Archive for the ‘writing systems’Category

Why Justo Botanica Is Good for the Soul

Knowing my affinity for spiritual iconography a few weeks ago longtime design buddy, Gail Anderson introduced me to Jorge Vargas, owner of the popular Justo Botancia a longtime fixture in East Harlem neighborhood. For over a year Gail has researched, interviewed and documented owner Vargas’ on the symbolic meaning of the package designs he’s created over the years for numerous religious Santeria products such as candles, oils, scents, and more sold in his shop.

A short excerpt from Justo Botánica Is Good for the Soul by Gail Anderson

The only connection most people have to Santería is Ricky Ricardo pounding on the conga drum in old I Love Lucy reruns. “Babalú, Babalú Ayé,” chants Cuban icon Desi Arnaz, bow tie loosened. Four decades after my first Lucy episode, I have learned that Babalu Aye is the name of the West African orisha, or intermediary between God and man, that translates to “Father, lord of the earth.” Ayé is renowned for the control he exercises over disease and healing, and he is among the most powerful deities in the African and Caribbean spiritual traditions. Babalú is not just a nostalgic TVLand reference. He is an essential figure in Santería.  Read more: Justo Botánica Is Good for the Soul — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers,



11 2011

Everyday Design by Maleneb

The debut article of my first By Design column featured in International Review of African American Art, Fall 2011 issue spotlights the fabulous Malene Barnett, carpeting and rug designer.

The Art of Everyday Use
Not all carpeting rolls off assembly lines in factories or is imported from exotic places in the Middle East, China or India. Hand-made floor coverings that rise to the level of art are created by Malene Barnett, principal and owner of Maleneb in Brooklyn. She has built a brand specializing in hand-woven carpeting and rugs of original design and high-quality fibers for commercial sites and homes.

At the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, Barnett initially majored in fashion illustration but  really longed to paint. Her decision to change majors was clinched when she happened to see a display of  projects by students in the textile surface design department.  As a textile design major, she was inspired by the early textile renderings of Lois Mailou Jones, a young, African American designer who went on to become a major 20th century American artist.

While taking a carpet design course, Barnett won first prize for a Stark Carpets-sponsored, carpet design competition, and committed to this specialized field in textile design.

Barnett graduated in 1996 and worked for a succession of companies, including Afritext where she modernized their line of African prints; and Nourison, an industry leader, developing products for major household brands.

After four years at Nourison, Barnett had an urge to explore the world. She quit her job and, carrying just a backpack with seven outfits, traveled to India, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore and Hong Kong.  Each environment piqued her curiosity about the indigenous spiritual symbols, patterns and architecture of the cultures that she visited. She sketched this iconography in a small sketchbook as ideas for new designs.

Back in the States, Barnett worked freelanced for her previous employer, Nourison, designing handmade accent rugs and carpeting for some well-established consumer brands such as Bed, Bath and Beyond, Nicole Miller, Liz Claiborne and Macy’s. With her guidance, Nourison profits grew from $1 million to $15 million. Then Barnett was offered an opportunity to start a carpeting line with JLA Homes, a home furnisings company; once again profits increased.

When the economy started to tank in 2008, Barnett decided to launch Maleneb.  “Why would you even think of starting up a studio in such a dismal economy?” I wondered. “The timing was right,” she replied.  In leaving Nourison, she again was following a calling. She defines herself as a visual artist, with a propensity for hand drawing and painting, who loves to design carpeting and rugs. And besides, she explained, “most of my previous projects offered little exploration of my own ethnic sensibility.”

The luxurious residential rugs and carpeting in the Maleneb collection are hand woven designs based on the icons, patterns and colors that Barnett observed during her travels and as she continues to look to  artifacts from various ethnic cultures and the natural environment for inspiration, her work is informed by food rituals, ancient architectural structures, traditional garments, unusual  textile patterns and paintings are a part of the mix.

The collection consists of three distinctive themes: Signature reflects the diversity of everyday life, for example, the Mehndi-inspired rugs of rich burgundy and red wool yarn with linear designs based on a palm decorated with henna tattooing for a wedding. Classical— traditional motifs and icons such as the Adinkra writing system of Ghana. And texture which explores the multiplicity of organic forms in nature. In order to achieve the characteristics of flowing water, mountainous landscapes and tree trunk textures for the Texture theme, Barnett mastered a distinctive technique of creating varying pile heights.

As a member of the Good Weave organization working to end child labor in South Asia, all Maleneb pieces carry the “Good Weave” brand to distinguish them from those made under exploitative circumstances.

Besides designing the collection, Barnett gets numerous requests for commissioned projects. For example, Ken Staves, an architect based in Calgary, Canada, called to request rugs for his new home, based on photography he had shot of magnificent, New York City architectural skylines.  From this imagery, Barnett crafted a series of tapestries that now hang on the walls in Staves’ home. The Carl Ross Design Croup hired Barnett to create special rug tapestries for the lobby walls of the Hyatt Vacation Club Hacienda del Mar in Mexico. Her design for this commission was inspired by the 15th century rock art of the Taino Indians of Mexico.

A spunky seven-year-old girl passion for drawing and painting has become one of the top designers of carpeting and rugs in New York City.

Limited Edition Tap Tap rug, abstract angular colorful shapes, with varying piles based on the colorful, hand-painted local tap tap buses in Haiti, this rug design was featured in the Global African Project exhibition catalog, 2010.

For more information on Maleneb click: 



“We’re A Culture” Campaign Creates Good Citizen Designers


In a wonderful article published on the COLORLINES blog the writer Jorge Rivas shares the critical stance taken by “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume,”  poster campaign initiated by determined group of good citizen design students from Ohio University willingness to tackle such a severe subject surrounding the commodification and objectification of race and identity. This campaign challenges who possesses the cultural ownership of ethnic groups. Apparently, sporting Halloween costumes mocking African, Mexicans, Asians, Native Indians, and Blacks by white college students who in turn post disparaging images on Facebook pages has become the norm. But, these Ohio University design students offer us a refreshing directive that challenge stereotypical perceptions and encourages positive solutions aimed at college population are building brand reflective of social and global design. Who will you be this Halloween? Click here to learn more aboutSTARS students endeavors at Ohio University.

Also featured on the COLORLINES blog, UrbanOutfitters’ Indian Chic, addresses Native Peoples outrage over having their culture pimped by major retailer. As a designer of color who has takes issue with major brands continuously pimping off the ethos ethnic cultures feeling it’s okay to hack scarced symbols and patterns to produce new line of products like flash lighter, tee-shirts, handbags and trash cans. Another major culprit of commodification is Urban OutFitters introduction of products ripping off the iconography from Native American culture. More fuel on “UrbanOutfitters’ Indian Chic.” Please share your thoughts on both Colorlines articles. Make sure to read  Sasha Houston Brown, 24 year old Native American living in Minneapolis published a scathing open letter on Racialicious addressed to Glen T. Senk, CEO of Urban Outfitters, Inc. I’d be interested to find out what you think about both articles, and why people freely feel it’s okay to appropriate another culture.

The Afro Talks Back

Present Tense: The 2011 D-Crit Conference: Michele Washington, Untangling the Naps: The Afro Talks Back from D-Crit on Vimeo.

“Untangling the Naps” investigates the cultural and historical significance of the Afro, and how the afro is expressed today. I explore images of the Afro/’fro/Natural and how they were used to define blackness, racial pride, and ultimately, the black design aesthetic.

The themes for this work focus on identity, hair, blackness and power, ideas expressed in the statement by Robin D. G. Kelley, Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC College.

“No matter what we might think about culture and style as a terrain of struggle, hairstyle politics, particularly in the Black community, reveal a great deal about power—the power of white over black, men over women, employer over workers, state over citizens.” — By Robin D. G. Kelley, Nap Time: Historicizing the Afro


My field of enquiry is based on my long-term research into the black aesthetic influence on graphic design in the twentieth century. The title, “Untangling the Naps,” suggests how I have used the Afro as a graphic narrative, in the next phase of my quest to understand the black aesthetic. In my research I investigate the historical and cultural significance of the Afro in the past, and in its current expressions. I have also researched the struggles that describe the “politics of style,” and explore the images and signifiers of the Afro/’fro/Natural that are used to define blackness, racial pride, and the new black design aesthetic of hip. My objective is to illustrate the ways this natural hairstyle has been used as a significant graphic element in the black vernacular narrative and in social media to brand black hipness.


Black Studies in Art & Design Education Conference

Coming in March
Black Studies in Art & Design Education Conference at the The New School

March 26th-27th 2011. Two Day Conference on interdisciplinary conference on Black Studies in Art and Design Education, featuring speakers from art, fashion. architecture, urban planning, art and design history and theory. Organised by Coco Fusco and Yvonne Watkins, Parsons The New School for Design, New York. Presenters include: Craig Wilkins, University of Michigan; Mabel Wilson, Columbia University; Noel Mayo, Ohio State; Carol Tulloch, Chelsea College of Art and Design; Jennifer Gonzales, North Carolina State University; Michele Y. Washington, School of Visual Arts; Kim Piner, School of the Arts Institute of Chicago; Noliwe Rooks, Princeton University; Clyde Johnson MICA are amongst the list of designers, cultural and design critics, and educators presenters.

The conference is intended to be a forum for reflection on the troubling gap between the notable significance of Black creativity in global culture and its lack of presence in art and design education. The goal of the conference is to elaborate and assess strategies of reform that would diversify curricular offerings and thus improve education for all art and design students while simultaneously generating a more supportive environment for Black students and faculty.

Scholars and practitioners in Fine Arts, Industrial Design, Fashion Design, Architecture, Urban Planning and Art and Design History and Theory will engage in an interdisciplinary discussion about the challenges involved in rethinking  curriculum, engaging with historically disenfranchised communities, and recruiting and retaining Black students and faculty. The conference will also feature two keynote speeches by prominent members of the fields under  figures whose efforts have been central to diversifying the many fields that comprise art and design studies. Panels will address the following topics: rethinking art and design theory and history courses in light of the global influence of cultures of the African diaspora; curricular reform in practical courses of art and design; strategies of engagement with black communities; Black student experiences in art and design schools; and the specific challenges of recruiting and retaining Black students and faculty in school of art and design.

photo credit:


FOODAM is a meeting point between the world of Art, Food and Design.
It lives in the whole city who becomes a place of exploration, exposure and debate on the future and innovation of food, its imaginary and its apparatus.

Send us your idea about the future of food. It could be a product or a prototype, a book or a infographic, a website or a process, a taste or a scenario, a restaurant or a recipie. Food talks about our life. Its future will change our world.

GLIDE10: Susana Barreto/Towards a Global Design Taxonomy

Susana Barreto presents her paper on the recent phenomenon of global design targeted at international markets, and the criticism of these scenarios which can create problems as they take a strong hold in the ethical models of international environments. She is vehement about how graphic designers need to move forward in this area and why designers need to develop new models and methodologies for global design markets, and not replicate methods being used by other design disciplines.

Does the keyword global design  bring up issues of buzz words, while ignoring the specificity of cultures they are proposing to develop by lumping people together.

What does Global Design mean to you?
Do designers need to apply the same techniques practiced by cultural anthropologists or ethnographer’s?

Susana discussion brings forth numerous questions, why are designers quickly latching onto clients seeking to globally expand into new markets?

Is global design another form of corporate colonization?

Susana discusses, the issues surrounding the existence of Darling toothpaste was once called Darkie toothpaste featuring negative stereotype of blackface minstrels.
Why are such ethnic stereotypes still used to sell products?

Let’s not forget Nikes sneaker design featuring the word “ALLAH,” inscribed on the back of the shoes. While Nike assumed they were being hip by there stylishly rendering of the word “Nike” in reality it was “Allah.”

Can you speak about the early 1990s controversial Benetton campaign created by photographer Oliveri Toscani, such as two young girls portrayal of angel and devil, and how these imaged fashioned to sell clothes tended to addressed negative assumptions of races, gender and sexism. Yet, the big questions arose at the time over commerce and fashion?

listens to Susan Barreto’s lecture

GlIDE10: Justine Hsueh/integration of green design and visual typography

Justine presents signboard communication in Asia. Objective is to improve technology design in the future, through better design and visual typography by integrating green design concepts.

What is phenomenology and phenomenography?

How will Justine apply theories of postmodernism to her research? Last year while visiting Macao, and Hong Kong, Beijing I was able to experience the density of signboards on many streets.

How are signboards in Asian countries different than the busy exterior signage in NYCs Time Square?

Below images from my travels last January to Beijing, Hong Kong and Macao the streets are brilliantly lite-up with signboards. One thing to consider is the amount of energy generated to keep these signs glowing day and night. Brilliant concept Justine’s offers alternative materials such as legos parts, old computer boards, and small car toys to develop more efficient signboards.

She offers interesting keyword: bricolage as main methodology.


Hong Kong


FIT Exhibition Design Project: Food Opera

In my classroom I challenge my students to think beyond there own cultural beliefs and to expand the dialog of what globalization and culture means as applied to their ideation and design thinking. Here are a few examples of mindmapping/billboarding techniques used to jump start there projects. Below are several examples of students finished projects, billboarding presentations and team interactions.

Isabeal Maryland Crab presentation

Roni, Sarah and Sparky deep in thought

Dominka Polish Food expo, she incorporated poetic verses.

THIS WEEK’S BUZZ: Type designer Matthew Carter gets MACARTHUR

This is major step in the right direction in the sphere of Graphic and Type Design, for MacArthur Foundation to award Matthew Carter, a major Type Designer as one of the 2010 MACARTHUR Fellows. Carter is a masterful wizard in working with letterforms having had created over 6o typefaces,  he’s also the Co-founder and Principal of Carter and Cone Type . If you’re a type connoisseur you’re sure to want to send him words of praise. Read more about Matthew Carter on the Mac Arthur Foundation website.


09 2010