Search by Color: Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

I have to say that I’m a big fan of alternative search options when it comes to internet searching. Of course, there is simply no debating the usefulness of keywords and Boolean operators when searching the internet, but not every query is easily expressed in words. This is especially true of image searches. You might not have the foggiest idea which word or words will provide the results you’re looking for. You might have tried all the words you can think of and found no useful results. Sometimes what your looking for simply can’t be put into words.

But what about color?

Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian Design Museum is notable for several reasons. One: it is the only museum in America exclusively dedicated to historic and contemporary design.

Two: It’s located in the sprawling 64-room mansion built by industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie on Fifth Avenue in New York City.

source: cooperhewitt.org

Whoa.

…and Three: While perhaps not as impressive as the last two facts, its website is also home to a very cool feature: browse by color. While you can search by color in an advanced Google image search, Google’s color search is a secondary search parameter, one that can be applied after you’ve entered a search keyword.

By comparison, the Cooper Hewitt color search, Colors!, is a very slick tool that emphasizes browsing rather than search, making it better suited to more nebulous queries. Plus, while Google’s color search is limited to 15 color options, visitors to Cooper Hewitt’s site can search the collection by 118 different colors. You read that right: 118! So, how do they do it?

Objects with images now have up to five representative colors attached to them. The colors have been selected by our robotic eye machines who scour each image in small chunks to create color averages. These have then been harvested and “snapped” to the grid of 118 (of a possible 139) different colors—derived from the CSS4 palette and naming conventions—below to make navigation a little easier.

If you think it sounds interesting, definitely give it a try. For example, here is a selection of some of the things that come up under mediumvioletred and the hex value #c71585

There are, of course, some limitations to the function. First of all, only a small fraction of the collection has been digitized, so some colors have very limited results. Also, as noted in the quote above, images are sorted into five color categories, so works with numerous, varied colors will only appear in a maximum of five color headings.

Still, while it may appear to be more novelty than necessity, Colors! is a potentially very useful tool for the kind of image search that would normally take one to Tumblr, Pinterest, or similar. It’s a visual playground for anyone seeking examples of graphic design, pattern, textiles, posters, prints, etc. from around the world and across time.

Of course, this isn’t the only way to explore the collection. You can search by time period, country, location in the mansion, people, tags, and types.

Oh, and you can search by keyword, too.

Domestic Interiors Database: the new HGTV?

As much as I keep it a secret, I do have to admit that I love shows about buying and selling homes. There’s nothing like watching interior decorators transform a space, watching newlyweds fight about what room to make their office and which to make their guest room, and seeing a dilapidated house change from potentially-haunted into a modern, cozy, living space. Instead of binge-watching HGTV and watching people fawn over their granite counter tops, there’s also an excellent archive of domestic interiors that spans both time and space.

Compiled by the Arts and Humanities Research Council Center for the Study of the Domestic Interior, this archive was built between 2001 and 2006, as a part of the AHRC’s mission to “ensure that knowledge and understanding by arts and humanities research is widely disseminated for the economic, social, and cultural benefit of the UK and beyond.” The archive features over 3,000 entries, spanning six centuries of interior designs.

The Domestic Interior Database (DIDB) is interested in investigating the way the use of domestic space changed over time, decorative and functional objects within domestic interiors, and how people of these times considered their spaces. These questions are posed through the accumulation  of both reference information and interpretive data, supported through images such as: Renaissance paintings, popular magazines, eighteenth century graphic-satire, and drawings. Textually-based evidence is sourced from novels, poetry, diaries, letters, advertisements, and periodicals. Due to the plethora of visual culture materials sourced, and the wide-range of supporting text-based materials, this is truly an interdisciplinary archive that may prove useful for many times of research going beyond domestic interiors.

The DIDB is also an incredibly transparent archive, with a separate page devoted to discussing the research methodologies that went in to selecting and curating materials to be a part of the database, as well as selected bibliographies. When searching on the DIDB, you can even save searches and results for long-term projects. To begin searching through the archive, simply enter a keyword in the search box on the upper-right hand corner. For example, I searched for ‘magazines’ and returned with 303 results spanning the years 1769-2005.

A revolution in the printing industry in the eighteenth century stimulated a rise in serial publications and an improvement in printing techniques. The Town and Country magazine included illustrated plates…(1769)

Each record provides basic information about the artifact, but also adds scholarly commentary about the image, and lists themes, representational strategies, and a break down of the space to aid in a user’s understanding of the image. For example, in a survey of a 1945 photograph of a war submarine’s living quarters, the record lists the type of dwelling this space would be considered (institutional and residential), the quantity of rooms within the space (Dining room, workspace), and the objects within the space (coverings, furniture, equipment). The final entry in these records gives suggestions of related archive entries to view.

“This official photograph shows part of the wardroom (officers’ quarters) of the submarine HMS Tribune. Even in the extremely cramped interior of the submarine, attempts were made to incorporate the usual, class-specific visual vocabulary of officer status with, for instance, dark wooden paneling, magazine racks and furniture such as wardrobes.”

In addition to these types of entries, design fanatics can enjoy a historical take on familiar domestic spaces. For example, I was able to find this 1947 book illustration on advice for setting up a ‘proper’ living room:

“This double-page illustrated guide to arranging and decorating the living room is one of four selected from Modern Homes Illustrated of 1947 which offers practical suggestions to readers for laying out different rooms in the house. The advice above features both a traditional recipe for converting an attic room into a functional living room and a more modern ‘open-plan’ version on the ground floor.”

The archive maintains compelling artifacts that show the evolution of domestic spaces in multiple eras, locations, and from perspectives of different class levels and occupations. These mass-produced guides on living room arrangement are drastically different from Renaissance oil paintings of bourgeois interiors:

“It shows a large interior space, with glazed windows and leather hangings, but which is otherwise almost empty. Scale and the surface decoration of the walls are given most weight. It is often interpreted as a courtesans’ interior. The proximity of the seated man and woman, the woman playing music, and the dancing suggest sociability, but the bed which is prominently depicted behind the couple does suggest a sense of heightened sexuality.”

Whatever corner of the archive you find yourself searching through, make sure to steal some design-inspiration for your own home!

Using Giphy, the GIF Database We’ve Been Waiting For

Being based in Champaign-Urbana, I often chat with my long-distance friends over email and social media when we don’t have time for those long, three hour phone calls that will leave you with a sore throat and warm feelings. When you’re trying to communicate the inexpressible over email or text, the easiest way is through the use of GIFs. Needless to say, our GIF-based conversations end up being silly, and at times nonsensical. However our display of pop-cultural savvy and image-based rhetoric provides entertainment throughout the longest days.

My clear ‘need’ for GIFs is why I’m so thrilled to write about Giphy! Giphy is both an archive, search engine, and hub designed to help you find the perfect GIF for whatever you’re trying to express or convey to the digital world. Giphy is a great resource not only for personal use, but in terms of research, is an excellent database for anyone doing research on New Media, internet culture, fandoms, or time-based media.

Giphy even has a page dedicated to a curated selection of talented GIF artists, if you’re interested in the field of internet art. The variety of designs and topics shared on GIPHY are truly incredible, and also serve as a great resource for anyone studying digital communications.

Giphy fills a need for GIFs of your favorite fandom (can you guess mine?):

giphy

GIFs expressing your successes (and your childhood):

giphy (1)

and of course, your frustration:

giphy (3)

If you’re not exactly sure what type of GIF you’re searching for, check out GiphyTV, a full-screen randomized selection of GIFs from every edge of the digital sphere. If one of your talents is creating GIFs, you can upload your work onto Giphy to be used and shared by people all over the world!

You can search Giphy not only by artist, but also by category, and when you find a GIF that seems to understand you more fully than your high school friends, you can save it to your favorites for easy access. All GIFs on Giphy can be shared easily to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

While Giphy is treasure trove of stimulation, it is also a really well organized search engine. All GIFs have the option to be tagged to make them more easily searchable, and most also include a link to the original source of the GIF. Searches are also enhanced by Giphy’s use of metadata sorted via hashtags.

For example, the GIF below, featuring Bette Davis, is tagged as: #yes, #agree, #bette davis, #amen, #approve. While this is a somehwat silly example, it’s pretty awesome that affirmative gestures can be shared and expressed in so many ways! (Right, Bette?)

giphy (2)