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A Cacophony of Signs

Buildings in India are just as chaotic as our streets. Might is right. There is no place for order and logic. One business will occupy the road facing traffic and put up the gaudiest sign imaginable. Every signboard has to have an in-your-face quality. Subtlety it passe. The next sign will appear over and above the first one and try to trump the first occupant in size if not in scope. Weeds on the side, over and above every building are accepted as Indian characteristics.
It’s only the walls of glass that appear to have won the battle. Concrete can be hammered and nails pounded into any part. Glass, unfortunately, does not offer the same ease. The new IT parks and office complexes have tamed the beast. But wander into any of the old areas within any city and the old laws apply. Right from Broadway in Parry’s to Ranganathan Street in T Nagar, the signs tower all the way to five and six floors. It is impossible to identify individual signs. They are meant only for the company that puts them up. They jut out at every conceivable angle, thumbing their noses at civility and creating a chaotic mosaic. Somehow, the understanding that strategically placed and well-designed signs do more to enhance the image of the company is lost in the melee

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Cycling below the bar

In the sixties, the only way to learn to cycle was to plead for time on the weekends or when it wasn’t being used. Even if we managed to clamber on to the seat, by wheeling the bike next to the closest available platform, there was no way our short legs could reach the pedals and pump them to get ahead. Boys riding a girl’s bike, which did not have a central beam was considered sissy. So, it was the accepted practice for boys to ride with both legs split below the beam, arms stretched across the handlebars, body jutting out at a 45-degree angle, pedaling furiously and hoping that we would stay on course. A stream of instructions from friends accompanied every attempt “Don’t look down. Look straight. Pedal. Don’t stop” As if we could do everything at the same time. Miraculously, we could. Today, there are guard wheels, cycles built in staggered heights, constructed to match the size of little legs, but somehow, there was a lot more daredevilry in being able to ride the bike at this insane angle.
It took me a week to finally manage to do everything. Put my legs through the bar. Pedal at the crazy angle, with friends shouting encouragement. The first time it all came together, it was so exhilarating I forgot to look ahead. The technique also had an inherent side effect. It was always easier to ride in a circle. The moment I had to go straight, it took tons of effort. So, minutes after thinking that I had mastered the technique, I charged into a light pole. And ended up with a twisted, sprained ankle that ballooned black and kept me hobbling for weeks. I get funny looks from my kids when I tell them how I learned to ride the cycle. Why make such a big deal of it? And why on earth would you want to end up looking so stupid?

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Chennai’s Weather

Chennai is a hot metropolis. In terms of the weather, that is. Otherwise, it is a straightjacketed, insular city that welcomes barely anyone. No offence, we are like that only. The weather moves to barely pleasant in November to Feb. The rest of the year, you deal with humongous humidity almost perennially at 90%. It’s enough to make an apple sweat. Or an egg, though I’ve never quite seen either of them (sweat, that is) There are sweat patterns on everyone’s clothes, from the maps of wetness underarms to the sticky maps that stretch across the entire chest. If you like looking cool, stay in your car or make a dash for the nearest air-conditioned space. Or come out only at night, when the weather is just as muggy, but no one scrutinises your clothes with disdain. If you want to get to smell the ultimate melting pot of body odour, just get on to a bus and you’ll get everything from day smells, to the cooking to many indecipherable ones. Chennai is good to anyone with a blocked nose. To everyone else, it’s an olfactory nightmare

Illustrations

Behind the New York Times 10th year in Ideas

The traditional album format for presenting an annual list has evolved. This year’s list ideas have given way to a format where an entire window of text headlines drops down to reveal the article below when a headline is clicked on. There are videos that depict practically each section, driving the notion that most people view rather than read.

It also tackles a tricky problem for designers. How do you get people to see the whole picture, especially when it has several elements? In most cases when it comes to showing log lists of ‘Best of’s’… the design has been linear, except that one could click anywhere on the line. Here, there is a concerted effort to engage, present the information as an overview and be able to quickly drill down to see what one is primarily interested in.

I have a feeling that a lot of designers are going to be using this for the presentation of information in a format that keeps people on the page longer rather than click to go to the next level. Helps your search engine scores and the amount of time spent on a page, especially when one doesn’t have to navigate away from it.

Tutorials

The Last Minute Syndrome

Why do agencies always get ideas at the last minute? Apparently, it is the only way that everything in the world gets done. The best ideas come when there is pressure to deliver. Othwerwise, agencies are in ‘thought’ rather than ‘action’ mode. We have tried to anticipate what our client needs and prime them for it. But each time, we found that clients have their own pressures and priorities. An advertisement campaign is only one item on their list of things to be done. It’s worse for service providers down the line from an agency. They have even less time to deliver. Take printers for example. The brochures are designed and approved with only days to spare. The printers usually have to burn midnight oil to catch the deadline. The printed brochures or any other material is delivered to the location required just on the day of the launch when the ad appears and customers start calling.

One day before is absolute chaos. Whether it is a stage show, a launch event or the inauguration of a sales outlet or an office. I have seen bare supermarkets open within hours of the shelves being stacked with the goods. Hotels where the furniture just comes in a day before the launch. Even Chennai’s legislative asembly inaugurated by the Prime Minister was more of a superstructure than an actual building. If you had driven by a few days earlier, it would have looked impossible. The Commonwealth Games is another shining example of the Last Minute Syndrome. The press went to town with the filth, the state of unpreparedness and the reputation of the nation was at stake. But then, everything miraculously fell into place and then, no one seems to remember. Until the next Last Minute Syndrome presents itself