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 ever-gentrifying Arts District in Downtown Los Angeles is home to lots of large-scale street art, including this classic Shepard Fairey politically-tinged mural on Alameda Street behind the Angel City Brewery. The artwork depicts the late U.S. president Ronald Reagan holding a sign that says “Legislative influence for sale.” Its message — and politically expressive art in general — strongly resonates in the current American political climate.
For years we would see the wheat-pasted artwork of artist Spazmat posted around downtown New York City. His posters were unmissable. His street art was comprised of an iconic image: An illustrated portrait of a skeleton with a cell phone in its bony hand held up to the skull as if talking on the phone. The posters were usually rendered in a stark white on black. Informally dubbed as “Skull Phone,” the image suggested many things, among these the dangers of technology. We hadn’t seen Spazmat’s artwork in many years until we recently spotted one of his skull phone wheaties on a utility box along Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles. This one was printed in blue and white with a striped design, almost nautical in style and fitting for its location a few meters across the road from the ocean.
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.
This wheat-pasted street art of two dogs is awesomely colorful and cute. It’s also tiny, smaller than the palm of a hand. It’s miniature street art, which is cool. But it would be even cooler if it was the size of a small building, because the artwork itself is beautifu and could have such great impact at a larger scale. The artwork is in an alley behind Abbot Kinney Blvd. in Venice, Los Angeles.
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.