Tag Archives: information design

Powers of Ten, A Film To Rediscover

You may already know of this famous 9-minute documentary film by husband and wife design team Charles and Ray Eames. Or you may never have heard of it. Either way, it’s time to watch Powers of Ten. Click here.

I was first introduced to this film when it was re-released in 1977. I was in college at the time and my Humanities professor showed it in class. I remember how fascinated I was by the science and the art of the film. The science in understanding the relative size of the universe and the art in the film’s presentation of information to the viewer. Keep in mind that this film was produced decades before GPS and Google Maps made viewing points on the Earth commonplace and discoveries at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern  challenge our understanding of the building blocks of the universe.

What is Powers of Ten? To quote the official website:

 “(The film) takes us on an adventure in magnitudes. Starting at a picnic by the lakeside in Chicago, this famous film transports us to the outer edges of the universe. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until our own galaxy is visible only as a speck of light among many others. Returning to Earth with breathtaking speed, we move inward – into the hand of the sleeping picnicker – with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Our journey ends inside a proton of a carbon atom within a DNA molecule in a white blood cell.

Powers of Ten is a 1968 American documentary short film written and directed by Ray Eames and her husband, Charles Eames, re-released in 1977. The film depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten (see also logarithmic scale and order of magnitude). The film is an adaptation of the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke,

In 1998, “Powers of Ten” was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

It is difficult to overstate the contribution Charles and Ray Eames have made to modern design. From architecture to film to furniture, their visionary, cross-disciplinary approach to design is still an inspiration. Click here to watch Powers of Ten.

Left: Ray and Charles Eames

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A New Exhibit Opens at DESIGN MUSEUM

There’s a museum for almost every interest: there’s the Spam Museum, the Hobo Museum, the Conspiracy Theory Museum, and of course the famous Mütter Museum of medical oddities. You can’t make this stuff up. But did you know there is also a design museum? Granted, there are several design museums around the world but being the Anglophile that I am, (it’s not a bad thing) the one I visited several years ago is the Design Museum, London. Currently located on the banks of the Thames, it houses a collection of over 2,000 objects ranging from early Modernism of the 1900s to cutting edge contemporary design. Anyone in an art-related field who finds themselves in London with a few hours to spare will want to visit this exciting and inspiring place.

The museum just opened a new exhibit called This is Design, now on view through 22 January 2012, which features highlights from the museum’s collection and includes the Anglepoise Lamp, Apple iMac and Britain’s famous red telephone box. Each item in the exhibit, which brings together such diverse disciplines as architecture, couture, product design and identity, demonstrates an aspect of the design process and shows how design influences contemporary culture.

One object of note in the exhibit is the UK road sign. These signs are an excellent example of the now-specialized field of information design (ID). The state of the country’s road signage in the 1950s was so abysmal and confusing that the government appointed a special committee to solve the problem. To quote Design Museum’s excellent web article on the subject,

“The government of the day took the unusual step of entrusting the development of the new system to the typographer and graphic designer Jock Kinneir (1917-1974) and his assistant Margaret Calvert (1936-). They devised a rigorous signage system of carefully coordinated lettering, colours, shapes and symbols for Britain’s new motorways. Efficient and elegant, their system was one of the most ambitious information design projects ever undertaken in Britain. It became a role model for modern road signage all over the world and is still used today.”

It was interesting to read that their objective was to produce signs that could be easily read and understood at high speed and that they developed a new typeface for the project, based in Akzidenz Grotesk. They created a heavy and medium weight typeface for different applications to compensate for the illusion that makes identical black letters on white backgrounds appear thinner than white letters on black backgrounds. Below is an example I did using Akzidenz Grotesk that illustrates the phenomenon. All graphic designers should have a broad knowledge of typographic principles such as this.

The exhibit at Design Museum is worth visiting, or, short of that, doing some independent research about an object in the show that interests you. You may find something interesting that will help you with your next project.

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Filed under Exhibitions, Graphic Design, Typography