Blogs The Gradient

Ordinary Pictures teaser trailer

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. […]

Here is the teaser trailer for our exhibition Ordinary Pictures, cut by our videographer Andy Underwood-Bultmann. The show, curated by Eric Crosby, surveys a range of conceptual picture-based practices since the 1960s through the lens of the stock photograph and other forms of industrial image production. You can take a walkthrough of the exhibition here. We’ll be publishing a post about the accompanying catalogue soon.

Talk Magazine Discusses the Politics of Style

Eric Hu and Harry Gassel, founders/editors/art directors of Talk Magazine, have described the origins of Talk Magazine and where it’s going: Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens […]

Eric Hu and Harry Gassel, founders/editors/art directors of Talk Magazine, have described the origins of Talk Magazine and where it’s going:

Published biannually, each issue brings together a different group of artists, writers, and collaborators to push each other into making something new. The publication emerged from a desire to observe culture through the lens of graphic design and to critique graphic design through the lens of style. …It’s the start of a conversation, a space for dialogue, an arena for debate; mostly it is here to make a record of what’s happening now.

This text comes from Talk Magazine’s press release for Issue 2. Despite the matter-of-fact nature of a press release, what this text describes feels honest, ambitious, and confident. Talk Magazine expresses an attitude and a way of seeing that is integral to how they seek out and assemble the content of the magazine. At the same time, the text seems primed to morph into a new kind of manifesto, not only for the magazine itself, but for graphic designers and those who are visually/stylistically-aware, and that, for me, is what makes Talk Magazine particularly exciting.

On the heels of their recent release of Issue 2 of Talk Magazine, Eric and Harry have graciously shared their excellent opening essay from Issue 2, titled “Some Politics on Style,” for the readers of The Gradient. This opening essay kicks-off a vibrant Issue 2, which “gathers a hodgepodge of writers, artists, designers, (and in this particular issue, comedians) to examine style and its effects on larger cultural forces” and which “continues [the] discussion about the politics of style.”




Editor’s Note: To experience Some Politics on Style as intended, push play on audio while reading


Some Politics on Style

We’ve been thinking a lot about this one image. It’s a vertical diptych of stills from The Simpsons episode where both Bart and Martin are running for class president. Martin hangs a campaign poster that reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. Bart pastes his own poster over Martin’s. His reads A Vote for Bart is a Vote for Anarchy. The only visible difference between the posters is their lettering style—Martin’s is neatly laid out in a presidential serif typeface and his message is seen as a warning, while Bart’s is rendered in an anarchic scrawl and his message is seen as an invitation.

A shift in style leads to a change in meaning.



As designers, it’s our job to think that the way something looks is important. Coming into 2016 and issue two of this magazine, we’ve been reflecting on the the past year—both globally and in relation to our own activities. Three things come to mind. The rebrand of Google and their new parent company Alphabet, the foregrounding of a lot of long-overdue social and political movements along with the almost successful and unsuccessful attempts artists have made to add to the conversation. Our interest is in trying to understand the codes of style traded back and forth between politics and images, and how, if at all, that understanding can lead to an effective contribution to the social good. We’re confused. So as always, we start by looking.

There’s this other image that’s been on our minds. Last August, Google rebranded and published a picture of their design department critiquing each other’s typographic sketches. The new logotype abandoned its familiar serif typeface and replaced it with a sans-serif designed in-house. The letterforms are geometric and charmingly clumsy. To the design world, the logo was hip and quirky, but to the broader public, the logo pointed towards more.




Scattered throughout the press during the rebrand announcement were invocations of the words friendliness, empathy, and most importantly, human. This is a wild contrast to a company who’s enterprises now range from home surveillance to armed AI—all as they amass personal data. It’s also the opposite of the logos of evil companies in fiction—like Skynet in The Terminator—or real companies like Halliburton who often utilize bold, engineered typefaces, minimal color pairings and stark symbolism.



Their uniformity and ubiquity convey both omnipresence and mystery. However, the companies with the most power and influence over our daily lives and political landscape are decorated in logos self-described as playful. Say what you will about Skynet, but its looks don’t deceive. These brutal sci-fi aesthetics have curiously found a new home in millennial music and fashion.



Perhaps this hipster retreat to the overtly evil branding from fiction is because the thought of a Boston Dynamics cheetah dressed in Google’s friendly brand assets hunting down dissidents is much more horrific.




If Google’s new coded design language hides its status or intentions, how can we effectively use our skills to subvert power or protest injustice ? There are so many iconic images of protest in design history. Like the I AM A MAN protest sandwich board, or the raw silkscreen posters from the May 1968 student protests. Or the newspaper and ephemera designed for the Black Panther Party by Emory Douglas. Though certainly they had agency and intention, their now fetishized aesthetic was borne from the urgency and limitations of the moment. Also, these are cases where the often anonymous designers were directly inside the movement and their work was in service of its political messaging.





Situations where designers offer unsolicited proposals often lead to a result that is tone-deaf. For an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Seymour Chwast selected a few design studios to re-brand Occupy Wall Street. In all of these cases, the designers have engaged in the traditional client model, assuming the role of an outsider who came to either clean up or spice up. Despite good intentions, the blog post that usually follows these case studies isn’t so much about the issue as it is about the fact that a designer took interest in the issue, injecting self-promotional noise to the discourse rather than providing a signal-boost to the movement.

It’s a case of selfie over substance.



Protest art can just be kind of goofy. Joel Goby for Vice UK in “A Painfully In-Depth Analysis of the Worst Bit of Graffiti I’ve Ever Seen” savages post-Banksy soft-ball political stencil graffiti on their tendency to annihilate all notions of complexity for the sake of a banal slogan combined with facile imagery. It’s worth comparing this to the graffiti of the 70s and 80s which was less about how it looked—though it looked amazing—and more about what it meant as an action. It was kids with underrepresented voices, taking back space in their city. Graffiti works as a political statement until the statement becomes overtly political. Then it’s just dorky as fuck.

Maybe the cliché actions speak louder than words has been right all along, and that the simple act of writing on a wall to deface it is a louder statement than whatever is actually written. In thinking about all these things, we’ve also witnessed a group of artists who are keenly aware of the sociopolitical forces connected to their identities and at work in their communities. And who, by simply doing what they do, have responded in kind.

Which is all to say, Design Harder.



Talk Magazine Issue 2 features: Cole Escola, Kate Berlant, Matthew Tammaro, Marcus Cuffie, Seth Price, Emilie Friedlander, Geordie Wood, Devin Troy Strother & Yuri Ogita, Berton Hasebe, Christian Chico, Kristian Henson, Othelo Gervacio, Hassan Rahim, and Mike Devine.

Design contributors: Eric Hu, Harry Gassel, Maxime Harvey, Gabrielle Lamontagne, and Raf Rennie with his typeface, Anno.

Get familiar with Talk Magazine on their website or order Issue 2 (or Issue 1!) on their online shop.

Raw Material: An Interview with Google Design

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy […]


Dust jacket for Google Design’s SPAN Reader (2015)

The SPAN Reader, a book released by Google Design in conjunction with its SPAN conferences in New York and London, is an eclectic collection of design thinking that investigates a variety of contemporary issues, such as the ethics of interface design, the implications of smart homes regarding privacy, the nature of time in digital space, the WYSIWYG paradigm, handmade computing, the haptic joy of contemporary stonecutting, and even the architectural implications of burglary. The book features original writing as well as several reprints, and many of the authors featured are unexpected (at least to me)—it is one thing to read Keller Easterling’s critique of intangible architecture and power structures in its original context of the theoretical contemporary art journal e-Flux, and quite another to read it within the pages of a Google publication.

As a glimpse into the thinking behind Google Design, the SPAN Reader seemed a good place to start when trying to understand the culture and philosophies at work in the office. This post begins with a short interview with Rob Giampietro and Amber Bravo, creative lead and editor of Google Design NY, respectively, discussing the editorial mission of Google Design, the ever-evolving metaphor of “material,” and the process of creating the book.  Finally, Rob and Amber respond to a number of excerpts from the book (a reading of the reader?), offering us a chance to understand why these issues are important, and how they fit into the larger framework of Google Design. Many of the individual texts are available to read in full online, so please do click through.



Emmet Byrne: What is Google Design?

Rob Giampietro/Amber Bravo: Google Design is a cooperative effort led by a group of designers, writers, and developers at Google. We work across teams to create tools, resources, events, and publications that support and further design and technology both inside and outside of Google.

EB: One theme that resonates in the SPAN Reader is the idea of integrating digital design thinking with traditional modes of physical design thinking. Is this something Google Design takes to heart?

RG/AB: Digital design has benefitted tremendously from what’s come before it—print design’s focus on highly controlled and comprehensively specified modular systems, environmental design’s capability to compress, augment, and orient space, product design’s focus on the user and the affordances of a material, motion design’s ability to make information come to life in time, and so on. That said, today’s technology is really challenging the parameters between the traditional disciplines of design. When the interface becomes three dimensional, as is the case with VR, you need to completely reframe your thinking. Material Design mixes media in its framing as well—it thinks about how to make interfaces more immediately graspable, by playing with the dimensionality of light and shadow and thinking about how objects and surfaces like paper behave in the physical world. So we’re certainly interested in all kinds of design and what we can learn from them in our work and the field of digital designer more broadly. We also do a lot of non-mediated things like conferences and events, and in those cases we’ve had to think about how Material Design translates to other contexts—how it works in print, or how it works in space. Lance Wyman spoke at SPAN in New York about the design of urban iconography. As a team tasked with streamlining and evolving the company’s graphic language, we find ourselves often collaborating with teams on all levels of design, down to the tiniest details, like helping to refine product icons. So we really look up to and stand on the shoulders of Lance and others’ work in this field. If we do our jobs well, it’s a symbiotic approach, design and technology co-evolving, and highly attuned to the nuances of a user’s context in all cases.


Example of a Material Design product icon

EB: When did “Material” come to represent something virtual instead of physical?

RG/AB: Google originated the name “Material Design” for the design system and always intended for it to be a broad, open-source initiative for the design community. We continue to lead and push the system forward, both visually and conceptually, so that it’s best-in-class and up-to-date, and we also rely on the community to push it forward and adapt it for their own uses to really bring it to life. Last year, we even established our first-ever Material Design Award, to acknowledge all the great examples of material design being produced by third-party product teams.

Example of Google Material Design “thickness”


In terms of the “virtualization” of material that you ask about, Material Design is a system for thinking about our digital surfaces that uses the traditional tenets of graphic design to suit this new context most appropriately. So, for example, with mobile devices, once you remove the mouse or other pointing device, then you are actually interacting with a surface, and the affordances of that surface—its materiality—become critical. So while it is virtualized, it’s also being touched. It’s still mediated, but less so. And that closer proximity to the interface offers a new set of opportunities. The floating action button (FAB) in Material Design rises up subtlely to meet your finger when you tap it. The number of layers in Material Design cannot exceed the device’s actual depth and fade into illusory space. It’s probably important to note that almost all GUIs have been metaphorically-driven. The desktop metaphor was one of the first, but following that were spatial metaphors (GeoCities, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator), and more heavy-handed physical metaphors like bookshelves, dashboards, etc. These metaphors often build a bridge to make a technology more familiar to new users, but, as these users become more accustomed to the technology, this metaphorical layer can be lightened and the technology can become a bit more true to itself. A last word on metaphors: it’s been interesting in the last few years to see the directionality of these metaphors reverse, so that instead of digital technology receiving metaphors from the analog world, it’s actually starting to provide them. In the last few months we’ve been interested to hear phrasing like “paintings as social networks,” “buildings as operating systems,” and so on.


Screen Shot 2016-03-18 at 11.30.04 AM

Google Design articles page


EB: How do areas like Material Design and marketing intersect with Google Design’s editorial and educational mission?

RG/AB: Material Design is an open-source product and we treat it as such with regular updates and improvements that we share widely. On our team, designers and engineers work very closely together to build, and, perhaps even more crucially, maintain the system and services we develop. That’s a hallmark of our work at Google Design—the fact that we’re lead by design and engineering in equal measure. We’ve created a unique platform for sharing our work and the work of other design teams across Google, but it’s always geared toward the perspective of a team of people who are excited to polish and push the boundaries of design and engineering. We mentioned our mission earlier: to support designers and developers both internally and externally to Google. So part of our editorial and educational imperative is to share Google’s process and thinking with the design world around important topics like design tools or identity systems, and, just as significantly, we want to listen, learn, and respond to what the design world is talking and thinking about and bring the best of those ideas back into the company to power it and make all of our work better. Google is a technology organization, but, increasingly, and especially with the formation of Google Design, it understands itself to be a cultural organization as well.

EB: What is a normal day like for the two of you?

AB: I head up our editorial efforts at Google Design. It’s really important for our team to connect with the community in a meaningful way, through a variety of channels. So I help make those connections via social comms, and editing and producing stories that support the design community both inside and outside of Google. Stories, of course, can take many forms—for example, we relaunched our site for last year’s I/O with a documentary video series that explored the making of Material Design—so storyboarding, script writing, and pitching in on art direction all fall within my general purview depending on the given project. I work closely with the designers and engineers both on and outside our team to help them frame and write their stories. This can sometimes mean parsing pretty technical language, or figuring out the most exciting lens or angle for a given project. And of course, I get to work on amazing, special projects like the SPAN conference and reader, and even dabble a bit in speech writing and technical UX writing for products. My title at Google is “Content Strategist.” Coming from a more traditional journalism background, this felt a bit foreign to me at first, but I’ve come to appreciate its techy charm and the fact that it underscores my special knack for being a generalist! is still quite young, so it’s been exciting to see it grow and evolve every quarter into something a bit more robust and editorially engaging.

RG: Within Google my role is Design Manager, and I am also the site lead for the Material Design studio in New York. This means I get to lead a small studio that’s part of a much bigger effort, meet regularly with designers and engineers to develop projects, structure priorities, provide direction and mentorship, and evaluate impact and success. So it’s a people-focused job, both for the people in the office to make sure they’re creatively challenged, and for finding the most talented people to join our team in New York. I am also one of several creative leads who assume responsibility for inter-office projects—like the SPAN Conferences and Google Design efforts in my case. On a day-to-day basis I meet with groups across the company and outside of Google to provide feedback and direction, share our design efforts, and learn from new projects and research. Much of my work with Google Design has to do with capturing and showcasing some of the most innovative thinking happening around design at Google and also fostering connections between what we’re doing and what we see in the wider design sphere.




Span Reader (2015)

EB: Why make a book? 

RG/AB: We wanted to go above and beyond the standard swag bag people are accustomed to getting at conferences, and produce something that people would appreciate and hopefully hang onto for a long time. At SPAN, we were able to bring together such an exciting array of talent, we wanted to somehow extend the moment of the conference and let people take those conversations home with them. We also thought the intellects of our speakers merited deeper engagement and they deserved some extended promotion and support from us, which we developed the Reader to provide.

One of our early interests in planning for example was privacy and access and how design could get involved and help to lead the discussions there. When we learned Geoff Manaugh was working on a new book on burglary in the city and that he was willing to share an early excerpt of this book with us for the reader, we were thrilled—this is exactly the kind of thing we were hoping for. Same thing with Amber’s interview with Nick Benson, a third-generation stonemason—we hoped this would shift the conversations we’d been having around materiality to a much different timescale. In addition to all this, it’s fair to say that conferences come and go, but books hang around. Much of why we’re able to learn from the earlier work of IBM and others is because the documents of these projects are still available to us. Olivetti supported a journal on city planning, a literary magazine, and an art gallery. Publishing, as much as convening, is part of building culture, and Google recognizes that it has a responsibility here. Everyone at Google has been thrilled at the reception of the SPAN Reader, we’ve shown we can do projects like this, and hopefully we’ve paved the way for more of them.

EB: How did the project come together?

RG/AB: The whole Google Design team worked together to source speakers for SPAN, and Rob selected and invited these speakers to the conference and worked with them to develop their talks. Once they were involved, Amber worked to assemble shortlists of essays we wanted to consider for the reader, and Amber and Rob worked together to assemble and balance the collection. There were many others on our team who were involved as well, along with crucial input of our book designer Chad Kloepfer [former senior designer at the Walker Art Center], who did a six-month “residency” at Google on our team to help bring this and other projects to life. You can read more about the design of the book here.



Span Reader (2015)


EB: The content in this book is quite diverse. On what axes did you plan this diversity? 

RG/AB: SPAN’s subtitle is “Conversations about design and technology, sponsored by Google.” This was critical to our approach. With the Olivetti publishing we just mentioned, there was a diversity of points of view and the context was one of scientific research and development. This is also where Google is at its best. We have the scale and ability to explore multiple directions in a given area of focus, and it’s that diversity of talent and perspectives that enables the company to yield the best and most innovative experiences for our users. With SPAN, we reached out to a lot of people to discuss their ideas and work—some of these conversations were preliminary and others continued to develop. The ideas represented in the reader belong to people who really opened our minds or informed our thinking about how we practice design. In a sense we made this reader to orient and focus ourselves as well as our audience. This first reader had a somewhat historical focus with the inclusion of Davide Fornari, John Harwood, and others—subsequent readers may shift conversations into other fields, or more into the present day. Please check out video of all of our session recordings in New York City and London.



The following excerpts are from the Span Reader (2015). Rob and Amber were asked to respond to each quote in regard to their work at Google Design.

Page 12
Luna Maurer, from the Conditional Design Manifesto 
“The process is the product.” (read the full manifesto)

RG/AB: Luna (of Studio Moniker in Amsterdam) was one of the first calls we made when organizing SPAN. There is something playful, irreverent, and human about her work while being highly programmatic and process-driven. We responded to it and it was gratifying to see a room full of developers and engineers jump to their feet after her keynote at SPAN London. Code review is a huge part of building products at Google, and Moniker’s process of arriving at a design through a rationalized and systematic processes seems to speak directly to the way in which engineers are equally concerned with the elegance of the string as they are the final outcome. This quote is characteristic of Luna and Moniker’s her work—absolutely rigorous, but arriving at a conclusion that is nonetheless unexpected.


Page 25
Paul Ford, speaking to a graduating class of interaction designers, about the implications of the products they will create 
“The things that you build in the next decade are going to cost people, likely millions of people, maybe a billion people depending on the networks where you hitch your respective wagons, they are going to cost a lot of people a lot of time. Trillions of heartbeats spent in interaction.” (Read the full address.)

RG/AB: Paul’s breakthrough essay “What Is Code?” Came out in Bloomberg Businessweek while we were planning SPAN and we remembered reading this earlier talk of his and wanted to include it because Paul is as smart and savvy a tech writer as there is, but he always writes with great feeling and heart. Because Google operates at a staggering scale—we have several products operating at more than a billion users—we wanted to remind ourselves of the responsibility we have in making this work. The Eameses talk about design as “the best for the most for the least.” We aspire to something very similar at Google. Every bit that has to be downloaded on costly rural internet in low-income communities, every notification that takes a user out of what they’re doing or away from someone else—designers make the decisions that yield these outcomes and carry these responsibilities. That’s how we read what Paul is saying here.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 50
Michael Rock, on the WYSIWYG design paradigm 

“In this new condition, the moment of finishing is not a fact of the medium but the will of the typographer: the work wavers in a transitory state and is only done when the designer commits. The writing may be finished but the type always temporary. This unification of the sentence and the display collapses form and content into something close to the same thing where every work is a work-in-progress.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Michael and 2×4 were involved in helping us to plan SPAN, and they also shaped the interior architecture of the event. He is one of our best thinkers on design, and we loved the way his essay dramatized the flowing, variable, and technologically evolving aspects of typography then and now. His notes were a sketch for what we wanted to do with SPAN as a whole: Read technology as a continuous, rather than a sudden, process.


Page 55
John Harwood on IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design

EB: One of the texts you featured in the book was an excerpt from The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976, by John Harwood, which describes a two decade long period of design innovation that brought together IBM’s in-house design team, celebrity designers such as Charles Eames, Paul Rand, George Nelson, Marcel Breuer, and Eero Saarinen, with IBM’s researchers, scientists, and engineers. What about this experiment in corporate design innovation, and others like it, excites you? How do they inform what you are doing at Google Design? (Watch John Harwood’s SPAN talk.)

RG/AB: This year saw an explosion of new projects around the Eameses in particular, with a retrospective organized by Catherine Ince that included a replica of the multi-screen IBM film at the Barbican in London, and an exhibition organized by Stephen Edidin at the New York Historical Society about the “Silicon City” that opened with a different replica of IBM World’s Fair Pavilion, and also included sections on “9 Evenings: Theater and Engineering” and other significant cultural moments around technology. In all of this, perhaps there are three lessons that we want to remember and develop in our own work. First, the IBM effort was generous in spirit and attempted to make what could have been a remote or monolithic effort more accessible to all. Second, it was a critical conversation at a critical moment that happened successfully at scale. And third, despite being aimed at hundreds of thousands of people, the end product was not watered-down or middling—if anything, it was challenging and even avant-garde. Many of the designers who contributed to the projects at IBM considered it to be the best work they ever did. This is exactly what all of us at Google aspire to as well.


Page 66
Davide Fornari, on Arte programmata. Arte cinetica. Opere moltiplicate. Opera aparta. 

“The idea that an artwork may include algorithmic behaviors and is completed by the action and interaction of the audience became a reality thanks to the early experimentation of these artistic groups and their collaboration with forward-thinking patrons.” (Visit the Reprogrammed Art website.)

RG/AB: Davide and Rob had met last year in Italy while both were doing research on Olivetti, and we reconnected with him when our team sponsored the AGI Open Conference in Bern, Switzerland. John Harwood observes in The Interface that IBM’s insight to build a culture around “business machines,” starting with the redesign of their showroom on 5th Avenue, really came through Olivetti’s groundbreaking work. With SPAN’s presence in Europe and the U.S., we thought it was interesting to offer both sides of this corporate history, and Davide’s scholarship was an essential way to do it. In terms of contemporary connections with the art world, our team works with the Google Cultural Institute on a number of projects; their 89Plus initiative (curated by Simon Castets and Hans Ulrich Obrist), Paris Lab residency, and numerous museum partnerships, are a few examples of Google supporting the art world in an official way.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 88
Nick Benson, on evidence of the human hand in contemporary forms of stonecutting
“But that particular memorial, in all of its linear and postmodern purity, has a flavor of humanity that’s difficult to define. In the carving and the design of that inscription, there’s a reflection of that. My effort in designing a character is to have just a little bit of human spark. It’s a very contemporary form, but there’s just a teeny bit of humanity in there. It’s very subtle—almost subconscious—but you see it.” (Read the full interview.)

RG/AB: Nick’s interview has a lot to offer contemporary designers—particularly UX designers who are accustomed to being able to update and iterate ad infinitum. There’s a moment in his interview , where he describes how when he looks at an ancient Roman carving he acutely understands how it was made and can deeply empathize with a stonecarver who lived two millennia prior. That haptic knowledge is something that’s accrued and refined over time. It requires the body and a honed sensitivity. It is something that is incredibly important to keep in mind with an industry as young as ours, but as intimately connected to our daily lives and habits as the written (or chiselled) word. At Google we say, “focus on the user and the rest will follow.” In terms of design, this requires an acute awareness or consideration for how a user is experiencing the entire flow. When we design something as seemingly trivial as a button or switch, how that component sits within the larger ecosystem of the product language you’re building actually becomes integral to the entire experience. It’s not just a single message or action we’re designing. Nick’s assessment that it’s the hand of the designer that humanizes what could otherwise be considered a cold, or rational formal exercise, gets at that importance of honing conscientiousness and nuance in your craft and connecting with the human at the other end of the exchange.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 100
Taeyoon Choi, on reclaiming our digital autonomy through DIY computer production 
“When our lives are affected by the algorithms and programs, what is the act of resistance and dissent that can preserve our independence from becoming agents of machines?” (Visit Taeyoon Choi’s website.)

RG/AB: Taeyoon’s work inspired us immediately. We knew about his School for Poetic Computation in New York, a place of great curiosity and experimentation. The name itself brings C.P. Snow’s “two cultures” into dialogue—art and science, or, in the case of SPAN, design and technology. While we were working on SPAN, Taeyoon led a workshop at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn called the Handmade Computer, and we had to marvel at the simplicity of sharing the messy work of computer-making with a group of semi-technical students and artists who genuinely wanted to examine and find new connection with the technology they use everyday. We invited Taeyoon to reprise the workshop at SPAN New York, where it was one of our most popular sessions, and for the reader he contributed one of his marvellous hand-illustrated stories. For Taeyoon, the lesson—and perhaps the resistance he speaks of in his quote—comes from placing the computer back into human hands and in the decidedly unpredictable spark that comes from that unstructured programming. Taeyoon’s work is a lesson to us all to leave space in our systems for discovery and delight.


Page 115
Keller Easterling, on systems design and “know how” 

“While architects and urbanists typically design object forms with shape and outline or master plans, sometimes more powerful than designing a thing is developing an interplay between things—active forms that serve as a platform for shaping a stream of objects or a population effect.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Much of the core team working on SPAN was familiar with Keller’s deep, probing work with the effects of technological infrastructure on the urban environment, and these moments where technology enters and changes the scene was something we thought SPAN should address with Keller as our guide. As we got deeper into several of her essays, it was a pleasure to find prose that was evocative and suggestive of the ways that technology has reshaped how we assess our present-day existence. That it becomes harder to know how to shape a building without an awareness of the software that runs it, or the data that shapes it, or the flows of activity that surround it, or the hardware it houses. This tangle of issues, she suggests, dissolves a firm sense of knowing that something should be shaped in a specific way into a different kind of accrued knowledge, knowing how. At SPAN New York she explained that “You can know how to kiss.” In her essay, she credits her interest in know how to Gilbert Ryle, a British philosopher who coined the now-widespread phrase “the ghost in the machine,” though the machine in his meaning was our own bodies, not our devices. On a more practical level, as designers working hand in hand with engineers, we could not agree more with Keller’s assessment. So much of our formal expression is borne on platforms where products are interacting and influencing a stream of interdependent experiences. In including this essay in the reader, we wanted to celebrate her work and point to these fundamental concepts as well.


Page 134
Justin McGuirk, on the smart home 

“As the primary interface of the “internet of things,” the smart home is effectively the tendrils of the network rising out of the ground and into every one of our household appliances to allow mass data collection and digital surveillance.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: Justin’s essay, and his subsequent talk at SPAN London, captured beautifully the complex web of issues at play in questions of privacy and security. We both want our devices to do more and must constantly adjust and check that desire other political and social aspects of our humanity. His talk at SPAN highlighted how different cultures have answered questions of urban privacy in different ways—some requiring more, some less—and like SPAN more broadly we find this complex and nuanced result to be the most truthful. We included the essay to remind designers, especially digital and product designers working in this space, of their responsibility to both delight and guide users. We also included it because Justin’s essay, along with other scholarship on this issue, helps to make what can be an invisible shift of having sensors and data in our domestic spaces more visible. At SPAN, Rob invoked a lesson from Stewart Brand’s How Buildings Learn as an earlier parallel. Brand says one of the problems with using vinyl siding on houses instead of wooden siding is that vinyl hides rot and other structural flaws beneath the surface. Wood, in Brand’s eyes, is the better material because it doesn’t shield this process. Instead, wood is easy to patch and it alerts a homeowner when repairs needed. In so doing, it makes the home’s real-time structural integrity more visible.


Span Reader (2015)

Page 156
Geoff Manaugh, on illegal uses of space revealing new dimensions
“The FBI’s unsettling discovery of a hidden topological dimension tucked away somehow inside the surface of the city is a stunning moment—the relation that, on a different plane, point A might illicitly be connected to point B, and that, in a sense, it is the burglar’s role to make this link real, to operationalize urban topology. The burglar, in this context, is a kind of three-dimensional actor amid the two-dimensional surfaces and objects of the city, finding ways out, through, between and around what you and I would otherwise take at face value as walls, floors, ceilings, or even simply doors.” (Read the full article.)

RG/AB: We’ve known Geoff and been fans of his writing on BLDG BLOG for years, and his new book A Burglar’s Guide to the City draws some really wonderful ideas out about urbanism, privacy, security, technology, and experience by looking how how the city is used by those who disobey its laws. He describes burglars as “actors” in the quote you’ve selected, but they’re “users” of the city just the same, and, perhaps more accurately, they’re “analogue hackers!” For SPAN, we saw such a natural affinity between Keller and Geoff’s work—their tendency to celebrate the margins of the built environment as having the most compelling narratives, or the greatest potential for innovation (“use and misuse”). Disruption is such an overused phrase these days in tech, but Geoff’s plea for designers to find the “design briefs hidden in everyday life” is really empowering designers (and thinkers, artists alike) to be agents of change, not just interpreters. ■



Span Reader (2015)

Most of the content in the SPAN Reader (text and video) can be accessed via Google Design’s website or their Medium page.

Andrea Büttner—The making of a visual identity

One of the latest exhibitions at Walker Art Center is the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner. Curated by Artistic Director Fionn Meade, the exhibition continues the Walker’s ongoing presentation of solo shows by emerging artists who have not yet had significant museum exposure in the United States. Büttner’s […]

One of the latest exhibitions at Walker Art Center is the first U.S. solo exhibition of the work of German artist Andrea Büttner. Curated by Artistic Director Fionn Meade, the exhibition continues the Walker’s ongoing presentation of solo shows by emerging artists who have not yet had significant museum exposure in the United States.

Büttner’s practice intertwines art-historical concepts with social and political issues, often exploring unexpected connections between art and religion, deviance and ethics, or shame and visual expression.

The newly commissioned installation features a range of new works, including a living moss sculpture, large-scale woodcuts, and etchings that capture and transpose the smear and blur of fingerprints left on cell phone screens. Through deploying a wide range of pre-modernist media, Büttner restores outmoded methods in order to provoke and challenge conventions of high and low. She constructs a profound space between ornate and humble, dissociation and humility, and the urge to judge or to remain objective.


Personally, I was particularly captivated by the complex details in Büttner’s prints and woodcuts (many of which can be seen here). My initial design sketches for the visual identity explored the combination of typography and woodcut patterns and an attempt to use fragments of Büttner’s works and her carved forms/line-work. What I found interesting was the complex markings that were left-behind by the sharp edge of Büttner’s carving tools and which range from hairline markings to triangular, gouge-like markings.


An important step in designing the visual identity was finding an appropriate typeface—ideally a classical, but not boring, serif typeface. The chosen typeface, Noe Display, responds to the pronounced and crafted feeling of Büttner’s work. Designed by the type foundry Schick Toikka, the typeface is a Transitional-style, high-contrast headline typeface. Noe Display’s sharp triangular serifs and terminals give it strong and distinctive characteristics, echoing the similar shapes which occur within Büttner’s etchings and woodcuts.

To emphasize a connection to Büttner’s sharp woodcuts within the typographic treatment, I slightly altered the height and appearance of the umlaut. Rather than keeping the two dots that typically appear within the umlaut, I instead swapped-in two triangle shapes that derived from the top, triangular part of the letter “t” in Noe Display. These triangles also replaced the dot above the letter “i”.

Intrigued by the small details in Büttner’s work, I then decided to respond by creating my own level of typographic detail through a series of customized punctuation marks that would subsequently be embedded within the texts associated with the exhibition. As a base for the punctuation, I used the same Noe Display-derived triangle shape to then create a comma, colon, period, and apostrophe. The resulting punctuation marks, which appear throughout the typeset materials connected to the exhibition, make a small intervention on the space, yet are elements that may go easily unnoticed upon first glance. This subtle intervention was made in order to focus more attention on the detailed and contemplative nature of Andrea Büttner’s work.

The developed visual identity was applied to various exhibition materials—from the invitation for the exhibition opening, to the gallery guide, to exhibition labels, title walls, and related texts.

Design and photos: Gabriela Baka


Type Designers Q&A: Or Type

Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.   Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang).   This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we […]

Or Type is an Icelandic type foundry established in 2013 by Guðmundur Úlfarsson & Mads Freund Brunse.


Postcard showcasing Landnáma, 2015 (Photography: Moos-Tang).


This past summer, a number of us here in the Design Department first encountered Or Type’s website (developed by Owen Hoskins). In addition to the fresh selection of typefaces, we were impressed by the interactivity of Or Type’s live, editable font testing fields that cleverly retain the words and characters typed-in by previous (or current) visitors to the website. As a cheeky disclaimer on the website pronounces: “ON AIR—Everything you type is recorded and instantaneously sent out on the wire.”

Other type foundries certainly make use of this type of live/editable font testing feature in varying degrees, but certain subtle moments set the experience of interacting with Or Type’s website a part from others. For example: Try typing in your favorite 4-letter curse word in one of the font testing fields and hit your Enter/Return key, or hit the Rewind icon in the bottom-right corner of the page to witness a sort of sped-up recording which plays in reverse while displaying the characters and words that visitors have typed-in, or click the Or Type logo in the bottom-left corner on the page to reveal so-called poems of the strung-together words that have been typed-in by visitors. This collection of tested words was even used by Or Type to auto-generate several volumes of books (doubling as Or Type’s printed type specimens) that are available through Lulu.

Guðmundur and Mads have created a bold and diverse collection of typefaces that have been making some notable appearances in the past year: from being used on the cover of international photography magazine, Foam, to the cover of the London-based music magazine The Wire, to the typographic identity for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

Below, the Reykjavík and London-based designers have responded to twelve questions regarding their practice as type designers.


Postcard showcasing Separat, 2015


Ryan Gerald Nelson (RGN): Do you have an ultimate goal in terms of where you hope to see one of your typefaces in use someday? (Being used by a major car brand? By a sports team? In a film title? Other?)

Or Type: We’ve always wanted to make a typeface for football (guess it’s soccer for you) jerseys and last year that dream came true! We made it to the back of the Icelandic national team jerseys. They then went on to make into the finals of the Euro 2016. In actuality, that project was a bit of a mess though. In the end, they had mixed up weights and styles and it all looked kind of odd. So we’re hoping to be able to fix it before the next Euros, but we haven’t heard from them yet, which is worrying.


An overview photo of the Or Type launch exhibition of in Gallery Þoka, Reykjavík, 2013.


RGN: When it comes to creating a typeface, it seems that there are now more alternatives to the traditional font-making program of choice: FontLab. If you use FontLab, what convinces you to stay with FontLab? If not, what is your font-making program of choice?

Or Type: Our program of choice is Glyphs by Georg Seifert. To be honest, FontLab kind of ran out of time. It was getting really outdated and Glyphs just stepped in and convinced us to come on board. I think that even was the reason why Georg started making Glyphs: he just got sick of the old FontLab. Since then, FontLab has made a major update and is looking quite slick to be honest, but we’re really happy with working in Glyphs now.

RGN: Which character do you find the most difficult to draw/create? Give us an analogy to help us understand what drawing this character is like.

Or Type: It’s difficult not to answer “S/s” to this question. It can get extremely frustrating, but then again, of course really satisfying to finish the S/s.


The current selection of Or Type S/s’s.


RGN: Have you ever discovered one of your typefaces being used in a really unexpected place or project?

Or Type: We noticed that a cruise ship company recently bought one of our typefaces. Seeing our typeface on a cruise ship would certainly be unexpected.

RGN: Did you both formally study type design? Or are you guys self-taught?

Or Type: We had some courses when we were at school, but we haven’t gone to study type design specifically.

RGN: Your guys’ homepage is quite unique in that it displays a number of font testing areas that record the words and characters that are typed-in by previous visitors of the site. These words and characters are retained and displayed until a new visitor comes along and replaces what’s displayed. That said, what’s the most bizarre thing that you guys have seen typed-in and left behind by a visitor?

Or Type: We see a lot of things—all kinds of things really. We get love and hate letters through there, intern requests, and all kinds of stuff. The other day we noticed that someone wrote “Will you marry me?”, but we’ve yet to hear if that was a real proposal or not.


A screenshot from of the possible marriage proposal.



A screenshot from showing someone commenting on Or Type’s kerning.


RGN: Of your offerings, which typeface is your most popular amongst your customers? And do you have any theory as to why this is your most popular typeface?

Or Type: Since we launched our new website last year, or best-sellers seem to be Landnáma and Separat. These are also the typefaces which seem to be around and which we stumble upon most frequently.


Landnáma used by GUNMAD for the book Competing Temporalities by Lloyd Corporation, London, 2013.


RGN: Of all the times you’ve seen your typeface in use, has there ever been an instance in which you’ve been appalled by how the designer used your typeface?

Or Type: I guess we have a very specific way of using our typefaces, so often when you see people working in a different way it can be strange to see your own typefaces in that context. Having said that, sometimes it feels as though we designed the projects that make use of our typefaces, probably because of the nuanced characteristics of our letters. So never really appalled, no, not yet.


Unreleased typeface, Las Vegas, used by Elana Schelnker for the “Time Travel” issue of Conveyor Magazine, New York, 2015.


RGN: In your opinion, are there too many typefaces in existence? Or not enough? Are those questions relevant to you as you begin creating a typeface?

Or Type: You could say that, but the same goes for everything: too many records, too many cars, etc. At least we’re not polluting the earth by making more. Having said that, it’s relevant for us to design a typeface that doesn’t already exist. This is an important part of our practise—to create something fresh and original.


Unreleased typeface, Lemmen Antiqua, used with Rather in the latest “Talent” issue of FOAM magazine. Designed by Vandejong, Amsterdam.


RGN: When you describe your work/profession to family and friends who are not acquainted with typography and type design, what do you say?

Or Type: Simply, that we draw letters and sell them.


Or Type exhibition at Geysir during DesignMarch 2015, Reykjavík.


RGN: Matthew Carter rocks an iconic ponytail—what are your feelings on this subject? And do either of you aspire to sport an iconic look of your own?

Or Type: I think we both wanna rock the ponytail when we turn 78. Guðmundur already has long hair, so he could sport that look at anytime.


Or Type portrait from DesignMarch 2015, Reykjavík.


Rather used by GUNMAD for a book by Merete Vyff Slyngborg, Copenhagen, 2013.


RGN: What’s more of a consideration for you when designing a typeface: screen or print? Or are these contexts irrelevant?

Or Type: It’s been mostly print up until recently, but making fonts ready for both web and screen is definitely a part of the next step of development for Or Type. Given the speed at which these technologies are developing, we’ve never consciously been too geeky about making our fonts for a certain resolution—it will soon all be HD screens anyway.

RGN: Many thanks for your time, Guðmundur and Mads!


Or Type exhibition at Unit Gallery, London, in conjunction with the re-release of the Or Type website, 2015.


—See more of Or Type’s work on their website, Facebook, or Tumblr.

Counter Currents: Luke Fischbeck (of Lucky Dragons) on Videofreex

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons—which performs […]

Counter Currents_Videofreex

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here Luke Fischbeck of Lucky Dragons—which performs at the Walker May 13 as part of Devendra Banhart’s two night mini-festival—considers the influence of the collective Videofreex. Hippie Modernism opens at the Cranbrook Museum of Art on June 18.

Videofreex (l. to r.) David Cort, Bart Friedman, and Parry Teasdale (holding Sarah Teasdale) introduce Lanesville, NY resident Scottie Benjamin to Sony Portapak technology at Maple Tree Farm, 1973

Videofreex (1969–1978) was a close-knit, intensely collaborative group of artists united by the common goal of displaying a perspective they saw as missing from available media. They carried portable video equipment while participating in protest marches and acts of civil disobedience. They recorded the inside of a Washington, DC jail. At Woodstock, they turned their cameras away from the stage to show the health workers and the clean-up crew. They were the ideal audience: every museum or gallery show related to video as an art form was dutifully and meticulously recorded. They interviewed members of the Hell’s Angels, the Weathermen, and the Black Panther Party, crawling on the floor with a handheld camera to get multiple angles of Fred Hampton speaking to a small group weeks before he was murdered. They captured intimate moments of play and experimentation—birthday parties, lovemaking, and leisure time, laughing at an image of their composited faces, aiming a laser at the camera lens just to see what would happen.


Videofreex Still from Lanesville TV Show (Re-re-edit 2013) 1974–1975/2013

Presented at weekly screenings in their communal SoHo loft, and later by means of a pirate television station in the rural community of Lanesville, New York, the tapes (some 1,500 of them) were viewed by the participants in the context of their making. What was this remarkable archive made to do? To redirect viewers to a new way of looking? To evaluate and refine a way of being in the world, as players reviewing practice tapes before a performance? Does every archive hope to contain some recipe for re-creating the reality that it was drawn from?1

Firmly in the context of “democratized” or “participatory” media movements of the time, Videofreex placed a premium on access to tools and techniques in their do-it-yourself publication Spaghetti City Video Manual (1973) and in their contribution to the compendium Guerrilla Television (1971). Unlike other projects that explicitly aimed to make production technology available to a wide and disparate public,2 Videofreex’s inward-focused archival impetus is what survives most intensely—the conviction that what they were seeing, and the way they were seeing it, should be preserved. The flatness of history, broken into freaky perspective, by “investing computer time and human energy in storing data about video people and video tapes in an information bank… aaah, spaceship earth, what’s in store for you!”3


Videofreex Still from Lanesville TV Show (Re-re-edit 2013) 1974–1975/2013

In my own work as part of the collaborative broadcast project KCHUNG (2011– ), I have felt just how productive this balance can be: an affective impulse to open up the means of production, an active impulse to crystallize a collective point of view. The result, an archive of every single KCHUNG broadcast—more than 9,000 recordings that continue to accumulate—can be browsed, sorted, or searched, but can’t be comprehensively interpreted. It just sprawls, and in this sprawl, we come closest to representing the way we see.

KCHUNG TV (2014). Live weekly television broadcasts produced by members of KCHUNG’s contributing community in the lobby of the Hammer Museum. Image Courtesy of the Hammer Museum.

KCHUNG TV (2014). Live weekly television broadcasts produced by members of KCHUNG’s contributing community in the lobby
of the Hammer Museum. Image Courtesy of the Hammer Museum.


1 As with Erkki Kurenniemi’s project to continuously and obsessively document what he sees as an unstructured archive, does this collection of recordings contain some anticipation of an imminent age in which the viewer’s perspective can be reconstituted (as artificial intelligence)?

2 Compare with projects that sought out structured collaborations with under-served or excluded communities, such
as Experiments in Art and Technology’s Anand Project (1969), which promoted locally-produced educational programming for Indian television.

2 Feedback: Videofreex in “Radical Software,” Volume I, Number 5, Realistic Hope Foundation (Spring 1972)

Luke Fischbeck is a Los Angeles–based artist, composer, and organizer who designs and tests structures for collaboration. He is a founding member of the group Lucky Dragons (with Sarah Rara, 2000– ) and the collectively-organized broadcast project KCHUNG Radio (2011– ).

Counter Currents: OOIEE on Superstudio

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, RO/LU cofounder Matt Olson—now creating under […]

Counter Currents_NewOOIEE
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism
, the series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Tomás Saraceno to Experimental Jetset and Josh MacPhee—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here, RO/LU cofounder Matt Olson—now creating under the just-launched moniker OOIEE—reflects on the legacy of Superstudio and the Italian Radical Architecture movement. 

I was happy to be invited to write about something from the Hippie Modernism exhibition, but the experience has been a bit like returning from a trip to the ocean and having one of your friends ask, “Which wave was your favorite?” when you could honestly say, “I loved all of them.” That’s where I am now: I want to write about everything. All of it.

But maybe the only thing more impossible than writing about something is writing about everything. So maybe you can just agree to see it all in this post? The coded mist of knowledge and meaning here, not just the words. This slightly adjusted quote by Borges gets at what I mean: “In this blog post is the Blog Post. Without knowing it. The past tells the present the already forgotten story of them both.” 

Tolstoy didn’t like the word “love” because it means too much. So maybe that’s a good way to talk about this, as a love story? And since I can’t really write about everything…

Superstudio, Life: Supersurface, 1971–1973

Superstudio, Life: Supersurface, 1971–1973. Courtesy Archivio Superstudio. Photo: Walker Art Center

I remember falling in love with a few Superstudio images I encountered back in 2005 or so. It was love at first sight, truly. I didn’t really understand why and still don’t, but those images sorta came to get me. And there wasn’t really anything much on the Internet about the Italian Radicals at that point either. It created a longing. It seems like Superstudio knew back then what we’re learning (again) now, that the image, as a living idea, might be more important than the building in the image.

And so for a few years I tried to find more, and as I pursued what I couldn’t yet imagine, a whole world opened up. Gianni Pettena, Global Tools, Archizoom, pre-Memphis Ettore Sottsass, all the archi-zines

As this love and longing turned into motion and meaning I reached a place where, when I discussed it with friends, I would get nervous about my lack of “historical information,” and suddenly I was a little anxious about the things I loved. I wanted to understand the context which created all this. The political and cultural landscape. I was faced with the question of understanding in the more traditional sense rather than just appreciating and following a forceful, unknowable energy forward. But as I started to attempt this, I realized that any historical context I tried to create was, in fact, just that, a creation. A fiction. And as I attempted to turn the energy I was getting from these images and fragments of information into something I could intellectually pretend was an understanding, I noticed the love I felt around the work disappearing. Maybe the act of metabolizing it into a fictional arrangement was killing it? 

And then it hit me. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I wanted to trust the following forward of these things. The life of these things. I wanted to trust them. This work was teaching me that the Internet had freed history from an institutional and academic hierarchy told as a time-based linear story. Google images was the new context. History started coming to life in a whole new way for me—really coming to life—expansively pulling me forward into new projects of my own. Transforming me. It all seemed like waves. And a messy sky. And recently my work—created with my former studio RO/LU—was amongst theirs in the Superstudio retrospective in Milan. And it feels like the context was created by the Context.

A life without objects has, for me, morphed into a longing for a life without histories.

And I swear it’s love… and it does mean too much.

There's No Separation" by OOIEE at the Aspen Art Museum. 9.5ft x 14ft textile piece with photo of the sky used to cover Ryan Gander's sculpture.

OOIEE’s There’s No Separation—a 9.5 x 14-ft textile bearing the photo of the sky used to cover Ryan Gander’s sculptureat the Aspen Art Museum   Photo: Tony Prikryl

Matt Olson works on projects related to contemporary art and design. Landscape and environments  furniture and objects, actions and scenarios, teaching and speaking. On 01/01/16 he began OOIEE (the Office of Int.\Est.\Ext. [Interior Establishes Exterior]) as a new backdrop for exploring the intersections of time and perception as they relate to space and the objects that fill it. Embracing an “open practice” in the belief that following forward and trusting the work the world presents becomes a poetic collaboration with the great “everything.” He was recently a visiting artist at Cranbrook and installed There’s No Separation, the studio’s first public project, at the Aspen Art Museum. He is co-founder and former director of RO/LU.

Another Look Inside Hippie Modernism

We cut a longer trailer for the exhibition Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, curated by Andrew Blauvelt, featuring more footage from inside the exhibition. The show closes February 28th here in Minneapolis, after which it travels to the Cranbrook Art Museum and then the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The trailer was edited […]

Insights 2016 Design Lecture Series

   Insights 2016 Tuesdays in March Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight […]



 Insights 2016
Tuesdays in March

Join us in celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Insights Design Lecture Series, with four talks by some of today’s most exciting designers. Over their careers, these visual form-makers have created vast collections of symbolic imagery—logos, layouts, photographs, alphabets—intended to elucidate the present and destined to one day delight and confound historians of the future. This year’s series features lectures from South Korean conceptualists Sulki & Min, music-packaging designer Brian Roettinger, design curator Jon Sueda, and Susan Sellers, cofounder of 2×4 and current head of design at the Met.

If you can’t make it in person, please tune in to our live webcast on the Walker Channel and participate through Twitter (#Insights2016). For educators, AIGA chapters, and anyone else who might want to throw their own viewing party, have a look at our Viewing Party Kit.



Sulki & Min Choi (Seoul, KR)
March 01, 7 pm (tickets)

When asked what their studio motto might be, designers/artists Sulki Choi and Min Choi replied, “Clarifying is our business, obscuring is our pleasure.” Indeed, this tension between fact and fiction, concrete communication and abstraction, reveals itself throughout their practice as the designers create what they call “impurely conceptual” work. The married couple founded their design practice in Seoul in 2003, focusing primarily on the cultural sector with projects such as graphic identities for the BMW Guggenheim Lab, architecture firm Mass Studies, and the 2014 Gwangju Biennale; the guest art direction of Print Magazine’s 2012 “Trash” issue; and an extensive graphic system for the architecture exhibition Before/after.

Working in both Roman and Hangul alphabets, their intense approach to typography reveals a deep interest in language. Whether systematically inverting English oxymorons in a type specimen poster or dissecting the typographic relationship between Hangul vowels and Taoist yin-yang symbolism through a series of patterns, much of Sulki & Min’s work exerts an almost scientific approach to the use of words, reminding us that language is, in fact, the earliest and perhaps greatest “kit of parts” at a designer’s disposal.

In 2006, the duo founded Specter Press, a publishing imprint that presents monographs of Korean artists. Sulki & Min are also one half of the artist collective SMSM, which is an “applied-art collective devoted to health and happiness.” Their work has been exhibited internationally and Min also curated Typojanchi, which is a typographic biennial in Seoul. Sulki teaches design at the Kaywon School of Art & Design, and Min teaches at the University of Seoul.



Brian Roettinger (Los Angeles, US)
March 08, 7 pm (tickets)

The work of graphic designer/artist Brian Roettinger is an uncanny union of punk ideology with a conceptually driven mode of modernist design. He frequently employs architectural strategies such as repetition and structure (think die-cuts and folds) while subverting this sense of order by manipulating the production process in unexpected or “wrong” ways (think pulling the sheet out of the printer before it is done). Hailing from Los Angeles, Roettinger launched his own record label in 1998 called Hand Held Heart and began to release albums by bands such as the Liars, No Age, and the Chromatics, featuring artwork that he designed and produced himself. The moniker Hand Held Heart came to encompass all of Roettinger’s creative output—curating, publishing, editing, artwork—including his stints as the in-house designer for the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), art director for LA–based fashion magazine JUNK, a variety of projects for clients such as Yves Saint Laurent and MIT Press, and most obviously, his ongoing work in the music industry. As Rolling Stone’s 2009 Album Designer of the Year, Roettinger has created album artwork for Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk, Childish Gambino’s Because the Internet, and most recently, Florence + the Machine’s How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. In 2013, Roettinger was commissioned to design Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail album, which was nominated for a Grammy (his second nomination).

With friends, Roettinger was also responsible for celebrating the now-legendary Colby Printing Press in LA, for which he created an official archives, curated an exhibition, and designed and edited a beautiful catalogue.



Jon Sueda (San Francisco, US)
March 15, 7 pm (tickets)

Over his career, Jon Sueda has carved out a unique practice for himself as a designer, curator, and educator—a practice that has allowed him a curious perspective simultaneously creating design, generating dialogue about the field, and helping shape the designers of the future. Originally from Hawaii, Sueda has bounced around the globe, working in California, Holland, and North Carolina, and finally founding his design studio, Stripe, in 2004. Since then he has created work for a variety of cultural clients such as Chronicle Books, the New York Times Magazine, the Architecture Association (London), and REDCAT Gallery. For seven years, Sueda served as director of design for the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, creating all of their exhibition graphics, catalogues, and branding. He is also the art director of Exhibitionist magazine, a journal “by curators, for curators”; coeditor of Task Newsletter, a journal of design; and a co-organizer of AtRandom events, a “community-sponsored public gathering of designers, artists, writers, and researchers within the Los Angeles area.” Sueda is currently the chair of the MFA design program at the California College of the Arts.

As a curator, Sueda creates shows that endeavor to contextualize aspects of the design field. His most recent exhibition, All Possible Futures (SOMArts Cultural Center, San Francisco), tackled the subject of speculative design, examining the conditions in which graphic designers are able to create work outside of the typical client-based relationship. Featuring an international range of practitioners, the show and its accompanying catalogue have been highly influential, mapping the connections between speculative fiction, academic investigation, think-tank innovation, and contemporary art.


Susan Sellers (New York, US)
March 22, 7 pm (tickets)

From her early career working with Dutch studios Total Design and UNA to cofounding a preeminent global design agency to teaching at the Yale University School of Art to her recent appointment at the world’s third most-attended museum, Susan Sellers has kept herself at the epicenter of some of the world’s most exciting design and cultural scenes. She has actively explored issues as varied as data visualization, screen-based technologies, critical design, material culture, brand development, and craft. In 1994, Sellers cofounded 2×4, an agency with offices in New York, Madrid, and Beijing. Its massive output includes anything from brand work for Vitra to in-shop displays for Prada, environments for Nike, identity work for the Brooklyn Museum, pattern work for Kate Spade, and the design of a 7-screen cinematic experience for Kanye West. On top of her work at 2×4, Sellers was recently appointed head of design at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she will oversee a team of designers, installers, and architects to execute the full range of the institution’s design needs, including print materials, gallery installations, and signage. In March 2016, the institution will unveil its newly designed brand—Sellers’s Insights lecture will be her first public presentation of what should be a fantastic new identity.

Sellers is also one of the core faculty members of the MFA graphic design program at the Yale University School of Art, where she helps shape one of the most prestigious design programs in the world. She has written about design for such publications as Eye, Design Issues, and Visible Language and her work has received countless awards.



Printing of the Insights 2016 poster courtesy the Avery Group at Shapco Printing, Minneapolis.

Counter Currents: Tomás Saraceno on Buckminster Fuller

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Dread Scott to Experimental Jetset and Lucky Dragons—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here artist Tomás Saraceno links the work […]

Counter Currents_6
Presented in conjunction with the exhibition
Hippie Modernism, the ongoing series Counter Currents invites a range of individuals and collectives—from writer Geoff Manaugh and artist Dread Scott to Experimental Jetset and Lucky Dragons—to share how countercultural artists and designers of the 1960s and ’70s have influenced their work and thinking today. Here artist Tomás Saraceno links the work of R. Buckminster Fuller with Aerocene, his “series of air-fueled sculptures that will achieve the longest, emission-free journey around the world: becoming buoyant only by the heat of the Sun and infrared radiation from the surface of Earth.”

This is a memory of a story about the construction of a telescope. The first day we built a telescope of small dimensions, we looked through it and could not see anything. Then we built a bigger telescope, four times as big. We looked again and… nothing. So we built an even bigger telescope and we kept going… The telescope got bigger and bigger. Still… nothing. There is a moment when the telescope gets so big that others can see our telescope first, rather than, through it, us seeing them.

US Pavilion for Expo 67, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller and Shoi Sdao, erupts in flames. Montreal, May 20, 1976

US Pavilion for Expo 67, designed by R. Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao, erupts in flames. Montreal, May 20, 1976.

“Welcome aboard Spaceship Earth!” R. Buckminster Fuller said while looking up to the sky and downward to the ground. He noted, “We are all pilots.” Astronaut Don Pettit, aboard of the International Space Station, could have easily replied to him, “From my orbital perspective, I am sitting still and Earth is moving. I sit above the grandest of all globes spinning below my feet, and watch the world speed by at an amazing eight kilometers per second. The globe is equally divided into day and night by the shadow line, but being 400 kilometers up, we travel a significant distance over the nighttime earth while the station remains in full sunlight. During those times, as viewed from Earth, we are brightly lit against a dark sky. This is a special period that makes it possible for people on the ground to observe space station pass overhead as a large, bright, moving point of light… Ironically, when earthlings can see us, we cannot see them. The glare from the full sun effectively turns our windows into mirrors that return our own ghostly reflection.”

Telescopes turn into microscopes, and all universe fits into it. From where I stand, I found the Universe in a spider web, its harmonic rhythms in the cosmic vibration of a silky string; I found my dreams of flying cities in used plastic bags. The options are infinite. Today I feel the urgency to sense the atmosphere, and I want you to feel it too, because, in the end, we are all already on-board.


Fifty years ago, Fuller’s Spaceship Earth was a clever and sensitive metaphor. Today, this metaphor is a reality, concrete as the particles floating in the universe: the Earth is a Spaceship, with an endless journey and limited resources. And the geological Era we live in, the Anthropocene (critically renamed Capitalocene by Jason W. Moore), by privileging the endless accumulation of capital over all other biological, geological and meteorological forms of life—demands us to re-invent our resources. This is where Bucky Fuller would have comforted us with his ability to change perspective: “There’s no energy crisis; there’s a crisis of ignorance.” To which Marshall McLuhan could have added, “There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.” This is “the paradoxical message that Aerocene bears: up from the sky it calls the necessity to be on earth, well-grounded.”1

When I look up, I see an Open Source Space Agency; I see Aerocene­—the opportunity to “de- and re-engineer the hydrocarbon and intellectual property infrastructures that envelop our world,”2 and to reinvent existing methods of flying in ways that do not harm the Earth. It is a new epoch without fossil fuels, engines, helium, or batteries… I want all of us to learn how to fly a 3000 m3 lighter-than-air vehicles that use only solar thermodynamics to become buoyant. We do not need to be all astronauts to explore the overview effect, because we are all pilots. By “all,” I mean it: to change the planet we can only Do-It-Together.

Tomás Saraceno, Aerocene 10.4 & 15.3 During UN COP21 Climate Summit, installation view at Grand Palais, Paris, 2015, Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Andersen's Contemporary, Copenhagen; Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa; Esther Schipper, Berlin. © Tomás Saraceno, 2015

Tomás Saraceno, Aerocene 10.4 & 15.3, installed at Grand Palais, Paris, 2015, during the UN COP21 Climate Summit. Courtesy the artist; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; Andersen’s Contemporary, Copenhagen; Pinksummer contemporary art, Genoa; Esther Schipper, Berlin. © Tomás Saraceno, 2015


1. Michelon, Olivier. “I bind the Sun’s Throne with a burning zone” in Tomás Saraceno (Ed.) Aerocene. Berlin: 2015.

2. Shapiro, Nicholas. “Alter-Engineered Worlds” in Tomás Saraceno (Ed.) Aerocene. Berlin: 2015.

Tomás Saraceno was born in Argentina in 1973 and is based in Berlin. His oeuvre could be seen as an ongoing research, influenced by the world of art, architecture, natural science, and engineering; his floating sculptures and interactive installations propose and explore new, mindful ways of inhabiting and perceiving the environment. He attended the International Space Studies Program in 2009 at NASA Ames in Silicon Valley, California. The same year, Saraceno presented a major installation at the 53rd Venice Biennale and was later on awarded the prestigious Calder Prize. Saraceno’s work has been shown internationally, in solo and group exhibitions such as Aerocene at Solutions COP21, Grand Palais, Paris, Arachnid Orchestra.Jam Sessions at NTU Centre for Contemporary Art Singapore, Le Bordes du Monde, at Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2015), In orbit at Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen K21 in Düsseldorf (2013–16) On Space Time Foam at Hangar Bicocca in Milan (2012–13), and Tomás Saraceno: Lighter than Air at the Walker Art Center (2009), among others. Since 2012, he is Visiting Artist at MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). His work has also been exhibited in public museums like Museum for Contemporary Art Villa Croce, in Genoa (2014), The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2012), and Hamburger Bahnhof, in Berlin (2011–12). Saraceno lives and works in and beyond the planet Earth.

No posts