Author Archive

The Future of Reading

Ever inclined to hide its most interesting articles in random sections, the NYT ran a fascinating article last week about how book publishers, authors and new-media-types are looking to drive youth interest in books by expanding the concept of a ‘book’ to include video games and interactive elements. According to the article:

“You can’t just make a book anymore,” said Mr. Haarsma, a former advertising consultant. Pairing a video game with a novel for young readers, he added, “brings the book into their world, as opposed to going the other way around.”

Mr. Haarsma is not the only one using video games to spark an interest in books. Increasingly, authors, teachers, librarians and publishers are embracing this fast-paced, image-laden world in the hope that the games will draw children to reading.

Spurred by arguments that video games also may teach a kind of digital literacy that is becoming as important as proficiency in print, libraries are hosting gaming tournaments, while schools are exploring how to incorporate video games in the classroom. In New York, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is supporting efforts to create a proposed public school that will use principles of game design like instant feedback and graphic imagery to promote learning.

Publishers, meanwhile, are rushing to get in on the action. Scholastic, the American publisher of the Harry Potter series, recently released “The Maze of Bones,” the first installment in a 10-book mystery series that is tied to a Web-based game.

What follows is a good synopsis of the ongoing educational debate: video games promote learning vs. video games damage learning. Not surprisingly, no consensus is reached, but a number of interesting voices offer their take on the ways in which reading is evolving.

There is, however, a significant distinction that that article touches on but doesn’t fully explore. The book publishing industry, in its struggle to stay relevant amongst digital competitors, is confusing a new desire for interactivity for a shift in what people want from reading. (more…)

October 13, 2008 at 11:29 am Leave a comment

The New Trendspotter: You

A long time ago, in the 90s, some savvy entrepreneurs figured out that big companies like Coca-Cola and Nike wanted desperately to know what was cool with the kids in order to stay one step ahead of a culture increasingly at odds with mainstream marketing. Thus the trendspotting revolution launched to prominence companies like Look Look, the Zandl Group, Trendcentral, and many others all dedicated to acting as middlemen between street culture and the marketing departments of corporate America.

In the interest of parity, most trend consultancies invited the youth and cultural niches they ‘represented’ to speak on their own behalves, addressing the movements of culture in their own words. For example, Look Look’s eponymous magazine promised aspiring young photographers and artists an opportunity to publish their work— ostensibly for their peers—which could then be repackaged as a value-added consulting offering for Look Look’s clients. Or the Intelligence Group’s Trend School showcased young early-adopters speaking on panels about their hyper-connected lives. In essence, trendspotters offered a clever bargain; a platform for youth expression in exchange for youth’s bloodhound sense for the next big thing.

But fast forward a decade and a funny thing has happened: in offering such a bargain, trendspotters have largely made themselves obsolete. (more…)

September 2, 2008 at 12:29 pm

Tony Dusko Animates Learning

INTERVIEW

It’s a time-honored elementary school cliche: when the semester is slow, vacation fast approaching or there is a substitute teacher, the class watches a video to kill time. But Tony Dusko, a Pennsylvania-based 5th-grade teacher by day and animator by night, has bigger aspirations for what his students watch. Beginning with a short cartoon of a grilled-cheese sandwich telling his class to get ready for lunch, Dusko discovered that his 5th-graders had a voracious appetite for animated lessons.

Drawing on a degree in fine art and studies with Academy-Award nominated animator Paul Fierlinger, Dusko has created a series of films to engage his students in a variety of subjects; from learning about owls to being a good friend. His shorts make for lively and fun viewing, and represent a simple and effective way to break through the electronic clutter of his young students’ lives: His characters are quirky shapes and colors, his sound-effects are expressive, and his sense of humor is appealing to all ages (watch Some Facts About Owls, above and check out more of Tony’s work at notebookbabies.com). Recently, I had a chance to ask Tony a few questions about how and why he does what he does. –John

How did you get started with your educational animations?

One day I decided to make an animated character to tell the kids to be quiet when they are in line to go to lunch. I was sick of telling them myself every day.

What was your students’ response like?

They couldn’t believe their eyes or that I could do something like that. Then they begged me to make more.

How do you think a dynamic medium like animation helps kids learn?

I am not sure why it works but I am certain that it is an effective way to communicate information when done well. Perhaps it is the combination of movement and sound using simple colors and shapes. Or maybe it is just a medium that kids are used to from TV.
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August 12, 2008 at 9:36 am 1 comment

Remember Hypercolors? American Apparel Does

Last week, NOTCOT alerted me to the fact that American Apparel has recently launched a line of ‘Thermochromatic T-shirts’ that change color when exposed to heat or cold. The site went on to point out that this is essentially the same technology used by those unrelentingly awesome Hypercolors t-shirts that were all the rage in the early 90s. And lest you forget just how awesome it was, the official American Apparel site has a nice little video of a model microwaving a shirt and then wearing it into a freezer. But my initial excitement gave way to cynicism when a few days later I read this article in the LA Times, saying essentially: hypercolor is back from the grave, so start counting backwards from 15 minutes again.

Here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with Hypercolors coming back. I lived through the trend the first time around and still think it’s amazing in a 12-year-old boy sort of way. But this isn’t an isolated incident. (more…)

July 11, 2008 at 11:18 am Leave a comment

Stuff and a Sunburn: The Renegade Craft Fair

I had a chance to stop by the Renegade Craft Fair in McCarren Park Pool this weekend (like every other New Yorker with a blog). In its fourth year, the fair brings together a huge and colorful group of Etsy-approved DIYers selling lithographed prints, letterpressed cards, resin-cast jewelry, plush baby furniture and a whole host of other cleverly constructed stuff.

What was fascinating about the fair was less its variety of vendors and more its overarching ethos: the value of an object is as much in its origins as its use. There are only so many ways to embroider a onesie or handprint a t-shirt; the crafts’ ‘individually made-ness’ was the key to their appeal. Each booth sold wares, sure, but also posed as a neatly-wrapped story, complete with a friendly history, a discussion of construction techniques, or an eye-catching business card.

While the trendspotters have been crowing about the authentic allure of craft for a minute now, the fair was a good reminder of where our consumer culture is moving overall: we buy things more and more as an opportunity to build our own personal narratives out of the little stories they provide us.

Don’t get me wrong, many of the attendees were pretty amazing. Some of my favorites:

Domestic Construction designs lamps (among other things) that make me wish I could rewire my apartment.

More after the jump. –John

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June 16, 2008 at 4:36 pm Leave a comment

Memorialize This

Happy memorial day from all your friends in marketing. –John

May 24, 2008 at 12:23 am Leave a comment

Kaori Sumi Makes Me Want to Be More Creative

I recently had the opportunity to have a drink with Kaori Sumi, the talent behind art/fashion hybrid In Kaos. Kaori, a designer by trade, has been busy of late with her spring/summer 2008 collection, fashioning antique Japanese kimonos into all sorts of functional objets d’art.

We met at Tokyo Bar where she has recently installed a series of kimono-based handbags, hats, and resin-cast antlers in anticipation of her line’s imminent launch with the MoMa Design store. She explained: “American buyers don’t typically understand the messages in my pieces, so I’ve been very fortunate to work with MoMa Design.”

Indeed, at first blush her creations simply look like bags with gorgeous prints. But the kimonos’ history adds a subtle layer of intention to the pieces. For example, I discover that a western-style fedora is actually made from the scraps of a child’s kimono, a clever critique perhaps of Japanese youth’s fascination with American pop-culture. Or perhaps a more sinister nod to the legacy of American G-Men in the post-nuclear 1940s.

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May 20, 2008 at 1:11 pm Leave a comment

Cut & Paste Brought To You by Lots of Sponsors

Wednesday evening I stood in line to get into the Cut & Paste party at the Stoli Hotel (technically in a parking garage). Primarily sponsored by Stoli, Wired, and Flavorpill, the event featured two designers going head-to-head to create on-the-spot art, project on giant screens. Part of a larger traveling series, Cut & Paste had also just come fresh from Miami, complete with bathrooms in trailers and Stoli minibars shaped like little beach-huts.

I’ve gotta be honest. Despite the good turnout and the free booze, the whole thing left me feeling a little empty. Stoli’s corporate presence at the event was overwhelming to the point of upstaging the design—the stated purpose of the night. The net result was the impression that the two designers were exotic caged-birds, transported and displayed exclusively for the benefit of rich colonialists. Also, both artists seemed to be heavily referencing Soviet Constructivism, suspiciouly the same style that all of Stoli’s branding is done in.

But then, I was drunk and didn’t think about it too hard. –John

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May 16, 2008 at 11:36 am Leave a comment

BKLYN Designs Makes Me Wish I Had Money to Blow on Furniture

Like 99.9% of people who live in New York and have a blog, I went to the BKLYN Designs fair in Dumbo this weekend. Natural materials, playful lamps and expensive furniture abounded, along with a pervasive emphasis on green manufacturing and sustainable sourcing. Obviously this is nothing new in the high-end design community by itself, but many of the exhibitors seemed to have gone a step further in connecting products with their origins: use of heavy wood, metal and earth elements could be seen in nearly every furniture piece, conspicuously clean-lined and uncomplicated by ornaments.

I also had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on how design is shaping the ongoing development of Brooklyn. Unfortunately, what should have been a brilliant panel (including Rob Rogers, Veronica Hackett, Jared Della Valle, and Jonathan Butler), was something of a snoozer due to less than stellar moderation. Jared Della Valle did, however, make some fascinating points about the interplay between the architect and the developer, and showed some exciting-looking slides of the Gowanus Canal Public Park concept.

In any case, below are a few of my favorite exhibitors (based on my purely uneducated, subjective taste). –John

McCullah Design

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May 12, 2008 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

I Feel Fine and Raw about Daniel Sklaar’s Chocolate

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Daniel Sklaar, the brains (and culinary talent) behind Fine & Raw Chocolate. Available in several fine-foods stores in the New York area (including the Bedford Cheese Shop), Fine & Raw combines raw and natural confectionery with unconventional taste and texture.

According to Daniel—a former financial analyst turned French Culinary Institute graduate and self-professed chocolate fiend—the goal behind Fine & Raw was to rescue chocolate from its highly processed, mass-produced form, and reintroduce it to people as a simple and celebrated food. To that end, Daniel keeps his chocolate free of preservatives, sugar or dairy, instead blending it with blue agave nectar, coconut oil and sea salt. He also uses low-heat techniques to ensure that the chocolate retains the biodiversity of its nutrients. The end result is a chocolate similar to fresh produce: perishable, complex and delicious.

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May 7, 2008 at 11:20 am 1 comment

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