Friday, September 26, 2008

Show & Tell: Favorite Sentence

My favorite sentence comes from my favorite book, Nadja by Andre Breton.
She told me her name, the one she had chosen for herself: "Nadja, because in Russian it's the beginning of the word hope, and because it's only the beginning."
This is a great sentence because it has the same whimsical tone that the book does, that it is all just the beginning (Breton began the surrealist movement in writing.) He easily could have written, she told me her name was Nadja, she said it was the beginning of the word hope in Russian. Breton's sentence has rhythym. I heart this book. The premise is, a lot of rambling followed by about thirty pages of Breton meeting this woman Nadja in Paris (an actual account from his life) and the following few days they spend together going to cafes and such, again followed by more rambling. One of the major questions surrounding the book is, is Nadja real or did Breton make her up? Knowing this, makes this sentence doubly interesting because, is this the name she chose for herself or did Breton name her? I lean towards her being the subconscience of Breton.

Some runner ups:
Gradually, however, we are devoured by parents, gulped by schools, chewed up by peers, swallowed by social institutions, wolfed by bad habits, and gnawed by age; and by the time we have been digested, cow style, in those six stomachs, we emerge a single disgusting shade of brown. from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins
Although, I don't care for Robbins' books, I'm not sure why I don't like them, I am very aware that that man knows how to turn a sentence.

She was only the dead-leaf echo of the nymphet from long ago - but I loved her, this Lolita, pale and polluted and big with another man's child. from Adrian Lyne's film, "Lolita" based on Nabokov's novel of the same name
This movie quote is derived from multiple, long sentences in the book. I prefer this succint version. I love the description of a "dead-leaf echo."

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Design for Democracy

I went to go see Marcia Lausen's talk entitled "Design for Democracy: Ballot and Election Design" at Towson University tonight. Although it was fast-paced, she covered a lot of interesting things.

Basically, she aided in the redesign of ballots and election materials in, so far, Chicago and Oregon. Lausen, along with an undergraduate graphic design class, an undergraduate industrial design class and election officials and committees took on the challenges of several problem areas, created solutions, designed materials, tested materials and are dispersing this information for free (AIGA Design for Democracy gives away A LOT of free materials regarding voting and the election). They gained increasing national attention and were showcased in several countries in Europe.

What I strongly appreciated is that Marcia Lausen isn't using this platform to pat herself on the back. She's advocating for the design profession. Working with people (election officials, government officials) who don't understand what design is or don't see the need for it, and making them understand that poor design has consequences (e.g. Florida in 2000) and that good design makes for more voter retention (she actually had a great chart on this) which ultimately serves to better our democracy. Likewise, she told officials that the jargon on the election ballot needed to be rewritten, and when they said no (for fears of being sued and what not), she asked them, do you even care about the voters? Audience!

Other really great things: apparently, there are laws about ballot design such as all names of candidates must be entirely capitalized. She had to go to court (?) and have this overturned, she convinced them that correct capitalization with lowercase letters is more easily distinguished than straight caps. She didn't know at the time that she should have been arguing for the grey background in the prototype too, apparently, that is also legally defined.

Lausen and her class overcame a lot of heirarchy of information problems by simplifying text sizes, weights and fonts. In addition, they created an overall identity for the materials: "red for instruction, blue for information" was a solid component. When voters recieved something in the mail 3 months before the election, it looked like the information given to them on the day of election. (Previously, voters would recieve a how-to brochure in the mail with 4 steps, and then on election day be given a how-to (for the same procedure) that had blown up into 11 steps and a completely different design.)

All and all, it was an interesting talk on a subject that I wouldn't have thought could be interesting. And it really provided a real life example for anyone who thinks design doesn't matter or is easy (Lausen worked on this project, and subsequent book, for eight years).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Week 2 Reading: Afterthoughts

So just a quick note on last week's readings:
In Sternfeld's series, p. 192-198, isn't it strange how there are no people? Particularly in a photograph of a tourist attraction (Mt. Rushmore) and in the middle of a thriving city (D.C.)? I wasn't sure what was making the images so effective in translating the tragedy, but I realize the omission of people feels very eerie. Surely, this was purposeful. Other things that enhance the images eeriness: the darkened windows in the grocery store that look like they're hiding something, the billboard that looks strangely heavenly amid rubble, and the way the bus stops glass reflects only slightly.

"Homeplace," page 210, was the story of a family whose house was blown over by a tornado multiple times and refused to leave. Sanders believes that they stayed because they "had invested so much of their lives in the land... it was a particular place, intimately known, worked on, dreamed over, cherished." I had lunch with a friend who just started law school and he set up a scenario that he was reading about on land-property-or-something-like-that-rights. If someone owns a piece of land, but does absolutely nothing with it for like twenty years, and some people come and squat on the land and build a house and take care of the property for like ten years... who rightfully owns the property? It turns out that laboring over the land (for some amount of time) actually gives you some rights to the property--he hadn't gotten to what those rights would be exactly, but it was interesting to know that the efforts of the "squatters" wouldn't be for nothing.