Tag Archives: design

Design = change

Elevating the social importance of design

July 21-24 will see leaders from AIGA, the national professional association for design, partnering with local designers in Birmingham for a design summit dedicated to the notion that the design community can affect social change. This event is modeled on the Aspen [Co] Design Summit of 2009.

A mix of local and national design team leaders will engage participants on issues such as natural resources and Alabama’s public image.  A public reception will be held at Alagasco downtown (20th Street and Powell Avenue) Friday evening July 22 to showcase initial brainstorming sessions. Check out alabamaengine.org for more information (coming soon!). It’s fantastic that Birmingham, with its wealth of good designers from many disciplines, will be hosting this event.

According to Matt Leavell of Auburn University, one of the organizers, this is part of an effort to “position designers as thought leaders, and to develop solutions to complex problems. Organizations don’t usually have the time themselves, so we’re stepping in to fill the gap.” It will be exciting to see what design solutions come out of this conference.

A respite from urban travails

And with that, the author of this blog is embarking on a honeymoon trip to the Norwegian fjords that will last the bulk of July. We will be back with regular posts the first week in August. Everyone stay cool in the big city until then.

[thanks to rev dan catt for the design pic, and atari123 for the fjord]

The Sheltering Sky

Before there were shelters, there was excellent transit

Our opening photo takes us back to the late 1940s (courtesy Birmingham Public Library) where we see people queuing to board a streetcar on Third Avenue North downtown. While most of us are aware of the ghastly state of our city’s current transit system, today I’m focused on a smaller but important issue: bus shelters.

Where's the design in Birmingham?

A relatively recent invention, the bus shelter has become an important piece of street furniture: a well-designed bus shelter can enhance the pedestrian’s (and transit-user’s) experience of the sidewalk and street environment. It can also convey the city’s attitude about urban design. Perhaps 8 years ago, the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) announced they were replacing old bus shelters across the city. There was talk about holding a competition among local designers for the new shelter. Instead, as illustrated here, what we got was something so banal and un-urban, it boggles the mind. And many, many dozens of these were constructed. The metal members form a claustrophobic, prison-like enclosure, with no panels for signage, advertising, or route information. All normally basics for a bus shelter.

Forward design in San Fran

As a counter example, consider the new prototype shelters going up in San Francisco. Simple and elegant, one side contains space for advertisements (an important source of revenue for most transit systems) and the other side has info panels, maps, and in most cases updated electronic MUNI schedules. I love the design of these shelters–not only do they have red, translucent undulating tops (created out of recycled resin by 3-form), but there are solar panels embedded in these roofs that power the illumination of the shelter at night. Note also the large, graffiti-proof and shatter-proof resin panels at the rear, unencumbered by fussy, prison-like metal bars. It’s all very open, airy, and inviting.

Solar power at work

User-friendly and inviting in Chattanooga

And lest we think it’s silly to expect the same sort of thoughtful design here as they get in a big city like San Francisco, turn to Chattanooga, a metro half our size to the north. The shot below shows a shelter on Market Street. Not quite as integrated in design as SF, but still good. And not only does it have electronic schedule info, but it conveys to users and visitors that the city cares about design and the urban experience. There’s thought behind it.

If you gave me a choice between good bus shelters and a good transit system, of course I’d take the latter. It’s a pressing need for our region. But part of making a transit system attractive is making its accessories attractive. I earnestly hope that when we do get the long-overdue overhaul of our transit system, we’ll also find the best designers to develop graphics, way-finding, and bus shelters. It’s one more piece of the urban puzzle we shouldn’t overlook.

Just like there’s a synergy between good transit and good shelters, the opposite is true. Our poorly conceived shelters are predictable given our poor transit. I mentioned earlier there is no panel on our standard shelter for signage, graphics, or info displays. However, as an afterthought, the BJCTA slapped some vinyl stickers on certain shelters warning “NO LOITERING”. That’s the only message conveyed in writing on the entire shelter. Here you see someone doing just that–loitering in a shelter. How do I know he’s loitering? Well, it’s just a good guess, because it’s Sunday afternoon. And a quick check of the BJCTA schedule shows no Sunday routes except the DART. If you look closely you can see the warning printed over his head…(thanks to richmondsfblog, almonroth, and zekumedo for the SF and Chatta. pics)

Emblematic of a culture of neglect

Happy Hipsters

“There. He felt it again. The whole house had unmistakeably slid toward the retaining wall, as if inching toward edificial suicide.”

I know this link has been bouncing around, but I thought this would bring a smile to those of us who appreciate modern design–it’s good to take a step back and have a sense of humor every once and a while.

I’m reminded of cracking open my first Wallpaper magazine back in 1998 or so: I was fascinated that there could be a consumer market for all things modern, hip, and glossy. It felt refreshing since, at that time, you’d be hard-pressed to find modern design in any “lifestyle” magazine, much less in mass-market catalogs.

Now, of course, from Dwell to CB2, it’s everywhere. Hence a little of the ennui pictured in today’s light-hearted link.

Not to get too sad about things–to the left is a pic of some relatively happy looking hipsters at the fabulous graffiti show at Bare Hands Gallery a few months ago. Then again, who couldn’t be happy at an art opening at Bare Hands? Thanks to Dystopos for the pic!

(via Unhappy Hipsters Photo: Jason Schmidt, Dwell, February 2010)