Slate’s design blog.

June 27 2014 9:00 AM

A Beautiful Animated Film Made From Cardboard, Aluminum Wire, and Used Computer Parts

Brazilian filmmaker Daniel Ferreira won the best animation short award this week at the Palm Springs International ShortFest for Los Rosales. The film has a steampunk aesthetic that the filmmaker created using cardboard and used computer parts. He taught himself how to make twisted aluminum wire sculptures by watching videos on the Internet.

The filmmaker began the project as a music video for musician and composer Jhon William Castaño Montoya, a fellow resident at Treviso, Italy–based creative research center Fabrica. But he reacted to the music on such an emotional level that he ended up using the soundtrack as a vehicle to tell a surprisingly poetic story of a solitary robot in a post-apocalyptic sweatshop who labors among wheels and cogs to produce a monthly rose—rendered from masking tape, paint, and wire. Each month he devours the flower of his labors as a means to survive, until the machinery of his life breaks down and he has to face his fears of the unknown.

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June 26 2014 9:00 AM

You Won’t Find These Sleek World Cup Stamp Designs at the Post Office

With every global sporting event come endless opportunities for branding and design, and the FIFA World Cup has inspired a slew of uninspiring commemorative stamp designs issued by participating countries, plus unofficial tributes like the anything but cleverly designed soccer-themed stamps issued by North Korea, despite its failure to qualify for participation in the games.

Portuguese graphic design studio MAAN has created an unofficial set of stamps for a self-initiated project called World Cup Stamps, which rivals government-issued versions and outclasses the postal services of the planet.

June 25 2014 9:15 AM

A History of Skyjacking and the Evolution of Airport Security

Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at the Eye, we cross-post new episodes and host excerpts from the 99% Invisible blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode.

This week's edition—about skyjacking—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

June 24 2014 9:00 AM

The Woeful Decline in American License Plate Design

The license plate, like other ubiquitous objects, was once a thing of beauty. Most histories of American architecture focus on particular skyscrapers or the prairie style. But for their first hundred years, American license plates were among the best if most-unheralded pieces of good design. Created for vehicle identification, early license plates were legible, no nonsense, and often exceedingly handsome.

From very early on the states used license plates for self-promotion—advertising that was sometimes clever, usually primitively jingoistic, and occasionally downright funny. Maine was the first state to employ a motto (Vacationland), but by the Depression almost every state was touting something.

1920s and 1930s license plate design was noteworthy, featuring handsome fonts, intriguing logos, and state totems. For three years Arizona even produced a solid copper plate.

During World War II license plates were not changed every year and steel plates were replaced by less valuable aluminum ones; some were made of soybeans pressed into a cardboard-like material that was neither substantial nor attractive (the 1943 Illinois plate is an example).

June 23 2014 10:25 AM

The Scientific Way to Cut a Cake

Advice on how to cut a cake—that ritualized moment of childhood birthdays and symbolic bride-and-groom bonding—usually centers on producing equal slices, to keep jealous kids from squawking and sugar addicts of all ages from calling foul.

But British author Alex Bellos, who blogs about math for the Guardian, has tackled a different cake-related problem: How to cut a cake you’re not planning to devour in a single sitting so that it doesn’t dry out between servings.

June 20 2014 9:38 AM

What Are Those Roadside Totems Along the New Jersey Turnpike?

What’s That Thing is Slate’s column examining mysterious or overlooked objects in our visual landscape. To submit suggestions and pics for future columns, drop us an email.

Numerous readers have written in to say they’ve wondered for decades about these totemic structures on the New Jersey Turnpike. While they have a certain vertical dignity suggestive of permanence, they often disappear overnight, only to reappear at different locations.

One reader asked if they might be an art installation. At first I thought they might be some East Coast version of California’s beautiful mission bell markers on that state’s Royal Road, aka El Camino Real. After all, the New Jersey Turnpike, though many claim to hate it, is one of America's most iconic roads. Bruce Springsteen dubbed it “the golden roadway of the East" and put it in a song or two. Simon & Garfunkel, too, fell under the N.J. Turnpike's mysterious spell. So did Chuck Berry.

But these structures have a weirder, not-of-this-time quality—as if either so futuristic or so ancient that their purpose eludes us. You know, part Moai, part Monolith. Several letter-writers have suggested they might have a supernatural or extraterrestrial purpose (not for the first time on a Jersey road). Are they talismans against disquieted spirits—rising, perhaps, from the paved graves of our ancestors? Markers for alien road trips or landing sites?

June 19 2014 9:00 AM

A Short History of the High Heel

Roman Mars’ podcast 99% Invisible covers design questions large and small, from his fascination with rebar to the history of slot machines to the great Los Angeles Red Car conspiracy. Here at the Eye, we cross-post new episodes and host excerpts from the 99% Invisible blog, which offers complementary visuals for each episode.

This week's edition—about high heels—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

June 17 2014 9:00 AM

Designers Reinvent the Micro-Kitchen  

Any chef worth his or her salt knows that the size of one’s kitchen has nothing to do with the quality of one’s cooking. But American kitchens are generally bloated with oversize appliances and real estate-hogging layouts, more theater than laboratory, status symbols even for those who never cook.

Even apartments in cities with notoriously small-scale kitchen spaces tend to waste plenty of square feet on four-range stovetops, giant ovens, and high-capacity dishwashers that are tailored for much larger rooms. But as Americans have begun to embrace the upsides of downsizing, designers have begun to play catch up, cooking up compact kitchen designs equipped with more than just glorified dorm room appliances.

June 13 2014 9:00 AM

The Fight to Save an Iconic Symbol of Brooklyn's Industrial Past

The Kentile Floors sign along Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal has dominated the local skyline since 1949. The eight-story-tall letters, which were once lit in purple neon, no longer symbolize the business it originally advertised, but remain a visible token of the area’s storied industrial past.

On June 5, the New York Times reported that a demolition permit had been approved for “Full Demolition of Kentile Sign at 111 9th St. Brooklyn, NY.” Building owner Ely Cohen hasn’t yet spoken publicly about his plans to scrap the sign. But scaffolding around the sign that began to go up last week did not go unnoticed by local residents glimpsing the change from the Gowanus Expressway or an F train window, and some have begun a passionate fight to save the sign.

June 12 2014 1:54 PM

Are Anti-Homeless Sidewalk Spikes Immoral?

Over the weekend, a photo of forbidding anti-homeless person spikes installed recently to prevent unwanted sleeping on the street outside a luxury housing unit in London (above) went viral on social media. The ensuing outrage has sparked an online petition to remove them that already has more than 100,000 signatures and the story has since been widely picked up by the BBC and other news outlets. London Mayor Boris Johnson declared the studs “ugly, self-defeating and stupid,” adding that the developer of the building “should take them down.”

But inelegant and heartless as they may be, sidewalk spikes and other deterrents are nothing new and unlikely to disappear altogether, momentary collective crisis of conscience notwithstanding.

Artist Nils Norman has been photographing what he calls “defensive architecture” since the late '90s and maintains an ongoing archive of images documenting the phenomenon. His 2001 book The Contemporary Picturesque features photos of surface spikes and studs and other urban design afterthoughts that punctuate cities around the world, underlining the persistent tension about what constitutes public space and private property.

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