Very GOOD Design, indeed


You know an event was a success when it takes an entire day for the buzzing in your head to subside—or was that from one too many rum drinks? Either way, my co-host Casey Caplowe and I think the almost 200 people who sat in candy-colored Eames chairs (a palette especially selected by Frank Novak at Modernica, thanks Frank!) felt the same way as we did about last Thursday’s GOOD Design: LA:  As seven talented designers we idolized presented their ideas for the city, we were just as as entertained and impressed—and in some cases, shocked!—as our audience was!

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First Enrico Bressan from Artecnica presented a solution for the street vendor crisis. From Hollywood’s late night bacon-wrapped hot dog delivery devices to the people who serve sliced mango sprinkled with chili powder from those quilted metal carts in Echo Park, the street vendors in LA have been jeopardized not only by chain restaurants who threaten to run them out of business, but a series of potentially illegal crackdowns by police and the Department of Health. Enrico proposed enlisting the vendors in a community service program that would help green the corners they occupied so they provided even more value to the city. He then proposed creating a website, VendOrFriend, which would allow customers to locate and promote the vendors. He also hinted that they’d need to commission some new product designs for the carts (do we see a Hella Jongerius churro stand in our future?). And in an awesome bit of synergy, we had Coco’s Tacos serving up their carne asada offerings in the parking lot!

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Next up was the lovely Frances Anderton, who dropped this bomb on us: It is estimated that 25% of morning traffic during the school year is parents driving their kids to school. That’s a quarter of all cars!!! The solution, of course, is walking kids to school, which would not only alleviate rush hour traffic, but also fight childhood obesity and other nasty side-effects (idling cars are actually more hazardous to our health than moving ones, who knew?). Frances’ presentation was made all the more charming when she showed a clip from the Kirk Douglas movie Strangers When We Meet, featuring an obviously LA street from the 1960s, with children skipping or pedaling down the streets en route to school, and contrasting it with her modern day “commute” to school with her adorable daughter (and design party regular) Summer, showing empty sidewalks and an SUV-packed parking lot. There’s plenty of resources at the CDC’s Walk Kids to School site.

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Then we heard from Barbara Bestor, who not only designed the GOOD Space, but plenty of other places we patronize far too often like Lou and Intelligensia. Even her own office on Hyperion in Silver Lake is a landmark of sorts; currently painted hot pink and emblazoned with OBAMA (outlined in twinkle lights for Christmas). She showed some really awesome examples of transforming the urban environment into art, from Chris Burden’s streetlamps at BCAM to Edgar Arcenaux’s Watts House Project (where GOOD had organized a field trip just the week before). And as her vision for LA, she offered a way to capitalize on the “strange beauty” of stripmalls by passing them on to artists and architects who could then transform the stucco-covered nothingness into flashy permanent installations. She needs a stripmall in order to do this, so if you know of one…hey, there’s bound to be some “available” in this economy, right?

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There’s always something being built at Materials & Applications in Silver Lake, whether its a gurgling moat, an igloo or a robotic origami garden (at their Christmas party last weekend, they had a Gingerbread Construction Contest, of course). The spunky and stylish Astrid Diehl spoke about their far-ranging solutions for capitalizing on the small amount of water that falls on LA, which can be summed up in the super-easy to remember: Slow it, Spread it, Sink it! In short, we have to get the city to naturally process stormwater before it gathers all the goo on our streets and flows into the ocean. So, they suggested starting with installing green roofs (slow it), capturing what you can in a stormwater storage system to save it for later (spread it), and perforating asphalt everywhere so water can flow through the soil (sink it). M&A even sponsored a series of workshops and has placed some great resources online. Since it’s been raining for a week straight, we asked Astrid what everyone should be doing to take advantage of the wet season. She said—and we’re not kidding—take a jackhammer and pop some holes in your driveway and sidewalk so all that water goes into the ground. Maybe your landlord won’t like it, but the surfers will.

Geoff McFetridge’s Nail Salon from Alissa Walker on Vimeo.

Next, LA’s graphic conscience Geoff McFetridge began by describing his Atwater Village neighborhood as a kind of Anytown, USA, with its easy rhythm of liquor store, nail salon, check cashing, nail salon, tacos, pack and ship, drinking water, liquor store, nail salon. But suddenly he started to notice a new rhythm: yoga, baby clothes, Starbucks, Coldstone Creamery. “That’s the wrong kind of visual bleakness!” he cried. And the biggest problem about the New Bleakness, he said, were the signs, the ugly, anonymous, soulless vinyl signs. He attacked nail salon signage specifically, because “if you can paint nails, you can paint a sign.” And as he talked, this video (above) played enigmatically behind him, which we finally realized was illustrating what would happen if just one nail salon decided to forego the vinyl. They could have a beautiful hand-painted work of art in the time it took Geoff to make a five-minute presentation. It was a wonderful moment that blended clever performance art and Geoff’s DIY ethos that had the crowd cheering. Good news for Geoff, too:  He mentioned that in this economy people might not have the money to throw down on vinyl, forcing them to grab a paintbrush and mount that ladder.

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We toss around the word ‘visionary’ but Rene Daalder is the first real visionary I’ve met, blending the realms of film, visual effects, art and the internet, collaborating with everyone from Jan de Bont to Rem Koolhaas (who he is directing a film about; very excited about that), to his own think tank Space Collective. He lead off with some staggering statistics about how all the data we needed to do our jobs is well on its way to being 100% digitized, meaning we no longer need to go to an office to “work.” His vision for Los Angeles is, quite simply, to get rid of the offices and reurbanize these areas that we pack into during the day then abandon at night. Rene was easily our most controversial speaker (even eliciting some boos from the audience, especially when he said that the Nintendo Wii would someday replace actual sports and recreation), but I have to say I agreed with a lot of what he said, including the telecommuting/freelancing bit. I found myself pretty mesmerized by the thought of people moving into these abandoned office towers in downtown, navigating the empty freeways (or boarding a speedy bus) to have lunch with their friend in Santa Monica and be back home by 2pm.

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And finally, well, I wish I could capture Stefan Bucher‘s presentation in all its seismic glory. After he requested to tackle a big problem, we assigned Stefan the issue of earthquakes, which he decided he would not help us prepare for, but rid completely. “” he said. “That’s loser talk.” It’s only the big earthquakes that are the problem, so Stefan advocated using heavy explosives to gradually relieve the subterranean tension (equating downgrading earthquakes like Snickers: from “King Size” to “Fun Size”). While we’re relieving tension, he said, we might as well go ahead make clean breaks between the red and blue counties as determined by the last election (brilliant). But such fissures in our culture would require some new entertainment concepts at the intersection of “Hollywood and Hot Spewing Magma,” hence Stefan’s ideas for new films that would address such changes…like this one featuring John Cusack, above. As the audience gasped for breath, I once again had flashbacks to the previous design event we had at GOOD…who knew designers were so funny? Well, of course we did, but still!


Finally a huge thanks to Keith Scharwath, not only for his awesome graphics (above, more here) that set the tone for the evening, but also for late-night counsel that encompassed everything from Keynote to plastic surgery. And to Kyla Fullenwider, Jenn Su and everyone at GOOD, if not for them there would have been no GOOD December at all (I’m kinda sad it’s all over…sniff). Plus, everyone in attendance got one of Metro’s new Naughty/Nice t-shirts and pins (which you can purchase here), as a huge thank you from one of LA’s best examples of how good design can make our city better. For anyone who was there, we are definitely going to find a way to make this a regular thing, but we need your suggestions: send them to or leave ’em in the comments!

Now I think I’m off to settle my brains for a long winter’s nap…

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  • Ellen

    Buzzing indeed! Connecting with like-minded people to make things happen is a very, very Good thing. We will see more kids — and grown-ups — walking in 2009. Walkers unite! Thanks.

  • Alissa

    Yay Walkers! Ellen, I love that you connected immediately with Frances and made a plan to help get the word out for her vision. Hopefully we can see more of this stuff happening!

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  • Emily

    Great job, it was an amazing event! I hope there are more GOOD events to come! I just put my review up over at LAist: (a bit later than planned!)

  • Alissa

    Hey Emily, Wow! Thanks so much for your support and the fantastic write up! We hope to have another one of these coming up soon! You guys are rocking it over at LAist!

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  • Hardtail

    Haha ^^ nice, is there a section to follow the RSS feed

  • Reverend Tex B. Acon

    I really liked your blog! Praise Bacon and Hallelujah :)

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  • Ellen

    Buzzing indeed! Connecting with like-minded people to make things happen is a very, very Good thing. We will see more kids — and grown-ups — walking in 2009. Walkers unite! Thanks.

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    You blog's layout is really great!

  • los angeles

    This is very interesting and informative. I’m glad I found this. I liked his approach to the subject. Keep it up! Since when has the world of computer software design been about what people want? This is a simple question of evolution. The day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy.

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