This is the twelfth and final essay in a collection written by Byron Ferris for the "Design Sense" feature of the Sunday Northwest Magazine insert of The Oregonian during 1984 and 1985. We should point out at the Byron's reference to Will Vinton is timely; Mr. Vinton, who remains a Portland icon, created the studio that later became LAIKA, now owned by Nike's Phil Knight. LAIKA recently produced the excellent animated feature film, "Coraline". And knowing Mr. Ferris' declared admiration for Max Bill, we'll venture to guess that his "Swiss-made, dial-face" watch just might be one of these. The Editors.
The sense of surprise and delight that kids display as they learn about how the world works seems to escape as they grow and become more blasé. On occasion, however, the gift of wonder can return to big kids, as it did recently from the technical magic of a special-effects movie, a movie that pictured fantasy with such sharp-focus reality that it seemed to be an actual adventure.
The film was "Return to Oz," a Walt Disney production that includes Claymation sequences created by Portland's Will Vinton Productions. The Portland folks sculptured figures in clay, moving them slightly for each of the pictures on a movie film strip. Projected on the theater screen, the figures come to life in smooth movement: a talking moose head, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow and a copper clockwork robot, clockwork because the Oz stories were written in the early 1900s, long before the age of electronics.
When I was very young, the event of the week was a visit to the neighborhood theater, the "RIO," which was a place of dreams, providing once-a-week magic to think about until the next Saturday's shot of dancing pictures on the silver screen. Part of the drama was imagining how great it would be to move to a house built against the wall of the RIO so that I could cut a hole through the wall of my room and watch a movie every night right at home. Of course, I knew that would never happen. But now, when I turn on the television for the evening's shows, I think of my early dreams and wonder at the fantastic changes technology has brought right at home.
Sometimes though, the changes can go too far. When the spring in my venerable wristwatch recently needed replacement, I bought a digital watch as a temporary timepiece. It is a marvelous instrument with large lithium-crystal numbers, a quartz-controlled electronic chip and smaller numbers that pulse the seconds away as though the watch were alive and had a beating heart. Staring in fascination at the seconds changing pulse-to-pulse, I've been wrenched by the realization that my new digital display graphically shows life's moments slipping away into the past. My clock-face watch never frightened me that way its dial always reassured me that more seconds, minutes and hours were coming in the day.
When I explained my unease to a friend who is an electronics engineer, he said of the clock face, "Oh, yes, an analog display." I realized that he was so steeped in his computer craft that the numerical readout of a digital watch was normal and right to him and that, in his mind, the clock-face way of reading time had become merely an analog, or alternate method, to the proper way of showing the information.
I pointed out that a short glance at my clock-face watch gave me more information about the time in relation to the whole day than does the reading of a digital watch, which shows only the moment. My friend just shrugged.
A marvel of mass production and new technology, however, my new digital watch, with all its electronic wizardry, cost only $6.33; my Swiss-made, dial-face watch cost more than $300. Both do the same excellent job of telling the precise time, but the clockface watch is "user-friendly."
Sometimes the magical new products of technology can be superfluous. Recently a friend brought her plug-in air-freshener with her to our beach house for use in the guest bedroom. The little air-scrubber pulls air through itself and collects dust particles on an electronic anode grid. But the air at the coast, coming off the Pacific, is so clean that the little electronic miracle whirred away at an impossibly useless task.
I almost felt sorry for it as it worked away valiantly at its assigned fantasy in this new fantastic world.
We tweeted about Katie Varrati's and Derrick Schultz' (collectively known as Bustbright) Science and Tech Ads Flickr set a few weeks ago, but that tiny mention hardly did the collection justice. After all, this assembly of 300-plus images from the 50s and 60s is just so very current. As young English designers are all aflutter about applying the tight grid, flat color, and sans- and block serifs (as are we), the Americans are totally gay for the mid-century Swiss (guilty as charged). But much like the skinny Motown soul club suits that inspired Brit rock and even punk fashion culture, many of the finest communications design reference points begin and end on the factory floors of the good ole' U S of A. Paul Rand for Westinghouse; Willi K. Baum for aerospace concern, Martin; illustrator Steve Chass, as directed by ad agency Carpenter, Matthews & Stewart for ITT. Take your time and enjoy every frame. And sure, we realize it is essential to note that these guys didn't write the entire book, either. They just left a lending library for designers — of every nation — to pick, lift, crib, and repurpose for years to come.
Douglas Lynch is 95 years old. That alone is worth reporting. If his name doesn't immediately ring a bell, it should. Lynch is one of our region's most treasured design resources; a book designer (of thirty plus titles), teacher, mentor, critic and communicator of considerable skill. And one of the last remaining artists of FDR's Works Progress Administration.
This past Sunday, Lynch was honored by the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission along with friends and collaborators of the Portland designer; an opportunity to look back on Lynch's early works for the WPA at Mt. Hood's Timerberline Lodge and to provide further insights on his long and storied career in design. Sadly, health issues prohibited Lynch himself from attending Sunday's event and yet, his considerable spirit was certainly present. The gathering roused about 250 people, including our friend (and Lynch contemporary) Byron Ferris, Lynch's grandson (and Pinch client) Ben Walsh, and an entourage of regional arts and culture luminaries. Designer Mel Ulvin, Oregon Historical Society curator and editor Lois Mack, and writer Spencer Hill (Lynch's partner at Artwork Associates) were among those who took the podium.
Ms. Mack provided a retrospective of Lynch's design and illustration work for The Bosn's Whistle, the newsletter of the Oregon, Swan Island, and Vancouver shipyards that churned out "Baby Flat Tops" during the second world war. Henry F. Kaiser, the industrialist shipbuilder (and founder of Kaiser-Permanente) was the driving force and profiteer behind that effort and he clearly understood the value of visual communications in maintaining worker morale, and in reminding them about the grave importance of efficiency and safety in "waging the war on the home front."
Most entertaining were Lynch's own submitted notes, which expressed his gratitude for being noticed during this time as he believed his relevance "was of another time." Of particular interest were Lynch's written recollections of his working and personal relationships during the golden era of Cole & Weber, with Ira Keller (who pursued Lynch while at Container Corporation of America prior to relocating to Portland), with Lillian Hellman, Charles Haney, Lloyd Reynolds and C.S. Price, among many, many others.
In the weeks ahead—if his health allows—we will aim to sit down with Mr. Lynch for our upcoming interview series, The Straight Six. In addition to Lynch, we'll be also be interviewing sustainability and design consultant Marc Alt, ideasonideas' Eric Karjaluoto, Type Desk's Theodore Rosendorf and Celery's Brian Dougherty.
This is the third essay in a collection of twelve written by Byron Ferris for the "Design Sense" feature of the Sunday Northwest Magazine insert of The Oregonian during 1984 and 1985. – Ed.
I like my car, and I like the design of it. I don't mean just the outside appearance – that's for others to see when I'm driving the car. All I see is the hood. That's nice – a nice color. But it's the inside that's so satisfying.
The wheel's in the right place, and the bucket seat is comfortable, perhaps the most comfortable chair I own. The floor has deep carpeting, and all the glittering dials in front of me give me a sense of control. The radio is excellent, and the stereo tape player, with its good speakers at either side of the dash bouncing sound off the hard surface of the windshield, gives me the best personal sound system I can think of.
Altogether, my car has an admirable design as a comfort and entertainment environment, all very soothing and relaxing as I speed along the highway driving the most dangerous piece of equipment most of us come in contact with in ordinary living.
Automobile design has traveled a good many road miles since Karl Benz drove the first benzine-powered car in 1885 Germany. His auto had some sensible design innovations – two drive wheels in back, but a single wheel in front linked to a steering lever. Though the single wheel for steering sounds sensible, the idea didn't last very long. The bad roads of the time caused the three-wheeler to waver, and Benz's competitor, Gottlieb Daimler, soon produced a four-wheel car.
Innovation is hard to come by in car design. Today's cars are still essentially boxes with wheels at the four corners, in the tradition of the horse-drawn wagon. In the lobby of the Boyd Coffee Co. out on Northeast Sandy Boulevard sits a fine example of the bare-bones American Model T Ford. It is a joy to examine simply because you can see how it works. The steering wheel linkage is apparent under the engine box, and the braking mechanism looks as though it just came out of the carriage works. Henry Ford designed the Model T in 1909 and sold over 15 million of them.
Just across the lobby is a 4/5ths model of Boyd's original horse-drawn red delivery wagon of 1900. Comparing the wagon and the Model T makes it rather obvious that Henry just left off the horse.
Now here's a thought: Benz, Daimler and Ford might better have used the sailboat as a model, rather than the wagon. The hay wagon was fine for horse speeds, but now that we're driving our four-cornered wagons at 55 miles per hour, the blunt fronts and backs don't make much sense.
Wouldn't you feel safer driving along at 55 in a boat-shaped car with those strangers in the oncoming lane also driving pointy- front cars? Having a head-on collision would be quite difficult. The cars would slide past each other, perhaps scuffing the door handles, but the traveling energy would be deflected rather than stopped in a pile of ugliness. And with a pointed-front car, a driver would need considerable steering skill to hit a tree or a lamp post.
Boat hulls are some of the most beautifully designed objects of the world, because they are shaped, naturally, to lessen water resistance. The shapes, of course, also can lessen air resistance on land. Translated to road talk, that means better gas mileage.
Can you imagine speeding along the freeway in your shipshape four-wheeled car, part of a beautiful flotilla – the trucks looking like glamorous ocean liners – perhaps joined by a few confused salmon swimming up 80N to spawn? I think I'd feel a lot more relaxed and safe, because my pointy rear end would protect me from a lethal highway pile-up, I'm sure.
Innovation is still hard to come by in automotive design. Trading the technical images between marine design and the horse and buggy could be a big step.
Editor's note: This article was published in Newsweek magazine forty four years ago this week, on October 5, 1964. The issue's cover story reported initial findings issued in The Warren Commission Report. Tucked snugly into a column titled Education, we spied this call-to-action from Lloyd Reynolds, who at the time was teaching art and calligraphy at Reed College. Reynolds suggested that Palmerian script – with its many loops, tails and curlicues – should be supplanted with an "uncomplicated fifteenth century style called italic cursive." We do hope you'll enjoy.
Eighty years ago, an obscure Iowa schoolteacher named Austin N. Palmer introduced a method of handwriting which, in almost a score of variations, has become an educational standard. When done well, the ornate Palmer method produces a script that is easy to read and not tiring to write. But in careless hands, Palmerian script becomes a scrawl, and more and more these days, as evidenced by the inscrutable notes left for baby-sitters and paper boys, American penmanship resembles Persian cuneiform. Now, as Prof. Lloyd J. Reynolds sees it, the handwriting is on the wall for the Palmer method.
"Learning Palmer takes long hours of dull practice," said Reynolds, who teaches art and calligraphy at Oregon's highly rated Reed College. "Pupils simply don't put in the time it takes to learn it properly. And it's impractical in the classroom. The student with a notebook on his knee or on the arm of a chair hasn't got room to make the necessary sweeping movements of his forearm. It's like a baseball pitcher trying to warm up inside the dugout."
Note: This is the first of a set of essays written by Byron Ferris for the "Design Sense" feature of the Sunday Northwest Magazine insert of The Oregonian during 1984 and 1985. Mr. Ferris, for six decades a hub for design in the region, is working with Pinch to share the history of design in Portland between 1950 and 1978. He has granted our office permission to reprint these essays. We will post one per week, unchanged from the original typeset text, over the coming twelve weeks.
I'm sitting here thinking about sitting, which is half way between standing and lying down. We all do a lot of it.
Sitting separates humans from animals. I can't think of many others of God's creatures who sit on the ends of their spines the way we do. Pandas, maybe, and bears begging for peanuts. Monkeys almost, but they rarely own chairs. Dogs and cats sitting around usually keep their paws on the floor.
To help us humans, thousands of chairs have been designed, some formed for work and some for overstuffed relaxing. Form follows function.
One of the most difficult design tasks must be shaping a chair for the dentist's waiting room. It shouldn't be too comfortable, because the sitters really don't want to be there. On the other hand, they'd like to be comforted, in the hope that the nurse won't call their names.
The dental chair is another matter. It is shaped for comfort, and when the dentist tilts it back, it's half chair and half couch. I've even dozed off in Dr. Knauss' chair, but maybe it's the nitrous oxide. I've often wished that the airlines would install dental chairs for long flights, although I suppose that would be funny-looking.
Hillerns is going to kill me for this. What, you may ask, does 1978 concert footage of Kansas performing their anthem
Carry On, My Wayward Son have to do with brand development? Observe: frontman Steve Walsh always performed shirtless, wearing the short shorts popular in those days, to which he carefully color-coördinated a pair of tube socks.
Beyond that, you've got me. But, people: you have to see Mr. Walsh alternating between a furious assault on the congas and a blistering lead on the B3 during the
jamming section. In fact, you have to see the whole thing. And then, as Rilke wrote, you must change your life.
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