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#87 The rhythm of design
Baroque diagrams and dainty mobiles
Design Lobster #87 is putting its best foot forward and exploring the rhythmic side of design. From an elegant 17th century form of dance notation to featherweight 20th century Danish mobiles. Get in the groove and read on…🎶
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Question: What is Beauchamp-Feuillet notation?
Formal dancing was central to the social life of all classes in the 16th and 17th centuries in a way that is hard to imagine nowadays. But until sometime around 1674 there was no agreed way of representing dance choreography on the page. Around this time, Louis XIV – the so-called Sun King – instructed his dancing master Pierre Beauchamp to devise a system of notation for dance movements so that they could be recorded and transmitted with more precision than textual descriptions allowed.
The system that he and Raoul-Auger Feuillet devised used the space of the page to represent the floor on which a dance was performed. Feet were shown as a circle (for the heel) and stick (for the ball) and then there was a detailed grammar of notations which represented the full gamut of possible movements that could be made. All of this sat beneath the relevant section of music to allow you to keep time.
As with any diagram, much was left off, notably the behaviour of the upper parts of the body, but the system nonetheless became widespread. Dance literacy becoming a core ability of any self-respecting upper class man or woman.
In design we have to find ways of representing reality at the right level of abstraction so that we can show what we think is important and what we want to change. I’m inspired to bring some of the artistry of this dance notation to the diagrams that I use to capture reality.
Design takeaway: Could you capture the experience of your design as a kind of dance?
🎵 Some Baroque dance content for your Monday morning.
Object: Flensted Flowing Rhythm mobile
Christian Flensted made his first mobile for his daughter Mette in 1953 as a present for her Christening. It featured several card-paper storks, suspended by wire and string so that they rotated slowly above her cot. Christian realised he had a talent for making these delicate objects and within a couple of years he and his wife Gretta had built a business out of their kitchen in Aalborg.
Flensted mobiles however were never just for children. The mobile art of Alexander Calder that was being shown in galleries in America at this time had created an audience of people that wanted to hang them in their living room too. Flowing Rhythm was just such a design, whose 5 bi-colored droplets rotate hypnotically around a spherical counterweight. It quickly became iconic and even appeared alongside Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in the 1966 film adaptation of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
“A good mobile can continue in motion for 10 minutes after a cat has exhaled nearby”.
By virtue of the careful weight distribution, Flensted mobiles like Flowing Rhythm are able to convert the slightest disturbance in air into mesmerisingly graceful motion. This ability to turn chaos into order and rhythm is for me the core of design.
Design takeaway: How could your design bring order where there is none?
Quote: “Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.”
– Maya Angelou. Poet, writer and activist.
We last heard from Maya Angelou in Design Lobster #15. I thought this quote from her would nicely round off this week’s theme. As designers, it’s our job to listen carefully for the different rhythms in people, situations and objects so that we can work with them, rather than against them.
Whatever you do this week, keep dancing.
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