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

Walking Men in NYC

Friday, 26 March 2010

Walking Men

On the subject of symbols and icons, I saw today on Design Boom an interesting post about a new public installation in New York, where designer Maya Barkai has created a wall of 99 traffic light icons from different cities around the world.

Each icon is a green crossing man, recreated to human scale, and the cities featured include Warsaw, Barcelona, Tel Aviv, Vancouver, London, Beirut, Kyoto, Sydney, and of course New York.

The installation, presented by the Downtown Alliance Public Art Program, is at 99 Church street in downtown Manhattan and runs till January 2011. It looks brilliant and you can check out more pics on the aformentioned Design Boom post, and at the offical site, walking-men.com.

Adobe CS5

Thursday, 25 March 2010



Adobe has launched a nice countdown campaign for the release of its much-anticipated CS5 Creative Suite.

CS5 includes some new applications, such as BrowserLab and Flash Catalyst, and a few improvements to stalwarts like Illustrator, InDesign and Photoshop.

Typically though, Adobe may be calling this a 'launch', but the actual release date is likely to be much later in the year. Adobe are reeling a bit from the recent success of iPad and the possible demise of Flash, and probably need sufficient time to work on CS5 and make sure it is stable and complete. A full release during October 2010 would be a good estimate - exactly two years after CS4.

Interestingly, late last year I attended an Adobe conference where Photoshop CS5 made an appearance, and I have to say it looked great and it was faster than ever. But beyond the buzz that new releases generate, I wonder if CS5 is necessary let alone desireable.

For example, our current Year 2 students have just spent four weeks on work placement, out in the agency world. One interesting piece of feedback from them was just how many of the top agencies don't use CS4, which the students here are using on a daily basis - its installed on all our Macs on campus.

Given the recent economic climate, many agencies simply decided not to upgrade. The cost was too great and the return to little. In fact, for most web and print production purposes, CS3 and even CS2 will do the job. Workflow is better in CS4, but assuming a given agency has competent creatives, the final results remain the same.

The CS4 improvements to Illustrator in particular were awesome - transparencies, rich black control and of course multiple artboards - but in general, upgrading from CS3 has only served to introduce backwards compatibility issues, especially with InDesign. Once you get over the fancy new tweaks, its back to using the same old commands. An upgrade also introduces a hint of technophobia, as designers have to find time to master a bunch of new techniques.

For many agencies, an upgrade to CS5 will actually bypass CS4 altogether. And by the time the creatives have relearned actionscript in Flash and customised their Photoshop setup to the hilt, CS6 will be looming on the never-ending version horizon.

MoMA's New Design Icon

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has officially added the '@' symbol as a design icon in its design collection.

@ symbol

MoMA's Senior curator Paola Antonelli posted a blog article explaining why @ has been recognised as an iconic piece of design, and why the Museum is willing to accept an abstract concept, rather than a physical artefact, for display in its design collection. The @ symbol, says Antonelli, "has become part of the fabric of life around the world."

The @ symbol has been around since medieval times, and first appeared on a typewriter keyboard towards the end of the 19th Century. It was eventually reappropriated by internet pioneer Ray Tomlinson in 1971, when he sent the first ever email over the ARPAnet, the progenitor of the internet.

Its translation varies in different languages, but in the internet age, @ perfectly symbolises the technological interactive connections between individuals, cultures, societies and organisations.

The @ is an elegant piece of visual communication with a specific functional use, which was predetermined by its designer or adaptor (i.e. Tomlinson). It's also typography, and is the most used symbol in the world. Many of us will have typed or txt'd or handwritten it tens of thousands of times. I've typed it nine times already during this post.

It's a great piece of design, and now it's @MoMA.

Wells Wells Wells

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

My HND Visual Communication class have been busy finishing and submitting their D&AD briefs for the 2010 Awards. The most popular brief has been a book cover project, to design a set of covers for five of H.G. Wells' novels.

The twist is that the titles aren't any of Wells' famous science fiction classics, instead, they comprise his lesser-known but equally entertaining 'social' novels. The titles include Kipps, Mr Polly, Love & Mr Lewisham, and Ann Veronica. These works were written between 1900 and about 1920, and all deal with Wells' key obsessions, the class system, destiny, and the control mechanisms of social order, in a non-fantastical way.

The key element of the brief was to find a solution which avoided all aspects of Victoriana in the visuals, and instead required that the covers work as a set of classic books with a contemporary presentation.

What's clear from the results shown here is how well the students have researched the sources, and how confidently they have approached the design problem. We have some great examples of type control, clever use of visual ideas that are purely contemporary but which tie in with the plot devices and themes of the books, and a disciplined approach to layout, consistency, and technical production.

Carolann Alexander:

Carolann Alexander


Amanda Gliddon:

Amanda Gliddon


Sean Kinnear:

Sean Kinnear


Tania Meiring:

Tania Meiring


Julie Fermor:

Julie Fermor

Logorama - Animated Film Oscar

Sunday, 14 March 2010

shot from Logorama

Logorama, directed by H5/ François Alaux, Hervé de Crécy and Ludovic Houplain, and produced by Autour de Minuit, took the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film at the 82nd Academy Awards.

The 17-minute long animated film depicts events in a stylized Los Angeles, where everything and everyone is a logo. There are over 2,500 historical logos and corporate symbols, every one of which will be instantly recognisable. The film features amazing urban logo landscapes, brilliant car chases, and Ronald McDonald as a crazed hostage-taker.

The whole experience is like a mashup between the Simpsons and a Tarantino flick, and the film's true agenda and theme unravel as the plot races to a hugely inventive closing sequence.

The film previously won the Prix Kodak at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival.

Watch :

A Biography of Punctuated Print in 500 Words

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

LATININSCRIPTIONSANDTEXTSWEREWRITTENWITHNOSPACESBETWEEN
THEWORDSUNTILAROUNDTHETHIRDCENTURY·AD·WHEN·A·CENTERED·DOT
·BEGAN·APPEARING·BETWEEN·WORDS·ON·MANY·ROMAN·MONUMENTS SPACING EMERGED TOWARDS THE END OF THE EMPIRE AND LEGIBILITY BECAME GREATLY IMPROVED BUT IT BECAME HARDER TO PERFECTLY JUSTIFY LINES ON A MONUMENT OR A SCROLL

Latin Lettering
Detail from Trajan's Column.

TO SOLVE THIS THE ROMANS ADOPTED THE EARLY GREEK TECHNIQUE OF DIVIDING TEXT INTO SHORT UNITS CALLED PARAGRAPHOS

THIS HELPED TO CREATE LOGICAL CHUNKS OF TEXT DOWN A PAGE OR STONEFACE

AROUND THIS TIME THE CAPITULUM AND THE
   INDENT APPEARED ALLOWING GREATER EMPHASIS ON MEANING AND INTRODUCING MARGINS TO CONTROL PRESENTATION

THE ROMANS ALSO FORMALISED THE GREEK PUNCTUATION SYSTEM WHERE THE HYPODIASTOLE AND THE PERIODOS WERE USED TO SEPARATE SHORT, MEDIUM, AND LONG SECTIONS OF TEXT. THIS GREATLY IMPROVED PUBLIC ORATORY, CREATING A SYSTEM WHERE NATURAL PAUSES AND VARYING RHYTHMS IN READING COULD BE SIGNIFIED. THE COLON : THE SEMICOLON ; THE DASH - AND THE VIRGULE / WERE SOON ADDED TO THE MIX.

WHEN GUTENBURG INVENTED MOVEABLE TYPE, THESE ELEMENTS OF STRUCTURE SERVED AS THE BASIS FOR MODERN PUNCTUATION AND PRINT LAYOUT.

VERY SOON THE CONVENTION FOR PRINTING IN MAJUSCULE, WITH ALL THE LETTERS THE SAME HEIGHT, FELL INTO DECLINE and roman minuscule letters began to dominate. These letters featured extended ends above and below the main body of the letter, and we know these elements today as the ascender, the descender and the x-height.

The earliest minuscule style was known as carolingian, but this was soon replaced by a more condensed style which we now refer to as gothic.

miniscules
Carolingian and Gothic minuscules

In the fifteenth century, carolingian was reintroduced in Italy. It was used to create contrast with the more neutral roman typeface, and was renamed italic.

Because minuscule and majuscule letters were kept in separate drawers or cases, printers began using the terms uppercase and lowercase, and the development of metal type and the use of lead to control line-spacing added to the robustness of the printed word.

There now emerged a whole series of techniques which improved legibility. The serif was the dominant form of decoration, allowing the eye to flow from letter to letter, and enlarged, heavy, coloured, and underlined letters came into common useage. The spacing of   l e t t e r s
a n d    w o r d s  was also brought under control with kerning and tracking.

By the early twentieth century, the four families - roman, italic, bold roman and bold italic - were firmly established.

Modernism popularised the grotesque, or sans serif typeface, which in turn revolutionised the way print and whitespace could interact in books and magazines.

Sans Type Layout
Akzidenz Grotesk Typeface and Book Layout, Karl Gerstner, 1950's.

The International Style then gave us Helvetica - an efficient sans typeface with which to standardise signage, declutter corporate identity and demystify visual communication.

Fixed-widths, narrow and condensed fonts, symbol and bespoke typfaces are now commonplace in digital production, and new structures for print have emerged through the use of html, email, txtng, @twitter, and a little bit of improvisation :)


More:
International Typographic Style
Type Terminology and Definitions
Printing @ wiki
Typesetting the Ergodic Novel

Acknowledgements:
'Period Styles' by Ellen Lupton, in 'Design Writing Research' Phaidon, 1996.

Mark Linkous 1962 - 2010

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sad news over the weekend that one of my musical heroes, Mark Linkous, the singer-songwriter who released his music under the band name Sparklehorse, committed suicide. Apparently he shot himself in the chest. He was 47.

There were various touching obituaries throughout the music press; Linkous was an important figure in alternative American rock and had worked with the likes of PJ Harvey, Tom Waits, the Flaming Lips, Cracker, and Daniel Johnston.

Sparklehorse released a quartet of critically acclaimed albums, and the first two 'Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot' and 'Good Morning Spider', are landmark records which pioneered an ethereal ragged lo-fi country sound that has been much imitated.

I was fortunate enough to see Sparklehorse on a number of occasions between 1998 and 2007, and one particular moment sums up Mark Linkous for me.

When the applause had died down after an epic version of 'Weird Sisters', a standout track from Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot, someone in the crowd called out, without any hint of irony, "Hey Mark, what does it feel like to be a genius?" A second round of applause ensued - we were all thinking the same thing at the same moment. And Linkous' reaction? He wandered over to the mike and politely asked the sound engineer to turn up his guitar.

More:
Mark Linkous - Obituary (from The Guardian)

Seeing (RED) at Penguin

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Bram Stoker's Dracula

There is plenty of life left yet in one of the oldest kinds of design brief - the humble book cover.

For example, the AIDS awareness fund (RED), who have produced memorable campaigns for GAP, Converse, AMEX and iPod, have just collaborated with Penguin.

They've produced new covers for eight Penguin Classics. Each cover replaces the usual black section with red, and uses a purely typographical solution, drawn from a key quote from each of the texts.

Apparently, three of the eight covers were developed in-house at Penguin Press, with the others being given over to various agencies - FUEL, Nathan Burton, Studio Frith, Grey318, and Non-Format.

What's so cool about the results is the mix of styles - from the Bauhaus-inspired layouts of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Henry James' Turn of the Screw, to the lavishly serifed Victoriana of Emile Zola's Therese Raquin, and the loose confessional grunge of Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground (which has more than a hint of Stefan Sagmeister's style about it).

Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground

There is also a nice moral and ethical dimension to the project. You can buy any of the books and a portion of the price goes to the (RED) organisation to fight AIDS in Africa. Good stuff.

Check out the set of eight in a post by Creative Review's Mark Sinclair.

More:
(RED) Fight Aids in Africa.
Penguin Classics.

Back to the Future - CSS3 Gaming

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Following on from my posts about the possible death of Flash web animations, and the arrival of sketchpad in html5, I see that someone has taken things even further and created an online game written entirely in css3 and html5.

Anigma Screenshot

Anigma is a simple puzzle game, written by Benjamin Meyer, where a player has a grid of squares and must remove jewels from the grid by moving matching jewels next to each other. The player can then progress through multiple levels of varying difficulty. Clearly its going to feel like a huge step back in time in terms of gaming, but after playing a couple of levels, amazingly, it starts to do what good games can - it draws you in.

Throughout the game you will find multiple animations from the clock counting down to the jewels moving around the game board, all handled direcrly by the browser with no 3rd party javascript libraries.

The design serves to showcase the functionality of CSS3 / HTML5 and the new 'canvas' element, specifically the huge strides that have been made in terms of transitions and animation.

The game works in webkit based browsers, including Safari, Chrome and Arora, as well as recent Firefox nightly builds and Opera 10 beta. The author has also uploaded the source on github and encourages users to tweak the code and create their own improved versions of the game. Sounds like a throwback to the early days of computer gaming, before everything went Hollywood.

It won't be long before we are using customised css gaming stylesheets to control interactivity on webpages.

Uber Signposting

Tuesday, 2 March 2010




The humble signpost is one of the very oldest forms of visual communication known to man. But Nokia recently took it to a whole new level, literally, when they produced a brilliant interactive installation to promote their geo-localisation for mobile OVI Maps - the world's largest signpost.

A digital panel in the shape of an arrow was lifted by crane some 50 metres above London, close to Tower Bridge. People on the street were then able to send text messages of a location or a place name, directly to the sign, and the arrow would rotate to point in that direction. The sign also provided the exact distance.

The installation was streamed live to Nokia.com, where all the locations were synced with Nokia's good things map.