Posted in good design, things we like, tools of the trade by hemmant jha on April 20, 2009

LAMY Safari / AL-star fountain pen.

In Lamy’s own words : 

“LAMY safari – individuality goes to school

The new LAMY safari is a school fountain pen like no other. It is in a class of its own. At the beginning of the 1980s this is the message which quickly spreads in the new, young Lamy target group: the ten to fifteen-year-olds.

Their wish to have their own “writing tool” specially designed for them is ideally embodied in the LAMY safari. It is made of colourful, extremely resistant ABS plastic and with its unusual shape unmistakably signals robustness and reliability. And perhaps a touch of adventure, too.

The LAMY safari becomes a real international success when further writing systems and product colours are added and its avant-garde shape also finds high acceptance among adults.

Design: Entwicklungsgruppe Mannheim, Prof. Bernt Spiegel.”

Designed by Wolfgang Fabian, the AL-star was introduced in 1997. It is very similar in appearance to the classic Safari. With a smooth Aluminum surface, it is somewhat larger in diameter and weightier. While it feels more substantial and more serious in the hand, it is not nearly as robust as the Safari and shows marks of normal use quite easily.

Both pens are excellent writers – I regularly use them for sketching as well. For those new to fountain pens, I’d suggest getting the M nib – it is more forgiving than the F. For curious kids of all ages, get the Vista – the completely transparent version of the Safari, with inner workings on display.

I’ve had the black Safari for 8 years now, and have personally kept untold numbers of disposable pens from being consigned to landfills. Besides, Lamy inks are wonderful, and the bottle beautifully designed. It feels good to put pen to paper – it’s also a more direct way to put your thoughts down. Without the clunky word-processing and typing/computing interface in the way, one can actually write better, think better. It might take a little getting used to, but the cost of entry is quite low. Try it – and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.


For more on pens, inks, notebooks and related matters, please visit these posts : tools of the trade.


I’ve just been informed by Lamy that the ‘black’ Safari, listed as Charcoal on Lamy’s site, is actually Umbra [dark brown] – as is borne out by these pictures below.




Posted in the world around us by hemmant jha on April 19, 2009

The Greening of Target.

In to pick up a 4 bottle pack of Pepsi Natural, I was curious about what other green [organic, recycled, natural, minimally processed – or just a bit better for you] goods I might find in a quick walkthrough. These are the findings of a 10 minute trip through the Office Supply and Grocery aisles.

Scotch Recyclable Mailer. Pretty much any mailer can be recycled, so that’s clearly not what makes this one special. It’s made of 100% recycled paper, with 30% post-consumer waste. Skillfully hidden on both 3M and Target websites, here’s a link to the product on sale elsewhere.

Annie’s Organic Canned Pasta meals.

Archer Farms Organic Foods [Target house brand].

Häagen-Dazs fiveice cream.

Pepsi Natural Cola.



Posted in good design, in heavy rotation, things we like by hemmant jha on April 17, 2009

Album Art / Artful Albums.

Why do we buy music? What prompts one to buy music? The urge to listen, of course, but that’s not the only reason. Music is made and sold for a variety of reasons : to support a good cause, to try new sounds, to break moulds, to interpret / re-interpret, to express oneself. And all music carries a message. And while that message is conveyed through the sounds of music, it is the packaging, the imagery, the outer covering, that first attracts us to that physical carrier of music – vinyl or CD. Digital downloads are another matter entirely, quite out of the scope of this post. 

Sometimes, it is the identity of the label, integrated into the artwork of every album, that draws one to an unheard / undiscovered piece of music. Real World Records is a prime example – the music, generally categorized in stores as ‘world’ [another post, another day] is typically excellent, as is the quality of the recordings themselves – and I’m encouraged to pick up discs by musicians I have not heard or even heard of. Thanks to that distinctive strip of color on the spine, they’re easy to spot on any shelf.



Brilliant artwork on Pablo vinyl releases – black and white 12″X12″ photographs of classic jazz artists / performances, makes it practically impossible to pass up these records, especially if you happen to be partial to classic jazz.

(Est. 1973) Jazz At The Philharmonic founder Norman Granz so missed the recording aspect of the music business, which he’d abandoned in 1962 when he sold his Clef, Norgran, and Verve labels to MGM, that 10 years later he decided to take the plunge and start up yet another label. The veteran producer (then based in Beverly Hills) launched Pablo Records in 1973 and quickly built a world-class jazz catalog of albums by Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Pass, and Oscar Peterson – all of whom Granz managed – as well as Count Basie, Benny Carter, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, Art Tatum, Sarah Vaughan, and many others. After releasing over 350 albums, Granz sold Pablo to Fantasy, Inc. in 1987.


Sometimes, artwork is indicative of special attributes in a new release of a piece of music one may already own. I happen to own several releases of Kind of Blue – one disc in this picture is of the ‘definitive’ 24K gold disc on Sony Mastersound in deluxe packaging, with minimal extraneous information – a wonderful piece of music presented in a tasteful, straightforward way. The other disc is a more recent release – the SACD version, with a bonus track. While much attention has been lavished on the sound, there’s scant evidence of that in the artwork, with the UPC code easily the most prominent feature on the back. This disc would be picked up only if one went looking for it – one would hardly notice it as something special while browsing.


While major labels struggle to find their place in the new world, younger labels, even one-man labels, have found opportunity to thrive. Since the advent of recorded sound, it has never been easier [than it is today] to share music, to produce music in a collaborative way across borders, to record and edit music, to stamp discs and create limited runs of custom packaging, to market a product across the entire world simultaneously and instantly. Essentially, all it should take to create a modern, worthy and independent label is good music, good marketing, good packaging – good stuff. One such noteworthy label is Sidedown Audio. It is the brainchild of Joshua Wentz, founder of Sidedown, a decidedly random design agency. I had the pleasure of meeting JW a few years ago, when he wrote about a product we had designed – I liked his writing and his approach to design, and we’ve kept in touch since. He keeps me posted about the goings on at Sidedown, and now I bring his label to you [disclaimer : I do not stand to benefit financially from this post : thinkmore believes that all good efforts should be encouraged. We’ve featured other noteworthy efforts here : A , B , C , D , E ]. 


We believe that great music can come from anywhere.

 Sidedown Audio is a boutique music label that curates work from solo home-recording artists and pairs it with handmade design. The result is a limited edition hard copy album with cover art designed and manufactured in-house. Musicians get to keep the rights to all of their work, and we get to design album jackets. Everybody gets what they want!

Sidedown Audio will release between three and six full-length albums per year, each in a limited edition of 500-1000.

These are images of LEGATO RE LEMMA, unfurled. The latest Sidedown music can be streamed for free – but where’s the fun in that? Own the music, own the artwork, support artists. As the shiny label says, SIDEDOWNISYOURBESTFRIENDFOREVER. Go make friends!





Posted in good design, the world around us, things we like by hemmant jha on April 16, 2009

American Apparel.

Located in Downtown LA, Sweatshop Free, with Vertically Integrated Manufacturing, campaigning to Legalize LA – American Apparel gets noticed. Which is exactly what Dov Charney set out to do with the first series of AA advertising featuring women in various states of undress, shot mostly by him. The imagery was raw, the picture quality overblown and gritty – cheap thrills, perfectly in step with the AA product philosophy.

While an entire blog, not just a post, could be devoted just to the extent and nature of Dov’s participation in that process, his role in the creation of American Apparel is clear and incontestable, and can be summed up in a few words. We believe that the early success of any company is driven by its founder. Not an appointed governor, but the person with the original idea, the vision, the passion and the ability to do whatever it takes to create a successful venture. And to make this enterprise successful without resorting to the usual suspects – outsourcing, lowering quality, extravagant pricing, outrageous claims, is even more noteworthy. The American Apparel message is clear – well designed, sometimes funky, affordable clothing made locally in a conscientious way : what could be better?

Much has been written elsewhere about the company, the colorful personality of its founder, the products [1, 2]. The rest of this post is devoted to showcasing AA imagery, as seen on the building, within its factory store in LA, and its advertising [AA collection of models / campaign here – unfortunately, much of this looks a bit polished, unlike the earliest efforts].

American Apparel represents just the kind of effort we support, and is the first in our series of profiles on companies small and large – focussed, enthusiastic about what they do, innovative.  











Posted in good design, our work, tools of the trade by hemmant jha on April 12, 2009

fountain pen for artists.

While in graduate school studying architecture, I enrolled in a class on mechanical instrumentation. Located in the Sterling Chemistry building on the Yale University campus, this class taught precision machining to graduate students, mainly ones from the physics and chemistry schools. Tony Massini, master machinist, encouraged a thorough understanding of materials – their characteristics and quirks, and what made them unique. In addition, he made a mean espresso right there in the lab.

I found all of this incredibly fascinating and spent more time at the lab than I did in architecture school. One of my projects created at the lab is this fountain pen for artists, along with several associated tools and components.

The intent is summed up beautifully in this piece written by a friend – it is reproduced here in its entirety. Drawings and illustrations are by this author.



Pen Project

or, The Need to Write with Speed

At first glance it appears that someone with a strong fetish for radial symmetry has designed a fountain pen, as this pen’s nib has a cross section that is almost ornamental in its combination of circles and right angles.  Upon learning how the pen works, and by writing with it, however, one sees that this particular configuration was formed for very specific reasons.  What appears to be arbitrary and decorative turns out to be, by some coincidence of the rules of design and physics, an almost completely determined object.

Yet, this is not, actually, the beauty of the pen.  To regard it as a functionally sound accomplishment would be to overlook the mystery it holds.  The curious explanation for the pen’s shape lies hidden, and is not found in the process of making it, nor in discovery by experimentation, nor in the materials chosen.  There is no story to tell about its development, for it worked according to the first sketch.

The only really interesting thing about its formation lies in its unexpected derivation, its etymology.  For the pen is not an improved version of the usual fountain pen, with its slanted tip, and a slit for ink.  That pen is descended from the feather quill with its angle cut tip and hollow channel.  Instead, the ideal for this pen comes from the antithesis of the pen, from its wooden opposite.  This pen is a pencil that uses ink.  It is the idea of a writing instrument transposed from the world of pencils to the world of pens.

What evidence is there for this strange assertion?  How can a pen mimic the sensitive immediacy of a sharpened point of a lead pencil?  The cross section gives the first visible clue, for it is entirely unlike that of a typical fountain pen.  It is relentlessly symmetrical about the central point.  The four planes of the nib taper from the radius of the body down to a point, which is the contact point where writing occurs, allowing ink to meet paper.  As in a phillips head screwdriver, the cross-shaped configurations of the planes describe an equal distribution (of force for a screwdriver, in this case of ink) using a round tool.

The pen’s capillaries surround this cross, diffused about the center equally, a sort of compound eye.  Instead of the single hollow channel or gap that allows ink to flow in a traditional pen, the ink comes from the residual spaces between the square corners of the cross shape and the tiny round wires inserted into the interior corners of the cross-shaped nib (see diagram).  Since there are four capillaries for ink flow, rather than one, there is no chance of an interruption of the ink, as often happens in a single channel pen.  This allows it to spin, twist, and accommodate various pressures without stops in the line.

Not only the number of the capillaries, but their shape, gives another clue to the idea behind the pen,  If the cross section creates a place analogous to the central lead of a pencil, then the liquid ink, which has to do the job of the lead, must co-occupy this space.  In other words, the closer to the central point, the better.  In the pen, this is achieved with the tiny wires that are wedged into the small interior corners of the cross-shaped planar nib.  They crowd the ink into the corners.  The minute gap created between the perfectly square element and the perfectly circular one gives the ink a place to seep down the nib, as close to the center as possible, and all around it.  The place for the ink is the result of the geometrical equation, L-O.  Similar spaces left by small round wires allow the air to flow up into the ink chamber, without which, naturally, the ink could not flow.

The result is a writing tip that acts like a pencil, imitating it not in appearance but in action.  Like a freshly sharpened wooden pencil, it has a smooth slope, and one can write or draw with either the very tip or the angled side.  (Since it is not exactly a tapered cone, but a cross shape, a slight twist of the pen creates small differences in line width, depending on whether one or two planes are touching paper.  This is one of the features that make it belong again to the pen family.)

When all explanations and metaphorical comparisons are finished, however, we should forget them and simply write with the pen, for its entire purpose is not to make itself an object of our attention, but to disappear from our consciousness while we use it, as any good tool should do.


Sharon Joyce, Yale University


For more on pens, inks, notebooks and related matters, please visit these posts : tools of the trade.



%d bloggers like this: