Slate’s design blog.

April 16 2014 9:15 AM

The Ingenious Portable Lamp That’s Lighting Up Rural Mali

Works That Work is a Netherlands-based international magazine about design founded and edited by Peter Biľak. The following story—about Italian architect Matteo Ferroni's mobile lamp design project that is bringing light to rural Mali—ran in Works That Work, No. 2. Ferroni's project is also the subject of an exhibition running until May 4 at the Museo Nacional de Antropología of Madrid.

When visitors come to Africa they can suddenly find themselves “cracked open,” as the British writer Richard Dowden put it. One of the reasons is that life’s basic demands become more immediate: Everyday acts such as work, celebration, and education depend on the availability of essentials such as water, light, and food, items whose acquisition, at least in the vast rural areas, is rarely straightforward.

This was certainly the experience of Matteo Ferroni, an Italian architect who first visited Mali in 2010. In a relationship with a Malian singer at the time, he went with the intention of building an open-air theater near Ségou, 146 miles northeast of Mali’s capital Bamako.

Almost immediately he noticed that villagers did not follow Western sleeping patterns. Instead, they would sleep for many hours during the heat of the day and would often get up to work in the middle of the night, relying on dangerous petroleum lanterns and cheap battery-operated flashlights for illumination.

Video Advertisement

April 14 2014 8:30 AM

Chic Light Fixtures You Can Make Yourself

In DIY Furniture 2, a follow-up to his 2011 book featuring cool furniture and fixtures you could make at home, Christopher Stuart from Luur Design offers 30 new designs by leading designer-makers from around the world.

It’s a step-by-step guide to building a range of cool DIY household objects from clothing racks to chairs, tables, shelves, cabinets, and an outdoor kitchen, all using materials found at the local hardware store.

April 11 2014 11:29 AM

How I Discovered New York City’s Old Typography District

Over the past 25 years, Tobias Frere-Jones has created some of the world’s most widely used typefaces. He has taught at the Yale University School of Art since 1996, gives lectures around the world, and has work in the permanent collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Here at the Eye, Frere-Jones is sharing a post from his new blog about what happened when two of his favorite things—typography and New York City’s history—led him to a surprising discovery about a forgotten part of his hometown.

I love old type specimen books. Any foundry, any period, it doesn’t matter. They will have me hypnotized. But I don’t usually linger at the title pages. Who would, really? All the fun and exciting stuff comes after that: the impossibly small text faces, the spectacular display faces, all the sample uses variously dowdy and natty. So a long time went by before I noticed a trend in specimens from New York foundries, particularly through the 19th century:

These addresses are pretty close together. No—they’re really close. Wait, some of these are less than a block apart. OK, hang on, stop. I needed to figure this out.

April 10 2014 9:00 AM

How Companies Name New Products

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 naming products—in which 99% Invisible producer Avery Trufelman spoke with Laurel Sutton, co-founder of Catchword Branding, Eli Altman, creative director at A Hundred Monkeys and author of the naming book Don’t Call It That, and catchword namer Alex Kelley—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

April 9 2014 2:08 PM

One Designer’s Ambitious Quest to Standardize the World’s Subway Maps

Serbia-born, Paris-based architect Jug Cerovic moonlights as a map designer who has created a series of standardized subway maps of cities around the world.

His INAT series of maps are meant to fit in your pocket and be easy to read and use: They enlarge dense city centers to make multiple lines and connecting stations more visible. A standard set of symbols is used for all maps and all lines are either vertical, horizontal, or at a 45 degree angle, most featuring no more than five bends.

Cerovic uses shapes to indicate symbolic forms of various cities—circles for Moscow and Paris, rectangles for Beijing and Shanghai, a stadium shape for Berlin and Seoul, South Korea, parallelograms for London and regularly spaced straight parallel lines in gridded street pattern cities like New York and Mexico City.

April 8 2014 2:30 PM

Comic Sans, the World’s Most Ridiculed Font, Gets a Makeover

Some of the best designs have a measured dose of wit, teasing the intellect without trying too hard to be funny. But jokey designs tend to be corny, as unappreciated as a gag gift.

What happens when a typeface tries to play the class clown?

It usually ends up looking cheesy at best, and wildly inappropriate at worst. The choice of typeface can play a surprising role in shaping a reader’s sense of the truth, as explored in this New York Times essay by Errol Morris. Tone-deaf typeface choices can rob serious scientific news announcements of gravity, undermine the reverence of papal retirement communications, and create unspeakable awkwardness when chosen for funereal correspondence.

I'm talking, of course, about the ubiquitous Comic Sans. Modeled on the comic book fonts laying around his office in 1994 by then Microsoft designer Vincent Connare—whose Twitter page describes himself as “Creator of the world's favourite font!?”—the typrface became wildly popular before the turn of the century as the go-to for levity.

April 7 2014 11:30 AM

A High-Tech Camera That’s Activated With a Kiss

Vienna-based Talia Radford of taliaYstudio has developed a trio of warm and fuzzy prototypes she’s calling “a satirical comment on the wearable tech frenzy” that will be shown at the Confession of Design exhibition at the Milan Furniture Fair starting this week, reports Dezeen. The Holdables collection uses transparent OLED technology to make chic wearable tech objects. It includes MONOLED, a monocle with integrated lighting, and S.A.D. LOLLY, which combats seasonal affective disorder "by logging the wearer’s exposure to light” and then illuminates the OLED display for so-called “light shots.”

KISS-KAM, an extension of taliaYStudio and Jonas Bohatsch’s work on Thermobooth, an interactive photo booth that was triggered by skin contact between two people, is a buttonless camera with a transparent OLED panel that serves as viewfinder, shutter, and flash; kissing it triggers the camera to take a photo.

April 4 2014 10:52 AM

Striking Designs From the World’s Typewriter Artists

The typewriter may have become obsolete for committing thoughts to paper, but the object itself remains a powerful instrument for designers, artists, illustrators, poets, and writers, who have been using the pre-digital machinery to make art for more than a century.

Typewriter Art: A Modern Anthology by Barrie Tullett, a graphic designer and senior lecturer in graphic design at the Lincoln School of Art and Design in the United Kingdom, will be published later this month by Laurence King.

April 3 2014 10:32 AM

A Short History of the Modern Bar Code

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—in which 99% Invisible producer Katie Mingle spoke with UPC inventor George Laurer, MIT mechanical engineering professor Sanjay Sarma, and Jerry Whiting of Barcode Nerds and Azalea Software about bar codes—can be played below. Or keep reading to learn more.

April 2 2014 9:00 AM

One Designer’s Lonely Crusade to Make Packaging Disappear

When Aaron Mickelson decided to tackle the problem of packaging waste for his Pratt Institute master's design thesis The Disappearing Package last year, he wanted to go further than minimizing package size. So he gave five leading household products clever and radical eco-friendly makeovers that eliminated packaging altogether.

In a prototype redesign for Tide PODS, he stitched together a sheet of laundry pods, with brand info printed on the back of the sheet in soap-soluble ink, so that the packaging would disappear with the last pod, sparing the landfill a useless plastic storage tub or bag.

He created an accordion-like perforated stack of Twinings tea bags, wax-lined for freshness, with no need for stapled labels or strings or paper storage boxes.

Brand information for a roll of Glad trash bags was printed with traditional oil-based inks on the last trash bag in the roll, which instead of being kept in a box, served as the packaging itself.

And he designed a prototype for a Nivea soap box made from septic-safe, water-soluble paper that simply dissolved in the shower, leaving nothing but soap behind.

The ideas generated plenty of enthusiastic buzz when he first shared his thesis with the world in 2013. So when it popped up again on Designmilk a few weeks ago I couldn’t help but wonder if Mickelson’s great ideas had gained any real-world traction since last year.