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Don’t scream; eat fruit

Categories: Inspiration, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting

It's mid-1930s in the USA; the Great Depression has taken a huge toll over the last few years, leaving 25% of people out of work. What's a government to do?

The Works Progress Administration (later the Works Projects Administration) was established in 1935 to give unemployed people paid work in the public sector. The WPA's initial budget allocation was $4.9bn and over its lifetime it spent $13.4bn on bridges, public buildings – and various types of public art.

One of the most prolific areas of output resulted from the Federal Art Project which, along with paintings, murals and sculptures, turned out a huge number of public service announcement-style posters throughout its eight year history.

More than 900 of these posters are available to browse on the Library of Congress website.

The subject matter of the posters varies massively – almost laughably so; from promoting pet shows to highlighting the dangers of syphilis, that pesky 'menace to industry'.

I especially like the pre-war 'places' posters, which are not only beautiful but clearly designed to both foster a sense of pride during the low morale of an economic slump, and encourage folks to holiday closer to home. (Sound familiar?)

The style of these posters is clearly appealing and remains an influence to this day – just look at the work of Dorothy for a prime example.

Other recreational activities such as visits to the zoo, exhibitions, expos and concerts also got the artistic treatment; along with career and personal healthcare advice. I told you it was varied.

Taking care of books seemed to be a major concern if the number of reading-related posters is anything to go by.

I don't remember modern history lessons mentioning our cousins across the pond being particularly careless with books, so I guess this must have been related to the dwindling of resources and the need to take care of things, first during the depression, then throughout the war. It's similar in tone to the UK's Make do and mend mantra.

It's fascinating to browse through the posters in chronological order and see the increasing emphasis on wartime messaging; and the subsequent rapid change in these from friendly prompts to preserve resources, to much harsher, more blunt directives. Even including strongly worded appeals to lend equipment.

The WPA was liquidated in June 1943 as a result of low unemployment due to World War II.

Among those who'd been part of the Federal Art Project: Arthur Getz (who subsequently had a half-century career as cover illustrator for The New Yorker magazine), and artists Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock.

En fantastisk gave!*

Categories: Nice stuff, Superinterns

We got a very exciting parcel from the postie this morning; all the way from Daneland!

The fantastic Kamilla sent us a very thoughtful – and beautifully packaged – present; orange design letters spelling Supercool. (Plus an extra 'O' for Josh, which could enable him to spell Soup or perhaps it's a halo …?!)

Thanks Kamilla!

*Which (hopefully) means "A great gift!" in Danish.

Design of the Year 2013

Categories: Inspiration, Learning things, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting



Image: Design Museum

Tomorrow, the Design Museum will announce the over-all winner of Design of the Year 2013 – a celebration of the past year's very best Architecture, Digital, Fashion, Furniture, Graphics, Product and Transport design.

The winner will be chosen from this shortlist of category winners:

Architecture: Tour Bois-Le-Prêtre, Paris / Designed by Frédéric Druot, Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal

Digital: gov.uk / Designed by Government Digital Service

Fashion: Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel / Directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland

Furniture: Medici chair / Designed by Konstantin Grcic for Mattiazzi

Graphics: Venice Architecture Biennale identity / Designed by John Morgan Studio

Product: Kit Yamoyo / Designed by ColaLife and PI Global

Transport: Morph folding wheel / Designed by Vitamins for Maddak Inc.

As a graphic designer, I obviously have a particular interest in the Graphics and Digital categories. John Morgan Studio's brand identity for the Venice Architecture Biennale is just my sort of thing; simple, elegant, well-executed and, once you've seen it, there could be no other solution. It's perfect. And James big-upped (bigged-up?) the government's new website not so long ago in this blog post – and it is a fantastic example of simple, thoughtful, useful design. But neither of these would be my Design of the Year.

Although I'm a fan of Heatherwick Studio's Olympic Cauldron which was longlisted in the Product category, my personal choice for Design of the Year is the one which took the cauldron out of the running – ColaLife's Kit Yamoyo.

Image: Simon Berry

An exceptionally deserving and clever category winner, each Kit Yamoyo contains single-dose packs of oral rehydration salts (diarrhoea is the second-biggest killer of under-5s in sub-Saharan Africa), and the wedge-shaped pods also double as measuring cups for adding the correct amount of water to dilute each sachet.

So, what's the link with cola? And why the weird shape? The pods are wedge-shaped to fit into the spaces between Coke bottles in crates, enabling them to be transported and distributed using Coca-Cola's extensive networks across the region. Ingenious!


A Kit Yamoyo promoter hands out vouchers to mothers. Image: Simon Berry

The story of how the idea came about is a must-read and, as the ColaLife folks say, "It must be the first time that an anti-diarrhoea kit takes centre stage as a design icon."

Design for good at its very best.

(I'll update this post with the official winner once the announcement's been made.)

UPDATE

And the *actual* winner is … gov.uk. Congratulations! (And kudos for getting a press release about the win sorted so quickly an' all.)

I stick by my personal choice of Kit Yamoyo, but the Government's new website was always James' pick; and there is something rather nice about a website winning this gong, I reckon. Especially as many of the GDS Team's (award-winning) design principles run through the work that we do – it's sound stuff!

If you want a closer look at the nominees, they're being exhibited at the Design Museum until 7th July. Although the winner can obviously be seen on an internet connection near you.

The current state of design

Categories: Events, Learning things, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting

Gov.uk was officially switched on yesterday, replacing direct.gov and Business Link. It's all part of the government's 'single domain strategy' – a move which will eventually bring all government sites into one place.

Gov.uk crown logo

As part of Supercool's 'Conference Tour 2012', Josh and I went to the Theory of (R)Evolution conference run by Shropgeek the other week. There were lots of good talks but the one that really stood out for me was by Paul Annett, Creative Lead at Government Digital Services (GDS).

GDS was set up in 2011 to revolutionise the way government carries out its digital projects, and how we interact with the government online. The idea has been to change the approach from large, lengthy (and pricey) outsourced IT contracts and move more in-house; to be more efficient and transparent.

Although GDS is a relatively new department, it already has some staggering stats:

  • They've closed down 1,500 government-run websites – so far. The plan is close down around half of the remaining 600 or so. 
  • Long-term contracts have meant that it has previously cost up to £50,000 to change one line of code on a live site. (Red tape is really expensive.)
  • Currently, 1 in 3 phonecalls to government agencies are about a failed online transaction. By eliminating these calls, it's hoped that call-centre costs will be reduced by £1 billion.
  • Despite now using Gmail and, what you might think would be prohibitively expensive, iPhones and Apple Macs, GDS's overall IT costs are already 80% less than those of direct.gov.

The most interesting part of the talk for me, however, was hearing about their approach to design. Just the idea of a government project using words like 'design', 'usability' and 'user-experience' is virtually unheard of in this country – but Gov.uk is showing some real innovation.

Paul took us through the GDS design principles; a brilliantly articulated guide for any large development project. Loosely it's about keeping projects small (as in cutting out any 'bloat'), simple, open and agile. 

An example of the design principles in action

The design principles also include a style guide for written content, which is something even small organisations can follow with regard to writing good web copy.

Of course whilst the Gov.uk site is all shiny and new, content will be tidy, and easy to both find and understand. It'll be interesting to see if, and how, that changes as more content is added over time.

But at the moment it feels a bit weird to be so proud of the government's website.