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A response to the question never asked

Korean Tea Meets Danish Design

From the people who brought us HanGawi comes a vegan Korean tea house on Park Avenue called Franchia. Situated across the street from Norman Thomas High School in Murray Hill, Franchia offers a wide range of green and herbal teas. The menu also includes my favorites dishes from HanGawi, as well as a prix fixe Royal Tea Tray for people who like an assortment of savories and sweets to nibble with their tea.

I, however, was not there to mess around with such nonsense. I went to a tea house, and I wanted tea straight up, no dumplings. Franchia has three levels of seating: a ground floor with a tea bar where you can get tea takeout, a mezzanine level that overlooks the bar area, and an upper level with a full-blown traditional Korean tea room enclosed by carved wooden sliding doors. I sat at one of the square wooden tables in front of the tea bar and, as I waited for my persimmon leaf tea to arrive, contemplated the repeating turquoise pattern above my head that was reminiscent of a Buddhist temple ceiling.

The tea leaves came in a simple, white ceramic infuser set in a matching cup. In contrast, the hot water came in a tall stainless steel vacuum jug with a black rubberized handle. As good as the tea was, this jug stayed at the back of my mind long after my cup was empty. A little research revealed that it was made by Danish company Eva Solo and apparently “designed by Tools.” Self-deprecating they may be, but they make one sexy jug.


Vacuum jug designed by Tools for Eva Solo

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Filed under: Design, Food, New York, ,

Comparing newspaper front pages

The Newseum web site shows front pages from daily newspapers every single day. As such, it showcases a wide range of design choices, from typography to spread layout to use of color in graphics and photos, as well as editorial choices pertaining to content.

For instance, here is today’s front page of a paper from President-Elect Obama’s state. And here’s one from McCain’s state, Arizona.

The Arizona Daily Star went with a bright red graphic and oversized headline about diet disasters above the banner that instantly draws the eye. A Veterans Day story follows directly below the banner, but the dominating element on the front page is a large color photo of Bush and Obama conversing in the Oval Office. The editorial choice to insert the word ‘Friendly’ in quotes in the story’s headline amused me, but I think it says more about the headline editor than either of the men in the photo.

The photo in the Arizona Daily Star is nothing, however, compared to the nearly 2/3-page inexplicably high-contrast image on the front page of the Chicago Tribune. Who appears to be leading whom on this White House tour? No “Double Chin Takeout” headline distracts from the main story, although the newspaper’s name in presidential blue Blackletter type hovers over the photo, surrounded in a white halo. Um…okay. Then there is an even smaller Veteran’s Day article on the Tribune front page than there is on the Daily Star’s, wedged at the bottom between the weather summary and a photo of “Elvis’ mystery woman.” I’ll give you one guess who the entire editorial staff voted for last Tuesday.

Compare your local paper to some others from other regions and see how they differ in presentation, scope of coverage, and visual emphasis. Then compare to your favorite online news source. Where do you get your daily news from most frequently? Why? If you only ponder these questions, that’s cool, but I’d love to see your opinions in the comments.

Filed under: Design, Reflection, , ,

Simplicity by Design

Lately, I have been looking at web sites that appeal through the simplicity of their interfaces.

Answering the simple question: Do I need an umbrella today?
http://umbrellatoday.com/

The site promises simplicity, and it delivers. The only whistle to go with its single bell is that it offers a text service to notify you on days you’ll need an umbrella. Unfortunately, it can’t text you after you forget your umbrella in the bar after work.

To send and manage electronic invitations:
http://anyvite.com/home

Anyvite is definitely simpler to use than Evite. I was able to enter event details immediately (as opposed to wading through 500+ cheesy greeting card templates), and Anyvite imported my address book contacts seamlessly. One strange thing I noticed was this message, located at the bottom of the e-mail invitation I sent out, in light gray text on a white background (as though it were hiding from me, the little imp):

Note: Please do not forward this email. Doing so will give other people access to your Anyvite account.

Apparently, the recipient’s identity is included in the invitation’s View and RSVP links, so if Joe forwards the invitation to Schmoe, Anyvite updates Joe’s RSVP status if Schmoe clicks any of the e-mail’s links. Hrm. So instead, Joe needs to paste a special forwarding-friendly URL into a separate e-mail to his friends. The trade-off to this inconvenience is that the original recipients don’t need to register with the service in order to RSVP to the invitation. They just click the big ol’ YES or NO buttons in their e-mail, add an optional comment, and they’re done. Not totally effortless, but pretty close.

Remember the days when we had to handwrite invitations, wedge them into teeny, oddly shaped envelopes, address them individually, lick gross-tasting stamps and envelope edges, and physically mail them? And our guests had to go through a similar rigamarole to respond? That party had to be good to justify all the effort.

Filed under: Design, , , , ,

Dot Day

I spent a large part of today making compositions out of dots. Above is a digital reproduction of one of my creations for a studio course at NYU called 2D Design Principles. The course covers the basic principles of two-dimensional design as a foundation for future work in graphic and product design. Today we learned about fundamentals such as points, lines, shapes, visual relationships and symmetry, capped off with a bit about color theory. One of the exercises asked us to create compositions, using blank sheets of white paper and black and orange dot stickers, ranging from formal to informal and from symmetrical to asymmetrical. I already understood the difference between symmetrical and asymmetrical, but the terms formal and informal were new to me. The instructor didn’t exactly spell out the difference between the terms, but from the analysis of examples he showed us, I got the sense that a composition with a high degree of regularity (e.g. evenly spaced elements, regular angles, and repetitive patterns) can be characterized as formal, while a composition with unevenly spaced elements, irregular angles, and few discernable patterns can be characterized as informal. Our challenge during the exercise was to use visual relationships among the elements on the page to create balanced compositions. You can judge for yourself whether I succeeded, but at the very least, I had an enjoyable and even theraputic experience. Given the ongoing insanity of the financial markets, a dedicated dot day was just what I needed.

Filed under: Design, Education, , , , ,

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