December 6, 2012
In preparation for the holiday season, we’ve put together a selection of gift ideas related to some of our favorite Design Decoded posts. The following items are all some combination of useful, beautiful, clever and iconic. We’ll let you decide which is which. Have a very designy holiday!
Home 3D Printer: After writing about 3D-printed footwear, you might be inspired to try fabricating your own products at home. Currently, domestic-scale 3D printers are not cheap, but the number of models available is increasing, and the price may drop as this becomes a more common practice.
Music for Airports: Brian Eno coined the term “ambient” to describe this seminal soundscape. The ebbs and flows of the minimalist composition are slow and deliberate; at once haunting and comforting. “I had in my mind this ideal airport where it’s late at night; you’re sitting there and there are not many people around you,” Eno says of the album’s origin. “You’re just seeing planes take off through the smoked windows.” What could be better for the frequent traveler in your life?
Winter Citrus Boxes: Growing up in Colorado, it was tradition that each winter, a big box of grapefruits and oranges would arrive on our snowbound porch, sent by grandmother from Florida. Perhaps that is the origin of my interest in fruit. This year’s design-related explorations into mandarins (or clementines) focused on California, but I’ve always had fond thoughts for Florida citrus-by-mail (reinforced through John McPhee’s wonderful writing on the Indian River in his book, Oranges). For die-hard locavores, you can skip the long-distance produce and just buy McPhee’s book.
Sherlock Series 1 & 2: Since its debut in 2010, Steven Moffat’s brilliant re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes has introduced the detective to an entirely new generation. Each episode is an incredibly clever spin on a classic tale from Arthur Conan Doyle, with enough unique twists to keep even the most ardent Sherlockian guessing.
Building Stories: Chris Ware’s masterful tale of life and architecture is so much more than a comic. Unwrapping this box of refined comics will be like opening 14 smaller, incredibly well-crafted gifts. Be warned, if you’re inclined to holiday depression, this collection of true-to-life tales, while beautiful, does not exactly inspire hope.
Dracula Medallion: The Medal that Made Dracula Famous. The limited edition replica is identical to that worn by Bela Lugosi in the 1931 Universal feature Dracula. Despite only appearing in two scenes, the medallion is Lugosi’s signature piece and has become an integral part of the visual identity of Dracula.
Travel Tiffin: Airlines may be designing more efficient meal trays, but few are on the upswing when it comes to the quality and tastiness of their in-flight offerings. A carry-on snack is a good way to steer clear of terrible food or worse hunger, and these melamine tiffins are a nice way to pack it. Stainless steel versions are available (and more traditional), but the non-metal option seems like a more security-friendly way to go.
November 12, 2012
Back in January, when Newt Gingrich was still a GOP hopeful, he presented the idea of making the moon into the 51st member of the United States. Fast-forward a few months: Gingrich did not win the nomination, the moon remains uncolonized, but the notion of another state was in fact a very real part of the 2012 election. In Puerto Rico, a clear majority of citizens voted for the island’s statehood.
This doesn’t mean that Puerto Rico will be promptly admitted to the union. A number of factors and decisions still stand between the vote and the final outcome. However, it does beg the question: What would a 51-star flag look like? And, for that matter, what was the design process at other moments in history when the US scaled up its territory?
There’s a great five-minute clip on the archives of the wonderful StoryCorps in which the credited designer of the 50-state flag—a man named Bob Heft—describes the circumstances in which his configuration won official status as the US flag. As a high school student in the late 50s, right before Hawaii and Alaska were admitted to the union, Heft had to come up with a special project for his American History class. He decided to cut up an existing 48-star flag and sew it back together to create a 50-star flag (“I had never sewn in my life,” Heft says, “and since making the flag of our country, I’ve never sewn again.”). The stunt earned him a B- from a teacher who believed he didn’t know how many states the country had.
Heft submitted his design to the White House, alongside more than a thousand other ideas for the 50-star flag, and while there were a few others that shared the same concept, Heft’s was credited as being the official one. (His teacher changed his grade to an A.) After his moment of the national stage, Heft spent his life as a teacher and small-town mayor in Michigan, where he died in 2009, allegedly in possession of a copyright for several other flag designs, including a 51-star and 60-star version (presumably that scenario did not include the moon as one of the other nine new states).
The kind of unsolicited crowdsourcing that occurred in 1958 is of course nothing compared to the number of designs likely to be generated in 2012, with Adobe Creative Suite ready to generate perfectly identical stars in precisely symmetrical formations. Reddit users got started right away after Puerto Rico’s vote, and designs are popping up elsewhere across the Internet. The irregularity of the number makes for some interesting solution, probably the best one being a star-spangled Pac-Man eating star-spangled pac-dots. Of course, doing this legitimately requires some math. Back in 2010 when Puerto Rico was still a few years off from the big decision, Slate did their due diligence and asked a mathematician how 51 stars could best be fit into the allotted real estate. They provide a few formulas to follow, should you decide it’s your turn to be the next American flag designer.
April 10, 2012
There is no limit to the number of places we can look for fresh material to post on the Smithsonian’s many blogs, but still one of the greatest sources sits right under our noses within the institution’s own collections. After looking at shoe design of the past, present, and future, I decided to comb through the Smithsonian archives to see what types of footwear have been worthy of impressing upon our national memory. Below is a selection of some of the most interesting, from a pair of cloth booties design to adorn the bound feet of Chinese women at the turn of the 20th century, to the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in her 1939 performance of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.