Michael Bierut—speaking words of wisdom—has a fantastic piece on the rise in criticism from the general public on design, most notably, logo rebrands (we’re looking at you University of California):
Few things in the design world sound as sad as “the client made me do it.” Nor do I argue that the final result shouldn’t be held up to scrutiny. We should be judged by what we make. But perhaps the question in these logo discussions could be more than: could I do better? Perhaps we could also ask: what was the purpose? What was the process? Whose ends were being served? How should we judge success? But we seldom look any deeper than first impressions, wallowing instead in a churning maelstrom of snap judgments. Should we be surprised when the general public jumps right in after us?
This is something I think about a lot and part of me is always saddened when a company returns to their old logo after public outrage (i.e. Tropicana, UC). “Logos inherit meaning,” said Simon Manchipp at this year’s Brand New Conference, “but are born useless.” Like Bierut points out, what would we say if Nike or Target unveiled their beloved logos today? Are we perhaps losing out on new iconic images because our snap judgements tend to fear the new?
(Roman Mars’s excellent podcast 99% Invisible also did an excellent episode on the UC logo, offering another voice of reason in a sea of criticism.)
Art consists in limitation. The most beautiful part of every picture is the frame. —Gilbert K. Chesterton
Decided to play around in Illustrator with some typography tonight. It had been far too long.
“A lot of what we do as graphic designers is fleeting. A magazine might hang around for a week or two but it will eventually end up on the seat of the airplane for the flight attendants to clean up or in the bottom of the bird cage. A poster arrives in the mail and if its lucky it will get filed away with the other rolled up orphans in the closet waiting to be framed someday. I like to design books because they are a more lasting and memorable form of our craft.”
It’s been a long time coming but issue 9 of Sway is now online and available to download.
For this issue, Rory and I wanted to experiment with a different type of theme so we decided to choose a person and publish an entire issue around that person - it could be a response to them, a biography, a showcase. We chose to explore Eadweard Muybridge the photographer most known for his sequential images of galloping horses. For me personally, Muybridge has been a big inspiration to me and it was great to dive into his history and work further to produce this issue. Go take a look!
Milton Glaser is 83, arguably the most prolific graphic designer working today, and has never touched a computer:
You know, I don’t have any hang-ups about the computer. The only problem I have is that it’s badly used. The computer is the most powerful tool that a designer has ever had. It likes to do certain things, and it doesn’t like to do other things. It dominates the designer. That’s why when you go to a school, you see that young designers’ books are all coming out alike—because they’re all coming out of the same instrument. Young students don’t have enough training before they get to the computer and they use it to compensate for lack of knowledge and authority and judgment, and then it’s tragic. It’s had a bad effect on the profession, because it allows poorly trained people to get into the field and produce ordinary work. It’s like trying to produce music without having mastered the piano.
A few weeks ago Errol Morris asked a question on The New York Times blog, stating he was conducting a survey to determine if people were optimists or pessimists. Turns out the quiz was a cover for a larger experiment he was conducting: do typefaces affect peoples feelings, or more specifically, do certain fonts convey a feeling of truthfulness over others. To do this, a script ran that served the question to the viewer with a different typeface each time, including Times, Georgia, Helvetica, Baskerville, Comic Sans, Trebuchet, and Computer Modern. The result? Baskerville overwhelming conveyed a sense of belief:
Is there a font that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true? Or at least nudges us in that direction? And indeed there is.
It is Baskerville.
I’m fully behind the notion that typefaces affect how people perceive information but I’m not sure one face can represent “truth.” A lot of the tools used by graphic designers – color, scale, shapes, typefaces – affect how a viewer perceives information but the reasons why are largely unknown. Why is blue more calming? Why is a triangle seen as powerful but upside down seen as unstable? Michael Beirut weighs in:
Once upon a time, regular people didn’t even know the names of typefaces. Then, with the invention of the personal computer, people started learning. They had their opinions and they had their favorites. But until now, type was a still matter of taste. Going forward, if someone wants to tell the truth, he or she will know exactly what typeface to use. Of course, the truth is the truth no matter what typeface it’s in. How long before people realize that Baskerville is even more useful if you want to lie?
“The truth is the truth no matter what typeface it’s in.”
For a little Saturday morning inspiration, I can’t recommend enough James Victore’s recent talk at the 99% Conference on viewing your work as a gift. Victore spends some time looking at the work he did for The New York Department of Probation (talk about an interesting client!) and how that has furthered his belief that design can help us live better.
After a small hiatus, issue 8 of Sway, the experimental zine I co-publish with Rory King is now out and available for download! For this issue, Rory and I were interested in exploring the idea of “dialogue” and wanted to take a different approach to the theme. Instead of each of us responding to the theme on our own, we decided to both work from the same source material and instead of responding to the theme of “dialogue”, we thought it’d be fun to use actual dialogue. We decided on a powerful scene from the second season finale of one of our favorite shows, Lost.
The result is two visual interpretations of the same scene and in my opinion, one of our best issues yet. I’m really, really happy with how this one turned out. Go take a look!
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part III: The Future
This is part three of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 (You are here.)
Are we really afraid? Are we afraid that we’ll be out of jobs or are we afraid the design can’t solve all the problems we think it can? Do we think opening up our toolkit1 — improvising, frameworks, storytelling, and delight — will ruin our field? Or is it possible that these are skills that can help push the world forward, shining light into the darkness?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part II: The Tools
This is part two of a three-part series. Part 1 / Part 2 (You are here.) / Part 3
“The liberal arts have always been changing just as much as we have.” —The New Liberal Arts 1
The liberal arts are those subjects that were considered essential for students to study. They provide the student with the tools they need to learn and a framework in which to navigate through the world. Somewhere along the way, we decided writing was something every student should learn. Public Speaking is a required course in most university programs. Could graphic design sit along side these liberal arts?
Graphic Design as a Liberal Art — Part I: The Curious
This is part one of a three-part series. Part 1(You are here) / Part 2 / Part 3
“The teaching of art is the teaching of all things.” —John Ruskin
The graphic design field is awash with contradictions. It sits in the awkward cross-section between service and craft. It’s at once a service given to others and a craft we hone for ourselves. It can be both invisible and influential, sometimes showing a point of view and other times remaining apathetic to its content.
“On Flipboard, we encourage readers to do just one thing: flip. Just open the app, and flip from left to right. By minimizing friction and encouraging readers to focus on the content, we become transparent. And that, we believe, is the secret of great design.”
—Marcos Weskamp, Head of Design at Flipboad, from this great interview from Mashable.
Flipboard is my all-time favorite iPad app and easily in my top five iPhone apps. The user experience is pretty much perfect and it’s great to hear some of the thoughts and process behind the product.
Tumblr has launched a new feature on their site called Storyboard, a special section where they can highlight and feature great curators and content from the community. One of the first features is a great interview with their lead designer, Peter Vidani, on the evolution of Tumblr’s dashboard. I loved this bit on training their users to use the site the way they want:
Onboarding is really hard to get right. We want you to use the Dashboard in a certain way, but how we introduce and explain it, and how we guide you into using it correctly can be a challenge. We want you to follow really great people, to post something you love, and customize your theme. How do we do this without an installation wizard process or some other kind of hand-holding? If we can get that right for new users, it’s going to be right for people who have been using the site for years. If we can throw you into something so obvious you know immediately how to use it, we’re still serving the power users because the Dashboard will be smaller and have less clutter.
He continues on with some thoughts on A/B testing and asking the right questions to solve the right problems
The advantage of this system is we’re making all the decisions ourselves — we’re recognizing the problems and solving them ourselves — so when something doesn’t work, we know exactly why. When you’re A/B testing or solving problems for other people, and you ask for someone’s opinion, you’re not going to get an honest answer. You’ll get an answer because you asked a question. Also, you’re not going to recognize why you’re fixing something if you didn’t yourself recognize that it was wrong. You’re solving someone else’s problem.