Class announcements will go here!

Decriminalizing Ornament

Posted: April 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Raquel Breternitz


            Around 1910 Adolf Loos wrote an essay, “Ornament and Crime,” which argued that a
society’s progress was directly tied to the amount to which it spurned ornament.[1] The essay helped kick off declaration that ornament is crime, a rallying cry and a mantra for the Modernists, who idolized progress over tradition.[2] Unfortunately, many of the ideas of the Modernist movement persist today, and in many cases they no longer apply to the plurastic world in which we live today.[3] Adherence to the idea of “ornament is crime” is fascistic, both from the high Modernists with the excitement of high idealism and from modern-day designers who simply follow its dictum without question, a practice that can result in weaker design.

Inherent in the claim “ornament is crime” is the idea that the claimer believes he knows what is the best approach to design, and places him in superiority to the individual. Fascism requires a collective identity that can be addressed en masse: when a designer attempts to order and control humanity as if one were the very same as the other, the results are often deeply problematic. The Modernist movement has been arraigned for this approach, and many critics cite the examples of Pressac and the Pruitt-Igoe housing projects as Modernist failures. Both projects were designed based on the  idea (from Modernist pioneer Le Corbusier) that the house is a “machine for living;” implicit in this idea is that humans are all the same enough to live in a universalized space, and that we would be okay with living in a machine. Unfortunately, the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex was razed after socioeconomic problems rendered it nigh unlivable. Interestingly, despite its disparagement, Pressac has not ended in the literal ruins that Pruitt-Igoe did; Ada Louise Huxtable described her pleasant reaction to visiting the complex in 1981 in the New York Times, including her appreciation of Corbusier’s evident mastery of architectural principles. She quotes Le Corbusier as saying “You know, it is always life that is right and the architect who is wrong,” describing the statement as “… the recognition of the validity of process over the sanctity of ideology.”  

By these examples we can see the importance for some give and take within the terms of anti-ornament design: Pressac succeeded not only because of Le Corbusier’s creation of a strong underlying structure but also because it was allowed to morph with the community which inhabited it. Huxtable says, “One can read the original features, and then read the way they have been used or assimilated.”[4] But his idea remained, and became part of the Modernist system of beliefs and design that has shaped design practice since, in many cases much more rigidly.

Feasibility aside, you cannot change the world to fit your aesthetic principles, and to attempt it would create disjunctive environments that undermine the entire purpose of the Modernist ideals. The Modernist assumption that their ideals apply (alongside their wish to enact them) universally is arrogant, irresponsible, and ultimately fruitless; people will interact with their objects and spaces on a personal basis, creating new forms of use that designers may never have considered: women put pencils in their hair to hold it together, children will have more fun with the box their Christmas present came in than the toy itself. Part of design is serendipitous discovery. Many good designs also involve shaping human action more subtly, by examining
how humanity works and utilizing that knowledge. An example of this is when the designers who redesigned the ticketing machines for the New York subway hired people to go through the new machines repeatedly so that commuters can watch and mimic, guaranteeing a smooth transition.[5] The human experience is irreducibly complex and no one approach will cover its entirety, nor solve all its problems.

            To make such a blanket statement for design as “ornament is crime” can also shut out important aspects of humanity: individualism, personal expression, and environment. It denies cultural identity, differing traditions, and specific contexts. To their credit, this was in fact the Modernists’ very intention; ornament—from the spires of a cathedral even down to the serifs in their typography—served as a symbol for the history from which they wanted to divorce themselves. Certainly there are those for whom the lack of ornament is a part of their personal expression—after all, it was the Modernists’ way to express their ideals—but their declaration does not and should not apply to everyone. There is also a need to consider that we do not live in a homogenous society, particularly in America. The declaration that “ornament is crime,” along with all the functionalist ideals that go along with it, assume a western worldview that seeks to eradicate cultural tradition. Ornamentation is a deeply important part of many cultures—think just of religious architecture. Loos’s criticism of the “erotic origin” of the cross and his derision of the “Papuan” (which to him symbolized a sub-human) serves an idea of “progress,” tied to the rejection of ornament, that deprioritizes other worldviews. The anti-culture rhetoric of the Modernist movement would raze all cultures, traditions, and individual communities into one, universalized and controlled practice of design.

            When the Modernists scorned ornamentation, it was an act of rebellion against the mores, traditions, and even cultures of the time (though, as aforementioned, still problematic). However, as further generations have continued to adhere to this practice, it has lost even its innovation. The spurning of ornament is no longer a statement or practice being used to break from what’s come before. Rather, it is now a continuation of the past, the exact reverse of what the Modernists were using it to do. No longer a considered choice, it is now just a default. Though the Modernist ideal was to eradicate style, the reality is that their method was no more absolute than any method before it. In fact, Modernism changed dramatically in meaning and priority even within its own lifespan; think of the vast difference between the Bauhaus and the American International Style post-WWII, when ideals shifted to capitalism. In that shift, it became another style, just like every movement before it.

The “modern” look became just that, a look, and as the reasons for spurning ornament left so did the consideration of why ornament was being spurned in design. This resulted in the creation of work that was simply intended to look “modern,” emerging as simply an aesthetic. Many times, these trendy objects can end up functioning less effectively because of the desire to make them fit the ornament-less look, for example, the Marshmallow chair from George Nelson, described by Meikle as incredibly uncomfortable. [6] This prioritization of trend rather than consideration undermines the original purpose of stripping ornament in design and resulting in a lot of trendy and similar-looking products and houses.

The declaration that “ornament is crime” also ignores that ornament can be used functionally, something which had actually been happening during the Modernist movement, albeit unacknowledged. Even Mies van der Rohe, giant of the functionalist architectural movement, added otherwise useless I-beams to his Seagram building (ironically an icon of the American version of Modernism, the International Style) in order to emphasize its verticality. This echoes earlier Chicago school architect Louis Sullivan’s declaration that part of the function of a skyscraper is to appear tall, and his usage of luxurious ornament on the first floor of department-store buildings in order to lure in their target market, upper middle class ladies. There is no need to be ashamed of using ornamentation functionally, and in fact it is a valuable consideration in good design. The aesthetics of a product can function as an element; for example, in order to establish branding identity and/or emotional reaction. Shutting out ornament ignores context and involves less consideration of the material, sometimes putting itself in disjunction with the environment in which it exists. Joost Oosterwijk and Wouter van den Brand say, “It’s through ornament that material transmits its effects.”[7]Taking away ornament removes a layer of complexity of function which includes the more intangible elements that can elevate a design. Designers who reject ornament outright today are creating less considered work and depriving themselves of layers of nuance and meaning that the consideration of ornament in design could afford them.

 It is important to keep declarations such as Loos’s firmly within their historical context. He sent a shockwave through the design community of his time, and induced a movement that changed the design practice significantly. However, after that change, it is ill advised to continue to adhere to the changing agent because the conditions of the world have changed from it; by its very action of changing, it rendered itself obsolete. If we today continue with the “ornament is crime” tradition, we will be denying the reality of our own time, and depriving our generation of our own style and expression within our own unique context.

In 1966, postmodern writer Robert Venturi countered the Modernist companion-mantra to “ornament is crime”, “less is more,” (nearly meaningless from rote repetition) with the declaration “less is a bore.” He argued for using “complexity and contradiction in architecture” (as he named his essay) and hoisted a banner for the post-modern movement and their welcome introduction of whimsy, polemics, historical pastiche, and pop culture into their work.[8] Some of the best communities arise out of an organic interaction with design, as seen in Ada Huxtable’s interaction with Pressac. As she quotes Boudon, “The Quartiers Modernes Fruges were not an ‘architectural failure.’ The modifications carried out by the occupants constitute a positive and not a negative consequence of Le Corbusier’s original conception. Pessac not only allowed the occupants sufficient latitude to satisfy their needs, by doing so it also helped them to realize what those needs were.” Ada’s defense of Le Corbusier falls neatly in hand with Venturi’s defense of ornament as a natural expression of human complexity: “Few architects are capable of making [Le Corbusier’s] observation that “life is right”, because it speaks not to some fixed ideal, but to the complexity and incompleteness of architecture, to how life and art accommodate to each other. And that is what Pessac is really about.”

There is also room to question the supremacy of function in consideration of design: there is a history of polemic design objects whose value is based in the argument they make and the questions they inspire, including such standout examples as the Carlton bookshelf, the Juicy Salif lemon squeezer,Dunne & Raby’s “nervous robots,” and many other designs that toe the line between statement, art, and design. There is occasionally still value in a non-functional object. The discussion of what priorities and problems are being addressed in design today is as valuable to designers as the creation of perfectly functioning objects. We are in a unique position today to both argue and allow the myriad differing priorities and considerations of design that concurrently exist.[9] In the 21st century, at a time when we have access to (and indeed are bombarded with) more information than any generation before, where the blending of cultures, histories, styles, ideas, etc. is in its zenith of occurrence and speed, the adherence to “ornament is crime” feels horrifically outdated, and it’s long since time to shed the skin the Modernists grew and emerge with our own decisions for what we want to consider in our design. We are in a place of choice, where a designer can choose to work wholly functionally, or wholly polemically—and both approaches have a valuable contribution to the dialogue and practice of design.















Works Cited


Crouch, Christopher. Modernism in Art, Design, & Architecture. New York: St. Martin’s Press,



Frampton, Kenneth. "Place, Form, and Cultural Identity." Arcade: Architecture and Design in the

     Northwest, 2001. Accessed April 18, 2011.


Gorman, Carma, ed. The Industrial Design reader. New York: Allworth Press, 2003.


Hustwit, Gary. Objectified. 1999. DVD. London, England: Swiss Dots, 2009.


Huxtable, Ada Louise. "Architecture View; Le Corbusier’s Housing Project –

     Flexible Enough to Endure." New York Times, March 15, 1981. Accessed April 18, 2011.


Jencks, Charles. "The Post-Modern Information World and the Rise of the Cognitariat." In The

    Industrial Design Reader, edited by Carma Gorman, 223-227. New York: Allworth Press, 2003.


Loos, Adolf. Ornament and Crime. In The Industrial Design Reader, edited by Carla Gorman, 74-81.

     New York: Allworth Press, 2003.


Meikle, Jeffrey. Design in the USA. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.


Oosterwijk, Joost, and Wouter van den Brand. Architecture, Ornament, and Crime? E-book.


Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. In

    The Industrial Design Reader, edited by Carma Gorman, 184-185. New York: Allworth Press,


Carma Gorman, ed., The Industrial Design reader (New York: Allworth

Press, 2003), 74.

Christopher Crouch, Modernism in Art, Design, & Architecture (New York:

St. Martin’s Press, 1999), 10.

Charles Jencks, "The Post-Modern Information World and the Rise of the

Cognitariat," in The Industrial Design
Reader, ed. Carma Gorman (New York:

Allworth Press, 2003), 223-227.

Ada Louise Huxtable, "Architecture View; LE CORBUSIER’S HOUSING

York Times, March 15, 1981, accessed

April 18, 2011

Gary Hustwit, Objectified, DVD (1999; London, England: Swiss Dots,


Jeffrey Meikle, Design in the USA (New York: Oxford University Press,


Joost Oosterwijk and Wouter van den Brand, Architecture,
Ornament, and

Crime?, E-book.

Robert Venturi, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,
in The

Industrial Design Reader, ed. Carma Gorman (New
York: Allworth Press, 2003),


Charles Jencks, "The Post-Modern Information World and the Rise of the

Cognitariat," in The Industrial Design
Reader, ed. Carma Gorman (New York:

Allworth Press, 2003), page 223-227.

Climbing the Social Ladder

Posted: April 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Lauren Griffin

Social behavior is influenced greatly by what we see in the media. We take from it how to act, what to buy, and where we stand on the social spectrum. Our cultural identity can be determined by what we are surrounded with on the day-to- day and how we interact with it. In the case of printed matter, imagery in particular can have a great impact on the thoughts and views of the public. This can be used to communicate the goals of a publication as well as define the consumer they are gearing it towards. An example of this can be seen on the cover of Harper’s February edition in 1895, created by artist Edward Penfield. He shows a glimpse of everyday life as a group of respectable citizens read their copies of Harper’s on the train. The artist’s choice of subject-matter, composition, and even media all speak to the goal of the publication: he wants it to seem readable and desirable by upstanding members of society and those who wish to act as such.
Harper’s tagline is “America’s window on the world,” which sounds as though it were everywhere, read by everyone. At first glance, the ad seems to support this because all of the people in the image are busy reading it. Upon further investigation, however, the word ‘everyone’ comes into question. The fact that Penfield chose to illustrate the cover primarily with proper citizens of the upper class sheds some light as to the audience he hopes to reach. The exaggeratedly straight postures and extravagant dress, even the way the passengers use the magazine itself as a screen to block out their surroundings, all inform the identity and status of the expected Harper’s consumer.
The addition of a train conductor in the background also reading the magazine acts as a foil to the above-mentioned, compositionally dominant characters in the foreground. The conductor’s casual posture and even the possible neglect of his job contrast greatly to the dignified mannerisms of these upper-class passengers, reinforcing a social divide. Of course, that is not to say that the publication is exclusively for the upper-class; as the train conductor illustrates, people with a lower social status can participate as well, but it is the emphasis on the status of the more dignified readers that draws the potential buyer’s eye. Others can emulate the actions of people of a higher social ranking to ‘play the part’ so that, for a moment, they too are a part of the same culturally enriching activity, and thus can achieve some form of propriety.
Another example similar to the Harper’s ad that speaks to a specified consumer through subtle imagery and subtext is a French poster advertising Cigarette la Bohème (bohemian cigarette), illustrated by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen in 1894. The ad depicts a young man in casual dress with a gentleman lighting his cigarette at nighttime. As the title suggests, the ad is geared towards a lower class, portraying a lifestyle that is unconventional but excitingly so. The fact that this prim and proper gentleman is stepping off his high horse for a moment to light the cigarette of a member of a lower class would be both atypical and appealing to one of a lower social rank. The gap between classes is upheld as much, if not more, in this ad than in the Harper’s cover. The stiff posture of the gentleman contrasts greatly the casual lean of the smoker. Even the difference in attire- the gentleman wearing a full suit, top hat, and frock, and the smoker wearing a jaunty cap, and loose-fitting clothes- points to the stark difference between upper and lower classes. This further enforces the surprise of the interaction between the two characters. Steinlen, the artist, uses this social divide as a tool to enforce the romantic ideal of a bohemian lifestyle, free of convention. This, in effect, portrays a specific cultural identity that cigarette smokers (and non-smokers) living a similar lifestyle can relate to, making the image more engaging and the product advertised more attractive to the consumer.
We use similar tactics in our advertisements today as well. With the oversaturation of media in television, billboards, posters, etc., designers and publishers use a visual language and cultural context to attract public interest. Celebrity endorsements are a popular way of doing so because celebrities, to us, are a part of an unattainable social class who’s lifestyles are something to be modeled after. When one puts George Clooney as the face of a product, as Omega recently did in 2010 in an ad for their latest watch, his presence becomes the underlying message; their product is desirable, even to someone of such high status in our society. Their goal is to make such an intriguing member of this elite class seem more attainable, making the product he is endorsing that much more appealing. In the case of the Clooney ad, his direct gaze and casual body language bring him down to the level of the everyday person, making the product seem accessible, but its his celebrity standing makes the purchase of this watch particularly attractive. Of course, this is a much more forward approach of communicating intent to the viewer, but it is effective due to its stylistic choices and the cultural context in which they are presented.
When visiting OMEGA’s official website, one can find Clooney’s name as well as a slew of other notable persons under the ‘Ambassadors’ tab. Under the George Clooney page, the same photo of him from the previously mentioned ad fills half of the page layout, though it has been cropped from his forearms up. This obscures the watch completely from the photo, which would seem at first to be completely contrary to the point of a watch ad. This, however, only calls attention to the fact that his affiliation to the company distributing the product alone is important, not the quality of the product he is endorsing. The text below seems to support this theory as it describes him as “the perfect complement to the elite ranks of OMEGA’s champions and high-achievers,” rather than the perfect complement to the elegance and sophistication of the watch, or something to that effect. This statement, elitist though it may be, draws upon the desire of a potential buyer to be on par with such a notable member of our society.
One’s cultural identity is inarguably affected and manipulated by one’s surroundings, which the printed media has played a large role in since its growth in the late 1800s. Advertisements are geared to particular consumers, and the products they display are presented in a calculated fashion by artists and designers with the public eye in mind. As a designer, one must always consider the audience, their response, and how the overall image comes across. Social climate, consumer bias, and the customs and aspirations of the general public are all tools to be understood and used in order to communicate one’s message effectively. With this in mind, a parallel can be drawn between marketing tactics of the late 1800s that Penfield and Steinlen worked in and the ones we use in the modern day. Public opinions and tastes are still heavily influenced by what artists and designers choose to strategically present in the media. They are, and probably always will be, the primary interest of the commercial creator.

Works Cited
OMEGA. Advertisement. OMEGA Watches. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. .

Eskilson, Stephen. “Harper’s and Japanese Prints.” Graphic Design: A New History. New Haven: Yale UP, 2007. 52-53. Print.

“Posters.” Theophile-Alexandre Steinlen (1859-1923). Gallery Administrator. Web. 16 Feb. 2011. .

“Omega Seamaster Replica Review.” Watches by James – Replica Watches, Fake Watches Blog, Watches and Websites Reviews. Web. .

Drucker, Johanna, and Emily McVarish. “Mass Mediation.” Graphic Design History: a Critical Guide. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 142-43. Print

Redefining Good

Posted: April 27th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The phrase “good design” is often used when a product is examined and representative of a certain criterion. However, the criterion to which objects are made to fit is wholly subjective and dependent on the time period in which the object was created. Design is constantly changing to fit the needs of an equally evolving society. Subsequently, “good design” is a phrase incapable of permanence and, thus, shouldn’t be the final goal of the designer but, rather, experimentation for the sake of progress. By examining exhibitions, design theories, and awards given for design, this essay aims to show how the labeling, imitation, and persistent belief of something as “good design” is elitist, ultimately thwarting such progress.

In 1951, the Museum of Modern Art held what would become an ongoing exhibition led by Edgar Kauffman Jr., appropriately entitled Good Design. Its focus was primarily on displaying well designed household objects and appliances that were both affordable and widely available to the public. The exhibition was successful in that it integrated the common household with well crafted products, allowing families to understand what constituted “good design”. Where it has received criticism, however, lies in the supposed bias in the selection of objects carried out by Kauffman and his appointed jury. The jury, all of whom were Modernists, have been criticized as having a similar agenda – that agenda being the promotion of Modernism through the exhibition of objects deemed “good design”, in hopes of molding the public’s opinions to their benefit. Their intentions are further evocative of elitism in design critic, Peter Hall’s article A Good Argument, described as a “Modernist aesthetic rampage against ornament and historicist styles.”(1) The Modern movement called for a universal style embracing simplicity, clarity, and truth to the materials used. While the objects displayed in MoMA’s Good Design did just that, their designs aspiring to provide solutions to a set notion of problems, it is the material which was used and the challenges they aimed to solve that dates them, possibly relieving them of their “good design” entitlement that served as a “stamp of approval that bestowed a suggestion of timelessness.”(2) This is evident in Hall’s summary of the material used in the majority of objects put on display as he writes, “Who would have known in 1950 that we’d be recycling plastic, eliminating chrome plating, and singing the praises of urban density.”(3) Hall goes on to argue that every design is an argument in itself – its value determined by the strength of that argument and the assumption on which it rests.(4) An example of such a work is Ettore Sottsass’ Carlton bookshelf. The bookshelf is an argument against the norm of what a bookshelf should resemble and while it is capable of holding one’s collection of novels, the design elicits a response from the user as they approach and interact with it. It is an example of a design that challenged pre-existing notions of “good design”, belonging to the Postmodern era – a direct response and counter movement to Modernism and the objects that would have been selected by Kauffman and his peers. This Modernist agenda hinted to be enforced by Kauffman and his jury is as timeless as the objects exhibited in Good Design. This is beautifully summarized by Jeffrey L. Meikle in his publication Design in the USA. “After Kaufmann left in 1955, the museum renounced reform – a sign of recognition that it had lost its bid to shape the taste of the nation – in favor of a permanent collection exhibiting timeless aesthetic quality.”(5)

Movements and theories have formed throughout the history of design setting a structure of beliefs in how and why objects should be designed and what they should convey. Dieter Rams, an influential designer whose work has been imitated since he began in 1955, used the phrase “good design” to set a foundation which he believes designers should follow in order to be successful. These are known as Rams’ ten principles of “good design”. Of these ten principles include “good design is honest” and “good design is as little design as possible”, mentioned in his article Omit the Unimportant. These are evocative of the Modernist belief that ornamentation is crime, further described in the article by Rams when he writes, “Complicated, unnecessary forms are nothing more than designers’ escapades that function as self-expression instead of expressing the product’s functions. The reason is often that design is used to gain a superficial redundancy.”(6) Rams has stated that Apple Inc. is the only company to date that consider every principle of design in the creation of their products(7)– and few can argue against the success of Apple in the past decade. There are, however, cases in which ornamentation has served to strengthen both the functionalism and form of that which is designed, such as the construction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram building in 1957. In the formation of the building, Mies thought the structural elements should be visible, serving to exhibit how the skyscraper defiantly stands as a monument to feats accomplished. Unfortunately, his original design in which the steel frame was exposed entirely did not meet the requirements of American building codes at the time. Thus, instead of neglecting his original intent and conforming to what has been labeled by both Modernists and Dieter Rams as “good design”, Mies decided on ornamentation to shed light on the structural integrity and formation of the Seagram building. He did this by implementing vertical I-beams, colored bronze, to bring attention to the verticality of the structure. Because of the addition of these I-beams, the Seagram building broke ground in its design as it was the first skyscraper to use a vertical truss bracing system, the first skyscraper to combine a braced frame with a moment frame, and the first skyscraper to use high strength bolted connections – all of which are now commonplace in the architectural design today.(8)

Something designers should note in the creation of an object or product is that all designs have a shelf life regardless of how much praise they receive – how much they are referred to as “good design”. The shelf life itself is dependent on how well the design supports the function, but its eventual retirement, like hit sitcoms in syndication, is inevitable. An example of such a design is the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde commercial jet, flown in the United Kingdom. Every parameter of its design was conceived using, to the fullest extent, the materials and technology available at the time. The Concorde was capable of speeds recorded at 1,350 mph using four turbojet engines.(9a) Its aluminum body was light, which helped reduce resistance, further increasing speed.(9b) The jet was the first to implement fly-by-wire technology, otherwise known as auto-pilot.(9c) It is because of these feats, among others, that the jet served as personal transport for Queen Elizabeth II and was awarded “Top Icon of the United Kingdom in the 20th Century” by BBC and London’s Design Museum, placing just above Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground.(10) The original Concorde was used for 27 years before it too reached a point in which its design, as well as it was built, became obsolete. The reasons for the Concorde’s retirement centered mainly around the fact that it was no longer economically responsible in that the amount of passengers it could carry did not suffice for the amount of money it required for a single flight. This, coupled with a tragedy that occurred in 2000 in which a Concorde jet combusted and crashed into a hotel, causing 113 casualties (the only recorded crash during its service), that ended what was celebrated by many as “good design”. The original design of the Concorde served its purpose however, and an even more aptly constructed jets, pulling from its original design, are rumored to be in the works.

Supported by these examples, we can conclude that there is no “end-all, be-all” solution to any design endeavor. There are a multitude of different beliefs and processes one adheres to and implements in attempting to solve a problem. These beliefs and processes change, over time, as technology develops. Likewise, “good design” is a subjective term, vulnerable to the uncertainty of the future.



Works Cited

1. Peter Hall, “A Good Argument”, Metropolis (March, 2009): p.73

2. Peter Hall, “A Good Argument”, Metropolis (March, 2009): p.75

3. Peter Hall, “A Good Argument”, Metropolis (March, 2009): p.75

4. Peter Hall, “A Good Argument”, Metropolis (March, 2009): p.75

5. Jeffery L. Meikle, Design in the USA, Oxford University Press, USA, July, 2005: p.150

6. Deiter Rams, “Omit the Unimportant”, Design Issues 1:1, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Spring 1984): p.25

7. Objectified, Dir. Gary Hustwit, Swiss Dots Production, March 14, 2009




The Good Argument

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

Two words, good and design, both evoke ambiguous moral debate. The two words combined, good design, have been theorized to simply represent the opinions “of a particular elite at a particular time.”[1] But, if good design could only exist as a judgment, then bad design would have to be fleetingly subjective in the same way. With that in mind, what would we call a designed object where elements are misspelled, wasteful, or deathly? If such unintentional flaws are present in an object’s being, then we could assert that the object is bad design. Where there is bad design there is better design. When something can be better a hierarchy is created. At one extreme of this spectrum sits bad design, broken and misspelled, and at another end temporarily rests good design.

The hardest part about defining good design is where to draw the line, who gets to draw it, and does it matter that it is being drawn? Imagine a consumer in a world where good and bad design didn’t exist, only individual opinion. In this scenario a shopper walks into a Ford dealership in 1971. This car seeker is rich, happy, and has a strong will to live, let’s call him Gerald. He looks at his options and chooses the 1971 Ford Pinto, after deciding it is the best-designed vehicle in the lot. Who is to say otherwise? As he is driving away in his new ride, Gerald gets hit from behind by the Ford Bronco of another new car owner, because the 1971 Ford Pinto had a hazardous fuel system that “tended to erupt in flame in rear-end collisions,”[2] Gerald dies in combustion. Where as the owner of the Bronco only had to replace their bumper, and deal with the hypothetical guilt. Based on this situation we could infer that the Pinto, or at least the fuel component of the car, is bad design.


In a world without the idea of good or bad design, the opinion of the unaware consumer would lead to the selection of the wrong choice of product creating a dangerous and wasteful marketplace. Illustrator Joel Nakamura once stated, “A bad painting might annoy you, but bad design can kill you.”[3] That being said, is the only distinction that bad design causes death or injury and good design does not? The combustibility of the 1971 Ford Pinto was a clear problem. But that example only shows that good design can be present in the moment as a result of the existence of bad design, how does the spectrum translate through time? To deal with any given issue a design thinker creates something to project an idea, or debate an existing one. If we analyze a tangible response to a situation then “its strength or weakness as an argument is a good guide to its value.”[4] This postulate depends entirely on being able to situate an artifact in its context.


Take the Carlton Bookshelf for example, designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1981. Without context the object could be viewed as being oddly colored, inefficient in structure for storing books, expensive for a democratic consumer, and playful to the point of childish. The man who made it, Sottsass, was an Italian designer who grew up during the “European upheavals of the First World War” and was “largely defined by the economic and political legacy of the second.”[5] His philosophy for design work in the 1980’s, when the bookshelf was made, was to create a collection of “philosophical notes and statements.”[6] Therefore we can situate the Carlton Bookshelf with the argument of purposefully breaking an archetype. With this contention, Sottsass implies that good design is not creating an absolute object; rather it is to inspire ideas and understandings as time progresses. Even if the craft of a bookshelf is perfected for generations, by not questioning its archetypal form you limit the possibility to improve the idea of a bookshelf. Sottsass remarked that “a good design is like the possibility of going to the moon,” and the intent doesn’t have to be selling the objects but to “release creative energies, to suggest possibilities, to stimulate awareness, to bring people’s feet back onto the planet.”[7] This is a humbling perspective for Sottsass to design with, noting that his work is not a reflection for absolute perfect objects; instead his objects become a few words in the conversation of what good design can be.

By recognizing the existence of bad design the reality of good design is materialized. When we contextualize an object in its time period and analyze the argument of its creation, it is illuminated that good design can be both a useful object as well as a polemic idea. Even through this contemplation, it can still be argued that good design is simply the opinions of an elite at a specific time, such as the juried panels of designers who placed orange-and-brown Good Design tags on new objects during the MoMA exhibit in 1951. But without the critique and analysis of designed matter by some form of specialist, ideas on the effectiveness of an object’s argument would not be able to permeate the imaginations of future designers. In order to find an example of good design, which is not tainted with egos and economic reward systems, we have to look into the empirical trends of society.


Personal water carrying devices were created as early as man could develop tools to carve the hides and bladders from other animals. In recent years, the trend of packaging water in discardable plastic receptacles for convenience has become a normal behavior. Over sixty million plastic bottles a day are disposed of in America alone. According to a study from 2004 to 2008 by the National Resources Defense Council “there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle, it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap.”[8] The use of a reusable personal water bottle is a trend that came out of an environmental demand for the reducing of waste. Although personal water bottles had been used for years, under a new ideological context they have been appropriated with the idea of limiting unnecessary material consumption. Brands such as Klean Kanteen have marketed and refined the idea of a reusable water bottle claiming that they provide a “safe alternative to plastic or lined aluminum bottles” with “no paint or plastic,” and that their product is the “first BPA-free stainless steel water bottle.”[9] Based on these clever advertisements, it can be argued that they were simply reflecting on the desires of the public around them. The good design for a “healthy, safe, earth-friendly alternative” that made their phone ring “off the hook to fill orders,”[10] predated Klean Kanteens entry into this market, giving insight into how good design can grows out of societal trends and become branded by a company.

Good design is enigmatic, but real. On the surface, the use of good design as a label or selling point comes from the elite. However good design does not come from the views of a few, but by analyzing the gradual developments of societal trends that manifest from dissatisfactions with the constructed environment.



Meikle,Jeffrey L. Design in USA. Oxford History of Art, 2005.

Neil, Dan. “50 Worst Cars of All Time.” 2007.,28804,1658545_1658498_1657866,00.html (accessed 3/20/11).

Marks,Terry. Good Design. Massachussetts: Rockport, 2009.

Hall, Peter. “A Good Argument.” Metropolis, 3, 2009, 73-75.

Burney,Jan. Ettore Sottsass. London: Trefoil, 1991.

Sottsass,Ettore. Design Metaphors. Barbara Radice. New York: Rizzoli, 1988.

“Bottle Water Blues.” 2001. (accessed 3/22/11).

“The History of Water Bottles.” (accessed 3/22/11).

“Klean Kanteen Our Story.” (accessed 3/22/11).

[1] Miekle, Deisign in USA, pg 150

[2] Time, The 50 Worst Cars of All Time, 2007

[3] Marks, Good Design, pg 65

[4] Hall, Metropolis, pg 75

[5] Burney, Ettore Sottsass, pg 13

[6] Burney, Ettore Sottsass, pg 77

[7] Sottsass, Design Metaphors, pg 1





Subway Functionalism | Michael Jarrott

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The complexity of underground mass transit, one of the most heavily used transportation methods in the world today, inspired me to investigate how designers create solutions to the issues unique to this particular mode of travel. The nature of the underground environment makes a strong case for the implementation of design that is functional, clear, and unified; ornamentation only hinders the ability of subway riders to navigate the system efficiently and poses potential problems for uninitiated users.

The development of mass transit systems arose out of the need to create an efficient flow of transportation in cities that were growing at unprecedented rates due to the Industrial Revolution. The influx of people into cities created overcrowded streets that made movement incredibly difficult. At first, municipal authorities attempted to tackle the congestion problems by introducing long carriages, known as omnibuses, to ferry groups of people throughout the city. While the omnibuses provided some relief, it became clear that a more efficient system would need to be developed that did not rely on existing roadways to transport people. For many cities the solution was to go underground.

London Underground: Mapping

London was the first city to successfully build and use a system of underground travel when the Metropolitan line, or Met, opened to the public on January 10th, 1863. Construction of the line was done using a method known as “cut and cover” where workers excavated a shallow trench and then roofed over the area to create a tunnel for the trains. Despite the many problems that plagued the construction of the Met, the benefits of underground travel were soon realized by the 26,500 Londoners that used the line each day. By 1884, the Met and other newly constructed railways in London had started to intersect, creating a navigable system that needed oversight, because the railways at this time were not owned or operated by a single entity. It was only with the formation of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London (the Underground group) in 1902 that all existing lines were merged together. By 1908, the Underground name and its famous roundel began appearing in stations marking the beginning of a cohesive identity for London’s entire underground system.

Around this same time, a map had been developed to help riders navigate the system by depicting each railway as a different colored line superimposed over an existing map of London’s geography. In 1931, a young draftsman named Harry Beck realized that riders didn’t necessarily need to know where they were in relation to aboveground landmarks and decided to present a redesign to the Underground authority. In his design, Beck eliminated all surface indicators except the Thames River and refined the colored rail lines to look more like an electric circuit diagram. Station names were spaced equidistant along the lines regardless of their geographic proximity to each other. He rationalized that successful navigation of the rails only relied on line and station identification and that by stripping away excess visual information, the design became easier to understand. Beck’s map set a precedent for underground navigational systems that was as aesthetically appealing as it was functional.

After a trial run of the maps revealed public approval of Beck’s redesign, the London Underground began printing Beck’s copy as the official service map. Most other subway systems that were being developed at the same time as the Underground used Beck’s map as the starting point for their own designs.

New York City Subway: Signage and Mapping

The Interborough Rapid Transit Company opened New York City’s first underground subway line in 1904, transporting over 100,000 people on opening day. Over the next thirty years, three separate companies (the IRT, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Company and the Independent Subway System) built and operated the remainder of the underground system in New York City. In 1940, all of the existing underground rail lines were united under public ownership and with the formation of the Metropolitan Transit Authority in 1968 the subway system was unified, but with it came the need to refit stations with consistent, clear signage.

In the 1960s, Bob Noorda and Massimo Vignelli of Unimark International were commissioned to develop a legible, universal sign system for the MTA. Noorda had recently won the Premio Compasso d’Oro in 1964 for his work on the signage of the Metropolatina Milanese. New York City’s Transit Authority felt pressure to revamp their signage system when Milan’s metro system was unveiled; officials were also worried about the city’s image with New York hosting the 1964 World’s Fair. In the chaotic environment of New York City subway stations, passenger confusion was perpetuated by a lack of uniformity in the mosaic-tiled and hand-painted signs.

To create a standardized template for their signage, Unimark developed (from Noorda’s work in Milan) a system of panels that could be used in any number of arrangements depending on what information needed to be displayed. Panel dimensions were “1’x1’ for line identification, 1’x2’ for information, 1’x4’ for direction, or 1’x8’ for station identification”[1]. By codifying navigational information, designing signs to be legible and uniform, and writing the Graphics Standards Manual for the Transit Authority, Unimark was able to eliminate the inefficiencies of the old system and create order out of the web of information that had plagued the line before.

Vignelli’s work for the MTA did not stop after the new signage system was put in place however, and in 1971 he submitted his plans for a new subway map. Like Harry Beck’s map 40 years before, Vignelli’s design boasted dots for stations and angled, colored lines for railways. Vignelli’s map was easy to read and was praised for its beauty as a design object. He envisioned a solution for diagramming the unique complexities of New York’s underground system by overlapping and intertwining various rail lines. What emerged was a highly conceptual map that worked well below ground, though many were quick to find fault with the map’s inaccuracies in aboveground geography. While Vignelli did take some liberty in drawing the geography of the city, the importance of his map as a design object should not be understated. Its primary function as printed matter—which it fulfilled quite well—was to provide understanding and direction to the millions of riders that use the subway, not as a tourist’s walking map.

When Michael Hertz designed a map to replace Vignelli’s in 1979, he placed more importance on surface geography, but in doing so, his design lost some of the aesthetic appeal that made Vignelli’s so unique. In Hertz’ 1978 prototype map, all the routes were represented by a highly visible pantone red line, and the separate lines running on each route were given their separate color designations (based on Unimark’s signage). After testing, however, Hertz opted for a more successful trunk line color-coding system (more like Vignelli’s) in which each route had its own color. After Hertz introduced the new map, the city was polarized between the two designs. Many recognized the success of the old map in fulfilling the need to diagram the connections between subway lines solely, while others insisted that geographical accuracy was important in creating a navigable city, both above and below ground. The successes and failures of the two designs ha­ve been the subject of much debate since the switch and even inspired one design firm to create a map that attempts to marry the successes of both.

Enter the Kick Map. In 2004, Eddie Jabbour of Kick Design created a map that would hybridize the diagrammatic aesthetic of Beck and Vignelli’s designs with the geographic accuracy of topographic maps. In doing so, he hoped to create the strongest possible tool for navigating the complexities of New York’s underground. The Kick Map incorporates the schematic appeal of Vignelli’s design that translates well to users trying to navigate the rails linearly. Each tunnel is not only represented by a color, but different trains running on the same tracks are indicated with their own lines. Jabbour mirrored Hertz’ approach by making sure geography was accurate before overlaying the subway lines. Jabbour had the benefit of nearly 35 years of critical discourse to take into account when designing his map and, despite the MTA’s reluctance to adopt the Kick Map, the development of app technology in smart phones has provided a welcome platform for Jabbour’s design. Much like the maps developed by Beck, Vignelli, and Hertz, Jabbour’s functionalist approach and simple design make it a promising candidate for future development.

150 Years of Underground Transit

The creation of underground travel some 150 years ago provided designers with a unique set of problems that required innovative and modern solutions. To have successfully created such a complex system below the earth’s surface required a great amount of ingenuity on the part of architects, engineers, politicians, laborers and designers. While the aforementioned design solutions are but small steps in a larger and more complex set of problems, they reveal how we as humans understand and adapt to our changing environment.

Works Cited:

  1. Marcus, George H. Functionalist Design. David Krasnow. Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1995.
  2. Vignelli, Massimo. Design Is One. Victoria: The Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd, 2004.
  3. “History | Transport for London.” January 12, 2007. (accessed March 29, 2011).
  4. “History of Public Transportation in New York City.” (accessed March 29, 2011).
  5. Feinman, Mark S. “Early Rapid Transit in Brooklyn, 1878 to 1913.” February 17 2001. (accessed March 29, 2011).
  6. “Facts and Figures MTA.” (accessed March 29, 2011).
  7. Lima, Manuel. “New York Subway Map 1972.” (accessed March 29, 2011).
  8. Chung, Jen. “Subway Map Revolution: Gothamist.” August 25, 2004. (accessed March 29, 2011).
  9. Jabbour, Eddie. “About the Kick Map.” (accessed March 29, 2011).
  10. Shaw, Paul. “The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway.” November 18, 2008. (accessed March 29, 2011).
  11. Bierut, Michael. “Mr. Vignelli’s Map: Observatory: Design Observer.” September 14, 2010. (accessed March 29, 2011).
  12. Hogarty, Dave. “Michael Hertz, Designer of the NYC Subway Map.” August 3, 2007. (accessed April 10, 2011).
  13. Kabak, Benjamin. “The 1979 Map, A work in progress.” January 20, 2011. (accessed April 10, 2011).
  14. Matt. “Helpful distortion at NYC & London subway maps.” Apr 26 2007. (accessed April 10, 2011).


Advertising Through Elaborate Displays and Futuristic Ideals at World Expositions

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Commercial advertising often emphasizes and sells notions that are tangential to their actual product. The idea and associations behind an object can prove to be a more powerful and alluring sales tactic than any disclosures about the product itself. Such is the case with Walter Dorwin Teague’s Ford Cycle of Production at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. In this instance, the viewers were apparently amazed by the grandeur of the overall display and portrayal of futuristic ideals. While the viewers may have retained some of the information in the educational display, they ultimately were left in astonishment about the presentation.[1] Companies often instill their name brands in people’s heads by focusing less on the products but by making a lasting impression via ostentatious displays and futuristic notions.

At the 1939 World’s Fair, Teague designed the “Ford’s Cycles of Production,” which was considered “the most impressive display at the fair” according to The Architectural Form.[2] The display featured 87 mechanical characters that illustrated the various parts of production starting from the source of the materials. The multi-tiered exhibit rested upon a 100 foot turntable, weighing 152 tons, and floating on 20,000 gallons of water.[3] The exhibit traced the 27 raw materials through the stages of production and emphasized Ford’s pivotal role in the creation of millions of jobs.  The vast animated display was featured in the midst of Ford’s seven acres of buildings and gardens. This impressive display captivated the audience and through this truly memorable experience that creates positive and lasting associations with the Ford Company. By emphasizing their production they are also promoting the futuristic ideals of the company by showing its leading edge technology and pivotal role in stimulating the economy. In reality, however, current technology was used to create the illusion of futuristic environment, subtly hinting that all consumers had to do was make a purchase. As Jeffery Meilke wrote, “By displaying contemporary technologies and industrial process in futuristic architectural settings, commercial exhibitors implicitly stated that the future was already here if people would only realize it.”[4]

At the same World’s fair, Borden similarly attracts attention to their brand by displaying the new milking technology in their Dairy World of Tomorrow. Their forward-thinking innovation, the rotolactor, milks 50 cows every 12.5 minutes and in total 1,680 cows three times daily.[5] Impressively, the machine first bathes and dries the cows, then milks them, and sends the milk into a sealed container above that leads to the weighing and recording station. Through this method, the milk is not exposed to air, which helped insure quality and longer shelf-life.[6] Understandably viewers were impressed by with the fully mechanized system that removed humans from the direct process. It successfully promotes the company by awing the viewers with its step-by-step display as well as promoting the idea of futuristic technology. Contrary to the futuristic message, Henry Jeffer had actually invented the rotolactor nine years earlier in 1930.[7] In addition, the rotolactor was also not intended for practical use but as means of depicting the milking process in an engaging manner.[8] For the dairy industry, there is no practical reason to have the cows rotating in a merry-go-round like manner. However, this engaging display successfully imbued a typically mundane process with excitement and imagination for 8 million viewers.[9]

At the 1964 World’s Fair, Chrysler elaborately featured their engineering, production, styling and operations through a series of displays extending over five connected islands inside a six acre lake. Among its fantastical displays, Chrysler showcased a massive engine, a 100-foot car, their assembly line with its very odd imaginative features, such as a dragon snapping its jaws and a “metallic menagerie” in which various creatures were constructed of automobile parts.[10] Similar to earlier examples, the company was over-selling its technology with an imaginative combination of old images (dragons) working in concert with futuristic technologies (metallic menagerie). Beyond technology, Chrysler aimed to impress based on the sheer scale of the 100-foot car and the massive engine. By innovation and scale Chrysler appeared more innovative and cutting-edge than its competitors. In addition, the elaborateness of the five-island display made everything appear more inventive and stressed the idea of futurism.

In 1970, Toshiba also employed similar advertising methods through its exciting, over-the-top displays. Although Toshiba focuses on electronic production, their pavilion—designed by Kisho Kurokawa—reflected the futuristic architecture that was predominant at the 1970s World Fair.[11] The building itself contributed to its futuristic theme: it was composed of a dome suspended from tetra-frame with 9 theater screens suspended above a rotating circular floor.[12] While the theaters best reflect Toshiba’s brand and prod­­ucts, the main draw to the exhibit remains the spectacular architecture and overall futuristic environment. Moreover, the building is designed to glow red at night, which creates a rather spectacular view and a strong visual interest unrelated to Toshiba’s products. The screens illustrate Toshiba’s products and technology but are significantly less memorable then the futuristic architecture and the building itself.

Toyota Group Pavilion at the 2005 Worlds Exhibition in Aichi, Japan emphasizes the spectacular portrayal of the future.  In combining human interests with future advances, friendly robots warmly welcomed the visitors to the world of the future.[13] To add more of a futuristic edge, an elaborate musical production,  “The Wonders of Living and Moving Freely,” was by the Toyota Partner Robots band. The shows featured a robotic rapper, single-seater i-unit concept car, and ambulatory i-foot robots.[14] Clearly, the Toyota group distinguished themselves from other robotic presentations by creating artificial intelligence that exhibited “human” emotions, such as compassion and intelligence.[15] In addition to the innovative technology, the Toyota Group Pavilion emphasized interactivity; it actively engage visitors in the technology by transporting visitors from the two exposition sites in an unmanned hybrid fuel cell buses. Beyond displaying their fuel-efficient technology, visitors were exposed to the underlying artificial intelligence.

The futuristic trend of subtle advertising continues at the 2010 Exposition in Shanghai with Cisco’s pavilion displaying a “Smart+Connected Life.” Cisco utilizes their telepresence video conferencing technology to create connections throughout people’s daily lives for the betterment of social interactions, health, and personal security. The display captivates the visitors in a fantastical experience transporting them to the year 2020.[16] It features large curving shapes representing the connections between people and illustrates the technological impact on the futuristic Chan family. The different technologies exhibited include bracelets that monitor pregnant women and their babies, routine scans of fingerprints for instantaneous identification, and video communication freely within the Chan family and its community. [17] While this displays the company’s goals, it still remains idealistic concepts for the future. Visitors may learn minimal amounts regarding the technology but will they are likely impressed by the futuristic experience and amazed by its apparently universal connectivity.

Throughout the various exhibits, they each create significant interest and thereby successfully instill their brand in the viewer’s mind. Although the company is not directly selling their product, they are creating positive associations through the elaborate displays and notions of the future that will ultimately serve as advertising for their brand. By selling ideals and a sense of awe, the company is not limited to merely expressing their tangible product but has the freedom to incorporate intriguing concepts and visual imagery.

Work Cited

“Rotolactor” Milks 50 Cows in 12 Minutes.” Modern Mechanix . (accessed March 15, 2011).

“1964 World’s Fair – Chrysler.” Online Imperial Club (OIC) for Imperial, Chrysler Imperial, and Chrysler New Yorker Brougham Enthusiasts. (accessed March 15, 2011).

“Cisco Pavilion Shanghai World Expo 2010 – Cisco Systems.” Cisco Systems, Inc. (accessed April 12, 2011).

“Cisco Pavilion the official Website of Expo 2010 Shanghai China.” Expo 2010 Shanghai China. (accessed April 12, 2011).

“Ford Pavilion Exhibits at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York.” Historic Stock Footage and Archival Video Clips and Photo Images from the 1890s to the 1990s. (accessed March 10, 2011).

Gough, Richard. 1999. On cooking. [London]: Routledge.

Jackson, Anna. 2008. Expo: International Expositions 1851-2010. London: V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum.

“Kisho Kurokawa.” Kisho Kurokawa. (accessed March 20, 2011).

Meikle, Jeffrey L. 1981. Twentieth Century Limited Industrial Design in America, 1925-1939. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

“Toyota Group Pavilion—The Dream, Joy and Inspiration of Mobility in the 21st Century.” Toyota Global. (accessed April 10, 2011).

“Toyota Group Pavilion : Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan.” Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan. (accessed April 10, 2011).

“Walker Gordon Farm – Official website.” Walker Gordon Farm – Official website. (accessed March 10, 2011).

Paul Sigel – in German. “EXPO 2005 photo essays – weekly report from the World Exposition in Aichi, Japan.” anton rauben weiss – noise design. (accessed March 21, 2011).


[1] Jeffery L. Meikle, Twentieth Century Limited Industrial Design in America, 1925-1939. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press),199.

[2] [2] Meilke. Twentieth Century Limited Industiral Design in America, 199.

[3] Ford Pavilion Exhibits at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York.”, accessed March

[4] Jeffery L. Meikle, Twentieth Century Limited Industrial Design in America, 1925-1939. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press),192.

[5] Jeffery L. Meikle, Twentieth Century Limited Industrial Design in America, 1925-1939. (Philadelphia: Temple University Press),199.

6“Rotolactor” Milks 50 Cows in 12 Minutes.” Modern Mechanix . (accessed March 15, 2011).

[7] “Walker Gordon Farm – Official website.” Walker Gordon Farm – Official website. (accessed March 10, 2011).

[8] Richard Gough, On Cooking, (London: Routledge, 1999), 115.

[9] Richard Gough, On Cooking, 115.

[10] “1964 World’s Fair – Chrysler.” Online Imperial Club (OIC) for Imperial, Chrysler Imperial, and Chrysler New Yorker Brougham Enthusiasts, accessed March 15, 2011,

[11] “EXPO 2005 photo essays – weekly report from the World Exposition in Aichi, Japan.” anton rauben weiss – noise design, accessed March 21, 2011,

[12] “Kisho Kurokawa,” accessed March 20, 2011,

13“Toyota Group Pavilion: Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan,” Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan, accessed April 10, 2011,

14″Toyota Group Pavilion—The Dream, Joy and Inspiration of Mobility in the 21st Century.” Toyota Global, accessed April 10, 2011, .

[15] Anna Jackson,  Expo: International Expositions 1851-2010 (London: V&A Publishing, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2008) 113.

16 Toyota Group Pavilion : Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan,” Expo 2005 Aichi, Japan, accessed April 10, 2011,

17“Cisco Pavilion Shanghai World Expo 2010 – Cisco Systems.” Cisco Systems, Inc, accessed April 12, 2011,



The Influence of Ideal Beauty and Body Image from the Entertainment Industry

Posted: April 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: spring 2011 | No Comments »

Over hundred years of advertising, the use of sex to sell in the entertainment industry influences the ideal body image and gender role for women in our society. This is depicted in La Loie Fuller (1893), The Seven Years Itch (1955), and Burlesque (2010).

Follies-Bergere: La Loie Fuller was created in 1893 by Jules Cheret. It advertises an image of an American erotic dancer La Loie Fuller for her Paris debut. La Loie Fuller began her career as a professional actress, and moved on to choreographed and performed in burlesque in the United States. As a pioneer of modern dance and theatrical lighting, she successfully improvised her own dance techniques such as combining her choreography with silk costumes illuminated by multi-colored lighting in the performance Serpentine Dance (1891). She wanted the public to take her seriously as a dancer. In 1893, feminists in the United States began the women’s suffrage movement, which promoted empowerment. She created the Serpentine Dance for Follies-Bergere and entered the Paris entertainment market as a sensual dancer.

Jules Cheret, lithographed poster of dancer Loie Fuller, 1893.

The Seven Year Itch American film poster (1955) features Marilyn Monroe, a Hollywood sex symbol. She started out her entertainment career modeling, and then moved into an acting career where she usually cast as a sexy blonde. The Seven Year Itch was one of the first movies that started selling her as a sex symbol. She played the role of a sexy young model, for a television commercial, who moves into an apartment floor above a typical middle-aged Manhattan man, played by Tom Ewell, whose wife and kids are away for the summer. The movie revolves around the guy being tempted, by her innocent, sexy talk and body language. Although nothing really happens between them, the movie raises erotic tension of an affair similar to effects of the burlesque dance by La Loie Fuller. This movie is also a good indication of the role women played in the time period after World War II. For example, married women who had taken men’s jobs were encouraged to go back to being housewives. Women that continued to work went back to low-paying and less-respectable jobs.

20th Century Fox Film Co., lithographed poster of The Seven Year Itch, 1955.

The movie poster for the 2010 movie, Burlesque, feature Cher and Christina Aguilera, as burlesque dancers. Although some career fields are still male-dominated, nowadays women are encouraged to be independent and pursue a professional career along with being a good housewife. The movie is about a talented small town girl who goes to Los Angeles in pursuit of fulfilling her dream of be a singer and she ends up dancing and performing at a burlesque bar. Christina Aguilera, seeing burlesque bar for the first time, is enthralled by the whole concept. Like Monroe and Fuller, she uses her sexual attractions, the burlesque dance, to start gaining recognition.

De Line Pictures, poster of Burlesque, 2010

As a medium of advertisement, the image of the three posters uses sexuality, at the same time, but attempts to keep the provocative nature within the boundaries of cultural acceptance. La Loie Fuller captures the viewer’s attention by exposing Fuller’s body, under a vivid-colored see-through garment, in a flamboyant sensual dancing movement. The way she is holding a garment and bending her head back reveals the top of her chest and shows a part of her leg. The garment is carefully drawn in so as not to reveal the parts of her body that would not be acceptable to show in public. The poster successfully shows her performance style and displays the entertainment of contemporary urban lifestyle.

Similar to Cheret’s advertising method, The Seven Year Itch shows Marilyn Monroe in her famous white dress pose revealing her legs to attract the viewer’s attention. Her signature pose is a scene in the movie where she is standing by the underground train that blows her dress up, and she is shown innocently attempts to lower her dress. The art director was careful in covering to show nothing more than her legs. The Monroe poster, 50 years after Cheret, is more risqué, showing that the public is becoming more open minded about sexuality in the mass media. The film itself also portrays this acceptance level. Although the film is about tempting sexual behavior, there are no sex scenes. Besides showing the woman’s body, the poster also shows Monroe dressed up in a beautiful white dress, high heels, make-up, and hair done similar to Fuller’s flamboyant and colorful style.

The Burlesque poster also uses the female in a sensual way to appeal to the audience. Cher, Aguilera, and other back up dancers all wore skimpy burlesque dresses that fully expose their legs. Compared to the previous two posters, this poster can freely expose women’s legs because, in 2010, it is socially acceptable to show it in the mass media today. Aguilera and the dancer pose in a way that shows off their body curves much closer to the way La Loie arched her neck. Even though the dancers are hidden and blurred by the light, they also pose to show their feminine figures. Although Aguilera plays a role of a talented singer; the poster shows no indication of this.

Each of these entertainment posters contribute to the viewer’s idea of ideal female characteristics and assign gender roles for women. The use of female figures in capturing the audience’s attention has a subtle influence on what the public considers “beauty” during that time period. According to Drucker and McVarish’s textbook, Jules Cheret said that the ideal height for a woman should be 8 feet high. In the 19th century, Fuller’s poster shows her as more curvy, skinnier, and taller than photographs of her Serpentine Dance, which was performed around the time she entered Paris. Her body in the poster is much closer to our ideal of a woman’s body. Then, in the 20th century, Marilyn Monroe’s role is an attractive model in the film, so the poster sends a message to the public that this is the what we consider as attractive: skinny legs, well groomed, and sexy. She, then, became a sex icon of Hollywood and contributes to how an attractive actress should look. In this century, the advertisement still sends similar message to women, evident in the Burlesque poster, where both Aguilera and Cher have what the public considers to be a good body.

These advertisements also subtly assign a specific gender role to women. According to the film Codes of Gender, advertisements depict women as vulnerable and insecure by using off-balanced poses, whereas men were shown in strong, rigid, upright poses. This is evidenced in all three posters: Fuller lifts one of her legs and tilts her head backward while Monroe and Cher tilt their heads sideways and spread their legs off center. Moreover, all of these women are performers: Fuller is an erotic dancer, Monroe is a model, and Aguilera is a burlesque dancer and singer. These are one-sided messages that are sent to the public and set the stereotypes for women to be entertainers rather than use their intelligence. All three are also know for their flamboyant personalities, especially Monroe, who almost always acts as a sensual dumb blond with a bubbly persona. While Fuller is also a pioneer for her theatrical lighting, very little of that is the selling point for her debut poster to Paris. Instead, the advertisement depicts the woman as something beautiful to be looked at. The Seven Year Itch poster shows Tom Ewell, the actor from the film, standing in smaller size and gazing at Monroe’s revealed leg. All three are looking sideways, inviting the viewer to freely look at their bodies.

The three posters representing the media from 19th, 20th, 21st century all uses the sensuality of women bodies as a marketing point to appeal to the public’s interest. As a result, they create impossible expectations for women in society: on how to look, how to act, and how to be. No matter how the role of women in society changes through the years, advertisements still depict women as entertainers to be looked at and as having vulnerable, dependent characteristics. This creates a specific gender role for women in society.


Work Cited

Burlesque [Blu-ray]. Blu-Ray. Directed by Steve Antin. Culver City, CA: Screen Gems, 2010.

Drucker, Johanna, and Emily McVarish. “The Graphic Effects of Industrial Production.” In Graphic design history: a critical guide. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 158.

Nelson, Richard, and Marcia Ewing. Loie Fuller, goddess of light . Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1997.

The Codes of Gender. DVD. Directed by Sut Jhally. Massachusettes: MEF Executive, 2009.

“The Seven Year Itch (1955) – IMDb.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). (accessed January 28, 2011).

Advertisements: both catalysts and consequences

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Advertising can be seen as a barometer for social change. Through the shock value of striking images, advertisements can confront the public about issues, and can affect dominant attitudes toward them but they also reflect and promote cultural norms and standards. Ads can be described as “a flow of materials which fashion normative standards and which implant a picture of social reality,”[1] and through advertisements we can track the shift of cultural acceptance or awareness of once taboo or unprecedented subject matter. “Advertising should be seen as both a consequence and a catalyst”[2] in terms of social change.

The Campaign for Family Planning ad by Bill Atherton and Alan Brooking in the 1960s is an excellent portrayal of the ways in which advertising can push social norms and mark the beginning of new cultural attitudes toward previously unmentionable subjects. The 60s were a time of great social change and openness about promiscuity and women’s rights. They were also characterized by the dominant culture of the 50s. Ads that addressed contraception, still illegal for unwed people in some states, pushed the boundaries of social norms to address necessary issues. The ad is a depiction of a pregnant man looking at the camera with a seemingly dejected expression. This unusual image is accompanied by the tagline “Would you be more careful if it was you that got pregnant?” The clever use of text to reveal the meaning of the image marks a time in which advertisers felt free to be direct and startling. This ad was meant to promote the discussion and use of contraception and safe sex. By switching gender roles, the ad calls attention to visual norms and expectations. [3] Using clever text and image combinations to communicate serious topics became a trend that carries on through advertising to the present.

The ad nicknamed “the crying Indian” portrays a Native American tearing with the tagline “People start pollution. People can stop it.” This public service advertisement was the result of the collaboration of the Ad Council and Keep America Beautiful Inc. On the Ad Council’s official website, under the heading “Effecting Positive Social Change”, they assert that “a review of the Ad Council’s campaign dockets through the years demonstrates the organizations commitment to address the most pressing social issues of the day” and that their ad campaigns are “A Mirror of Society.”[4] The Keep America Beautiful campaign went public on Earth Day of 1971. This ad uses an American icon, the American Indian, to play on the emotions of Americans. The ad is meant to make you feel guilty for destroying a beautiful land that was not yours to begin with. This image relates to the Campaign for Family Planning because it represents a change in cultural thought, an increase in awareness and action toward protection of the environment. This advertisement uses a stereotype to express a progressive goal.  The “crying Indian” demonstrates how advertising “acknowledges and perhaps ratifies, but it does not originate social change.”[5] This ad merely used a stereotype to reflect changing attitudes.

The 1991 public service advertisement from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reflects a shift in society and law in regards to spousal abuse. The composition of the ad includes a bold tagline “He beat her 150 times. She only got flowers once.” and an image of a coffin with roses draped over it. In the past, domestic violence has been viewed as a responsibility, has since been frowned upon, and is now illegal. The Catholic Church held it as a man’s duty to hold his wife to a certain standard and was to beat her if she did not perform. It was not until the late 1800s that men were banned from beating their families. And then not until the feminist movement of the 1960s were laws instated. Serious action was not taken against domestic violence until the 1990s.[6] This ad demonstrates the most recent change in attitudes toward domestic violence. This ad is not intended to be humorous but still retains the shock value in the choice of image and text. The image is an unexpected twist on the message transmitted through the text. This relates to the ad from the Campaign for Family Planning by demonstrating a change in cultural thought about a social issue, and also women’s rights.

The dominant perspective changed towards global warming in the late 1980s. Ideas about global warming and human involvement were met with skepticism from dominant culture until recently when a drastic change occurred. In an international report based on public perceptions 79% of people believed that human activity had a significant role in climate change.[7] This is due to the exposure and framing of information in media like advertising. In this image, a polar bear is curled up in a box on a damp city street with a tagline that reads “Global warming is leaving many homeless.” This ad is playing on human emotion by relating the polar bears’ suffering to human suffering. The clever tagline reveals a new layer to the message and clarifies meaning. The play on the combination of image and text is reflective of the 1960s ad for the Campaign for Family Planning because they both grant a new perspective on a situation.

The Kenneth Cole ad, from 2008, relates to the ad from the Campaign for Family Planning because it portrays a transgender model. This ad utilizes a similar technique as the Campaign for Family Planning in that it switches gender roles in order to shock and provoke thought. Both of these advertisement address social issues and changing attitudes through their shock value. This image is from a Kenneth Cole campaign called We All Walk in Different Shoes. Kenneth Cole wanted to announce changes happening in the world through this campaign.[8] Historically transgender citizens have been victims of stigmatization, persecution, and discrimination. This ad acknowledges and marks a social change. Transgenderism, which has been historically stigmatized, is more widely accepted in Western culture since the mid to late 1900s. The first sex reassignment surgery was in the 1930s and has become a relatively common practice in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. “Media [does] not necessarily persuade consumers to hold a particular view of an issue… but coverage in the media tells consumers that the issue or product is something relevant to them,”[9] in this case the ad informed its audience that transgenderism was now accepted in pop culture media and that issues of sexuality are incredibly relevant in current culture.

Advertisements can both cause and be caused by social change. The content of these ads inform the viewer about societal changes as well as traditional attitudes. These ads mark a point in history in which ideas and values were being brought into question and startling advertisements were being utilized to convey messages.


Works Cited

“Ad Council : About.” Ad Council : Home. (accessed April 18, 2011).

Berman, Ronald. Advertising and social change . Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1981.


Drucker, Johanna, and Emily McVarish. Graphic design history:  a critical guide. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009.


Evans, Alex, and David Steven. “Climate Change: The State of the Debate – Global Dashboard “Blog covering International affairs and global risks .” (accessed April 18, 2011).


SafeNetwork. “Herstory of Domestic Violence: A Timeline of the Battered Women’s Movement” MINCAVA Electronic Clearinghouse. (accessed April 18, 2011).


Hovland, Roxanne, and Joyce Marie Wolburg. Advertising, society, and consumer culture . Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2010.


Janowitz, Morris. The last half-century:  societal change and politics in America. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1978.


“Kenneth Cole We All Walk in Different Shoes Advertising Campaign” StyleFrizz.” StyleFrizz. (accessed April 18, 2011).

[1] Morris Janowitz, The last half-century: societal change and politics in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978)


[2] Roxanne Hovland and Joyce Marie Wolburg. Advertising, society, and consumer culture (Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 2010)


[3] Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish, Graphic design history: a critical guide (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009)


[4] “Ad Council : About,” Ad Council, accessed April 18, 2011,

[5] Ronald Berman, Advertising and social change (Beverly HIlls: Sage Publications, 1981)


[6] “Herstory of Domestic Violence: A Timeline of the Battered Women’s Movement,” SafeNetwork, accessed April 18, 2011,


[7] “Climate Change: The State of the Debate,” Global Dashboard, accessed April 18, 2011,

[8] “Kenneth Cole We All Walk in Different Shoes Advertising Campaign,” StyleFrizz, accessed April 18, 2011,


[9] Hovland and Wolburg, Advertising


Ornament Is Not Crime

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Kyle Scallon

Ornament is not Crime

It is innately human to feel the need to ornament one’s surroundings and decorate oneself in order to manifest personal expression. However, it has been argued that such an act by modern man is a “childish symptom of degeneration” . This claim by the Modernist architect, Adolf Loos, fuels his assertion that the “progress of human civilizations can be measured by the degree to which it has spurned ornament.”1 Contrarily, I would argue that a civilization’s progress reflects the degree to which it has embraced and developed ornament, with respect to individual expression and the resulting beauty of cultural diversity.
The age of industry introduced a new aspect to design for consideration that dominated the scope of Modernist theory: efficiency. As an architect of the era, Adolf Loos carried this notion from industrial product design to his architectural approach. Stripping designs of ‘criminal’ décor reflected his famous theoretical essay, “Ornament and Crime”. The essay highlights ornament as a degenerate conviction, which wastes time, human labor, material, and money. Loos’s thesis explains, “The evolution of culture is synonymous with the removal of ornament from objects of daily use” and advocates a universal unornamented style for the Modernist period because “we have outgrown ornament.”2 These notions stem from a narrow worldview, which would seemingly project all craftsmen to be a mechanical resource of production, working in factories on assembly lines, rather than human individuals and artists who create for the sake of personal expression. Loos asserts that ornament “commits a crime itself by damaging national economy and therefore its cultural development.” Sacrificing intricacies for the sake of low manufacturing costs is a methodology seemingly based on greed and apathy for the consumer. Granted, Loos does not necessarily advocate corporatist practices, however his apparent value for minimal labor, high revenue, and a universal aesthetic are on the threshold of leaning towards Fascist basics. Fascism seeks a “singular collective identity superior to individualism” based on the economy and corporatist values. Such a system facilitates a degeneration of cultural artifacts in a civilization that, in the future, would be seen as a regressive society, successful only in its ability to make money. History includes ornament as a reflection of cultural idiosyncrasies– something that must exist for the sake of truth in human individualism.
Amidst the section in Loos’s essay in which he iterates his vision of a world universally unornamented, he claims, “soon the streets of the cities will glow like white walls! Like…the capital of heaven.” This ideal is somewhat shared by modernist designer, Mies Van de Rohe who coined the popular notion that “less is more” in design. The vision they shared of bland architecture would have appeared to embody a horrifyingly drab existence. Arguing against such visions was a designer named Robert Venturi who asserted that less isn’t more at all, rather, “forced simplicity results in oversimplification…[and] blatant simplification means bland architecture. Less is a bore.” The idea that ‘less is more’ is not evident in the intriguingly detailed surroundings of the natural world. The intricacies of life are what make life beautiful; similarly, to deprive architecture of intricacy is to deprive it of an evocative sense of life. This reflects Venturi’s favored “messy vitality over obvious unity” . Such unified, unornamented architecture would spurn our need for variety and interest in what we see everyday. Our interaction with our surroundings would be cold and detached and would fail to inspire a vital sense of identity. Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown similarly felt that décor in architecture would facilitate the integration of buildings into the “urban realm” and give them “meaning in the eyes of the public.” This notion feeds the endorsement of buildings as “representation”, not just ‘function’.
Removing ornament in religious architecture would disregard thousands of years of tradition. The ornament in/on religious facilities, like the Notre Dame Cathedral, is a sacred element of the function because it is in the beautiful and complex ornament from which the intended holy experience of a sanctuary is drawn. Erasing these details would render any such cathedral as Notre Dame “transparent and dull” (which is antithetical to its function). Religious sanctuaries are not the only buildings in which ornament informs the function. The Seagram building, designed by Mies van de Rohe, incorporated additional i-beams on the building’s exterior to bring attention to the verticality of the building; because they are structurally functionless, they are considered an ornamental addition. Architect, Louis Sullivan said that the function of a building is also to be tall; with this notion in mind, the linear exterior panels are functional in their ability to reinforce the visual height of the building. Ironically, Mies van de Rohe was a modernist architect that shared Loos’s notion of anti-ornament. Here, an anti-ornament idealist proves himself wrong by dabbling in the urge to decorate. In an ideal anti-ornament world like the one Loos outlines, Mies van de Rohe would be blamed for interfering with the degree to which ornament is spurned and thus blamed for interfering with the overall progress of civilization. The Modernists who view ornament as functionless and non-essential make this claim on the basis of only “visible forces” in architecture “(structural, functional, and physical)” and disregard the “invisible forces” that comprise architectural materiality “(cultural, political, and temporal)”. Countering Loos’s claims that ornament “is no longer the expression of our culture” , Farshid Moussavi claims that the progression of architecture is facilitated by new concepts that marry both visible and invisible forces and “manifests itself through new aesthetic compositions and affects.” Ornament becomes an agent for transmitting specific affects as a result of organizing architectural material in a way that unifies function and context.
The modernist industrial designer, Dieter Rams, wrote a more contemporary essay on anti-ornament called “Omit the Unimportant” in which he discussed the necessary rejection of ornament in order to emphasize the function through form in industrial design. Rams authoritative perspective on design, similar to Adolf Loos’s, negates personal expression and seeks universal contempt for anti-ornament. To eliminate ornament in industrial design would be making endless assumptions regarding what everyone likes and that everyone would universally like having the same things. Rams contends that by making product designs neutral and undecorated, the individual consumer would be able to project their own sense of personal expression on to the object. However, to mentally morph a physical object from a bleak form into something that is self-expressive like Rams suggests, is a convenient post rational excuse for deleting personal expression from design. Self-expression is undermined if the individual is the only one who can recognize it; expression is about communicating something to others. Adolf Loos asserts that “ornamented objects appear truly unaesthetic if they have been executed in the best material, with the highest degree of meticulous detail, and if they have required a long production time.” Similarly, Rams rejects the ornamented aesthetic, and claims, “complicated, unnecessary forms are nothing more than designers’ escapades that function as self-expression instead of expressing the product’s functions.” Designing to express function becomes an aesthetic preference that the diverse individuals of the world should be free to select as their mode of personal expression rather than a universally applied aesthetic that negates individualism. Other arguments against omitting the unimportant include William Morris’s notion that “decoration gives someone using something pleasure” and decoration and a sense of novelty excite users when using an artifact. Nevertheless, Rams calls this an “exploitation of people’s weaknesses for visual and haptic signals” . To claim a harmless human outlet of pleasure to be a weakness is pretentious and paradoxical. If the human admiration for visually and haptic sensations is truly weak, then, in terms of a logical fallacy, humans existence is weak; we feed our hungry senses of sight and touch instinctually and incessantly. As well as providing pleasure while in use, ornament enhances the owner’s projected sense of value and worth on the artifact. People tend to maintain things that they deem special, which theoretically counters wasteful obsolescence.
The ideology of omitting ornament from design and to regard decoration as crime is an elitism that undermines personal expression and ignores contextual identity. To value such oppressive dogmatism and a resulting homogenous culture is to regard the cessation of cultural progress, which is otherwise dependent on personal expression and diversity to evolve. The focus of design on utilitarian and functional emphasis in form becomes a style that individuals should be free to choose as their manifestation of self-expression, rather than a set methodology that should be employed by all designers.

Gorman, Carma R., ed. The Industrial Design Reader. New York, NY: Allworth
Press, 2003.

Loos, Adolf, Ornament and Crime.

Venturi, Rober, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture.

Rams, Dieter, Omit the Unimportant.

Moussavi, Farshid. The Function of Ornament. N.p.: Actar, 2006. Accessed April 17, 2010.

Branding for the Future

Posted: April 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, companies began to further their creative means of advertising in order to reach the public and sell a brand. Unlike previous world’s fairs, such as The Great Exhibition of 1851, where nations gathered to show off their wares rather than companies promoting their name, these exhibitions presented the mechanical processes each company utilized in order to make their products. By seeing the technicalities in these interactive spectacles, consumers experienced detailed visions of the future; in the end remembering the name of the company and the products and concepts they created.

The 1939 World’s Fair of New York City brought many exciting and never-before-seen exhibitions to light, one of the most prominent being the Ford Cycle of Production. Spanning one hundred feet in diameter and weighing in at one hundred and fifty-two tons, the showcase floated on twenty thousand gallons of water.<a href=” />[1] Assembly processes in this display were dramatized by electronically activated models that demonstrated how the auto industry took raw materials from suppliers and, through a bond between employee and machine, were converted into Ford automobiles. As stated by Jeffrey Meikle, “Visitors no doubt learned something about auto manufacturing from this exhibit. Others took away the message that Ford’s operations benefitted thousands of people…but most…delighted in the mechanics and scope of the display itself.”[2] The elaborate presentation taught viewers that machine-made products were the affordable way of the future. Ford achieved a desirable exhibition with their careful choice of detail and mechanical representation of their techniques. Meikle ended his statement by saying that “each display functioned as an advertisement [that] intended to leave vague impressions of a corporation’s enterprise and public beneficence.”[3]

Also present at the 1939 World’s Fair was the Borden Rotolactor, a carousel of fifty cows that could be milked in just twelve minutes. Viewers watched as cows stepped into the milking machine, their milk drawn into glass containers located above them. Cows were examined daily for any signs of disease, making the Rotolactor “far more sanitary and speedy in its operation than any method hitherto employed,”[4] as stated by Popular Mechanics. The promise of a mechanical process where milk is “bottled in record-breaking time” and “never touched by human hands”[5] drew in the interest of many. In order to further public interest in this modern marvel, Borden searched for a celebrity to have present at the Rotolactor, quickly choosing a cow to represent their brand mascot, Elsie, who had previously only been present in advertising.[6] Just the presence of their new mascot boosted the daily amount of visitors. Walker-Borden Laboratories, the brand widely known for their milk, excited viewers with their mechanical exaggeration of the milking process, now integrated into a carousel where cows were bathed and milked. The Borden Rotolactor amazed audiences with its seemingly large advancement in milk processing. Though the exhibition appears outlandish in modern times, it forced the public to remember what they had witnessed at the fair; memories primarily consisting of the ways in which Borden marketed their products.

Chrysler’s Engineering Island, located at the 1964 World’s Fair, was the largest pavilion at the event and was assembled across five islands, “linked by bridges and set in a six-acre lake.”[7] The islands represented specific aspects of the mechanical work of Chrysler, these being engineering, production, styling, and operations. The fifth island held a constantly running puppet show. This imaginative exhibit featured such spectacles as a one hundred foot long engine with a dragon-shaped crankshaft and an assembly line of metallic creatures. The over-sized engine was highlighted with a massive revolving fan and an air filter featuring the Chrysler logo. Visitors were able to walk through the engine, interacting with the mechanical construction Chrysler integrated into their work. One of the islands, known then as Production Island, featured rides where the public could travel along the Chrysler assembly line and watch as metallic creatures assembled automobiles. Also present were exhibits “in which visual displays stressed the company’s automotive styling.”[8] By viewing the assembly lines and touring the larger than life models of their car parts and materials, Chrysler was able to advertise their brand name through fun and informative exhibitions, not by everyday means of advertising.

Also at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York was the IBM Pavilion, a building with various exhibits that explained to the public “how computer circuits and memory cores worked.”[9] International Business Machines sought to describe the way in which computers were beneficial using techniques such as an extended game of twenty questions to solve complex problems. The exhibition featured a ninety-foot tall, ellipsoidal-shaped theatre that previewed a show known as the “Information Machine.” At each preview five hundred visitors were hydraulically lifted into the theatre to watch the fifteen-minute show created by Charles Eames himself. The presentation featured fourteen synchronized projectors and nine screens within the theatre that explained to viewers “how both the human brain and the computer obtained sensory information, fed it to the brain…and through a program interpreted it to make some decision of what to do.”[10] This was the beginning of the computer age to the public and the basis for their functions. According to Walter Dorwin Teague, exhibitions like this at the world’s fair functioned primarily as “a place where merchants come to display their wares to possible purchasers” while continuing to be “aesthetically beautiful – a vast, magnificent work of art.”[11] IBM set out to inspire eagerness and excitement in the public, leading them to believe that computers were the way of the near future and that IBM was the connection to achieving this.

Decades later, Test Track was created as a high-thrill attraction located at Epcot within Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. Designed by General Motors Corporation and Walt Disney Imagineering, the ride is a simulated voyage through the laborious testing procedures General Motors uses to evaluate its automobiles, ending in a high-speed ride around the outer building. While waiting in line, visitors are bombarded with the GM branding before being seated in futuristic test vehicles in a reproduction of the GM testing facility. Riders are then taken through a series of assessments that imitate how actual vehicle prototype evaluations are conducted, such as suspension testing, ABS simulations, and body durability in all types of weather elements.[12] To further excite the riders, GM allows the vehicle to exit the building on a sixty-five mph track that wraps around the building on a racetrack style layout before returning to the loading dock. Using techniques present at the aforementioned expositions in New York, General Motors and Walt Disney Imagineering created a ride that not only interested the visitors in the production and testing of their vehicles, but also established a connection for the viewers to remember their company name.

A modern-day example of these visions of the future is the concept city known as The Green Float Project, a highly ambitious development by the Shimizu Corporation to construct large artificial rafts that, when combined, make massive, sustainable communities. The development plans to feature the largest building known to man and will expand organically. The base of the community is modeled after a water lily and is intended to house numerous residential areas as well as a waterside resort with ocean-side townhouses containing around fifty thousand people. Operation of this community is dependent on natural elements, including solar, wave, wind, and ocean thermal energy conversion.[13] This concept idea captures the interest of those interested in a view of the future, as “Shimizu aims to make Green Float a reality by 2025.”[14] By viewing the models displayed at events and hearing the technicalities of this conceptual idea, spectators are now aware that companies like Shimizu are the answer to our future housing options.

Over the last century, companies have come up with creative means of advertising in order to reach the public. By creating elaborate exhibitions that sought to portray the mechanization and construction of their products, companies provided viewers with a bright outlook on the near future. Observing the technicalities in these interactive and creative spectacles allowed audiences to experience these visions of the future, in the end taking home the company name in their minds and the products these brands create.



Works Cited

“Ford Pavilion Exhibits at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, New York.” Historic Stock Footage and Archival Video Clips and Photo Images from the 1890s to the 1990s. (accessed April 10, 2011).

Meikle, Jeffrey L. Design in the USA. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

“”Rotolactor” Milks 50 Cows in 12 Minutes.” Modern Mechanics, February 1931, 51.

“Walker Gordon Farm – Official website.” Walker Gordon Farm History. (accessed April 18, 2011).

“1964 World’s Fair – Chrysler Pavilion.” Online Imperial Club (OIC) for Imperial, Chrysler Imperial, and Chrysler  New Yorker Brougham Enthusiasts. (accessed April 10, 2011).

“Inside IBM’s World’s Fair ‘Egg’.” Popular Science, July 1964.

“Test Track | Walt Disney World Resort.” Walt Disney World Resort. (accessed April 10, 2011).

“DigInfo TV – GREEN FLOAT – a Floating City in the Sky.” DigInfo TV. (accessed April 10, 2011).


[1] “Ford Pavilion Exhibit,” Historic Stock, Critical Past, (accessed April 10, 2011).

[2] Jeffrey L. Meikle, Design in the USA (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 197

[3] Meikle, Design…

[4] “”Rotolactor” Milks 50 Cows in 12 Minutes.” Modern Mechanics, February 1931, 51.

[5] “”Rotolactor” Milks 50 Cows in 12 Minutes,” 51.

[6] “Walker Gordon Farm History,” Walker Gordon Farm – Offical Website, Walker Gordon Farm, (accessed April 10, 2011).

[7] “1964 World’s Fair – Chrysler Pavilion,” Online Imperial Club, OIC, (accessed April 10, 2011).

[8] “1964 World’s Fair – Chrysler Pavilion,” Online Imperial Club, OIC, (accessed April 10, 2011).

[9] “Inside IBM’s World’s Fair ‘Egg’.” Popular Science, July 1964, 58-59.

[10] “Inside IBM’s World’s Fair ‘Egg’.” 58-59.

[11] Jeffrey L. Meikle, Design in the USA (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 199

[12] “Test Track | Walt Disney World Resort,” Walt Disney World Resort, Disney, (accessed April 10, 2011).

[13] “Green Float – A Floating City in the Sky,” DigInfo TV, DigInfo, (accessed April 10, 2011).

[14] “Green Float – A Floating City in the Sky.”