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Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

12 People Behind Ubiquitous Designs

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Corporate design is its own kind of art form, but the people behind those designs almost never get their proper due. Here are 12 of the people whose designs have left a permanent mark on U.S. culture. 

1. JULIUS SAMANN // LITTLE TREES 

Julius Samann was a German-Jewish chemist who fled the Nazis and landed in upstate New York. There, he met a milkman who complained to him about the smell left behind when his products went bad. Samann had been studying tree-smells for a while at that point, and that brief conversation inspired him to patent the stench-masking paper pine trees that dangle from rearview mirrors to this day. (The company still exists, and now offers 60 scents.) 

2. LESLIE BUCK // THE ANTHORA COFFEE CUP 

Dan Bluestein, Wikipedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Like Samann, Leslie Buck was also a refugee from Nazi-occupied Europe. Also like Samann, hundreds of millions of people have appreciated his magnum opus—the Anthora coffee cup—without ever knowing his name. Buck had no formal art training—he was a paper cup salesman, through and through—but to generations of coffee drinkers, his design is as much a work of New York art as Annie Hall. The Czechoslovakian salesman chose his Grecian design after realizing that many of the city’s diner owners were Greek and decided to play to their cultural background. The blue cups were called “Anthora” cups—a spin on Buck’s pronunciation of the word amphora, a type of ancient Greek storage vessel. The marketing tactic worked; by the early ‘90s, Buck was selling over half a billion cups a year.

3. GINA EKISS // THE “JAZZ” CUP 

What started off as just a paper cup design soon snowballed into a cultural phenomenon, with everything from pins to cars emblazoned with the design. Until just a few months ago, the corporate Picasso behind this beloved disposable cup remained unknown to the world at large. Then, last May, a Reddit post kicked off a search that led to a woman named Gina Ekiss, a former Sweetheart Cup Company employee who designed "Jazz" for a company contest in 1989. Ekiss's work went unheralded at the time—she didn't even get a bonus—but a generation of kids who grew up sipping Kool-Aid out of "Jazz" cups have since given her the credit she deserves. 

4. GARY ANDERSON // THE RECYCLING SYMBOL 

iStock

Gary Anderson was a senior at the University of Southern California when he won a contest sponsored by the Container Corporation of America. They'd been looking for designs that symbolized the recycling process, to be used on their recycled paperboard products. Anderson's winning entry has since been stamped on millions of recycling bins and plastic products, attaining stop sign-levels of recognizability. "It seems to belong to everybody—and that is fine with me," Anderson said decades later.

5. SUSAN KARE // THE ORIGINAL MAC ICONS 

Early computer users will recall Kare’s work fondly. As part of the original Apple design team in the ‘80s, the designer was tasked with creating the graph paper designs for the Macintosh's interface. Kane set the template for modern computing, which is impressive, given that before starting at Apple she had never designed an icon

6. SRG ARCHITECTS // THE PORTLAND AIRPORT INTERNATIONAL CARPET 

Unless you’re this guy, you probably don't obsess over industrial carpet designs. The exception can be found at Portland Airport International, whose blue-green carpet has inspired Twitter accounts, t-shirts, and a Facebook page with over 14,000 Likes. Designed by SRG Architects in 1987, its color scheme was chosen in response to the muted tones which at the time dominated the airport-carpet scene. Unfortunately for teal lovers around the world, the carpet was replaced last year with something similar, but not quite as aesthetically legendary. 

7. ARTHUR FRY AND SPENCER SILVER // THE POST-IT NOTE

The Post-It Note was the invention of two people, neither of them Romy or Michele. The two real creators were both employees at 3M: Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver. Fry was looking for some way to bookmark a church hymnal when he remembered that Silver had invented a new form of adhesive that left no residue. He attached the adhesive to a piece of paper, inadvertently inventing the Post-It Note. And so a billion passive-aggressive office kitchen memos were born. 

8. CHARLES O’REAR // THE MICROSOFT XP BACKGROUND “BLISS” 

Wikimedia Commons, iStock // Fair use

Photographer Charles O'Rear was driving through Napa and Sonoma counties in California to meet his future wife when he pulled over to take some quick pictures of a hill in 1996. He couldn't have known, at the time, that he'd just snapped a landscape that would become ubiquitous. That would come later, after he'd licensed his photograph to a service called Corbis. Corbis happened to be owned by Bill Gates, which is how Microsoft wound up selecting his photograph, "Bliss," as Windows XP's default wallpaper.

9. GERARD HOLTOM // THE PEACE SYMBOL 

iStock

British-born designer Gerald Holtom was a conscientious objector during World War II, and he was equally aghast at the post-war proliferation of nuclear arms. In his frustration, he designed a symbol that would come to serve as a worldwide symbol for peace. It first saw the light of day in 1958, at a march organized by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. Discussing the symbol later, Holtom said, "I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards." Nearly 60 years later, our world powers are still well-stocked with nuclear weapons, and Holtom's design can be found on hacky sacks and tie-dyed t-shirts wherever hacky sacks and/or t-shirts are sold. 

10. PIERRE DE COUBERTIN // THE OLYMPICS SYMBOL 

Getty Images

Pierre de Coubertin was a classically-educated Frenchman who proselytized on behalf of the role of sports in a balanced education. It was that belief that led him to organize the modern Olympics, first held in Athens in 1896. He even found time to design its iconic logo, which, in his words, "represents the five continents of the world, united by Olympism." He presented the design to the Olympic Congress in June 1914—about a week before the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. 

11. MILTON GLASER // I LOVE NEW YORK 

Milton Glaser's designs are inescapable. A not-even-marginally-comprehensive list of his achievements would include the logos for New York magazine, Brooklyn Brewery, and DC Comics. But his true claim to immortality is the famous I Love New York logo, designed in 1977 and since emblazoned on millions of overpriced tourist shop t-shirts. The logo was commissioned by the New York State Department for Economic Development, at a time when the city was making news for its high crime rate. In a characteristically New York move, Glaser sketched the prototype for the design on an envelope during a taxi ride.

12. HARVEY BALL // THE SMILEY FACE

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Before Emojis, we had the smiley face. Designed by graphic artist Harvey Ball in 1963, the face was meant to boost the morale of employees of an insurance company. The design only took 10 minutes for Ball to complete, and the insurance company paid him $45 for his time. The yellow smiley was then printed on signs, posters, and buttons that were circulated around the office. The design was a hit and the company pumped out thousands of buttons. Soon the infectious smiley became a popular image seen worldwide. Neither Ball nor the insurance company attempted to trademark the creation, likely due to its simplistic nature. After all, the first smiley depiction dates back to 2500 BCE.

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architecture
After Four Months, a Frank Lloyd Wright House in Glencoe, Illinois Goes Back on the Market

Most architecture nerds would be thrilled to live in an original Frank Lloyd Wright house, and occasionally, they get their chance—as long as they’re willing to pay a few million dollars. As of late 2017, there were Frank Lloyd Wright homes for sale in New York, Minnesota, Ohio, Connecticut, and elsewhere for $1 million dollars or more (in some cases, way more). Sometimes, you can find a deal, though, like the $445,000 Usonian home that went on the market in Michigan in 2016.

Sadly, as Curbed reports, a newly for-sale Wright house in Glencoe, Illinois is not such a deal anymore. Only three months after its $752,000 sale, the 1914 Kier House in suburban Chicago has been renovated and is back on the market for $837,500.

Many Wright homes need a little love after decades of use. For one thing, the architect is somewhat notorious for building leaky roofs. Their small kitchens and shag carpeting are no longer quite so desirable, either.

But for many buyers and architects, restoring a Wright home is a labor of love, one that often takes several years and aims to respect the original designer’s genius while bringing the house up to modern standards. (For some of the historic homes, permanent easements also prohibit most exterior alterations, further limiting what a remodel can involve.)

The Prairie School-style house, though it has Honorary Landmark status, isn’t entirely original to Wright. It has a more modern kitchen, a new family room, and updated bathrooms (with a steam shower!). Previous owner Susan Cowen, who owned the house for a number of years and spent an undisclosed amount on refurbishing it, sold the residence in January to a pair of documentary filmmakers, according to Patch. The sale, which included a significant price drop, only took a few months. They, in turn, made a number of improvements. The owners fixed up the chimneys, boiler, and furnace, added a limestone bar separating the kitchen and dining room, and raised part of the ceiling above the stairs.

Now, four months later, it’s on sale again, and, thanks to the upgrades, a little pricier. The latest sellers may find, though, that not every Wright sale goes as quickly as their purchase. The architect’s homes are highly prized, but also known to be very difficult to sell, sometimes languishing on the market for years before finding a buyer.

[h/t Curbed]

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Harry Trimble
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Design
Delightful Photo Series Celebrates Britain’s Municipal Trash Cans
Harry Trimble
Harry Trimble

Not all trash cans are alike. In the UK, few know this better than Harry Trimble, the brains behind #govbins, a photo project that aims to catalog all the trash can designs used by local governments across Britain.

Trimble, a 29-year-old designer based in South London, began the series in 2016, when he noticed the variation in trash can design across the cities he visited in the UK. While most bins are similar sizes and shapes, cities make trash cans their own with unique graphics and unusual colors. He started to photograph the cans he happened to see day-to-day, but the project soon morphed beyond that. Now, he tries to photograph at least one new bin a week.

A bright blue trash can reads ‘Knowsley Council: Recycle for Knowsley.’
Knowsley Village, England

“I got impatient,” Trimble says in an email to Mental Floss. “Now there’s increasingly more little detours and day trips” to track down new bin designs, he says, “which my friends, family and workmates patiently let me drag them on.” He has even pulled over on the road just to capture a new bin he spotted.

So far, he’s found cans that are blue, green, brown, black, gray, maroon, purple, and red. Some are only one color, while others feature lids of a different shade than the body of the can. Some look very modern, with minimalist logos and city website addresses, Trimble describes, “while others look all stately with coats of arms and crests of mythical creatures.”

A black trash can features an 'H' logo.
Hertsmere, England

A blue trash can reads ‘South Ribble Borough Council: Forward with South Ribble.’
South Ribble, England

A green trash can with a crest reads ‘Trafford Council: Food and Garden Waste Only.’
Trafford, Greater Manchester, England

Trimble began putting his images up online in 2017, and recently started an Instagram to show off his finds.

For now, he’s “more than managing” his one-can-a-week goal. See the whole series at govbins.uk.

All images by Harry Trimble

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