Johanna Blakley

Media | Entertainment | Fashion

Archive for design thinking

Myth Girls & the Art of Making Books

For several years now, I have been on the board of an experimental literary press where we have spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how to keep the printed book vibrant and alive. At Les Figues Press, we decided to publish books in unique dimensions and we coupled each author’s work with the visual work of another artist, hoping against hope that the resulting physical object would convince even the most cyber-savvy readers to purchase our special little hunks of pulverized tree.

So I contantly keep my eyes peeled for efforts to revitalize interest in the printed book. My most recent encounter with an inspiring innovation was in Medellin, Colombia, where the intrepid forces behind Proyecto Liquido – a group that explores the overlapping territory in fiction, art, science and technology – had transformed an online short story published 18 years ago into a surprisingly layered tactile experience.

With a black rubberized cover (not unlike the one on my iPad), Kij Johnson’s Chicas Miticas (Myth Girls) feels more like a machine than a book.  Everything inside is dual: from the bilingual translation (Spanish and English) to the double-sided format (the book is basically composed of two pamphlets facing one another). While one side is devoted to a disturbing tale about the terrible cost of freedom, the opposite renders the story into sleek, hyper-polished illustrations by Oscar Gonzalez, one of the five collaborators who transformed Johnson’s story into this unique material object.

If the book were simply illustrated, and bound in this surprising way, it would have been arresting enough. But three pages into the lushly animated version of this stark tale, you finally see a depiction of the main character, but only from behind, and rendered on vellum, so that you can see her ghost-like presence in two inhuman vistas, extended by a trifold. A few pages further in, you reach the material heart of the work, where lush illustrations bleed into layered vellum inserts and – I kid you not – a ripped quilted jacket is sewn directly onto the page. Read the rest of this entry »

The Benefits of Losing Control (and Exerting It Serendipitously)

My clever friend, Tim Leberecht, is a marketing guy and so he knows just how little control companies have over their brands. The reputation of a brand is basically what a brand is and no matter how much money you throw at it, ultimately, customers, and the general public, will determine a brand’s reputation.

In his TED talk, Tim explores how companies can productively cede control to their customers and employees as well as exerting new types of control and influence in creative new ways in social media contexts. I don’t want to give too much away — it’s only six minutes so check it out!


Core 77 Design Awards

I’m really excited to be a judge for the Core77 Design Awards this year. The marvelous Mariana Amatullo, Co-Founder and Vice President of Designmatters at Art Center College of Design,  is our jury chair for the Educational Initiatives category. The deadline is April 10, 2012: so submit now!

This year’s program presents 17 categories of entry, providing designers, researchers and writers a unique opportunity to communicate the intent, rigor and passion behind their efforts. The top professional and student entries receive the Awards trophy and the opportunity to attend a celebration in New York City, and all honorees will be published in the Awards Gallery, across the Core77 online network and in the awards publication. Early registrants receive a limited-edition 2012 poster designed by Studio Lin.

The Business & Culture of Social Media

I had a fantastic time last night giving a talk on The Business & Culture of Social Media at Social Media Week LA. The crowd (including a lot of USC students) had really thoughtful questions and I look forward to attending more of the week’s events. (If anyone has any suggestions for must-see events, do tell!)

My talk was based on a publication that I co-authored with Martin Kaplan, my colleague at The Norman Lear Center, where we study the impact of media and entertainment on society. A video of the talk will be posted eventually (and I’ll be sure to notify everyone when that happens) but in the meantime, you can feast your eyes on this beautifully formatted publication, designed by the Lear Center’s multi-talented Veronica Jauriqui. Lord knows I believe in substance, but design shouldn’t be an afterthought and Veronica has made sure of that.

Interior Decorating . . . Bowerbird Style

I don’t know about you, but I would be mightily impressed by a guy who completely redecorates his home for a date with me. Turns out that male bowerbirds have wicked interior design skills, using soda cans, colorful plastic bags, CDs and all manner of flora and fauna to decorate their bachelor pads. (According to National Geographic, garlands of glistening caterpillar feces are quite appealing to the ladies).

The photos are pretty shocking: some of the detailed compositions (which can include towers up to seven feet high) look like they were made by human children with an eye for composition and color. Some blue-eyed birds only use blue objects to decorate their bowers (are they doing it because it sets off their eyes?) and others use mashed up plants to “paint” the bower interior, giving it a little visual pizzazz. But that’s not all! It turns out that the pulpy paint is also pretty tasty – female bowerbirds snack on it while the bachelor sings and dances for her.

This just gets better and better.

For those of you who are contemptuous of design (it’s just an unnecessary frill, right?) and think of it as a uniquely human folly, please consider the lesson of the bowerbird: humans aren’t the only ones who consider “life” and “style” in the same breath.

Dwelling on Design

Bladeless fans, jackets that function like mobile homes, good-looking toilets, chairs made with zippers and coconut fibers, a guy in espadrilles  . . . these were the more exciting things I encountered at the Dwell on Design show at the Los Angeles Convention Center this weekend, but I have to say, I had hoped for more.

The most excitement I saw anywhere on the showroom floor was among men who were ecstatic about a showerhead mirror combo. Not exactly the killer app I was imagining. Lots of people seemed to be charmed by the “afro toilet brushes” (yes, a toilet brush that looks like a PERSON with an afro). I guess these people are a bit less PC than I thought they’d be . . .

I let a design-savvy friend of mine know that I was pretty disappointed — no aha! moments exactly — and she said, “Yeah, Dwell covers what’s now, but they don’t do tomorrow.” Who does, I asked? She muttered, “Wouldn’t that be nice to know,” but I think she was holding out on me.

On the upside, the place was full of surprisingly happy hipsters: guys who seemed comfortable with their metrosexuality (note the espadrilles) and scrawny women wearing comfy flats and, well, barely anything else, despite the frigid air conditioning. I figured they were  fleeing muggy studios in Silver Lake.  

The seminars were well-attended: I could barely get a seat at a panel on sustainable landscaping in LA (at least 75% of the audience was female.) It was brief but informative: one thing I learned that I now feel I should have already known is that, among the sustainable living evangelists among us, we must include the libertarians and Tea Party types who are desperate to get off the grid. These people are anything but your Obama-loving Prius drivers. They despise big government and they plant drought resistant plants so that they can more easily disconnect from city water services, and, by extension, “The Man.” Some of them are surely getting ready for the second coming, and if you want to join them, better pull up that lawn.


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