Industrial Design

Designs That We Take for Granted

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The death of Kenji Ekuan, a Japanese monk-turned-industrial designer, last week is reason to recall his most iconic design — the ubiquitous red-capped Kikkoman soy sauce bottle. Omnipresent in Japanese restaurants and in most Japanese homes worldwide since it was introduced in 1961, the soy sauce dispenser is as much a dining table fixture as salt-and-pepper shakers. Globally, more than 300 million bottles have been sold to date. The teardrop-shaped bottle with a red plastic cap is synonymous with soy sauce. Ekuan reported that it took him three years and more than 100 prototypes to come up with the smooth contoured glass form that could be held firmly between two fingers and had a screw-on cap that integrated into its design a double-sided dripless spout. The choice of clear glass, too, made it possible to see how much soy sauce was still inside without unscrewing the cap. As with so many commonplace objects that we take for granted, Ekuan’s dispenser design deserves to be considered more closely and appreciated for its simple elegance and intuitive functionality.

Father Time

Old Father Time

FatherTime

Every New Year’s editorial cartoonist depict the passing of the old year by drawing pictures of an elderly bearded man, dressed in a robe and carrying a scythe and often an hourglass. Who is this geezer and why is he resurrected by the media at the start of every new year?

The ancient Greeks called him Chronos (the root of “chronology”) and the Romans knew him as Saturn, son of Uranus (Sky Father) and Gaea (earth mother). In the middle ages, he was thought of as the Grim Reaper, but now we simply call him Old Father Time. In all of these myths, he symbolizes the inexorable flow of time, both its destructive and constructive effects. But even as his physical vitality dwindles, like an inverted hourglass, it is replenished with serenity, wisdom and the awareness of being part of a continuum. That is the gift of time. Happy new year.

Design Classic

Adventures of Tintin

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In the realm of classic comic book heroes, there is Spiderman, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, the Green Lantern …and Tintin the baby-faced boy reporter. A comic strip introduced in 1929 by Belgian cartoonist Herge (Georges Prosper Remi), “The Adventures of Tintin” relates tales of a Belgian teenager with a round head and a dorky quiff hairstyle who is dispatched by a youth newspaper called Le Petit Vingtieme (the Little Twentieth) to file investigative reports from hot spots around the world. Unassuming and good-natured, Tintin gamely goes wherever he is assigned, taking his little fox terrier, Snowy, with him. His travels often put him in the midst of political upheaval in the land of the Soviets, the Belgian Congo, China, Chicago, Latin America and elsewhere, and in trying to get to the bottom of a mystery, he is forced to deal with ruthless special agents, diamond smugglers, Al Capone gangsters and other villains who want to run him over, shoot him, torture him, kidnap him and feed him to crocodiles.Tintin and Snowy deal with each encounter without fear and get themselves out of each jam through quick-thinking action and sometimes through sheer dumb luck. What has kept Tintin so beloved over the decades is that he isn’t presented as an egotistical super human like Spiderman and Wonder Woman, but as an average young man who doesn’t seek out danger but doesn’t run from it either. In Brussels, Tintin and Snowy are honored with a life-size bronze statue, and they are even commemorated on a euro coin, which is legal tender in Belgium. An unlikely action hero, Tintin is probably the most admired fictional Belgian in recent history.

Design Communications

NYC Subway Graphic Standards Manual
Becomes Kickstarter Sensation

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More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.

The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.

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Announcements

@Issue Print Archive Is Back…Again

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Those of you who clicked on the Print Archive only to find a photo of covers (seen here) and nothing else, we are happy to report that you can now access the back issues online. Previously only key stories had been posted because Kit needed the intern who was scanning old articles for other tasks. Finally, everything has been scanned and you can view them in their entirety here. We are also pleased to report that for those who want the real printed publication, past editions are available while they last from Corporate Design Foundation; email peter@cdf.org. (For the record, yes, we miss the print editions too, and would be thrilled to return to ink on paper.)

View the Print Archive Here →