W. E. B. Du Bois’ Hand-Drawn Infographics of African-American Life

Infographics are, to me, one of the more perfect intersections of art and science. To graphically represent complex data in a novel, visually exciting way takes real talent – even in this era of scripted, programmatic data analysis. Which makes these hand-drawn infographics by pioneering author, sociologist and activist W. E. B. Du Bois all the more remarkable.

Among his many other talents and interests, Du Bois must also have harbored some graphic design ability, because these graphics are, in my opinion, prime examples of the artform. They were created for his groundbreaking work, “The Exhibit of American Negroes”. According to Du Bois, they attempted to show “(a) The history of the American Negro. (b) His present condition. (c) His education. (d) His literature.” I think they achieved this goal, and much more.

You can read more about Du Bois and see more of these infographics at The Public Domain Review.

Pentagram and the Case of the Forgotten Typeface

From Fast Company, via Web Designer Depot’s WebdesignerNews, the story of Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, an unusual branding assignment, and a lost typeface by one of the greats of type design.

Particularly for something as multi-faceted as a university, typography can be a way to create visual coherence across various schools and other parts of the institution. In the case of Syracuse, the hunt for the perfect typeface also unearthed an unlikely connection between past and present, and between the academic world and the rich history of type design. When Bierut and Jesse Reed, his associate partner at the time, discovered a typeface linking the university and the famous early 20th-century type designer Frederic Goudy, it set into motion a typeface excavation that resulted in the central element of the new school identity.

Read “Pentagram And The Case Of The Forgotten Typeface” by Meg Miller at Fast Company.

The Evolution of the American One Dollar Bill

I have always been interested in the design of paper money. The craftsmanship and artistry that goes into banknote design is admirable, and the anti-counterfeiting features are interesting to learn about. If you know anything about paper money around the world, you will be aware that U.S. currency is quite drab and dated compared to some. This short video traces the history of the American dollar bill, and shows that although it has always been something of a design trainwreck, it has shown occasional bursts of beauty (and a surprising amount of color) at times. The backs of the bills hold particular interest for me, because it seems like there is where the most interesting stuff happens, design-wise.

As interesting as this may be, there are many countries whose banknotes are far more colorful and stylish. Makes me wonder why the U.S. can’t, or won’t, change.

How The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” Changed Album Cover Design Forever

From Open Culture, a short examination of the history of album cover design, and how the Beatles changed it.

Their evolution from the teenpop “personality cover” to the broody and surreal is self-evident, from Rubber Soul’s groovy band shot and psychedelic lettering toRevolver’s take on Aubrey Beardsley, courtesy of Klaus Vormann, “The Beatles were leaders in expanding an album cover’s function from a marketing tool to a work of art in its own right.” Then we come to Sgt. Pepper’s, and the shift is cemented. The album cover’s designer, Peter Blake, explicitly thought of the cover as “a piece of art rather than an album cover. It was almost a piece of theater design.” And the band themselves had a direct hand in its creation. “We all chose our own colours and our own materials,” noted McCartney.

Similarly, this video by NerdWriterEvan Puschak (also referenced in the Open Culture piece) explores this phenomenon:

You can read the entire Open Culture article here.

An Art Deco Eastman Kodak Store

I haven’t posted in a while, so I thought I would repost this item from before the blog reboot. It’s been edited a bit to make more sense in this context.

While most people above a certain age know how Kodak once dominated the film photography world, few are aware of the fact that the company operated Kodak-branded retail stores all over the world for many years.

Featuring a wide array of Eastman Kodak cameras, films and accessories, these often opulent establishments were something like their era’s version of the Apple Store.

I stumbled upon this Art Deco beauty while roaming around downtown St. Louis early one Sunday morning. Judging by the style of the architecture and logo, it dates from the 1920s or ’30s, but seemed to have held up remarkably well. The interior looked as if it had been vacated the previous day.

And although the photographic giant that was Kodak no longer exists, this building lives on in restored splendor as the Thaxton Speakeasy, an ‘underground lounge’ and event space. The gorgeous cobalt backlit letters are gone from the facade, but the “EKC” logo remains, as does much of the original interior woodwork and art.