Tuesday, December 23

Cool Type Merchandise

Check out these great Helvetica inspired gifts perfect for giving to your favorite designer for the holidays.

From Collapse Design

From typographyshop.com

An awesome shirt by Khoi Vihn that can be bought here.

From Veer

A great scarf also from Veer


The ultimate gift for the die-hard designer
Helvetica the movie from here.

What the hell, two more I can't resist because, as you know, one can never get enough reminders to KERN:
Both from Veer

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 19

Questions, questions

In several of my classes I have been asked questions from students interested in doing freelance work. There are any questions as to what to charge, how to do taxes, how to manage time, how to go about finding clients, etc. There are so many things I could talk about that I'd like some help narrowing it down. I'm happy to answer just about anything you can throw at me (granted it's about freelancing, design, grad school—you get the idea). I'll certainly take the time to answer questions in class but I thought this may be a good place to use as a future reference in case you forgot what I said. Also, for those who don't have me for class, it can be used as a resource.

Here's the deal. You put questions in the comments to this post and I'll answer them honestly and to the best of my ability. I'll wait until some have gathered and then I'll start creating new posts as a Q&A session. Sound good?

And go!

EDIT: For those of you who don't have me and question my qualifications to answer these questions, I am an assistant professor of communication design at a University, I have 8 years professional industry experience and more than 13 years freelance experience. I own my own design firm, an LLC, and have regional, national and international clients for whom I've done the full gamut of design, advertising, web and illustration work.

Friday, October 31

It's Halloween



In the spirit of Halloween, check out this fantastic video. College kids at their best!

Sunday, October 19

Very Cool Graphics

I'm always on the lookout for interesting and new ways to present information. I find information graphics to be quite dull as a whole. A pie chart here, a graph there, it certainly presents the information clearly but as a designer I'm always looking for something more. How can a designer truly show what the graphic says. How can little bits of information be put together to both visually and verbally represent the complete picture?

One way is to use a visual of what the information is discussing. The chart below discusses how people use a library. The use of books automatically connects the viewer to the idea of a library and helps visualize the information.


Some people take on information graphics as a career and make an art of it. One of those people is Chris Harrison. His information graphic creations go beyond the normal display of percentages and charts. His graphics become art beyond just numbers and facts.

For instance, one of my personal favorites is a graphic representing the 63, 779 cross references found in the Bible. It comes alive and looks more like a light show than an information graphic. Go here to read more about it.


Another discuss color boundaries - where one color ends and another begins. Click here to read more.


Something to think about the next time a client asks for a chart showing various forms of data. What can you do to make it more interesting while still showing the information needed to be conveyed?

Friday, September 19

Kerning gone bad
















There is a point in which kerning can get too close. Finding the right balance isn't all that hard to do. It just takes a little attention.

I borrowed this image from Fail Blog.

Wednesday, September 3

Fun Blog + Bonus Contests

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I surf regularly to keep up on the design world. It's not healthy, as a designer, to create in a vacuum. The world is full of unexpected and ingenious inspiration and it only takes a few minutes to see it.
Recently, I've come across Tigerprint (click here to check out their main site and portfolio). They are a U.K. division of Hallmark. A smaller shop of the Goliath of card makers, it is the sole supplier for stationery products for Marks & Spencer, the U.K. version of a Target/Macy's combo. The work is fun and creative and their blog is filled with great links, information and, the best part, contests.
The contests are more for the illustrators in you. The topics vary - cute characters, floral patterns, children's puzzles, etc. The winner receives £200 (about $400.00), the possibility to create more work for them and even a chance that the winning artwork may make its way into Marks & Spencers. Anyone can enter and it's free! This is a perfect opportunity to try out your skills and, if you win, a great mention on your resume.

Check out the blog here.

Check out the contest here.

Saturday, August 16

Weighing your Computer Options

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Just as my students had off for the summer, I too took a break from school related things. That includes this blog. It's not that I didn't think about my wonderful students or my impending classes, I did. I really did. I just needed a break.

For this post I'm going to answer the most popular email question I receive. Oh, and I did receive many student emails over the summer. I opened up my inbox recently and was bombarded. The number one question was, what computer should I buy?

This is a tricky question for me to answer. I'm not one to dictate what my students use. While I will always promote buying a Mac, it's not my decision to make. That said, here are my recomendations:

Buy the biggest, fastest, baddest Mac you can for the money you have. If you only have $600 and have a monitor, keyboard and mouse, buy the mini, if you have unlimited funds, go for it with the ultimate imac or Macbook Pro maxed out to the gills.

Think about usage. Do you need/want to bring the computer to class or is it ok to stay in your room? Are you doing regular print work or are you doing memory intensive video editing? Do you illustrate in Painter, Photoshop or Illustrator? Are you using it to check in on Facebook only or is it going to be a serious workhorse.

Don't forget the software. Once you have your new computer, it's useless without the proper software. Make sure you put those fees into your budget as well. Fortunately most software companies give steep discounts to students which you can take advantage of through the bookstore or through sites like journeyed.com and academicsuperstore.com.

You need protection. I regularly turn down buying extra warranties at Best Buy and the like, but here is one warranty that you need to buy. Invest the extra into the AppleCare Protection Plan. It extends the warranty from 1 year to 3 years. You never know what will happen. I've called AppleCare many times with anything from software issues to printing issues to hardware problems. It's worth the money and the people are always friendly and helpful.

You need umph. If you had me for Digital Design, you'll remember that RAM is the fuel which gives the computer power. The more RAM, the more programs you can have open and the greater the function those programs will have. Speed, btw, if the GHz of the computer. The higher the hertz, the faster the machine. RAM assists by working together with the GHZ to give you the best performance from your computer. The hard drive is where everything is stored. The higher rpm on a drive, the faster it can retrieve and save info. Personally, I'll sacrifice space for a faster rpm. I'm an instant gratification kind of person. I can always get an external drive if I need more space.

A Back-up Plan is needed. The new operating system, Leopard, comes with Time Machine, an automatic back-up system to help ensure you never lose your work. Even if you don't want to use the software. Make sure you have a back-up plan in place. The worst feeling in the world is losing your work the night before its due. (Raise your hand if this has happened to you. *raising my own hand*) Get an external hard drive. For less than $200, you can rest easy knowing you have everything saved. Just make sure you use it! Or, if you can't afford it, back-up to CD or DVD on a regular basis. It's a cheaper method that will save you heartache. Just make sure you label them well. Which ever method you use, make sure you train yourself to back up your work everyday or every week at minimum.

Here's the lowdown on the various Mac options:

Mac Mini - a great option if you already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Starting at $579* it's a little workhorse. Albeit, it doesn't have the upgrade potential like some of the other Mac models, it has plenty of zip to work in all the Adobe software. This is not, however, ultimately going to give you the power for memory intensive files such as huge, layered PSD file or any video editing software.

MacBook and MacBook Air- While great computers, skip them if you need to do serious design work. If you're going to get a laptop, go for the MacBookPro. See below.

MacBook Pro - A powerful laptop. This is ideal for design students. It has the umph to handle complicated files and it's portable to boot. I'm writing this post on one right now. This is the choice for you if you want to tote your computer around with you, bring it to class or relax outside while you slave over a new design. It starts at $1799* but you should invest a little more to max out the RAM (see above). With more RAM and the AppleCare Protection Program, you're now up to $2218.00*. My ideal 15" MacBook with more RAM, fastest GHz, an upgraded hard drive and the Protection Plan runs $2988.00.* The same thing in a 17" goes up to $3288.00*

iMac - the perfect choice if you don't need to take your computer with you. According to everything I've been reading, the new iMac is the cat's meow. This baby has brains and beauty all wrapped up into one. It has more than enough power to complete even the most intensive tasks and has a great big screen to hold all of those space grabbing palettes. The basic with the Protection Plan starts at $1268.00 but as I stated above with the MacBook Pro, you may as well go for it if you can. The ultimate model with a 24" screen, dual 3.06 GHZ, maxed out RAM, upgraded hard drive (1Terabyte of space - Holy Moly!) and the Protection Plan runs just $2583.00*. Other models fit in between so it can accomodate any budget.

Mac Pro - the daddy of them all. This powerhouse is the computer for those seriously getting into movie making/editing and high end computer animation. This computer is not for the weak of heart. It is 100% customizable up to 8-core processing. Most people don't need this computer. Heck, I don't even need this computer. Let's just not talk about the fact that I want it for the sake of wanting it. With the Protection Plan included, this model starts at $2798.00*. You can customize it to the max, you might want to sit down for this, for$17,333.00*. Average people like you and me don't need this kind of power, but if you prefer a desktop over a laptop or all-in-one iMac, the lower end version of this computer is perfectly fine. Don't forget you'll still need a monitor if you purchase this one.

I hope this has been helpful for you. Go forth and buy with confidence!

*prices are accurate as of 08-15-08 and reflect the education discount from Apple.

Thursday, May 1

Are you qualified? Discussion #10

So I will end this semester by sharing with you my biggest pet peeve from the year.

I experience deep pangs of angst every time I teach portfolio class when seniors submit the first draft of their resume. I cringe when I read the first item listed under Skills and Qualifications, “Proficient in Adobe InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.” My first beef is that I hate the word proficient used in a resume. Yack! Connotatively the word proficient has come to mean: just OK or passable. Using a term like “confident,” or even better “excellent” are much more accurate and resonating words to consider. You don’t need to come off as obnoxious but you do need to sell yourself.

What breaks my heart even more is that after four years of —often grueling—design training the first, most important and sometimes the only thing many CD seniors think to tell a potential employer is that they know how to use computer programs. YOU ARE DESIGNERS! You design, you think, you create, you problem solve! Wouldn’t you expect that any student graduating from any design program anywhere should be
able to use the Adobe Creative Suite?

If I were an art director I would expect you to talk to me more about your design skills and professional qualifications in a very succinct manner and using vernacular of the industry. Write like a designer that knows the field! Yes you do need to mention your computer skills but they shouldn’t necessarily be the first and the only skills you list.

So what are the more important skills that you have acquired? How and why are you qualified to work for a design firm? A potential employer scans a resume and looks at your sample sheet looking for information
applicable to the position they are attempting to fill. If that employer likes what they see and read, you may be called in for an interview with your portfolio. What are they looking for in your
portfolio? Projects that back up the claims in your resume and further illustrate the work on your sample sheet. So you may get a callback by listing some really impressive qualifications but if your work doesn’t back up you claims it could be a really short interview.

I little aside here and then we will get back to writing your resume. A designer’s resume must be designed with an attuned sense of typography. It is the first place a potential employer “sees” your sensitivity and attention to detail. A resume doesn’t need to be overly designed using your entire closet of bells and whistles but if it doesn’t look professionally polished, tweaked and fine-tuned it won’t be read. This very fact makes our resumes different than most other professions. You would be amazed at how fast an art director can edit a pile of 50 resumes down to ten by just “looking” through the pile.

So after overhearing me obsessively nag about this for about the millionith time in portfolio class, I got an email from a senior basically saying that identifying these skills and qualifications was really hard. “How do you do this?” the person asked.

Here is the advice I gave that person and I am sharing with you as well. Step out of your student shoes and look at yourself and your projects as a seasoned art director. What do you see? As an art director — unless you really only want your own virtual design puppet that is just proficient in all the Adobe programs—what information would you want to read in a resume? List everything you can think of and you will start to identify your strengths as well your unique qualities.

Skills are things you can do. Besides computer skills you have developed hand-skills, craftsmanship skills, organizational skills, time-management skills, communication skills, and writing skills. I am sure you can think of some more. Depending on your concentrations, experiences and possibly a minor you probably have specialized skills unique to your experience.

Break your projects down and analyze these experiences. Write them down. Don’t worry too much about the verbiage yet after about fifteen rewrites that will come. To get started, think about your magazine and newsletter projects. What skills did you develop over the course of the semester? Are you now able to generate unique editorial concepts targeted to specific audiences? Have you become adept at creating integrated visual/verbal messages with impact? Are you now confident designing with an extensive amount of text for editorial material? Keep going—what did you learn how to do besides setting up printer spreads in InDesign.

Qualifications are things you are. You can list wonderful qualifications until the cows come home but be sure your demeanor carries them out and also be sure your job references back you up. When you list yourself as an excellent time manager but have never been on time for work it will generally come back to haunt you. For qualifications, analyze your class/work experience and generate qualifications based on that experience. Have you developed a strong work ethic? Do you take and use direction well? Do you have a strong eye for detail? Are you a team player? Do you have good manners? Are you courteous? Are you a people person? Are you trustworthy and responsible? What kind of worker-bee are you?

This is one of the hardest things you will have to do as you prepare for your emersion into THE REAL WORLD not only will you need to write your resume but you will need to speak to these issues when
interviewed. So when Ms. She-May-Soon-Be-The-Person-That Pays-Me asks, “You say here in your resume that you take and use direction well, is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Will you be ready?

So this is my discussion topic to end the semester, what professional skills and qualifications are you taking away from Graphics II this semester that you could use to market yourself to a potential employer?

Cheers and have a great summer! Ms. Dash

Thursday, April 24

Senior Portfolios - Discussion #9

So your magazine has been submitted, your newsletter is under way and we have two weeks left of the semester. Aaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggghhhhhh! Will it ever end? Oh the stress of it all! Can’t wait for summer? Relaxing by the pool, fun in the sun, a part time job, hanging with your friends and not a CD project on the horizon. Kickin’ back and chillaxin! (Isn’t that a great word!)

REWIND!

Are you graduating in December? Are you enrolled in portfolio this coming fall — the 8-week CD Stressathon? Yes? You can pretend to be blissfully ignorant of what lies ahead and spend the summer in sweet denial. You can come back in the fall and FREAK OUT! Forgetting about your CD stuff for the summer sounds like a chillin’ plan but truthfully it’s a kinda dumb one. (Don’t you just hate when old people use silly slang?)

Do yourself a favor; allocate at least a small part of your summer – perhaps 2 to 3 hours a week preparing for portfolio class. A little preparation can go a long way to keeping your stress level much more manageable. I’ve taught enough portfolio classes that I have learned from students, which strategies work and which — quite frankly — don’t. Procrastination, disorganization and a haphazard approach to time management don’t fair well in portfolio class. (Yep, I am a nag.)

Here are a couple of tried and true suggestions that I am going to throw out there. Do with them what you will.

1. Before you go home for the summer touch base with you portfolio teacher. Find out exactly what is required for class. Ask for any materials that might help get you started. Consider asking your portfolio teacher to take a look at your work and getting some feedback before you leave school. Generally most portfolio profs require a minimum of 10 projects but remember a multi-piece project counts as one.

2. Create a thorough list of what you consider potential portfolio projects and prioritize that list from love it, like it, to hate it. Then take that list and break it down into categories. Everyone has a different method but here is the one I use: try to distribute the majority of your projects evenly over the first four categories. If all 10 projects are in categories 5 and 6 you may have some soul searching to do.
  1. Definite inclusion – completed
  2. Definite inclusion – could use as is but would like to change
  3. Definite inclusion – tweaking and fine-tuning
  4. Definite inclusion – moderate work necessary
  5. Definite inclusion – major work necessary
  6. A possibility when other work is complete.

3. Organize, organize, organize! Open each project. If it was compiled in an old version of a program save as a new copy in your current software and attempt to print it. I can’t tell you the number of times I have heard, “but it printed perfectly a year ago.” Make sure you have all fonts and images. If it isn’t packaged, package it. Create a job jacket for each project. Write down on the outside of each job-jacket what supplies you will need and what you need to do to finish the project. If you need to find images with better resolution, work on that. Time-consuming, fairly mindless work isn’t stressful when you aren’t on deadline but can become all-consuming frustration when you feel like ten things are due at one time.

4. Once organized, backup your work! Stick a CD in each job-jacket with the project name, your name and date. Enough said. Do you know how much time it takes to go to each of your professors to get pdfs of your projects when your hard-drive with everything on it has crashed?

5. Write your resume and start to think about a personal identity system. Walk over to Career Services in Admin and request your very own “How to Booklet” before you take off. Talk to CD profs to take a look at their CD resume stashes for ideas. Having this at least 75% completed by the first day of class can really keep you ahead of the game.

6. Save money. The more mounting, pocket construction and well building that you want to farm-out the more money you will need. I had someone who did all their own mounting, pockets and wells—granted they had access to free printing — who spent about $300 total on portfolio while another person paid to have everything mounted and pockets/wells built that spent about $1200. I would say the average is about $600 – $700. These costs also included the cost of the portfolio, supplies and professional photography for three-dimensional work. (Having access to your own large format good quality printer can be a real timesaver for portfolio class. If you equate time to money it can be a real cost saver too. The Cannon i 9900 and the Epson R1800 seem to be the current faves.)

7. Create a time management plan. It is kind of a pain-in-the-rear to work out but from the feedback I received from my students it is well worth the initial aggravation. Plot out a very thorough day-to-day calendar of what you want to get accomplished and when you plan to have each project complete. It is really kind of scary to think about but will keep you on task through the semester.

So I am trying to come up with ten. Hmmmm... OK so at this point you’re rolling your eyes, your muttering “yea I’ll work on portfolio this summer when hell freezes over” and you have that, “Please no more-prof-kaka-glazed-over expression.”

Read on my design-grass hoppers...

Some comments from 2008 graduating seniors:

From J.R:
“I would tell a junior that the calendar at the beginning of the semester helps so much even if it is hard to think that far ahead."
From A.F.
“I have a big puzzle board — probably 20" x 30" + I have a large, self-healing mat 24" x 17"— which came in exceedingly handy when it came to cutting boards and trimming out projects. Buy 100 pack of Exacto blades. Pay the $ now + you’ll have blades the rest of your life, or portfolio, whichever lasts longer. The more time you spend on projects now, the less you have to do for portfolio. YOU NEED TO LEARN TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS!”
“Stay organized + keep everything. Back up everything. Go to Profs for comments. The more work you do now will pay off in the long run.”
From D. B.
“Most important advice is to have projects near completion, and don’t fear portfolio, it’s not that bad.”
“Try to do most of the stuff yourself. I did all but trimmed my boards and make my well and spent much less than someone who did nothing themselves. Plus you feel better about it”
From M.O.
“Find and organize all your files before class.”
“I made a chart to hang up in my room with all my projects and steps such as computer changes, back up files, take photo, print, comp, mount. I would give myself a smiley sticker for everything I accomplished. It was more motivating then the calendar.”
From C.G.
“Another thing that I found useful was having a small T-square ruler to help me mount.”
From B.M.
“Plan ahead and try to get done a week before anything is due.”
From A.V.
“Work slowly and carefully. Take your time and avoid the trip to the emergency room. Sleep deprivation + sharp objects = emergency room”
From G. W.
“Own printer would make life a million times easier! Print early...reprinting happens. Following calendar helps.”
From A. G.
“Do your projects as well as you can the first time — that saved me a lot of work/headaches in portfolio. Buy a printer junior year and get to know it then. I also can’t even begin to tell you how happy I was to find that all of my files were organized, well labeled, and had fonts stored with them, so I didn’t have to waste time looking for anything.”
From D.M.
“The most important advice that I would give to a junior would be to follow your portfolio calendar. Also I would recommend that you just sit down and work. I know this is time consuming but this is what shows your talent as a designer. The two most important words of advice are DON'T PROCRASTINATE!”
“Just grab hold and enjoy the ride of portfolio. It is stressful but hey you have already made it through 31/2 years of stress so a ½ semester’s worth is nothing. :-)”
From B.S.
“Make sure you have extras of everything. Chances are you’ll redo a lot. Start working on your resume now, that took a lot of focus away from just the portfolio. And redo projects over the summer, make them the best they can be now to minimize work later on.”
From T.F.
“Start your own personal logo ahead of time, it’s just like an additional project added to the other 10+ you have to fix, and it can be frustrating”
And finally from R.H.
“If you wouldn’t want to buy or hang up every piece you have in your portfolio don’t put it in. You have to love it. And as Sagmeister said, ‘Complaining doesn’t solve anything!’ and as Yoda says, ‘Do or do not there is no try!’ :-) ”

And finally, finally, finally from Ms. Dash

While looking for the Sagmeister quote online, I found this link. I didn’t find that quote —I’m going to trust R.H. on this one — but you’ll like these. Check it out. http://www.oneplusoneequalsthree.com/2004/03/what_is_design.html

Good-luck and what are your plans for the summer? How are you planning on preparing for your portfolio and/or senior year? What can you do to make you last year not only memorable, but able yourself to come out the other side with your sanity intact?

Tuesday, April 22

Who are you? Discussion #8

This thought has come up to me over and over. Being out in the field for a long time, I tend to feel the need to reinvent myself from time to time. I get bored with how I present myself and need a change. One of the most prominent parts of my identity is the typeface I choose to represent who I am. Currently I have some inconsistency issues. My website uses House Industry's League Night. My stationery uses Tarzana and Trade Gothic. I have a logo on my website, no logo on my stationery. Heck, my business cards were done ages ago, use Futura and have a logo long since defunct. (I don't have the heart to throw out perfectly good business cards). So much for presenting a united front.

This inconsistency is now an urgent issue as I move forward to make myself an LLC. A Limited Liability Company is a way of creating a company without going for the big guns and incorporating. It's good for smaller businesses with partnerships or sole proprietors. The biggest advantage is that it protects my personal money from my business money if I get sued. I've grown significantly and am now dealing with some large clients, international suppliers and huge dollar amounts changing hands (too bad it's not going into my hands). It's time to protect me, my personal finances and my business finances. With this new stage of my business comes the necessity to create a business name, have official stationery printed, etc. Here's my dilemma. Who am I if I were a typeface. There are so many I adore, have crushes on, rely on for the tried and true that I have no idea which one represents me. I don't want to have to re-do all of my printing every two years when I get bored with my choice. I want the one true font that is my soul mate, my love, my partner, the one who will never let me down. It's a tough choice.

Take our candidates, for example. As the political arena heats up particularly today in Pennsylvania for the Democrats, I couldn't help but notice the type choices the candidates have made to represent themselves. What does it say about them? Personal feeling aside, what do these typefaces say about a person? (PS - I'm not asking or looking for any kind of political debate, I'm looking at what the typeface represents.). And before I give my thoughts, let me preface this by saying I do not affiliate myself with any party. Viva la independents!




McCain - It conveys strength, power, solidity and the confidence that this person has no doubt he is right for the job.

Obama - This person is sophisticated, refined, confident but not overly so. This person feels a sense of order and has a friend who is a skilled designer who understands kerning and proper tracking. The darker blue also exudes strength and serves as a nice contrast to the sun mark.

Clinton - The choice of upper and lower case is softer, not as forceful as all uppercase and, in my opinion, not as confident. This feels more feminine for good or bad. The waving flag, while modernized, is an uninventive/uninspiring icon and could use further exploration. The for President feels forced into the space and the entire blue area could use some breathing room.

What is your opinion of what the type choices represent? (again, please no political based comments!!!) If you had to choose, what typeface would represent you if you were running for President? Which would you choose to represent yourself as a designer? What does that choice say about you?

Bonus question for giggles- I need a name for my LLC. While I could use my own name as I have been doing since I started freelancing and just tack LLC on the end of it, I can't help but be tempted by the thought of a cooler sounding name. Something that makes clients want to hire me for name alone :)

Monday, March 31

The Island of San Serriffe

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As found at the Museum of Hoaxes. This is Great!!!

In 1977 the British newspaper The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic located in the Indian Ocean consisting of several semi-colon-shaped islands. A series of articles affectionately described the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. The Guardian's phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the idyllic holiday spot. Few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer's terminology. The success of this hoax is widely credited with launching the enthusiasm for April Foolery that gripped the British tabloids in subsequent decades.

Click here to read the Full Story. It's fascinating and oh, so clever. Happy April 1!

Sunday, March 16

Beware of PCI - Discussion #7

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Design is about the idea. It's a well know fact that the better the idea, the better the design. And our goal as designers is to figure out that idea. It's the one that pops into our head and makes us giddy. It's the one that can't come out fast enough as we desperately try to draw as fast as our brain is working. It's that one brilliant, shining, fabulous idea that will ultimately save the universe… or at the very least, make your client happy and bring them the business they need.

So what is this "idea" we all so love to talk about? According to the dictionary, it's a concept or mental impression. I like to think of it as the answer to the question "what if?" After gathering all of the information needed from the client, we need to determine the course of action we'll be following for the job. This is where the idea comes in. We're all talented individuals, that's why we're in this field. We can draw and paint and dream and imagine. What we need to do is start questioning. What if speed were represented by a bird? What if I can somehow connect the client's process into a visual cycle? What if I change the format to an unusual size to stand out better? What if I draw my own type? What if I turn the whole thing upside down and see what shakes out? What if I push to have a more illustrative logo so I can better show the client's business? You get the picture.

Let's talk about a real job. Let's say it's a logo and we've already made our conclusions on audience, final output/placement (such as web, print, billboard, etc.) and communication needs of the client. What's the next step? Believe it or not, the majority of designers do thumbnails. No, really, we do. Seriously. In my many years of experience in the design field and at the jobs I've held I, and all of the other designers I've worked with, have done thumbnails for 98% of the jobs we've done. Now that I freelance, I still do thumbnails for every job I work on. Why don't I get right on to the computer and start the job? The easy answer—I don't know what my idea is yet. In my experience, working on the computer first is distracting. I have too many decisions to make before I can get down to the task at hand. I have to decide which program to use, page size, font choice, font size, color, tool I'll use to render, etc. By the time I'm really ready to begin, I've wasted an inordinate amount of time I could have spent on generating ideas. In addition, I can pump out more ideas as thumbnails in 30 min than I could ever do on the computer (and I will gladly challenge anyone who claims "I work faster on the computer" to a showdown any day). A good designer should be effective with their time since time is money after all. Too many good thumbnails are discarded or never even brought to fruition because of PCI, Premature Computer Involvement.

Thumbnails help me think of all the possibilities, not just the ones I can render in the computer. I wouldn't bake a cake without a recipe nor would I start a design without my thumbnails. I tend to begin any job by making lists. I take the parameters of a project and write down as many adjectives, verbs or ideas that spring into my mind. I may write down five words or I may write down 3 pages of words. They consist of image ideas, format ideas, synonyms, icon representations and anything else I can think of. The words become the basis of my thumbnails. I analyze my lists and begin drawing. The thumbnails are more than just pretty drawings. They are concepts and ideas. I draw everything that comes to mind but if I can't justify why the thumbnails works, it doesn't make the final cut. Just looking nice or cool won't do, it needs to be functional. As always, you need to be able to communicate the needs of the client through your design. If it communicates AND looks good, then you've done your job.

In addition, your first idea isn't necessarily your best idea. Sometimes it takes a few rounds to suss out the best way to go about the design. Thumbnails are the quick way to determine what does or does not work. If something doesn't work in one try it a different way in another. You really like the way 3 different design pieces look—try them in one design together. Try, try ,try. It's the whole point of thumbnails. Too often a designer will fall in love with a typeface or alignment or size or color during PCI (see definition above) and not be able to see beyond it to the better idea. Thumbnails are a way to make sure that doesn't happen.

So now that you've heard my rant on thumbnails, why else are they important? Why bother doing them at all? In addition, what else can you do to generate ideas so you have better thumbnails? Where else can these universe stopping concepts come from? What do you do to brainstorm ideas?

**UPDATE After reading some comments hitting on quantity of thumbnails, I have a rhetorical question for you. I did these 2 pages of sketches for a logo. Does it make me an incompetent designer because I couldn't "nail it" within the first few? The logo ultimately chosen by the client was about the 60th one sketched. Just some food for thought…**




Monday, March 3

Enclosed Please Find…



Those three little words changed the way I wrote forever. Seriously. When did it happen? Three years out of college while I was a designer at Bailey Design Group (now The Bailey Group). I'll never forget the moment. My boss asked me to draft a letter to a client which would be included in a package we were sending. Not being an experienced letter writer, I asked what it should say. To this day I remember what he said:

"Enclosed please find the requested revisions to (insert product name here). Please call when you have a chance to review."

The simplicity of the statement blew my mind. My letter would probably have said something like, "From our discussion last Thursday I included the revisions you needed done. Hopefully these solve some of the issues. When you get a chance to look at them, please give me a call so we can discuss the next steps." Now granted, I was a terrible writer all through college. I could get away with decent essay answers on exams and particularly excelled at art history exams, but ask me to write more than a page and I tended to fall apart. I even failed an Honors theater paper—first time I had ever failed anything in my life. I was devastated but fortunately the professor allowed me to resubmit it and I managed to pull it up to a B. But I digress.

I was shocked and awed by what my boss dictated to me. It was clean, elegant and simple yet refined and stated everything. There was no better way to say it and I was officially hooked. I wanted to clean up my skills and learn how to write that well. Why? I wanted to be successful and appear to be as professional as possible to my colleagues and clients. I had already noticed that more professional I was, the more they responded to me and the work I presented.

I worked hard at improving my skills. I happily volunteered to take the extra time to include a letter or draft an email. The only way to improve was to practice and by the time I left the company 5 years later I had enough practice to practically qualify for the gold medal of business writing. My resume then consisted of not only business letters, but design proposals, presentations, copy for product packaging, website copy and more. I also became a whiz at editing and proofreading—when you're working with a product which will be reproduced a half million times and cost the client a tremendous amount of money, you need to make sure everything is spelled correctly and commas are in the correct place. Remind me to tell you about the $16,000 mistake sometime.

Today I do even more writing. Aside from the usual onslaught of business letters, I write for both clients and academia. As a freelancer I write headlines, taglines, body copy, product copy, mission statements, trademark definitions, website copy, etc. You name it, I've written for it. For academia (as a professor) I've written assignments, handouts, worksheets, abstracts, proposals, seminars descriptions, etc. Writing has invaded every aspect of my life. The more I get involved in business and academia the more I find myself writing. Besides, who else is going to do it for me? I can't afford to hire a full-time copywriter so the weight must fall on my shoulders.

I've even taken writing to the next level writing not only for this blog but participating in NaNoWrimo. Taking a stab at NaNoWrimo the last two years opened up a whole new world of words and resulted in two 50,000+ word novels under my belt. Are they any good? The first one is funny and entertaining but has no real plot and no possibility of getting published. The second one has a real possibility if I can find the time to edit it and try to find an agent who believes in it too. (spare time… who has that?) What have these novels done for my writing? Everything. I now use better sentence prose, increased variety in the selection of words I use and have an easier time transitioning thoughts. It has also helped my grammar and punctuation skills.

Where else has it taken me? I landed a contract to do humor writing and illustrating for a greeting card company. How? It was the writing that sold them on my skills. I showed the president a card I had written and he laughed his ass off. I showed him a few more and he kept laughing. He told me that while the art was important, it was the writing that sold a card and he thought these cards could sell. From a little writing on my part, I now have the opportunity to have my cards—my writing and artwork—distributed in stores across the country. Would I have gotten the contract without the writing? Maybe but it was the writing that sealed the deal.

While I wouldn't expect everyone to take it to the level I have, I would hope that writing can become more of a priority among designers. Freelancer or not, writing is a main form of communication with a client and the main form in which clients communicate with their audience. Good writing is remembered and effective writing sells. Something as simple as an email which convinces a client to choose the best design can make a world of difference.

-lorem ipsum

***As an aside—Writing in "txt msg" mode in email is not going to cut it in the real world. Plz, :-), ty, yw and ttyl are not appropriate and will absolutely lead the client to think you are less than professional. Not a good impression to make to the one who's paying you. And while I'm saying it, it's not a good impression to make on professors either. Give yourself a head start and start practicing good writing skills now***

Sunday, March 2

The Good Word - Discussion #6

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Writing is a topic of conversation usually left out when talking about graphic design. We use typography, letterforms, quotation marks, commas and such, but we rarely talk about the words beyond kerning and point size. What do the words really mean?

A great deal actually. Words provide the content which leads to the design, connotation, choice of imagery, choice of color, choice of typeface and size... it leads to everything. The words contained within a design are often times more important than the design. It's the reason why the design exists in the first place—to communicate what the written word has to say. Therefore, and it's a big therefore, we need to read the text we've been given in order to properly understand how to design for it. *gasp* Show of hands... how many of you have read and understand ALL of the text you're using for your current project? Have many of you went forward with your designs without having read everything (and I do mean down the the last sentence)? I thought so.

Reading your copy is important to figuring what the design should even look like. It's the subtle nuance of how something is worded, the bullets points which show how the product works and the intro paragraph with it's flowery boast of how wonderful something is. In this information is clues as to what the design should look like. Do you think a designer working on a Stephen King novel cover or Nike's next ad campaign isn't going to spend the time to read the text given to them? Understanding that link between what something looks like and what something says is key. And this is called? Anyone? Bueller? Beuller?

Visual verbal synergy.

Oh yes, a term you've heard used time and time again. The more support the visual has for the copy and the copy has for the visual the more successful the design will be. A no-brainer you say? Not always. Not all copy a client gives you will be clear as far as imagery/design is concerned. Sometimes you'll need to communicate an abstract concept or communicate for subject matter you're not very familiar with and possibly don't even understand. You have a few choices at that point.
1. Trudge forward with the design and try to come up with something that looks cool. This will only hold water with the client if you are a true master of B.S. and can convince them to use the design.
2. Speak with the client and ask pertinent questions about the material you've been given. Maybe they can shed some light on the subject. This has a 50-50 percent chance of working. Half of the time the client will speak to you in lay mans' terms and be able to simplify the abstract nature of the business. Half of the time they'll tell you what you've already read not clarifying anything.
3. Do your own research on the matter. Do a search for what it is you don't understand and learn about it. Expand your mind. The more you know about your client and the service/product they provide, the better insight you have into what kind of design they need. Please notice I said need, not want. They may want something fluffy and pretty but may need something a little more functional. It's your job to help determine what's best for their needs.

Understanding a client's needs is exactly what you should do to develop a good relationship with them. In turn, a good relationship with a client means more work, more money and more stability for your career.

Aside from the information a client gives you, what else can you do to better understand your client and their needs? How can you get inside their heads and determine what kind of design is appropriate for them? What can you do to build a better relationship with someone you could potentially spend years working with?

Sunday, February 17

Kern alert!

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I realize New York Life has a long history of being a well established company. It was founded 160 years ago after all. You'd think that a company with such rich heritage would take just as much pride in their logo.

Look how beautifully kerned the word New is. The letters touch forming elegant ligatures. The N and E even share the same stem - how marvelous. While the letters in York don't touch, the spacing has been finessed to fit perfectly under New. But someone must have then taken a nip from the bottle before working on the word Life. Can you say poor kerning? Sheesh. I realize the designer wanted Life to be the same width as New, but please, they could have done better then this. Every time I see this logo, I want to take an Xacto knife to it and fix the horrible letter spacing.

Friday, February 15

So you want a job? - Discussion #5

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I have a tendency to copy down little scraps of wisdom I find here and there on loose sheets of scrap paper. (Yes, a notebook chained to my ankle would be a wise investment.). I often find these little notes to myself months and years later stacked in piles of mail, stuffed in books or drawers. In the midst of sorting through another of my endless piles of things, “I can’t throw out but never seem to find the time to file,” I came across the following list:

The Top 10 Skills Employers Want
1. Communication Skills
2. Computer & Technical Aptitudes
3. Leadership
4. Teamwork
5. Interpersonal Abilities
6. Professional Personal Traits
7. Critical Thinking
8. Intelligence and Common Sense
9. Willingness to Learn
10. Work-related Experience

I can’t take credit for the creation of this list but I thought it was important enough to copy down and remember. It may have been lifted straight from the Career Services Department right here on campus — if so, thank you very much. I’ve decided to share it with you all and it has become the catalyst for this blog entry.

I think many CD students work really hard under the misconception that all you need to get a great job is a strong portfolio. If my book looks good I am there like a fly on …sh…sugar. Please don’t misconstrue my sentiments here, a great book can get you in the door and keep you there but it isn’t the only criteria for landing your dream job.

To illustrate my point let’s take a look at this misconception from the perspective of a studio owner, hiring committee, and/or art/creative director. You will need to develop a little art director empathy here so put on your “I’m the Boss Hats.”

A Not So Untypical Scenario:

“The following drama and characters are purely fictional. They are not based on actual people or events.” I just love when they say that in the beginning of cop shows.

You’re a KUCD grad, you’ve been out of school several years and you’re a very busy and successful art director at Jackpot Design and Marketing. Jackpot is well regarded for its high quality of design work and stellar reputation in the business and design communities and on most days you enjoy your job. You are used to the high stress frenetic pace—in fact you thrive on it. As crass as it may sound, your main job responsibility is to generate strong design and visual communications for clients in a timely-manner for which your company will be paid and turn a profit. These profits are how you get paid your generous salary because your boss and company CEO, Ima Pennypincher, realizes that you’re worth every shiny cent.

Jackpot Design has taken on several new and lucrative accounts and you’ve been working double shifts for the last 6 months to meet your deadlines. This has taken a real toll on your social life and you feel like you have joined a design monastery. Ms. Pennypincher has just given you permission to hire and train an entry-level junior designer at the bottom of the designer pay scale. You argued for someone with experience, but even with new clients she SWEARS —with an eye roll— that the company can’t afford that. Anyway, at this point, the potential of any extra help is welcome news. You are well aware that Ms. Pennypincher pays eagle-eyed attention to extra costs, downtime, missed deadlines and mistakes that an inexperienced designer can bring to the plate—all potentially reducing the company’s profit margin. You will be directly responsible for this new hire. If the person you hire doesn’t work out you’re the scapegoat and Ms. Pennypincher will have your hide.

Thoughts of what you need in a young designer start to gel. You realize this person may need to be open to some drudge work to get started, answering phones, photo and design research, and following your very specific design instruction. Not too creative to begin but if you see creative and professional potential the job has possibilities. This person may need to put in extra hours immediately—without whining—as your “right-hand” until they are up to speed and can take on more responsibility. You want to hire someone that can be sure footed in three months and self-sufficient in terms of direction in a year.

Realizing that taking the time to screen and hire a new staff member is time that you are in short supply you email your old Profs in KUCD. They post the job in the office and direct you to Career Services as well. One of your old professors offers to announce the job opportunity at Senior Portfolio Review. They collect resume and sample sheets and mail them to you. You receive employment information from 25 CD seniors and you pare down your short-list to 7 employment candidates. Why did you screen out the first 18 people? Do you think that as a busy art director you had time to really “read” 25 resumes?

Generally the very quick “look and skim” of the resume and sample sheet pile is the method of choice. Some reasons people are screened at this stage are as mundane as they didn’t seem like a good fit. If you are confident in the quality of your resume and sample sheet you shouldn’t take this personally. It is somewhat out of your control. But remember a resume can start to give clues about everything from #3: Leadership to #10: Work Related Experience. These areas aren’t out of your control but take some planning and follow through while you are still in school.

Outside of just poor design, #2: Computer and Technical Aptitude and #6: Professional Personal Traits come into play on your resume. In our field marginal attention to organization in a layout, lack of attention to typographic detail and awkward computer skills in a poorly crafted resume can eliminate you immediately in the “look and skim” stage. These deficits all have something to say about what an art director would expect from an on-the-job novice.

So I will be generous and say that “you” the art director actually “read” eight resumes and paired the pile down to six. Awkward writing, misspelled words and poor grammar eliminated the next 2 people under #1: Communication Skills. Writing skills fall under this category.

So the countdown begins with six phone calls. The work looked good in the sample sheets. These resumes actually identified important design and professional qualifications beyond the standard list of computer programs the applicant knows how to use. You visualize a cognizant people not a lifeless computer drones.

One person’s voicemail message berates you with a litany of curse words and tells you to leave an “F”ing message and they might get back to you. Ooopsie, you hang up without leaving a message and six potential candidates just narrowed to five.

You have five interviews scheduled on an open day the following week. In your mind you have two terrific candidates and three really good candidates. It is going to be a tight day so these interviews need to go as scheduled.

So after a crazy day of interviews you decide: one book was super, two books were really good and one not so good—well let's say the work wasn’t bad but the cat hair, booger-like adhesive and die-cuts that looked they were cut out with a grass clippers really didn’t help. That person looked great on paper but you were skeezed-out at the poor presentation of their work. Deficiencies in #6 and #8 eliminated another candidate.

The third interview was late because they got lost, hmm… That person had a really nice book too. But you think of #6: Professional Personal Traits, #7: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving and #8: Intelligence and Common Sense. You just aren’t late for an interview. Period. If they didn’t know where the place was, they should have recognized the problem early and addressed it before it became your problem. You had to play catch-up the whole rest of the day.

Tomorrow you will probably check in on recommendations of your potential hires but before you go home you just can’t resist going on My Space and punching in your candidates’ names. Ooopsie! You find a photo of super-portfolio-person dancing on a table in skivvies with a cigarette in one hand and a cheap beer in the other. Well this one just got eliminated on #8: Intelligence and Common Sense. Just because they like to have a good time? Probably not. For publicizing it in an open forum and not thinking about the consequences? Yep.

You decide to give them a second chance and the next day you call one of your old Profs that the applicant has listed as a reference. (It is good form to ask permission of the people you are using as references.) The Prof emails you back telling you that the person didn’t request that the Prof be a reference so they can’t comment due to privacy issues. Red flag. Down to two.

So you are disappointed that you eliminated what you thought was your strongest portfolio. So you call the references of the other two candidates. They both have really solid books but all of the work isn’t exceptional. One candidate seemed a little nervous but nice, but they had really made an effort to ask questions. You liked that. The other spoke well, was confident and had a comfortable sense of humor. They have pretty equal quality portfolios and so far stack up well on the Top Ten Skills an Employer Wants List. This is a tough decision. Some pieces shine while others are just good. They both used Profs and their internships as references. You call and find out that they were both really good students, hardworking and on time for class or work, they take direction well, have been willing to learn new skills (#9), revise projects to make them better and got along really well with everyone in their classes (#5). Other things are pressing so you get back to the tasks of the day.

The next day you receive in the mail, a handwritten personally designed thank you card from one of your two final candidates, the shy one. The candidate thanked you for your time and suggestions on their work. The candidate requested an opportunity to come in and work freelance as a field test. The card comments on how impressed they were with Jackpot’s Design work that they saw and read while waiting in the lobby for their interview. The candidate remembered that you said Friday morning is usually a little less crazy so they would call at that time. They even hoped that your cat was feeling better and you remembered mentioning that in the interview. You’re swamped. You make a snap decision, you turn the card over and there is contact information. You call. “Hey thanks so much for the card, we don’t get them often. Can you come in tomorrow and work? I’d like you to freelance for the week on a test drive.”

So here’s my question to begin discussion. You’re in the driver seat. You’re the boss. You make the decisions. (But don’t forget Ms. Pennypincher.) Write your own Top 10 Skills Employers Want List. Is this list thorough? What’s missing? What might you add? Outside of a great portfolio, what do you think would be great traits for a young designer to have? What might be the worst? If you had the responsibility of hiring someone you had to work with closely everyday what would you want them to be like? Describe the perfect employee.

Monday, February 11

For the Love of Trajan

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As found by a student who knows how much I adore Trajan.
*note: intense sarcasm is being used as I type this*

Enjoy!


by kirby1

Thanks Darbie!

Wednesday, February 6

To Ego or Not to Ego - Discussion #4

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Ask any designer what makes the perfect client, and they'll all give you the same reply: the one who lets you do whatever you please. In a perfect world, all clients would be this way. As designers, we have the education, the training and the experience to know precisely what would work best for the target audience, and we're rarely short of innovative and creative ideas to engage that audience. The more we work on a job, the more we become excited about the designs we're creating, and the more certain we become that our designs are The Right Ones, and They Will Work. And of course they'll be beautiful, original, and almost certainly, award winning.

As students, you’ve been lucky so far to have guidelines that specify size, loose topics and other small details but the creative idea generation is largely your responsibility. You become the client, the company owner, the editor, the copywriter and the creative director all rolled into one. It’s your idea that gets pushed forward therefore you get to make the “rules”. There is no printing budget or photographers to pay. There are no government regulations to meet or bosses to please (unless you count your professor, of course). The account manager isn’t going to be looking over your shoulder begging you to get done so a press release can go out. Your ideas are what matter therefore ego becomes part of your process—it needs to be to make you a better designer.

The real world, of course, is never quite so straight forward. One of the greatest rewards about the design industry is that there will be times when you really are given full freedom, when the client is open to new ideas and is excited by your creativity, and will give you free reign to do whatever you feel is right. Sometimes, however, you'll find yourself working from pretty tight guidelines, where your client already has a good idea of what they want, and they require you to stick closely to those guidelines. Perhaps they have a particularly awful logo that they want you to use prominently, perhaps they have a color scheme as part of their branding that you're required to adhere to, or perhaps their design idea is just plain stupid, and they're not open to alternative opinions. So how do you respond to this as an artist? How do you work to meet their guidelines without losing your own creativity in the process? The easy answer is to say, “screw ‘em, I know what good design is and they don’t. I’m doing whatever I want to do.” Unfortunately, this answer is unrealistic. Oftentimes a client had good reasons for using a corporate color or specific logo or demanding only Helvetica be used— it’s their right as it’s their company. They are paying you to help make their company better and sometimes that means dealing with items that can’t be changed. 95% of companies have some sort of standards when it involves their branding. Some will provide you with entire manuals with what you’re allowed and not allowed to do. Many clients have some idea of what they need and want.

This isn't a problem exclusive to the design industry. If you're a writer, and hired to do a piece on cycling, they'll expect cycling to be the focus of the article. However, they'll expect you to give your own personality and flourish to the piece, for it to have an angle or a point of view. If you're an interior designer, your client will specify what colors they want the bathroom, or the kitchen, but you'll have the freedom to express yourself a little, to make it something wonderful. The same is true of graphic design - it's important not to lose your personality in the process, to use that training, experience and enthusiasm to give them what they want, and then give them more. It's one of the most important lessons to learn - how to give your clients what they want, and also give them what they didn't realize they wanted and love it even more.

But how far should you take this? Is there a point where you should accept defeat, go through the motions and give them what they want and move on? Or should you fight for the job, and try to give your client the best that you can and perhaps even surprise them? How far can you push that initial idea before you begin to irritate the client? Just where exactly is that happy medium, and should the client indulge you, so long as you're still keeping to the letter of their specified guidelines? How important is your ego in the creative process? Where does the role of your graphic design training fit in?

Thursday, January 31

I’m a Type Stalker: A Confession from the Margins of My Soul

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Beautiful, bountiful text, I do profess my love and devotion. You have the power to shape my lustful thoughts as I have become obsessed with the flawlessness of your form. Oh whisper to me in words of clarity and subtleness. The exquisite structure of your body emphasizes the movement through the pages of my heart. As the individual flowers of your garden do blossom into silhouettes of delicate color, my mind twirls like an ampersand when I consider your beauty.

As I tap, tap, tap on my keyboard, the sweet musings of my affection, my mind wanders to the gutter. I dream of swimming in the silvery gray sea of your wisdom as it flows and caresses the fine columns on your substrate. I ponder the face our relationship with the thoughtfulness and consideration of a selfless lover. Although you are relentless in your need of my sensitive touch, I persevere with thoughts of your copious visual delights.

Ahhhhh but you toy with the texture of my love.

I do so cringe when your characters kiss the others and yes when you tweak your line space it sets my heart aflutter. I contemplate the spaces I would track to overcome my all-consuming obsession but my love has become centered on your sumptuous indents.

Be still my kerning heart.

Once again, I peruse your letters searching for meaning but alas the rivers violating your body do so mar my quest for unreserved perfection but ultimately you still contain the drop caps of my dreams.

Am I unjustified in my love? Please do not dash my hopes with the careless hyphenation.

Oh text, beautiful, bountiful text. You are not an afterthought in my lustful designs
but a true companion and consummate partner.

Love and Wingdings :-)

Ms. Dash

Wednesday, January 30

My "Top 5" Type Lists

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In an homage to one of my favorite actors, John Cusack, and one of my favorite movies, High Fidelity, here are a few of my "top five of all time" type lists:

Top 5 Tried and True Fonts:
1. Trade Gothic
2. Garth Graphic
3. Hoefler Text
4. Helvetica Neue Light (note: not the whole family, just light)
5. News Gothic

Top 5 Overused Fonts:
1. Myriad
2. Trajan
3. Gill Sans
4. Georgia
5. Futura and Eurostile - a tie for spot #5
6. Zaphino (I just couldn't leave it out)

Current Top 5 Favs for the Winter/Spring of '08*
1. Grad
2. Halvorsen
3. Hypatia
4. Alita
5. Union
*all fabulous finds on veer (a surprise, I know *wink*)

Top 5 "Drop My Class If You Use These" Fonts
1. Comic Sans
2. Papyrus
3. Myriad
4. Hobo
5. Anything that looks distressed from dafont.com

Top 5 Fonts That Just Make Me Smile Even If I Rarely Use Them
1. Electrix
2. Mona Lisa
3. Linoscript
4. Blue Eye Shadow
5. Senator

Top 5 People Who Make Designing With Type/Type Design an Art
1. Paula Scher
2. David Carson
3. Zuzana Licko
4. Louise Fili
5. Herb Lubalin

Monday, January 28

On Type and Text - DISCUSSION #3

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Design is all about communication. Ads, magazines, packages, brochures, logos, etc. all communicate to the viewer through visual and verbal cues. The complexity of the information can vary but the targeted result is the same. Create desire and encourage comprehension. The challenge of publication design is to simultaneously make an enjoyable environment for the eyes and make text easily readable for long periods of time. Unlike a poster or package, however, a publication tends to be based heavily upon the written word. Comfort while reading those words is a must. We've already discovered that our Publication Design Workbook, while an excellent text on the topic, is difficult to read for a sustained time. The text is small, condensed and grey - three factors that strain the eye and prevent enjoyable reading.

The easy part of using large amounts of text is picking a typeface. Designers feel no fear of going through the font list in any given program. Pick a serif and san serif. Find two that go well together. Place them into your layout. Piece of cake. Or is it? Text isn't merely the way the letters look individually. It's also how they look line to line, paragraph to paragraph and page to page. A font may look great as a subhead yet not read well as a paragraph.

Think about it as tones of color. Each paragraph on the page create a block of color. It's not merely lines, it creates a shape on the page. It creates relationships with other shapes on the page. Column width and length, choice of alignment, size of type, size of leading and tracking, and color can all affect how the shapes of type appear to a reader. How does your type flow. Is your x-height too high and your leading too tight creating big solid blocks of tone? Is your font too tiny and too pale creating washed out tones like PDW? Where is that balance? How do you get a nice even tone? Many other elements come into play; elements not always thought of when setting paragraphs. Long line lengths can create difficulty finding one's place at the beginning of the next sentence. Too short of a line length can create choppy sentences can cause a staccato effect when reading. Sometimes a poorly designed font will have too much space between words or too tight tracking. All factors in promoting difficult comprehension. It's the overall effect that affects reading more than any individual line. Finding that balance takes time and effort. Finding that balance also means you may have to put more attention on your text than just placing the story and saying "done." You have to pay attention to the size, the leading, the kerning/tracking, the alignment, the column width, the column length, the type color, the space between columns... need I go on?

In addition to all of this (you mean there's more?), it's also a necessity to create clear hierarchy so the reader can navigate the article or story. Which, leads me to the next factor which can affect readability and goes hand-in-hand with hierarchy, space. Type cannot read without adequate space, both between lines and paragraphs but also in relation to the page. Type squeezed onto a page, no mater how legible it may be, will always be less readable due to the lack of breathing room around the shapes it creates. Readers need space for their thumbs to hold the page, they need adequate distance between paragraphs, both top to bottom and side to side, in order to navigate a page and a picture will have more visual impact if the type is not right up next to it. Misuse of the previous statements can create tension on a page negating any effect your other efforts to make reading the publication pleasant. In lay man's terms? Don't crowd the page. It's not necessary to fill every corner and every inch of the page.

So now that I'm done with the soap box, what does this all mean to you? What can you, as a designer, do to ensure your publication is as enjoyable to read as it is to look at? Why it it so important to make this effort when it comes to designing with text? Possibly share examples of text in publication which read well and ones that don't and explain your findings and how you can use it in your own design work. Or possibly offer your own design thoughts on the matter.

PS - curious about who makes decisions about the color of the year and other color related trends? See the new post below this one.

MORE ABOUT COLOR TRENDS

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Check out this article if you want a little more information about who is responsible for predicting color trends.

Check out this link to go directly to the Color Association of the United States web site.

Enjoy! Ms. Dash

Monday, January 21

Pantone announces color of the year. What's yours? DISCUSSION #2

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Pantone has done it before and has done it again. They have predicted what the color of the year will be.

This year's pick is PANTONE 18-3943 Blue Iris, a beautifully balanced blue-purple, as the color of the year for 2008. "It best represents color direction in 2008 for fashion, cosmetics and home products," explains Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute. "As a reflection of the times, Blue Iris brings together the dependable aspect of blue, underscored by a strong, soul-searching purple cast. Emotionally, it is anchoring and meditative with a touch of magic. Look for it artfully combined with deeper plums, red-browns, yellow-greens, grapes and grays.” –How Magazine, 12/2007

It got me thinking as to what my color of the year will be. For 2007 it was PMS 294. It is the primary color used for my biggest client. I can safely say that while I love my client and I enjoy the work I do for them, I need a break from PMS 294. Moving forward into the new year, I want something new, something exciting, something different. Too often designers rely on the tried and true color choices. I know for a fact PMS 021 (orange) looks beautiful with an 85% grey. I know that a brilliant cyan blue such as PMS 299 looks amazing with a nice deep brown like PMS 161. And PMS 365 (lime green) goes with everything. I know this. They work. But what can I do to break away from the things I know? I hate being stuck in a rut. I hate just reaching for the same old resources.

So therefore, my new color of the year is going to be a bit daring.

Tada! PMS 876

It's a beautiful coppery metallic ink. Metallic? Why not? Metallics, in my opinion, are under used and overlooked. Metallics add another dimension of color to pieces. They shimmer and shine and have a wow factor without being over the top. It doesn't cost any more in the printing process to use a metallic PMS color versus a regular PMS color. I do have the advantage of having access to metallics for my clients so it may make my color choice a little unfair to a student. So, to be fair, I've translated the color into a CMYK match (see breakdown below)— a nice coppery brown — just beautiful. It's earthy and has a richness that will add depth to its use. It promotes a calmness yet not so much that it's static. I think it will compliment teals, reddish-pinks, yellow-greens and dusty purples quite well.





***Please note: I will always, first and foremost, make sure my color choices are appropriate for the target audience and client.***


What do you think of Pantone's choice? What's your color of the year? Or what color best represents you? What can we, as designers, do to keep our color use fresh and exciting?

From Ms. Dash

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OK so here goes. This is my second experience with this blog thingy. My first was asking health questions on my cousin's wife's blog to help her get a good grade in her nursing class. It was kind of a family duty but she did get a good grade.

Sooooooooooo these things have a tendency to make my mind go blank. I stare at the screen wiggle my nose like Samantha Stevens and try to think design thoughts.

I have a tendency to ramble. Here goes... :-)

So I suppose you want to know what kind of magazines I read. I will pretty much pick up anything and read it, even books without pictures. (Magazines, newspapers, science fiction...right now dragon stuff.) I suppose the magazine I read most often is the Sunday NYT Magazine that's inserted into the paper. The fashion inserts are cool too. The headline designs are usually minimalist yet quirky. They do a lot with a little and I enjoy the designers' sensitivity to the content of the stories. (And did I say great storytelling through photography as well as strong writing?)

I think there is a great deal to be learned about the design needs of a variety of audiences—no matter what kind of design you are doing—in magazines. Looking at only cool stuff is great but you run the risk of developing a narrow perspective. If you are truly excited about your job prospects in editorial design start looking at tons —I mean loads — of magazines and newspapers.

Just a note: when you start looking at the bad stuff and you can't help but start to redesign it in your head, you're hooked.

You might not think to pick these magazines up and read them they're definitely not cool but I dare you anyway. Try Family Circle, Woman's Day and AARP Magazine. AARP is the world's largest circulation magazine. Great organization, not overly designed but nice attention to type. It has great variety of interesting stories and info as well as great illustration. It is for over 50 and it is fun. What a concept? My Mom gets it. It's a free read and surprisingly up beat.

Yea I occasionally buy Real Simple but in the end after I read it I realize just how disorganized my life is and I need a good dose of Us and People. There is nothing like a little out of hand B. S. to make you feel like you've got it all together.

Love Halvorsen. I could marry Halvorsen. Expansion not so much. I think on the third date I would complain of a headache and go home early.

Ms. Dash


Ms. Dash left this in the comments of my last post, but I thought it was certainly worthy enough to be a post of its very own. *wink*

Saturday, January 19

Expand Your Horizons

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Yesterday I was introduced to a new font. I fell in love. It was suggested as a solution by a fellow designer for a solution to a stationery system we're working on. I've hired her on to help me with this job as school as started and all of my fabulous students need more of my time. It works out quite well though. She and I have always been on the same wavelength when it comes to design so her solutions and my solutions for the project compliment well. When she suggested this font, I immediately knew it was a winner. Why? The personality. I know I sound like a broken record but the same old font just won't do and I won't allow it to do. Let me show you why this is so special.

Looking closely, it can be noticed that the letterforms, while perfectly easy to read, are slightly "off". Counters don't sit quite in the center. The lower case letters are playful. Just look at that e, k and g! Marvelous! And the upper case Q! Wow. Still, with all these fun forms, the font allows easy access to the words. I can read it through the specialness. It's a bonus that it looks cool too.


The font is available through veer.com and was designed by Stefan Hattenbach in October 2007. A brand spankin' new font ripe for opportunities. He says this about the creation:
"The roots of Expansion can be traced back to an old CD cover. I searched long and hard to locate the original typeface and designer without luck, so bit by bit, I began designing each letter with my own characteristics. Eventually, this developed into a complete, modern display family. The unique character and unexpected details of this face work surprisingly well in longer bodies of text as well as in headlines." - veer.com

Sunday, January 13

For the Love of Magazines - #1

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Once a month, brightly colored piles of paper bound together invade my home. Some are beautiful pieces of design, some are most definitely not. What they all have in common however, is the ability to make me want to put down whatever I'm working on to open up the pages and read them. Seriously, it doesn't matter if I'm grading student work, creating a new design for a client or cooking dinner; the magazine wins out almost every time. Am I addicted to them? Perhaps. Could I live without them? I'd like to think so but deep down inside I know I can't. So why are magazines so special?

Unlike other sources of media, magazines are the one thing I can read at my own pace and time. Television (not counting Tivo or DVR) is a must-watch-it-now medium as is radio, well must-listen. Web reading can be similar in that while the content may still be there tomorrow, it's likely now buried underneath something else. And newspapers you ask? Ever try to read one while snuggled under a blanket on the couch with a cup of tea in one hand? I rest my case. Magazines are perfect. They come regularly so therefore never end like a book, information inside is constantly changing though I can still find my favorite departments every month and the artistic look can vary not only from month to month but from page to page.

My household receives a plethora of magazines. As a design professional and educator, I receive Print, Communication Arts, HOW, CMYK, Archive and Metropolis magazines. As a Mac geek, I receive MacWorld and as someone who likes general interest reading as well, I receive Shape and Real Simple. Other magazines that come into this house include Smithsonian and American Heritage. (Please note: I already admitted I am addicted to them.)

I like each and every one for different reasons. By far my favorite when it comes to design is Real Simple. It's a large format magazine about making life simpler and more functional ("life made easier" is the tag line) and is printed on a beautiful paper that makes just touching the magazine pleasurable. The editorial content is geared to middle class readers who want the touch of the elegant and upscale without having to spend celebrity-sized budgets. The information is practical and interesting. I'm surprised and eager to find out what it includes when I receive it. Everything from good exercises for belly bulge to unique and functional ways of better organizing your office to packing more efficiently when traveling by air. It makes me want to read it. Every single page of it. The photography is gorgeous and elegant yet obtainable which makes me, as the general consumer, not feel like an outsider looking through it as some fashion magazines tend to do. Full color images are married with with white text to create non-intrusive captioning. Articles lead with interesting photo shoots that catch my eye as I flip through. The type is clean, sophisticated, well leaded and well kerned (And I'm damn picky when it comes to kerning). Every page has more than adequate white space to keep it from feeling cluttered and the system used for denoting departments is quite clear making it an easy task to find what I'm looking for. The color palette is clean and sophisticated and supports the upscale feeling of the magazine well, often complimenting a corresponding photograph. The color palette is also limited so it never makes me feel like I'm browsing through a rainbow. In addition to the above, the magazine has a very clear grid system making the ease of readability high. It's not a stuffy magazine though. It's comfortable feeling, kind of like how a good friend's conversation would look and feel. Kudos to their design staff on such a beautiful and successful magazine.

As for the other magazines, I could rank them in order of design preference, content preference, ease of use, etc. but I think it does them a disservice as they are each unique. As I say often, design is subjective and I am but one designer. What I can say about them is objectively they work. I have no trouble reading them, no trouble working my way through the magazine and no trouble accessing the information I want. I feel the magazines I listed above also communicate well to their intended audience. The design magazines communicate to designers and Smithsonian and American Heritage communicate to history and science buffs respectively. Regardless of the magazine type, the key is sell it. If the magazine draws your attention and compels you to buy it, the job is done.

So the question then becomes why do you buy it? Is it the subject matter? The look? The features? The art? Your reasons may vary as much as the variety of magazines available, but think about it. I've already named my favorite magazine and the reasons why. Take a look at your favorite magazine. Not just look through it though, really look AT it. Look at the type, the imagery, the departments, the cover, the table of contents, the features, etc. Why do you like it so much? Analyze it more than "it looks cool" or "I read it for the articles".