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kottke.org posts about design

Kaleidoscope Brain: 100 Visualizations of Moby-Dick

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2021

the letters of the alphabet in order of their appearance in Moby-Dick

the constellation Cetus (aka 'The Whale')

every color in Moby-Dick

Peter Gorman of Barely Maps has published a wonderful little book called Kaleidoscope Brain that contains 100 visualizations of Moby-Dick. Gorman read Herman Melville’s masterpiece last year and made these maps & graphics to help him make sense of it.

I read Moby-Dick in April 2020. For weeks afterward, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I started making maps and diagrams as a way to figure it out.

Moby-Dick is infamous for its digressions. Throughout the book, the narrator disrupts the plot with contemplations, calculations, and categorizations. He ruminates on the White Whale, and the ocean, and human psychology, and the night sky, and how it all relates back to the mystery of the unknown. His narration feels like a twisting-turning struggle to explain everything.

Reading Moby-Dick actually made me feel like that-like I’d mentally absorbed its spin-cycle style. I developed a case of “Kaleidoscope Brain.” The maps I was making were obsessive and encyclopedic. They were newer and weirder and they digressed beyond straightforward geography.

The book is available as a free download on Gorman’s Patreon — support his efforts if you find them valuable!

Above, from top to bottom: the letters of the alphabet in order of their appearance in the book, the constellation Cetus (aka “The Whale”), every color in the book.

Impossible Type

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2021

a sample of a typeface with impossible shapes

a sample of a typeface with impossible shapes

From Macedonian designer Fleta Selmani, a typeface called Impossible Type that was inspired by the impossible geometries of M.C. Escher.

See also more typefaces inspired by Escher’s work.

Retro Modern Movie Posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2021

retro modern movie poster for Groundhog Day

retro modern movie poster for Star Wars

retro modern movie poster for Dunkirk

Check out these retro modern movie posters from Patrick Concepcion; the Groundhog Day one is simple perfection. You can check out Concepcion’s work on his website and Instagram or buy prints on Etsy.

New USPS Stamps Celebrate the Sun

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2021

postage stamp with an image of a plasma blast from the Sun

postage stamp with an image of a solar flare from the Sun

a group of postage stamps featuring images of the Sun

The US Postal Service has released a set of Sun Science stamps that use images from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory to illustrate different solar phenomena like plasma blasts, sunspots, and solar flares.

Printed with a foil treatment that adds a glimmer to the stamps, the images on these stamps come from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, a spacecraft launched in February 2010 to keep a constant watch on the sun from geosynchronous orbit above Earth. The striking colors in these images do not represent the actual colors of the sun as perceived by human eyesight. Instead, each image is colorized by NASA according to different wavelengths that reveal or highlight specific features of the sun’s activity.

One of the stamps highlights sunspots, two feature images of coronal holes, two show coronal loops, two depict plasma blasts, one is a view of an active sun that emphasizes its magnetic fields, and two show different views of a solar flare.

NASA has more on the science behind the images on the stamps and the whole set of stamps are available for purchase online.

See also A Decade of the Sun.

Sourcing Design Objects Used in Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 17, 2021

Production designers working on science fiction movies and TV shows are part-time magicians because they routinely have to invent the future using things from the present. The site Star Trek + Design is collecting the futuristic design objects — chairs, cups, silverware, sofas — that designers used on the sets of Star Trek movies and TV shows to depict the future.

Being drawn to the aesthetics of Trek, especially of The Next Generation, made me curious about the specific objects that set designers used to create the visual embodiment of what living and working on a starship would look like in a technologically-advanced, post-scarcity future.

For instance, this is an RBT Chair by Teknion used in Star Trek: Discovery:

a chair used in Star Trek

Park Avenue glasses made by Anchor Hocking were used for barware in TNG:

a drinking glass used in Star Trek

Voyager used Arne Jacobsen’s AJ Flatware in several episodes (as did Kubrick’s 2001):

flatware used in Star Trek

Check out the site for many more sourced objects.

See also Film and Furniture, a Site About the Decor in Movies.

Some Fun Typefaces for 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 16, 2021

colorful blocky typeface by Khyati Trehan

colorful blocky typeface by Khyati Trehan

Adobe recently announced the winners of their 36 Days of Type contest and Khyati Trehan’s effort (pictured above) was among them. I also really liked David Oku’s colorful animated typeface. You can check out more work from this year’s project here and here (including this entry of handmade and found items).

The Typography of Watches

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2021

closeup view of the typography on a watch face

closeup view of the typography on a watch face

closeup view of the typography on a watch face

From Our Favourite Uses of Typography in Watches:

Good typography should be almost unnoticeable. Blending seamlessly into the rest of the design, it should tell you everything you need to know, without you being aware of it. Despite the many restrictions that are applied to dial layout, the creativity that can be seen in typography across horology is quite staggering. To put it simply, typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible and appealing when displayed. As the dial is the main point of interaction with a watch, it is arguably one of its most important parts, and certainly one that can produce the most emotion. This is why typeface can play such a vital, yet subtle, role in how we experience and feel about a certain piece.

(via the fox is black)

Flat-Packed Pastas That Pop Open When Cooked

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 02, 2021

Flat Packed Pasta

Inspired by space-saving flat-packed furniture, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University have developed a technique for making pasta shapes that start out flat when dry but “morph” into their final 3D shapes when cooked. The secret is stamping different groove patterns into the pasta dough.

The solution: something Wang, Yao, and their co-authors term “groove-based transient morphing.” They found that stamping flat pasta sheets with different groove patterns enabled them to control the final pasta shape after cooking. According to the authors, the grooves increase how long it takes to cook that part of the pasta. So those areas expand less than the smooth areas, giving rise to many different shapes.

The team found that the pasta reached its maximum bending angle after about 12 minutes and retained this angle for around 20 minutes before it began to bend back. The researchers were able to produce simple helical and cone shapes, as well as more complex saddles and twists (the latter achieved by introducing double-sided grooves).

I am assuming those grooves would also aid in holding sauce better, a topic we’ve delved into recently. You can read the full research paper on the morphing pasta here. (via the prepared)

Pencil Typography

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2021

a bunch of pencils showing the printing and logos on them

Even just looking at photos of pencils, I can still smell the sheets of mimeograph paper hot off the ditto machine.

Winners of the 2021 Type Directors Club Design Awards

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2021

Peace + love mural

Apple icons

book cover for Black Futures

signage for the SF Symphony

The Type Directors Club has announced the winners of their two design competitions: TDC67 Communication Design and 24TDC Typeface Design. (via print)

The Pantone Pee Chart

posted by Jason Kottke   May 11, 2021

chart of 5 gradations of urine color that relate to hydration level

Urine color is an indicator of how hydrated you are and Pantone are the color experts, so of course they’ve teamed up with a Scottish bottled water company to produce a chart with 5 color gradations that help you determine your hydration level. But 10 glasses of water a day?! I’m not sure the science supports that, particularly since we get a lot of our recommended intake from regular food & beverage consumption.

It remains unclear where the “8 x 8” water intake recommendation comes from. Perhaps, this two-liter intake threshold is derived from a misinterpretation of original recommendations offered by the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board in 1945 as well as the 2017 European Food Safety Authority, which states the daily recommended amount of water includes all beverages plus the moisture contained in foods.

This means that the moisture contained in foods, especially fresh fruits, sodas, juices, soups, milk, coffee and, yes, even beer, contributes to this daily recommended water requirement. These guidelines go on to suggest that most of the recommended water content can be accomplished without drinking additional cups of plain water.

(via print)

Proposed Post-Pandemic New Yorker Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 26, 2021

Tomer Hanuka asked his third-year illustration students at SVA to “come up with a post-pandemic New Yorker magazine cover” and posted some of their wonderful & thoughtful work to Twitter. Here are a few that caught my eye:

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

New Yorker Post Pandemic

The second cover down, by Katrina Catacutan, is probably my favorite (the body language of the woman answering the door is just perfect) but the last image by Amy Young hit me like a ton of bricks. The New Yorker should run all of these covers for an issue of the magazine in a few weeks — collect them all!

A Collection of Hand-Lettered Marvel Superhero Logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2021

Marvel Logos

Reagan Ray has compiled a collection of hand-lettered Marvel superhero logos from before the computer animation era. (via print)

XXXX Swatchbook, a Book of CMYK Embroidery

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2021

XXXX Swatchbook

XXXX Swatchbook

XXXX Swatchbook

Back in January, Clive Thompson asked his Twitter followers for links to books of unusual dimensions. In the resulting thread, people shared images and links to books of all different shapes and sizes, from Irma Boom’s miniature books to the Codex Gigas to a book of Kraft American Singles (my contribution). Designer Evelin Kasikov’s XXXX Swatchbook, a handmade book about CMYK printing constructed entirely of embroidery thread and paper, would fit nicely into that collection.

XXXX Swatchbook shows the range of colours that can be achieved in handmade printing technique. But it also twists the idea of print by turning quick reproduction process into slow handmade process. It’s a book about a process, and with no less than six years in the making, the book itself is a process. It’s a catalogue of colour, a unique art book and an object of book art. The book documents 400 hand-stitched colour swatches in CMYK embroidery. The line screen in my book is incredibly low and ranges between 4 to 7 lines per inch (as opposed to 300 lpi in standard printing).

See also Embroidery that Breaks the Fourth Wall and The Embroidered Computer. (via colossal)

Portraits of New Yorkers in Their Apartments

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2021

Sally Davies

Sally Davies

For her forthcoming book New Yorkers, photographer Sally Davies (Instagram) captured portraits of people inside their NYC apartments. I love the creativity of these living spaces, many in styles you just do not see in contemporary design magazines. You can preorder New Yorkers at Bookshop.org — it comes out April 1.

New Alan Turing £50 Banknote Revealed

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2021

50 Pounds Turing

The Bank of England unveiled the final design of the new £50 banknote honoring mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing.

Commenting on the new note, Governor Andrew Bailey said: “There’s something of the character of a nation in its money, and we are right to consider and celebrate the people on our banknotes. So I’m delighted that our new £50 features one of Britain’s most important scientists, Alan Turing. Turing is best known for his codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, which helped end the Second World War. However in addition he was a leading mathematician, developmental biologist, and a pioneer in the field of computer science. He was also gay, and was treated appallingly as a result. By placing him on our new polymer £50 banknote, we are celebrating his achievements, and the values he symbolises”.

The note will be placed into circulation beginning June 23, 2021. As part of the introduction of the note, GCHQ (the successor agency to the one Turing worked for) has created a series of 12 puzzles for folks to decipher. Good luck!

The Invention of a New Pasta Shape

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 19, 2021

For the past three years, Dan Pashman of The Sporkful podcast has been on something of a mission: to invent a new pasta shape. All of Pashman’s hard work has paid off with the debut of cascatelli pasta, available for sale from Sfoglini.

Cascatelli pasta

Pashman and Sfoglini engineered the new shape to maximize the amount of sauce that sticks to it, make it easier to get your fork on it, and have it feel good when you bite into it.

Cascatelli Pasta 02

Cascatelli is designed to maximize the three qualities by which Dan believes all pasta shapes should be judged:

Sauceability: How readily sauce adheres to the shape
Forkability: How easy it is to get the shape on your fork and keep it there
Toothsinkability: How satisfying it is to sink your teeth into it

Pashman documented the invention of cascatelli in a 5-part series on The Sporkful podcast — you can listen to the first episode here — and on Instagram. You can order some cascatelli to try it out at home, but it looks like they are currently sold out of everything aside from 5-lb bulk bags.

See also How to Make 29 Different Shapes of Pasta by Hand and 150 Different Pasta Shapes.

Endangered Insect Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 16, 2021

Via Steven Heller at Print, I ran across these lovely insect stamps designed by Osborne Ross for the Royal Mail.

Insect stamps

Insect stamps

And check out this other stamp project of theirs, featuring these irregularly shaped stamps that playfully wrap around the edges of the letters:

Animal stamps

So good!

Colorful Floral Printing on Hair

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 04, 2021

floral printing on hair

floral printing on hair

floral printing on hair

After many years of experimentation, Spanish hairdresser Alexis Ferrer has developed a process for vibrant, full-color printing onto hair extensions, culminating in his recent collection, La Favorite (photographed by Rafael Andreu on model Emma Fuhrmann).1

  1. Sidebar: why is it always so difficult to find out who the models are in fashion shoots like this? The articles and Instagram posts list the photographer, the stylist, the makeup artist, the assistant, and even the clothing brands but almost never the person actually being photographed (unless they are famous). Is Fuhrmann not an equal participant in the process of getting these photos just right? Seems retrograde.

Topps Marks 70 Years of Baseball Cards with Special Artist-Designed Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 02, 2021

Topps baseball card

Topps baseball card

Topps baseball card

In 1951, Topps released their first set of baseball cards, hoping to entice people into buying their chewing gum. Instead, they created a sports collectable industry that’s still going strong 70 years later. To celebrate the anniversary, “artists and creatives around the globe are revisiting and reimagining 70 years of iconic baseball card designs” as part of Project70.

They’re releasing a few cards at a time for a limited time — you can find the current selection in the Topps online store. I’ve included three of my favorites above: 1976 Mike Trout by Fucci, 1953 Rickey Henderson by Pose, and 1983 Roberto Clemente by Sean Wotherspoon.

Question: Since the case is now part of the collectable being sold, do you have to put the whole thing in a bigger case to preserve its overall mint condition? Where does this end? (via print)

Type in Motion - The SF Symphony’s Dynamic New Look

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2021

SF Symphony new branding

Design studio Collins has created a new brand identity for the San Francisco Symphony that uses type in a playful, almost musical way. This brief video demonstration is worth 1000 words:

Even better, you can experiment with your own type and music with the Symphosizer web toy. I made this (to the beat of Daft Punk):

wear a mask

(via @dkhamsing)

Clever “Climate Crisis” Typeface Has Several Weights Based on Arctic Sea Ice Extent

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 24, 2021

Climate Crisis typeface

Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has released a free typeface called Climate Crisis that can help designers and the media visualize the urgency of the climate crisis.

The font is intended to be used by anyone who wishes to visualize the urgency of climate change. Especially the media can use it to enhance its climate-related storytelling through illustrations and dramatizations. Newspaper Helsingin Sanomat is at the moment using the font to draw attention to its climate-related stories.

The typeface has seven weights corresponding to data & projections of the minimum extent of the Arctic sea ice from 1979 to 2050. As you can see in the graphic above, the type gets thinner and thinner as the years pass. (via print)

Finding All the Source Images for the Sgt. Pepper’s Album Cover

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2021

The iconic album cover for The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is a collage of images of dozens of people — mostly famous, mostly men — arranged as though they’re standing in a group behind the band. A list of the people depicted on the cover (including Marilyn Monroe, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Shirley Temple, and Fred Astaire) can be found on Wikipedia but Chris Shaw went a step further and tracked down the exact source images for each one of people & objects shown.

The collage was designed by Peter Blake and his wife Jann Haworth, and the cut-outs were assembled in Michael Cooper’s London photographic studio. Michael and his team toiled hard to construct the ‘cast of extras’, using a mix of photos sourced from the BBC Hulton Picture Library, images from private collections, waxworks and personal artifacts, including a gnome owned by Ringo Starr.

detail of Sgt. Pepper's album cover

detail of Sgt. Pepper's album cover

detail of Sgt. Pepper's album cover

You so rarely get to see the raw materials used for design objects, so this is a real treat. (via waxy)

Inuit Coastline Maps Carved from Driftwood

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 29, 2021

Inuit Cartography

I love these coastline contour maps made by the Inuit people of Greenland. So simple and functional.

In Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), the Inuit people are known for carving portable maps out of driftwood to be used while navigating coastal waters. These pieces, which are small enough to be carried in a mitten, represent coastlines in a continuous line, up one side of the wood and down the other. The maps are compact, buoyant, and can be read in the dark.

See also the Marshall Islands Navigation Charts. (thx, kate)

Floorplan Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 26, 2021

Floorplan Alphabet

Floorplan Alphabet

Floorplan Alphabet

As someone who lives in an A-frame house, I love this architectural alphabet designed by Johann Steingruber in 1773. A typically great find by Present & Correct (see also).

The Cute New Burger King Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2021

I’d like to take a brief moment at the end of this weird and difficult week to appreciate this monogram that’s part of Burger King’s new brand identity.

Burger King monogram logo

B + K + burger = perfect. I hereby dub this new tiny logo “The Slider”. It was designed by Stephen Kelleher Studio; you can see some of their other “explorations” as they worked on refining the finished monogram. Reminds me of Sandwich’s excellent logo.

The Look of the Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2021

Look Of The Book

A book? (I love books.) About book cover design? (I love book cover design.) By book cover designer Peter Mendelsund? (I love Peter Mendelsund. Platonically. More as a concept, really — we’ve never met.) And co-written by David Alworth? (I don’t know David Alworth but he seems like a solid chap.) The Look of the Book checks a lot of my boxes and might do so for you as well.

As the outward face of the text, the book cover makes an all-important first impression. The Look of the Book examines art at the edges of literature through notable covers and the stories behind them, galleries of the many different jackets of bestselling books, an overview of book cover trends throughout history, and insights from dozens of literary and design luminaries.

See also The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020.

The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2020

The 99% Invisible City

I somehow1 missed this a few months ago: Roman Mars’ venerable podcast 99% Invisible has resulted in a book that seems right up my alley: The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to the Hidden World of Everyday Design.

In The 99% Invisible City: A Field Guide to Hidden World of Everyday Design, host Roman Mars and coauthor Kurt Kohlstedt zoom in on the various elements that make our cities work, exploring the origins and other fascinating stories behind everything from power grids and fire escapes to drinking fountains and street signs.

Urban historian Kenneth T. Jackson gave the book a good review in the NY Times.

A brief review cannot do justice to such a diverse and enlightening book. The authors have sections on oil derricks, cell towers, the Postal Service, water fountains, the transcontinental telegraph, cisterns, telephone poles, emergency exits, cycling lanes, archaeological sites in Britain, national roads, zero markers, the Oklahoma land rush, cemeteries, public lighting, pigeons, raccoons and half a hundred other eccentric topics.

I suspect that with Mars’ podcast pedigree, the audiobook version of this (Amazon, Libro.fm) is pretty good too.

  1. Lol, “somehow”. How anyone manages to keep up to speed on anything but their job and family (and maybe a couple of shows) during this pandemic is a wonder.

The Best Book Cover Designs of 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Best Book Covers 2020

Well, what an unprecedented year that was! *sigh* 2020 is not a great year for ledes, so let’s skip right to the chase: many books were published this year and some of them had great covers. Lit Hub has the best roundup, with a selection of 89 covers chosen by book cover designers. Mark Sinclair’s ten selections for Creative Review are excellent as well. Electric Lit and Book Riot shared their cover picks as well.

I chose a few of my favorites and shared them above. From top to bottom: Zo by Xander Miller designed by Janet Hansen, the UK cover for Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates designed by Jamie Keenan (the US cover for comparison), Anger by Barbara H. Rosenwein designed by Alex Kirby, Uncanny Valley by Anna Wiener designed by Rodrigo Corral, and Verge by Lidia Yuknavitch designed by Rachel Willey. Looking at great work like this always gets my “maybe I should have been a book cover designer” juices flowing…

See also The Best Books of 2020.

Update: Oh good, the annual list from The Casual Optimist is here: Notable Book Covers of 2020. A cover that he highlighted that I particularly liked is from Michael Nylan’s translation of The Art of War by Sun Tzu designed by Jaya Miceli.

Best Book Covers of 2020

The NY Times list of The Best Book Covers of 2020 is out as well.

Unendurable Line

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 15, 2020

For Design Ah by Daihei Shibata, Unendurable Line is a short film about sudden changes due to “thresholds hidden in everyday life”. The choral accompaniment to this is delightful.

See also Shibata’s Unexpected Outcome. If you’re in the US, you can watch 60 full episodes of Design Ah on THIRTEEN.