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No. 238: Ralph Nader’s Design Criticism, the Origins of SimCity, Rainbow Rolls for Equality + More

Well, we’ve once again made it to Friday—and a spring Friday, at that. Which, depending on where you are in the world, may or may not feel like Spring, but it’s coming, it’s definitely coming. To hold you over, we have five new projects for your perusal. Please enjoy this late March installment of Design Diary. And for more along these lines (and so many others) you can follow along all day, every day on Instagram @AIGAeyeondesignFacebook, and Twitter @AIGAeyeondesign.

LMNOP, Tokyo marathon collection for Nike

We’ve long admired LMNOP for its thoughtful-yet-playful approach to branding projects, and the way it applies the same level of thoughtfulness to commercial clients that other studios may reserve for cultural clients. So when they approached us this week with a new project for Nike, we weren’t at all surprised that it could pull off maintaining that approach even with the athletic-wear giant.

“As graphic designers who primarily work with digital and print media, we were wary of tackling an apparel design project,” the studio says about the new project, a capsule collection centered around the 2019 Tokyo marathon. “But it was our graphic sensibility that led Nike to approach us in the first place.” The designers focused the collection around the Japanese character for “run,” which they deconstructed to form a logo, repeat pattern, and signature tags. The result is a serene collection with a clever concept, now available for purchase in Asia, Europe, and the U.S..

Jono Brandel, Lost Treasures Found

When we last caught up with Jono Brandel, one of the only designers we know who’s won an Emmy, he was still at Google Creative Lab. He’s since packed up and left Big Tech and moved to Paris, where he’s pursuing an MFA in new media at Paris College of Art. Last week he sent over a new project he’s been working on: Lost Treasures Found, a hand-bound book that “questions the fidelity of state of machine learning techniques employed by Google and Apple.”

The book reimagines the Satyricon, a Latin novel written under the name of Titus Petronius in what scholars have concluded was likely 1st century AD. Brandel fed the story—an erotic, and at times comedic, account of daily life in Ancient Rome—through a custom algorithm that pairs the Latin text with emoji. The first part of the process translates the Latin to English using Google Translate. The second takes those English words and, when they align with an emoji in Apple’s emoji dictionary, replaces the original Latin word with that emoji. The result is a handcrafted book with a laser-engraved cover, the original Latin text peppered with emoji. In Brandel’s words, the printed book is “full of subversions that question the relationship of time and language through technology.”

New on Design Observer: Ralph Nader, design critic

Last week on our sister site, Design Observer, Steven Heller went head to head with none other than….Ralph Nader? Yes, the former presidential candidate and long-time consumer rights activist dipped his toe into some casual armchair design criticism via his blog, a space usually used for political opinions and current events commentary (sample post: OPEN LETTER TO BOEING – Passengers First, Ground the 737 MAX 8 Now!). Nader’s argument can be more or less summed up with the belief that the current trend in print newspaper design is to give precious space to the whims of “graphic artists” and less space to actual text, resulting in small type that he deems illegible.

Heller’s argument is more or less that Nader doesn’t know what he’s talking about—his argument is both uninformed and untrue—and Heller offers some compelling comebacks that evidence the careful consideration that goes into (and has always gone into) newspaper design hierarchy; considering space, legibility, and images/graphic elements that draw the eye. You can read the full thing, but I’ll leave you with a choice passage from our former New York Times art director:

“Function should not follow art,” which is true, but show me where these problems occur in any major newspaper section and I’ll vote for Mr. Nader the next time he runs for office. “Readers should not have to squint to make out the text on the page. Some readers might even abandon an article because of its illegible text! One wonders why editors have ceded control of the readability of their publications to graphic designers,” he adds, referring to no particular designers, art directors, or editors that I’ve ever met. Editors are very turf conscious. While Mr. Nader correctly states that “Editors cannot escape responsibility by saying that the graphic designers know best,” I don’t recall anyone like that among the many editors I’ve known.


Louise Borinski, “A Manifesto of Signs for Equality”

After visiting the final show at Universität der Künste in Berlin, we became impressed by Louise Borinski and her poster project, “A Manifesto of Signs for Equality.” We came for the ’60s-era rainbow roll, we stayed for the commentary on language as a shaping force of a more equal and just society. In Borinski’s words, “These signs provide a language in a world in which equality is the norm. In which femininity and masculinity are no longer important as constructs of society. In which we communicate with each other not only through language but also through new signs, appreciating each other and meet as equals, manifesting our social diversity as well as our individual diversity.” It’s a beautiful project, we’re excited to see where she goes next.

Logic Magazine, “Model Metropolis”

We’ve been doing a lot of early video game-playing over at Eye on Design (for research!), so we found it somewhat fortuitous to see this piece in Logic magazine on the origins of SimCity. The piece starts out with Will Wright, the developer who built the video game. Wright was merely world-building for a shoot-’em-up called Raid on Bungeling Bay, before deciding that the world-building on its own was entertaining enough as a game. To better understand how to build a city, he read a 1969 book by Jay Forrester called Urban Dynamics. Kevin T. Baker, the article’s author, looks into that book and Forrester’s theories on urban planning—supposedly backed-up by computer models that simulated city growth—which became popular among conservative and libertarian writers and Nixon Administration officials. And eventually, Will Wright and SimCity, a game that occupied a good chunk of many of our childhoods. It’s a fascinating read.


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