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Why America is fucked SLYT.
January 19, 2012 10:06 PM   Subscribe

Why America is fucked SLYT.
posted by Meatbomb (94 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
that was great.
posted by facetious at 10:10 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that guy.
posted by ericost at 10:11 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


previously
posted by facetious at 10:11 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


So we've found the Michael Moore of typography.
posted by bicyclefish at 10:12 PM on January 19, 2012 [25 favorites]


Oddly enough, his message kinda grew on me. No high-flouting architecture here. Down to earth, real world relation of his down to earth, real world experience.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:13 PM on January 19, 2012


I like him.
posted by The Whelk at 10:14 PM on January 19, 2012


quite the jaunty cap there.
posted by leotrotsky at 10:15 PM on January 19, 2012


[Posted in 2008, but the old links to this video no longer work, so I think we can give this a pass as a double...]
posted by taz at 10:18 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Draplin is one hell of a dude. Real guy. Real human. 100 percent.
posted by gcbv at 10:23 PM on January 19, 2012


Yeah the guy's style is accessible and down-to-earth.

But don't dismiss "high-flouting architecture". There can be a lot of bullshit in the design-speak popular with a lot of architects, planners and designers - but there is a reason for the kind of precise, academic, pretentious sounding language. You have to be able to articulate *why* Blippo Bold is shitty - or rather, inappropriate for this application.

It's one thing to recognize shit - it's another entirely to be able to identify, articulate and communicate what makes it shit. Unfortunately, architects are frequently talking to other architects, and they come of to the layman as snobbish, pretentious twats.

The good news is that there are many places in America that recognize the value in cool, accessible, funky (er, I mean "idiosyncratic *cough*), fun design. But we have to continue to fight the good fight, and don't let crap happen. It starts with caring.
posted by Xoebe at 10:25 PM on January 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


The problem is that that kid who did that design wasn't a good designer. But if you're not a good designer then you can't make good design no matter how hard you try

Good designers are probably not going to stay in podunk nowhere. So what we need are tools that let people come up with good designs 'by default'.

Think back to the 90s. Everyone had a shitty web page, because everyone was writing their own HTML or using frontpage or something. Now, if people have a web page (that they can control the design of (i.e. not facebook or google+) it's probably a tumbler or wordpress blog where they're using a standard template. Most of those templates look good. If people want an ugly one, then they have to do the work of manually editing HTML and CSS until their page is ugly

So yeah, if you want to see good design everywhere. Make good design easy and ugly design more work.
posted by delmoi at 10:27 PM on January 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


FUCK YOU! I'M EATING!
posted by not_on_display at 10:35 PM on January 19, 2012


The good news is that there are many places in America that recognize the value in cool, accessible, funky (er, I mean "idiosyncratic *cough*), fun design. But we have to continue to fight the good fight, and don't let crap happen. It starts with caring.

Somewhat blearily, I read your final sentence as "It starts with caning."

Like a Singapore-style approach to dealing with bad design. I liked that version of your sentence better.
posted by Ryvar at 10:41 PM on January 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


$15,000??!? I wonder how far that would have gone towards fixing the original fucking sign?
posted by Lazlo at 10:43 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


The problem is that that kid who did that design wasn't a good designer.

I agree with you about making good design easier, but there's a reason things are good and it's usually that they're a product of a good amount of thought. There's no software application that can take into account the particular context of this motel, the history behind it, the materials and the scale and all the rest of it that goes into making a good sign that's meaningful. It takes time and effort and that costs money.

This particular sign is the product of several things, but one of the major ones is that it looks like it's a product of decline. The original sign was likely commissioned when that motel was a much bigger concern on that boulevard. I could be wrong, but the context seems entirely different now than it was then.

I'm a planner working in the public sector, and one of my myriad jobs is processing and reviewing sign applications. Having gone to a design school I'm pretty sensitive to good design. Wanna have a guess at how much say I have in that? Yeah that's right. Wanna know how much policy we have in controlling sign design and aesthetics beyond dimension and backlighting? Yeah that's right. Wanna know how much the average Councilor cares about sign design itself? Yeah that's right.

There's a whole argument about permanence and valuing our built environment and so on that can go on for days, but increasingly the building design standard in North America has steadily declined in the last 50-60 years. Things like this highlight it. It's everywhere - it's not just signs. The average new-build single family house is a fucking affront to everything holy in architecture. If we want better design, we must demand it at every step and be ruthlessly snobbish in the approach.
posted by jimmythefish at 10:44 PM on January 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


Aaron Draplin is a beast and I am so glad he's out there.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 10:44 PM on January 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


By the way; it is a problem with Sedalia. I grew up about seven miles from there and signs that look like that replacement were all the rage when I was last there a few years ago.
posted by DaddyNewt at 10:48 PM on January 19, 2012


I see those exact type of signs (like the replacement sign) everywhere, and they are just horrible. The shitty coloring, the gradients, the cheap-ass fonts. It's always the little mom and pop fast food joints that go for them, and I will never eat at any place that has a sign like that. Not out of principal, but because they are revolting enough to kill all appetite. They're the signage equivalent of comic sans.
posted by anazgnos at 10:53 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I worked in a shop that had a big Mutoh inkjet to produce large signs and oh the crap they turned out. They had pro designers who knew better, but it always came down to the money. The clients always wanted to put more money into the sheer size of the signage, rather than the design. Design work seems intangible compared to square footage.

It's like my painting teacher once said, "If you can't make it good, make it big. And if you can't make it big, make it red."

Anyway, I think in part, it's this sort of tool like the big Mutoh inkjets that cause this work. It used to be nearly impossible to make large signage unless you wanted to cut sheet metal and wire up light bulbs and neon. That was a trade full of pros. Maybe the design wasn't even that good, but they were good at it. Now any idiot can hit a button and a Mutoh will crank out a full color sign on a sheet of plexiglass that fits into a pre-manufactured, standardized light box full of fluorescent tubes, and hire some contractor to nail it to building.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:07 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


But if you're not a good designer then you can't make good design no matter how hard you try

If you're not fundamentally passionate about X, you'll never be good at X no matter how hard you try. FTFY. I was just looking at my deviantArt account the other day while trying to find something. I remember being proud of that stuff. I remember my friends being proud of that stuff. Holy heck. I wouldn't even show it to be people to be funny now.

On the other hand, I know of two people who are smart and have a great eye for design, but it is not their calling. Creative is evolutionary, but some plateau. Seeing them struggle in the industry (inability to hold down jobs, pick up related skills) makes me wonder how many other people are not living up to their potential and how we can improve the ways people can find their niche so that we can all live happier and more productive lives.

Also because of the economy, people who are not designers are having to play them.

Make good design easy and ugly design more work.

Good design is not something you can make "accessible". There's an overwhelming abundance of mediocrity because the software and the learning tools are more accessible than ever before. Coupled with the idea that better software makes better design is half of why our eyes bleed so much on a daily basis.
posted by june made him a gemini at 11:10 PM on January 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


If this is "why America is fucked", I imagine there's an emerging power out there somewhere where there's an Albert Speer meets Steve Jobs like figure, in power, keeping an eye on things and laying down building codes and signage regulations. Otherwise this has nothing to do with America. Newsflash: the whole world is being designed on Corel Draw now, with backlit vinyl signs and stupid fucking gradients.

But one man's trash is another man's treasure. After taking a shit on the $15,000 sign that's not up to his standards, he goes on to glorify the shitiest motorlodge I've ever seen. I imagine he feels it is, from his perspective, at least, real, with the shitty plastic keythings and the shitty drywall partitions and plastic shingles and whatnot. I bet this is the sort of guy who buys an $89 first aid kit, because the typography is Just Right.

Yes, the world is getting uglier because of the digital revolution. It's a nasty side effect of a great thing. I enjoy Helvetica and Futura Bold as much as the next guy, but people need to get used to the fact that given the choice between Futura and Comic Sans, most people choose the latter. That has ZERO to do with America.
posted by falameufilho at 11:20 PM on January 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cool thing to do would've been for the Russian owners to spend the $15,000 on refurbishing the original sign. They probably didn't understand the value of that little piece of classic American culture.
posted by rmmcclay at 11:23 PM on January 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


And yet, what do we call people who find the old stuff and see value in it? Who appreciate design for its own sake, who pursue things for a sense of authenticity that they offer?

Hipsters.
posted by fatbird at 11:38 PM on January 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The ugly new sign has, what, maybe six fluorescent tubes in it? And the old one had a bajillion incandescent bulbs. Which one's more efficient? Which one is going to cost less to maintain?

Leave the Blippo Bold sign up for fifty years and watch some future hipster moan about its exquisiteness when the new owner goes to take it down.

This is America. Our culture is permanently disposable, ugly, garish, loud, and soon forgotten. Bad design is encoded in our national DNA.

I say we roll with it. Let's cover everything in Naugahyde and everything else in ultra suede. Comic sans everywhere. A sad clown over every toilet, a PT Cruiser in every garage. Rotten drivet peeling off moldering McMansions sinking in stinking Florida swamps alongside dead brown golf courses. Home of the free and the tasteless. The whole motherfucking nation collapsing to a single crispy golden McNugget weeping ranch dressing on the ash-heap of history.

Blippo Bold. Fuck yeah. Let's go with that.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:07 AM on January 20, 2012 [46 favorites]


Metafilter: A single crispy golden McNugget weeping ranch dressing on the ash-heap of history.
posted by Hargrimm at 12:13 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's one thing to recognize shit - it's another entirely to be able to identify, articulate and communicate what makes it shit.

I disagree somewhat. Looking "like shit" is always in a context. Stuff that looks like shit might have looked great 5, 10, 20 years ago. There are certainly some principles involved with design, and they're not easy to apply and that's why not everyone can be a designer. I'm not trying to take away from designers here, I recognize they are often very talented and knowledgeable people. I just mean that a huge, huge part of design and type is knowing what's in fashion now, what's classic, and what's faddish and/or tacky. That doesn't require articulating anyting too complex necessarily.
posted by Hoopo at 12:29 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Blippo Bold. Fuck, yeah. Let's go with that.
posted by taz at 12:32 AM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've spent plenty of time on the road in America and I can tell you that most of the people doing likewise are looking for a clean and efficient motel, not a quirky trip down memory lane. So when I booked somewhere for the next night I just looked at the photos and picked the one that looked the newest. New hotel rooms tended to be clean hotel rooms, with working showers.

If I drove into a town looking for a place to stay I'd pick the newest sign and assume they'd also refurbed the rooms, or better yet were a new-build and hence had water-pressure included in the room rate.

So there are sound economic reasons to replace that sign. A lot of tired road-weary travellers picked according to the same criteria.

Note that this is no excuse for the new sign being total crap, that's a separate issue. I just think that most motels get more trade from people looking for clean and new than they do from people looking for historic.

Exceptions arise of course. I once stayed at this abomination of a sign (not my photo) purely because I liked the idea of HBO and the INTERNET being worthy of diety approval.
posted by samworm at 12:35 AM on January 20, 2012


One of my favorite restaurants is in Gilbert, Arizona. The small general market that was in the downtown for the better part of 50+ years finally closed up shop. Across from Joe's Real BBQ, which is in an historic brick building, in fact. Well, Joe went in with a few others to turn Liberty Market into a fabulous restaurant. They remodeled the inside, paid a designer to create a clean, modern-but-with-old-style logo, and they kept the original sign.

These guys are doing things right, and it really makes me happy to see that it's not just Blippos all the way down.
posted by disillusioned at 12:41 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


that guy sure cares a lot about this

i dont know that it is evidence of wide-ranging social decay though
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:44 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Which one is going to cost less to maintain?

There's almost certainly an LED bulb that can replace them, albeit at a higher upfront cost.
posted by dhartung at 1:04 AM on January 20, 2012


Those of us who are typographically sensitive recognize the hidden messages the design of such things tell us about the quality you may expect. Whether it's a hotel, or a restaurant, or a movie – or any number of products, services or experiences you encounter throughout your day. These details communicate a lot. Hell, I've used brand typography to determine what companies to invest in.
posted by quadog at 1:05 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I agree with you about making good design easier, but there's a reason things are good and it's usually that they're a product of a good amount of thought. There's no software application that can take into account the particular context of this motel, the history behind it, the materials and the scale and all the rest of it that goes into making a good sign that's meaningful. It takes time and effort and that costs money.
See, that's the problem: If you say you want good design, and then say good design costs money, you're essentially demanding people spend their own money to satiate your personal aesthetic preferences. Or at least spend a lot of time thinking about it. The reality is a lot of people just don't care about design, and aren't going to spend time or money on it.

To see what I mean about Tumbler, here's an example of one of their themes. If you want to use it, you just click a button. (I think some of the buttons are too bright and distracting but whatever) here's another. They actually have an 'app store' model where you can purchase pre-made themes that are higher quality, I guess. If the problem is people not putting thought into their stuff, then make it so a 'lack of thought' ends up with something nice by default.
By the way; it is a problem with Sedalia. I grew up about seven miles from there and signs that look like that replacement were all the rage when I was last there a few years ago.
Probably all by the same designer.
If you're not fundamentally passionate about X, you'll never be good at X no matter how hard you try. FTFY.
Someone with only one leg is never going to be a kickboxing champion, no matter how hard they try. Maybe they don't care, or maybe they just have a bad sense of style. It seems reasonable to imagine that, you know since some people can't spell, some can't do math, there are probably some who are just not going to be good designers. But if they live in a small town and know how to use illustrator, and they can make money working for the local sign shop, selling signs to other people who also don't have any taste, what do you expect them to do?

Also, I'm sure there were aesthetes complaining about all those - 50s style signs in the 50s, claiming they were all clichéd and lacked subtlety and bla bla bla.
posted by delmoi at 1:07 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


@quadog

maybe i don't understand the nature of typographic sensitivity but aren't some fonts very expensive

i would like to know if you think that is a factor in the utility of scrutinizing a business's typographical choices
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:12 AM on January 20, 2012


I bet this is the sort of guy who buys an $89 first aid kit,

Don't mock! Hipsters be needing the $89 first aid kit for when they do themselves an injury with their $300 axe!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:16 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fuckin' A.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:24 AM on January 20, 2012


Gaddam right!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:42 AM on January 20, 2012


Also, I'm sure there were aesthetes complaining about all those - 50s style signs in the 50s, claiming they were all clichéd and lacked subtlety and bla bla bla.

Perhaps. But the difference is, those aesthetes would have been wrong.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:44 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blippo Barf more like it....
posted by Skygazer at 1:59 AM on January 20, 2012


people need to get used to the fact that given the choice between Futura and Comic Sans, most people choose the latter. That has ZERO to do with America.

It has a lot to do with America. Comic Sans gets chosen because it is a shortcut, just like the replacement sign. And if there is anything America loves, it is cheap and easy shortcuts.

Thinking about it, the old sign was more or less a custom one-off, made in a time period when America manufactured things. It took time to make, and variants of it rust on strip mall highways across the country, but it was one of a kind.

The artist behind that sign had to understand how sheet metal would work and the possibilities with lighting and analog control options of the day. Incorporating that knowledge was deep, and the artist or artists had to sweat those details, or the end product would look and work terribly.

Nowadays, it's easy to put a standard X by Y backlit sign together with no thought. You sketch out what you want in PowerPoint or MS Paint, send it in an email, some prison laborers make it in China for the equivalent of nothing, and it gets shipped within a couple weeks. And, boom, everyone has X by Y backlit signs. Likewise, Comic Sans is easy to use anywhere, without much thought. It's a shortcut to communication. It gets used to communicate, because it doesn't say much of substance at all. It's lazy, but expectations are low, anyway. Why care? Who cares?

And this is America, now. Home of the careless, because caring is just too hard. So we get Comic Sans, overpriced junk signage, all the rest, whipped up by people who don't know what they are doing. Because it's all easy and no one cares.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:06 AM on January 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


I was with him until he disparaged 70s era Letraset.
posted by acheekymonkey at 3:35 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This dude needs to chill out. All they have to do is add one of these under the new sign and it'll be totally fixed.

...and by fixed I mean fucked.
posted by orme at 4:01 AM on January 20, 2012


I'm sorry, I believe he meant to say Expressa, not Blippo. The capital N and E are diagnostic.

Seriously, though, I can only get so enraged about this. The "tequila sunset" vibe of the new sign is true to a different aesthetic than the original "route 66" sign, and I think they're both kind of precious in different ways, and as others have said above, life and taste in america moves on. America is a jungle when it comes to commercial ecosystems; things grow quickly and roughly here, usually die young, sometimes are beautiful sometimes are ugly. The refined replacement Draplin would have come up for that motel with would have been replaced as quickly as the tequila sunset will be replaced because things go that way in America.

It's nice to appreciate the little things, but let's keep some perspective on how important or unimportant it is. This too shall pass. Do good work today; some of it will last. That's the best you can hope for.
posted by Pliskie at 4:01 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I bet this is the sort of guy who buys an $89 first aid kit, because the typography is Just Right.

To be fair, that first aid kit is in the "camp" category. You're paying for the entertainment value of a campy old-style kit.
posted by explosion at 4:13 AM on January 20, 2012


I feel exactly the same way about goatee + mo as he feels about Blippo Bold.
posted by dydecker at 4:29 AM on January 20, 2012


Aaah, thank you meatbomb.
posted by infini at 5:18 AM on January 20, 2012


The "tequila sunset" vibe of the new sign is true to a different aesthetic than the original "route 66" sign...

And only one of those aesthetics matches the motel, is his point.
posted by DU at 5:19 AM on January 20, 2012


A few years ago, I was asked to create a logo for a woman who worked for an organization. I'm not a designer, I had no experience designing anything, but I had demonstrated a rudimentary know-how of Photoshop, and I think she was were trying to get a design done on the cheap.

So I did the project more out of a sense of curiosity: what is a design job? Do I have the chops? I didn't think much about the money, I just wanted to pull off a good logo.

My "client" gave me an outline of what she wanted, and I got to work. It was a simple, simple logo, I think a few letters embedded in a circle, with a star or two somewhere in there. Took me two hours total to complete this thing. I was happy with it, and sent it off to my client, and she was happy with it, too. So she emailed me back, asking "How much do I owe you?"

I sort of freaked out. How much? I was broke, so I needed money, and I knew that she was pretty wealthy, but I didn't want to take advantage. On the other hand, I had the proverbial bull by the ring: why not get the going rate at the very least.

So I called a designer friend and explained my situation. "How much should I charge?" I asked.

"Eighty dollars an hour" was his immediate response. He didn't elaborate.

"Hmmm. That's pretty high."

"How many hours did you put in?" he asked.

"Two hours" I replied.

"Give her a little discount and charge her $150," he said.

I agreed. Hey, I did a pretty good job, right? I deserve $150 for that, right? I emailed her back, and asked for $100, and felt a little scummy even for that much. Did that guy really get $15,000 for that absurd sign? Really?
posted by zardoz at 5:25 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, it makes me so angry the lack of respect for these cultural pieces. On my train trip home a 70's building was demolished exposing an exquisite depression era foster's beer sign high on a wall of an old highrise. Few weeks later two fucking imbeciles names STAN and BONES had got to it with their fucking moronic vandalism. Lets paint STAN and BONES over this old sign - you know, to fuck shit up. Great work fuckheads. People list this should be dropped in the middle of Afghanistan with Bibles, porn and pop CDs and told to make a new home.
posted by mattoxic at 5:34 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Maybe we're not completely destroyed yet, They took this and repurposed it into this, which stayed true to the spirit if not to the letter of the original. It's still funky, just shinier.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 5:36 AM on January 20, 2012


Did that guy really get $15,000 for that absurd sign? Really?
I'm sure most of the money was for the physical sign and installation, and the display can probably be changed pretty easily.
posted by delmoi at 5:36 AM on January 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


It's like my painting teacher once said, "If you can't make it good, make it big. And if you can't make it big, make it red."

My art teacher said the same thing, with "Make it nude" tacked on.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:41 AM on January 20, 2012


Forty years from now, some guy in jeans and a flannel shirt is going to be moaning to anyone who'll listen to him on his public VR interface channel about how fucked things are because a hotel replaced their amazing vintage Blippo Bold alternating orange-yellow gradient *physical sign* -- an incredible artifact of a time when people cared! -- with a stupid virtual sign some fucking hack spent like three minutes coding up and geolinking and then had the gall to charge the yokel client something like 1200000 yuan for. I mean, Blippo Bold, a classic -- no one has the sense of history to use fonts like that anymore!
posted by aught at 5:52 AM on January 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The clients always wanted to put more money into the sheer size of the signage, rather than the design.

That's actually a pretty good metaphor for the real reason America is fucked.
posted by JaredSeth at 5:57 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Q: How many folksingers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Two. One to change the bulb, and one to write a song about how good the old one was.
posted by timsteil at 6:06 AM on January 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


I think most people here missed a subtle *whistle!* ...the new owners of the motel are... "a Russian family".

(That's a gorgeous first aid kit... whatever you want to say about the price)
posted by panaceanot at 6:22 AM on January 20, 2012


This is the sign painter I want to talk to tbh
posted by infini at 6:25 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess I've seen too many heartwarming documentaries, because as it unfolded, I was sure his story was going to end with "so I sat down with them and in two hours gave them a better design for free".
posted by hot soup girl at 6:30 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Q: How many folksingers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two. One to change the bulb, and one to write a song about how good the old one was.


The Old Bulbs (by Pete Seeger)

ah, the old bulbs were the best
they had that certain glow
why friend, they'd burn so sweetly
these folks today don't know
we'd pick guitars and sing old songs
beneath their amber light
these bulbs they make today, my friend
they're way too gosh darned bright

bulbs that lit the union halls
where men would sing their songs
about how we were brothers
we'd right the bosses wrongs!
the bulbs that lit the stages
of the Greenwich Village dives
where old black men showed white kids
how to play guitars with knives

so don't forget the old bulbs
they were the best, my friend
but now this little light bulb song
has reached its bulbous end
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:30 AM on January 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


And this is America, now. Home of the careless, because caring is just too hard. So we get Comic Sans, overpriced junk signage, all the rest, whipped up by people who don't know what they are doing. Because it's all easy and no one cares.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:06 AM on January 20 [2 favorites +] [!] No other comments.


TBH we get what we pay for.
posted by Sailormom at 6:39 AM on January 20, 2012


And this is America, now.

Eh, I don't think it's really any worse now than the 80's.
posted by smackfu at 6:59 AM on January 20, 2012


PeterMcDermott: "Hipsters be needing the $89 first aid kit for when they do themselves an injury with their $300 axe!"

That axe is primarily made for and sold to people who will never actually use an axe. Jesus fuck people, go to Home Depot or whatever and buy an Estwing long handled axe. Is it made from hickory? No. Will it last you your entire lifetime? Hell yes. Will it cost more than $50? No. Proudly made in Rockford IL, no designer markup included.

My dad had one of their little camp axes, the leather-handled ones. He had that thing forever. When I wanted a camp axe, guess what I bought? Same thing, unchanged in design or function since my dad bought his own over 30 years ago.

We tend to think of a classic as something old. But more correctly, we should think that a classic is classic because it needs no improvement.

And it isn't because I think old is always better, or that tasteful design isn't worth extra money - the guy in the FPP worked for Nixon (I have been sporting one of their watches for years!), he does design for Field Notes (I'm a fan / customer), there are many other companies on his resume featuring work I like and appreciate and have at times paid extra to obtain. But this shit gets out of hand fast if the designer isn't honest. I don't see much philosophical difference between charging $15k for a shitty sign vs. charging $300 for an axe. In each case thee customer is not getting what they paid for: They either paid way too much for shitty design, or got a tastefully designed product that should have cost 1/3rd of what they were charged*. (Hell, you could argue that the people who bought the sign probably got a better deal because they're going to actually use the thing for its intended purpose, not just as a conspicuous consumption showpiece to parade in front of their friends.)

Good designers should be rewarded for good work. But good designers should be honest enough not to vastly overcharge for no reason other than that people are fooled into thinking that high priced items are better.

*I'm not talking WalMart quality here either. You can buy a hand-forged 5 lb felling axe for ~ $80 online, made by an Austrian company that has been creating axes since the 1670's. If you really want a lathed curved hickory handle instead of ash, replacement axe handles are under $15.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:22 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Old Bulbs. . .

DA-yum!
 
posted by Herodios at 7:46 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


how fucked things are because a hotel replaced their amazing vintage Blippo Bold alternating orange-yellow gradient *physical sign* -- an incredible artifact of a time when people cared!

I think you are both right and wrong. Right in concept, but probably wrong on the facts.

We get an exaggerated sense of how awesome the past was because there's non-random selection going on. Stuff that's built to last, lasts. Stuff that isn't, doesn't. So of course the artifacts from the past are going to be pretty good. That's why we have them. The other 90% has disappeared.

When things are replaced, they are replaced with something from today, obviously. That something may be from the 10% that's non-crap but by the numbers that's unlikely. (This also explains why remakes are usually terrible but why once in a while you get a terrible original followed by a good remake.)

So you are right in concept that people of the future will find stuff from today and say "wow, they really knew how to make stuff back then!" but I think you are likely wrong that they will say that about that particular sign.
posted by DU at 7:54 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


the guy in the FPP worked for Nixon

No wonder he was ousted, he had a 1 year old for an adviser!
posted by DU at 7:57 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


So here I am, in Los Angeles, living near this major thoroughfare that has tons of single-story retail spaces, all squeezed up against each other. Each one is a different color, and in disrepair; each one has different signage, and it is ugly and falling apart, and so the net effect is that a person's mind just skips over them as they drive by, and as they walk by (yes, in LA) the knee-jerk response is "eh, stores look like crap, nothing to see here." I've lived in this area for nearly a decade, and always lamented the condition of things on this strip, thinking that surely there was a better use for the space. For instance, vintage furniture stores and art galleries.

I followed a friend's lead recently, and we walked along the strip, and she said "let's go in here" to a store that had a chair out front. And it was a vintage furniture store! I had no idea. A decent one. Then we walked a few doors down, and there was another, and so on, and within a block we had essentially discovered that 1/3 of the shops was the kind of retail space I had so desperately wished was present. Right there, and I didn't even know it!

She and I talked about this, and realized that it was all about the signage; if the store owners collectively took a weekend to tear down their own signage, paint the front of each shop a uniform dark color (or at least from the same palette), and painted NAME OF SHOP over each in thick white square letters, the entire strip would grab the kind of attention these stores deserve. Easy-peasy, inexpensive, and effective.

At the end of the day, I personally think there's a lack of education for the small retail owner, a lack of understanding that a good product line plus good pricing isn't enough, and even a good location isn't enough, if collectively you and your neighbors are putting out an image of disheveled, about-to-close retail failure. That the condition and consistency of your retail frontage is a key part of making people want to give you money.

In Chicago's germanic neighborhoods, they used to take care of that; every morning at a certain time, all the store owners would come out and sweep the space in front of their stores, into the street, and then a cleaner they all paid for (pennies to each!) would clear away the sweepings in the street. Little things make a big difference, and I think here in LA (as in other parts of the country) retail owners would find themselves a lot better off if they just got with their neighbors and tried to have a neighborhood, instead of these little isolated spaces of their own. And signage -- consistency, and care with design -- is a big part of that.
posted by davejay at 8:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Delmoi: "So yeah, if you want to see good design everywhere. Make good design easy and ugly design more work."

Isn't this what we've done, though? Now that you've forced the connection in my head between modern architecture and WordPress (whether you meant to or not), all I can see when I picture my city's new downtown condo forest is, like, the default WordPress theme.

I'd rather we learn how to embrace everyone's unique shittinesses again rather than make more defaults. I'm sick of defaults.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 8:13 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The sorry state of modern signage is partially our fault, as netizens, web-surfers, web designers, network engineers, IT people, programmers and what-have-you.

There was once a time when a weary traveler might cruise down a local strip full of hotels, expecting to glean actual information (vacancy/no vacancy, color TV, etc) from the signs displayed there. In that environment, a big, bright, fanciful sign is obviously a competitive edge for a hotel, like a peacock's plumage. In that environment, a great sign that cost a fortune to design, build, operate and maintain was probably worth that fortune.

Now we choose our hotels over the web, and we get a glimpse of the rooms themselves when we're miles and miles away from the signs. The signs are just place-markers, nothing like plumage. The orange box shown here doesn't even seem to have a "vacancy" light. It's not just ugly, it's actually less functional, because the function has been superceded.

The same environmental changes, the same forces, obviously apply to more than hotels. And even before the rise of the web, falling long-distance-telephone rates surely had similar, if less powerful effects.

There's a Flickr pool I follow called Great Signs - not, I'd like to point out, "Old Signs." But they are almost entirely old.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:27 AM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


why the fuck does a sign matter? /antidesign
posted by mrgrimm at 8:42 AM on January 20, 2012


they come of to the layman as snobbish, pretentious twats

There are times that architects come off as snobbish and twat-like because of jargon. The rest of the time, it has more to do with god-like self-obsession, an overemphasis on trends and platitudes (the next time I hear someone talk about their project's DNA, they better be a biologist), and disregard for the community and surroundings of their pièces de resistancé.

There are, of course, architects who are considerate and thoughtful, and who immerse themselves in the context of the projects they work on. I'm guessing the jerks and critics who sound like they spend their spare time drinking at airport bars with Tom Friedman just get more airtime.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 8:46 AM on January 20, 2012


DU: Stuff that's built to last, lasts. Stuff that isn't, doesn't. So of course the artifacts from the past are going to be pretty good. That's why we have them. The other 90% has disappeared.
Sturgeon's Law, yes, perfect. It seems to me that even in places where the design and culture of neon-style signs is considered an important part of the character of the place - Times Square, Las Vegas - most of the signs are blah, forgettable labels and billboards. The great ones are cherished, the forgettable ones are rapidly replaced by other things which are mostly also forgettable.
posted by Western Infidels at 8:50 AM on January 20, 2012


The reality is a lot of people just don't care about design, and aren't going to spend time or money on it.

A lot of people care about design a good deal more than they realize. Design has an effect on people whether they're conscious of it or not. Listening to people who are hyper-conscious of it can be off-putting though, no question.
posted by Hoopo at 9:12 AM on January 20, 2012


the original "route 66" sign

To me, that sign says, "Old crappy run-down hotel. You don't want to stay here."

The new one is uglier, but would be more likely to make me consider staying at their hotel.
posted by straight at 9:43 AM on January 20, 2012


In the 70's, all of the 50's era architecture was looked upon as prefab garbage and no one would have sniffed a tear at the loss of that sign. They were too busy decrying the loss of Art Nouveau, Victorian houses and Craftsman furniture.
posted by doctor_negative at 9:55 AM on January 20, 2012


Bulbs, you say?

He produces a wizard's tool known as the Street Darkener, and, with a practiced angling of the arm, begins to siphon away the clarity made from mankind's bulbs. Magical deeds are afoot, dear readers, magical darkness a must.
posted by Green With You at 11:04 AM on January 20, 2012


*I'm not talking WalMart quality here either. You can buy a hand-forged 5 lb felling axe for ~ $80 online..

Yeah, people argue about form over function endlessly, but the details of the axe have been pretty much worked out over the millennia. There is nowhere to go but down.

In my local Occupy Wall Street camp, one of the Occupants excitedly told everyone he had just bought a hatchet, he always wanted one. I asked if I could borrow it so I could bash out some tent stakes from some spare lumber, and I'd sharpen it before returning it. It was an $8 hatchet from Wal Mart, made in China from the worst steel I'd ever seen on a cutting implement. It was actually incapable of cutting into wood, I could only bash chunks out of it. I gave up on the tent stakes. The blade rapidly became blunted by chopping on wood. So I got out my whetstone, I sharpened it for about 20 minutes and it was incapable of holding an edge. It is a sad hatchet whose blunt end is more useful than the sharp end.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:12 AM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where is Anton Chigurh when you need him?
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:25 AM on January 20, 2012


The solution, as the Singularitarians would believe it, is to embrace the machine. I agree: everyone learn LaTeX and use Computer Modern, problem solved.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:37 AM on January 20, 2012


That axe is primarily made for and sold to people who will never actually use an axe.

The axe thing stood out because I was recently looking at reviews of Gransfors Bruks axes -- certainly one of the contenders for the best axe in the world.

Each one is signed by the blacksmith who forged it in Sweden. I don't think any of them costs more than $100
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:40 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I get what he's saying, but he's also the one who bought the old sign, turned up with a station wagon to haul it, cut the old sign into pieces, and kept what looks like about one quarter of it, probably to hang in his loft, and chucked the rest away.

I suppose that's more than nothing, but also less than he might have done.
posted by Rumple at 1:04 PM on January 20, 2012


why the fuck does a sign matter?

IT'S A SIGN!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:41 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


The axe thing stood out because I was recently looking at reviews of Gransfors Bruks axes -- certainly one of the contenders for the best axe in the world.


Man, what is going on with all the axe-talk on the blue these days, it's like every thread turns into a discussion about axes. All of a sudden everyone's got a major jones on for a good axe? WTF with the axes people. Has Metafilter reached the axe-era?? Just buy the Goddamn SWEDISH AXE ALREADY AND SHAD UP ABOUT AXES!!
posted by Skygazer at 5:48 PM on January 20, 2012


I just realized.. my last comment may have been a the first time on MeFi that anyone has axe-grinded about actual axe grinding.

MetaFilter: Meta Axe Grinding.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:12 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has Metafilter reached the axe-era??

Don't axe me.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 PM on January 20, 2012


delmoi: "Good designers are probably not going to stay in podunk nowhere. So what we need are tools that let people come up with good designs 'by default'."

They were able to get a nice sign designed back in the '50s.
posted by dunkadunc at 7:44 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Man, what is going on with all the axe-talk on the blue these days

That would have to be Axe Cop.
posted by straight at 9:34 PM on January 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoy Helvetica and Futura Bold as much as the next guy, but people need to get used to the fact that given the choice between Futura and Comic Sans, most people choose the latter. That has ZERO to do with America.

Except, you know, for the fact that Comic Sans was designed by one of the largest American companies in the world. Just sayin'.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:06 PM on January 20, 2012


Man, what is going on with all the axe-talk on the blue these days

Axe blue is commenting brought to you by your sponsors
posted by infini at 10:21 PM on January 20, 2012


All of a sudden everyone's got a major jones on for a good axe?

Have you seen how many zombies there are out there, these days? And it's hard to get a shotgun license in the UK.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:56 AM on January 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just realized.. my last comment may have been a the first time on MeFi that anyone has axe-grinded about actual axe grinding.

Actually, I think I was doing this last week moaning and groaning for the nth time about people moaning and groaning about Margaret Atwood and science fiction.

I'm not saying I'm proud, mind.
posted by aught at 1:46 PM on January 22, 2012


Actually, I think I was doing this last week moaning and groaning for the nth time about people moaning and groaning about Margaret Atwood and science fiction.

Unless people were moaning and groaning about Margaret Atwood sharpening an axe blade by grinding on it with a whetstone, I don't think you understood what I meant.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:07 PM on January 22, 2012


PeterMcDermott: Have you seen how many zombies there are out there, these days? And it's hard to get a shotgun license in the UK.

And presto! Here's a rigorously researched and obsessively comprehensive site on that awkward sticky wicket. We'll all have to make a choice about what our weapons will be sooner or later...
posted by Skygazer at 6:23 PM on January 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's good to know he also favours the Granfors Bruks. I really should just bite the bullet and buy one.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 3:38 PM on January 24, 2012


Well that settles it then. It's the Granfors Bruks all round. I'll take the same.

And may God have mercy on our souls....

*BRAAAAAIIINSSS!!! WIFFF....SPLAT!!*

posted by Skygazer at 9:44 PM on January 24, 2012


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