Tag Archives: technology

On cartography

Ork Map of Toronto

Christopher Columbus' Map of the New World from c.1490

Christopher Columbus_Map_New World_1490

By Mike Baldwin

Directions are either helpful or confusing, maps included. Visual cues are meant to minimize interference by by language and this is where design comes in. Conventions and cultural references are used to help in this experience but there are still shortcomings.
The visual that a map presents to its beholder is spatial; ingenious use of other elements like colours and texture gives the said beholder a space for personalizing the experience of wayfinding. One good example of this visual map is the ‘You Are Here’ map that can be found at any shopping centre. By using the beholder’s relative starting point, the hunt for the shoe sale is a little closer for someone shopping with daddy’s credit card which is a blessing (for the current teenager) and a curse (for the same teenager but ten years from and now also for the unknowing father).
Maps are documents of discovery. Without blazing trails, maps would not exist and without verifying accuracy, maps could very well be drawings mazes that can be filled with colour using wax crayons. Navigators commissioned by kings earned a living heading to the unknown seas brought back trophies as well as roughly plotted maps of their routes to get from one place to their destinations. Christopher Columbus had an estimated idea of how to get to the New World but confusion about where exactly his ship landed has born a huge influence on our present geographic references.
Recently, experimentation in cartography has come from graphic design. The maps are neither topographic, geographic or political; they have become typographic. Looking at the Ork maps of cities, including Toronto, the intention is to visually represent the different neighbourhoods and districts in urban centres through kerning and letting. They are useless if you are a tourist trying to navigate the streets but heck, they are beautiful.
Present-day collectible maps are great to serve as art and design pieces. Nothing else. They are visual references and approximations that could be slightly helpful. One can argue that this is a design failure; another can rebut by asking if we even need maps still. The analog/puritan in me would say ‘yes.’ The tech enthusiast in me asks, ‘don’t I have an app for that?’.

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Existentialism in materialism, or A meditation on consumer goods

If there is one thing I love, it would have to be photography. The masters Henri-Cartier Bresson and Ansel Adams have a pretty fierce grasp of two heart strings right here (points to left side of chest). It is amazing what one can do with a piece of equipment, suspending one moment in time, to be relived over and over. It is magic, really.

Talking photography means talking about hardware. All the camera manufacturers in the world seem to quicken the pace at which their goods are produced and distributed, satisfying gearheads with every shipment to the nearest retailer. I’m not one to think of the good ol’ days because let’s face it, nothing gets accomplished and that is waste. However, there is also the adage ‘Haste makes waste.’ Could we apply it to today’s pieces of technology?

What is fascinating right now is the nostalgia that younger people have for a technology whose tail-end they caught: film or analog photography. Lomography has picked up with the sales of plastic cameras that take pretty funky images. Stores catering to the 12-25 set like Urban Outfitters carry cameras of the same nature. There IS an interest in film. Still.

So far, the camera that I have my eye out for is a compromise between analog and digital: the Fuji X100. I am certain that I am not alone. The camera is a beauty. Let’s not get too much into the specs but the camera physically is loosely based on rangefinder cameras from decades ago, only digital. The buttons are all manual (but with their automatic counterparts, for the lazy) unlike other digital cameras that have been designed and released thus far in the last couple of years. It may be the best compromise, so far with the convenience of digital and the regal appearance of a Leica. (A fundraising event is slowly getting organized for the 2011 holiday season. Let me rephrase that: for my 2011 holiday season. Cheques accepted but PayPal is best.)

The selling point of this camera is the old-school appearance but with the practicality its digital compatibility with our digital lives. At $1200, is keeping up appearances worth it? To some, yes. To others, no. The equipment that was once but a tool to capture images is now an image unto itself. It is like being caught between two mirrors facing each other, and the neverending hall of repeating reflections. Which is the original? No one really knows. The camera is only coveted until the updated version is available. Is that a waste? You decide.

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Frankie says relax

The previous weeks have left me with a lot to juggle and my baby, Urban Peanut, has been left with nothing to feed on.

I am currently in New York and it is definitely a city like no other. With so many exhibits at the MoMa, and Brooklyn as a new place of urban exploration, one is left with close to no energy when one needs it the most: on a Friday night.

Muji is easily one of my favourite design stores with affordable offerings, without sacrificing quality of taste. My life in Paris involved coffee, food and Muji. There is nothing with a logo in the store. Subtlety and minimalism are keywords during the conception process of all of Muji items. I am packing up on their refillable pens and stationery. When are you coming to Canada, dear Muji? Good design is for the people!

My holiday is going very well with a trip to a Warhol exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum and a whole day of picnicking in Park Slope. I will let you know how it goes with photos. Brrrrup!!

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Getting to know a stranger

Disruption can definitely ruin your day.

The news came to me not by someone’s whisper or through Twitter but through an e-mail from my nü-Berliner friend Daniel who in bold letters said: HOW DID HE DIE? Curious and intrigued, I let Google be my guide.  Alexander McQueen is dead.

This man was a stranger to me but his work was familiar.  The man whose Victorian Gothic aesthetic was not from textbooks nor was it a reinvention of old staples; Alexander McQueen stood on his own.

I, sadly, never had the privilege of meeting the man nor his first client, Isabella Blow, herself a working artpiece, adorned by Philip Treacy’s head objets .  For a strange reason, unexplainable to anyone, I felt that he was someone I had met and with whom I have made better acquaintance through time.  Jeanne Beker showed his collections on Fashion Television.  Later, with the advent of the internet, McQueen’s designs were more accessible.  His embrace of technology contributed to the drama of his shows particularly his last, where the whole show was captured by two cameras on robotic arms.

Plato’s Atlantis, Alexander McQueen’s Spring Summer 2010 collection, is the most dramatic, eclipsing his apocalyptic Autumn-Winter 2009.  The 24 cm tall shoes shocked and awed.  A lot has been written about them so I will refrain from commenting any further on the spectacle that it was.

Lee McQueen, as he was known, was a genius.  His collections were a public declarations and visual manifestation of his mind.  I will never know the man yet, for a strange reason, I feel that I know him.  Furthermore, my chest feels heavy knowing that I will never see a fantasy in the flesh.  Mr. McQueen, I am glad to have made your acquaintance.

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