Extraterrestrial Graphic Designers Wanted

Edward H. Tenner, who knows just about everything, recently introduced me to the work of Jacques-Andre Istel, best known for popularizing skydiving in the 1960s. Currently, he’s been building what Tenner calls “an encyclopedia in stone in the California desert.”

In mid-1980s, he founded the town of Felicity (below) on about 2,800 acres
of desert, where he built a marble-and-glass pyramid the size of a
large garage and proclaimed it the Official Center of the World. “Thousands have paid a couple of bucks each to step inside,” wrote Mike Anton in The Los Angeles Times, “even though
it’s not even the center of Imperial County. More recently, Istel moved
150,000 tons of dirt to create the nearby Hill of Prayer on which he
built the Church on the Hill (above)—even though he’s not
particularly religious.” He is currently attemping to fit the world’s knowledge on hundreds of stone slabs and Tenner believes “that since future visitors from earth or elsewhere might not know English or indeed other present languages, for the long term, the project needs a Rosetta Stone.”

A competition is being planned to decide what that language will be, with entries from teams of students in architecture, design, anthropology, and linguistics. An opportunity to develop a totally new graphic language? Isn’t this what designers have been waiting for? What would you suggest? Tell me in the comments!

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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