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sukey

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Back at the occupation I’d joke sometimes with the students running the “media table” that so successful were their efforts that there would undoubtedly be recruiters from the marketing firms running down from Charlotte Street to sign them up – thus enabling them to complete the maneuver from protest to advertising that their “elders and betters” made back in the 1960s. I’m pretty sure, thank christ, that hasn’t happened yet. Rather, incredibly cheeringly, it looks like the reverse is going on. Students with undoubtedly marketable skills are putting them to ever better uses. Check out Sukey, from the folks at the IT table. From their press release:

The group who gave you pictures of Godzilla in the Thames from the protests against the student fees increase are back with a new website and mobile phone application to help keep peaceful protesters safe.

Every week, more and more people of all ages and from all walks of life are taking to the streets to show their unease at the depth, speed and savagery of coalition cuts to social services, education, library closures, restructuring of the NHS and the proposed sell-off of Britain’s forests. These are the largest series of demonstrations in the UK since the ‘Stop the War’ protests in 2003.

In order to keep peaceful protesters informed with live information that will assist them in keeping clear of trouble spots, avoid injury and from being unnecessarily detained a group of talented young computer experts has developed a free product called Sukey.

Sukey is both a website and an application for mobile phones. Even those with older handsets can take part through free SMS messages.

Sukey lets people taking part have all the information they need to make informed decisions while letting their friends and family keep an eye on what is happening from home so they can be assured that their loved ones are safe.

Sukey invites people taking part to share their experience via social media and combines this with information from traditional news sources to hand it straight back to the crowd and let them see what is going on around them as it happens.

Sukey is easy to use and will help keep people safe and informed of the official demonstration route together with any en-route amenities they may need like wifi points, public toilets, tube stations, first aid points, coffee shops and payphones.

Those not at the demonstration can follow along with live movies, photos and accounts straight from the protest getting all the news as it breaks.

All information shared by those at the event is anonymised and the privacy of all users is respected at all times.

Everyone has the right to peaceful protest. Sukey makes sure that the experience can be a safe and effective way for people to make their voices heard.

 

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January 28, 2011 at 11:30 am

in boxes

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Nice photospread in Saturday’s FT by Michael Wolf, who “used a telephoto lens to take a surreptitious look behind the façades of Chicago’s international-style architectural gems, he fantasised he would see ‘thrilling things,'” but found of course only banal working and more working….

Also worth looking at the pocket history of the office cubicle that comes at the end of this week’s magazine…

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March 30, 2009 at 12:31 pm

corbubarbican

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Seen and snapped at the Corbusier exhibition at the Barbican yesterday afternoon.

Frequent commenter and old friend Pollian wondered whether the word conscience was right or whether it would have more properly been translated consciousness. Presuming the original was conscience, he’s probably right. It’s a rather important difference, no? I’ll have to take a look at the source when I get a chance…

Oh, there was also this, that I’m going to have to look into more deeply – especially the Philips connection:

(A little background at wikipedia on the poeme electronique…)

Otherwise, dear readers, this has been the most intense term of work I have ever experienced. Whittled right down to the bone I am. Spent today finishing a piece on the Communism Conference that was supposed to weigh-in at 1600 words, but is currently 3700 words. Erk! So tomorrow will be slashing and burning in the morning, followed by writing a lecture on something I know nothing about except things like this and this. (Can you figure out the lecture topic?) But term is over in five days and then I’ll undoubtedly start a summer of blogincessance, or something. Off for my nightly five n’ some…


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March 23, 2009 at 12:24 am

Posted in design, Uncategorized

neurath into narrative

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Ah this is just amazing…

I haven’t yet had time to digest all of this, as I only just found it now, but what’s immediately fantastic about this is that the narrativized isotypes tell just the right kind of story – perfect form and content cohesion. *

The work, “The Book of the Ground,” is by an artist named Xu Bing whose webpage you can see here. What’s even more fantastic, perhaps, than the thing itself is the computer program that he’s devised in order to write in this language.

Book from the Ground is a novel written in a “language of icons” that I have been collecting and organizing over the last few years. Regardless of cultural background, one should be able understand the text as long as one is thoroughly entangled in modern life. We have also created a “font library” computer program to accompany the book. The user can type English sentences (we are still limited in this way, but the next step will include Chinese and other major languages) and the computer will instantaneously translate them into this language of icons. It can function as a “dictionary,” and in the future it will have practical applications.

Where can I download a copy of that? Feels like it should have come with my eee (yes I bought one, sorry pollian! you know how I get with these things – have seen it from the fucking iPaq and Clie on, no?)

From what I can tell, when the Book was exhibited at Moma, a computer was set up to allow chatting in the pictographic language:

Mmmm. Utopian, modernist, universalist chat.

Anyway, I’m still collecting my thoughts (and, really, myself) after finding all of this. There’s a lot more to say. Perhaps the first thing to consider are the stakes and ramifications of narrativizing a picto-linguistic form that was designed from the start in resistence to narrativization. And Xu Bing says a few questionable things about the relationship between his project and the universal reign of capital (“Capital has become the new global language of power, but it must still undergo large-scale unification before it can more effectively control commerce” – oh, is that what we’re up to then?) And there might be, just might be, a relationship between these two problems. More thought required! I certainly hope it isn’t a case of “The Book of the Ground” is to Neurath and Arntz as the Saks Sack is to Rodchenko!

But for now, I’m very happy to see all of this. Mmmm work-fodder is almost as good as utopian chat forms! God knows we need both!

* I’m more nervous about labelling the form / content cohesion “perfect” at the end of this post than I was at the beginning. More soon! I promise promise!

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February 11, 2009 at 1:14 am

mosselprom on fifth avenue, and the afterlife of constructivism

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a new ad campaign from saks fifth avenue

a new ad campaign from saks fifth avenue

There’s a piece in the IHT today on constructivism. Ah, a specter’s haunting, you know, the ad men. But there are more serious / valuable paragraphs that come after the stuff about Saks.

Constructivism is also a critical influence on the creation of digital imagery. This is partly because of the intellectual link from the original Soviet Constructivists to contemporary software designers. The trajectory begins with Moholy-Nagy, who worked in the United States with his fellow Hungarian, Gyorgy Kepes, on early theories of the construction of mechanical images. Kepes shared their thinking with his students, including Bass, and later with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among them the pioneering technologists Muriel Cooper and Nicholas Negroponte. The digital artist John Maeda studied under them and then taught Ben Fry and Casey Reas, the inventors of Processing, the advanced software that produces visualization, arguably the most compelling new visual language of our time.

Visualization, or “viz” as it is nicknamed, crunches through complex data to create digital images that explain its meaning clearly. As dynamic digital media, visualizations can be constantly updated, enabling them to illustrate changing information and complicated concepts that are too elusive to be depicted accurately on traditional charts or graphs. Geopolitical developments, such as population shifts, and virtual phenomena, like the flow of Internet traffic, lend themselves to visualization, as do scientific and medical theories. Among the most ambitious applications is the Blue Brain Project in Lausanne, where a group of neuroscientists is trying to create a visualization of the human brain, in the hope that it can be used to help find cures for Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.

The “viz” phenomenon owes more to Soviet Constructivism than its academic pedigree. When Rodchenko and Popova designed posters and pamphlets for the Soviet state, they were trying to help a confused and largely illiterate population to make sense of the dramatic changes in their daily lives. New laws. New institutions. New working practices. New expectations. New taboos. Their striking collages must have looked as exhilarating to 1920s workers as luscious digital visualizations do to us today, and shared the same aim of helping people to make sense of the complexity of modern life. That’s why there’s so much more to Constructivism than a style that shifts slouchy bags.

This is a story that I didn’t really know, but I’m glad to learn. I’ve begun work on a project on simplicity and modernism, and I must admit that I first became fixated on the term when I was reading John Maeda’s blog and looking at his book on the topic. But I had no idea that there was a traceable genealogy back to exactly the stuff that I’ll probably, long way around, start the project with…

Ah, sometimes, despite what I said and then redacted, it feels really good to be an academic and a blogger, and whatever else it is that I might be. If I could actually find room for all of this stuff in the book that I want to write, man….

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February 9, 2009 at 10:01 pm

wishful thinking

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From Readymade and via Boredom is Always Counter-Revolutionary, a poster series:

Given the current economic meltdown, this 75th anniversary of the New Deal has particular resonance. How might the current government stem the tide of economic and psychological depression? Can artists and designers help in similar ways today? It’s curious that the WPA style has been reprised in the recent past as a quaint retro conceit, but today may be an opportune time for a brand-new graphic language—equal in impact to the original initiative, but decidedly different—to help rally the cause of hope and optimism.

Though it’s a fun idea that Readymade has here, the posters are dispiriting for at least three reasons.

  1. Aesthetically, they reach no higher plane than the better JetBlue brand campaigns. If the past was helvetican, the future of public art, apparently, brings the serif back into the fold in a goof-folk way. Ugh… And age of aquarius flowerglobs and bloombursts! Anything but that!
  2. The best we can hope for, it seems, is the meager consolation of the reusable shopping-bag college town shabby affluent ethicalism. We won’t have much, but what we have will be green….  Rather than the contemporary equivalent of rural electrification, we get nothing more than good feelings and above all else unanchored hope for its own sake.
  3. Of course, Readymade’s project is meant to be aspirational, at the best suggestive, rather than predicative. But there is something frustrating about even the halfhearted or semicomical discussion of the possibility WPA-type support for creatives in the current environment. It simply isn’t going to happen – there is zero chance that any of us end up writing or illustrating guidebooks or muraling post offices.

Sorry to break it to us, but there simply won’t be public service design and writing stipends rolling around. Just as Obama’s new roads and bridges will be subcontracted out rather than built by armies of federal employees, if new work there is to be for folks like us think more along the lines of back-to-work facilitator or dry-erase confidence augmenter under the aegis of some private corporation running JobCentre or workfare offices.

Merry Christmas! Sorry…. Here, some comic relief, or preemptive training in the skill of skills-training, or something…

On a related note,  there are ominous signs that the primary existing form of state support for intellectuals, academic work (you know, the sort of support where the salary comes with the added perk of a free – and manditory – mental spay / neuter), seems to be headed towards crisis as or more rapidly than we expected. This cover article in the Guardian about the rapidly shrinking endowments of Russell Group universities led our departmental Christmas lunch to be dominated by conversations about any other transferable skills that we might individually possess. (Typing? Private Tutoring? Copyediting?) And of course the pampered types at Russell Group unis here or Ivies over there have the least to worry about. IT has been, as usual, excellent of late on the way that what the crisis will bring, in a sense, is nothing more than a continuation of the status quo at many places.

Although it currently looks like a good idea to be a public servant of one kind or another (as the spivs in shiny shoes run off to teacher training college), it won’t be long before the financial crisis hits universities hard (funny how the ‘trickle-down’ is so much more effective when it’s the redistribution of loss). Small departments are in big trouble. Any good will extended towards the future (‘give us five years to prove how good we could be!’) will be retracted in the name of short-term savings. Informed once again the other day that our department was not in the strongest position because we had no ‘stars’, it was hard not to imagine senior management pitting small programmes against one another in a kind of X-factor head-to-head (But she once had a piece in the Guardian! But he appeared on Newsnight! Isn’t he friends with Martin Amis? Doesn’t she have contacts in the city?).

The management solution, of course, is to cut the time allowed for research (while at the same time push for constant publication) and demand cuts in teaching (‘why can’t you run seminars with 20?’) in favour of the churning out of grant applications. Sod the students! Once they’re here we’ve got their money, who cares if they repeatedly tell us they want more teaching and more seminars and more intellectual engagement? And PhD students! Get lots of them! They bring in tons of cash! Too bad you don’t have enough time to write anything on a topic that someone might want to come and work with you on.

And of course, of course – just before many of you cancel out the rss feed on my site – the potential plight of the already employed is absolutely nothing in comparison to the very real and right-now shit situation faced by the not-yet-employed. While it’s always been bleak, this year it’s beyond bleak. And I’m sure next year it will be even worse, as the last few jobs that were already in the pipeline will have already spilled out at the terminus. I write people to see how their searches are going, always a delicate email to compose and to respond to. This year, friends simply don’t write back.

So, look. None of this is going to lead to the fulfillment of that weird fantasy that so many of us seem to share of shuffling out of the office in the department to write banal travel guides of Delaware or join a troupe of travelling avant-garde actors touring the smaller cities and rural high schools of our great nations. Nothing good, I imagine, will come of this, but if it did – if we were asked to suggest something – I wonder what solution we would come up with in order to relieve the reserve armies of immaterial labor when they’re (we’re) finished being put out of work. One solution would be to radically boost primary and secondary school funding, but this strategy comes with its own distinctive perils. (Here’s IT again…)

More to come…

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December 13, 2008 at 12:02 pm

oneiric overground

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The London Overground is a very strange thing indeed. If you’ve only ever visited London, it’s likely that you’ve never used it. While the Underground generally plunges straight from the fringes into the center – the exception being the Circle line and those that share its tracks – the Overground remains content to wander around the northern and western extentions of the city. When it actually makes contact with the center, say at Euston, it almost seems accidental, the result of a wrong turn somewhere along the line.

The stations are the best part of the whole thing. Unlike on the one hand the Underground’s claustrophobic narrowness, constant busy-ness, and iconic look, or on the other hand, the National Rail stations with their trunkline hugeness, the Overground stations are uncannily quaint and often very quiet. Trains are rare on weekends, twice an hour at best.  And the stations are rural looking!  They have the look of some sort of regional rail system built for a not-too-densely populated place. (Another post to be written – what better topic for a proud New Jerseyan like me – about urban woods, roadside woods, the things that you imagine go on there and the things that really do…)

In fact, there is something about the Overground stations that makes me what to call them the sort of station that appears in one’s dreams. (Do I really mean my dreams or one’s dreams?) They look like scene settings for the softer sort of nightmare, the ones that feature maddening repetition and anxiety-inducing confusions, rather than the threat of violence, the threat of real injury. The sort of station where disturbing cinematic effects should be staged – the train with no driver or the train with faceless passengers, the passenger who is always there waiting for a train that never comes, the experience of waiting for a train but having them each one skip your stop, miss your platform, over and over and over and over and over.

It bears mentioning, too, that the Overground can have a disorienting effect on your psychogeographical gestalt. Since it cuts across rather than down, it bridges distances swiftly that ordinarily seem quite vast. Crouch Hill to West Hampstead seems like an impossible distance to travel by bus or underground, but passes in minutes on the train. As if the layout of the city has been compressed, folded – or even that the Hampstead Tunnel itself has opened a rent in the continuity of the city.

It is a bit like dreamwork, the work that the Overground does. Displacement, condensation – the spatialization of time (or is it the other way around?) And it is no wonder, given the contours of its route, its avoidance of the terminals. After all, Freud long ago spelled out the deal when it came to trains that never quite make it to the center city.

Perversions are sexual activities which either (a) extend, in an anatomical sense, beyond the regions of the body that are designed for sexual union, or (b) linger over the intermediate relations to the sexual object which should normally be traversed rapidly on the path towards the final sexual aim.

Both the dream and the perversion smear and blur fetishism, temporalize it, prolong it away from teleology and thus propriety. Wayward mass transit systems like the London Overground, weed-choked and slow, take us places but never anywhere near the goal. In doing so, they re-think for us the city, the psychological directionality that it dictates, the desires it desires us to hold and those we hold that it normally resists.

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December 1, 2008 at 4:32 pm

Posted in design, uncanny