documentary

Hand Painted Signs

I spent the morning watching a documentary on sign painters – talking through the history, art, and future of the industry that is almost invisible to us today. Now, a very small industry full of people with a common goal: painting beautiful signs.

They are a bunch of cooks. Some lovable, some not. All extremely talented.

The documentary got me thinking, so I took a drive around Milwaukee to try and find some of the painted signs I never stop to notice.


Sign painting is a rare art form these days. In the 70s and 80s, as computer and printing technology developed, vinyl signs became the standard – due to their extreme cheapness and ease to make. Of course, the old standard exists in the world of signs as well: of quality, budget and speed, you can only choose two. The world of signs today is often dominated by budget and speed. With crummy and dirty vinyl signs hanging in every town in America.

Image via SpeedySigns.

Near the end of the documentary, an old sign painter mused that vinyl signs will turn into garbage 30 years from now, but hand painted signs will turn into artwork. The painted signs of the last century still plastered across our cities are precious. They are artworks. Memories of a different world. With different values and technology and practices.

Many of the sign painters interviewed lamented the insatiable desire for today’s cheap signage. They are part of a dying generation that values the honesty and stability of long, hard work. Of hand lettering and human imperfection.

I agree. And I think today, more people are starting to look back with fondness on the signs and practices of the last generation, discovering a richer and truer beauty in their work. I think, perhaps, sign painters and the unique beauty they create could once again step into the spotlight.

In hopes of paying homage to the past, I started creating a font from one of the beautiful signs I saw on my search.

Less, But Better

Rams, a documentary by Gary Hustwit, paints a beautiful picture of the life, work and philosophy of one of the world’s most influential industrial designers – Dieter Rams.

Kindly, organized and reclusive, Dieter Rams does not fall in with the authoritarian stereotypes of world-changing innovators – like Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison. He is generous with his time and ready to help. His demeanor is remembered by some of his former employees as fatherly. Through his 40 year tenure at the German electronics company, Braun, from 1955-1995, he gained the respect and loyalty of those he worked alongside.

Rams’ home office. Nearly everything in this frame was in part designer by Rams himself

Although his attitude and leadership differed greatly from that of Steve Jobs, they’re design sensibilities were much the same. The work of Rams is perhaps the single greatest contributor to the design of Apple products we see today.

A 1956 Braun record played, dubbed “Snow White’s Coffin,” due to its early use of plexiglass in the lid
A comparison of Dieter Rams’ designed radio and the first Apple iPod

A CNN article on Rams and man and Rams the film asked the director, Gary Hustwit what if he’d asked Rams about his influence on Apple Products.

“He thinks it’s a compliment. He likes Jony [Ive, Apple’s former Chief Design Officer] a lot. But I think it’s hard for him to judge that impact because he doesn’t have a computer. He’s not on the Internet. He’s not interested in digital interfaces and user experience design and all these screens that we have to look at all day. There are no screens in his life, there’s just an old Braun television from the 1980s and that’s really the only screen in his house. It’s just not something that he’s interested in engaging with.”

Rams’ leading philosophy in design and in life is:

Less, but Better.

This leading ideal is then broken up into the now iconic 10 Principles of Good Design.

  1. Good Design is Innovative.

     

  2. Good Design makes a Product Useful.

  3. Good Design is Aesthetic.

  4. Good Design makes a Product Understandable.

  5. Good Design is Unobtrusive.

  6. Good Design is Honest.

  7. Good Design is Long-Lasting.

  8. Good Design is Thorough to the Last Detail.

  9. Good Design is Environmentally Friendly.
  10. Good Design is as Little Design as Possible.

When asked by an aspiring industrial design student what advice he had for her, Rams replied:

“Keep your eyes wide open.”

Pretend It’s a City

This is author Fran Lebowitz. She hates the world.

What’s fascinating about Fran and her dismal outlook on life is the joy that she brings to others through her fickle hatred for the commonplace pieces of life. Through her vocal distaste of the news, smartphones, traffic, humans in general – she is able to bring laughter.

Me and my roommate just finished the new Netflix documentary series, Pretend it’s a City, directed my Martin Scorsese (left). It is a beautifully directed seven hour exploration into the mind of this incredibly witty, pessimistic, short, tack of a woman.

I quite enjoyed it – though I’m not sure exactly why. Fran’s viewpoint and outlook is not one I wish to share. But it was thrilling to see a woman so unapologetically bitter at the world, who bring mirth to countless audiences through that bitterness.

It’s like what Austin Kleon talks about – finding the things that disgust you in the world, and creating things that work to foil those things. Except, in Fran’s case, she finds the things that disgust her in the world and talks about them. And she’s been doing it for 50 years.

The Life of Hayao Miyazaki

This evening, I watched Never Ending Man, a documentary following Hayao Miyazaki, the famed founder, writer and director of Japan’s Studio Ghibli. It was a fascinating watch, as Miyazaki is, himself, a fascinating man. He wears a white apron in nearly every shot of the film, at home and in the studio, and there’s more often than not a cigarette hanging lazily from his mouth, tucked into his top lip and wobbling as he talks.

The films starts with Miyazaki’s announcement to the press that he will be retiring from the movie industry – only to see him quickly return to work on a short film, then hint at the launching a feature film near the end.

There were several quotes from Miyazaki that stuck out to me… I want to share them here.

***

“Self satisfied people are boring. We have to push hard to surpass ourselves.”

“I’ve got things I want to do, but don’t feel I can. I want to create something extraordinary. I just don’t know if I can do it.”

“You’re drawing people, not characters.”

“I don’t like the word ‘challenge.’ I just trudge along. Forward, always forward.”

“I just sketch anything that catches my attention.”

“All important things in the world are a hassle.”

“When I’m tired, my pencil escapes.”

“What a bustling world, full of strange wonder!”

“If we’d tried to please, we’d be long forgotten.”

Hayao Miyazaki was born January 5, 1941, in Tokyo, Japan. He just turned 80, and is about halfway through the making of what he says will be his final feature film. He is making it for his grandson.