In November 2011, my friend and fellow designer Rory King and I started an experimental zine called Sway. Sway was birthed out of a shared desire the two of us had to return to the experimental, exploratory work we did while we were in college. Realizing since we graduated, we had not engaged in the type of work we did there, we wanted an outlet to use graphic design as a platform to explore our various interests as well as grow as designers.
Each issue followed the same format we created at the beginning: each issue had a theme and both of us had six spreads to respond to that theme. Each issue had predetermined typefaces and a set paper size but the rest was open to whatever we wanted to do. Over the following year, we produced nine issues, all of which I’m proud of for various reasons. In the middle of completing the ninth issue, we had a sense that this format had run its course and put Sway on a temporary hiatus while we figured out what to do with it next.
“Good design is invisible.” —Dieter Rams
Today Apple announced a brand new visual overhaul to iOS led by Senior Vice President of Design Sir Jonathan Ive. Ive, forever inspired by industrial designer Dieter Rams, has spent the last decade perfecting Apple’s hardware. From the iMac to the iPod, iPhone to iPad, Ive and his team have worked to religiously follow Rams’s famous maxim of designing hardware that is “invisible”, hardware that recedes, void of decoration to allow the functions of the device to be its centerpiece.
Since Ive took over software design in October, debates about skeumorphism versus flat design and the future aesthetic of iOS have run rampant, each side proclaiming to be the better of two. The new design, eskewing fake textures and buttons for translucency and typographic navigation, shows that the skeumorphism versus flat debate was the wrong one. Though the design may no longer be classified as skeumorphic, it surely isn’t flat either. The change in Apple’s iOS is about going from stylized interfaces to invisible interfaces. And it turns out we’ve been headed this direction for years.1
A book is words. But is it just words? No, it can’t be. It has to be more than words. If it’s just words then I’m making a book right now, with each word I sit here typing. Clickity clackety, type letter, type word, type letter, type word, book!
So a book has to be more than just words. Sometimes it’s pictures, I think. Sometimes, if you want to get really crazy, maybe it can have words AND pictures together! Woah. So can I put a video in my book? NO! Definitely not. Get videos out of our books, amiright? Sound? God, stop! That’s not even possible, silly. You can’t put videos and sounds on paper! And books are made of paper. With a spine and cover and pages you turn. Right?
Like a magazine! Pages. Spine. Words. Pictures. It has all the ingredients of what makes a book. Magazine, book. Book, magazine. A magazine must be a book. Huh? No! What are we saying, a magazine is most definitely not a book. Books don’t come in issues! What do you think we’re talking about comic..uhh…books? Wait. And what about Charles Dickens? His first books were published in monthly installments. Surely Charles Dickens wasn’t writing a book!
I read Alice and Wonderland on Project Gutenberg a few summers ago. A book, words, pages…made of HTML. Is that still a book? Can we get some HTML in our books? Is a website a book? The website I’ll publish this to has pages and words and pictures. Book?
And what about these e-books? Is an e-Pub file a book? E-pub can have video and sound. Is that still a book? Or is that an “e-book”? E-book is a silly term. We don’t call MP3s “e-music”; it’s just music. We don’t differentiate between formats. So what makes an e-book different from a book book? Why separate the formats? Is a book defined by its format or its content? The container or the substance? My head hurts.
Is a book a story? Does that exclude non-fiction? What if the story is five lines? Not-quite. Two pages? Too short? One hundred pages? Infinite Jest? How long does a story have to be to be a book? Is an essay a book? No, of course not. A collection of essays? Sure! Or is that a blog? Ugh. I don’t know what a book is anymore.
What is a book?
I keep a folder of images of birds in Evernote. I’m not sure why; I don’t even know how it started but I like it. Bird’s gotta fly has become a motto of sorts—a constant reminder to spread your wings, to do that thing you are born to do.
Sometimes you seek out particular works of art and sometimes the art seeks you out. You come in contact with it and then can’t seem to shake it. Everywhere you look, it seems to be there, popping up in unexpected places as if it’s saying, “Hey Jarrett, have you noticed me yet?”
A few Saturdays ago I visited SFMOMA to see the exhibits before it closes for a few years for renovations. Somewhere in between the Jackson Pollocks and the Matisses, sits Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. Famously exhibited at the 1917 Society of Independent Artist’s exhibit, Duchamp submitted a porcelain urinal that he signed as “R. Mutt 1917”. The submission was controversial, questioning the definition of art. Fountain is arguable Duchamp’s most famous in his series of readymades, works of art created from ordinary manufactured products.
I very clearly remember studying Fountain in a college art history course; spending time discussing its role in the avant garde movement, whether could even be called art, and the works it later inspired. But to be honest, it never did much for me. I don’t really have an opinion on it and it’s not a piece that has served as inspiration in my own work, which makes its recent resurgence in my life even more interesting.
A few days ago I opened a design history book in search of a logo I was thinking about. I opened to a random page and a photo of Fountain caught my eye, reminding me of seeing it just a few weeks before. And then up late one night, reading some of Frank O’Hara’s poetry, only to discover one of the poems is about Duchamp. Two nights ago, in research for another project, I reread Rob Giampietro and Frank Chimero’s discussion on Augemented Identity from The Mavenist. And there it was again, halfway down the page, another image of that urinal.
Is one prone to discover hidden connections? Are we subconsciously on the lookout for repetition? Once it’s in our minds, do we start looking for it. I remember hearing once that you can’t go a day without seeing the UPS logo. For a few days after that I saw one everyday before I realized I was looking for the logo now. What you look for, you will find. Am I looking for Duchamp’s Fountain? And if I am, what do I want from it? Or perhaps more importantly, what does it want from me?
This happened before. I had just read Craig Mod’s lovely reflection on Chip’s Kidd cover design for Haruki Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I had never read Murakami, but he’d been on my list for a while. I mentioned this to a co-worker the next morning who pulled a well worn copy from his bag, “I just started rereading it!”
There’s a little bookstore around the corner from my apartment that was one of the first places I visited after I moved. They had a display of Employee Picks set up right inside and there sat The Wind Up Bird Chronicle right in the middle. In a conversation with a friend about our favorite books, she mentions Murakami as all-time favorite. And then, while reading Jack Cheng’s These Days, I stumble across the sentence: “I don’t want to be that hipster girl that lives off the L train, listens to Arcade Fire, and reads Murakami books, you know?”
Sometimes you seek out works of art and sometimes art seeks out you, popping up in unexpected places as if saying, “Hey Jarrett, have you noticed me yet?”
I started reading Murakami last night.
Every so often, a new innovation comes along that completely changes the way you approach your craft. For many of us working on the web, responsive web design has been one of those innovations. As more and more people are using screens of various sizes to access our websites, we’re tasked with designing an experience that works across platforms and sizes. Ethan Marcotte, in his seminal A List Apart essay on responsive design, writes:
Rather than tailoring disconnected designs to each of an ever-increasing number of web devices, we can treat them as facets of the same experience. We can design for an optimal viewing experience, but embed standards-based technologies into our designs to make them not only more flexible, but more adaptive to the media that renders them. In short, we need to practice responsive web design.
Using architecture and exhibition design as a reference point, Marcotte paints a vision of the web that is no longer fixed in context but responds to it. We no longer design for one context and we no longer have to design separate sites for each. One code base can serve the same site adapted to work across any platform. We can have it all.
I had seen Lynda’s work around but never paid too much attention to it. After listening to this NPR interview, I’m going to start.
Something interesting happened this week. I feel like I fell back in love with graphic design.
Somewhere along the way got disenchanted, I got interested in other things, I got burnt-out. Looking at typefaces didn’t excite me the way it used to. Suddenly conversations about design styles and possibilities—conversations I used to live for—didn’t interest me anymore. I’d find myself thinking, “Is it even worth anymore?”
But this week, my passion seemed to return. I think there are a few things I can attribute this to:
Jason Santa Maria’s great interview on the Happy Monday Podcast energized me in a way I hadn’t felt in a while. Pair that with his other interview on The Gently Mad where he waxes poetic on typefaces for a while and I realized what I had been missing.
I’d been reading Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job this week and though the book isn’t really about designing it is about caring for your craft. I wanted to care again.
Experimental Jetset released their new identity for the Whitney Museum. I’ve done very little work in identity design so it always seems to impress me the most, especially when it’s so thoughtfully executed. This is one of those projects that makes me sit back and go, “Man, I want to design something like that.”
The Newsweek.com redesign completely knocked me on the floor. In school, I thought I’d head towards a career in editorial design. Somewhere I got turned around and have made a career on the web. Seeing a site that blends these two paths so wonderfully gets me excited about the possibilities.
I firmly believe that what you look for, you will find. Maybe I was looking for something to help me fall back in love with design. I’m not really sure, but I know I found it. It was a good week for design. It was the kind of week I needed, one full of reminders why I’ve always loved this gig, sometimes I just get distracted. Thanks for helping me find my way back.