I’m really intrigued by the way popular culture influences design. We see it every day: film, music, art, literature, and even video games informing our surroundings. It’s not a new phenomenon. Companies used to underwrite radio programs in the 1930s and later turned their attention to TV to make their products cool. In the 80s, we craved cutting loose while wearing wayfarers like a Risky Business-era Tom Cruise. In the 90s we wanted to tell time with 007’s watch and drive his Beamer. In the oughts, we needed a Mac to write like Carrie Bradshaw.
But the influence of rock, pulp, comedy, and other arts goes well beyond product placement. At its most pervasive, pop culture changes how we work and play. When it comes to textiles, print, audio, and video literally weave the fabric of our lives. Take for instance Peter Saville’s iconic artwork for “Unknown Pleasures.” The design has been used to sell everything from trainers and leggings to ski/skate gear and bed sheets. You can’t blame Joy Division for that. It’s inevitable that nostalgia will be used to sway what we consume.
We were sleeping on Star Wars sheets back in 1977, long before post-punk was being used to hock pillow cases. That’s my earliest memory of film as a design reference, a repeating collage of blasters and spaceships and androids and Jedis like some crazy toile. Star Wars was the ultimate in cool, and I’m not sure we’ve witnessed anything as omnipresent since.
That’s a shame, and it got me thinking about ways I could incorporate the movies, books, and records I love into design. First I took a stab at patterning, John Carpenter’s “The Thing” serving as a reference. Largely disparaged by critics at the time, “The Thing” is now widely viewed as a masterpiece deserving of artistic interpretation. Here’s the result of my initial attempt to integrate Carpenter’s opus into a tonal fabric design.
I’m working on a few other concepts (“CHUD,” etc.). We’ll see how those turn out. Recently, I’ve also been fascinated by JC#RT’s plaid-based shirt and tie designs, clothing influenced by books and music. Their work led me to experiment with my own designs, a group of swatches inspired by records I enjoy. Here are a few. First, Elbow’s “Little Fictions” as a tartan.
Here’s a reimagining of New Order’s “Power, Corruption, and Lies” (aka, “Plaid, Corruption, and Lies”):
And another based upon the band’s latest, “Music: Complete” (aka, “Tartan: Complete”):
And one last one, Crowded House’s self-titled release:
It’s pretty easy to do, to be honest. All you need is an eye for color, an online tartan simulator, and some thoughts about layering. Producing the fabric is another matter altogether. That requires money.
Ultimately, popular culture offers us another artistic avenue. There’s no shortage of ideas out there, no scarcity of mediums, and no lack of inspiration.
EDIT 21 June 2017. A few additional designs…