable around the world in their own right. It certainly happened with Japanese fireworks, here proudly displayed in these elegant and vividly colored English catalogs of Hirayama Fireworks and Yokoi Fireworks, published in the early 1900s by C.R. Brock and Company, whose founding date of 1698 makes it the oldest firework concern in the United Kingdom.

These Brocks catalogs been digitized by the Yokohama Board of Education and made available online at the site of the Yokohama Public Library. (Though I've never seen a fireworks show in Yokohama, that city, dotted as it is with impeccably designed public gardens, certainly has its flower-appreciation credentials in order.) Even if you don't read Japanese, you can easily download them: just click here and scroll down until you see their cover images, click on their English titles, and click the "本体PDF画像" link on the next page to get the PDF.

Organized into such categories as "Vertical Wheels," "Phantom Circles," and "Colored Floral Bomb Shells," the catalogs present their imported Japanese wares simply, as various patterns of color against a black or blue background. But simplicity, as even those only distantly acquainted with Japanese art have seen, supports a few particularly strong and enduring branches of Japanese aesthetics.

No matter where you take in your displays of fireworks, you'll surely recognize more than a few of these designs from having seen them light up the night sky. And as far as where to look for the next firework innovator, I might suggest South Korea, where I live: at this past summer's Seoul International Fireworks festival I witnessed fireworks exploding into the shape of cat faces, whiskers and all. Such elaborateness many violate the more rigorous versions of the Japanese sensibility as they apply to hanabi — but then again, just imagine what wonders Japan, one of the most cat-loving countries in the world, could do with that concept.

via Boing Boing/Present and Correct

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A Firework’s Point of View

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.

A Database of Paper Airplane Designs: Hours of Fun for Kids & Adults Alike

Though we can trace the history of paper aircraft back 2000 years to the Chinese and their kites, and into the 19th century with the French and their imaginary airships, the origin of the modern paper airplane is shrouded in mystery. A San Diego Reader article placed the birth somewhere in 1910. By 1915, most American kids were already tormenting teachers. And Jack Northrup used paper models to work on aerodynamics at Lockheed in the 1930s, but even that doesn’t do much to explain how such a ubiquitous object has continued to be so humble and ordinary while inspiring a recent upsurge of interest.

The database at Fold’n’Fly shows how much variety there is beyond the basic “dart” style, and each airplane comes with step-by-step folding instructions, a printable pattern page, and a helpful video.




You can choose by difficulty level, whether or not you will need scissors, or sort by distance, acrobatics, time aloft, or purely decorative.

One of the reasons for the renewed interest in paper airplanes is the use of CAD (computer aided design) in constructing prototypes, and that in itself is a response to the challenge set by various Guinness world records.

The current distance record is 226 feet, 10 inches, set in March 2012 by a former college quarterback Joe Ayoob. The plane was designed by television producer John Collins, who used Ayoob’s throwing arm strength to break the previous record holder by nearly 20 feet.

The longest time a paper airplane has been in the air is currently 27.6 seconds, set in 1998 by Ken Blackburn at the Georgia Dome. He was breaking his own record for the third time.

Lastly, the record for largest paper airplane is 40 ft 10 inches, designed by students from the Technology University of Delft in 1995.

So, now you know what you’re up against. If you think you can do better, dive into this website and get folding.

via Metafilter

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at tedmills.com and/or watch his films here.

157 Animated Minimalist Mid-Century Book Covers

Graphic and motion designer Henning M. Lederer can’t get enough of those minimalist midcentury book covers.

Apparently, the over-the-top pulp scenarios that inspire fellow period cover enthusiast Todd Alcott leave Lederer cold.

He’s drawn to the stark, the geometric, the abstract. No heaving bosoms, no forbidden love, though there’s no denying that sex was a topic of great clinical interest to several of the authors featured above, including psychiatrists Charles Rycroft, H. R. Beech, and R.D. Laing.




Visually, the psycho-analytic titles appear interchangeable with the more straightforward texts in this, Lederer’s third in a series of lightly animated period book covers:

The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Atomic Radiation

Medical Complications During Pregnancy

Generalized Thermodynamics

Pinwheels, ripples, and scrolling harlequin patterns abound. Stare at them long enough if you want to cure your insomnia or become one with the universe.

Tilman Grundig’s soundtrack ensures that the playing field will stay level. No title is singled out for extra sonic attention.

That said, Noise by Rupert Taylor, an expert consultant in acoustics and noise control, stands apart for the humor and narrative sensibility of its visual representation.

Perhaps that’s why Lederer saved it for last.

To date, he’s animated 157 covers. Enjoy them all above.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, November 12 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Buckminster Fuller Creates Striking Posters of His Own Inventions


In addition to his formidable body of work in architecture, design, and theory of the kind the world had never known before, Buckminster Fuller also knew how to promote himself. Sometimes this meant appearing on late-night new-age talk shows, but at its core it meant coming up with ideas that would immediately "read" as revolutionary to anyone who saw them in action. But how to put them before the eyes of someone who hasn't had the chance to see a geodesic dome, a Dymaxion House and Car, or even a Geodome 4 tent in real life?

The ascent of graphic design in the 20th century, a century Fuller saw begin and lived through most of, provided one promising answer: posters. The ones you see here show off "Fuller’s most famous inventions, with line drawings from his patents superimposed over a photograph of the thing itself," writes Fast Company's Katharine Schwab.




"While they look like something Fuller aficionados might have created after the man’s death to celebrate his work, Fuller actually created them in partnership with the gallerist Carl Solway near the end of his career."

These posters, "striking with their two-layer design, are Fuller’s visual homage to his own genius — and an attempt to bring what he believed were world-changing utopian concepts to the masses." They're also now on display at the Edward Cella Art + Architecture in Los Angeles, whose exhibition "R. Buckminster Fuller: Inventions and Models" runs until November 2nd. "Fuller’s objects and prints function not only as models of the mathematical and geometric properties underlying their construction but also as elegant works of art," says the gallery's site. "As such, the works represent the hybridity of Fuller’s practice, and his legacy across the fields of art, design, science, and engineering."

You can see more of Fuller's posters, which depict and visually explain the structures of such inventions as the geodesic dome and Dymaxion Car, of course, but also lesser-known creations like a "Fly's Eye" dome covered in bubble windows (individually swappable for solar panels), a submersible for offshore drilling, and a rowboat with a body reduced to two thin "needles," at Designboom. Edward Cella Art + Architecture has also made the posters available for purchase at $7,000 apiece. That price might seem in contradiction with Fuller's utopian ideals about universal accessibility through sheer low cost, but then, who could look at these and call them anything but works of art?

via Curbed

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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.

The History of Philosophy Visualized in an Interactive Timeline

The connections we make between various philosophers and philosophical schools are often connections that have already been made for us by teachers and scholars on our paths through higher education. Many of us who have taken a philosophy class or two leave it at that, content we’ve got the gist of things and that specialists can parse the details perfectly well without us. But there are those curious people who continue to read abstruse and difficult philosophy after their intro classes are over, for the sheer, perverse joy of it, or from a burning desire to understand truth, beauty, justice, or whatever.

And then there are those who embark on a thorough self-guided tour of Western philosophical history, attempting, without the aid of university departments and faddish interpretive schemes, to weave the disparate strains of thought together. One such autodidact and academic outsider, designer Deniz Cem Önduygu of Istanbul, has combined an encyclopedic mind with a talent for rigorous outline organization to produce an interactive timeline of the history of philosophical ideas. It is “a purely personal project,” he writes, “that I’m doing in my own time, with my limited knowledge, for myself.”




Önduygu shares the project not to show off his learning but, more humbly, to “get feedback and to make it accessible to those who are interested.” It may be precious few people who have both the time and inclination to teach themselves the history of philosophy, but if you are one of them, this incredibly dense infographic is as good a place to start as any, and while it may appear intimidating at first glance, its menu in the upper right corner allows users to zero in on specific thinkers and schools, and to confine themselves to smaller, more manageable areas of the whole.

As for the timeline itself, “viewers can zoom in and out,” notes Daily Nous, “and see philosophers listed in chronological order, with ideas they’re associated with listed beneath them. These ideas, in turn, are connected by green lines to similar or supporting ideas elsewhere on the timeline, and connected by red lines to opposing or refuting ideas elsewhere on the timeline. If you hover your mouse cursor over a single idea, all but it and its connected ideas fade. You can then click on the idea to bring those connected ideas closer for ease of viewing.”

The designer admits this is a “never-ending work in progress” and mainly a source for reminding himself of the main arguments of the philosophers he’s surveyed. The major sources for his timeline are “Bryan Magee’s The Story of Philosophy and Thomas Baldwin’s Contemporary Philosophy, along with other works for specific philosophers and ideas.” But many of the connections Önduygu draws in this extensive web of green and red are his own.

He explains his rationale here, noting, “The lines here do not always depict a direct transfer between two people; I think of them as tracing the development of an idea throughout time within our collective conception." Spend some more time with this impressive project at the History of Philosophy Summarized & Visualized (the site works best in Chrome), and feel free to get in touch with its creator with constructive criticism. He welcomes feedback and is open to opposing ideas, as every lifelong learner should be.

via Daily Nous

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Download Classic Japanese Wave and Ripple Designs: A Go-to Guide for Japanese Artists from 1903

Traditional Japanese art may please so many of us, even those of us with little interest in Japan itself, because of the way it inhabits the realm between representation and abstraction. But then, it doesn't just inhabit that realm: it has settled those borderlands, made them its own, for much longer than most cultures have been doing anything at all. The space between art, strictly defined, and what we now call design has also seen few achievements quite so impressive as those made in Japan, going all the way back to the rope markings on the clay vessels used by the islands' Jōmon people in the 11th century BC.

Those ancient rope-on-clay markings can easily look like predecessors of the "wave patterns" still seen in Japanese art and design today. Since time almost immemorial they have appeared on "swords (both blades and handles) and associated paraphernalia (known as 'sword furniture'), as well as lacquerware, Netsuke, religious objects, and a host of other items."




So says the Public Domain Review, which has featured a series of three books full of elegant wave and ripple designs originally published in 1903 and now available to download free at the Internet Archive (volume onevolume twovolume three).

Called Hamonshū, the books were produced by the artist Mori Yuzan, "about whom not a lot is known," adds the Public Domain review, "apart from that he hailed from Kyoto, worked in the Nihonga style" — or the "Japanese painting" style of Japanese painting, which emerged during the Meiji period, a time of rapid Westernization in Japan.

He "died in 1917. The works would have acted as a kind of go-to guide for Japanese craftsmen looking to adorn their wares with wave and ripple patterns." Though they do contain text, they require no knowledge of the Japanese language to appreciate the many illustrations they present.

Taken together, Mori's books offer a complete spectrum from traditional Japanese-style representation — especially of land, water, mountains, sky, and other natural elements — to a taste of the infinite variety of abstract patterns that result. Such imagery remains prevalent in Japan more than a century after the publication of Hamonshū, as any visitor to Japan today will see.

But now that the Internet Archive has made the books freely available online (volume onevolume twovolume three), they'll surely inspire work not just between representation and abstraction as well as between art and design, but between Japanese aesthetics and those of every other culture in the world as well.

via Public Domain Review

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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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