To battle the depression of the 1930s, President Roosevelt proposed massive government spending on public works. In 1933 the future master-builder of New York, Robert Moses, had a plan ready to build a network of parkways to connect the parks in Long Island. To limit the access to the parks only to the rich and white New York residents, he made sure the bridges over the parkways were so low that public buses could not reach the parks. Robert Moses did not hide his disdain for the poor and non-whites, and as a state official actively helped to segrerate public works. As Parks Commisioner of New York City he built parks, ponds and 255 playgrounds built out of reach of the poor. He also saw to it that the Robert F. Kennedy bridge exit ramp was built in Harlem, clogging the streets with cars, so wealthier neighborhoods like the Upper East Side would not suffer the intense traffic to the bridge. Urban planning decisions from that still actively shape the lives of people today. Read more on Robert Moses in the award-winning biography The Power Broker by Robert A. Caro from 1974.
The award-winning show Homeland is a television series from the U.S. featuring Claire Danes as a C.I.A. counter-terrorism agent. The series has been criticised for Islamophobic stereotypes and errors in its depiction of the Middle East. When filming in Berlin in 2015, artists from the Middle East were hired to ‘decorate’ the set with Arabic graffiti. The artists quickly realised no one was interested in what the graffiti actually said. As artist Heba Amin noted, ‘Arabic script is merely a supplementary visual that completes the horror-fantasy of the Middle East’. They decided to use this opportunity to criticise the television series by writing slogans like ‘Homeland is Racist’, and ‘#blacklivesmatter’. Only after the episode aired the artists released a statement about the meaning of the slogans that had appeared during the show. The artists said, ‘It’s very important for us to address the idea that this kind of stereotyping is very dangerous because it helps form people’s perceptions of an entire region, a huge region, which in turn affects foreign policy’.
Tristan Harris spent three years as an design ethicist at Google, and in a recent article he gives some insight into how designers purposefully manipulate users into social media addictions. He uses the analogy of the interface designer as a magician, using blind spots, edges, vulnerabities and the limits of people’s perception to trick them. Interface designers are experts in using psychological vulnerabilities for their benefit. The most effective are techniques to turn smartphones into slot machines by offering ‘variable rewards’. By constant e-mail and social media notifications, users become addicted to social approval through their smartphones. Websites and apps are designed to keep you there as long as possible, and make you come back as often as possible. Tristan makes a strong plead to designers to tune down the continuous interruption and respect people’s time and attention. Read his article here.
In May 2016, the U.K. introduced a new law for cigarette packaging which dictates the design up to the colour, typeface, and image. All cigarette packages have the standard design which was first introduced in Australia in 2012. The packages will be printed in Pantone 448, a colour which came out of market research as the world’s ugliest colour. Logos or branding are no longer allowed, only the brand name in Pantone Cool Grey 2, typeset in Helvetica. The only distinctive element will be the health warnings with photographs that cover 60% of the pack. Research showed that cigarette package designs mislead people about the difference is health risk per brand, for instance people assume light-coloured packages are healthier than dark-coloured, which is why it was decided all cigarette packaging should look the same. The same designs will be introduced in France and Ireland as well.
Before he was an art collector, Charles Saatchi started in advertising in the 1960s. With his brother he started the ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi, which became the biggest in the 1980s with over 600 offices. Recently Charles Saatchi published Beyond Belief: Rude, Crude, Sexist, Racist and Dishonest, The Golden Age of Madison Avenue. The book is a collection of sexist and racist advertisements from the Mad Men age of advertising, roughly from the 1930s to the 1970s. What is interesting that the book does not show ads after the 1980s, implying that the advertising industry has learned its lesson and since then does no longer tolerate sexism or racism. Obviously, ads still objectify women sexually and many ads still use racist and ethnic stereotypes. Although more implicit, sexism and racism have never left advertising. When his former agency M&C Saatchi Australia celebrated its 21st birthday in January 2016, it did by having women jump out of a cake, as if the age of Mad Men never stopped.
Diaspora Drama is a magazine from the U.K. dedicated to ‘offbeat creative and cool people of colour on the internet.’ It explores the identities of the children of the diaspora, young artists outside of the mold of Western society who use cyberspace to work outside the dominant narratives. Editor in chief Isaac Kariuki introduces the magazine by saying, ‘We’ll observe just how impactful cyberspace is to our generation and the safe spaces created by and for people of colour to help them navigate through life.’ The first issue features artists like Tabita Rezaire, Hassan Hajjaj, interviews with M.I.A.’s personal photographer, and future Kurdish superstar Cany Dilan. The magazine is 100% contributor based, and physical copies can be bought online via www.diasporadrama.com. Each issue comes with a ‘Punx of Colour’ mixtape.
In the middle of the pacific ocean lies a micronation called Tokelau, inhabited by about 1400 souls. This tiny island country is the second largest domain in the world after .com, with over 25 million registrars in 2014. How did this happen? Every country is assigned a top level domain (TLD), only Tokelau wasn’t doing anything with it. In 2000 there were only four phone lines, and none of the inhabitants had even seen a webpage. A Dutch entrepreneur came to the islands with the idea to offer the web domains of Tokelau (.tk) for free, and make money with advertisements on the webpages. Now one-sixth of the Tokelau economy comes from .tk domain revenue. Thanks to the 25 million digital inhabitants, Tokelau has put itself on the map, but perhaps not in a way that will benefit the islanders in the long run. No land is more than two meters above sea level, and sooner or later this micronation will dissappear in the sea. By then it will only exist online, digitally inhabited.
If you ever played a videogame you are familiar with the limited amount of choice in characters. Female gamers are used to being forced to play a male character, and usually characters have a white skin. Recently game developers have responded to the lack of diversity in games by creating game characters that better reflect society’s diversity. Rust is a first-person survival game created in 2014 by Facepunch studios from the UK. Originally all game characters were bald white men, but then developer Garry Newman decided to change this. Now every player is assigned a random character, which could be black, or white, male or female. The assigned character is used the entire game. The update immediately sparked outrage, particularly amongst white male players. Female players were more pragmatic. Newman, ‘They point out that they’ve already being play Rust as men for the past two years.’
No matter how many brands and product names come and go, the most consistent label on products is the barcode. Since the 1980s the barcode has been tremendously influential in the standardisation of consumer products. Patented in 1952, the barcode was an invention of Joe Woodland who was a graduate student at Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia in the U.S. His colleague Bob Silver overheard a supermarket executive asking for a way to speed up stocktaking. He mentioned it to Woodland who took it upon him to come up with a solution. Woodland was inspired by Morse code, and once as he was sitting on Miami beach drew his fingers in the sand and came up with the idea that the strips could be thick or thin. The barcode has succeeded in becoming the unofficial logo of international trade.
If you already have everything, what else could you want? Your own typeface. This is what Louis XIV, the sun king of France commissioned in 1692. The ‘Romain du Roi’ was engraved by Louis Simoneau for the exclusive use by Louis XIV. It took a group of type cutters and scientists more than 50 years to produce, and in 1745 all twenty-one sizes of roman and italic letters were cut. The typeface is an outstanding example because it was one of the first grid based typefaces, built up on a 8 x 8 grid. Although roman capitals were constructed, lower case letters were not based on a grid at the time. The designs for the Romain du Roi were loosely interpreted for use by type cutter Philippe Grandjean, for the rigidity of the design would have made the typeface too dull. Louis XIV was not the only ruler who had his own type made, in 1804 Napoleon commissioned the Didot as the ‘Romain de L’Empereur’, the emperor’s roman.