Research trip to the US

Approach to JFK Airport

Approach to JFK Airport, New York

Long time no see! It was a very busy November, after which I spent a just as busy December and January in the Netherlands. After a week in Shanghai for some departmental meetings I flew to the US for a 3 week research trip.

From XJTLU I received a small research grant to research the history of the DOT-symbols. These were jointly developed by the American Association of Graphic Designers (AIGA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT). These symbols are among the best know public information symbols on the planet and were introduced from 1974 onwards. They are still an inspiration to symbol designers.

So what is on the menu during this trip? Among other things research in the archives of the DOT at the US National Archives in Washington, and research in the archives of the Smithsonian Design Museum in New York. Also I have planned interviews with a member of the working group that guided the development of these symbols: Tom Geismar in New York, and interviews with the actual designers; Rajie (Roger) Cook in Pensylvania and Don Shanosky in Florida.

Links to research trip:
Washington & The National Archives
New York & Fort Myers Beach > DOT Symbol Research
New York: Being There

Approach to Pudong, Shanghai

Approach to Pudong, Shanghai

Slight snow blanket over the carefully planned farmland of the Noordoostpolder, The Netherlands

Slight snow blanket over the carefully planned farmland of the Noordoostpolder, The Netherlands

‘Hello J-15’: jet-fighters & shopping

China is proud of its new jet fighter, the J-15. A Suzhou shopping center–Emerald City–has a live sized model on exhibit with many festivities surrounding it. The J-15, also called the Flying Shark, made its first landing on the new Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning in 2012. Full scale production began in December 2013. Continue reading

Chinese package deliverer


How to get back money from university without Fapiao (an official receipt)? You can’t, which I forgot when I ordered new materials for my department. The supplier had to make and sent a new receipt by mail. Since I was not in when it was delivered I had to pick it up at the transporters.

All transporters were holding court behind the shopping mall near the university. Some of them on the street, the more official in run down basements. It looks chaotic but somehow it works. It is still not clear to me how the delivery systems exactly functions. I got my receipt : ) Continue reading

‘Emerging Practices’ Conference Tongji University


When I first visited Shanghai I returned with a severe food poisoning and got almost stuck on a flooded highway. This time it was a remarkably more comfortable experience. I travelled with a colleague to Tongji University which was the venue for the third Design Research and Education Conference titled ‘Emerging Practices’, attended by circa 100 people.

Keynote lectures from Ken Friedland, Don Norman and Patrick Whitney were transformed into a joint performance. According to Don Norman they did their utmost best in making ‘us feel uncomfortable’. It was a great pleasure seeing them interacting together. New insights? Not that much, that classic product design was going out of the window. . .we knew. Continue reading

‘Self Unself’ exhibition of Design Academy in Suzhou is solely ‘Self’

IMG_9988 copy
Last weekend the exhibition ‘Self Unself’ opened in Suzhou at the Suzhou Arts & Culture Center. On display was a collection of Dutch design works curated by the Design Academy (Eindhoven, the Netherlands). The exhibition was not about the tension between the self & unself, as proposed by director Thomas Widdershoven of the Design Academy, but solely about the self of the designers of the objects on show.

The exhibition Self Unself gave the impression of a self centred ‘Dutch Design’ scene that has lost touch with design as a professional activity, my assumption being that design somehow is related to mass production and providing also practical value to society. It seemed to me that there was a large disconnect between what the makers wanted their objects to convey, and what visitors saw. Continue reading

Theo means ‘Godslove’?


Kramers’ Nouveau Dictionaire de Poche: Français-Néerlandais et Néerlandais-Français (9e ed.), G. B. van Goor Zonen, Gouda 1908. 16x12x7cm, 1320 pg.

Huig, Jas, Louw, Stoffel, Stansje and Trui are remarkable surnames for people. They are old dutch names and I found them in a an age-old Dutch-French ‘pocket’-dictionary. On its last pages it carried a list for translating dutch surnames into french ones.

Middle/upper-class citizens still use many of the names listed here, like Hugo, Jaap, or Krijn for their young borns, spiriting them with an old ‘Dutch’ aura. Nevertheless, I doubt they’ll use Noach, Pius, Urbanus, Ursula, or Vitus. Too Catholic. A former owner underlined Gustaaf, Hendrik and Karel. Conservative.

Most remarkable: ‘Godlief’. Translated into English it means ‘Godslove’, which for Dutch ears has a hippy ring to it. I never realized that the French translation was ‘Theophile’. But of course, ‘Theo’ stands for god! But except for ‘Theobald’, ‘Theo’ is missing from this list of surnames.



‘What makes Paris look like Paris’

‘What makes Paris look like Paris’? This is something that semiotics specialist Martin Krampen (1928-) would have loved to know. I got interest in his work because of his involvement with the development of pictograms world wide. While researching this I came across his book Meaning in the Urban Environment published in 1977. Parts of it try to analyse building types by quantifying elements of city buildings. Continue reading

Prince Philip’s words to graphic designers, 1964

Letter of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh to Icograda
Read at the first Icograda confess in Zurich, september 1964

Every day designers of all kinds
are becoming responsible for a greater
proportion of man’s environment.
Almost everything that we see and use
that was not made by The Almighty has
come from some designer’s drawing board.

This is a very heavy responsibility
and every effort by designers to improve
standards, to encourage proper training
and to developed a sense of social
awareness is to be welcomed.

I hope everybody enjoys the first
General Assembly and International
Congress on Graphic Design and I hope its
beneficial influence will spread all over
the world.

Source: Icograda Archive/Design Archives/University of Brighton