Category: Design

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Things of beauty

The art in the latest Perfect Stars is exquisite.

Bruno 9Li creates astounding ink drawings.

Dishfuls of Doodles' wares are delightful.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Linkage: Street Anatomy

The latest addition to my feedreader is Vanessa Ruiz's Street Anatomy, a blog devoted to medical visualization. It sounds like a dry topic right up there with Excel spreadsheets until you get to the parts about pencils made from human ashes and anatomical tattoos.

Monday, January 8, 2007

One consumer's suggestions for the MBTA system overhaul

The MBTA has been in the process of overhauling its fare collection machinery over the past several months, and with the new year turnover, it finally made the switch to the new Charlie system of ticketing. The system-wide changed involved a pretty confusing array of price changes, ticket styles, and terminology. Bostonist has a good writeup of some of the more important updates.

Writing as a daily MBTA user, I feel that the overhaul was successful from a technical standpoint but not from a human interaction standpoint. The subway doesn't sit out there in a vacuum - it's used by a massive number of consumers, and as one of them, I can tell you, there are a few things I didn't see that would have been extremely helpful.

A large-scale information campaign
This system-wide redesign pretty much pulled the rug out from what I knew about the MBTA, but I feel like I barely saw any information from the source - all of my data came from blogs, employer email, and other secondary sources. A change this massive should have been drummed into us ahead of time until we were sick of it and ready for it to just finally happen already. Posters inside the trains, flyers on the station walls, brochures on every surface, simple downloadable PDFs to put on your bulletin board at work - these would have helped to really drive the information home. We should have been able to recite changeover catchphrases just like we can quote "I doubt it!"

Warnings close to the date
Related to the lack of information: I used an MBTA vending machine on December 30 and paid the standard $1.25 for a ticket. There was nothing near the machine to alert me to the price increase in two days' time. Likewise, when I was queued up at another machine on January 2, there was nothing to alert me to the new price increase except a large chart on the opposite wall, out of my sight. I remember reading about the price increase beforehand, but it hadn't entirely sunken in because I'm normally a monthly pass user. However (see below), I hadn't received my pass for the new system yet due to being away for the holidays, so this morning I opted for a one-time ticket instead. It took the guy distributing the Metro to remind me about the new ticket cost!

Choosing a different month for the switchover
The beginning of January is an awkward time to implement these kinds of changes. The system is filled with tourists and visitors, many residents are away and not present to get either information or the new reusable fare cards, students are returning or just arriving, and it's a cold and cranky time to have to wait in line at the vending machine or bus stop. I don't know what would make a better month - I don't have access to MBTA usage rates - but there must be a better time than January.

Clearer distinction between the types of fare methods
Previously, the fare system involved subway tokens for casual users and visitors and plastic cards (a new one each month) for subway passes. The new system involves tickets for casual and visitor use and a plastic rechargeable card for more regular use. However, the names used are "Charlie Ticket" and "Charlie Card", which has boggled not just my head but others' as well. These serve very different purposes and it might have helped if they weren't so similar in name and appearance. Why does the ordinary ticket need a special name at all? And if it does, couldn't it have had a different color scheme or mascot to distinguish it from the reusable pass? Even just putting the Charlie mascot in a New England-style tricorner hat would have helped.

MBTA vending machine with handmade sign alerting users to fare increase

An example of informational material available to users to alert them to the price increase. Keep on rocking, guys.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Project Runway and critiques

I've watched just about all of this season of Project Runway, which has its season finale this evening. It totally sucked me in with two of my favorite hooks: drama and makin' stuff.

Something else that interests me, though, is the end-of-episode critiques of the designers' work. They flash me back to the critiques from the graphic design program I finished a couple of years back, and they bring up advice that PR designers could stand to hear (and not just them - any creative professional and anyone presenting their work before others).

Avoid the words "I tried" and "I wanted"

When I hear the words "I tried", I expect "but ..." to follow. People who have achieved their goals sound more confident about their work. They use words that give the impression of "I did it" rather than "I gave it a shot." When it comes to final products, people want results, not good intentions.

The same applies to "I wanted to ...". My first reaction is "If you'd actually achieved your goal, you'd just say what you did, not what you were intending to do." Instead of saying "I wanted this dress to look elegant", just state it! "This dress looks elegant," period. This is especially helpful if your final product doesn't exactly reflect your first ideas. Don't set your listeners up for disappointment by pointing out how far you drifted from your goals.

That said, it's fine to say what your goals were and how you achieved them. You just want to avoid sounding wishy-washy. Be strong! Bring attention to what you've done, not what you haven't done.

Remember, in the words of the master, "Do or do not. There is no try."

Avoid using the rules as an excuse

Let's not hear any of this "My design has so much fabric in it because you told us we had to use it all up" or "My dress looks like this because you gave us only two days." That comes off as "I can't work within project limitations." Be honest if your final product has problems or if you haven't met your objectives, but don't try to fob them off as the client's fault for coming up with those requirements.

And if you did meet or surpass the requirements, especially in an innovative way, crow it up! Talk about them like challenges you enjoyed rather than obstacles you reluctantly faced. As a client, which would you rather hear: "I had to build the house like this because of the environmental laws you said we had to obey", or "Here's the house! I was attentive to the environmental laws and addressed them in the following ways: X, Y, and Z"?

Be cheerful and professional no matter how you feel about your work

We're not mindreaders. When we present our work, we have no idea what the judges or clients are thinking. Maybe we're thinking, Oh God, my work is freeze-dried poo topped with a poo garnish, but the judges might not be thinking the same thing. They might not even notice the flaws. You're trying to sell your work to them (literally or figuratively), so why poison your chances by talking it down? Also, when you get deeply involved in a project, it can be hard to appreciate its good aspects. You tend to zone in on the problem areas. Other people can have different perspectives and see merits that you may have missed. Give them a chance to enjoy it.

Talking positively about your work is also just flat-out professional. You wouldn't go through the trouble of making a gourmet meal and delivering it on exquisite china only to comment, "Yeah, I hope you like it 'cause I think it kinda sucks, especially the asparagus." That casts a shadow over this meal and any future meals. Who wants to come back and do business again with the gloomy chef?

Be mindful of presentation

Presentation is an important aspect of showing your work. You wouldn't serve that gourmet meal on paper plates. You wouldn't show up for a job interview in sneakers and sweatpants. Keep in mind all the aspects of how others will be viewing your work. On Project Runway, presentation includes accessories, hair, and makeup. In the rest of the world, presentation might be bringing color copies of your design to the meeting instead of boring black-and-white, or neatly wrapping a birthday gift instead of handing it over in the plastic bag from the store.

The very experience of enjoying your work can push people just over that edge and onto your side. Think of the small negative aspects that stick in your head, and think of how you can work to prevent them in your own projects. "I loved the book but damn, that was the nastiest cover art," or "The apartment was beautiful but the realtor looked like she just crawled through a hedge."

And to all you haters out there replying "I have better things to do than worry about how the clients think I'm dressed" or "My l33t programming skills should speak for themselves" - it's a valid feeling, but why would you voluntarily undercut yourselves like that? The world is a competitive place. Why not take advantage of every little thing that could give you an edge and memorability over your rivals? Why not give the impression that you pay attention to every little detail possible?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

east anglia is a cold, cold place

Till North Norfolk! dah-dahhhhh!

It is so freaking cold over here in England. There's actual snow on the ground for more than a day - a first for me! - and my toes are about to fall off and I'm going to float away for all this tea.

Here's one for you - if you go to London, you should visit the Design Museum, because it's great. Website's kind of lame, though. They make a big show out of it having won awards. I demand to see the award criteria! Flash-based sites that spawn titchy browser windows and hide the navigation win no awards in Kittyland.

Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Design ramble: Menus

Spotted in the Sunday paper's magazine supplement: a short anecdote about a restaurant offering a menu on which the appetizers are printed in red and the entrees are printed in black, which posed a problem for the writer, who was colorblind. Happily, the restaurant had a special colorblind menu to offer as a replacement.

It's a solution that lets the restaurant keep its color-coded menu, but I would not be surprised if for this one person willing to speak up, there are several other people who weren't willing, whether they were embarrassed, frustrated, or just not up for the attention.

As usual, I don't have much of a point to make. It was just strange that I found myself surprisingly irritated by what was supposed to be a cute little story for the department page of cute stories from the city. Something struck a nerve. How accessible should menus be? They're essentially promotional collateral for restaurants, so natually they should be designed to fit the atmosphere and image. But what if those design choices lead to menus that can't be fully used by people with less than perfect vision?

Coincidentally, Digital Web's latest article is on color theory for color-blind web designers.

Monday, May 2, 2005

cover story

Cover, Sin City Book 1: The Hard Good-bye Cover, Sin City Book 2: A Dame to Kill For Cover, Sin City Book 3: The Big Fat Kill

Count me as one of the people who is underwhelmed by the new covers for Frank Miller's Sin City books.

I do like the idea of a uniform trade dress. Now the books look like part of the same series or family. The type and layouts aren't too bad either; it's a change, and they give the books a little bit of refinement, an amusing contrast with the subject matter.

But viewed as a group, they blur together. Especially the first three, above - with the same type treatment, artwork treatment, and shade of red, they could do with more prominent individual titles to set them apart a bit.

Cover, Sin City Book 2: A Dame to Kill For Poster of Goldie from Sin City

This could be just my personal taste talking, but I feel that one of the strongest elements of Frank Miller's artwork is the stylized shapes he creates, almost like sculptures. They are dynamic and they in turn form stunning shapes in the negative space around them. Sometimes they seem to me like snapshots, almost freeze-frames of choreography. And they stick in your head (or at least my head) like retinal afterimages. I've never been a huge fan of Sin City, but there are times when I've been seriously tempted to buy the poster of Goldie's first panel (right). I mean, wow. That's memorable!

So to me, the treatment of the artwork on these new covers removes that dynamic element, flattening the art. The negative space is cropped away, eliminating the movement. The pictures are pretty, but they lack the iconic quality of the previous covers.

Compare the original and the new covers of Booze, Broads, and Bullets, for example:

Cover, Sin City Book 7: Booze, Broads, and Bullets Cover, Sin City Book 7: Booze, Broads, and Bullets

Also, I feel officially stupid. Can anyone tell me what that is on the cover of the new version of Family Values? I've never read the comic and I can't make out what that image is. Is it a box? Is it someone's clothing?

Cover, Sin City Book 5: Family Values

Edit: One cover image removed and one cover image replaced after it was pointed out that they weren't the official covers. Thanks for the heads-up, Dorian!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

who's the man?

*kitty has entered the chat room.

*kitty is low on sleep and high on adrenaline and Mentos.

*kitty has been cutting board, spraying adhesive, and praying to the gods of Epson for almost the past two weeks straight.

*kitty passed Final Portfolio. Kitty passed Final Portfolio!

*kitty plans to catch up on three years' worth of sleep. Night school was more of a commitment than she'd anticipated.

*kitty is now going to England for ten days and will catch all you sucka MCs on the flipside.

*kitty has left the chat room.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

and a big thanks to

I'm grateful for Wacom tablets, Epson paper, Barry's Irish tea, loud cheesy MP3's, and living alone in my own apartment so there's no hassle in wandering around at three in the morning in my underwear wielding a sharp X-acto blade and yelling at the TV ("Watch out behind you, it's a Balrog!" "You bred raptors? You insane mofos!" "Aw, Charles, don't do that, Oliver Cromwell's gonna boot your ass!").

Thursday, November 25, 2004

I am a lady of letters

I'm currently reading Type: A Secret History of Letters by Simon Loxley, and it is fascinating. I've studied typography in school, but we rarely went into details like the personalities of the designers and typesetters whose names we had to memorize. The political, business, and cultural aspects of type and printing make for great reading; details like "around the time of the English civil war, printing in England was limited so that people wouldn't stir up trouble with provocative political leaflets" might be clear if you read between the lines of textbooks, but I'm as thick as ten planks and like having it spelled out for me.

What I'd love to see is a comic that explores some of this history, kind of like a Two-Fisted Science for typography. This Loxley book has stories that are crying out to be put in comics. See William Caslon's right hook - ouch! Exhume John Baskerville's oozing corpse! Cry as the great ATF is auctioned off for peanuts!

Seriously, though, these would be great tales to bring into the light of pop culture. Printing and typesetting are such a transparent art forms; no matter how great your work, it's almost always going to be subservient to the content (unless you're busting loose with some crazy expressive type). Much like how people at the office don't usually notice my web development work until something breaks, readers don't often notice typography until it's done poorly. It probably didn't help that until the digital revolution, its inner workings were a bit of a secretive and invisible domain. You had to be properly apprenticed and trained, and you weren't likely to have a Linotype in your basement to learn on your own.

Even if it's not very visible or glamorous, like I mentioned above, there are all kinds of crazy stories and personalities to discover. And with digital typography more popular than ever, it could never hurt to bring people's attention to the human aspect of it. Fonts don't magically spring out of nowhere. Helvetica wasn't made up by your computer.

On a related note, courtesy of Digital Web, I found the website Thinking With Type - highly recommended for an introduction to some of the basics of typography, not to mention some fun games. All your fake quote are belong to us!

One quote on the Advice Page hit on one of my pet peeves: "Amateur typographers make their type too big. Experienced designers, however, make their type too tiny. - Paula Scher" It drives me up a wall to constantly hear "Make the type smaller" in critiques. Yes, it will give the piece a look of sophistication, but it's worth jack all if people have to hold it to their noses just to read it. I don't enjoy the feeling of "designing for designers." One of the things I like best about design is imparting information clearly to a number of people, and shock horror, that might include people who can't read a 6 point font.

completely unrelated question
I noticed in the shops that the third Harry Potter film is out on DVD, but there are separate editions for "widescreen" and "fullscreen." I rarely buy DVDs - is this split typical? Is there any reason why they couldn't put both options on one DVD? Are they just gouging or are there serious tech issues at work here?

Sunday, August 15, 2004

just my type

Last weekend I took this workshop, where I learned how to use a hand-operated printing press. It's called a Vandercook cylinder press - technically it's electric (the juice keeps the ink rollers in action), but the printing itself is hand-propelled (you and your muscles are the ones cranking the paper along to print on it).

During the workshop, we tugged out big drawers of metal type and leading strips and hand-set our words on type sticks. Dexterity definitely needed, plus decent eyesight to make sure that the bitty little 10 point Cheltenham letter "e" is italic and not roman. Man, my respect for old-school newspaper typesetters increased tenfold this weekend.

To keep the type in place while you're printing, you surround it with spacer blocks called "furniture". It's like a big jigsaw puzzle - how can you place the type exactly where you need it for printing and fill up all the space around it evenly to keep it from moving around? This is done by using furniture in different sizes, which can be a pain when someone else has used all of the ones you need and you have to start playing math and spatial games to get the type squared away.

Of course, that's the time when I'm looking down at all of the awkward empty spaces around my type and thinking, Man, if I were Green Lantern, I could use the power ring to just make the right size furniture on the spot, dammit.

And in other news, here are some equally nerdy pursuits:
Something Awful presents Watchmen-based comics
Superhero Motivational Posters

recent media intake
I've been watching Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) lately. I think that the "I Love TelevisionTM" columnist from The Weekly Dig puts it best in his recent column:

Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (Mondays, BBC America, 8pm)- In this limey mystery show, Jeff Randall is a private detective whose partner, Marty Hopkirk, is killed in the first episode. However, unlike most dead people who retire, Hopkirk returns to help his ex-partner solve mysteries! DO YOU SEE WHAT I'M SAYING? Not a single dead person has EVER volunteered to write my column! Or mop my kitchen floor! And who has more time on their hands than the dead? So listen up, corpses! Quit ignoring me and get back to work-because if you have time to LEAN, you have time to CLEAN!

It's definitely a fun watch - a nice counterpart to the usual grim-and-gritty mysteries that BBC America has been airing recently. Very silly, especially the bits with (no, really, get this) Tom Baker as bizarre psychic mentor Wyvern. And Marty's flashtastic white pimp coat. I can only hope for such stylin' if/when I die.

Saturday, July 31, 2004


Everybody loves found type! Here are some photos of examples I found on my recent holiday in Germany. Warning: contains umlauts.


Wednesday, July 7, 2004

fandom and design: when titans clash!

Apart from all of the sweet action and Doctor Octopus' white undershirt, one of the things that really caught my eye in Spider-Man 2 was the opening title sequence. Neat design! I liked how it took what was done in the first movie and built on it, adding Alex Ross illustrations to show "Previously, on Spider-Man."

Wired Magazine ran a bio/interview with Kyle Cooper, the designer of this title sequence (and those of Se7en and Arlington Road, among others). Speak Up had a good discussion going on movie intros a while back, too.

Meanwhile, I'm not having any luck finding out what typeface was used for the text in the Spider-Man titles. Rats. I did find out that Mata was used for the promotional material, but it isn't the same as what's used in the movie itself.

In other news, Jim over at Unqualified Offerings has been writing up a food-for-thought series of spidery analysis blog entries. Worth reading!

And finally, in non-spider chatter, here's a great radio interview with Alfonso "Director of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" Cuaron, in which he talks about subtext in PoA, his influences, and contemporary Mexican cinema. He also busts out with the best quote ever:

"Even if they're wizards, ultimately their emotions are very human. And from the get-go, we established that relationship with the actors. For instance, Professor Lupin, played by David Thewlis...we said that he's your favorite gay uncle that does smack."

Hah! Brilliant! :: does a slash canon dance ::

Friday, June 4, 2004

it's the little things

I picked up the first collection of Wildcats Version 3.0 a little while back at the library to see what all the hype was about. The guy behind the desk said, "Did you hear that it's been cancelled?" I think I've found out who it is who keeps buying their graphic novels. Seriously, they have shelves full.

So I'm reading along, taking in all the story about CEO Jack Marlowe and his enormous corporation and their plans to buy up just about everything and corner markets and things. And then I got to this panel.

What kind of business card is that? Damn, Marlowe, lay off buying up the accounting firms and multimedia conglomerates and invest in a decent graphic designer. That card looks like it was slapped together in WordPerfect.

The rest of the trade was okay. I'm still baffled by the corporation's product - batteries that never run down. How would they get repeat customers? The company mascot was hideous, too, but I think it had some kind of plot linkage to previous comics that I hadn't read.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

metro retro

In spite of wanting to take a break from everything school-related this summer, I still had to sign up for a one-weekend course to meet a credit requirement. So I did. But you know what? It's ameliorated by the fact that it looks like it's going to be the COOLEST CLASS EVER.

Letter Press Fundamentals Workshop
A love for ink on paper and a modicum of manual dexterity are required! This workshop will demonstrate typesetting by hand, on-press page composition and printing multiples on a Vandercook cylinder press. You'll explore the nuances of impression, inking and paper selection as well as improve your typographic sensitivity. We'll also experiment with overprinting colors and printing illustrations. Please bring words and ideas for your project to our first meeting.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

i made this

If you're interested, here are some examples of the stuff I've been working on lately in class.

Hot Air travel magazine
When I'm done with it, this is going to be a punk rock/DIY-inspired travel magazine. I need to revamp most of what I've worked on because it's considerably not punk-as-f*ck, but the table of contents is the one page that fits the bill.
click to see Hot Air table of contents

Typeface promotional posters
The goal of this assignment was to design a series of three posters to highlight and sell fonts, one font per poster. All three posters had to work as a series and be connected by a concept. My concept was time; the fonts expressed how you feel at a particular time of day.
click to see 9am
click to see 5pm
click to see 4am

In other news, check this site out - it's a frigging giant listing of TV crossovers. Crazy!'s Crossovers Spin Offs Master Page

Thursday, June 12, 2003

no bones about it, that's some keen graphic design.

If you are in the Boston area, I highly recommend making your way into town to check out the BoNE Show at Mass. College of Art. It's a large exhibition highlighting graphic design of New England, including booklets, brochures, posters, CDs, some packaging, and a couple of websites. Definitely take a look if you get the chance. The exhibit also includes a poster by someone who did the "make a poster about Zuzana Licko and her typefaces" assignment much better than I did. Booo. :: pouts enviously ::

Side note: That BoNE Show website is kind of lacking when it comes to info.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

fun with design, several years too late

The local library has a strange mix of books. Some are impressively recent and trendy, and some are astoundingly old, antiquated even. Books on how to pass the Foreign Service Exam of 1983, for example.

I had fun with this when I poked around the graphic design and illustration books. I found a book called Complete Studio Tips for Artists and Graphic Designers by Bill Gray and took it home for a flip-through. It turned out that the book was written in 1996 and is entirely devoted to non-computerized graphic design and illustration. Sample tip sections: "How to prevent things from sliding off the drawing board," "What to do if you spill rubber cement," "How to retouch a photo with laundry bleach," and "How to position art in your own photostat machine." It's fascinating to see the history of this field represented in minutiae like this. Nowadays it's more likely to be "How to kern properly in InDesign" or "How to get the most of your burned CDs."

However, at the same time, there are two other reasons that this book will stick in my head, and they're unfortunate ones. First, all text in the book appears to be handwritten in some kind of oblique or calligraphy hand. It looks like a letter to someone's grandma, and it's a bitch to read! C'mon, guys, you can cough up for some proper typesetting.

Second, in the section on "How to identify the major styles of lettering," I came across this example and laughed for about half an hour afterwards: