Sometimes a literal visualization of a message is the most effective one. These billboards by creative agency Extra Credit Projects in Grand Rapid, Michigan, promote the services of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, an 80-bed rehab center in Grand Rapids. On the all-text billboard ads, the ailment to be treated is clear; nothing more need be said or shown to improve understanding.
As an aside, the name of the hospital itself has a fascinating origin. In 1891, a group of women in Grand Rapids sought to provide medical care for people with limited financial means by asking everyone named Mary, as well as those who knew anyone named Mary, to donate money to secure a free bed in one of the local hospitals. The so-called Mary Free Bed Guild went on to raise funds for convalescent and orthopedic centers for disabled children. In 1966, the program, expanded to care for spinal injury and stroke adult patients, was renamed Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.
For those who fly a lot, it may seem that when you’ve seen one international airport you’ve seen them all. If you’ve disembarked in a jet-lagged daze, you wouldn’t know where you’ve landed from looking at the identical retail concessions or the runways outside. That’s not true for the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at the Los Angeles International Airport. It’s a great place to be if you have to wait around a couple of hours to board your flight. A 72-foot digital LED tower streams dreamlike sequences of cloudscapes and ocean waves and abstract graphics. Large digital LED screens respond to the movement of passengers, triggering images and sound inspired by travel destinations. The dazzling effects are so entertaining it almost makes you wish that your flight is delayed. The spectacular digital LED landscapes were created by Digital Kitchen in collaboration with MRA International, Sardi Design, Moment Factory, Daktronics, Electrosonic, Smart Monkeys, Inc. and Los Angeles World Airports.
Over the past 30 years, we have seen many professions in the graphic arts replaced by technology. Sign painting is one. Sign painting was a trade that existed in every community to adorn storefronts, banners, billboards, street signs, and buildings. The really good signs were one-of-a-kind works of art, produced by a steady hand, discerning eye, and aesthetic sensibility. Hand-painted signs revealed the pride and skill of the craftsmen. Their execution took human judgment and an active collaboration of eye, mind and hand. On a subliminal level, viewers could feel the effort of the maker. Now signs are mostly computer-designed, die-cut vinyl lettering. Undoubtedly, this is faster, cheaper and more uniform in quality, but like so much of our urban landscape, it lacks the warmth, soul and touch of human hands. “Sign Painters” is a documentary film (and also a book) by Faythe Levine and Sam Macon that celebrates the vanishing art of sign painting. The film is currently being shown in select locations in the U.S. and other parts of the globe. If it comes to your area, do see it.
At the Expo 2012 in Korea, Hyundai Motor Group staged a mind-blowing display using a controller area network (CAN) called mechatronic. This is a message-based protocol originally designed for automotive applications and now also used in areas such as industrial automation and medical equipment. Hyundai’s Hyper-Matrix installation was designed by Seoul media arts firm Jonpasang. In just two months, the team built a mammoth three-sided display out of thousands of Styrofoam blocks that could be manipulated like pixels.The 11-inch cubes were driven by 3,375 customized actuators and stepping motors that moved the blocks back and forth according to a specially prescribed program. The high-speed data transfer program constantly reconfigured the cubes to create a mesmerizing show.
Directed by Filip Sterckx for a Belgian band named Willow, this music video for the song “Sweater” is a tour-de-force in 3-D projection mapping. Three projectors were used to beam backgrounds onto the floor and two blank walls, while the singer feigned movement by “strolling” on a treadmill. The video seamlessly takes the guy through multiple settings, down an escalator, across a park, on a boat and into the water with air bubbles rising from his scuba diving gear. Great concept, optical illusions and execution.
The Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to Oakland and the East Bay, has always played second fiddle to the glamorous Golden Gate Bridge. Even though both spans are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, the drab gray Bay Bridge never stirred the heart the way its flashy orange sister span has. The Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th birthday was commemorated with fireworks, a fancy new visitors’ center, and souvenir trinkets of all kind. On the other side of town, it was business as usual on the Bay Bridge, with some 270,000 vehicles crossing its span daily.
Korea’s largest retail chain, Emart, found that slumping sales at midday were casting a shadow over its revenues and came up with a clever way to attract lunch-time shoppers. At its 38 locations throughout Seoul, Emart installed three-dimensional QR codes on outdoor pillars located to catch the sun. Like a sundial, the shadows on the QR code moved as the sun changed position, and passersby were alerted that they could only read the QR code’s message between 12 noon and 1 pm. Consumers who scanned the code were directed to the Emart online store where they received $12 coupons for products that would be delivered to their homes. Thousands of consumers claimed Emart vouchers, and sales increased by 25% during the lunch hour.
You read about VW’s transparent factory (below); now take a look at Mercedes’s invisible car. Mercedes-Benz’s new zero-emission F-Cell car is being marketed as a vehicle that is virtually invisible to the environment. The reason is because it runs on hydrogen fuel cells that convert compressed hydrogen into electricity to power the motor. The only emission is water vapor. To promote this fact in a memorable way, Mercedes blanketed one side of the car with LEDs and mounted a Canon 5D Mark II camera on the other side. The LEDs displayed whatever the camera filmed, causing passersby to stop and gawk at the “invisible” car.
One of the UK’s largest works of public art, the Comedy Carpet, opened in October on the seaside promenade in front of the renowned Tower in Blackpool. Designed by artist Gordon Young in collaboration with Why Not Associates, the typographic landscape is made up of jokes, songs and catch phrases from more than 1,000 British comedians and writers. Commissioned by the Blackpool County Council to create a piece of installation art, Young determined that “Blackpool occupies a unique and important place in the social history of Britain. Comedy in all its guises is a big part of who and what we are…. Blackpool has been a magnetic chuckle point for the nation.” Young added that he also wanted to maintain the high craft standards of Blackpool’s historic architecture, including the famous Winter Gardens, library and Tower. “
The 2,200 square meter Comedy Carpet was five years in the making. Each piece (over 160,000 letters) was cut from solid granite or cobalt blue concrete, arranged into over 300 slabs and cast into a high-quality concrete so it wouldn’t fade. The Comedy Carpet has become an instant tourist attraction, with visitors walking across the promenade and reading the memorable words of legendary comedians.
City-dwellers know that we are constantly bombarded with graphic messages. It’s the “white noise” of urban living. Most of us tune it out like the omnipresent sound of traffic and pedestrian chatter.
This 2006 award-winning film, made by Netherlands-based Studio Smack for Museum de Beyerd in Breda, has become a classic. Like an x-ray, the film “Kapitaal” zeroes in only on the graphic stimuli encountered by an “unseen commuter” waiting on a platform for the train, riding the subway and walking through the city. Everything but the graphic information is reduced to black silhouettes. Signage, logos, ads, train timetables, graffiti, posters and packaging labels stand out in stark white contrast. There is no voiceover commentary, just the claustrophobic visual assault pressing in from every direction. It begs the question: How much do people really notice in a world of information overload? How can designers and advertisers avoid adding to the visual clutter and give the public something they really want to see?
Just over a year ago, we ran a story about innovations in 3-D projection mapping. At the time, it was largely a performance demonstration that hadn’t yet become established for commercial marketing purposes. Now it has. This dazzling 3-D mapping stunt was created in Malaysia for the 2012 Hyundai Accent, which will be debuted at the New York Auto Show later this month. The part of the video that is real is the car, which was suspended from the side of a building, and the driver who “walked” to the car and got in to “drive.” The wheels spun, but the rest of the imagery was computer generated. One thing about 3-D mapping films is that they need to show viewers the reaction of the in-person audience and even the behind-the-scene production work to truly appreciate what the producers pulled off. Otherwise, just seeing the 3-D show on a screen would lead many to conclude that the whole thing was done on a computer.
Japanese graphic designer Masaaki Hiromura has made pictograms an integral part of the kanji characters he created for Tokyo’s Kitasenjyu Marui department store to come up with food words that can be understood in any language. The silhouette of the food appropriately replaces a stroke in the word so it can be read as text. Although Hiromura was probably focused on devising a witty and graphically interesting way to communicate to multinational customers who frequent the store, this display seems like the reverse of how written languages began in many ancient cultures. Japanese and Chinese characters started as pictographs, ideographic symbols describing objects and actions. Over time, these characters became less pictographic and ideographic and more visually abstract. What’s amusing about these pictogram characters is that we’ve come full circle.
Typography has always figured prominently in the work of American conceptual artist Barbara Kruger, never more so than in this installation at the temporary Stedelijk in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Kruger’s work is part of the series of “Taking Place” exhibitions, hosted by the museum to allow contemporary artists to express themselves in innovative and experimental ways in the unfinished space of the Stedelijk.
For her art installation, Kruger chose the museum’s largest gallery, the Hall of Honor, and wrapped the floor and walls with text printed at a monumental scale. The aphorisms set forth are emotion-charged, powerful and in-your-face unavoidable.
Over the past couple of weeks two separate stories appeared in the news. One was a report by Amazon that for the first time its e-books outsold its hardcover titles. For the quarter, Amazon says it sold 143 e-titles for every 100 hardcover books.
The other story, which appeared in San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, was about the town of Walnut Creek’s new library, which incorporated 17 original works of art at a cost of $300,000. The neighboring town of Lafayette (population 25,000) spent roughly $400,000 on paintings, photographs, sculptures and prints when it rebuilt its library last year. The local paper described this new crop of libraries with conference rooms, fireplaces, computers and cafes as “community living rooms.” Libraries are not just repositories for books anymore. Some public libraries are redefining their role by positioning themselves as knowledge centers free and open to the entire community – not a museum, not a school, not a social club, but a place that bridges the digital divide and draws together those who share a love of art and learning.
We recently ran across this post by Alissa Walker for Good.Is about an artist/motorist named Richard Ankrom who got fed-up with the dangerously confusing wayfinding signs splitting the 5 North onramp from the 110 Freeway to Pasadena. The lack of a 5 North overhead sign often caused drivers to wave their hand frantically to be allowed to switch lanes at the last minute and motorists who were cut off to wave their finger in an upward motion to express their annoyance.
In a bit of public service performance art, Ankrom used his hands more constructively and crafted his own freeway directions. The altered signage, which Ankrom put up in broad daylight in 2001, was appreciated by commuters like Alissa, but was not recognized as phony until Ankrom leaked his prank to local newspapers. That’s how it came to the attention of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which is in charge of freeway signs. Despite Ankrom’s confession, he wasn’t charged with defacing public property because, afterall, how is making something better and safer a crime? For the past eight years, Caltrans let Ankrom’s doctored sign stand. Then recently it removed it, and replaced it with an official sign that looks like Ankrom’s.
From Netherlands-based design firm, NuFormer Digital Media, comes a new way of projecting three-dimensional images onto a building exterior. Custom-designed to fit any building façade and scale up to any size, the video mapped objects are made visible by a set of powerful projectors. Without physically constructing new architecture or permanently altering the streetscape, NuFormer hardware/software technology enables users to transform an outdoor public space into a virtual yet live experience. Consider the possibilities to communicate, entertain, educate. Think of how 3-D projections can be used for advertising, product launches, conferences, concerts, festivals. This is a whole new medium waiting to be tapped.