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September 21, 2011 / Kuan

Spider Webs and Useless Perfection

Poster for Musée d'Orsay in 1986 by Bruno Monguzzi

“Swiss design is as perfect as any spider web. But it’s a useless perfection. The spider web is useful only when broken by the entangled fly.”

The quote was told by Bruno Monguzzi, the infamous Swiss graphic designer, typographer, teacher and design philosopher, at AIGA/NY‘s event tonight. It was the single most important lesson, Monguzzi said, he learned from Antonio Boggeri, founder of one of the most important Italian design firm Studio Boggeri.

Much of Monguzzi’s talk tonight was centered around this idea of “useless perfection.” Or, in other words, form. As words are substitutes of meaning, work of graphic design are substitutes of messages.

Sounds abstract, but sort of getting it? Here is an example:

Audi Zero concept

Vintage car. Photo from

One is a concept, the other a vintage. Two unmistakably different styles, but one object — car. The fashion in which those two vehicles dress does not alter the nature of the product, only the perception of it. “The how defines the what,” as Monguzzi puts. Similarly, we as graphic designers can’t alter the nature of a message, but how our audience respond to it.

That puts tremendous pressure on us, as you could imagine, since any form of communication is merely the communicator’s subjective understanding of the matter. There is certainly no single style of doing it right, but a method — putting content over form. (Remember the entangled fly?)

Monguzzi told the audience to “disobey to trends” and “to add pages to the dictionary of visual communication, instead of tearing ones out.” And perhaps more importantly, “new design comes from new problem.”

His answer to the request for a book recommendation from one audience member.

Problems arise from life, so live like a human being first, he said in the closing marks, then you can become a designer.

August 7, 2011 / Kuan

Combination & Contradiction: similarities between Arthur Russell and Aldous Huxley

John Cage shocked the world with his theory that every bit of sound is music a while ago. The moment of realization hit me, alas, when I was watching ” Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur Russell” at the BMW Guggenheim Lab this afternoon.

The Lab, used to be a rat-infested parking lot on Houston Street between First and Second Avenue, was renovated to a mobile laboratory that hosts movie screenings, discussions and music events. The original walls on First and Second Avenue were struck down to create an open, inviting space for creative ideas — ones that concern not only the local community on how to make the neighborhood cleaner and better, but also the global community on poverty, public health and other issues that matter. From its opening on August 3rd, curators of different disciplines have put together interesting, free events for the public.

The old parking lot now -- an open, inviting space for ideas. Photo by Roger Kisby

The screening this afternoon lured me to the Lab, and watching director Matt Wolf‘s documentary on Arthur Russell, the avant-garde musician in the 70s, with traffic noises in the background was a thought-provoking experience. Russell’s music, at his time, wasn’t largely recognized because of his futuristic vision. Almost 30 years later, his songs blend perfectly into the contemporary music scene, inspiring musicians of our time. In between the LCD screen with Russell’s music at front and the traffic noises behind me, different sound and notes flowed, clashed and embraced each other, creating such a dynamic energy in the open space. And I suddenly realized what Cage meant.

Cover of the documentary is well designed, not surprisingly.

I can’t remember his name, but one of Russell’s friends said in the film that Russell was too ahead of his time in terms of music, yet his unique vision led to an uncompromising manner that most found difficult to work with — that’s probably why Russell wasn’t immensely popular at his time. Coincidentally, author of the book I was reading before the film, Brave New Worldgave me a very similar impression. Aldous Huxley, whose work influenced George Orwell’s 1984, has quite a vision — too avant-garde to see a Utopian world at his time, yet too close-minded to how the class system works in the society. Combinations of contradictions, both Russell and Huxley’s work inspired me to pay attention to the mass in between the ends.

The quote from Huxley in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair in 1928 inspired the latest poster in the “Quotes that Inspire” series — a look into modernity and the gray in between black and white.

June 10, 2011 / Kuan

New & Fun: AIGA Blue Ridge Postcard

AIGA Blue Ridge tweeted that they wanted someone to design a postcard for their upcoming event, and here is what I ended up with. My ideas shifted from doing a dramatic typographical postcard, to a cheesy photo illustration of comments bubbling up in the coffee cup, and finally ended with a spoon-pencil. Wish that invention existed in real life.

June 8, 2011 / Kuan

Personal Project: Quotes that Inspire

Dutch designer and typographer Wim Crouwel, in an interview with Swiss Legacy, said that he is very jealous of young designers starting now. On the one hand.

On the other hand, he said, “it’s becoming more difficult to find your own way” among the fast-advancing world of technology. The advice Crouwel offered to young designer triggered this new quote-that-inspire poster, reminding me to have a focus, an intention while picking up everything I love.

June 5, 2011 / Kuan

Design: 100-person poll infographics

Our News21 team recently conducted a 100-person poll at the May Fair in Bethlehem, Pa, where we asked 100 random Hispanic/Latino attendees whether they identify themselves with “Hispanics” or “Latinos.” The infographics, accompanying a written piece, will be published with our site launch on Monday.

May 12, 2011 / Kuan

Take a look at TK

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TK zine-edited13TK zine-edited14TK zine-edited15TK zine-edited16TK zine-edited17TK zine-edited18
TK zine-edited19TK zine-page20TK zine-edited21TK zine-edited22TK zine-edited23TK zine-edited24

We finished TK on time! Take a look of our zine in the set TK Zine on Flickr.

Inspired by Longshot!, TK is an experimental project  Caitlin Dewey and I created between May 10-11, 2011. This crowd-sourced zine asked contributors to create art/writing in 24 hours, interpreting the theme “in between.” Caitlin and I edited, designed and produced the entire issue in the next 24 hours.

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