Current 11/2007

The Trash Can. The Happy Mac. The Bomb.

Her whimsical, easy-to-grok icons tempted even nontechies to pick up a mouse, and her sleek screen fonts - with jet-set names like Geneva and Monaco - launched the first wave of elegant digital typography.

Read further in Wired...




The three images in the middle show the transformations of the trash can over the years. It leaves nostalgic feelings.


The Dizzying Curls of Marian Bantjes

The typeface Helvetica got a smashing 50th anniversary celebration. At times it felt as if the clock was set back.

Also this movement generated an opposite response. (Designers are by nature - or necessity contrarian). Decorative elements started to creep into the designs.

Marian Bantjes (she must have Dutch ancestors) is a convincing representative of the movement of highly decorative design. The computer is allowed again to do its magic tricks. Type almost disappears in dizzying curls of guirlandes, just as they did with the pens of the Dutch calligraphers in the 17th century.

These decorative designs all looks very Arabic. Maybe some more positive inspiration was found in the densely daily news coverage about Arabic countries on American tv.

While the Arab typedesigners are moving away from using too many swashes in their historically curly script, some western designers are starting to embrace them again with a passion. The irony of design history.




Colour Magenta Claimed As Trademark



Phone companies are known for their desire to make claims on immaterial things. Some years ago billions were paid for exclusive use of specific bandwidths. The sales delivered windfalls for national states, but brought large telecom providers almost to their knees. Apparently, now another war has started. This time it's about exclusive use of the visual part of the electromagnetic waves spectrum. The spectrum claim disease has apparently jumped from the technicians to the marketeers who are arming themselves to fight another silly battle.

Obviously, trademark registration should never extend to the general and exclusive use of any colour. At times it seems that registration offices have problems with dealing with their workload. The patent office in the US also ran into problems by rewarding unrealistic claims, like giving patents to specific genes, the building blocs of all life.

Anyway, the latest action of T-Mobile has generated a lot of fierce protests, especially from designers. Below the links to the protesters.

The Shape Of The Visually Creative Brain

Our concept of the brain has been as if it is an organ that in some mostly unknown way stores all kinds of data without changing its own structure or shape. Well, that doesn't seem to be the case. Recently, evidence has been found that the physical structure and the shape of the brain changes in relation to the way we use them. Don't compare it with the way athletes and body builders can shape their muscular appearance, but there are noticeable differences.

The evidence was collected in a study about the part of the brain we use when we orient ourselves in space. This capability is considerably different from one individual to the other. It is assumed that the reason for this is partially genetic. There even seems to be evidence that it is one of the very few things in which the male and female differ in a statistically relevant way. But it is also an ability that can grow over time through a learning process. We all know that in fact, we master our environment better when we learn more about it. The quality of our mental map of a specific area improves over time and with it the ease to navigate the area. To study the possible effect on the shape of the brain, a research have been carried out involving taxi drivers in London, cabbies as they are called over there.

It has been known by neurologists that in evolutionary terms one of the oldest parts of our brain, called the hippocampus, plays an important role in the formation of memories. Scanning the brain has shown that this part - especially the back part of the structure - is particularly involved in navigational skills. Well, the study found that the only part of the brain that was different from a test group with identical qualifications, other than not being a cab driver, was the shape of the back part of the hippocampus. That part was bigger. And it seems to grow over the years; older and more experienced cab drivers had the biggest deformations. The growth had come at a price though. The front part of the hippocampus had shrunk in relation to the growth of the back part. The study did not reveal the sort of capabilities that were lost with the reduced size of the front part.


Picture Stanford University


What does this have to do with the brains of graphic designers for instance?

Well, it is known that visual and language skills are located in different parts of the brain. The right hemisphere deals with sensory input, the left hemisphere deals with language. Without a doubt designers develop a special sensitivity for dealing with visual stimuli and it is likely that it will change the shape of their brains were the visual input is processed. Especially with the very talented ones who are likely to have a genetic predisposition combined with a probable obsessive professional attitude. But which part of the brain is shrinking or getting slightly numbed as a result of this? Maybe there is unscientific evidence that it comes at the cost of the sensitivity for the linguistic part of the brain. Do graphic designers loose their interest in reading over time? The American design company Coudal partners even assumed that graphic designers are effectively illiterate. They made a short movie about it.

The illiterate designer


Your Genes And Your Laptop

The nature adepts believe that most of our behaviour and capabilities are determined from the moment of our conception. Our genetic qualities will make who we will become. In contrast, the nurture adepts are fiercely and very vocally against this idea. They believe our talents and behaviour are merely the result of upbringing. The most striking part of this acrimonious debate is the lack of supporting evidence in either camp.

The results of recent research seem to bring the opposing stances closer together. On one hand evidence is piling up supporting the large influence of our genetic identity on our destiny. On the other hand, there is more and more evidence available that shows that the result of our behaviour is not put away in some sort of software storing place inside our body, but that it actual shapes our being in a very fundamental and physical way. The way we use our body physically for instance, influences our body chemistry, the shape and quality of our skeleton and our muscles, but also our brains and with it our mood and our capabilities. Of course, the ancient Greeks already knew this: mens sana in corpora sana (a healthy mind in a healthy body) but now we can actually show where and what has been changed. So the whole dualistic concept of nature versus nurture is disappearing. Maybe to our dismay. There is less room for an ethically high concept of our spiritual self. Romantic love and altruism have a clear relation with the particular way body chemistry is functioning and can be influenced by interfering at that level. Our metaphysical self and our physical one are two aspects of the same thing; one is constantly shaping the other. Or as a neurologist once said: 'what fires, wires'. Any of our brain activity (firing synapses) will result in the creation of physical connections like neuron networks (wires).

The latest research shows evidence that also our genetic fingerprint is less stable than we thought it was. Genetic mutations may take shorter time as once believed and we may change our genetic profile during the course of our life. These changes are not as profound as when we procreate (a new human being), they tend to be rather minor ones. There is very little visible evidence for us to rely upon when we look at ourselves. Procreation maybe the strongest but certainly not the only way to alter genetic material. Darwin taught us that the environment is genetically relevant. The genes of domesticated animals have changed just by living in a symbiotic relationship with humans.

Here is where your laptop is entering this story. Not only do our parents, our friends, colleagues and loved ones have an influence on our physical self, but also the tools we use. People with certain skills for using specific tools have different muscles and different brains than other people with different skills. New media and means of transportation, like cars, planes, radio and TV made us different socially as a species. Electronic devices, advanced telecommunications and the Internet will have a profound influence on the way we behave and interact. And be sure, not only on the way we think, or only on the composition of our set of moral values. It will change our physical self and with that our generic material. Human skills we all use every day will change, calculations will be done by computers not by our brains, our skill to orient ourselves will be taken over by electronic navigation devices. The op-ed writer in the NY Times recently called this ‘outsourcing your brain’. Yes, we are likely to be seriously handicapped in the world to come without having a symbiotic relationship with our electronic assistants. We have to learn to accept that genetically we will not only be determined in the future by the string of our human ancestors, but also will be altered by others around us, and certainly by machines with such a profound impact on our behaviour (such as computers). Our future genealogy should involve machines as well.

So next time you open your laptop, please realise that you have a more intimate relationship with your electronic buddy than you probably assume you had.



Thomas Couderc work updates

Thomas Couderc has updated their work, see it here.

Clément Vauchez work updates

Clément Vauchez has updated their work, see it here.

Alexandre Dimos work updates

Alexandre Dimos has updated their work, see it here.

Yu Guang work updates

Yu Guang has updated their work, see it here.

Alan Chan work updates

Alan Chan has updated their work, see it here.

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