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Jason McDowell is also known as Little Tiny Fish. He is the Creative Director for OnMilwaukee. Occasionally he freelances. Mostly he rides bikes.

littletinyfish.com is not a cohesive blog, but a repository of musings on an assortment of topics, such as design, art, cycling, Milwaukee, and other personal experiences.

According to JSOnline’s Mary Louise Schumacher, Janet Zweig’s public art project, which has been in the works for three years, has come under scrutiny despite receiving “unanimous support from an advisory committee of business leaders and art experts.” Zweig’s installation would essentially consist of five kiosks that would contain flipbook–style animations mounted in retrofitted transportation flap signs that one might have seen in train stations before everything started going digital.

But several of Milwaukee’s Aldermen don’t seem to understand the goals of the work. Alderman Wade said he was “not impressed with [Zweig’s concept] at all” citing the outdated technology used to imbue the quietly animated scenes with life. Alderman Joe Dudzik agreed. Alderman Robert G. Donovan walked out early (classy) refusing to have his name attached to “something as ridiculous as that.”

Okay, so here’s a related tangent. I stumbled across a website called Virtual Stapler that contained a mini flash app with three staplers to choose from. They ranged from heavy duty down to a cheaper plastic. A user could select a stapler and when the mouse cursor ran over the top, the stapler was lightly pressed so that it just touched its opposing side, clicking with the sound of metal on metal contact. When the mouse was clicked, the stapler let out a mechanical “KA–THUNK” as if a staple were forcibly pressed from its group and spat through the opening with its ends folded inward. When the mouse was released the stapler let out the expected guttural vibrations as its springs returned it to its open, natural form.

Stapler in Spotlight by
Stapler in Spotlight by


Stapler in Spotlight by InsideGift

It was a simple application with very simple animation with only a few seconds of sounds, and while I played at the site for several minutes, going down through the staplers and then back up again, clicking them slowly and then quickly, reveling in this simple joy, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that this visual representation, well, it just wasn’t good enough.

I could hear the noise, but it was detached from the feel and the force it takes to operate a real stapler. It was a decent replication that brought back a flood of memories of trying to manipulate the teacher in letting me staple all the kids’ assignments. But this didn’t have that visceral feedback. Tik, press, SLAM, spring. SLAM spring. Tik, Cluuuck, spring. Mmm…it’s a treat for your ears. But I was missing the release of the gears and the pressure of the springs. The feeling of durability, and the delight of metal sliding in and out of its housing. I wonder, if we’ll be feeling the same way twenty years after the iPod?

Anyway, I first found out about Zweig working in Milwaukee about three years ago when the project was just barely coming into fruition. I was curious. When I went to her site to check out her previous work I was particularly intrigued by her New York subway piece, “Carrying On.” It looked cute and I thought it was easy enough to understand: icons of travelers in the subway. Simple enough. Two years later I visited New York, and by that time Zweig’s work was a fuzzy memory; I wasn’t particularly there to look at it, nor could I say was I expecting to run into it. New York was big. Dazzlingly big. It’s as fast paced as a busy ant hill but when I rounded the corner of Prince Street Subway station I was bowled over by the sight of her work. There it was. I stopped my conversation and the world around me fuzzed out while Zweig’s work became more clear. These weren’t representations of New Yorkers, they were New Yorkers. Each of these avatars was a person from the city, and every person in the city was living on the walls. No, there weren’t 19+ million people on the walls, but if you were to ask each citizen in which silhouette they saw themselves, each person would have an answer.

They were New Yorkers in two dimensions. Each quietly living out their lives on the walls. Each cut from steel, marble and slate, materials that have existed for at least 4,000 years (steel being the obvious youngest). Each material was sitting in the earth, waiting patiently, some even traveling hundreds of millions of years through time so that its lifeless mass could make a meaningful connection, could make someone stop in their tracks. Art is not necessarily about being at the cutting edge of technology. In fact, given the scope of artistic endeavors in general, it rarely is. Zweig’s work is about finding the right materials that represent the humanity of our city, and if there is one thing that’s always said about Milwaukeeans, it’s that we’re down to earth.

Think of those times when you plunked a quarter into those giant, metal tourist binoculars, listening to the ticka ticka ticka as the time counted down while you gazed at a skyline or monument through 20 pounds of steel and glass and the finality of the “THWACK” as the time ran out and the lenses went dark. Now imagine watching a high definition video on the newest technology of the exact same view; you could see the clouds move, the sun set and the cars pass in either of them, but it won’t hold the same meaning.

Moving this project forward digitally would absolutely kill the beauty and personal investment in the project. Milwaukee’s public art should bring its citizens to it, not let them passively watch it happen. The TV screens in our buses and cars have disconnected our neighbors from ourselves. Zweig’s work is not a DVD to entertain the kids. It is a flip book to entertain the kid in all of us. Imagine the quiet buzz of the paper as it speeds through your fingers. The breeze on your face. The smell of the ink and fibers and glue. Think of the imagination that it takes to imbue the characters from these brief stories with life, history, and personality. These works are built on physical, tangible properties, not lasers and pixels and light.

This installation is real in the way that Milwaukeeans are real and Janet Zweig has proven that she understands the subtleties that resonate with its inhabitants.

Please take a few minutes to send a note to the Aldermen in charge and let them know that this work is an important investment to the city’s public image. It’s not as loud an press–worthy as The Bronze Fonz (sad, but unfortunately true) but it shows a simple sign of sophistication beyond beer and cheese. (It’s easy. Write one note and CC everyone)

Dragon Viewer by Code Poet
Dragon Viewer by Code Poet


Dragon Viewer by Code Poet

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. To add to your “the feel of real” argument, why do you think so many digital cameras make a shutter noise? Because we like the mechanical sound of it. And as much as I like my digital camera, my film cameras feel really nice sometimes. You’ll even hear people complain that their digital camera feels “cheap” because it’s light. In a digital world, humans still have an affection for analog.

    Sara · 2009-04-03 12:10 · #

  2. Sounds like a really cool project. Why do some politicians feel the need to crush anything delicate and beautiful? It’s a mystery.

    Dottie · 2009-04-05 17:57 · #

I used to live in an apartment with four other people. Each person had their own definitive style and managed to find a lot of unique ways to decorate the place. There were action figures, owls, candles, artwork, and more hanging on the walls, sitting on the mantle, and lining the halls. We were also able to paint the walls. We chose lots of yellows and some kinds of red. It helped to warm up the place.

Then I lived in an apartment with my then girlfriend that had a lot of character. It had a red brick exterior and a warm, radiator supported interior. There weren’t as many knickknacks lying around, but we painted the walls to match the furniture. Our red and yellow chairs deserved red and cream walls. The office was painted yellow and the bedroom was painted green. The house was smaller, but the color made it cozy. The relationship didn’t work out (and I don’t blame the house).

So now I’m in my current apartment, and we aren’t allowed to paint the walls. My roommate is a first time renter, so he doesn’t have much stuff and, being a programmer, spends most of his time in his room, which leaves it up to me to decorate. But I’ve always relied on everyone else to supplement the decorations, and, as a result, the apartment is clean, but a little unwelcoming and plain.

I didn’t truly realize it until I visited a friend’s house who had nice olive green walls, postcards mounted all around, tin robots on knickknack shelves and an over-sized Godzilla poster on the wall. It was reinvigorating.

So I went home and rethought how I wanted to approach my new apartment decoration. I had a piece of artwork that I could potentially hang, so I did just that. Then I looked around for more and realized just how little artistic supply I actually have. A very disappointing realization.

So I made a resolution to find more. I already have a new print that I intend to buy as long as I don’t receive it for the holidays. And I’m planning a mural for my bedroom wall. Not rainbows and waterfalls and unicorns, assuredly, but maybe some ideas will sprout up in this blog. It may not be a good time to start spending money on art, but it’s certainly a good time to start supporting it.

If you’ve got any recommendations for any artists you think are deserving of support, send some links my way!

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. This really got me thinking. I don’t have any real ideas, but it at least got me thinking. I’ve gone through phases where I’ve either immensely overdecorated, or else completely ignored it (like now). I’d like to find a happy medium.

    Tim · 2008-12-20 21:07 · #

  2. Sorry for being such a shut-in. I’ll try to make it out a little more. 😛

    I really like this guy’s work (link). Also would randomly like a few prints from dA or random typographic posters but so many more utilitarian things to pay for.

    Jordan Arentsen · 2008-12-24 01:04 · #

  3. Also this.

    Jordan Arentsen · 2008-12-24 02:15 · #

Over the last few weeks I’ve been working with a couple of different people regarding logo design: Tim Cigleske of Teecycle.org and Steve Glynn of Spreenkler.

Teecycle.org

Teecycle.org’s old logo was in need of an overhaul. The green in it was a bit dark and overbearing and it was improperly sized on the site. The chosen font wasn’t particularly strong or representative of anything. When I set to work on the new version there were two requirements for the new Teecycle logo: It had to have the universal recycle symbol in it and it had to use the color green.

I started out with a three-color logo, using blue, red and green, but eventually we decided to knock it down to two colors. I preferred the red, but fearing a too-strong association to Christmas we ultimately leaned towards green and blue.

Two fonts were used. Clarendon Black was chosen for it’s sportier, stronger look while Candice was used make the mark a little more lighthearted with a nod towards retro. The swoop underneath helps with this as well.

The swoop is also representative of a nature trail or a green river since the organization donates $1 from every purchase to River Revitalization projects.

A square, or vertical logo was also included, as well as a Favicon, however current WordPress restrictions don’t allow for the replacement of the Favicon.

ThinkMKE

The Greater Milwaukee Committee was looking for a light–hearted, more adventurous design for their soon to be released blog, ThinkMKE which is located at thinkmke.com. Since this is an offshoot of the official committee I did some research into the goals of the GMC itself. Their biggest ideals are Leadership, Community, Diversity, and Development.

The typeface is highly representative of the strength of the organization. The letters are bolder, thicker, and stronger. They are accented with thicker slab serifs yet those serifs still hold a bit of a curve and grace to them.

The varying letter heights and blocky forms are reminiscent of a panoramic skyline view of Milwaukee and the letters are spaced tightly together to bring home the essence of a tight knit, supportive community.

The colors of the letters vary between the three primary values: red, green, and blue. These colors are foundational in design, echoing strength, diversity, and possibility. And while these colors are at their essence primary, they are not perfect representations. The red is slightly warmer, the blue is a little more crisp, and the green is brighter, more welcoming.

The logo itself springs from the page positively moving forward and rising upward.

Finally, the logotype is set on top of an abstract thought balloon. ThinkMKE.

As far as it’s target audience goes, this logo is certainly a radical departure from the very corporate GMC site. It’s more fun, more active, and more exciting.

Ultimately this is not the final product. While the blog has been set forth and is currently being updated, the identity project was unfortunately halted.

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. I’m more than happy with my new logo. The ThinkMKE logo is really sweet, too.

    Teecycle_Tim · 2008-10-30 12:06 · #

Walmart* just gave up one of their truly unique branding opportunities. When one typed out their initial logo, instead of a dash, most would use a star (or asterisk). Wal*Mart. It’s a truly unique position they had put themselves into, by being able to separate their brand name with an non-traditional ASCII character. Where most would use dashes, Wal*Mart got the star. Even further, their letter pairings, caps vs. lowercase, and general rhythm of the appearance of the word worked quite well.

Now their logo is followed by the star. Walmart*. Now it looks like their brand is followed by a caveat. The word mark as typed in plain text, “Walmart,” is not nearly as graceful or rhythmic as the previous.

Don’t get me wrong. Walmart*’s logo needed a major update to appear more friendly towards it’s customers (the weight of those letters was more representative of the burdens it imposes onto most of it’s workforce, than the “friendliness and convenience” it wanted to convey) but with this solution they removed a lot of it’s branding ability from the common people it relies on most.

And what does that star burst mean, anyway? It went from something conveying some kind of vaguely American values to something more immediately techy and dot com-y.

For a company that is so prevalent you would think there would be an impetus to make that brand work for them, but it really reminds me of what the chain has to go through every time it wants to open another store: a struggle to justify it’s existence.

Thanks to Brand New for the notice.

Google just recently released a useful new app called Google Transit, which takes bus information and applies it to it’s map app. This sounds infinitely more useful than anything the DOT or the Wisconsin government can throw together and is much more user friendly for those who don’t know how to use a computer. Arguably a large demographic of users riding the bus would probably fall into that category.

All you have to do is tell it where you are and where you’re going and it’ll give you a recommended route. At least two of my friends have tried it with success. I, however, did not.

I never take the bus to work because it’s a short distance and, even so, would require me to make a switch between two buses. Two dollars and an hour later I’d finally reach my destination, barely two miles away. So I usually bike or walk, and occasionally just drive. Google Transit seemed like an easy way to figure out if I was missing a better, more direct route.

It turned out I wasn’t thinking outside the box, something Google is quite good at. They told me to walk down the block and catch the 15 bus for a few minutes. Then get off, fordthe Milwaukee River and walk home. Their map even makes it look deceptively easy, probably because they don’t show the struggle against the rapids, construction of a raft or the Native American Guide and pack of Oxen (see The Oregon Trail). It actually looks more like they’re recommending I hop over the river. Sorry, Google. You might be big enough, with the world in your hands, to make such a maneuver, but I think I’ll just stick with my bike.