Visual police

Having got back from the Midwest after our Christmas break I can sort of empathise with this great New York Times article on the bland, cookie-cutter aesthetic of much of the US’s towns. And I like the idea of an organization that you can go to if you’re a planner, and you don’t like the state of things.

“To the left, the Wendy’s, like a gingerbread house from a child’s nightmare. To the right, the Burger King, like a highway restroom that sells hamburgers. And everywhere, the billboards and neon, the strip malls and parking lots, urging us to look here, here, no here, drive up, drive thru and, remember, drive safely.”


Having said that, there are many areas that are old and interesting. They don’t HAVE to be old to be interesting, but from my experience most are. We stayed in Neosho, Missouri, whose town square is historic and interesting, with small antique shops and plenty of parking. It’s clearly seen better days, and most residents clearly prefer to head for the WalMart on the outskirts of town, where the environment gets more like the one described in the article above. But Neosho is seeing its own signs of redevelopment, as is nearby Joplin. There’s hope that people would rather have that history and maybe even the pleasure of walking from one small shop to another.

We live near Staines, a town which I’ve tended to mistrust. It’s never seemed like a particularly healthy, cultural or friendly town. But I have to admire the way the shopping area has been renewed. They’ve successfully co-located some large stores (a big Tescos, PC World and so on) within walking distance of the high street. They were lucky to have the space. A lot of towns don’t. And what they’ve ended up with is the best of both worlds. A big shopping experience that encourages you to walk and experience the small shopping experience on the high street. It feels quite vibrant. For Staines.

Braun vs. Apple – a little respect

I have no problem with this article drawing some close comparisons between the work of Dieter Rams and the work of Jonathan Ive at Apple. It’s not blatant plagiarism, and the calculator in the iPhone already demonstrated that the respect was there.

“When you look at the Braun products by Dieter Rams—many of them at New York’s MoMA—and compare them to Ive’s work at Apple, you can clearly see the similarities in their philosophies way beyond the sparse use of color, the selection of materials and how the products are shaped around the function with no artificial design, keeping the design “honest.””


Besides which, there’s that thing that Picasso said.

I’ve had my own little theory going that the design of the iPod was inspired by the “boys own” transistor eight pocket radios of the 50s. Maybe I went too far back?


Visualization overview

Feeling like a cross between a Tufte lecture and a flick through any recent book on Processing or Flash masters, this article presents a good overview of the job and direction of ancient and modern data visualization.

“In his introductory text , Jose Luis de Vicente, the curator of the workshop, described data visualization as a cross-discipline which uses the vast communicative power of images to offer a comprehensible explanation of the relationship among meaning, cause, and dependence that can be found among large abstract masses of information generated by scientific and social processes. “

Minard’s map on Napoleon’s march on Russia.

Marcos Weskamp‘s Newsmap

Updated: Some more great examples from Smashing Magazine.

links for 2008-01-18

Airliner crash lands at Heathrow

Bit unnerving to find this in amongst my RSS feeds. Here’s a map of where the incident happened. I’ve circled in red where my Dad used to work, and where we’d park our car before heading into London at the weekends. This is still not far from where we live. Planes taking off from Heathrow go over our house every day.


Amazing that there were no fatalities. Sounds like they basically lost power and the pilot had to glide the plane in. It may have been safer that he touched down on grass, since there were less sparks than there would have been on the runway.

Out with plastic bags

I guess one of the advantages of an autocratic government is being able to make sweeping changes like this. Not that I’m advocating that form of government. At all.

“In an un-expected move, China’s cabinet has completely banned super thin plastic bags and is imposing a compulsory charge on plastic carrier bags as of June 1st.  The familiar plastic bags that we receive from grocery stores have become a major source of pollution for China, with estimates suggesting that Chinese citizens use as many as 3 billion plastic bags a day!  The cabinet also announced that they plan on creating more incentives for companies separating bags out from waste for reprocessing”
China To Ban Plastic Bags on PSFK