running words around
design education and visual communication
authored by chris m hughes

Look Ma - no Div's, no Float's, no Bugs.

Saturday, 28 February 2009

As css becomes the standard for web layouts, more and more designers are beginning to see the possibilities.

The crowing achievement of css has been to fully separate content from presentation. This means that with say a 50-page website, you can make a major layout change to every page with just a single edit in a css file. It's this sort of flexibility which has seen the table layout become obsolete.

So it comes as a great surprise to see a css-based method of laying out webpages which retains the basic power of css and yet manages to jettison the main concepts that normally make it all work - the div tag, and its positional properties - float and clear.

Confused? Don't worry. I was. Everyone I've spoken to about it is.

The method is a clever extension of the technique for styling ordered lists to create tabbed menus. In the standard technique, ordered list items use the inline and block display properties to create block areas that work like buttons for menus.

Its actually no great leap to see how we could use lists to display inline as larger block elements - effectively as content areas. And that's exactly what Thierry Koblentz has managed to do.

He uses ordered lists to lay out his pages. The markup of his documents are DIV-less. The structure relies entirely on OLs (Ordered Lists). In doing so, the typical bugs and workarounds required for float and clear are removed. And removing the css reveals a set of numbered paragraphs which have a perfect semantic relationship in the flow of the document.

You need to check out his explanation and demo to get the full picture - its certainly complicated but the idea is undeniably powerful.

He does point out what you might suspect - that the technique was invented purely as a thought experiment to show it could be done, not to seriously challenge the practical beauty of DIV layouts.

Definitive Gaze

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

As I posted back in November, the seminal post-punk band MAGAZINE recently reformed and have undergone a short tour. As well as their unique and influential sound, and their super-group lineup (including Barry Adamson on bass and Howard Devoto on vocals), the band's erstwhile collaborator and equally renowned designer, Malcolm Garrett, is back in the fold. At the gig I attended (Glasgow Academy, Feb 16th) the merchandise corner featured a brilliant array of band-related paraphenalia.

Alongside the obligatory tour t-shirts, there were some rare recordings on CD, some carefully designed brochures, and a clutch of exquisite A2 posters. What made everything so pleasing was that all were designed by Garrett especially for this reunion.

The posters were a strictly limited edition of 100 hand silk screened A2, printed on high quality 270gms 'Colorplan' super-white art board. They were signed by Garrett and the band, but they were out of my price-range at a hefty £75 each.

The Malcolm Garrett designed Magazine Tour T-Shirts : Motorcade Black

The t-shirts were somewhat cheaper (£20) but no less stunning - a tour version and a quote version. The CD covers also featured the same visual design - the narrow uppercase sans fontstyling which appeared on all the bands visual output during their heyday.

The final touch was having the t-shirt colours named after Magazine songs. So we had Motorcade Black and Permafrost Grey - and for those of you who know the songs, you will appreciate the apt descriptions. All the merchandise is available to purchase on Magazine's managment website Wire-Sound.

As for the music, it all sounded very contemporary and at some points was genuinely epic. The band couldn't start their second song because the applause for the opener 'The Light Pours Out of Me' seemed to last for a minor eternity.

To add to the intensity of the evening, the huge stage backdrop featured the iconic and paranoid head visuals created by the artist Linder Sterling for Magazine's 1977 debut LP 'Real Life'. She recently had six of her collages from the punk era purchased by the Tate gallery and is considered a key influence in visual art from the period.

There are fine reviews all over the place - all I'll do here is link to a couple and note the setlist:

Intro - The Thin Air
The Light Pours Out of Me
Model Worker
The Great Beautician
The Honeymoon Killers
Because You're Frightened
You Never Knew Me
Rhythm of Cruelty
I Want To Burn Again
This Poison
A Song from Under the Floorboards
The Book
Twenty Years Ago
Definitive Gaze
Shot By Both Sides

Thank You (Falentinme Be Mice Elf Again)

I Love You You Big Dummy

External Reviews:
The Times, The Guardian.

Dull + Crucial = Branding Guidelines

Sunday, 15 February 2009

For students, Corporate Identity can seem like the dullest area of Graphic Design. The two words together conjure up a sort of paranoia about conformity and business that saps their creative energy. Give them briefs for book covers, double-page spreads, funky websites and posters and they lap it up. Who wants to trawl through mind-numbing marketing material, and work on bland company brochures, black & white logos and sterile letterheads?

But Corporate ID is the real bread and butter of commercial design. Its the one thing designers produce that all businesses and organisations truly believe in - from Tattoo Parlours to City Brokerages to Governments. And that means clients are always willing to use a slice of their budgets to get it done right. And when its done right, Corporate ID can eventually transcend its original purpose and become iconic design -think Levis, Adidas, Nike, Apple, Coca Cola, etc etc.

As an example, my current Year 2 HND class are out on work placement for 3 weeks - gaining valuable industry experience at many of Edinburgh's top agencies - and all of them have been working on Corporate ID projects.

So for all sorts of reasons, its important for graphic designers to see Corporate ID as a creative challenge. It also helps to be able to read and interpret a set of Brand Guidelines correctly.

These are the documents that show how a logo design and its supporting visuals should be used. Guidelines are there to provide cohesion for customer, supplier, employee and investor in any organisation.

I'll be the first to admit that a quick flick through a set of Brand Guidelines can often set your boredom meter twitching into the red. Pages of marketing lingo and some very strict colour and useage rules all seem to strangle the life out of the visuals. It doesn't help that sometimes the documents themselves are poorly laid out and really bland (but therein lies good paying work for competent designers).

But then, the brand guidelines are supposed to be fairly rigid - its about efficiently obtaining the necessary info on how to apply the brand across any marketing communication material - whilst allowing just enough creative freedom.

Typically you should expect to pay attention to these main aspects -

Logo specification
Specifying the exclusion areas, the use of clear space, and the context of logo placement and its preferred scaling. Good exclusion is typically the height of an uppercase letter in the wording.

Logo exclusion Zones

Logo application
The primary colourway, black and white versions, single colour.

Colour palettes
The core palette and the various Pantone, CMYK, RGB and web colour values.

The various font families stylings and sizings that should be used.

How copy should read when its included alongside any corporate visuals. This is crucial if you are supplying straplines or information, and its vital as part of the brand's audience reach.

Quality specifications. These should be familiar to all designers - resolution, formats, sizing etc.

Icons and their usage across various platforms, especially the web.

A series of example implementations that demonstrate how a competent graphic designer or marketer can apply the guidelines across a wide range of communication materials.

Branding Guidelines should also show designers and copywriters what NOT to do - but any good creative will already be aware of these basic editing and formating errors.

Awesome Example:
Easy Group (pdf)

Corporate ID Catalogue

Rock's Gravest Hit

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The recent death of Lux Interior, the lead singer and founder of the Cramps, comes just weeks after the passing of another rock legend of similar ilk, Ron Asheton of the Stooges.

Interior was 62, Asheton 60, which may seem relatively young, but that these two guys even made it into the 1980's let alone the end of the 20th Century is amazing, and their contribution to the sound and ethos of modern guitar-based rock music is huge.
The Cramps, typical poster
Lux Interior’s real name was Erick Lee Purkhiser, something I was completely unaware of, even though I’ve been a fan since the early 1980’s. I was a 14 year old schoolkid, and heard ‘Human Fly’ on the John Peel radio show and it blew me away.

Lux had that amazingly camp leather-trousered gaunt proto-goth look, and together with his uber-sexvamp wife and musical collaborator - guitarist Poison Ivy Rorschach (a.k.a. Kristy Wallace) - the Cramps delivered wild theatrical performances and equally insane 50's-inspired punk music.

For the Cramps, how things looked was just as important as how things sounded. They devised their own unique visual image, combining comic-horror b-movie shlock, soft porn camp and a surfing rockabilly '50's style. As well as producing some memorable record covers, posters and t-shirts, they also gave us the ultimate b-movie typography with their cartoon horror font-style.

With LP titles like 'Smell of Female', 'Look Mom No Head', 'Bad Music for Bad People' and 'Gravest Hits', and songs like 'Bikini Girls with Machine Guns', 'I Ain't Nothin but a Gorehound' and 'Hot Pearl Snatch', the Cramps pretty much invented bad-taste psychobilly rock. And they had a great time playing it very loudly for nearly 40 years.

The Cramps sound was at odds with much of what was around at the time, but the approach was pure punk, and the Cramps sprung from the 1970's New York scene that also produced Television, the Ramones, Blondie and Patti Smith.

I was fortunate enough to see the Cramps twice - in 1985 and again in 1991 - both times in Glasgow.

On the 1985 tour, their LP ‘A Date with Elvis’ had just been released and they almost had a hit single with ‘Can Your Pussy Do the Dog'. I remember they had a new girl bassplayer. I forget her name, but she wore a leopard-skin bunny suit with suspenders, a cleavage lower than sea-level, and a back-combed spikey quiff. She could only play about 3 notes but did fine for most of the set. By 1991 she had gone and their new bass player was the aptly named Slim Chance. So it went with the bass players (and the drummers) but the core duo remained and were still gigging as recently as 2006.

Lux Interior probably did dozens of photo shoots in graveyards, now he’s finally on location permanently. It's a big loss for music. I can guess what the funeral and it's attendees looked like; I just want to know what song they sent him off to.