Good Idea of the Week

The most beautifully designed thing I've seen recently is the Phonofone II (designed by Tristan Zimmermann), a small ceramic phonograph that amplifies the earbuds (!) of any mp3 player with no power source whatsoever. It's exceptionally clever plus it looks like white chocolate which kinda makes me want to take a bite out of it.



Today I was impressed by the website design and portfolio of the design studio Palebird.


Bad Idea of the Week

My sharpest dagger in my eye this week is the 'number as letter' trend. It all started with the film 'Se7en' and lately it's been infecting innocent titles and phrases worldwide. You wouldn't ever wear your socks over your shoes, right? You wouldn't eat your sandwich out of a mug and drink you coffee off of a plate, correct? Thus you should never place a number where a letter belongs. Here are a couple of the worst offenders, guaranteed to kick your eye in the balls every time you look. Send other examples to dan@magneticstate.com so I can post them here and revel in how much they annoy me. The only thing worse than a trend is a really ugly trend.


Van Gogh & Sedaris & Kidd

I did a double-take when I saw the cover of David Sedaris' newest collection of deliriously funny essays, When You Are Engulfed In Flames. Dude's got a Van Gogh on the cover of his book!

The painting is 'Skull with a Burning Cigarette' (located in the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). My great friend Mark became obsessed with this painting when we visited the museum together in 2001. He's had a framed print of it on his wall ever since.

The conceptual union of the painting and the book is pitch perfect. The absurdity of the smoking skeleton is intensified by the association with Sedaris' own sense of the absurd. The title of the book heightens the intrigue of the image. The last essay in the book ('The Smoking Section') concerns Sedaris' attempts to quit/ridicule/understand his smoking habit. Besides, in the hands of a writer this funny, death can be downright hilarious.

Design of the book jacket is credited to Chip Kidd. My first question upon seeing the cover of When You Are Engulfed In Flames was 'how did they get rights to a Van Gogh?' Apparently, that was Kidd's biggest concern too, but he says it was "no big deal" in his blog entry on the subject. I guess you really can buy anything in Amsterdam.

Chip Kidd's typographic work for the cover is simple and tasteful and stays out of the way of the Van Gogh and the book title (which is taken from weird fire safety translation in Tokyo, where Sedaris went to attempt to quit smoking). Kidd is responsible for many other beautiful book jackets, like this one, this one, and this one.

It says a great deal about Sedaris's talent and cultural status that he can incorporate a Van Gogh painting into his work and not have its brightness dwarf his own. Brilliant stuff. If only we could send a royalty check back in time so Vincent could eat a decent meal.


'The Lure of Paris' by Stephen Bush

Today I was impressed by the cover of a new record called Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea by the band Silver Jews. The painting is called 'The Lure of Paris' by Australian painter Stephen Bush. Here is an article including comments about the painting by Silver Jews member David Berman. He says that Stephen Bush has "done this painting 27 times. Once a year, he paints it from memory with one tube of black and one tube of white."


Thirsty Goat

I love this logo for the Polish beer Okocim (founded in 1845). The concept is wonderfully odd and the scale of the enormous glass is hilarious. A logo design concept with a weird or humorous solution is not always appropriate but in this case I love it. Most of us see so many corporate logos (dozens? hundreds?) during the course of any given day so it's always refreshing to see one that stands out from the crowd. Also the brew is delish and always goes well with my pierogis and entree at King's Feast on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint.


Simplicity: Too Simple?

I'd like to share an excerpt from a design book published in 1927. I spend a lot of time in the Gimbel design library at my alma mater, Parsons School of Design. Recently, I unearthed a relic.

The book is called Fred Farrar's Type Book. The following is an excerpt from the introduction, titled 'Why Keep it a Secret? Something of an Introduction by Don Herold.' I am amazed and pleased that the general outlook of typographers does not seem to have changed much in nearly a century. We still seem to believe that less is more, the best tools are the ones that have stood the test of time, and the world's bad designs greatly outnumber it's good ones. The antiquated vernacular is priceless (and I vote we bring back 'geegaws'). Here is the excerpt:

"I have always been at a loss to understand why all newsboys, all traincallers, and many advertisers take such pains to conceal what they have to say. They have a veritable professional technique of pandemonium and confusion.

I often feel that a newsboy's chief aim in life is not to sell papers but to entertain himself with a lot of noise. Sometimes I feel that advertisers are similarly out for pleasure rather than profit, since the typography of their advertising means so little to anybody but themselves. How they must enjoy the intricacies, the mazes, the impenetrabilities, the hidden meanings of their expensive, luxurious advertisements!

Why does it take mankind so long to arrive at the simple? And once simplicity is achieved, why does mankind so often wander afield from it? Almost invariably, new things are done in an elaborately incorrect way. All the new, small minds contrive gorgeously roundabout methods of doing the obvious.

It took years for motor cars to achieve the simple streamlines which should have been theirs from the first and to shake off their artistic status of redesigned buggies. And now, in so-called sport models especially, there is a tendency to return to error, a restlessness which manifests itself in tinwear trimmings and geegaws.

There has been Caslon type for a long time, yet the average printer will take pains not to have it. In fact, I sometimes think that most printers make an uncanny effort, and a successful one, to get all the bad types.

Some of the world's best books are centuries old. Good typography is not in its infancy, in spite of the attempts of so many modern advertisers to put it there. Advertising typography as we know it today is, however, in its adolescence, a profession comparatively new. And its practitioners (the old story) have disregarded all good typographical precepts of all time and most precepts of common sense, and have set about to make advertising typography completely unreadable. Professionals invariably take this course; tricks in a trade always precede true accomplishment in a trade; the earlier physicians contrived the most marvelously complex processes for killing a man. I presume that pioneers in all professions must do things complexly. Simplicity would seem too simple."

-excerpt taken from Fred Farrar's Type Book by Frederick M. Farrar, 1927.


Welcome to Magnet Cat! This is a blog about graphic design and illustration and film and the "visual noise" of New York City (I once had a professor who used that term to refer to the advertisements in Times Square). In other words, I aim to discuss all things visible.

Basically, I found myself writing an increasing amount of design-related posts at my personal blog. I thought I should build a home for these discussions. However, I hope this blog will appeal to designers as well as those of you in other professions.