Maximalism: Ugly Design vs. Minimalism

The New York Times: “If you have read a design magazine or, really, ever been inside a house with a subscription to one, you will be familiar with the words: midcentury, modern, minimalist, Scandinavian … Ksenia Shestakovskaia, for one, finds it all unbearably boring. She was working as a textile designer in Berlin when she came to see that simplicity and marketability had overtaken creativity … So she left her job and started spending time on eBay, browsing furniture listings and collecting images of her favorite pieces. Some may call it killing time; Ms. Shestakovskaia thinks of it as research.”

“Her findings first surfaced on her Instagram account, @decorhardcore, a stream of furnishings that could be described as ’80s glam meets ’90s kitsch meets grandma’s tchotchke cabinet.” Jonas Nyffenegger, 30, “and his friend Sébastien Mathys, 31, created Ugly Design, a collection of found images that form a counterargument to minimalism, as well as everything you might learn in graduate school. Their interests extend into fashion, and recent posts on Instagram include ripped jeans patched with raw-meat-printed fabric, and a toilet that also happens to be a giant high-heeled shoe.”

“Ms. Shestakovskaia disagrees with the idea that maximalism’s appeal comes from its inherent ugliness.” She comments: “I struggle with ugly and horrendous and heinous, but strange is really good.”

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The da Vinci Code: Observe, Connect & Create

Walter Isaacson: “Today we live in a world that encourages specialization, whether we are students, scholars, workers or professionals. We also tend to exalt training in technology and engineering, believing that the jobs of the future will go to those who can code and build rather than those who can be creative.”

“But the true innovators tend to be those like Leonardo who make no distinction between the beauties of the arts and the beauties of the sciences. When Einstein was stymied in his pursuit of the field equations for general relativity, he would often pull out his violin and play Mozart. The music, he said, helped to connect him to the harmonies of our cosmos. At the end of many of his product presentations, Steve Jobs would display a slide that showed the intersection of streets labeled ‘Liberal Arts’ and ‘Technology.’ He knew that at such crossroads lay creativity.”

“There is a flip side for those of us who love the arts and humanities. Like Leonardo, we must be able to see and embrace the beauty of a mathematical equation or a scientific theory. Cultural critics who complain that today’s students fail to learn Shakespeare or civics or history should not be complacent about their own cluelessness when it comes to, say, what a transistor does or how a circuit processes logical sequences. All of these topics are valuable and enriching, especially when we can connect them to one another.”

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Vivaldi & Creativity: Music is the Muse

Pacific Standard: “Crank up the music. Not just any music—something upbeat and stimulating, such as the opening movement of Antonio Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons. In a study published in the online journal PLoS One, participants proved more skillful at generating creative ideas if that cheerful, chirpy concerto was playing in the background.”

“Their study featured 155 people recruited online, the majority of whom were college students. All performed a series of creativity-related tests, including the well-known Alternative Uses Task, in which they were given three minutes to list as many “different and creative uses” they could come up with for a common object—in this case, a brick … Additional tests measured ‘convergent thinking,’ the part of the creative process in which all those crazy ideas are narrowed down to find the optimal solution to a problem.”

“The key result: Compared to working in silence, listening to the uplifting Vivaldi was ‘associated with an increase in divergent thinking.’ Convergent thinking, on the other hand, was not significantly affected by background music.”

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Dominos Delivers Its Promise: Gross Bro-Food

Fast Company: “In the age of Instagram, food is no longer designed to just be food … Yet in this new wave of food-as-influencer, there is a single, curmudgeonly brand that insists on photographing its dishes on conference room tables, under fluorescent lighting, and from all sorts of unflattering angles. It’s a brand that looks art directed by your 65-year-old parents who bought some no-name Android smartphone, hired based upon their portfolio of blurry photos on Facebook. It’s Domino’s.”

Dennis Maloney, Domino’s chief digital officer, comments: “In this space, we actually are finding that less than perfect is sometimes actually perfect. A lot of customers are out photographing their food. They know, depending where you take it and the light you’re under, food looks different. It feels much more honest and transparent when the images are imperfect … Even if it is a little bit gooey, greasy, the packaging isn’t perfect, and there’s a bit of a burnt spot, that’s the pizza you get. And that makes you think how good it was last time you had it.”

“But let us be clear about something when it comes to Domino’s social feeds. It’s not just full of realistic photography without a food stylist on the set. It’s often downright gross bro-food, like what you might see waking up at 5 a.m. on the floor of a frat house. We’re talking about grease-stained boxes, mozzarella cheese that has a white balance set to the color of earwax (17,000 likes) … We’re talking about congealed chicken wings sitting in a pool of lukewarm buffalo sauce (8,000 likes) … In theory, Domino’s will only drive more loyalty with every person who sees a deflated pile of cheese sticks on its feed and orders them in real life, because Domino’s is delivering on its promise.”

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Somali Graffiti: The Art of Retail

Quartz: “If you visit any major city or town in Somalia, chances are that you will come across the colorful artworks that dot the walls of both private and public establishments.”

“These painted signs are the work of skillful artists, who in broad brushstrokes, advertise the goods and services offered at different business outlets. These include the availability of electronic appliances, vehicle spare parts, beauty products, foodstuff and beverages, and the sometimes graphically-drawn dental, medical, or circumcision services.”

“The hand-drawn signs gained popularity in Somalia after the collapse of the central government in 1991. Artists who couldn’t sell their paintings after the breakout of the civil war offered their talent to local businesses. Economic stagnation in rural areas also pushed many Somalis with low literacy levels into urban areas—forcing many businesses to visually depict what they sell to people who couldn’t read.”

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Algorithmania: Nutella Prints 7 Million Unique Labels

Hyperallergic: “Nutella’s manufacturer, Ferrero, recently partnered with advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather Italia to make Nutella even more endearing and its consumption more exciting by presenting Nutella Unica, an algorithm designed to create a series of unique labels for (almost) every Nutella jar in Italy. The algorithm pulls from a database of dozens of patterns and colors to create seven million different versions of the Nutella label — pink and green, striped and polka-dotted, Pop Art-inspired and minimal.”

“Advertising for Nutella Unica compares the individuality of each jar to the people of Italy themselves (there are about 60 million people in Italy, so about 11% of them can get a jar all their own — actually quite a feat). When these exceptionally delicious artworks hit shelves in Italy in February 2017, they sold out in barely a month. Can you imagine the shopping possibilities — buying multiples, or maybe trying to find an attractive pair?”

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Brand Stradivarius Fails To Resonate

Van: “Recent research led by Dr. Claudia Fritz of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris has questioned whether we can perceive the differences between old and new violins. In September 2010, Fritz and her team of researchers asked 21 experienced violinists to choose which violin they preferred from a pool of six. These consisted of three new and three old violins, two of which were Stradivarius … Each of the participants wore goggles that disguised whether the instrument they were playing was old or new.”

“Contrary to expectations, it was one particular Stradivarius that was the least preferred. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the single most preferred instrument was a new violin … In her most recent paper, published last month, Fritz asked an audience of 55 volunteers to listen to and compare three new violins with three Stradivari violins in a concert hall in Paris. The audience consisted of those with relevant expertise, such as violin makers, players, musicians, audiophiles, music critics, composers and acousticians. Without knowing whether they were listening to old or new violins, the audience decided that new violins not only projected better, but that they also generally preferred their sound over old violins. Fritz repeated the experiment in New York and gained similar results.”

“Fritz’s study may have proven that new violins sound just as good old ones when we are unaware of their age, but in reality no violinist plays in such blind conditions, and most concert programs will inform audiences if the soloist is playing on a priceless antique. We do not play or listen to music in isolation: anything from the concert venue, the time of day, to knowing that the soloist is playing on a centuries-old instruments affects our response. The staunch defenders of Stradivarius’s superiority illustrate that we still find something special in the long histories of old violins. Our romantic obsession with old objects and the stories that surround them continues, meaning there is little more that science can do to dispel the Stradivarius myth.”

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Hit Factories: Making Songs Like Sausages

BBC: “A new study by Music Week magazine shows it now takes an average of 4.53 writers to create a hit single … Ten years ago, the average number of writers on a hit single was 3.52 … Even solo singer-songwriters like Adele, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran, whose identities are deeply ingrained into their music, lean on co-writers …. So why is this happening? Are songwriters increasingly lazy or lacking in talent? Or are they second-guessing themselves in the search for a hit?”

“According to Mike Smith, managing director of music publishers Warner/Chappell UK, it is simply that the business of making music has changed.” He comments: “Think back 20 years and an artist would take at least two or three albums to really hone their craft as a songwriter. There is a need to fast-forward that process [which means record labels will] bring in professional songwriters, put them in with artists and try to bring them through a lot faster.”

“Writing camps are where the music industry puts the infinite monkey theorem to the test, detaining dozens of producers, musicians and ‘top-liners’ (melody writers) and forcing them to create an endless array of songs, usually for a specific artist … British songwriter MNEK, who is one of 13 people credited on Beyonce’s hit single Hold Up, says the song is essentially a Frankenstein’s Monster, stitched together from dozens of demos.” He explains: “She played me the chorus. Then I came back here [to my studio] and recorded all the ideas I had for the song. Beyonce snipped out the pieces she really liked and the end result was this really great, complete song.”

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Polaroid Swing: The Hogwarts of Photographs

The Guardian: “The Silicon Valley startup Polaroid Swing will this week offer more than 200 photographers equipment, exhibition space and possible commissions in its new artist support programme … The company, which launched its Polaroid Swing app last summer, has taken the name and spirit of Polaroid and repackaged it into a new enterprise with a mission, it says, to create a ‘living photograph,’ a step toward something you might see in the Harry Potter movies.” Co founder Tommy Stadlen explains: “Photographs should be alive. Every photograph in the digital world and eventually in the physical world, why can’t you move it? Why can’t you have the composition of a still and be able to see it move?”

“The concept is based on humans seeing the world in ‘short moments, not photos or videos,’ he said. So with a Swing photo you will see the wave crash or the eye blink. The motion is triggered by dragging your mouse pointer across the image, or your finger across it in the case of a touchscreen … The idea is that applicants will use the Polaroid Swing app to take pictures which they then submit through social media. The best submissions will be whittled down to a shortlist judged by a diverse panel which will include the photographer Paolo Roversi, the Tate chairman, Lord Browne, and the supermodel Natalia Vodianova.”

“Around 100 people in the UK, 100 in the US and more around the world will then be invited on to the programme which will mean getting a free iPhone, being part of digital and physical exhibitions and having the possibility of brand commission work … Stadlen said they were new and different, and that the company’s ambitions were not restricted to the digital world. It eventually hopes to create hardware that allows moving photographs in the physical world.”

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5-S Retail: The Multi-Sensory Experience

The New York Times: “Museums usually aim to offer a feast for the eyes, but this Detroit museum had much more in mind for ‘Bitter|Sweet: Coffee, Tea & Chocolate,’ which just closed at the institute. Officials, who used art objects to illustrate how the introduction of those beverages to Europe in the 16th century from Africa, Asia and the Americas changed social and consumption patterns, wanted the exhibition to be a banquet for all five senses.”

“Other art institutions are experimenting, too. For instance, when the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., presented ‘Asia in Amsterdam: The Culture of Luxury in the Golden Age’ last year, visitors were invited to touch a fine translucent porcelain piece imported from China, and to imagine the novelty that the 17th-century Dutch must have experienced … Some museum leaders view these offerings as a way to attract younger audiences who are steeped in multisensory experiences and to deepen the engagement with the art objects for everyone. But others see them as distractions.”

“Going further takes much more thought, and many agree that the decision is best driven by an exhibition’s subject … Martina Bagnoli of the Galleria Estensi in Modena, Italy, writes: “Medieval images and objects were made to speak to all the senses — not sight alone. They were not only seen, but also, and at the same time, touched, tasted, smelled and heard.”

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