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.

Librarian Honors a Dying Tree by Turning It Into a Little Free Library

And then she said to Annika, "Why don't you feel in that old tree stump? One practically always finds things in old tree stumps." 

- Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren 

Remember that other classic of children's literature, wherein a boy runs from the city to a secluded mountain, taking up residence in an old tree he hollows into a cozy shelter?

Public librarian and artist Sharalee Armitage Howard’s Little Free Library is a bit like that, except there was no running involved.

When the venerable and ailing cottonwood in her Coeur d’Alene front yard began dropping branches on cars parked below, Howard faced the inevitable. But rather than chop the tree even with the ground, she arranged with the removal crew to leave a considerable amount of stump intact.

Then, in a Pippi Longstocking-ish move, she filled it with books for her neighbors and strangers to discover.

The interior has a snug, woodland vibe, worthy of Beatrix Potter or Alison Uttley, with tidy shelves, soft lighting, and a shingled roof to protect the contents from the elements.

Ever since December, when Howard posted photos to social media, the fairytale-like structure has been engendering epic amounts of global goodwill.

What a beautiful way to preserve and honor a tree that stood for well over a century.

One of the few naysayers is Reddit user discerningpervert, who is perhaps not giving voice to the Lorax, so much as Thalia, Muse of Comedy, when he writes:

It's like a house of horrors for trees. Inside the corpse of their former comrade are the processed remnants of their treebrothers and treesisters.

A literal Treehouse of Horror...

Visit Howard’s Little Free Library (charter #8206) the next time you're in Idaho. Or install one of your own.

(Those with trees to throw at the cause may want to begin with the stump hollowing tutorial below.)

via Twisted Sifter

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Vintage Geological Maps Get Turned Into 3D Topographical Wonders

What good is an old-fashioned map in the age of apps?

One need not be a mountaineer, geoscientist, or civil engineer to get the topographical lay of the land with a speed and accuracy that would have blown Lewis and Clark’s minds’ right through the top of the lynx and otter toppers they took to wearing after their standard issue army lids wore out.

There’s still something to be said for the old ways, though.

Graphic designer Scott Reinhard has all the latest technological advances at his disposal, but it took combining them with hundred-year-old maps for him to get a truly 3-D appreciation for locations he has visited around the United States, as well as his childhood home.

A son of Indiana, Reinhard told Colossal’s Kate Sierzputowski that he found some Grand Teton-type excitement in the notoriously flat Hoosier State once he started marrying official national geospatial data to vintage map designs:

 When I began rendering the elevation data for the state, the story of the land emerged. The glaciers that receded across the northern half of the state after the last ice age scraped and gouged and shaped the land in a way that is spectacularly clear…I felt empowered by the ability to collect and process the vast amounts of information freely available, and create beautiful images.

(The government shut-down has not damaged the accuracy of Reinhard’s maps, but the U.S. Geological Survey’s website does warn the public that the effects of any earthquakes or other force majeure occurring during this black-out period will not immediately be reflected in their topos.)

(Nor are they able to respond to any inquiries, which puts a damper on holiday weekend plans for making salt dough maps, another Hoosier state fave, at least in 1974...)

As writer Jason Kottke notes, the shadows the mountains cast on the margins of Reinhard’s maps are a particularly effective optical trick.

You can see more of Reinhard’s digitally enhanced maps from the late 19th and early 20th-century, and order prints in his online shop.

via Kottke/Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  See her onstage in New York City in February as host of  Theater of the Apes book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Illustrated and Interactive Dante’s Inferno: Explore a New Digital Companion to the Great 14th-Century Epic Poem

Medieval conceptions of hell may have little effect on the laws and social mores of our secular age. But they sure as hell did in the late 15th century, when the first illustrated editions of Dante’s Inferno appeared. A 1481 edition contained art based on a series of unfinished illustrations by Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli. In 1491, the first fully-illustrated edition of the Inferno arrived. As were most printed works at the time, these books were elaborate and expensive, reflecting the very serious treatment the subject of Dante’s work received.

Centuries later, Dante’s work has not lost its effect on our imaginations. Though most people are far less likely to entertain belief in a giant corkscrew pit beneath the earth full of tortured souls, it remains a vivid, chilling (so to speak) metaphor. The epic poem’s language moves and entrances us; its psychological insights dazzle; its formal innovations continue to awe; and its images still shock, amuse, and terrify.

Every decade, it seems, produces some new, fresh visual take on the Inferno, from Botticelli to the stunning renderings of William Blake, Gustave Doré, Alberto Martini, Salvador Dali, Robert Rauschenberg....

This is daunting company, and the online, interactive companion to the Inferno you see screen-shotted here does not attempt to join their ranks. Its charming, children’s-book-graphic visual presentation takes a G-rated approach, ditching accurate human anatomy and horrific violence for a cartoonish video game romp through hell that makes it seem like a super fun, if super weird, place to visit. Created by Alpaca, an Italian design cooperative, and design studio Molotro, the tool aims to be “a synsemic access point to Dante’s literature, aiding its study.”

What it lacks in visual high seriousness, it makes up for in utility. In this brilliantly simple design you can leap from Canto to Canto, learn the circle each one covers, the kind of sinners who inhabit it, and the main characters in each. Click on selected figures in the graphic to see character names and quoted excerpts from the poem. A much longer list of characters serves as an index, quickly linking each name to a Canto, quotation, circle, and sin. The Italian site links to the original poem on Wikipedia. The English version's annotations link to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1867 translation.

Access Cantos and Characters in menus at the top of the main page or use the zoom button to move closer into any point in the topographical map and begin clicking on cartoon figures in various stages of tortured distress. See Behance for an illustrated guide through the online Inferno, a comical-looking tool with very serious applications for students of Dante’s poem. If you’re new to the Inferno, dive right in here. Hell awaits, as it has for millions of fascinated readers for 800 years.

via Metafilter

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

NASA Creates Movie Parody Posters for Its Expedition Flights: Download Parodies of Metropolis, The Matrix, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and More

For just over eighteen years now, NASA has been conducting expeditions to the International Space Station. Each of these missions has not just a name, or at least a number (last week saw the launch of Expedition 58), but an official poster with a group photo of the crew. "These posters were used to advertise expeditions and were also hung in NASA facilities and other government organizations," says Bored Panda. "However, when astronauts got bored of the standard group photos they decided to spice things up a bit."

And "what's a better way to do that other than throwing in some pop culture references?" As anyone who has ever worked with scientists knows, a fair few of them have somehow made themselves into living compendia of knowledge of not just their field but their favorite books, movies, and television shows — not always, but very often, books, movies, and television shows science-fictional in nature.

The prime example, it hardly bears mentioning, would be Star Trek, but the well of fandom at NASA runs much deeper than that.

You'll get a sense of how far that well goes if you have a look through the Expedition poster archive at NASA's web site. There you'll find not just pop culture references but elaborately designed tributes — downloadable in high resolution — to the likes of not just Star Trek but Star WarsThe MatrixThe Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the sole possible theme, Douglas Adams fans will agree, for Expedition 42), and even Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which first gave dystopian sci-fi its visual form in 1927 (and which you can watch here). Albums are also fair game, as evidenced by the Abbey Road poster for Expedition 26.

Bored Panda calls these posters "hilariously awkward," but opinions do vary: "I love them," writes Boing Boing's Rusty Blazenhoff. "I think they're fun and creative." And whatever you think of the concepts, can you fail to be impressed by the sheer attention to detail that has clearly gone into replicating the source images? It's all more or less in line with the formidable graphic design skill at NASA, previously featured here on Open Culture, that has gone into its posters celebrating space travel and the 40th anniversary of the Voyager missions.

Going through the Expedition poster archive, I notice that none seems yet to have paid tribute to Andrei Tarkovsky's Solarissurely one of the most powerful pieces of outer space-related cinema ever made. Granted, that film has much less to do with teamwork and camaraderie than the intense psychological isolation of the individual, which would make it tricky indeed to recreate any of its memorable images as proud group photos. But if NASA's poster designers can't take on that mission, nobody can.

via Boing Boing

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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.

Buckminster Fuller Documented His Life Every 15 Minutes, from 1920 Until 1983

If you've heard of Buckminster Fuller, you've almost certainly heard the word "Dymaxion." Despite its strong pre-Space Age redolence, the term has somehow remained compelling into the 21st century. But what does it mean? When Fuller, a self-described “comprehensive, anticipatory design scientist,” first invented a house meant practically to reinvent domestic living, Chicago's Marshall Field and Company department store put a model on display. The company "wanted a catchy label, so it hired a consultant, who fashioned 'dymaxion' out of bits of 'dynamic,' 'maximum,' and 'ion,'" writes The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert in a piece on Fuller's legacy. "Fuller was so taken with the word, which had no known meaning, that he adopted it as a sort of brand name." After the Dymaxion House came the Dymaxion Vehicle, the Dymaxion Map, and even the two-hour-a-day Dymaxion Sleep Plan.

"As a child, Fuller had assembled scrapbooks of letters and newspaper articles on subjects that interested him," Kolbert writes. "When, later, he decided to keep a more systematic record of his life, including everything from his correspondence to his dry-cleaning bills, it became the Dymaxion Chronofile." The Dymaxion Chronofile now resides in the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection at Stanford University, a place that has merited the attention of no less a guide to the fascinating corners of the world than Atlas Obscura.

"The files go back to when he was four-years-old, but he only seriously started the archive in 1917," writes that site's Allison C. Meier. "From then until his death in 1983 he collected everything from each day, with ingoing and outgoing correspondence, newspaper clippings, drawings, blueprints, models, and even the mundane ephemera like dry cleaning bills." Fuller added to the Dymaxion Chronofile not just every day but, from the year 1920 until his death in 1983, every fifteen minutes.

In 1962 Fuller described the Dymaxion Chronofile as what would happen "if somebody kept a very accurate record of a human being, going through the era from the Gay '90s, from a very different kind of world through the turn of the century — as far into the twentieth century as you might live." Using himself as the case subject for the project (as he did for many projects, which led him to nickname himself "Guinea Pig B") meant that "I could not be judge of what was valid to put in or not. I must put everything in, so I started a very rigorous record." Open Culture's own Ted Mills has written elsewhere about the rigors of storing and maintaining that record in archive form over the decades since Fuller's death, and now, as with so much Fuller did, the Dymaxion Chronofile stands as both a compelling oddity and proof of real, if askew, prescience. After all, how many of us have taken to documenting our own lives online with nearly equal intensity — and how many of us do it even more often than every fifteen minutes?

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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.

Discover Isotype, the 1920s Attempt to Create a Universal Language with Stylish Icons & Graphic Design

How long has mankind dreamed of an international language? The first answer that comes to mind, of course, dates that dream to the time of the Biblical story of the Tower of Babel. If you don't happen to believe that humanity was made to speak a variety of mutually incomprehensible tongues as punishment for daring to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven, maybe you'd prefer a date somewhere around the much later development of Esperanto, the best-known language invented specifically to attain universality, in the late 19th century. But look ahead a few decades past that and you find an intriguing example of a language created to unite the world without using words at all: International System Of Typographic Picture Education, or Isotype.

"Nearly a century before infographics and data visualization became the cultural ubiquity they are today," writes Brain Pickings' Maria Popova, "the pioneering Austrian sociologist, philosopher of science, social reformer, and curator Otto Neurath (December 10, 1882–December 22, 1945), together with his not-yet-wife Marie, invented ISOTYPE — the visionary pictogram language that furnished the vocabulary of modern infographics."

First known as the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics, Isotype's initial development began in 1926 at Vienna's Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum (or Social and Economic Museum), of which Neurath was the founding director. There he began to assemble something like a design studio team, with the mission of creating a set of pictorial symbols that could render dense social, scientific technological, biological, and historical information legible at a glance.

Neurath's most important early collaborator on Isotype was surely the woodcut artist Gerd Arntz, at whose site you can see the more than 4000 pictograms he created to symbolize "key data from industry, demographics, politics and economy." Arntz designed them all in accordance with Neurat's belief that even then the long "virtually illiterate" proletariat "needed knowledge of the world around them. This knowledge should not be shrined in opaque scientific language, but directly illustrated in straightforward images and a clear structure, also for people who could not, or hardly, read. Another outspoken goal of this method of visual statistics was to overcome barriers of language and culture, and to be universally understood."

By the mid-1930s, writes The Atlantic's Steven Heller in an article on the book Isotype: Design and Contexts 1925-1971, "with the Nazi march into Austria, Neurath fled Vienna for Holland. He met his future wife Marie Reidemeister there and after the German bombing of Rotterdam the pair escaped to England, where they were interned on the Isle of Man. Following their release they established the Isotype Institute in Oxford. From this base they continued to develop their unique strategy, which influenced designers worldwide." Today, even those who have never laid eyes on Isotype itself have extensively "read" the visual languages it has influenced: Gizmodo's Alissa Walker points to the standardized icons created in the 70s by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Institute of Graphic Arts as well as today's emoji — probably not exactly what Neurath had in mind as the language of Utopia back when he was co-founding the Vienna Circle, but nevertheless a distant cousin of Isotype in "its own adorable way."

via Brain Pickings

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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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