Tag Archives: signs

The Horror: Cash for Ukeleles

Smack in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, far, far away from any significantly large land mass or continent sit the Hawaiian Islands. This archipelago is a well-known paradise full of lush flora, beautiful beaches, dramatic mountain ranges, gorgeous waterfalls, volcanic landscapes and a warm, balmy climate where the water and air temperature are roughly equal year around. For better or worse, it’s a tourist mecca, but still a genuine paradise nonetheless.

Yet there’s a darker side.

It’s often overlooked that Hawaii is home to over a million people! A MILLION people hunkered down on a few small islands in the middle of the Pacific. That’s a million-plus humans planted on the most remote islands in the world! Most of these people are on the island of Oahu and its modern capital city Honolulu. There you’ll find all the features of a large metroplis — Freeways, skyscrapers, multi-level luxury shopping malls, and hipster-run third-wave coffee shops serving creative and obscure espresso-based beverages!

And like almost any major city there are homeless, crime, and some strata of economic misfortune. The last may be most visibly measured in the number of pawn shops in a city, easily spotted in the evening by cheap neon signage that cut right to the chase of the transaction terms.  

It’s a telling sign of contemporary Hawaiian culture when the pawn shop specifically says it offers cash for ukeleles, like the one pictured here in the Kaimuki neighborhood of Honolulu.

The iconic ukelele is Hawaii’s major modern contribution to the world of music and has become a symbol of its culture, even though it was invented in the 1800s and inspired by a Portuguese stringed instrument. Which makes it all the more poignant that there’s probably a person somewhere in Hawaii who is at this moment contemplating pawning their beloved uke so they can pay an unexpected medical bill or make their car payment. That neon sign, and the financial distress it implies, is in stark contrast to every popular image of America’s 50th state.

It’s paradise. But not for everyone, it seems.

“Water is the Most Essential Element of Life Because …”

This signage made our day. It’s in front of the Jolly Goat, a tiny espresso bar in Hell’s Kitchen, in New York City, and reads: “Water is the Most Essential Element of Life Because w/out water you can’t make coffee.” True.


Design … The NYC Subway Map by the Late Great Massimo Vignelli, R.I.P.

A giant of the design world passed away earlier this week. The New York City-based Italian designer Massimo Vignelli died in New York Tuesday morning at age 83.

Vignelli was one of the world’s foremost designers, and in a career that started in Italy, where he was educated, and saw him immigrate to New York and start his own firm, Vignelli created an enduring vision and legacy of work that influenced several generations of leading designers, architects and creators.

The New York City subway map below is a design classic and a testament to his vision and style. Created by Vignelli in 1973, it became an iconic example of information design that would be copied the world over.

Over on Design Observer, the Pentagram founder Michael Beirut has written a personal tribute to Vignelli and shares some of his experiences and what he learned working for Vignelli Associates in the 1980s.


On the Street … Drive-Thru Coffee Mural at Zebra Coffee

Zebra House Coffee is probably the best place to get an espresso coffee in the surf-mecca Southern California town of San Clemente. It’s a laidback cafe and a fine space to sip on an iced Americano while flipping through back issues of Surfer magazine. In fitting SoCal fashion, Zebra offers a drive-thru service, and it has this cool graffiti-style, street-artsy mural painting for signage pointing customers in the right direction.


In Los Angeles … Shepard Fairey at Speedway & Brooks

We were riding down the Speedway today when we saw this piece by Shepard Fairey peering at us from behind a chain-linked fence near the intersection with Brooks Court in Venice, in Los Angeles. The wheat-paste appears on the facade of a condemned building overlooking an equally barren courtyard. We couldn’t help but notice the eyes faintly concealed by the irony of a “No Trespassing” sign.

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Post 3 2 Ryan Baum Images. All rights reserved.


“Save Domino” Sign in Brooklyn

The Domino Sugar Factory in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, ceased operations years ago, but the massive building and it’s iconic logo-sign near the East River are something of a New York City landmark. In fact the refinery has been officially recognized as an historic landmark by the city. The factory is undergoing a long process of renovation that will change it into shiny, new mixed-use property filled mostly with condos and office space. That vision involves demolishing some of the building. A group of activists have been fighting for years to save the more of the property as an historic landmark. To that end, this DIY “Save Domino” sign made from string-lights was put on the side of an apartment building near South 3rd St in 2007. The red-lighted message has become a kind of neighborhood meta-landmark of its own.  There’s a great short video of what the factory looked like inside before renovation started..





Praying Room Signage at Denpasar Airport

The photos below were taken at Denpasar’s international airport in Bali, Indonesia. The more we travel, the more we’re seeing these praying rooms (sometimes called non-denominational chapels or meditation rooms) at airports around the world, especially in the west. We’ve recently seen these at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (Detroit’s gargantuan international airport) and Amsterdam Schipol airport, to name two examples.

In many parts of the globe these have always been a feature of an airport or at least have been around for a long time. The prayer room at Denpasar’s international airport, officially Ngurah Rai Airport, is signposted with an international-style sign in two languages. The context is interesting. The island of Bali is an overwhelmingly Hindu region (90%) in a country that is overwhelmingly Muslim (87%).

The praying rooms are non-denominational, not specific to a religion, and are a practical, important architectural feature that accommodates a diverse religious culture, especially in a country where the majority religion’s observant practitioners are required to pray several times a days. The signage, like much of the international standardized visual vocabulary used in airports globally, has a quickly understandable symbol of a person kneeling. No matter what your religious beliefs, the meaning is clear.



The Four “M” Words of Espresso-Making in Neon at La Colombe

The four “M” words of espresso brewing written in beautiful neon light on the wall at La Colombe Torrefaction, the cafe and espresso bar on Lafayette Street, near Prince Street, in SoHo, in downtown New York City. The 4 “M’s” are the Italian words miscela, macinazione, macchina, and mano, which with regards to making espresso coffee mean “blend,” “grinding,” “machine,” and “hand” (i.e., human skill)  respectively.