As we celebrate Independence Day in the U.S., it seems fitting to give credit where credit is due to Francis Hopkinson, who substantial evidence shows designed the first American flag in 1777. Hopkinson, a New Jersey lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, had a natural love of heraldry and art, and dabbled at graphic design (a profession that didn’t exist back then). During the American Revolution, Hopkinson was serving as chairman of the Navy Board’s Middle Department, when it got an urgent request to come up with an official banner of some sort that soldiers could carry into battle. At the time, the rebelling colonies were flying a flag that featured a variation of the British Union Jack in the canton surrounded on three sides with horizontal red and white stripes. (It looked like a knock-off of the British East India Company flag.)
The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.
A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.
This is a car commercial inspired by epic themes found in Herman Melville’s 1851 classic “Moby Dick.” Told by a tormented Alaska tow truck driver, played by David Florek, the modern-day Ahab is fraught with frustration, yearning and regret over the car that kept escaping his grasp, even in an arctic blizzard. Created by San Francisco ad agency Venables Bell & Partners, the commercial spins an overblown account of trying to hook the wily Audi Quattro. Though exaggerated to mythic proportions, the tale of the tow truck driver versus the Audi Quattro is not anything like the story of Ahab’s obsessive and vengeful pursuit of Moby Dick, the great white whale that chewed off his leg and ultimately destroyed his Pequod ship and him along with it. But the comparison makes a wonderful yarn, especially when you consider that the commercial is really about Audi Quattro’s four-wheel drive system — which would really be boring if the narrator told it straight.
Without a strong concept, illustration is just glorified doodling. The same can be said of design as well. Those entering these professions need to exhibit more than technical skill; they need to engage their minds and imaginations to get at the crux of the story they want to tell.
I was reminded of this while watching Craig Frazier’s video. A prolifically talented illustrator who still sketches thumbnails with pen and ink and cuts his final image out of rubylith film, Craig explains. “If there is anything magical about making illustration, it happens at the sketch stage. That’s when the idea comes out of the pen. The DNA of the illustration exists right in the sketch. If it is not there, it is not going to show up later on.”
An aesthetically pleasing logo is great, but when it is wrapped around a charming story, the brand becomes all the more memorable. Landor Associates did both in developing the design and branding for the ultra-exclusive Nine Suns Wine of Napa Valley. Playing off the Chinese heritage of the owners, Landor recalled the ancient Yao Dynasty legend that claimed that once 10 suns lit the earth in rotation, until one day the suns grew tired of taking turns and decided to rise all at once. The unrelenting heat from the suns scorched crops and trees and caused much suffering. Emperor Yao summoned Hou Yi, the god of archery, to save the land. The archer quickly shot nine suns out of the sky, but left the tenth sun to keep heaven and earth in perfect balance. The winery’s brand mark represents the nine suns myth with the nine black dots lyrically configured to spell Nine Suns.