Outstreched arm

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dumpster art in Dunedin

In June 2004, my brother Daniel heard from a former design professor who was an art council member of some sort for the nearby city of Dunedin, FL. The city had an eyesore problem: the cozy downtown area, usually filled with on-foot tourists, featured three giant waste receptacles (i.e. dumpsters) right by a popular bike trail. They had to have them there for the myriad local restaurants to use, so they thought, hey, instead of fencing these ugly things off, let's decorate them with "art." The city posted a call for submissions and Daniel and I thought we'd give it a shot.

Two other artists were considered and we were all invited to present our ideas to the council. In all modesty, I think we did a good job of it. Daniel's designs were jovial, colorful, and interesting, and we did something I advise every designer to do when working on a piece that will be displayed in some large, public manner: we put together mock-ups of what the illustrations would look like on the actual dumpsters. It took five minutes to take some pictures and ten minutes of layer work in Photoshop, and it seemed to make all the difference - the council people kept praising the idea of showing the finished work. Apparently another artist had just brought in a bunch of photorealistic paintings without much consideration for how this would look on the side of a big, green, irregularly-shaped hunk of stinky metal.

We got the contract and were given keys to a giant city-owned garage downtown. They delivered the dumpsters and gave us a month to make them pretty. It was a fun month - we'd drive over before and after work, slap some paint on, and sweat to my iPod in a non-airconditioned tin box in June. We were done well before schedule and everyone seemed very pleased. You can see the process documented in photos in the set below. Good times.

Photoset at Flickr.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

A perfect example of what happens when you don't have a designer

Adriano here, hijacking Neven's blog for a bit of a design-rant-cum-identity-review.

Recently, Cedae, the state-owned company that provides Rio de Janeiro with water and sewage services, introduced a new logo as part of a "major brand restructuring". Even though their previous logo was instantly recognised by anyone in the entire state and performed well on settings as diverse as cast iron manhole covers and sponsor placards at football stadiums, the company felt the need to get with the times and present a new, fresher image. Their process for doing this, however, is a perfect example of how not to do it. I've seen my fair share of botched redesigns (refer to Neven's July '06 post for perfect examples), but this takes the cake. Instead of taking the usual path of hiring a design firm and doing a full identity package, Cedae decided to completely do away with the overpaid turtleneck-clad, buzzword-preaching types and go straight to their own employees. That's right. For a while, Cedae employees could submit their own ideas for the company's new logo, the best of which would be selected by a group of managers (still no designers involved) to replace the 30-year-old workhorse.

Cedae's now defunct logo.

The result, as one would expect, was a complete trainwreck. The new logo, if it can even be considered as such, is a masterclass in conceptual frailty and complete disregard for real-world applications. It looks like something a 10-year-old would do for a school project. No, scratch that, I think my cat makes better-looking stuff in her litterbox.

Don't say I didn't warn you.

Any manager with half a brain and an iota of aesthetic sense would stop this idea dead in its tracks, but that would be too good. This logo made its d├ębut in Rio last week and Cedae is now working with an advertising agency to create a style guide outlining the usage of the new brandmark.

It's interesting to point out, however, that the end result is merely the tip of the iceberg here. The people who submitted their ideas in the contest aren't to blame for the disaster that followed. It's all in the process. Why would the managers trust their employees, who are not designers, with redesigning the company's logo?

Rio's energy utilities company also went through a recent rebrand, but luckily they did it the right way. Instead of drastic change, they opted to keep the recognisable values of their old logo, while making it look fresher and more in line with the times. And they hired a design studio to take care of the whole process.

Light's old logo, introduced in 1966.

The new brand keeps the overall shape of the old logo, but with a fresher feel.

This post was inspired by Dr. Mauro Pinheiro's article in Portuguese on Feira Moderna. If you speak Portuguese, I strongly recommend you read his article for a far better and broader look at this whole imbroglio.

(Neven: It's quite an instructive disaster, actually. If your only guideline for creating a logo is not to do anything Cedae did - managerially - or anything their logo does - graphically - you're off to a good start. My favorite part of the, uh, design, is the attempt at conveying ripples of water. Now when I look at it, I envision turds swirling down a toilet bowl in Rio.)

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Sunday, February 25, 2007

B-movie icons for my external hard drives

I'm not particularly creative when naming my computers, iPods, vehicles, and other cute objects. My external hard drives - one for media, one for backup - have so far been named "Seagate" and "Backula" (har har). Last night I decided to adopt a new naming strategy: B-movie monsters. So I present Gamera and Mothra, with shiny new icons.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth is a ridiculously dumb movie

I love a good fairy tale, and I love FX fests even if the visual candy comes at the expense of storyline, acting, and plain old sense-making (I'm looking at you, Argento, you goofball). Gritty, realistic dramas often purposefully dumb down the visuals to play up the story, so visually-centered films should be able to mirror that and grungify the narrative. I mean, look at Antonioni.

But wait, none of this has anything to do with Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. The previews sure made it seem like a fantastic extravaganza of fauns, fairies, labyrinths, and, umm, ok miscellaneous other magical entities and settings. Not only is it not that; it's dumb, bewildering, frustrating, and entirely devoid of wonder.

It features two story lines: in the real world - Spain, 1944 - a remarkably unremarkable girl called Ofelia moves with her pregnant mother to a military outpost in the woods, run by The Captain (of general Franco's Generic Sadistic Assholes forces). Ofelia attempts to escape the harsh realities of World War II by fantasizing away into a labyrinth - I mean a book - I mean a door in her wall - oh what the hell, just arbitrary fairy tale locations. We are treated to a few brief (and disjointed) excursions to this underworld, which make up some sort of series of tasks for Ofelia, though the rules and motivations behind it all are, shall we say, hazy.

That's it for the magic - really. She gets a key from a toad, a knife from behind a lock, and eats grapes she was clearly instructed not to touch, a pointless rebellion for which she gets chased by a cool-looking but ultimately harmless geriatric monster. Lesson learned?

A good eighty percent of the movie, however, consists of The Captain dealing with resistance fighters in the nearby woods while announcing menacingly at every occasion his intent to merely harvest Ofelia's mother for a proud male offspring. As muddy a villain as he is, The Captain is played with gusto, and del Toro's background in horror film comes out quite clearly here. Scenes of physical and psychological violence are imagined masterfully and rendered in exquisite detail. Scenes of normal human interaction and all attempts at levity - eh, not so much.

It breaks down like this: most of the movie is a depressing, emotionally and historically childish war story full of plot holes. The little bits of fantasy are more confusing than enchanting; too short to have an effect, too arbitrary and too removed from the rest of the movie's world to even register emotionally. Remember how in Wizard of Oz the fantasy mirrored the real world? That was a tad cheesy, but it worked like gangbusters. There's not even an attempt at connecting anything in Pan's Labyrinth - really, if you can find some analogy, metaphor, or message here, do let me know.

Also, I'm not trying to spoil anything, but don't bring kids to this one - the ending is just awful, and not because this is an "adult fairy tale." (shame on you, Ebert). Oh no, adults should hate it too, for much deeper reasons.

What a failure. It's a very oddly executed movie, ranging in badness from lame to dumb to offensive, but mostly it's just silly, and not likeably so. For god's sake, there's very little Pan and NO labyrinth in Pan's Labyrinth. Yeesh.

P.S. Christa pointed out that perhaps there was an attempt at a parallel between The Captain's "just following orders", as described by The Doctor, and Ofelia's refusal to do so. If so, it's an appropriately clownish link. The Captain does not seem to be following any orders. He's a free-spirited villain, "with no one above him." And if you've seen the movie, remember Ofelia's prize for not obeying the evil - I mean good - I mean evil - faun? Yeesh again.

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