Dieter Rams is the classic creative industrialist. Affordable form and function- my favorite form of design.
Read his ten commandments. They summarize everything I believe good design to be. I know I ultimately love them because they’re so wonderfully ideological.
This is a favorite:
“Good design makes a product useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.”
I know it’s probably hard to believe from our thrones in the post-Colonial West sometimes, but ‘first world’ nations don’t always have the answers to everything.
Overdue (but we’re glad someone got there in the end), part-public artist and part-community activist, Christopher Robbins, founded Ghana ThinkTank - a network of worldwide think tanks, strategically resolving local problems in ‘first’ world countries. The think tanks are based in Ghana, Cuba, El Salvador, Serbia, Mexico, Ethiopia, Iran and even a US prison consisting of a group of incarcerated girls.
Here’s an example from Robbins:
"For instance, people in Wales complained about the generation gap between the elderly & the young. Our Iran Think Tank suggested we record funny, dirty memories of the elderly, and then play them on mp3 players for the youth. So, we walked through markets, bars, & bookstores, doing just that."
Not too shabby!
In his ColorLines interview earlier this year, Robbins further explained why his project is of pivotal importance:
"Every time we run this project we encounter people who think we are “saving African children.” But it is the stereotypical “savior” we are trying to help. We ask them to listen to “those people” they may think are needy, and learn to rely on them. Part of the agenda is to point at the unintended consequences that outsider solutions can create, while another part is to demonstrate that the rest of the world has something to offer."
It’s an obnoxious reality that Ghana Think Tank has to exist, since you’d hope we’d evolved with the humility to know we’ll always have a great deal to learn from anyone different to ourselves. It’s concept is a cheeky wink at the way Westerners continue to stereotype the East, its cultures, and ideas. But the cultural dissimilarities that Ghana Think Tank highlights, provide extremely compelling innovation for recurring Western problems.
As a facility for trading ideas, I’m adding Ghana ThinkTank as a great case study for my ever-developing hypothesis on Innovation As Currency. It’s small-step progress - but without question - progress in the right direction and every city and town should have one.
It’s been a tough month for the South Asian community in the aftermath of the heartless gurdwara shooting in Wisconsin. Typical of Jackson Heights in Queens, New York however- arguably one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the US - there is positive, pro-active recoil, surfacing as a colorful celebration of South Asian culture.
Chatpati is a Bengali snack made from potatoes and chickpeas, and mela is the sanskrit word meaning ’ to gather’ or ‘to meet’. Roll it together and you have a veritable feast of rich conversation, and some of the tastiest, home-cooked, South Asian chaat on the Eastern seaboard.
The all-day celebrations kick-off at 4pm, showcasing the best in South Asian dance, music, art, fashion and photography, before the 8pm screening of Jab We Met on Play Street/Pedestrian Plaza.
Peep the trailer for the 2007 modern classic starring Kareena Kapoor & Shahid Kapoor, and I’ll see you there!
If you’re in London, rest assured! Sunday 19th August is the 2012 London Mela! In its 10th year and hosted in Gunnersbury Park, it promises to be an event of epic proportions! A friend of OneLoudBellow will be performing kathak with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as they offer their rendition of the Ravi Shankar Symphony. Good luck Seema!
I was completely honored to attend Everett Ortner's private memorial service last month at the Greenwood Chapel in Brooklyn. We couldn't have imagined a more perfect day or location to send him off.
If you know anyone that has chosen to live in Brooklyn today, it is undoubtedly due to much of the hard work he, his wife Evelyn, and their pioneering friends set out to achieve fifty years ago, in restoring Park Slope brownstones to their 19th Century glory.
He & Evelyn were not wealthy by any means, nor were they interested in pursuing a real estate buy-up. A journalist for Popular Science magazine and an interior designer respectively, Everett & Evelyn bought their brownstone on Berkeley Place between 8th Ave & Grand Army Plaza West for a meagre $38,000 in 1963. It was the only property they owned or could ever afford to own, and it was going cheap because the city was paying people to knock them down.
Park Slope, Brooklyn suffered crime stats that - if you’ve ever seen the place - are simply unimaginable. If you don’t believe me, watch the first 15mins of Hal Ashby’s The Landlord, and consider that it was shot in Park Slope almost ten years after the Ortner’s and their friends moved to the neighborhood.
But all this meant it was virtually impossible to find a bank willing to offer mortgages on Park Slope brownstones. Everett & Evelyn pursued virtually every bank in Brooklyn before finally negotiating with a small neighborhood bank, on the condition that they could find others who were interested in buying brownstones in Park Slope. Everett & Evelyn immediately took to hosting cocktail parties for all their Manhattanite friends who’d never even thought to visit Brooklyn. I’ve heard endless accounts from people who attended those parties in the mid-1960’s, and recall Everett & Evelyn welcoming them at the door dressed in Victorian garb, only to do a caricature-style tour of their once-dilapidated, now antique, home.
And of course this inspired genius worked. Their community are a diverse bunch of friends who weren’t in it for money, as much as determined to see Brooklyn restored to its original glory.
After Evelyn passed away from breast cancer, I moved into the top floor apartment of 272 Berkeley Place (a.k.a “Broccoli Place”), and Everett became my surrogate granddad. Sunday mornings I’d shuffle downstairs to the parlor floor in my slippers to have scrambled egg breakfasts with him. Never without awe of his first hand accounts of early 20th Century America, I’d ask for a little wisdom from this 90yr old man. Not quite verbatim, but he’d often tell me something along the lines of..
"Fifty years on, people come to Park Slope with millions of dollars looking to buy brownstones with no care for the neighborhood at all. When we got here, we invested our entire lives into our community because we saw that if we weren’t careful, something worth saving would be lost forever."
This blog post is too small for Everett, and you should ask me about any of the incredible stories he would tell us about his life- I’m sure he wanted them to outlive him. Without question he has changed my own life - by inspiring in me the courage to be a pioneer and make my mission a valuable one.
In the meanwhile, I’m resigned to the selfish disappointment that my counsel is gone and Brooklyn will never be the same without him. Missing you terribly Everett.
As London 2012 comes to a close, I have to give a quick shout out to my favorite British gold-medalling Olympiad, Mo Farah. Not just for two inspiring wins, but for showing love for his birth country Somalia in continuing a plight for emergency aid.
My handsome and arguably perfect friend Jeffrey Bailey, owner of Williamsburg’s much sought after breakfast taco and coffeeshop, Whirlybird, has had some nice folks at New York Magazine write about in-house activities.
I know the cajun duck & bacon taco over baby arugula with pickle red onions, cashews and an orange white balsamic vinaigrette is hard to believe, but the proof is four blocks from the Marcy St M and I know he’d be delighted to see you. If you’re lucky, he might even play you a song or two from the new Virgin Forest record he elegantly basses on. (Was that a plug? Yes it was. Virgin Forest is also happens to be one of my favorite bands of the decade.)
And before you reach the counter, you’d better believe that’s a OneLoudBellow hand-painted sign on the door you just opened.
Every once in a while, everyone needs to be reminded of this wizard for a shot of instant inspiration. David Stark is magic-making machine. Relentlessly transforming beautiful spaces into alter-universes. Like this random little sumthin-sumthin he slapped together for the American Friends of the Israel Museum gala, entirely inspired by the lenticular hologram logo on the event’s save-the-date.
Who doesn’t enjoy a bright brain for goodness sake?
Seema Agnani is one of my most favorite important people. Seema is one of the most hard-working people I’ve ever met, but does an equally spectacular job of making it look as effortless as sleep. She is the Executive Director of the irrefutably-pioneering Chhaya CDC based in Jackson Heights, Queens, working to bring affordable housing options to immigrants all over New York City.
Aside from presiding on the board of directors at four different coalitions, she & Chhaya offer housing discrimination assistance, homeownership and tenants rights counseling, financial fitness workshops, voter registration drives, and develop research & policy work on immigration rights in NYC. Queens is the most ethnically-diverse area in the country, so her efforts were not going to be for the light-hearted!
As the product of immigrant parents who moved to England from Sri Lanka in the mid-1960’s, Seema’s work keeps a place in my own heart. For every opportunity my mum & dad found, there was always an obstacle to overcome. So as a nation built almost entirely of immigrants, I love that this is a tradition she is working to uphold for New York and throughout the US. Made with the underlying conviction that we all have a lot to learn from and share with each other.
You should also know that immediately after this photograph was taken, we had a killer bowl of dal & rice that you are all jealous of without even knowing it.
The Nico’Clock was conceived to inspire creative, philosophic thinking amongst everyday folk as they go about daily life.
It began with 20th Century philosopher and Zen Buddhist, Alan Watts, and his supposition that all is made of ‘wiggly lines’. I happened upon the 1979 film A Conversation With Myself , where he roams around the woods of Northern California recalling:
“I once asked a group of high school children, ‘What do you mean by a thing?’ First of all, they gave me all sorts of synonyms. Finally, a very smart girl from Italy, who was in the group, said a ‘thing’ is a noun. And she was quite right. A noun isn’t a part of nature, it’s a part of speech. There are no nouns in the physical world. The physical world is wiggly. Clouds, mountains, trees, people, are all wiggly. And only when human beings get to working on things—they build buildings in straight lines, and try to make out that the world isn’t really wiggly. But here we are, sitting in this room all built out of straight lines, but each one of us is as wiggly as all get-out.”
His argument seemed pretty irrefutable, and thereby unpolitical. I liked it a lot.
Through my own meditation practice, I considered re-designing an object in the home that is interacted with habitually. The re-design would take advantage of this repetitive behavior by giving it a second purpose – as a daily contemplation.
For my muse I chose numbers, and as a canvas, a clock. Numbers classify things that can’t always be explained so simply. Formulae do a fairly decent job, but in my world, only nature seems to tell the complete and universal truth. So I decided to replace the inflexible numerals around the clock with flowers:
A one-petalled Calla Lily replaced 1
A two-petalled Euphorbia replaced 2
A three-petalled Snowdrop replaced 3
A four-petalled Dogwood replaced 4
A five-petalled Venus Fly Trap flower replaced 5
A six-petalled Gardenia replaced 6
A seven-petalled Starflower replaced 7
An eight-petalled Englelmann Daisy replaced 8
A nine-petalled Michalia Alba replaced 9
A ten-petalled Passion Fruit flower replaced 10
An eleven-petalled ‘Rosa Chuckles' replaced 11
And a twelve-petalled Lotus Flower replaced 12
Although most of these flowers consistently produce the same number of petals, more than occasionally a three-petalled flower will produce four or six petals. A nine-petalled flower, eight or ten. There is no hiding these ‘malformations’ because they are just as real as their counterparts.
The Nico’Clock is an hommage to all the ‘anomalies’ that exist in the world. Most of whom are ignored or denied, because they’re too complex for a square box or a category conceived by the naivety of a human brain.
The Nico’Clock is a paper clock that unfolds into a giant 48” tall by 36” wide. It is packaged inside handmade, upcycled packaging and includes all parts, hanging nails and instructions, and requires 1 x AA battery. For more details, check out the Etsy store.
When I was 19 and about to graduate from my foundation year at the Wimbledon School of Art in London, I met British design legend, Vaughan Oliver. Ever since our meeting, I think I’ve dreamed that all projects could be approached in the way he created his record covers for the most legendary 4AD Records.
He told me that Ivo Watts-Russell gave him a copy of The Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim to listen to in 1986, and explained as if still baffled by the experience, “I’d never heard anything like it. Nobody had.” He tackled the brief in the least-most strategic way, by listening to the record intently and made whatever work came out of him as he listened. It became ritual and practice for a lot of work he produced for 4AD throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, with covers for The Breeders, GusGus, Lush, Modern English.
I was given Michael Chambers' Mirabella in a similar manner recently. The man himself approached me to design a cover for his record. He’d developed his magnum opus over six years of what could only be described as musical soul-searching, and it surfaced as neither a metal record, or a world music record, or an experimental jazz record, or any particular genre at all really. It is as structured and delicate as a classical music epic, but respectfully uses instruments, scales and rhythms from all over the world, and countless centuries in time. It’s gorgeous.
My self-brief was to create something as quiet and dark, considered and psychedelic, as the work itself. The photographs were mostly from Michael’s collection, but much like Vaughan I wanted to add some real-time responses from my experience with the record.
I biked down to the lake at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, plugged in for one hour and thirty seconds, and made stream-of-consciousness drawings in my sketchbook as I listened. The result is something that both looks and feels like the music through my headphones. I wholly urge you to try it for yourself.
What if we were a society that bought, sold or traded resourceful ideas? What if the value of a product or service wasn’t based on its lead over the competition, but on how prolific its effect was on a community?
It seems to me that an excess in monetary profit is too often at the expense of economic, environmental or social resources. I have no interest in reinventing capitalism, as much as an enthusiasm to inspire a shift in our collective focus- away from conceived ideas of wealth, and towards meaningful, mindful, life experiences.
The exchange of money for products and services doesn’t have the scope to provide that for us, because it acts as a middle man, disassociating us from our experiences. Much like a carnivore that can’t watch a cow being slaughtered for a good slice of beef. But since the pursuit of happiness will only ever be an entirely arbitrary thing, surely we should place the worth on obvious common denominators that connect us all?
What if the value of a product was measured on it’s ability to sustain life - quality food, water, air, shelter, education and healthcare. This way a high-value product or service would be one that produced these things. A medium-value product or service protected them, and a low-value product or service would expend natural resources, or inhibited their production altogether. Better still, a life-sustaining idea that was innovative enough to influence a large community, would have greater worth over ones that only had the capacity to affect smaller ones.
The purest industrialist would no doubt scoff and retort, ‘What about the resources required to create a quality product or service?' They'd be right. But the production and proliferation of an idea currently depends on: the resources available to its inventor: an advantageous geographic location; access to high-quality materials; a headquarters or factory; reliable employees; marketing and communication tools, et al. But I would argue that the clever cousin of economic resourcefulness is creative genius.
I studied advertising at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design in London, and graduated having learned only one valuable piece of wisdom which - lucky for my mother’s checkbook and the UK Student Loans Company - has been one of the most profound of my life. And here in this sentence it lies: “The biggest idea will be the simplest, and will cost nothing to produce.” Perfect.
I was on the winning team for DeKalb Market’s ‘Not Just A Container’ competition last year, working to establish the fabulous BBOX Radio with very little time and resources. It occurred to me that with a little creative genius, some lateral thinking, and a great deal of efficient project management, the radio station could indeed come to fruition in one year, one month, or even one day if we were really smart about it.
A OneLoudBellow example of resourcefulness is this guerilla marketing project devised for the profoundly brilliant FreeStyle Arts Association. This was one of a few campaigns I developed for them, knowing they had no money to spend. This blast was created entirely from B&W photocopies and a bit of red plasticine.
The case remains that creative genius is intrinsically resourceful.
On these grounds, why couldn’t a brilliant inventor living in far proximity from affordable, quality materials, be a successful businessperson if he or she had imagined a ground-breaking product or service that prioritized ingenuity over resources?
If you didn’t catch this story the first time, William Kamkwamba is a young man, who as life would have it was born in a tiny village in central Malawi. Malawi’s GDP per capita in 2011 was US$860, and is a country with little access to quality power, water or telecommunications. William saw a picture of a windmill in a school textbook from the library, and with creative resourcefulness built one. On his own, William brought his idea to fruition with little but an old tractor fan, and deciphered how to produce electricity for his house from it.
William’s makeshift windmill has the potential to sustain millions of lives across the continent. If there was a means to transport these ideas to families in villages with similar means, why couldn’t William be one of the most valuable people in the world? On these grounds, the most prolific people in the world would be innovators, not those who happen to be born in close proximity to resources.
This of course opens up a whole conversation about intellectual property and copyright law that someone else has already thought of and that I truly know nothing about. But I imagine something like idea superstores. Local community ones and global community ones. Like an Ikea, but instead of fabulous-looking, pre-fab melamine kitchens, you be strolling through prototypes of brilliant ideas in action. Buy your inspired idea at the checkout, and get in return an instruction booklet showing you how-to bring it to fruition.
Okay, fair enough. The final output may need some work, but I think I might be close!
I’m an idealist at the worst of times. Not so much because I’m a cynic of modern-day life, but mostly because I enjoy the opportunity to solve a problem. But I don’t think my reverie demands an uncomfortable overhaul of contemporary business infrastructure. More a shift in the way we perceive and gauge value as a society. I suppose I’ve arrived at this problem because I’m still unsure how we decided to defer our social responsibilities as individuals to non-profits & NGO’s. Not only that, but we show little remorse in that undervaluing them with nominal salaries and double the work, despite their efforts being made on our collective behalf.
So the contemplation is in fact simple- close the gap of disassociation. The less we detach ourselves from our shared responsibilities, the longer and more fulfilling lives we may well lead.