Ask people to name some of the most iconic symbols of Paris and they are likely to say the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Notre Dame Cathedral, among other landmarks. What they are unlikely to mention are the merchant boats that once plied the Seine. So important were these vessels to the survival, wealth and influence of Paris in the Middle Ages, a high-sided boat with a billowing sail was adopted as the heraldic coat of arms for Paris in 1358. It remained the city’s official emblem for more than a thousand years. The seal is typically displayed on public facilities along with the city motto “Fluctuat nec Mergitur” – Latin for “tossed upon the waves, but doesn’t sink.”
Over the centuries, the boat displayed on the coat of arms had been redesigned a dozen or so times, with artists striving for a more majestic look, sometimes by drawing tall-clipper-type ships with multiple masts. But in 1942, when Paris again modified its logo, it aimed for more historical accuracy and showed a high-sided, bowed gondola-like boat with a single mast. That version remained the authorized logo for Paris, until the city opted to modernize it to complement the graphic style of today.
Apple’s fall rollout of new products isn’t welcome news for some of us still adjusting to the iPhone 5 and getting the feel of the iPad we got last Christmas. Many of us who grew up in the analog age view every electronic upgrade as stressful and disruptive. Innovation for innovation’s sake isn’t always welcome. Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. Millennials, born thinking of their opposable thumbs as digital operating devices, don’t understand that “intuitive” is a relative and generational term. Which brings me to this classic comedy sketch created for Norwegian TV a few years back.
To celebrate the holidays, AKQA, the San Francisco/London-based digital creative agency, teamed up with members of the Pacific Chamber Symphony and Music Director Laurence Kohl to produce an interactive arrangement of “Carol of the Bells.” They are assisted by “shadow orchestra members” led by a “shadow conductor” who coordinates the performance by linking to Mobile Orchestra.com via wi-fi to get a unique web address. From there, up to 12 people may sync their smartphones, each choosing an instrument played by one of the real musicians. Once the “conductor” sees that all the mobile instruments are ready, he/she presses a key to let the music begin.
German magician Simon Pierro reviews the iPad iOS, demonstrating feats through sleight-of-hand and digital illusions. Aside from the fact that Pierro is an awesome performance artist, you have to admire his code-writing genius. He had to have spent hours designing apps and editing video and then working out split-second timing to have the image on the screen materialize seamlessly as a real object in hand. It used to be that magicians worked with smoke and mirrors, now the act is man and machine. Although this is entertainment masquerading as product demo, it is a clever sales pitch for iPad engineering – color clarity, speed, multi-screen patterns, instantaneous rotation of images so they can enter screen right and exit screen left or the other way around. At a trade show, Pierro’s act is sure to stop passersby in their tracks, and leave people marveling not only over what a great magician can do, but the iPad too.
Elegant. Simple. Intuitive. Graphic. These are descriptions not applied to technology until Steve Jobs dazzled the world with the Macintosh, the iMac, the iPod, iPhone, iPad and more. He understood the purpose of design on a visceral level and not only transformed the way designers work, but elevated public awareness that design is not merely an aesthetic marketing device, but the heartbeat of innovation. Thank you, Steve. Well done. Rest in peace.