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

Audi Sans Charm

Sunday, 29 November 2009

We all know what Hollywood does when it gets its hands on a classic, and logos are no different. An organisation with a world-famous logo is always going to tread carefully when it comes to upgrading or reworking any part of its Corporate ID.

But with design trends so sensitive to what's happening in the global economy at the moment, many well-known logos have undergone makeovers this year. Two emerging trends seem to have been a return to minimalism, and a flirtation with chrome effects.

A good example of each comes from Hertz and Apple respectively -

Hertz have gambled on going upmarket by ditching their clumsy stroked italics, and have succeeded by playing it safe with a bit of minimal modernism. The new yellow box is clean, with a slick sans serif type treatment that retains the italic stance but looks classy and very European.

Hertz Logos

Apple Quicktime.
With Microsoft finally releasing a decent OS with Windows 7, Steve Jobs et al have realised that Apple need to keep on reminding people of how efficient, usable and pleasurable their products are. So the new Quicktime logo sees Apple ditching the blue livery and opting instead for chrome and purple, with a sleek, dark, energetic feel that captures the times really well.

Quicktime Logo

So when one of the world's best-known marques decided upon a logo change this year, it was no surprise that they chose to combine both aforementioned trends without shifting too far from their comfort zone. I'm talking about Audi, who announced a revamped logo to celebrate their 100th anniversary.

The new marque features a chrome effect on the four rings, and a smaller and less fussy sans typeface.

The famous linked rings date back to 1935, when Audi merged with three other German automobile manufacturers - Horch, DKW and Wanderer. The badge itself was 'inspired' by the Olympic logo - the Berlin Games were held in Berlin in 1936. As recently as 1995 the International Olympic Committee were trying to sue Audi over the similarity.

The 'old' logo featured the rings plus Audi's name in Audi Sans (a modification of Univers Extended), which they started using in the late 1990's. Audi Sans features an angled flourish on the ascenders and a flattened shape that rounds out the letters. This gives the lowercase letters a flat, broad modern look, and is instantly unique and recognisable.

Audi Logo with Audi Sans Typeface.

For the new logo, the rings have a sharper, more definitive quality with a chromed, three dimensional look, which works great.

The typography has also had a makeover, and is now set using Audi Type, a new typeface designed by Paul van der Laan and Pieter van Rosmalen of Dutch foundry 'Bold Monday'. Not only have the flourishes gone, but by dropping the pointsize, tweaking the kerning and left-aligning the word, the effect is one of controlled minimalism.

Audi Logo with Audi Type Typeface.

And that's exactly what I'm not that keen on. Audi Type just looks too much like Helvetica for me, which gives it a sort of neutral, matter-of-fact, bland feel - not qualities you'd associate with a car famous for its progressive technology, daring design, sleek looks, and that famous corporate tagline that embodies it all, 'Vorsprung durch Technik' (advantage in technology). Maybe I'm partial because I used to own (and love) an Audi 80, and I know that driving one is anything but bland.

Audi Type is very business-like and it does work well on their corporate literature and website, but for the logotype it lacks the charm of Audi Sans. The whitespace to the right of the lettering makes everything look unfinished, as if some other word should go there.

It may not damage Audi's brand image, but the new emphasis on order and reliability is, unfortunately, a sign of the times. And it's the end of a classic.


Sunday, 22 November 2009

The Royal Mail has been in the news recently, and most of the coverage has been about redundancies, union wrangles and strikes. But at last there is something to cheer about - a special set of stamps for 2010 - "The Design Classics: Classic British Album Covers".

These ten stamps will appear on January 7th, and include the Rolling Stones 'Let it Bleed', 'London Calling' by the Clash, and Primal Scream's seminal acid house epic, 'Screamadelic'.

Screamadelica, 1990
A number of important graphic designers from the last 40 years or so are represented in the selections, and the choices were based on surveys and polls of favourite album covers, together with input from editors of three major UK music publications, and a number of graphic designers and design writers. A shortlist was drawn up, and presumably that list was whittled down to the ten, with some obvious classics missing out, being just too weird, too provocative, or too obscure (or all three}.

The actual designs show each album cover with the Queen's silouette, and a vinyl disc (remember them?) which appears outside the die-cut of the stamp.

Its a great ideas, but who knows what the late Joe Strummer would have though about the ultimate establishment endorsement.

The List:
'The Division Bell' by Pink Floyd, 'Parklife', 'London Calling', 'Led Zeppelin IV', 'Power, Corruption & Lies' by New Order, Primal Scream's 'Screamadelica', 'Let It Bleed' by The Rolling Stones, Coldplay's 'A Rush Of Blood To The Head', 'The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars' by David Bowie and Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells'.

Design Classics Stamps

Gerstner's 'Die Neue Graphik'

Friday, 20 November 2009

What do I want for Christmas? I am on the lookout for a good copy of 'Die Neue Graphik' (1959), a history of Modernism in design up to the late 1950's, written by Karl Gerstner, a pioneering typographer and leading exponent of the 'Swiss Style'.

I saw the book once in Compendium, a now-defunct but legendary London bookshop in Camden, but I was probably more interested in Beat Poetry at the time and never bought it (although I should mention that it was priced at about £150!).

Die Neue Graphik

Swiss Style, or more correctly the 'International Typographic Style', was a hugely important graphic design style developed in Switzerland in the 1950's. It emphasised legibility and objectivity and utilised bold sans serif type, grid system layouts and ragged, left-justified text.

Swiss style commercialised the modernist ideas and experiments of Bauhaus and the Constructivists, and opened up experimental type to mainstream publishers. It built upon the ideas of the New Typography a decade or so before, especially the work of Jan Tschichold, who abandoned the use of all serif typefaces. And it gave us the Neu Haas Grotesk typeface, which we know and love as Helvetica.

Gerstner was originally an artist, but soon realised the potential of graphic design, and developed a unique typographical style.

Believing that center-justified text was untidy and formless, he preferred to work to a system of grids. He created unjustified, ranged-left setting for text, and this allowed the message and its form to become inseparable and interdependent – idea, text and typographical presentation became one.

One of Gerstner's first pieces was a book design for a novel by his friend and business partner, Markus Kutter, 'Schiff Nach Europa' (Ship to Europe). This book is laid out in a grid system to emphasise the author's experimental use of type, which included unusual mixes of font sizings, and different styles of discourse (eg newspapers, advertising copy, film script, monologue).

Gerstner's design agency, GGK, turned marketing and advertising companies on to the possibilities of the Swiss style. He designed the corporate identities for such companies as Swissair, Shell, Burda and Langenscheidt and worked as a world-wide identity consultant and designer for IBM.

Eventually he abandoned design and went back to art, but not before he had shaped the future of visual communication and inspired the likes of Wolfgang Weingart, Reid Miles and Neville Brody.

Schiff Nach Europa - Karl Gerstner/Markus Kutter.

Schiff Front Cover

Schiff Inner Page

i - the Saviour of the Newspaper?

These are tough times for newspapers. We all expect content to be free, and circulations have been hit hard by web-based delivery. OK so Adobe's Times Reader 2.0 is a great innovation, but it does add another nail in the print-only coffin.

But now there is a new daily publication in Portugal, simply titled i which is attempting to win back the initiative and reinvent the newspaper. Launched in May, it has already won a design award from the Society of News Design, and has impressive circulation figures to back up its daring ideas.

i is not structured like a traditional paper. They have come up with a new way to organise the product.

One idea seems to have been to throw out the traditional way of presenting content in sections. This in effect makes the newspaper into a magazine - and with a 56- to 64-page paper tabloid format that is stapled, its more like a Sunday supplement that a daily newspaper.

Rather than work from a template that would leave some pages fixed, i decided to customise each article based on its content. This obviously puts a huge emphasis on design. I guess it must be like producing a new magazine every day, rather than every week or month. Great news for creatives - more work and plenty of scope for inventive layouts.

In a way, by stripping down the structure and concentrating on content rather than filling up whole sections with worthless news, this newspaper is trying to deliver a visual experience, not just a purely informative one. And that's a description we were using just a few years ago about the web.

More ..
i online.
i - the Future of Newspapers?
New York Times - Times 2.0 Reader

Some examples from i

i spread

i spread

i spread

i cover

Another Young Spark

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

On Friday I was lucky enough to attend the 2009 DMA (Direct Marketing Association) Ball. It's held annually at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh and is a class event where the good and the great from the direct marketing & advertising world come together to celebrate their industry.

And for the last five years it has also hosted the premier award for upcoming marketeers, the Young Spark Award. Apparently entries for this year's Young Spark competition were up 64% on last year. Which is no surprise to me - the award is rapidly gaining the sort of kudos that great events always seem to garner.

This year, in one of the most hotly-contested finals since the awards started in 2005, Roxanne Messenger, a Creative Art Director from Kitcatt Nohr Alexander Shaw, held off challenges from co-finalists Renee Heath of WMpS and Sophie Slowe of Targetbase Claydon Heeley. It was great to see a creative picking up the accolade, and despite being blown away by the whole thing, when I spoke to her she was already talking about flying back down to London on Sunday to prepare for a 9am pitch on Monday morning!

If it sounds like I'm keen on the event, its because the Young Spark Award was launched in Scotland in memory of John Young, the former WWAV Rapp Collins Edinburgh managing director, who passed away in 2005. John had been Joint MD at Claydon Heeley, and had headed their Beijing operation during the late 1990's, before a stint at Wundermann in Amsterdam. He also happened to be a very close friend of mine, who died way before his time, at just 38 years.

I hear that the award is moving to London next year. I'm not sure if it's a permanent arrangement, but I think John would have liked the idea, so long as the award keeps ties with its roots. And in that way, it sets things up for a sort of homecoming further down the line.

'Messenger Crowned Young Spark' - the Drum.
'Young Spark Winner' - Marketing Direct Magazine.

Multi-Column Layouts in CSS3

Saturday, 14 November 2009

We are definitely entering a new era of interactive design.

When it finally gets launched, Wired Magazine's new Adobe Air powered PDF publication will take the convergence of print and web design to new levels. But the application itself is designed to run offline, on an iPad or a tablet.

Online, things are just as exciting. Web designs have started to appear which are attempting to emulate print layouts by displaying text content using magazine and newspaper columns.

Setting text in columns like this can improve readability by reducing scrolling and chopping sentences into shorter chunks, but reading becomes tedious if the articles are more than a few hundred words long. Layouts can end up looking confusing and busy.

The good news is that implementing multi-column text can work brilliantly in certain designs, and is very easy to implement in CSS3. The technique is supported by Safari, Firefox and Chrome, and the W3C specification has all sorts of customisable options for vertical rules, line breaks and so on.

With multi-column css, designers don't need to use floated divs to produce the columns, so the content isn't placed into separate divs to create the effect - the text simply flows in columns across a single containing area, exactly the way it does in InDesign. The css creates the columns and they can be edited quickly to alter the layout.

In the example here, I've created a div called #multi, which will split a paragraph of placeholder text into two equally-sized columns, based on the width of the div they have to occupy.

The CSS is simple for this technique, but much like css3 rounded corners, we need to accommodate Mozilla and the webkit browsers separately.

The column-count property divides a div into columns of equal width. The amount of columns is specified by the value you give the count. To control the width of the column spacing, we use the column-gap property. This is the equivalent of the guttering you might set using InDesign to lay out a print document.

#multi {
-moz-column-count: 2; /* for Mozilla*/
-moz-column-gap: 20px;
-webkit-column-count: 2; /* for Safari and Chrome*/
-webkit-column-gap: 20px;

I've just pasted some lorem ipsum into the div, making sure there are no extra line breaks or spaces in your copy. And here is how it displays -

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.

Looks great, but here is what is really cool about the technique. Let's say I want to split the paragraph up into 4 columns, not 2.

All I have to do is adjust the css like this -

-moz-column-count: 4;
-moz-column-gap: 20px;
-webkit-column-count: 4;
-webkit-column-gap: 20px;

and the result is -

At vero eos et accusamus et iusto odio dignissimos ducimus qui blanditiis praesentium voluptatum deleniti atque corrupti quos dolores et quas molestias excepturi sint occaecati cupiditate non provident, similique sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollitia animi, id est laborum et dolorum fuga. Et harum quidem rerum facilis est et expedita distinctio. Nam libero tempore, cum soluta nobis est eligendi optio cumque nihil impedit quo minus id quod maxime placeat facere possimus, omnis voluptas assumenda est, omnis dolor repellendus. Temporibus autem quibusdam et aut officiis debitis aut rerum necessitatibus saepe eveniet ut et voluptates repudiandae sint et molestiae non recusandae. Itaque earum rerum hic tenetur a sapiente delectus, ut aut reiciendis voluptatibus maiores alias consequatur aut perferendis doloribus asperiores repellat.

Wow. And that's it. Try laying text out like this using divs and floats and it will take forever and probably never look right.

And for anyone viewing this post in Internet Explorer, you won't see it because multi-columns aren't supported using css3. There are a few javascript solutions however, like this one, which are simple to implement and work across the more stable IE versions.

W3c Multi-Column specification
Thinking For a Living

The Future According to Adobe

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Earlier this week I attended a seminar at Tidalfire, an Adobe authorised training and consultancy group in Edinburgh, to hear Adobe's Product Design Head Steve Burnard do a couple of talks on workflow in CS4.

This was as part of a series of Adobe seminars in both Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Adobe staff and Tidalfire's team of experts delivering presentations on various aspects of Creative Suite, ranging from developing Air applications to creating interactive pdfs and using electronic forms.

Burnard looked at design for both print and web, demonstrating some great roundtripping between Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and Flash. Much of this I had already checked out when CS4 launched, but the overall workflow improvements definitely raised some interesting questions about the delivery of lab-based software skills in Further Education.

Each time the pace of change in digital media seems to reach a plateau, something new appears that stimulates another surge forward. The industry is only just coming to terms with how InDesign has revolutionised print publishing, and social networking has redefined online interaction, and now have Adobe Air, which brings deployed, out-of-browser interaction to a whole new level.

The demise of design for print has been greatly exaggerated, but the Adobe mantra these days is clear - design for print only is definitely on its way out.

Adobe recently announced a big investment in digital publishing for book, newspaper and magazine publishers. This comes in the wake of the success of Adobe's collaboration with the New York Times to create the AIR-based Times Reader 2.0, which, incidentally, Steve Burnard demoed to great effect during his talk.

Where it will all end nobody knows, but we are looking at a new wave of digital interaction, and as usual we are all playing catch-up.

More info:

Adobe Air
NYT announces Times Reader 2.0

Positive Vibes from Negative Space

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Celebrities Guess Who

I'm drawing up my order list of new books for the Design section in the college library, and top of my list is 'Negative Space', by Noma Bar, which was published back in September.

Bar is one of the best illustrators at work today, and is renowned for his visually stunning yet minimal designs that have appeared in the likes of Time Out, Wired, The Guardian, The Economist and Esquire.

His stuff deals with many of the most pressing, emotive and complex issues of our times, and its all done with simple shapes, nice vector-based lines, and a huge amount of dazzling wit.

The term "negative space" refers to the space that surrounds the subject, and how it can provide shape and meaning. Bar's work uses this idea brilliantly and it all seems so effortless. From a practical design viewpoint, its great for students to see good examples of how less can be more, how comples messages don't always need typography, and that Adobe Illustrator is still the daddy :)

See also:
Dutch Uncle Agency - Noma Bar
Creative Review review
Creative Bits article

Examples from the book:


Squeezing Iraq


Typesetting the Ergodic Novel

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Graphic Designers are closely concerned with how the shape and form of typography can either assist or hinder the flow of reading. At their disposal are millions of typefaces, a fixed amount of whitespace, and techniques such as leading, kerning, tracking, point-size and so on.

But what exactly is 'the flow' of reading?

The flow of reading printed matter is a simple process which involves 'trivial' extranoematic effort. In other words, it's about moving one's eyes along lines of text, absorbing the meaning, and then turning pages. The words supply us with the visual and imaginative stimuli, and the form of the lettering is what draws us along each sentence.

In advertising, magazines, direct mail, animation, and poetry, text can of course be displayed in all sorts of 'non-trivial' ways, where straighforward horizontal reading is broken up or even abandoned.

Some novels also present type in this way. They tend to be a lot less common and are generally considered 'difficult' if they are well-known but hardly read, or 'cult' if they are less well-known but probably more read.

These sorts of novels are referred to as 'ergodic' literature, where nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text. The typesetting and the text layout places a responsibility on the reader to re-align the pages, or use an extra level of effort to read the text.

One example I referred to recently was Markus Kutter's 'Schiff Nach Europa' - an obscure novel written in 1958 whose main claim to fame is its amazing cover and typesetting, designed by Swiss Style supremo Karl Gerstner.

Two other better-known (and brilliant) examples are 'The Journal of Albion Moonlight', by Kenneth Patchen (New Directions, 1941) and 'House of Leaves' by Mark Danielewski (Random House, 2000).

Patchen's 'Albion Moonlight' is a surreal anti-war novel that mixes poetry, monologue, sketching, and inventive typesetting into a novel which was an astounding work when it came out in 1941. It had a big influence on the Beat writers a decade or so later. Patchen went on to become a major American Poet.

Sections of the book feature single word paragraphs, in huge pointsize type, as well as margin notes, sketches, and columns filled with different pointsized type.

Page 312, Albion Moonlight

Coverart : Albion Moonlight.

'House of Leaves' written more than half a century later, is now a modern classic, and was one of the first novels of the digital age to feature chapter releases online. The typesetting features huge tracts of blank pages, sketches, diagrams, and clipped textwrap areas.

House of Leaves, page 134.

There are further examples - Joyce's 'Ulysses', 'USA' by Dos Passos, and Alasdair Gray's amazing '1982 Janine', which has a whole chapter set in diagonal and upside down text as four narrators try to talk at the same time.

It's a pity ergodic novels are so rare, they are interesting to design, fun to read, great to look at.