Thursday, September 26, 2019

Blue Crow Media

I've been a fan of London's Blue Crow Media for a long time, since I discovered their "Craft Beer New York" smart phone app. It's hard to offer subjective guidance in an app or guidebook - you need to convey an authentically personal-but-knowledgeable voice while being manageably succinct - and their work impressed me.
For those unaware, I recently created my own subjective guidance app, "Eat Everywhere", which coaches you through the ordering/eating experience for every nationality.
Blue Crow subsequently moved out of apps and into maps, and their work remains just as smart and tasteful. The maps feel like your birthday; crisp, luxe paper; deep, interesting colors; and admirably thoughtful design with great attention to detail. If you appreciate the meticulousness of a Steve Jobs or Stanley Kubrick, but reject the up-market fetishist pretension plied by too many of their disciples, this stuff is for you. No single item costs over £20, and most are £8 or £9.

Topics are largely design or architectural; pure geek bait like Art Deco maps for London or New York (they need to add Miami!), Brutalist maps of Boston and London, Concrete maps of Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, Tokyo, Toronto, and Melbourne. And lots more. Not many companies (especially UK-based!) would have the cheek to create a "Modernist Detroit Map", and the adeptness to really pull it off.

This isn't stuff I know a lot about, and one can’t look to these maps as primers. They're all-business, plunging right in without much background info. Yet one needn't be a stern Estonian draftsman with expensive wire-rimmed frames to catch the bug. I’m pretty ignorant of both Modernism and Belgrade, yet I hanker for the Modernist Belgrade map, and would use it to make a beeline for the city (once I spot a crazy-low fare).

Blue Crow's most recent offering is a New York Subway Architecture & Design Map. On one side of the thick, starchy cream/grey paper there's a stylized subway map, resembling the familiar one but a bit less data-dense and much more beautiful. As with much of Blue Crow's work, conventional detail is traded off for something less tangible - flair and framing. The important elements remain; knowing what to leave out is an art. On the flip side lies the good stuff: a dense grid of brief descriptions of four dozen station design fixtures and touches that I, as a lifelong New Yorker, barely knew existed. I was only dimly aware that the Atlantic Avenue/Barclays Center station features a Dutch gable, terracotta, Roman brick, limestone and granite ("Artist George Trakas and architects di Domenico + Partners added a stylized nautical gantry below the interior skylight"). Read in book form, this might seem dry. But packed into the back of a cool map, you want to jump into the subway and tour one's own hometown with fresh eyes.

Traveling away from home, it's helpful to have an orienting framework to start from. I'm not a fan of dashing from tourist mecca to tourist mecca, and soaking vibe from a random park bench only goes so far. These maps provide a basis for taking in a grand new city, and, really, one's basis can just as well be anything, so I treat these as geographic granfalloons. Taking in a city requires a map. And these are maps I love and trust, even if there's nary a taco recommendation.

I also own the 2020 Brutalist calendar, which itself is a brutalist artifact: squat, grey, and authoritative; as implacable as if it were built out of exposed concrete block. I'll actually put this one on a wall (previously I've only gone to that length for yucks, with industrial laundry calendars, horrid Chinese takeout calendars, etc).

As with their Craft Beer app, I find myself carried along by the evident enthusiasm and thoughtfulness. It's a magic trick, and I live for magic tricks. Order a couple of pieces and you'll see what I mean...and might even find yourself enticed into design/architecture nerdom.

Being UK-based, shipping charges can add up. Join their mailing list and you can order scads of maps whenever they offer a "free shipping everywhere" sale. Perhaps one day they'll grow to the point where they add a satellite warehouse in Omaha, and/or I can impulse-buy from Amazon.

While my interests and curiosities run broad, I'm only moderately a map guy and not at all an architecture/design person. So this is sort of like a cat endorsing a waterpark. But I find that my keenest appreciation springs when infectiousness kindles my preferences rather than vice-versa. I'm especially fond of beloved examples from realms which ordinarily leave me cold. Blue Crow Media's stuff brings that infectiousness.

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