Comcast trucks, Yale University

Comcast vans parked on High Street earlier this week.

The ubiquity of the Ford Econoline.

Sorry for the weird truck/van kick. There’ll be a post on snow over the weekend.


A collection of trucks idling on York Street at midday, all making deliveries.


Different backgrounds, similar tasks.


A tension between form and content.


Trucks as a kind of mobile Journal of Urban Typography.


A momentary herd, parked nose-to-butt up the block.


“WANTED” brand tortilla products at Le Grand Epicerie De Paris, a high-end grocery store connected to a department store, Le Bon Marché.


How do we define ourselves abroad? Are these chips and tortillas American because they tilt at Old-West stereotypes? Because they’re in English? Because tortilla chips are un-French?


The layers of filtration: Mexican food, packaged as American, advertised using American stereotypes of Mexicans, to be sold to a French/European audience. 


Pico Iyer would have a field day.


Hot chocolate served at the bar of a Paris café. The small pitcher inside the cup holds melted chocolate, allowing the end user to determine the chocolate:milk ratio and thereby the taste of the hot chocolate. (The larger pitcher of steamed milk is not shown.) Customization, acceptable tasks. The justifications we mount behind certain ways of doing things.

Both the spoon and the pitcher of chocolate could be transported on the saucer, but only the pitcher is. The spoon is delivered after the saucer/cup/pitcher has been set down. The spoon’s delivery is very purposeful—it is placed just so, its bowl pointing down and its handle resting on the bar.

Anticipation and the staging of an experience; the power of ritual. Even getting coffee from an automated machine has an aura of ceremony to it—the metallic coins deposited, the click of the selection button, the sound of hot liquid hitting a cardboard cup, the always-identical smell, the grimace of the first sip. The line between interaction and observation; the line between accidental or ad hoc or improvised moments and the deliberate creation of a product-to-be-experienced.

(The fiscally-driven spatial product of Parisian cafés: Table service costs more than bar service.)

The dream of every little boy and girl: Their very own Hands-free Ear Light.

Most Advanced Yet Acceptable, or MAYA, is a design axiom meant to capture consumer preference for the familiar. New designs should look new, fresh, like the future incarnate, but shouldn’t be so alien that consumers can’t imagine themselves using one. Hands-free flashlights have been around for decades—think miners’ headlamps—but the Hands-free Ear Light capitalizes on the design, orientation, and use of bluetooth headsets. Why? Because headlamps, while old, weren’t something you’d wear on your ear.

Exaptation, cross-pollination, variables and constants. The magic of cheap labor and economies of scale.

Why this is being sold next to vitaminwater is anyone’s guess.

(Notice also the aisle information sign in the background. Why the cutting trapezoidal shape? A designer’s best guess, or market research at work? I’m guessing the former, but would really like to see a video of the focus group behind the latter. “The rectangle’s just normal, I guess. Trapezoids make me feel kind of cutting-edge.” And on that wisdom, we remodel our worlds.)

Selling ideas, selling concepts: The product is secondary to the ideal, the image, the lifestyle.

The verbal talismans we brandish to keep our monsters away. The useful gnomes we invoke to justify our actions.

A skeuomorph is “a design feature copied from a similar artifact in another material, even when not functionally necessary,” as explained in a recent a-word-a-day email forwarded by tmworld’s dad. (Although I think Wikipedia’s definition—”a derivative object which retains ornamental design cues to structure that were necessary in the original”—is a little clearer.)

Examples of skeuomorphs include the shutter sound made by cameraphones to indicate a photo has been taken, even they do not have shutters, or the copper cladding on zinc pennies. Interesting stuff, but esoteric and seemingly isolated to a handful of cases.

And so I was astonished to encounter the above cup. It looks like its normal paper-and-plastic disposable to-go cup brethren (pictured at the top of this post) but it is in fact constructed wholly from plastic and is designed to be reusuable. The cup is a production of Capital Cups, which it as being a “spill-proof, reusable, recyclable, insulated beverage cup.” You can see examples of cups they’ve done for other clients; I think the Dunkin’ Donuts cup is especially skeuomorphical. 

Several of my friends were handed these cups by employees outside our local Au Bon Pain, a fast-casual bakery chain on the east coast, similar to Panera or Cosi, as part of some promotion, apparently. ABP is now selling these “travel mugs” for $2.99 in their stores, but if you have one you can buy coffee there at the refill price. My friends who have them, like them: they’re pretty good travel mugs and make it easy to take coffee or tea to-go from the dining halls. They say they’re not any more likely to buy coffee at ABP than they were before—especially because the dining halls always have fresh coffee.

But the cleverness of the cup isn’t in whether the person you hand it to becomes a regular ABP customer: The cleverness is that the people around that person will see them using an ABP cup. It looks like a to-go cup, so those around you would naturally assume that you’d just been to ABP. The cup is physical viral marketing. (I’m reminded somehow of Bloomingdale’s Medium Brown Bag Tote Bag, which is a $35 replica of the brown paper bags they give away in-store.)

I could think of one other example of a skeuomorph in physical advertising: Replica food. This is primarily a Japanese phenomenon, meant to be a sort of physical menu showing how food and drink will look, although my family owns a Café Du Monde Christmas ornament that is a replica of one of their famous beignets. The purposes of these two types of replica food are different, obviously—both are advertisements, but one is meant to compel purchases, while the other is meant to induce nostalgia—but the format is the same. (Ikea and other furniture stores often display feature fake TVs and DVD players; while skeuomorphs, these props are designed to be place-holders for their real counterparts, not to advertise those counterparts.)

For skeuomorphs in food, the question of reality is clear-cut: The real food is food you can eat. But here the question is more difficult: Which cup is real? The travel mug, because of how it presents itself, is more postmodern (and therefore less real): how things appear has trumped what things are. The irony is that the travel mug is better at being a cup than the “real” cup. It is stronger, more portable, reusable, and holds liquid longer. How valid are these claims? Is one cup more real than the other?

Undulating waves of juice.

An assortment of rectangles, and circles.

Red amidst the blue.


Unintentional art, but still.

How much do we focus on the micro at the exclusion of the macro?

You already drink Gatorade, right? So why not drink it in the morning?

Effective redeployment/unfortunate dilution?

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