prepare for gaper delay this spring

Jun Aizaki of Brooklyn-based Crème Design Collective has designed all of Jose Garces’s Philadelphia restaurants (see past tours of Distrito and Tinto). That’s saying a lot since Garces, at last count, is up to seven restaurants plus one in the works. The two have collaborated on a new, mobile venture: a taco truck called Guapos Tacos they first began brainstorming while in Mexico City.

The patchwork of hexagons covering the truck is actually 45,000 beer-bottle caps collected by the staffs in Garces’ restaurants and in bars in the designer’s (above, left) Brooklyn neighborhood. Pretty amazing.

Crème was in Metropolis Magazine last May for Aizaki’s work on Garces Trading Company. I can only imagine different solutions are required when designing a food truck as opposed to designing a brick-and-mortar restaurant. If the primary goal is for people to see it coming, Aizaki succeeded. He managed to create a high-visibility vehicle without resorting to obnoxiousness. Aizaki has definitely elevated the food-truck game. This bottle-cap scheme is much more rigorous and clever than your standard flashy/cutesy paint job.

Guapos Tacos won’t start roaming the city for a few months, but the truck already has 783 followers on Twitter. This isn’t so surprising considering the food will be by an Iron Chef and the truck is as sophisticated and eye-catching as Aizaki’s restaurant designs.

[photos by Michael Persico]

what I learned last night

[click on image for a larger version]

Last night I went to hear Tom Szaky, the first lecturer in the University of the Arts’ nifty new series, Periodic Lectures on Design, and I learned many new things, including:

• Trenton-based TerraCycle is the only company with a license from Coke and Pepsi to package poop in those companies’ 20 oz. bottles.
• Szaky filled the first 100 bottles of the worm-poop plant food that got TerraCycle off the ground from his Princeton dorm room, using funnels to guide the, er, matter and hairdryers to heat-seal the labels.
• Juice pouches are indestructible, which is why they can’t be recycled. Quilt them together and they create a nifty fabric. TerraCycle also breaks down the pouches and uses their base elements to make pavers, and they’re developing a line of rolling luggage made from juice pouches that will debut at Wal-Mart in six months.
• Everything on its own is recyclable. So, a garbage can full of yogurt cups, candy wrappers, toothpaste tubes, and juice pouches is not recyclable. Separate the different waste streams and they’re all recyclable on their own. Check out the 36 different wastestreams TerraCycle collects (and will help you collect) in the U.S.
• It’s possible to wear jeans, a t-shirt, sweatshirt, and a John Deere cap and still come off as totally brilliant. (Darn kids upending the social order.)

Next up in the series is Susan Szenasy, Editor-in-Chief of Metropolis magazine. Reserve your spot for the March 1 lecture—it’s free, but seating is limited!

NYIGF favorites

The baby books always warn against overstimulating your wee one. Go to a trade show and you’ll understand what “overstimulated” really means. Of course, that over-caffeinated feeling and sore feet are a price worth paying for a few football fields’ worth of innovation and inspiration. Here’s a posts about some of my favorites from this winter’s New York International Gift Fair (Jan. 29-Feb. 3):

• Alexandra von Furstenberg’s glowy Fearless Neon Trays bring me back to the ’80s, in the best possible way.

• Jansen + Co’s tactile and confounding (without a pot in the picture, it’s hard to tell what it is) Rose Trivet is a pleasure to touch.

• Shine Labs’s Baroque and Rose Felt Panels are lovely, temporary decorative pieces.

• Chen Chen’s gorgeous, oozy, dynamic Swell Vases in the American Design Club‘s amazing booth.

• Pirouette, a desk or counter catch-all, by Frederic Gooris for Alessi, is playful, pretty and clever. (She’s got it all).

• Fioretto, a knife sharpener that looks like a calla lily when stored, by LPWK-Gabriele Chiave for Alessi, is a genius way to mask a utilitarian object and is a pleasing study in contrasts — what a delicate disguise for an ominous tool.

• Rocket XL from the Casa Collection by Dutch design firm, Kidsonroof, from Hip from Holland. Color and decorate it however you like; then use it as a fort. What more could you want? It’s also sustainable and temporary, i.e. no worries if little hands destroy it.

• Merge Cup with Saucer (porcelain/Black Walnut/stainless steel) by Mergecup stayed with me and stayed with me. I think it’s the juxtaposition of the rustic materials with the pure, white porcelain.

Of course, I couldn’t resist a swing through the new Baby and Kids division, where I believe I found the socks (Blindmice socks) to solve our Sock Problem (all are either too tight or too loose). And I spent waaaay too much time at the Kid-O and Geared for Imagination booths. These talented folks make thoughtful toys to encourage openended play.

[Rose Trivet photo from Wabnitz Editions; Pirouette and Fioretto photos by Nicole Marnati, courtesy of Alessi; Mergecup photo from Mergecup’s blog b/c the photo I snapped at the show came out blurry.]

she wants to wrap Rocky

Jessie Hemmons is a great name for a notorious guerrilla knitter, don’t you think? It sounds pretty bad-ass. Hemmons is a psychology grad student who, in her spare time, knits vivid cozies for the decidedly uncozy. She says she looks for forms in the urban environment, such as bike racks and lightpoles, that are commonly overlooked. (I love the idea of turning people’s attention to these neglected, functional ugly ducklings.) Then she measures the object she’s decided to wrap and gets those knitting needles going. I first came across Hemmons during DesignPhiladelphia, when Minima commissioned a wrap for the tree in front of its gallery.

Yarnbomb at Minima.

I thought this yarn bomb was beautifully in keeping with DesignPhiladelphia’s modus operandi to plop design on the plates of unsuspecting passersby. There was no missing this granny-chic, patchworked tree in an urban landscape of greys, browns, reds, black and white. Hemmons’s fluorescents are the perfect palette for Philadelphia—they really pop against red brick, no?

In the product design universe, the umbrella is a great parallel to this notion of overlooked urban objects, so it’s fitting Hemmons recently designed an umbrella shrug for HAHA Magazine’s Dutch Umbrella Project.

In the interest of getting to know more about this shadowy figure, I subjected Hemmons to a design-phan Q&A:

DP: Slipstitch, midnight knitter, yarnbomber—what do we call you?
JH: Well, most yarn bombers have nicknames that somehow relate to knitting, so Slipstitch is the one I gave to myself. But I guess I would also be called a yarn bomber.

DP: You told 215 magazine, “I couldn’t stand my walk to work, that’s the main reason I wanted to do it.” From where to where was your walk, and how did you go from thinking about it to actually doing it?
JH: I am in Center City a lot, especially up and down Market St., which is full of corporate buildings and it can be just a bleghh environment with little color. Beyond that, I just have this itch to messy up the status quo, and take advantage of opportunities to do so. My first yarn bomb was on Market St. between 15th and 16th, and it was a piece for a bike rack.

DP: How do you decide on a site?
JH: I decide on a site by the practicality of the project. I have to pick objects that will essentially hold the knitting up. For example, if I knitted a street pole, the knit would fall and scrunch up at the bottom whenever it rained. So I look for some way to tie the knit to the object.

Yarnbomb at Rittenhouse Square.

DP: How do you decide what form you want the design to take (i.e. a hoodie, a flower)?
JH: I usually just do whatever I am in the mood for. If I happen to be into knitting a lot of flowers, I will probably have a bunch of knitted flower yarn bombs. However, when I yarn bomb I take color into consideration a lot. I don’t like to use muted colors, so I generally stick to neon.

DP: Do you consider your yarnbombs to be art or craft or design (or some combination of these)—and why?
JH: I guess I would consider it art. To be craft to me means that the object tends to be functional, and I don’t see that in yarnbombs. I’ve never really considered it to be design before, but i could see in some aspects how that could be, except yarnbombs are generally temporary. So deductively I would consider it art.

DP: You went from under- to aboveground when two galleries—Jolie Laide and Minima—commissioned your work this fall. Was there anything about the process that differed with the commissioned works? Did you collaborate with the gallery owners on the design?
JH: Yes, when I did pieces for the galleries it meant that I had to work with the material in the space that I was given. I collaborated with the galleries mainly in regards to space, then I was left with the freedom to do what I wanted to do.

Yarnbomb at Jolie Laide.

DP: Are there other yarnbombers in Philly, and if so, do you compare notes?
JH: Yes, there are other yarn bombers in Philly, that I think have sprung up around the city lately. I actually tend to work by myself, but I have collaborated on different projects with local knitters. I would love to work with people, but I have difficulty with time management. I tend to be pretty impulsive with my yarnbombing.

DP: You’ve wrapped light poles and you’ve said you want to wrap an abandoned house. Have you made any steps toward the house goal? And what else are you itching to wrap?
JH: Yes, I would love to knit an abandoned house. I have been looking for grants to afford me the opportunity to complete that project. I would love to work with a local youth organization to help me knit the pieces that would cover the house. My goal is to really branch out of Center City and start moving into lower income neighborhoods and really just knit around the grass lots that children play in, knit objects on playgrounds, knit around social service buildings, and also knit on crumbling infrastructure. In Center City…. maybe the Rocky statue.

Really, he's asking for it.

DP: What projects/bombings do you have in the works?
JH: I am working on a pretty big project that might not be done until the springtime.. I like to keep it a surprise, because that’s part of the appeal to yarnbombing. But.. it will be in Chinatown. Also, I am working on a piece for URBN, down in the navy yard.

DP: What are the pros/cons to being a designer/artist/creative person in Philadelphia?
JH: I think the tough thing about Philly is that people get over things so quickly. One minute everyone likes your work, and the next minute it’s too “mainstream”. But I think the pros about working in Philly is that the city really gives artists the opportunity to be noticed. Many galleries feature Philadelphia artists, and the city is small enough that public art can be noticed and you can sort of “brand” yourself on the street.

You can find out more about Hemmons at her website,

[all photos except Rocky are courtesy of Hemmons]

my favorite funky santa

An oldie but goodie by Philadelphia’s KLIP Collective:

TreeWax video installation from klipcollective on Vimeo.

Happy Christmas Day!

UO article update + how many new products do we really need?

Last May I wrote an article for the Inquirer about a group of Industrial Design students at Philadelphia University who worked for a semester with buyers at Urban Outfitters to produce designs for the company’s “Apartment” category. It was the fifth year of Course 202, a sophomore studio conceived by former Phila U prof and designer, Josh Owen, who’s now at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The challenge for the students (quoting myself here) “… was about understanding the demographics the company targets (predominantly women in college or in their first apartment who use housewares as a means to showcase their individuality), and the subcategories of those types (the feminine girl, the bohemian girl, the dude), plus working within three specific themes the Home team had already hatched for the Holiday 2010 collection.”

Now that it’s Holiday 2010, I checked in with UO Senior Designer, Jennifer Gibbs, to see what had happened. At the end of the semester, Kristen Mathas’s “My ‘Stache Flask” was the big winner but the company was also considering 16 more student designs to produce and sell. In the end only the flask and two more designs, the DIY Gnome and the Humping Bears salt and pepper shakers, moved forward. The Gnome is an online-only product and has, unfortunately, already been marked down. The Flask and Humping Bears are still going through the production process.

In past semesters, students have collaborated with Wilsonart Laminate and Kikkerland. These are the “winning” designs from those partnerships:

The Armadillo Chair (Wilsonart Laminate) by Aodh O’Donnell (cool, right?)

The Gas Can Money Bank (Kikkerland) by Brendan Feucht (very clever, yes?)

While reporting the piece I had an interesting conversation with Laura Kellner at Kikkerland about what it takes for that company to contract with a designer. Kikkerland manufactures mostly in China and Taiwan and the economics of that process factors as much into the company’s decision to green light a design as the object’s overall appeal.

“The students have a very romantic idea of what it’s like to become a product designer,” she told me. “They come up with big ideas but to hone it into a product that can be a mass-produced and sold at the right price is a lot more complex.” On top of fitting into Kikkerland’s line, the design has to be able to be made at a factory for $1-$2 in order for Kikkerland to sell it for $20, their average retail price.

Designers who work with Kikkerland learn to “simplify, simplify, simplify” in order to facilitate mass-production. The other challenge? Kikkerland’s top buyer is Bed, Bath & Beyond, but MOMA’s museum shop is also a customer. Try and come up with a product that’s going to appeal to both audiences and is simple enough to be cost-effective when mass-produced—that’s no easy task.

I couldn’t help but compare it to the process of pitching and getting articles published. Writers also have to study their outlet’s audience and pitch with the publication’s tone and mix in mind. As in design, the competition is toughest at the highest profile publications. And the article inevitably goes through rewrites until its voice and substance is correct for that magazine/website/newspaper.

I also couldn’t help but think of the main difference between writers’ and designers’ output and subsequent responsibilities: I place a high value on words, but in most cases they don’t cause irreperable harm (and obviously there are exceptions, for example in health writing). On the other hand, each product greenlighted for production results in a certain amount of waste and pollution from the manufacturing process. I think about this every week when I’m choosing pieces for my weekly Inquirer home and design roundup. Are all of these things really necessary? It’s a tough question for consumers and designers alike, and goodness knows I’m both an enthusiastic consumer and someone who prioritizes creative expression.

Anyway, something to ponder on this Christmas Eve (or you can wait until the eggnog and sugar highs have worn off). Merry, merry, and thanks for reading! Here’s to good design in 2011.

drool-worthy: Tsé and Tsé’s hungry bowls

I usually don’t objectify objects for objectification’s sake but I’m feeling the need to add these Capacious Hungry Bowls in Gold by Parisian designers Tsé and Tsé to the gift guide.

There’s something so appealing about the mixture of minimal and glam— and, despite the “Hungry Bowls” moniker, that liquid-gold glaze telegraphs thirst. Thirst quenched. Order them from Philadelphia-based online boutique HORNE, whose owners have excellent taste. They can still be ordered in time to arrive for Christmas.

{local spaces} meditate on this

You know the spread O Magazine used to feature of a beautiful landscape meant to act as a palate cleanser, i.e. you meditate on the restful image to rest your mind? I think it was called Breathing Room or something. … Well, as much as I appreciate a serene, mist-covered lake, I find it more effective to meditate on a beautiful interior.

Like this one, for example — Eileen Tognini‘s space at 2424 Studios in Fishtown. Eileen curates site-specific installations a few times a year at 2424’s Skybox Gallery. In the more intimate environs of her studio, she continues the dialogue with smaller scale works by the artist who created the installation. The space acts as a gallery, quasi living-room, and office. The top photo shows what’s up right now, Aurora Robson’s “Be Like Water.” The bottom photo was taken during during a David Meyer show. (And here’s what the space looked like before Eileen moved in.)

Eileen is the queen of vignettes and also of collaboration. Some details on the pieces in the picture:
• Two chandeliers by Michael Biello. Eileen commissioned them to be asymmetrical.
• Table by Anthony Angelicola, made from reclaimed pallets— another asymmetrical piece to correspond with the chandeliers. The table pulls apart into two smaller tables whose ragged edges fit together like puzzle pieces.
• Tabletop sculptures (top photo: candleholder and to-go cup) by Greg Nangle.
• Hanging sculpture (top photo) by Robson, whose materials are plastic bottles and rivets.

Robson’s exhibition has been extended, so you can see check out the rest of Tognini’s studio plus the artist’s work through mid-January.

mornin’, social media

Calling Philadelphia design fans: design-phan now has a page on Facebook, so if you like the blog, please go ahead and “like” the Facebook page. It’ll provide you with lots of little supplementary posts in between the bigger blog posts.

This photo is by Chris Jackson for Getty Images and accompanies an article on how Facebook is infantilizing the 21st-century mind. I can’t promise design-phan’s FB page won’t contribute to that, but I’ll try my best not to exacerbate the brain rot.

art and design make our holidays happy

So consider donating money, time, or resources this holiday season to keep these local art and design-focused non-profit organizations happy and thriving:

Collab—Support the work of a group of design professionals who, among other things, bring international designers (like Zaha Hadid, Alberto Alessi, and Marcel Wanders) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and who oversee the acquisition of objects for the museum’s modern design collection.
Community Design Collaborative—Designers providing pro-bono preliminary services to nonprofits.
DesignPhiladelphia—Annual design festival that’s helping put Philadelphia on the map as a design destination in addition to catalyzing the city’s design industry.
Fresh Artists— The genius NPO that “sells” repros of schoolkids’ artwork to individuals and companies and funnels the money back into under-resourced art programs in public schools.
Inliquid Art + Design—Inliquid is a hub, and much much more, for Philadelphia’s visual artists and designers.
The Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia—Help preserve the visual record of our region’s past, because it informs and influences its future.

• Of course, another way to show support is to buy from local designers and local shops (above, Bario-Neal‘s Angled Knottedrush Black Necklace, $188)

Anything to add?