MUJI Lulls You to Sleep With Its Minimalistic New App

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MUJI, Japan’s super successful minimalistic “brandless-brand” has recently released a new app, MUJI to Sleep. It boasts a series of natural sounds to help induce a sound slumber, anytime, anywhere. The app is aesthetically awesome, free, boasts a tight design, and last but certainly not least, aids in perpetuating MUJI’s brand values. Other brands take note: this is how you do digital.

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The beginnings of MUJI date back to the early 1980’s, when it served as a generic supermarket brand. Since then the company has grown into a well-respected global name, encompassing a huge variety of goods, everything from housewares to fashion. “Muji” is short for “Mujirushi Ryohin” or “brandless quality goods.”

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If you’re familiar with MUJI then you can see the irony in this; MUJI’s “brandless” has become quite the well-known brand. In recent years they’ve expanded out of Asia and into European and North American markets, having seduced design-centric crowds, their wares even sold in MoMA. MUJI to Sleep seeks to continue the brand’s successful trend of function meets natural simplicity.

 

In an ever-increasing digital world, it’s hard to keep electronics out of the bed, even when we know we’re not supposed to. But MUJI’s sleep app defies this logic, using the sounds of nature on your smartphone or tablet to make drifting off easier. It’s a very niche app, thus the interface and design is refreshingly simple and straightforward. You swipe through six calming sounds of nature: seaside waves, tweeting birds, kindling fire, a stream, forest, and waterfall.

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Every sound was recorded on-location, in Japan, using head-shaped binaural microphones to closely duplicate the experience of actually being within the setting. This technique creates an audio frequency gap between the left and right ear that syncs with the user’s brainwave cycle to encourage sleep. Each sound can be set to a timer of 30, 60, or 90 minutes.

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This app couldn’t fit any better within the MUJI family. The brand has risen to popularity precisely because of its refined products and tidy stores, which ultimately offer a bastion of calm. MUJI to Sleep reinforces this association with its minimalistic design and simple, yet functional use. The app is clearly a brand-builder, but doubles as a product-seller too.

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Accompanying MUJI to Sleep is a fantastic microsite that demonstrates the app’s use when paired with one of the company’s most popular products, the Well-Fitted Neck Cushion. The app appears to have been created to supplement the cushion’s effectiveness (and that of other other MUJI products too). The two compliment each other so well that you feel like you can’t own one without the other, effectively creating need and consequently moving product off the shelves.

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This isn’t MUJI’s first foray into the digital; the company has successfully released other apps that work congruent to their physical offerings. It’s an effective means of digital advertising and marketing—I don’t feel like I’m being worked over by the brand as they’re offering me functional experiences to enhance my living.

“MUJI to Sleep” is available now for both iOS and Android devices. Sweet dreams and happy snoozing.

Nick Partyka

August 25, 2014 / By

Haruki Murakami’s New Novel and its Delightfully Designed Cover

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Talking cats? Strange moons? Brooding teenagers? Yep, it’s time for a new Haruki Murakami novel. Next week the English-speaking world will be treated to the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the long-awaited novel of Japan’s critically acclaimed author. Published by Knopf and Harvill Secker of the Penguin Random House Company, it’s been eagerly anticipated since the release of Murakami’s best selling epic, 1Q84, in 2011. In preparation of the launch, we’re treated to an excerpt of the new book, as well as a look at the cover’s design—in which there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer—born in Kyoto in 1949, he currently resides in Tokyo. His works have been translated into 50 languages and his best-selling books have been published in millions of copies. His most notable works include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore. The Guardian praises Murakami as “among the world’s greatest living novelists.” He’s kind of a big deal and happens to be one of my favorite authors.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. Newly released in Germany, Spain, and Holland, it has already topped the bestsellers in all three countries, and it sold over one million copies within its first week when originally released in Japan of April last year. You can read Slate’s excerpt from the new book, “Haida’s Story,” which is a story within a story that touches upon the nature of narration and how stories change the more we retell them.

“A return to the mood and subject matter of the acclaimed writer’s earlier work… A vintage Murakami struggle of coming to terms with buried emotions and missed opportunities, in which intentions and pent up desires can seemingly transcend time and space to bring both solace and desolation.” —Publishers Weekly

As with every Murakami release, I’m quite excited about the book cover’s design. If you’re also a fan of Murakami’s work then you’re familiar with the designs of either John Gall or Chip Kidd—who’ve been primarily responsible for the classic covers of previous Murakami western releases. Always beautiful and ever evoking the abstract, these works never fail to catch my eye, draw me into the novel, or give new meaning to the words on page.

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Unfortunately, neither designer was involved with Murakami’s newest release. But fret not; handling the new cover was Random House’s creative director, Suzanne Dean. She’s responsible for the fantastic work coming out of the publishing house’s Vintage Classics line, who previously commissioned the talented Noma Bar to redesign Murakami’s backlist. They’re some of the best-looking book covers in recent years. Under Dean’s guidance, the designs featured a circle motif, accompanied by a three-colored palette—in order to reflect the “seen and unseen” often portrayed in Murakami’s work. These covers were screen printed by hand to give a personal, softer edge, demonstrating the care that Dean puts into every piece under her guidance.

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A circular motif reappears for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Dean states that the new cover is “an elegant abstract design, representing the five main characters.” The process began with her, as she recounts, “I cut out five circles and played with the position of each of them as physical elements away from the confines of a computer. I experimented with overlapping the circles to represent the interactions within the close friendship of the main characters. Gradually the design came together in a congruent and meaningful form.” Following the physical preliminaries, Dean transferred the design to Photoshop, where she could refine the color interactions and land on a look that quickly fell into place.

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Accompanying Dean’s cover is a set of stickers. Dean explains, “Tsukuru’s name means to make or build and this was a gift, a completely perfect match for an idea to include adult stickers for the book buyer to decorate the novel.” As a result, Dean commissioned five Japanese illustrators, who brought a uniquely Japanese style and knowledge of Japanese detail to the project. Each illustrator was given a character, and therefore a color, and asked to read the novel with that character in mind. They were then asked to create images reflecting their character, using their specific color.

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Mio Matsumoto: Colorless
“My drawing style here is very sharp and clean…Tsukuru is colour-less. But I thought he is influenced by the others so, based on the strong drawing line, I wanted to add all the other colours in his related objects.” Matsumoto graduated from the Royal College of Art and is currently living and working in Tokyo.

Fumio Obata: Blue
“I chose certain objects to illustrate from the text because of their noise, for instance Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” was an inspiration for the first image I did.” Obata studied at the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, where he worked in animation for some years before deciding to concentrate on comic books and illustration.

Ryu Itadani: Red
“In all my images I carefully chose other colors to highlight red, so (hopefully) viewers can imagine that the images have something to do with red.” Itadani currently lives and works in Berlin.

Natsko Seki: White
“All the items had to be beautiful as she was, and show fragility and sensitivity.” Seki lives and works in London.

Shinko Okuhara: Black
“I worked with the colour by considering how to express the difference between the image of her full name “Eri Kurono” and her nickname “black” and her character.” Okuhara lives and works in Tokyo.

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As you can see, what at first looks like a very simple and basic book cover turns out to be a well-thought and involved process between many artists. The result is an exceptionally designed cover that readers can customize, turning the book into an interactive experience. Its design harkens day’s past and evokes nostalgia, something that I hope will only further my attachment to Murakami’s newest work. You start putting stickers on your own copy next week, August 12th, which you can purchase here (or here if you want the stickers and Dean’s design). Check out Murakami’s Facebook for release events near you.

Nick Partyka

August 5, 2014 / By

Life in Space as Azuma Makoto Captures Flowers in the Cosmos

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Japanese artist Azuma Makoto is taking his work to new heights, literally. His art project, titled Exobiotanica, pits plants high above their home, bursting in color and beauty against the backdrop of a glistening planet Earth and the infinities of space that surrounds it. The project is simple in concept, visually beautiful in execution, and says volumes about the planet we’ve come to inherit.

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Working out of Black Rock Desert, Nevada and alongside JP Aerospace, Makoto sent organic life to the borders of space, suspended by balloon. Bonsai trees, orchids, lilies, and other fauna or flora were subject to altitudes exceeding 30,000 meters and minus 50 degrees celsius. To the artist, exposing organic land-locked material beyond the confines of their earthly home transformed them into “exobiotanica,” or rather, extraterrestrial plant life.

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While Makoto’s intent is neat and its results hold true, I believe that there’s more being said here than simply sending life where there isn’t any. Jonathan Jones wrote on the Guardian, “these images dramatize the startling nature of planet Earth itself.” Makoto’s photographs beautifully put forth the mystery of life on Earth—something to be treasured, once realized.

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The fact of the matter is that our home, planet Earth, is the only known place in the entire universe to harbor life. We don’t know of any other planet that is alive as ours is. The richness of Earth’s organic matter is gorgeously apparent in Makoto’s arrangements, the brightly-colored flowers serve in stark contrast against the darkness of space that surrounds them.

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In talking about the importance of Makoto’s project, Jones references William Anders’ iconic photograph, Earthrise. Shot aboard Apollo 8 in 1968, the photograph was the first color image to look back upon ourselves from the outside. It has been declared “the most influential environmental photograph ever taken,” and helped spark the environmental movement. To me, this reference couldn’t be any more apt, as Makoto’s project entertains the same sentiment in aiding our appreciation for existing in a lifeless universe.

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While Makoto’s work might not be as historic as Earthrise, it’s certainly no less thought evoking. Projects such as these remind us that life on our planet is intertwined—Earth acting no more than a spaceship, nurturing its lively passengers. This concept has inherently been apart of our understanding for years, as demonstrated in the great landscapes of art’s past, such as Hokusai’s 35 views of Mount Fuji, which portrays the interlinking of sky and Earth.

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If you’re having a bad day or just want to feel enlightened, then look to pieces like Makoto’s Exobiotanica, Earthrise, or even Hokusai. You’ll quickly cherish the importance of this very special planet we’ve come to inhabit—it’s the only one orbiting amongst a vast sea of stars that’s bearing life and all its beautiful intricacies. Revel in the fact that you live here and are a part of it.

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Nick Partyka

July 29, 2014 / By

Google’s Street Art Project is a Step in the Right Direction for Graffiti

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Google’s Paris-based Cultural Institute has recently launched a database called the Street Art Project. This initiative features street art from across the globe, much of which no longer exists. Working alongside various cultural organizations worldwide, and putting to use their very own Street View, the Cultural Institute and subsequent Street Art Project is making these public works increasingly more public, democratizing art, and chronicling it’s contemporary impact for the future. It’s one of those projects that makes Google hard not to love.

 

The Google Cultural Institute, founded in 2011, is composed of a staff around 30 engineers. It’s a project that’s documenting the physical and bringing it to the web for the public to access. They want users to be able to view the Art Projects, Historical Moments, and World Wonders that have shaped our world, from the comfort of your home. As of now, they’ve already helped create online archives for historic figures, such as Nelson Mandela, or used Street View to provide renderings of World Heritage sites. But what really grabs my attention is the focus they’re placing on graffiti—handling it with the respect and admiration that is traditionally associated with works found in museums or on gallery walls.

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“I’m not treating street art as anything different from what I would do with the Impressionist collection I’m getting on Art Project,” said Amit Sood, director of the Cultural Institute. The Street Art Project is sister to the Art Project, another Cultural Institute initiative that has provided technical support to more than 460 museums and helped in bringing their collections to the web for all to see.

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The Street Art Project is searchable by artists, city, genre and other categories. Not only does it consist of current art viewable in the public, but it also documents much of which that doesn’t exist anymore. Of the 30 institutions that have furnished the platform with images is the Museum of the City of New York; the Dallas Contemporary; Living Walls: The City Speaks in Atlanta; and the Museum of Street Art in France.

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On one side, Google is helping bring street art to a more respectable level. On the other, it’s perpetuating what street art already encompasses, that is public art in the public space. The New York Times encapsulates this in stating, “Google is formalizing what street art fans around the world already do: take pictures of city walls and distribute them on social media.” It’s an effort to make art more available to viewers, a public domain gone more public, and it’s fascinating to see it happen thanks to the developments of technology and the culture-bridging, border-crossing abilities of the internet.

 

Shepard Fairey stated that, “I’ve always used my street art to democratize art, so it would be philosophically inconsistent for me to protest art democratization through Google.” Street art often comes with a bad rep, where people have a hard time distinguishing it from vandalism.

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Lois Stavsky, who runs Street Art NYC says that most artists like the idea of of enabling more people to view their work. Especially the Street Art Project’s potential to preserve work. Take 5Pointz for example, the famous NYC graffiti landmark that was whitewashed last year. Working alongside the Cultural Institute, Stavsky sorted through hundreds of 5Pointz photos to uploaded several to Google’s new platform—making a location available to thousands that otherwise would’ve never had the opportunity to see.

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As is expected from a company like Google, the platform itself is designed to utilize the web’s functions and perform smoothly. It’s intuitive and features a bunch of interesting features, from documentaries to dipping into street view to have a look at building’s interiors. Perhaps the most innovative feature is a special camera they used to document certain pieces (such as VHILS who’s famous for sculpting work into walls), allowing users to zoom in and take a closer look in stunning clarity.

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Nick Partyka

June 26, 2014 / By

Ai Weiwei Returns with TASCHEN Monograph and Brooklyn Exhibition

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2014 brings forth two reminders that Ai Weiwei hasn’t disappeared… Yet. Working in collaboration with esteemed publishers, TASCHEN, Weiwei has put together the first comprehensive monograph of his life’s work. The release is a testament to Ai’s legacy as an artist and activist. When you’re done browsing the book, you can see his work in person at the Brooklyn Museum, which is host to Ai Weiwei: According to What? that marks the last leg of the artist’s wildly successful show.

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Nick Partyka

June 9, 2014 / By

‘My Famicase Exhibition’ Turns Video Games into Art for its Tenth Year

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It’s that time of year when Tokyo based game culture shop METEOR hosts their annual My Famiscase Exhibition, an art show unlike any other, featuring custom Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge designs. Entrants not only design original artwork, but also the creative concept behind the imagined video game. This year’s show marks the exhibitions 10th year and features talent from across the globe. It’s an interesting mishmash of video game culture and design with a unique twist on the traditional gallery experience.

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Nick Partyka

May 14, 2014 / By

‘The Endangered Song’ with Portugal. The Man is Saving Tigers by Going Extinct

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Can creativity change the world? Advertising agency DDB NY would like to think so, as demonstrated in their new campaign for the Smithsonian National Zoo, the Endangered Song. In an effort to spread awareness of the less than 400 Sumatran Tigers left in the world, the two teamed up with rock band Portugal. The Man to manufacture and record a song. Not just any ol’song, but one created to go extinct, unless digitally reproduced. It’s a wholly clever solution, reminding us of creativity’s importance and influence. I was afforded the opportunity to pick the brains of the two creatives behind it all to find out more. Continue reading this post…

Nick Partyka

May 2, 2014 / By

‘Watermark’ is a Documentary Unlike Any You’ve Ever Seen Before

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Water. It covers 71% of the Earth’s surface. It’s vital for all known forms of life. It’s pure, it’s beautiful, and it’s awfully artistic, as seen in its leading role within Watermark, a documentary exploring “the extent to which humanity has shaped water, and how it has shaped us.” It’s the result of taking two award-winning documentary directors, Jennifer Bachiwal and Nick de Pencier, and soaking them with renowned Canadian photographer, Edward Burtynsky. While living beautifully on the big screen, this film can just as easily find a home on a gallery wall. It’s an amazingly produced documentary that’s excels in every category of film making, combining several elements to ultimately transform the way you think about water and your relationship to it.

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Nick Partyka

April 22, 2014 / By

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