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Posts Tagged ‘design’

Ready Player None

January 7, 2016 | by

Talking to Jonathan Blow about his new game, The Witness.

From The Witness.

“Don’t print this,” Jonathan Blow tells me. I’ve just asked him how his game The Witness is going to end, having spent an hour playing it alone at the Bryant Park Hotel—in a suite I’d discovered was actually Blow’s personal room when I got a glass of water. He’d gone to the lobby so I wouldn’t feel like I was being watched as I played. I felt immediately conscious of being in someone else’s space as I stepped through the bedroom to reach the bathroom sink. The bed was still unmade; a small bag sat agape on a chair beside a pile of clothes in the corner. Blow’s games excel at making one conscious of these things: of being in someone else’s territory, at once intimate and opaque. Like unknowingly stepping into someone’s bedroom, it’s natural, when you play his games, to want to make sure you can find your way back out again, even as you think about going further in.

Blow is the designer of two commercial games—2008’s Braid and now The Witness, due out later this month—and he’s as much a point of fascination as his creations. A 2012 profile in The Atlantic by Taylor Clark called him “the most dangerous gamer.” Though Braid added, by his own admission, “a lot of zeroes” to his bank account, he lives in a largely unfurnished apartment in Oakland, displaying what Clark described as “a total indifference toward the material fruits of wealth.” His longtime friend and programmer, Chris Hecker, told Clark, “You have to approach Jon on Jon’s terms. It’s not ‘Let’s go out and have fun.’ It’s more like ‘Let’s discuss this topic,’ or ‘Let’s work on our games.’ You don’t ask Jon to hang out, because he’ll just say ‘Why?’ ” Read More »

Russian Book Jackets from the 1930s

January 7, 2016 | by

E. Kuznetsov, Circus, 1931.

These Russian book jackets from the thirties are among the many riches on offer in the New York Public Library’s newly enhanced digital collections. Below are some favorites; you can see the whole collection hereRead More »

Panties Inferno: An Interview with Peter Larkin

December 24, 2015 | by

We’re away until January 4, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2015. Please enjoy, and have a happy New Year!

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Peter Larkin

Making a pop-up book about burlesque.

My mother Racelle, a painter, met the production designer Peter Larkin in the midsixties when she went to work for him as a scenic artist. After my parents divorced, Peter and Racelle became an item, eventually marrying. Peter had a long, Tony Award–winning Broadway career and then moved into film, designing pictures like Tootsie and Get Shorty. He’s a brilliant illustrator, as well—Ralph Allen, who’d conceived the musical Sugar Babies, collaborated with Peter on his book The Best Burlesque.

Burlesque, it turns out, is one of Peter’s great obsessions. Over the past twenty years, he’s created a mass of drawings, mock-ups, and maquettes for Panties Inferno, a pop-up book on the subject. Now eighty-eight, he continues to refine the work, though publishers have told him the book is too expensive to manufacture and publish—something about the glue points. But his pop-ups and drawings are wonderful, a testament to his comprehensive knowledge of the old burlesque scene. I called him to talk about his process and the basis of his fascination with burlesque as well as its history, which he feels has been mischaracterized since burlesque began to die out in the late fifties and early sixties.

Where does burlesque begin, for you?

The word burla is some kind of antique Italian. It means “joke,” and the first burlesque was imitations of what went on uptown. It was a family affair. People brought their lunches and stuff. Florenz Ziegfeld had The Ziegfeld Follies, which probably cost a lot of money—that show had nude ladies in tableaux, but they were forbidden to move. The curtain opened on Aladdin’s cave, say, or an artist’s studio, and all the ladies were still.

But in the early twentieth century, forward-thinking people like the Minsky brothers, of Minsky’s Burlesque, made it so that for a lot less money you could go and see the women moving. It changed tremendously through the years. These acts started out with a preponderance of acts and comics and maybe one or two strippers, and as it went on, more and more time was given over to strippers. The comics were furious. They started to use bluer material, to get even. Read More >>

Criterion at Thirty

October 27, 2015 | by

CriterionDesigns_BBS_coversI’d always thought that designing new packaging for a classic film was like designing a jacket for a new edition of a well-known book: both are associated, in the popular imagination, with familiar, even beloved, graphics. If the designer strays too far from the original vision, the potential for public outcry is high. But where a book offers visual freedom—our minds are free to imagine the scenes and the various characters—a movie comes with a profusion of visual material that’s not soon forgotten. There’s the original theatrical poster, and then, of course, there’s the very film itself, and all the iconic images we associate with it. For designers, translating a director’s vision is hard enough the first time. How do you do it again?

The Criterion Collection is known for its impeccable taste in classic and contemporary films, and for the artful packaging that puts these films in a much-needed new light. Late last year, I sat down with their head art director of more than a decade, Sarah Habibi, and designer/art director Eric Skillman, who were celebrating the recent publication of a book they’d produced at breakneck speed in time for Criterion’s thirtieth anniversary: Criterion Designs, an illumination of their process in imagining some of the collection’s most successful projects. Read More »

Beauty at the Cash Register, and Other News

October 19, 2015 | by

From the cover of Design for Point of Sale.

  • Weimar Berlin is “typically presented as a nonstop freak show of grotesque transvestites and mutilated war vets, lumpen Brechtian beggars and top-hatted industrialists, Charleston-crazed floozies, effete gigolos, and brazen rent boys”: imagery at once bolstered and challenged by “Berlin Metropolis: 1918–1933,” an exhibition at Neue Galerie. “Drawing on 350 well-chosen examples displayed in six jam-packed galleries arranged by Richard Pandiscio (who also designed the handsome catalog), the survey summons up the fast-paced, jittery, but scintillating atmosphere of a wide-open world city that attracted foreign hedonists enticed by its louche nightlife.”
  • Chris Ware’s new illustrated essay is about why he loves comics, in a very, very, very big-picture sense: he invokes neuroscience, linguistics, and cosmology. “Really, when one comes right down to it, in the end, that’s all we have. Our memories! Not to bum anyone out, though … As organisms on a planet that’s bifurcated by a daily passing dance between shadow and radiation, comics are, like, the perfect art form!”
  • Today in midcentury design nostalgia: Ladislav Sutnar’s Design for Point of Sale, a 1952 guide inflected with the ideals of the Bauhaus, is “easily the most exquisite book about supermarket store displays ever created.” Here, at last, is your chance to master that most delicate art: retail. Sutnar—who was also the guy who told Bell Telephone to put area codes in parentheses, a major advance in telephone-number design—gives us “page after page of beautiful layouts with ample white space, as well as his architectural renderings of point-of-purchase display spaces.”
  • While we’re stuck in the fifties, go ahead and answer these questions: In a first edition would you prefer a soiled original binding to one in morocco? What great country has never produced a great painter? Would you like to see more of our public buildings decorated by artists? What is the origin of the romantic conception of love in the Western world? Name several of the leading nineteenth-century antagonists of revealed religion. These are drawn from The Cultured Man, a 1958 book of quizzes that aimed to elevate mankind by asking him not just about facts, but about his attitudes. Its author, Ashley Montagu, believed that “a person considered ‘cultured’ would not just be able to readily summon facts, but also to access humane feelings,” and that nothing could access these feelings quite like a good quiz.
  • On Percival Everett, whose new collection of stories, Half an Inch of Water, extends his satirical purview: “He rarely does publicity, doesn’t write reviews, and doesn’t read reviews of his own work; he is probably not coming soon to a bookstore near you. His novels tend to be both choppy and dense, with chapters broken up into one- or two-page scenes that are riven with philosophical asides, interpolations from outside texts, wordplay, classical allusions, self-interrogations, metafictional interjections, and the occasional photograph, drawing, mathematical equation, or semiotic square … Everett’s novels suggest that the self is a patch job, a cognitive illusion. It’s no surprise, then, that the shift to the third person in his short fiction feels like a kind of liberation, a sweet relief. And if the price of that shift is a loss of intimacy or immediacy, the reward is composure and lucidity —which, it turns out, are not the same as comprehension. You can see something clearly and still not know what to make of it, or even what it is.”

The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic

August 24, 2015 | by

Oskar Garvens, 1925.

Compared to other aspects of the book arts—typography, binding, tooling—the dust jacket is a pretty recent innovation. Depending on whom you ask, it was born either in 1833, to adorn an English novel called Heath’s Keepsake, or it was an earlier, French invention, a maturation of the yellow paper jackets their softcover books often came wrapped in.

In any case, the dust jacket didn’t come to Germany until around 1900—but by the birth of the Weimar Republic, nineteen years later, German artists were doing incredible things with the medium. The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic is a catalogue of the Jürgen and Waltraud Holstein collection, comprising the covers of a thousand books published between 1919 and 1933 by some 250 houses in Berlin. Between the two world wars, the city enjoyed an astonishing expansion in its book production and its libraries: from 1920 to 1927, about three hundred new publishing houses emerged, many of them intent on printing books that experimented with the latest advances in art and design. As Steven Heller explains at Design Observer, there was a practical reason for the design boom, too: Read More »