try staring at a wall for thirty years

Ever wanted to peel a layer off a textured urban wall and see what’s underneath? Or, better yet, watch a timelapse slideshow of how a wall or structure has changed over the decades?

Back in the day, you’d just have to sit yourself down and stare at a wall for, oh, twenty or thirty years. Nowadays you can just ride up to the internets, where you can watch decades of wall evolution in the time it takes some flash wizardry to load.

GrafArc.org is a fascinating collaborative study of graffiti-covered walls in urban settings. The special ingredient in the sauce? Time. Using the flash-based GrafArc Explorer, you can watch how urban spots change and evolve as time passes.

From the site’s description:

Graffiti Archaeology is a project devoted to the study of graffiti-covered walls as they change over time. The core of the project is a timelapse collage, made of photos of graffiti taken at the same location by many different photographers over a span of several years.

zinesters + designers

From an interview with OrangeFlux in Emigre 46 (1998):

What can designers learn from zinesters?
Matt: The best thing about that for me is the whole DIY mentality. Here are some people who are passionate about their work and are just putting it out there.
Do you feel that this self-initiated, Do-It-Yourself mentality is starting to become more prevalent in design?
Kristina: I do. A lot of designers we know here in Chicago are doing their own projects now. They’re getting a lot more satisfaction out of that than from work done in a coporate setting.

a piece cut off

Delicious little factoid from Lynne Truss’s Eats, Shoots & Leaves:

The earliest known punctuation— credited to Aristophanes of Byzantium (librarian at Alexandria) around 200 BC— was a three-part set of dramatic notation (involving single points at different heights on the line) advising actors when to breath in preparation for a long bit, or a not-so-long bit, or a relatively short bit. And that’s all there was to it. A comma, at that time, was the name of the relatively short bit (the word in Greek means “a piece cut off”; and in fact, when the word “comma” was adopted into English in the 16th century, it still referred to a descrete, separable group of words rather than the friendly little tadpoley number-nine dot-with-a-tail that today we know and love.

bad, badder, and baddest

From the intro to Merz to Eimgre and Beyond: Avant-Garde Magazine Design of the Twentieth Century (by Steven Heller):

However, for cultural transformations to have lasting resonance they cannot be innocuous, no matter how damaging their influence may be in the long run, so it is important to distinguish between avant-garde and a cultural fad. Consumer society has come to accept and cheerfully anticipate the ethic known as “forced obsolescence’— the commercially motivated, periodic alteration of form and style of goods— as a means of revitalizing activity in the market-place, but this is not to be confused with avant-gardism. A true avant-garde will not overtly appeal to mass taste, and indeed encourage bad taste as a means to replace the sanctified with the unholy. An avant-garde has to produce such unpleasant alternatives to the status quo that it will be unequivocally and avidly shunned by all but those few who adhere to it. An avant-garde must make noise.

Reminiscent of Tibor Kalman’s call for bad (un)designers as the antidote to the truckloads of slick, glossy, clean, and ulitmately meaningless ‘good’ design out there. But, when bad has been co-opted to sell napkins, and grunge has become as trite as minimalism— will GOOD become the new bad? Or will avant-garde designers be forced into a cycle of trying to out-shout each other with badder and baddest design? Perhaps, as Derek Powazek suggests in this article about the trend in user-generated content, a new developing criteria for design will be authenticity— who’s making it, how are they making it, and why.

we're here to be bad

Following up on that last post, here’s Tibor Kalman weighing in on being bad:

We have to forget what we learend in design school about appropriateness. We have to dump all those awkward phrases taught at overpriced seminars on “Getting Your Message Across to the Client.” We have to learn to listen to our gut instincts instead of corporate rhetoric. We have to be brave and we have to be bad. If we’re bad, we can be the esthetic conscience of the business world. We can break the cycle of blandness. We can jam up the assembly line that spits out one dull, lookalike piece of crap after another. We can say, “Why not do something with artistic integrity or ideological courage?” We can say, “Why not do something that forces us to rewrite the definition of ‘good design’? Most of all, bad is about recapturing the idea of that a designer is the representative— almost a missionary— of art, within the world of business. We’re not here to give them what’s safe and expedient. We’re not here to help clients eradicate everything of visual interest from the face of the earth. We’re here to make them think about design that’s dangerous and unpredictable. We’re here to inject art into commerce. We’re here to be bad.

Of course, this was 1990. A lot has changed in the design world during the last 17 years. Street culture has been appropriated (some say expropriated) for ‘edgy’ design, and the cool-hunters are looking for the next fix.

Wince-worthy stupidity and intentionally politically-incorrect seem to be the flavors du jour, but what’s next? Will the new wave of DIY media makers offer something of value or just be absorbed into the advertising world’s next trend?