Skip to main content

Book Review: "Abstract"

Every year Columbia GSAPP releases a yearbook of sorts, full of student work from the previous year.  This year's Abstract, designed by Stefan Sagmeister, has been setting the school a-buzz, but not for the usual reasons.  Because this year's Abstract was a decoy.


Inside the flimsy plastic case that resembles a book is... nothing, just a web address spelled out in block letters, like the packaging for some alphabet toy.  The actual Abstract is an electronic-only affair, downloadable from this website, available as an application only for desktop computers (Windows and Mac) and iPads (sorry, Android).  There is no web version.  So far I've only seen a limited preview, since I don't have an iPad, and I don't spend much time at home.  I've heard numerous complaints that the application doesn't work at all, but I hope to find out for myself... eventually.  From what I've seen by looking over the shoulder of someone with an iPad, the app is actually quite nice, provides high-resolution views of the content, and lets you both search and browse at random through the "pages."



But what's causing my peers to grumble, and with which I agree, is that the plastic decoy version is a big waste of resources.*  Why bother creating this faux plastic version of a book at all?  Why not just post the link around the school and call it a day?  Most of us aren't opposed to electronic content - far from it.  What we don't like is the pointless plastic packaging, worse than sending an application on DVD through the mail, since there's not even any content inside.  I do have my own reservations about the format of the "book," however, since I'm not sure we're yet at the point where the archiving of digital materials can stand the test of time.  What happens in 10 years when there are no more iPads and no more Windows 7, and we can't open this application anymore?  Do we have to keep an old Windows machine around, like they do at real archives, just to open this program?  I grant you that books are becoming more and more electronic, but for something that claims to be an archive of student work, this year's Abstract falls a little short.  And why is there no web version? At least a web version might get picked up by electronic archives like The Wayback Machine, and thereby stand a chance at existing for more than the next few years.

I would like to make clear that I mean no disrespect to the students who worked on this project, including students in my own program, but I wish someone had been able to convince the administration that a plastic decoy is not something anyone wants on his/her shelf.  I've seen copies of Abstract used as a gift for visiting professors or brought along when we visit others outside the school, as a kind of ambassador; I can't image using this plastic box in the same way.

I have a few older versions of Abstract, so I must admit that this year's falls pretty well into line with the others.  Last year's, nicknamed "the potato," is cut full of holes that go all the way through the book.  I was pretty disappointed with this version, since I think it's disrespectful to the student work inside.  We spent a lot of time and effort on these projects, and then other students spent a lot of time and effort laying out the book, only for the designer to cut holes indiscriminately through the images.  Does no one actually value the work inside?




The year before was a "gold brick" of a book, with some optical illusion lines on the cover and case.  I thought it was gaudy and ostentatious, especially since the gold foil covers the edges of the paper as well as the cover, and the edges are laser-etched so the lines wrap all the way around.  But at least the work inside is treated like something valuable, and the gold even elevates the work to the status of idol or relic.  Over-the-top, but at least respectful and comprehensible.


I much prefer some of the older versions I have, from before I was a student, given to me at the open house I attended back in 2010.  These versions contain clever details, like nesting a series of books within one another, or covers that require following a certain set of directions to open, printed diagrammatically on the book itself.

Image by gsapponline from Issuu.com, Abstract 2008-2009

I appreciate the impulse to create an archive of student work, and as a librarian myself, I want to encourage it.  I think we should be learning from past student work.  But I don't think this year's Abstract is either a particularly good way to preserve content or particularly respectful in its execution.  I hope next year's version returns to analog (print), if only so I can have a tangible record of my final year at GSAPP.


You can download your own copy of Abstract 2011-2012, assuming you have the right hardware, at http://abstract20112012.com/.

*Justin would like to point out that the combined package of app + plastic decoy may have cost less and/or used fewer environmental resources than printing a "normal" version of Abstract.  I maintain that the decoy may be relatively less wasteful, but is still objectively wasteful.

Comments

  1. very nice review!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Do you have any shots of the one that requires a specific procedure to open?

    ReplyDelete
  3. speaking to you're comment on the actual wastefulness of the "book": while i agree that the printing of a book would use considerably more resources, it can't be ignored that the reading and downloading of the book now requires an energy source. this makes boiling down the footprint of the new format much more complicated, and i think it can be argued that the final environmental impact would be on par with or worse than a printed book. all that aside, the choice to use plastic for the "decoy" (or the idea of a decoy book in general) was a careless mistake.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Book Review: "Theory and Design in the First Machine Age"

Reyner Banham's Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (1960) is an engaging overview of the important theoretical developments of the early 20th century leading up to the "International Style" of the 1930s-40s.  Banham does a fairly good job, in my opinion, of avoiding excessive editorializing, although he has a clear viewpoint on the Modern Movement and finishes with a strong conclusion.  In opposition to his teacher, Nikolaus Pevsner, whose own history of modernism came out in 1936, Banham dismantled the "form follows function" credo that became the stereotype of modernism, arguing instead that formalism (a preoccupation with style and aesthetics) was an important, if not overriding, concern of Modern architects.  Two sections of the book struck me in particular: his analysis of Le Corbusier's famous book Vers une architecture (Toward a [new] architecture) from 1923, and his Conclusion (chapter 22), where he breaks the link between functionalism and …

Vertical Bike Rack

The work of our hands!


A little backstory:  We bought two bikes as soon as we could after moving here, so we could both bike to work.  After a few uneventful months of chaining up our bikes next to our car in the carport of our apartment building, Justin's bike was stolen.  (Mine was mysteriously left behind, together with Justin's pannier, which the thieves helpfully folded up and placed on top of my bike.  My only guess is that the chain holding my bike was harder to cut than the chain on Justin's.)  Since then, we've kept our bikes inside, hauling them up and down two flights of stairs to our third-floor apartment every time we take them out, which is usually a few times a week.  Ugh.  Better than buying a new bike every few months, though.

We needed a rack that would keep the bikes off the floor, off the walls, and in as small a footprint as possible, without requiring us to drill into or otherwise damage the walls (or floor or ceiling).  This proved a challenge t…

Voter's Guide - June 5, 2018 Election, Santa Clara County

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time figuring out who to vote for, because there is no single place to get all the voter information you need.  So, since I have already spent the last several hours deciding how to vote, I've compiled all the information I used here, so you can decide for yourself!  This is relevant to the Santa Clara County election here in California, so if you are looking for San Francisco-specific information, you can try SPUR or other sources.  Obvious disclaimer:  I am looking for progressive candidates who support strong liberal policies on the environment, housing, education, human rights, and the economy.  If you disagree with me, you may want to look elsewhere.



For each position or proposition, I'm going to list the position, my recommendation, link to my sources, and then note other viable candidates (if any).

State & National Offices

Governor:  Gavin Newsom
Former SF mayor Gavin Newsom has an almost overwhelming amount of policy object…