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

Spreading the Words in 2010

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Its almost the end of 2009, and there will inevitably be all sorts of top ten lists flying around the web for design trends, influential styles, and best ofs.

Based on what I've seen during the past twelve months, there are definitely signposts as to how things are going to change in various areas of design, most notably in typography.

Typography has been enjoying a real renaissance, and its been on a roll for the past two or three years. The improvements in browsers and web standards have allowed CSS to get really powerful for web-based typography, and there is a definite convergence with print. Above all, a much broader audience base has evolved out of the social networking phenomenon, which means that more and more people are starting to understand and appreciate typography.

This has sparked a renewed interest in early Modernism, and in fact, MoMA is just about to launch a new exhibition of works from the collection of Jan Tschichold, the originator of the New Typography movement in the 1920's and 30's.

Another result of this momentum can be seen in the new solutions for newsprint - Adobe's Air platform for the New York Times Reader 2.0, and Portugal's i-Paper - both of which use much more experimental ways of delivering traditional text-based information. As for the production of new typefaces, foundries seem to be doing really well, with an abundance of new fontfaces appearing regularly, and an explosion of licensed trading on the internet.

After the excesses of grunge, the flippancy of retro, and a brief return to the safe haven of Helvetica, many designers are trying to design their way out of those aforementioned trends by returning to the era before the Swiss Style took hold in the post-war period. Seeking to emulate the possibilities of early Modernism, this 'post-retro' sensibility was hinted at in Gary Hustwit's awesome documentary film 'Helvetica' (2007), and has come to fruition spectacularly. Here are a few great examples:

Firstly, an example of how print and web can converge into a new format. Although accessibility issues dog horizontal web layouts, they can still look amazing, and here is a real beauty - www.faub.org. It's powered by some clever jquery scripting, and features huge typography and lots of print-based ideas integrated into a series of horizontal web-spreads.

Secondly, one of the best CD covers of 2009, for Grizzly Bear's critically acclaimed third LP 'Veckatimest'.


This cover features a handmade sans font (by Amelia Bauer), with the words double-justified and broken up into syllables, giving it a retro feel but and connecting it directly to the layout ideas of the New Typography. The abstract background underpins the approach, and the result is a fresh feel, created from a set of previously exhausted visual styles.

Check out Grizzly Bear's website for more.

A third example comes from Neville Brody and his Research Studios. I posted back in the summer about his 'New Deal' font for the movie Public Enemies, and since then Brody has also come up with 'Popaganda', a retro sans font which has found its way into magazines in dramatic style. It is laid out to resemble a sort of precursor to the Swiss-style, but it also has a grunge aspect to it, with a ragged arrangement in bold weight and some very tight leading.

Popaganda Spread

Popaganda Spread

Popaganda Spread

Not only is this getting back to the heady days of the experimental layout, it can also be emulated online in CSS3, where we now have @fontface importing and better control over properties like line-height, thanks to an improved understanding of vertical rhythm and grid layouts for the web.

For me, 2010 should see a further merging of print-based layout ideas and web-based flexibility. In order to accommodate this, the web trend for big fonts will persist, and I also expect to see a lot more horizontal-scrolling websites, which can take advantage of wider screen resolutions in an attempt to emulate the flow of magazine layouts.

Helvetica - a film by Gary Hustwit
The Horizontal Way
Type Foundries listed on FontShop.com

Digging the Art of Russia

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Back in October I posted a piece about BBC4's excellent 'Upgrade Me' program, and now they have produced yet another informative and stylish cultural offering, with 'The Art of Russia'.

This is a three-part series in which art critic Andrew Graham-Dixon explores the development of Russian Art, from the birth of the Russian icon through the high baroque period and on into the politically-fuelled experimentation of the early 20th century. Dixon's journey ends with the strange eclecticism of the current post-Soviet era.

I watched the second part on Wednesday night, in which Graham-Dixon eloquently explored the motives, reasons and meanings behind the decline of late 19th century Russian Art. He focussed on Tsarist commissions and the overblown elaborate decadence of Russia's pre-revolutionary Imperialism. This included a look at some outrageously opulent Faberge eggs made for Alexander III and Nicholas II.

If that all sounds a bit heavy, the real rewards came near the end of the program, as Malevich and Kandinsky emerged early in the 20th century with their abstract genius, amidst the social and political turmoil of revolution. In particular, Dixon cites Malevich's 'Black Square' as the "dark minimalist window into the soul of a torn nation". Great stuff.

Malevich - Black Square, 1915.

Malevich, Black Square.

The third part, airing on the 23rd, will have the most relevance to design, with the experiments of the Constructivist era which led to the invention of the modern visual and typographical language of advertising. Rodchenko, Mayakovsky, Popova and El Lissitzy will hopefully get plenty of Dixon's eloquent critique, and perhaps he will tie this in with the related Modernist movements in central Europe - Bauhaus and De Stjil.

Finally, Dixon will look at the arcane world of Russia today and how it is producing some of the world's strangest art, some of art's strangest collectors, and why there may be the first signs of a return to visual ethos of the 1920's. Bring it on.

Roads to Revolution - The Art of Russia, part 2 - BBC iPlayer
The Art of Russia website
Malevich - Black Square

D&AD 2010

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

D&AD Yellow Pencils

In the creative industries, the D&AD Yellow Pencil is a symbol of real achievement.

D&AD has celebrated and nurtured outstanding work in design and advertising since 1962. Each year, the D&AD Annual Showcase provides an unrivalled source of creative inspiration, and is a good yardstick as to current trends, skills and styles in contemporary visual communication. Its also a good indicator of the quality of creatives that Further and Higher Education is currently producing.

So this year, with Telford College now fully joined up to the University Network programme, we'll be looking to encourage our HND students to submit work based on the 2010 briefs. Last year, two of our students won commendations for the YCN program, so it would be great to see some D&AD accolades up in the studio display cabinet as well.

The D&AD University Network Programme has been running now for more than twenty years,a nd being a member helps an institution to establish relationships with leading creative practitioners and agencies, provides teaching packs and resources incorporating the best examples of creative practice and execution and adds live industry focused elements to the curriculum.

Membership is aimed at all Higher Education courses teaching creativity including Advertising, Graphic Design, Digital Media, Film & Animation, Photography, Illustration.

One thing I am excited about this year is that D&AD are revamping their web presence to include an online showcase of each institution's entries. They are also offering up free tickets to the New Blood Exhibition in London.

I'm just hoping our Department will be arranging for all expenses paid.

Preparing Your Entries Guide
D&AD Sponsors and Supporters 2010

The Trouble with Black

Stephen Malkmus, vocalist with the recently reformed US indie legends Pavement, once astutely observed that "there are forty different shades of black, so why are you complaining?"

Black will probably always be the new black in fashion terms, but unfortunately for graphic designers there really are many shades of black, and controlling them, especially for print, can be very tricky.

Two Colour Spaces
On your computer monitor, colour is represented in the RGB colourspace, whilst in print, it's CMYK.

It's a straightforward process to convert from RGB to CMYK, and this is usually done just before you export a .tiff file to Illustrator or InDesign, in preparation for adding your type and laying out your design. But it can lead to some really complicated problems when it comes to printing.

Two Colour Values
'Photoshop Black', in RGB, is represented as R0, G0, B0 or #000000 - no colour in any channel. In CMYK, 'True Black' is represented as 0C, 0M, 0Y, 100K - no ink except 100% black.

Of course a screen can't render CMYK colour, so both blacks will look the same on your monitor, but they are actually not the same colour in print.

To demonstrate, if you fire up Photoshop and select black at #000000 and then check the equivalent CMYK value, you might get a surprise - it's actually 75C, 68M, 67Y, 90K - nowhere near True Black.

This results in mismatched shades when an image with a black background is edited in Photoshop, then gets placed in Illustrator or InDesign into a black canvas area. It all looks awesome until it pops out of the printer.

The obvious solution is to set black to True Black in Photoshop, then export. But try setting to 0C 0M 0Y 100K in Photoshop and here's what you get:

You'll be editing your poster image with a mucky grey colour instead of a nice deep black.

Controlling Black
Neither of these solutions seems to be the right one, and in fact, even True Black in the CMYK colourspace produces a grey result. This is because only one ink is used during the printing, and that one layer of ink doesn't have the sort of depth you get by mixing the four inks that make up CMYK colour.

Rich Black Combinations
So what is required is a combination of inks to produce a 'Rich Black'.

'Rich Blacks' are ink mixtures of solid black over one or more of the other CMYK colors, resulting in a darker tone than black ink alone generates in a printing process, like this:

Forty Different Shades?
Some of the common combinations are -

True black is 0C, 0M, 0Y, 100K (prints as charcoal grey)
Photoshop black is 75C, 68M, 67Y 90K (prints as dark grey)
Cool black is 60C, 0M, 0Y, 100K (black with a bluish tone)
Warm black is 0C, 60M, 30C, 100K (black with a reddish tone)
Registration black is 100C, 100M, 100Y, 100K (used for registration marks)
Designer black is 30C, 30M, 30Y, 100K (a dark slightly cool black).

Other 'designer' combinations include 60, 40, 40 100 and 40, 60, 40 100.

So Which Black When and How?
The solution is to pre-select the rich black combination you plan to use. Then convert the black areas in the raster image to those values. The file then gets placed in the page layout software, where the background is sampled to the same combination.

But there is one final problem. For body text, Rich Black causes coloured aberration on the type. True Black is better because type prints cleaner in one ink. Check this example out:

So in the end, a mix of rich black for black areas, and true black for type is required. Both Illustrator and InDesign feature a clever setting to control how your blacks are rendered on screen. and to let you see where they are on the screen.

1.Choose Edit > Preferences > Appearance Of Black

2.Choose an option for On Screen:

a) Display All Blacks Accurately will show pure CMYK black as dark grey. This setting allows you to see the difference between pure black and rich black.

b) Display All Blacks As Rich Black shows pure CMYK black as jet black (RGB=000). This setting makes pure black and rich black appear the same on‑screen.

Display Black Preferences

Rich Black, can you spare a dime?
Pavement - 2010 World Tour

Wright Choice for the Turner

Monday, 7 December 2009

A year ago this week, I went to see the Gerhardt Richter exhibition at Edinburgh's National Gallery, and in a blog post about that visit, 'Off the Richter Scale', I contrasted Richter's amazing paintings with some of the dirge from prospective entrants for the 2009 Turner prize, which included a video installation of falling teacups.

The Turner has always been keen on awarding to mavericks with questionable originality. Previous winners of the prize have included Grayson Perry, Gilbert and George, Tracy Emin and Damien Hirst. Last year, Mark Leckey won with a pop culture influenced film featuring Homer Simpson and Felix the Cat (no, I'm not joking).

But the shortlist this year was really good, and the eventual winner Richard Wright is one of the best artists working today in the UK. His contribution to this year's Turner Prize exhibition is a gargantuan gold-leaf fresco almost covering one wall of the gallery.

Wright's Gold Leaf Fresco

Wright, a Glasgow-based painter whose works include huge canvasses of coloured points and massive frescos, is inspired by architecture and space, and he beat Roger Hiorns, Enrico David and the very Eva Hesse-influenced Lucy Skaer, to take the prize.

Painters are a bit of a rarity in modern art, and Wright's work is all done using a Medieval technique that starts off with simple drawing and then escalates and expands into large repeating patterns. What makes his stuff all the more fascinating is that his bespoke artworks are designed to fit each exhibition space, and are then dismantled after each exhibition - he leaves with nothing, and sells nothing.

Roger Hiorns should actually get a mention too, he submitted a far-out work called 'Seizure', in which a derelict flat in South London was filled with liquid copper sulphate, which after a period of time encrusted every surface of the space with blue crystals.

Wright Strikes Gold (the Guardian)
Wright Wins Turner (BBC).
The Tate.org

The Greatest Sketchbook Never Used

Friday, 4 December 2009

TASCHEN have just published an amazing artefact - a limited-edition box-set of books about Stanley Kubrick's legendary unmade film 'Napoleon' .

Kubrick's Napoleon

Entitled 'Kubrick's Napoleon - the Greatest Film Never made', this is a giant 10-volume book outlining the whole creative process that would have led up to the film. It includes 100's of scene sketches, a selection of Kubrick’s correspondence (with the likes of Jack Nicholson and Peter O'Toole), costume studies, some 4000 scouting photographs, script drafts and reams of carefully archived notes.

It all adds up to a mindboggling amount of research material on Bonaparte, amassed with the help of dozens of assistants and even an Oxford Napoleon specialist.

As if that wasn't enough, Kubrick’s final draft of the script is reproduced in facsimile, while the other texts are neatly packaged into one volume, separate from the visual material. The books are presented inside a carved-out reproduction of a Napoleon history book, and the design was done by French design studio M/M, who have worked with Vogue Paris, Interview, and Purple Fashion and collaborated with the likes of Bjork and Madonna.

Apparently purchasing the book also entitles you to access an online database of 17,000slides and scouting images which Kubrick collected and archived.

Unfortunately there are only 1000 copies, each tagged at a whopping £450.

Beyond the book design, what's interesting from a graphic design perspective is the artefact itself - a perfect example of how research and an accumulation of information is vital to any creative process. This allows an artist or designer to deconstruct the brief, and assemble visual and textual material that can be organised, studied and decoded into conceptual ideas.

This sort of work is an integral part of our teaching program in Graphic Design at Telford, and a sketchbook submission is mandatory as part of a design project.

It would be great if we had the budget to purchase a copy for the library, but we'd need an armed guard to keep watch over it.

More info:
Kubrick's Napoleon Screenplay (pdf)
Buy it at Amazon.
Taschen Books - Kubrick's Napoleon.

All Hail Helsinki

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Helsinki may not be Berlin, Paris, New York, London or even Edinburgh, but the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (Icsid) announced last week that Helsinki is to become the World Design Capital in 2012. This biennial award is in recognition of a city's contribution to and use of design as an effective tool for social, cultural and economic development.

Helsinki has produced well-known global brands like Nokia, Kone and Marimekko, is home to the highly-rated University of Art and Design Helsinki and has a design quarter, the 'Design District Helsinki' - an area full of design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques.

Helsinki also boasts an annual Design Week - a festival aimed at introducing people to new design by exhibiting a multi-disciplinary take on design.

HDW logo

A Finnish TV Channel, Basso Televisio, did a recent feature on the festival on its arts program Cultivate, which neatly explains the whole idea.

The festival this year included a cultural collaboration with Madrid - the 'Helsinki Madrid FinDesign'. This project provides the main exhibition for the Finnish Design Month in Madrid, which is currently in full swing, having started on 4 November 2009 at the Contemporary Art Center in Matadero.

The exhibition runs till January 10th, and features several hundred products from Finnish companies and designers representing many different design areas and viewpoints.

Overall you get the impression that Helsinki takes design very seriously. The creative sector is re-shaping Helsinki’s economy and enhancing the citizens’ quality of life. The collaborative aspect to this feels really authentic, and it all sounds very progressive. It's also a welcome throwback to the halcyon days of modernism, and the belief that the way we design our environment is as important has how we treat it.

Here in Edinburgh, we could do with a little bit of that authenticity, and perhaps even a design week.


Helsinki - World Design Capital 2012
DIESEL.com - Cultivate
World Design Capital Project.