Recent “Objectify Me” Posts

  • Sep 29
  • 0

Objectify Me: Craig Foltz unexplains the golf ball

I suppose that the story behind the evolution of a golf ball is no different from many of the other bulk items we surround ourselves with. Initially, the golf ball was built from organic materials found in the local environment (some sources mention goose feathers, others mud and tree sap), but eventually these organic materials were replaced by synthetics, so that now the ingredient list reads like something out of a controlled chemistry experiment. Ionomer resins. Ethylene copolymers. Ionically strengthened thermoplastic. All compressed and molded to create, in the words of one manufacturer, “outstanding resilience, broad hardness and stiffness range, and excellent durability” (don’t blame me if this smells faintly pornographic, blame the marketing guys down in Georgia).

Of course, this transformation of materials and construction methods is nothing new. But when I study a golf ball I find myself immersed in more whimsical questions.

Where does this golf ball come from? How is it made? What does the size of each dimple mean? Is there someone drawing out each golf ball design, painstakingly wrapping each circle around the next? Is it even possible to accurately draw a golf ball freehand? Is there any one among us that can do this? If so, what side of their brain do they rely on? Will their imaginary golf ball (the drawn one) fly straighter and truer than the ones designed and built in some mysterious flat building in Xiamen City, China? When you think of China do you think of brown dusty fields or lush tropical bush? Does it matter?

Imagine, for a moment, a cloverleaf freeway overpass with traffic regulation lights blinking on and off. Our artist, she’s the one heading to work, sitting in a line of small, tidy cars. Place yourself within the passenger seat of her clean white sedan. On her dash, a row of miniature hood ornaments. All the ornaments serve as stand-ins for cultural icons. Moving from left to right: There’s Elvis Presley in a grass skirt (obviously the figure sways as the vehicle rounds a curve or comes to a stop). Next to Elvis, Chairman Mao, whose detached and almost mournful expression often diverts the artist’s eyes from the road (she must cover him up, she thinks). Towering over Mao is NBA center Yi Jianlian (who some also call “the chairman”). The chairman leans against a guitar wielding Kurt Cobain (a roach clip appropriately appended to the end of the fretboard). Kurt looks up absently at the World Trade Center buildings (she actually got these when she visited New York back in ‘99 when everyone was still worried about how the millenium was going to affect their clocks).

So, here you are turning this golf ball over in your hands. Account for every circle. Some of them have a happy imperfection about them. Some spots seem pliable, almost mushy, while others, well, they resist your touch altogether.

– Craig Foltz

Craig Foltz is a writer and visual artist whose work has appeared in numerous journals. He lives on the slopes of a dormant volcano in Auckland, New Zealand.

Categories: Objectify Me

  • Sep 18
  • 1

Objectify Me: Debbie Millman and the Yellow Barrette

Our weekly series of guest posts where people we like discuss objects that inspire them

One of my favorite things to do as a little girl was visit my father’s pharmacy. I was dazzled by all of the branded boxes that neatly lined the mahogany shelves, and I would spend hours ogling the packaging. For me, the crown jewel was the barrette display. This was a stand of magical wonder; it was a spinning cascade of glamour and hope and desire. The stand held every possible hair accessory: head bands, bobby pins, colorful plastic clips in the shape of butterflies, a myriad of hair brushes, combs, shower caps, pretty bows in velvet, bows in gingham, and my favorite barrette of all: pony tail holders. They were sold in packages of 4 or 8 or an eye popping 20. The barrettes were of simple construction: two round baubles held together by an elastic band that was twisted around to hold ponytails in place. Each pack was organized by style: some were translucent, some were opaque, and they were segmented by color and size: small, medium and large balls of primary and secondary colors. I was allowed to pick out one package per visit to keep. I would stand in front of the stand for what seemed an eternity, slowly spinning it round and round, overwhelmed by the magnitude of my choice: what should I take? What was the most beautiful? What would make me look the prettiest? After I made my decision, I would bring home my coveted treasure, carefully open up the packs, spread out my newly obtained amulets and then I would, well…I would do nothing. I wouldn’t do my hair up and I didn’t try them on. I just stared at them in divine bliss. I was simply content to look at them and add them to my lovely, expanding trove. I felt rich with accomplishment and dizzy with glee. No one had the collection I had; no one could be as lucky as I was.

My best friend, a very sweet girl named Andrea, lived next door. We would spend hours on end imagining what we would be when we grew-up and where we would travel and what we would wear. Andrea did not share my penchant for hair accessories and while she tolerated my burgeoning collection, she had no desire to join me in my trinket worship. One day, when we were playing at her house, I noticed a small ponytail holder on her bureau. I was immediately mesmerized and perplexed. It was a pearly pale yellow, and I had never seen a barrette of that hue, ever. Whenever I went over to Andrea’s house I always looked for the barrette and it always there in the same place. Suddenly I was angry and jealous. I wanted that barrette and I didn’t know how to get it.

I continued to fixate on Andrea’s yellow barrette, and one afternoon, before I could stop myself, when my best friend wasn’t looking, I took the barrette off of her bureau and put it in my pocket. I stole Andrea’s yellow barrette.

For weeks after I completed my crime, I waited for Andrea to notice. She never did. But our friendship had irrevocably changed. I now had a terrible secret we couldn’t share, and I couldn’t face her anymore. And I couldn’t face who I became because of my desire and my greed for a little yellow barrette.

Debbie Millman is the President of the design group at Sterling Brands, a leading brand consultancy. She is also the host of Design Matters, a radio show on the Voice America Business Network and the author of How To Think Like A Great Graphic Designer. [And yes, that's a picture of the actual barrette...]

Categories: Objectify Me

Objectify Me: Steven Heller on Paul Rand’s can


El Producto Cigar Tin, designed by Paul Rand

An entire book could be devoted to the designs Paul Rand created for El Producto cigars in the early 1950s – from an advertising campaign, where every week for a year or more he drew a different funny cigar holding a cigar (in its hands, of course), to the various gift packages, including one with a Man Ray-inspired photogram on the cover. There is so much material and recently, I was given a tin designed by Rand that even I had never laid eyes on before or knew existed. It currently sits on a shelf above my computer, and honestly, I cannot take my eyes off of it – it’s taken on the status of a religious reliquary.

Still, a can is a can (unless it contains something special, like grandma’s ashes) and this is the quintessential cylindrical tin with metal top that can be opened only by using the church key soldered to the bottom. Yet Rand’s playful graphics – the colors, image, and lettering – are so joyous that it could never be thrown away without experiencing some kind of guilt. Incidentally, joyful is a very apt description because this was not just any common cigar container; rather it held 25 “Bouquets” designed specifically for new fathers to hand out in celebration of the birth of a son – not a daughter (although that can just might exist too).

The image features one of Rand’s phallic cigar-characters holding a cigar in one hand and a baby milk bottle in the other while a stork (similar to one he drew for the cover for the Stork Club cocktail book) holds a basket with a cherubic infant peering comically over the edge. The background color is a mellow sky blue (similar to Obama Blue) with the linear stork rendered in reddish purple and the basket in white. The baby is “newborn pink” with a red dot for the nose – cute yet not maudlin. The lettering for the El Producto logo is the stencil-style that Rand once explained referred to the stencils on huge burlap bales of tobacco, and under the stork’s spindle legs, scrawled in Rand’s script, is the phrase “it’s a boy!” While on the top – the piece de resistance – also in his script, is the slogan “proud fathers give El Producto.”

Although this was a calculated attempt to sell more rancid smelling cigars by reinforcing the manufactured tradition that men give cigars to commemorate their newborns, this was something special. Prefiguring Rand’s carnival-esque package designs for IBM, this can humanized the product like no other in its genre. Most cigar labels and boxes followed the 19th century penchant for Victorian-style engravings and color lithographs of famous figures, scantily clad ladies, and vintage plantations. Instead, Rand rejected all the conventions of cigars by inventing his own branding language that clear set El Producto apart from the competition. It is, well, joyous.

– Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chairman (with Lita Talarico) of the MFA Design program at the School of Visual Arts. He writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review, and is the author, co-author, and/or editor of over 100 books on design and popular culture.

Categories: Objectify Me

  • Aug 26
  • 1

Objectify Me: Alice Twemlow on the shuttlecock

The latest in our series of guest posts where people we like discuss objects that inspire them

Despite its diminutive size, the shuttlecock — a 2.7-inch high cone of white feathers stuck into a rounded cork base — seems to me to contain all the time and space of a long summer’s afternoon on a large green lawn. In its delicately ribbed frame are encapsulated pitchers of lemonade, the drone of bees, the smell of mown grass and the sun-baked mustiness of the garden sheds where shuttlecocks rest along with broken croquet mallets, dog-chewed Frisbees and trapped flies.

Considered in an urban environment, such as on a shelf in my Manhattan office, the shuttlecock is only half an object. While it hints at a future of action, the likelihood of it actually being borne aloft, into a sky free of telephone wires and sirens, is pretty slim. In its dormant state it becomes a mere shadow of its potential self in flight, when it thwacks through the air, cork base forward in an aerodynamic thrust that has inspired the design of space shuttles.

I no longer have its package, but my forlorn and flightless birdie was probably constructed in China, since that is where most of them are produced, thanks to that country’s large poultry population and consequent access to goose and duck feathers. It’s also likely that it was made at a company in the Guangzhou Province, called Double Happiness, a name that must jar on its workers who spend too long each day hand-stitching and gluing 16 feathers into each nose of leather-coated cork. There’s no designer for me to thank for my shuttlecock, since its form emerged out of the combined efforts of the players of the 18th century Indian game Poona, and the British Army officers who imported it to British lawns in the late 1800s. One genesis theory is that since quill pens used to be stored in corks, a bunch of them together in one may have inspired some bored clerk to toss it across the room at a fellow worker.

And so, now, deprived of the ability to soar, the function of my shelved shuttlecock is to conjure memories in which the facts of my own childhood and the fiction of A Room With A View-style garden parties are rolled into one yearning reverie — the kind that is actually necessary from time to time amid our future-oriented itineraries.

– Alice Twemlow

Alice Twemlow is the chair of the new MFA program in Design Criticism at the School of Visual Arts, New York.

Categories: Objectify Me

Objectify Me: Marian Bantjes and her toothbrush

For a while now I’ve been ranting about the inexplicable over-design of toothbrushes. Why the toothbrush of all things, has been lavished with unnecessary inlaid plastic, rubbery bits and detailed parts had me worked up to such a degree that I was preparing to write an article about it. In preparation, I went out and bought several toothbrushes, including the most expensive, complex one I could find. I decided, in fairness, I should try it out.

The moment I took it out of its package I was surprised by how perfectly it fit in my hand. Rubber ribs nestled just below the knuckle of my index finger; the unusual curve of the handle fell below my pinky, encouraging my hand into an elegant, natural form. It seemed to almost propel my fingers back and forth in a brushing motion. Then I got it in my mouth. The bristles seemed to snuggle over my molars with a massaging hug. The bizarre rubbery bits inside the bristles made obvious and satisfying contact with the top of the tooth. And the strange, nubbly mat on the reverse side from the bristles gently scrubbed inside my cheek: double action! As I brushed, the feeling was unlike anything I’ve ever had with another toothbrush: it was pleasurable, sensuous and assuredly effective. I was astonished, as this previously tedious task was transformed into one of life’s daily pleasures.

If everything in our lives were afforded the design attention that my toothbrush has, we would sit in chairs that floated while tickling our troubled backs, have tables that yielded at our aching elbows while remaining firm on top, walk on floors that tingled like active sand, and sleep on pillows that would never allow our ears to flatten against our heads.

For now, I will simply brush my teeth.

– Marian Bantjes

Marian Bantjes is a designer, typographer and artist-thing working internationally from her home base on an island off the west coast of Canada.

Categories: Objectify Me

Objectify Me: Tim Brown on the Olivetti Valentine

[Note: This is the first in a series of special guest posts, in which people we like discuss designed objects that inspire them. We'll be posting a new installment of "Objectify Me" every week.]

When I first saw this object as an industrial design student, it made me realize what great industrial design was all about. It’s the Valentine typewriter by the late Ettore Sottsass, designed back in the 1960s for Olivetti. Sottsass took a very mundane, ordinary object, and thought, “What could it be like if it’s not about business anymore, if it’s not about the typing pool, if it’s an object people might have in their homes?”

With this incredibly simple, elegant design, and this absolutely outrageous color, he took a product that’s still serious (it works very well as a typewriter) but he made it human in a completely surprising way. I think even today, even though we’re not using typewriters anymore, it’s still a great piece of product design.

I keep it in my office as a reminder that great design can be simple, it doesn’t always have to be a really complicated idea.

– Tim Brown

Tim Brown is the CEO and president of IDEO, an innovation and design firm with headquarters in Palo Alto, California. His designs have won numerous awards and been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Axis Gallery in Tokyo, and the Design Museum London.

Categories: Objectify Me


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