Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Art of the Car Display

Los Angeles is the original car-centric culture, and we have brought the art of the car display to a highly refined level. Above is an early example, at the house of movie star Frederick March's Bel Air mansion (found on, a wonderful repository of post cards, matchbook covers, and other SoCal ephemera). Perhaps it is this convergence of auto culture and Hollywood culture that created the phenomenon. Touring the well-manicured homes of the stars, might Angelinos have longed to create a display of their own?

I still have a small treasure of a book, Charles Jenks's "Daydream Houses of Los Angeles," in which he tours LA residential neighborhoods and waxes acidic with pithy captions like, "Debbie Reynolds Egyptoid with Topiary Petrol Pumps and Car Display." Love it.
Here is a north-of-San-Vicente version. Less is more (less is a bore?).
Not to be confused with cars (in this case, trucks) parked ON the lawn. Every neighborhood has one of these households....

But you don't have to be rich to engage in the art, especially if you can get your neighbor to collaborate by paving over the yard between the houses. Muscle cars like caterpillars in their pupae, waiting (but for ample amounts of money and elbow grease) to be reborn.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Art That Makes You Think

I ran across this quote on John Massengale's blog (New Urbanist architect). He's commenting on the waterfall art installation in NYC.

He says, "Art like this is supposed to make you 'think.' I don't think it makes you think anything worth thinking. I wish art schools would go back to teaching the transcendent power of beauty."

Heads up: teaching the transcendent power of beauty, in fact, has migrated to industrial design. It did this midway through the twentieth century. Case in point: Eva Zeisel.

Eva was the first to teach an industrial design approach (design for mass production) for tableware at Pratt in the late 30s. Here she is, above left, with some of her students' work. She arranged for them to design products for the Bay Ridge pottery in New Jersey. The dish on the right is from her "Classic Century" pattern—a combination of two of her most popular designs, "Tomorrow's Classic" and "Century"—now sold by Crate and Barrel.

When she visited Art Center in the 90s, Eva took a tour of our gallery. On the wall in the fine art side was, if I remember, a large crucifix made of what looked like scrap wood. There was also a structure the size of a small hut, built of the same sort of wood. Zeisel is an opinionated woman. She stopped dead in her tracks and demanded an explanation. I told her that I didn't think I had one. I could only observe that it seemed to me that creating something that was accessible, something that an average viewer would find beautiful, was now forbidden in fine art.

Zeisel stood near a display of orange juice squeezers. They were designed by early-term industrial design students in beautiful, curvilinear shapes and vibrant colors. She wondered why it was that here [with a wave of her hand taking in the ID side of the gallery] where there are so many limitations—constraints of technology, function, user need and business realities—was where the beauty lay, and not there [in the fine art gallery] where there were no constraints.

As she has said to me more than once, "That's a very good question!"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Origins of Kawaii

I have figured out why the Japanese are masters of "Kawaii," or cuteness. Their cats have bigger eyes than ours do. Case in point, above. This is one of Junku's cats, made famous on his hit Flickr set, "Airborne Cats." To quote the photographer, "Junku's five daughters, Rika, Hime, Fuwari, Kin, and Nana jump gracefully, feverishly, and lovably. Their dancing surely makes you feel happy." If you haven't checked this amazing set of photos out, please do. It's time. This Flickr set does indeed, as they say, "make laugh and surprise to the world." And yes, there is a book.

Friday, July 11, 2008

An Ethnographic Interview Primer

Getting People to Talk: An Ethnography & Interviewing Primer from Gabe & Kristy on Vimeo.

The Illinois Institute of Technology's Gabe Biller and Kristy Scovel have created a nice introductory video on how to conduct an ethnographic interview. It features Dori Tunstall, who teaches a course called Design Ethnography at the University of Illinois Chicago and Colleen Murray of Jump Associates, along with a host of IIT folks. It's a job well done and well worth watching.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Inclusive Design Toolkit

The i~design research team has developed an Inclusive Design Toolkit, as they say it, "to support designers and those involved in product development, as well as providing a general guide to inclusive design for businesses." This is an image from one of the Impairment Simulators, empathy tools that simulate common vision and hearing impairments, in this case showing the effect of Retinitis Pigmentosa on a consumer's ability to use a vending machine interface. There is an impressive set of resources for product strategy, categorization of users, task analysis and evaluation, for designers and product development managers alike.