Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Newspaper Design

My brother is head of Information Services (or some fancy title) for the Chicago Tribune. I guess the move is away from print to "new media"— the internet and so forth. Meantime, they found time to redesign one of their newspapers, the Sun Sentinel. Not bad. Very nice, in fact.

Rather than take up bandwidth posting images, please follow the link www.visualeditors.com/apple/2008/08/live-pages-from-the-sunsentinel-redesign/

Comments, as always, appreciated.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Why is a striped T-shirt an icon for "small boy"? It helps if the stripes are red and white. Is there a similar icon for "little girl"?

What are other icons— especially those that may be useful in exhibit design? I can think of plenty of negative ones, starting with the old Cleveland Indians "logo". Eliciting a reaction— positive, one hopes (though negative may also be useful)— may help visitors relate to thematic concepts of an exhibition.

Images are from the New Yorker and Wikipedia.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts

Review of the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts.

A while ago, I went to visit the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, a new building by Tado Ando in St. Louis.

Previously, I saw a new exhibit gallery that Ando had done for the Art Institute of Chicago. I forget what exactly is on display (something Asian and pot-like, I think), but I remember the gallery itself somewhat better than what was on display. It was low and dim. My first thought was that this guy must be short, since the exhibit cases were, for the most part, low and in a band configuration (Dextra Frankel did this kind of thing much better about twenty years ago). The stoop-down-to-look-out programmatic philosophy is also carried out in the Pulitzer Foundation.

At the time of the opening, the Art Institute exhibit was very favorably reviewed, which left me, as an exhibit designer, somewhat taken aback since Ando was praised for doing many things that we are kind of not supposed to do, and the room is not all that interesting or exciting anyway.

The Art Institute room also has columns. The reviewers, especially in the architectural press, went mildly nuts over this seemingly groundbreaking innovation, but they’re just, you know, columns. So I was left in a dark almost as profound as that of the exhibit hall regarding the exhibit’s design and subsequent approval by Art Institute. I believe this is a permanent installation. So if you like austere, spare, not much content, and a spelunker’s headlamp to find your way, I suggest an exploratory evaluation next time you are at the Art Institute. Then spend some time looking at the Impressionists.

Musing upon the nature of fame in the design professions (and, particularly, architecture) I once asked a newspaper friend of mine why some of the least inspiring and innovative designers seem to get the most (and most favorable) press coverage. Apparently, it’s as simple as taking the appropriate editors out to frequent lunches. Your treat. Although the out-to-lunch process is only a small part of the concept of marketing expertise trumping design ability, I’m cynical enough to believe that this tactic has some truth to it. (for a brilliant and cogent analysis of this phenomenon, see The Painted Word by Tom Wolfe. It’s mostly about the NYNY Art world, but has plenty of resonance for designers as well). Mr. Ando, who is, very likely, a charming fellow, must have eaten many expensive lunches in St. Louis.

The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts (PFA) is open to the public on Wednesday (1p. - 7p.) and Saturday (11a. - 4p.). Fortunately, unlike 19th century institutions with a similar wary attitude regarding actual visitation by the public, admission is free, and I did not need “the recommendation of a gentleman” to be admitted. However, the hours of operation are almost a moot point, since the entrance is so well hidden that I (and other bewildered tourists i encountered) had to make almost a complete circuit of the building to find it (see photo).

The entrance is hidden. It is also foreboding. It is also enclosed by, no kidding, a heavy steel door. Granted, the door folds into a niche in the wall, but when it’s closed it’s closed. It’s not so welcoming when it’s open, for that matter. The entry really needs a zippy saying like “Arbeit Macht Frei” to complete the experience. Conceptually, though, the entrance probably conveys the appropriate feeling. In LA, if a restaurant sells barbecue, it is built in the shape of a pig. This kind of architecture occurs less frequently these days, but one still sees giant binoculars shilling for the entrance to an ad agency, so Ando may have been on the right track after all. I have also included an image of the buzzer which is the only communication with the outside world when those gates clang shut.

The interior details are very nicely done. Stairways, fixtures and furnishings are all of the highest quality of fit and finish. I would like a bathroom so quiet, austere and beautiful in my house— to say nothing of the fixtures in the prep kitchen. I wandered (with the possible exception of the bathroom—and even there, I’m not so sure—you are not allowed anywhere but the galleries. The Pulitzer folks seem wary of the problematic masses) where you really are not supposed to, but the whole place was empty, so I took the chance. Daylight floods in in the public spaces. I visited on a bright, sunny day. The ceiling heights vary, so I’m not sure if artificial lighting is adequate in the high-ceilinged main gallery on a cloudy day.

I feel sorry, though, for the security personnel (I spoke to two. They are art students, and one off-duty police officer) who spend must spend longer than a few minutes at a stretch in the gallery spaces. The galleries are austere to the point of being numbing. With few exceptions, the walls are raw concrete. There are some interesting angles and vaults, but the overall ambiance is almost devoid of visual interest.

When I first came in, I looked for labels for the artwork. The nice volunteer woman told me that there are no labels. Instead, they hand you a laminated card. On the card is a map of the walls with numbered rectangles representing the paintings. You then turn the card over, find the number and read the description. Now that, friends, is minimalism. I tried to make off with the card as an amazing souvenir, but that, like unauthorized wandering, is not permitted.

The handout that accompanied the first installation by that stunningly content-less minimalist Ellsworth Kelly, states that “The galleries resonate with two voices in a dialogue between the colors and shapes of Kelly’s works and the meditative spaces of the Ando architecture.” Unfortunately, that dialogue consists mostly of silence. If you come to the art museum to meditate, this is your kind of place. You must meditate standing up, though, as there is minimal seating in the galleries. I got the feeling that sitting on the floor would be unwise. There are some Meis’ Barcelona chairs on an upper landing, but these seem arranged so that visitors may contemplate Ando’s outdoor grass garden— a long rectangle of…grass…in a concrete trough. The “first (and seemingly permanent) installation” is a good union of the formless and the content-less: nothing to look at and nothing to look at it in.

Hidden in a small, low-ceiling gallery at the south end of the building is a small collection of Cubist and Post-Impressionist works by Picasso and Pisarro. That off-duty STL police officer observed that he was glad for that visual relief or else he’d “go nuts”. Unfortunately, for him as well as for visitors, last time I looked, the cubists had been replaced with a depressingly minimalist installation. In addition to being minimal, the exhibit is grotesque and ugly. It will be there “indefinitely”.

I made my last visit to try for some interior images, but I was informed that this, like much else in the institution, was strictly forbidden. I hope that the exterior shots are legal, as I was standing pretty close to the building to take them. What is their perceived circle of legality? How far away do you have to be to avoid the Pulitzer Art Police boiling out of the museum, nightsticks at the ready, like some artistic version of the religious police (mutaween) in Islamic countries who will beat you up for glancing at a single woman.

Meandering through the museum there are views to the exterior on Washington Street. Directly across the street is a restored Victorian house. With apologies to Adolph Loos, I found myself longing for ornament— something to connect to our need to decorate. My personal design philosophy tends toward the Swiss school. That is, generally, we don’t want our artistic ego getting in the way of your interaction with the nicknacks on display. Nothing too flashy to compete with the objects. But the eye wants something to look at. Mr. Ando has stripped the body of content so bare that you are left with a disturbingly empty skeleton.

Monday, August 4, 2008

One More…

Couldn't resist. Now i'll stop. And thanks to commenters

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Usually, the term refers to an indignity perpetrated on young men of the less athletic persuasion by their more robust classmates, usually in the context of the men's restroom. However, i think it could also apply to a disturbing trend in graphic design.

The "swirley" is almost always a black spiral-y silhouette made up of forms that are, somehow, supposed to relate to the product, service, or concept offered. I took the first image in a gaming lounge at a European airport about six months ago. The next is the "logo" of my erstwhile French colleagues. I don't know what else to call it. It's supposed to describe their offered services in graphics and media— probably as successfully as the first image describes… gaming. Or whatever.

Is the swirley strictly a European phenominon, or are they teaching this flat, formless, and confusing solution in American design schools as well?

Friday, August 1, 2008

First Post

Apologies to colleagues who may have tried to post here. It seems that, instead of leaving the random original thought, you may only respond to my posts. Hardly seems fair.

Anyway, you are now welcome to leave comments. If i have an original thought about design (or, god knows, anything else), i'll post it and await the deluge of comments.

As i figure things out on this they-think-it's-intuitive-but-it's-not site, i'll be posting images and other useless trivia.