New vs. Old | 001
Berto had a rad idea for this article series, so just like I did last time I saw Pink Floyd rolling down my street on a Radio Flyer - I’m jumping on the band wagon. (It was like an enlarged version...souped-up.)
Here we’ll analyze how style and form have changed throughout the decades to see if Darwin’s ideas hold true for design.
A wise friend once told me that surfing is 90% about the aesthetic, and I think he may have even undercooked that estimate. Choosing boards is no exception, so the various performance pros and cons of this 1967 Lis Fish and a 2021 Channel Islands Fishbeard should be mostly ignored in the name of figuring out which one looks better.
Steve Lis invented the fish in 1967, debuting as a kneeboard in San Diego waters.
The wide tail gives the board substantial float, while the two trailing pins flanking the fishtail provide pivot points for turns.
While shapers still do make “retro” fish designs that are hard to distinguish from the original Lis, this Channel Islands Fishbeard is a hybrid between those and modern shortboards that benefit from the accoutrements of 50 additional years of progression. The bottom curvature of the board, dubbed the “rocker”, is flatter on the 1967 version. A flat rocker doubles down on the wide tail’s float and paddle benefits, which was a typical design choice as the surf industry had just started branching out from the longboard era.
The Channel Islands board has much steeper rocker in the nose as you can see in the rail profile shots above – a modern touch that has become a staple of CI boards. This beefed up rocker allows the board to survive steeper drops, and combined with the slightly bumped up tail rocker, allows surfers to put their weight on their back foot and pivot the board in a turn. The Fishbeard is also slightly longer than the Lis pictured here, while being narrower throughout the entire length. It’s a more streamlined design.
I prefer the more gentle curves of the old school fish design, as well as its comparatively deeper fish tail. I find that many modern, shallow swallowtails end up looking like penguin feet. The clear coat betraying the plain white foam underneath doesn’t help either. Surfboards should be colors, yo. Old school still wins the style battle, which is 90+% of the war.
Next we will square off one of my favorite books of all time, 1962’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, with a nearly instant modern classic in 2018’s Normal People.
Kesey’s tale of the social and power dynamics typical of most mental institutions is here wrapped in a fitting cover for its time period. The numerous green faces blotting the background (seemingly inspiring Scooby-Doo villains in the coming decades) show the uniformity of appearance cloaked over the story’s patients, while their varying degrees of eyeball continuity encapsulates the differing mental troubles thrust on each man.
You physics buffs out there will appreciate the artful electrical circuit diagrammed over the top, with its proper symbols for battery terminals and resistors paired nearby with curving digressions not seen in most textbooks. Overall I appreciate the symbolism salad that this artwork totals to, as well as the grungy hand that it is crafted in.
I have long been at odds with the Normal People cover. First of all, it’s a bit indulgent to have the promising young author’s name be in the exact same size font as the title of the novel. This symmetry makes it appear that the book is a double-feature, Marianne headlining the New York Times bestseller, while Connell seems a supporting character in the exciting new biography Sally Rooney: The Woman Behind English Football’s Leading Man. Beyond that, the doodle skeletons comprising the aforementioned stars of the actual book look more like police sketches than the spirited lovers my own brain dreamed up. The dicolorism of the northern and southern hemispheres is a nice touch, foreshadowing how the protagonists are well versed in being next to each other but can never truly mix together. Unfortunately, if I didn’t already know how achingly wonderful the story it hides is, I would never open this cover. Old school takes a decided victory on this one. Dive into more high-stakes book cover battles here.
Furniture, especially across eras, is a polarizing arena of tastes, and this matchup crosses a culinary worktop considered contemporary six decades ago with its present day proxy.
The 1960s table is made out of rosewood cloaked in an oil finish, which highlights the crimson hues that give the hardwood its namesake. This example wears many of the traditional styling elements of mid century modern furniture, namely the softened edges and tapered legs. This is a hand built piece made by an expert craftsmen, and yet it gives off the unmistakable impression that a particularly robust Thanksgiving turkey would topple the table over. As compared to the modern day dining table, the vintage example is obviously smaller in physical dimensions but the old table looks even smaller than it actually is. Quite airy, maybe even dainty.
This is an underlying design characteristic of MCM styles, and part of the reason that I enjoy so many of its architectural elements while not caring much for its actual furniture. MCM floor plans are open and flowing, cornered by towering windows maximizing natural light. Unfortunately, the individual furniture elements tend to plagiarize these elements exactly, leading to pieces that are well built and stylish while looking constantly on the verge of collapse.
Turning to the 2021 dining table, it is crafted out of poplar and some brushed steel legs. I’m not a huge fan of poplar itself, it’s an okay wood, but the color of the steel legs here is particularly impressive. It can be difficult to get steel to take on such a light gray coloring, which pairs well with the blondes of the poplar. Also, when appraising this table we will have to mentally discard the hideous seating trimmings surrounding it. Whenever I see these pressed metal chairs I am reminded that no, we still have plenty of room left in the world’s landfills.
I appreciate the more substantial, industrial look of the poplar table. It looks sturdy, proven, capable of any turkey I may throw at it. And in this head to head, that’s enough. The modern example is available from furniture maker Monkwood if you’re sick of eating off that IKEA coffee table.
Final tally: 2-1 in favor of the 1960s on this episode.