This video is mesmerizing. And awesome.
Many years ago, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was travelling two or three times a year from the U.S. through the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore. These trips were usually en route to Australia and Papua New Guinea to visit family and make “visa runs” during the summer and winter months. I got in the habit of visiting bookstores in Singapore and picking up a lot of novels along the way to satisfy my voracious reading habit on the long flights and months traveling this part of the world.
In Singapore, there’s a lot of contemporary literature by local writers published in English. One such book was “Man of Malaysia” by Tan Kok Seng. His novel reads like a memoir of a poor, working-class man coming of age and finding a life in a homeland that was going through rapid economic development and social change. For a young, white Western man, his story offered a fascinating and rare perspective.
Many years later, I stumbled upon this book in a box we unpacked during a move to a new home. The minimalist design and line-drawn portrait on the cover make the book stand out and is probably what first got my attention when I browsed the display tables of a bookstore in a mall off Orchard Road in Singapore those many years ago.
Good design can serve many purposes. One is to invite the viewer in, to pique a curiosity and draw them to further explore. This book didn’t change my life, but it offered profound, unique insight that likely I would not have gained had I not noticed the book in the first place.
The artwork on these beautiful vintage 1970s-era surfboards is surprisingly well-preserved even though the boards themselves show some of the wear and tear that comes with use and age, bearing scars of repaired dings and discoloration. The boards evoke a time when surf culture was evolving and surfing was largely seen in the U.S. as a past time for rebels, outsiders and underground creative types. These are among hundreds of boards on view at the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center in San Clemente, California, which is worth a visit if you’re ever passing through the area.
When you aim a video camera at a live video projection generated from the same camera in real time, the results are fascinating and in the right circumstances can created biological-like patterns akin to “brain coal,” as seen in the above screenshot and video below, which was made by Ethan Turpin. Awesome.
The logo for Intelligentsia Coffee’s “Black Cat” Espresso is the head of a black cat. It’s a bold and literal graphic with class and style, rendered so that the cat’s head is seen from a 3/4-angle, giving it some visual dimensionality.
Intelligentsia has put the Black Cat logo on some of the various cups and saucers it uses at its various architecturally-inspired cafes. Transferring the branding across these is a straightforward 1:1 application of the literal logo. Sometimes, whether you’re drinking Black Cat espresso or not, you get your coffee served in one of these Black Cat-branded cups, and these look pretty cool.
But Intelligentsia has also created some variations of the logo and occasionally, if you’re lucky, you’ll get your coffee served in a black ceramic cup and saucer, where the Black Cat logo is rendered in a lightened gold hue. It’s elegant its knocked-out contrast to the black ceramic.
When you get your cappucino served with this black cup and saucer set, it’s kind of special. The black and gold add another layer of smart sophistication and a dash of mystique to the brand. That the cat is in gold instead of black is a deft touch that, for those familiar with the usual logo presentation, may be seen as an aesthetically clever and playful twist on a familiar and already likeable and strong visual cue.
All this further supports the larger Intelligentsia Coffee brand and reinforces the company’s reputation for great design and well-defined sense of style, whether expressed in the architectural design of its cafes or the form factor of its ceramic mugs or the high-graphical aesthetic of its coffee packaging and t-shirts.
Last weekend, we stumbled upon this throw pillow with the words “Locals Only” embroidered on it at the Mollusk Surf Shop in Silver Lake in Los Angeles. The pillow is a funny, cute mash-up of old-school, cliched surf-culture sentiment and a folksy, homespun style more fitting in grandma’s living room than a surfer fort at Lunada Bay. It’s not the kind of item that the average surf shop would stock, but then Mollusk is not an average surf shop and Silver Lake is not your average surf shop locale. It’s not a laidback seaside surf haven. That there’s even a surf shop in Silver Lake at all is an anomaly.
Mollusk originated in San Francisco where it made a name for itself that traveled far beyond the Bay Area. It established a style and a reputation for great taste. And for selling interesting, quality surfboards from shapers who made their boards by hand and were influenced by retro designs. Whether it was a shortboard, longboard for a 1970s-inspired “mid-length” board with a single fin, by and large many of these surfboard makers themselves appreciated design and style and their aesthetic tastes were reflected in their boards. (And, by the way, yes, we surf and we enjoy nerding out on this stuff.)
Then Mollusk opened up branches in LA. One is in Venice, LA’s infamous and gritty (if now largely gentrified) beach town. It’s not a mecca of great surfing nor great waves. In fact, the surf at Venice Beach sucks most of the time. But it is a block from the beach and central for the greater LA metro area, and it’s a hub for a creative surfer community. Surfers still paddle out into the waves at the Venice breakwater most days in spite of the poor surf conditions.
Then there’s Silver Lake. It doesn’t have Venice’s location or vibe, but there’s a niche demographic overlap. SLake is home to a class of fashionable creative types (music, film, art, advertising, design), both the moneyed kind and the less-moneyed aspiring kind, and it’s a magnet for a generation of hipsters, some of whom surf or pretend to. Mollusk is right at home here and yet it’s also totally legit, albeit with those ironic, stylish “Locals Only” throw pillows strategically placed in the store.
“Locals Only” has come a long way. It was the kind of thing that one often encountered back in the ’70s and ’80s in the form of crudley spray-painted graffiti near remote or hardcore surf spots along Pacific Coast Highway or at a handlulf of certain “localised” beaches in the string of seaside communities up and down the California coast or in Hawaii. It was a warning to outsiders, one tinged with menace, not to surf that beach … or else. This localism was the harder-edged face of surf culture. So to see those words rendered on the kind of soft, cuddly pillow you might cozy up to on a sofa while sipping a cup of tea and savoring the prose of a Maya Angelou novel, well, it’s funny and brilliant. Its trick is how it both deflates the inherent threat and danger associated with those words while in another way making those words even scarier.