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

Eric Meyer's Smashing CSS

Sunday, 27 February 2011

In case you didn't already know, Smashing Magazine is one of the world's most popular design resources on the web.

The site contains a staggering amount of useful information and features a comprehensive archive of great tutorials, articles and reviews. It also publishes in print, with a book series of titles focusing on specialist areas of innovative instruction for designers.

The latest release is 'Smashing CSS - Professional Techniques for Modern Layout', by the international-renowned css expert Eric Meyer, and I have been reading an evaluation copy - one of the few remaining perks of academia.

CSS is such a vast area that it can be difficult to know where to begin and what to include or omit from the canon of techniques and issues. There are thousands of resources all of which seem to talk about the same things but never in the same way.

In Meyer's case, we get a clear, logical presentation, with three basic sections - fundamentals, essentials, and cutting edge.

Section one begins with a round-up of useful tools, covering every main browser (even IE9), and then deals with the basics, providing great clarity on traditionally fuzzy concepts like reboot styles, specificity and descendant selectors.

Here Meyer unleashes his formidable knowledge and gives us a wealth of tips and tricks, and discusses around 15 layout techniques, including Meyer's own Liquid Bleach technique, the simple two/three columns, clearfix, One True, Holy Grail, em-based layout and fluid grids.

Meyer qualifies the range of options by acknowledging what web designers have always known but were afraid to admit (presumably because they love web design so much) - that no matter how much you know and love about CSS, it still doesn't provide one clean simple obvious way in which to construct a page layout.

Cutting Edge
The third section looks at cutting edge techniques and here we get a major surprise with a chapter on tables - enough to force a wry smile from old-era designers, and a real revelation for the new generation who have only ever thought in terms of the div.

Finally, Meyer takes us through a series of simple but effective demonstrations of HTML5 and CSS3 - the sorts of techniques that will become commonplace within the next few years. Extracts from this chapter recently featured in a post on the smashingmagazine website.

Overall, this book is like a Ronseal product - it does exactly what it says on the tin. It is also unashamedly aimed at anyone 'who isn't a beginner or an expert', i.e. the vast majority of digital designers. In this sense it's as much a reference book as an instructional one.

One criticism is that the diagrams and visuals, although in colour, tend to be very basic and dry. They certainly provide an illustrative clarity that will appeal to developers, but it's all a bit short on inspiration for anyone who is still a bit daunted by contemporary web design but is keen to get more involved with CSS.

Ultimately though, Eric Meyer has come up with a very readable and hugely useful book.

His writing is a rarity in design instruction - not only does he like to describe alternative ways to get the same thing done (with a succinct analysis of trade-offs and advantages), but he presents everything with an unbiased, objective tone. You get the feeling that the choices are being left up to you, so long as you know the implications, have a clear objective in mind, and are ready to approach modern web design with a creative, adventurous mind.

Smashing CSS is published by Wiley, costs £24.99, and is worth every penny.

- Eric Meyer's website
SmashingCSS @ Wiley.com

Sharing with Everything Everywhere

Monday, 21 February 2011

This set of ads for T-Mobile and Orange are from today's Metro newspaper. The single 1/2 page ads feature linked copy delivering a single strap-line across two pages and two brands.

It's interesting how this campaign came about, and impressive that its still going well some eight months after launch.

Way back in April 2010, rumours surfaced that Orange and T-Mobile were preparing to ditch their respective brand names and combine them into a new network identity to be known as ‘TOM’ (an acronym of ‘T-Mobile Orange Mobile’).

The new TOM brand was absurdly reported to be rolling out across the UK in a multi-million pound ad campaign fronted by Tom Jones.

But in July 2010, the UK's biggest communications company came into being - Everything Everywhere – and it turned out that they had acquired both Orange and T-Mobile.

The real talking point was the decision to keep Orange and T-Mobile as brands in the market, with each brand having its own shops, marketing campaigns, propositions and service centres. Since then we have seen some great examples of two competing brands gradually mashing together into a single campaign based around the concept of sharing. A great example came with these posters from October 2010 -

everything everywhere poster 1

everything everywhere poster 2

There are currently also some nice cross-over flash ads on the T-Mobile and Orange websites - including the Orange logo in T-Mobile's magenta - a successful (and legal) example of mashup branding.

On Screen Warning from Ofcom

Monday, 14 February 2011

Ofcom, the media regulatory body, have just revealed a new warning signal designed to alert viewers at the start and end of any programme which features product placement.

The new logotype is a monochrome double 'P' and will be mandatory across all UK broadcasting.

It will be shown for three seconds at the start and end of shows and after ad breaks.

The logo can be slightly adapted, within Ofcom guidelines, to enable use on light or dark backgrounds. It also has to meet a minimum size requirement, which will probably equate to a typical channel logo size. and can be placed in any corner of the screen.

Product placement will be allowed in most TV shows except children's programmes and news broadcasts.

This reminds me of the short-lived and completely ineffective red triangle which Channel Four introduced to indicate adult content, back in 1986. This looks a bit more functional.

'P' logo launch - MediaWeek.

Interpreting A Brief

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

This week I attended a D&AD Educational Event at Glasgow School of Art. My colleague and I took along eleven students. Other taking part included tutors and students from most of the Art Colleges in Scotland - the hosts Glasgow, ECA (Edinburgh), Gray's (Aberdeen), Duncan of Jordanstone (Dundee), and Edinburgh Napier.

The program for the day included an industry workshop and a porfolio surgery with a variety of creative directors and professionals.

D&AD's Director of Education introduced the Student Awards, and talked the group through D&AD's new website and its resources, which include a 10-year archive of professional and student entries. We also got treated to a round of judging, allowing the students to get an idea of just how submissions are assessed.

The key criteria for judging is solid evidence of creative thinking, good execution and staying on brief.

This is invaluable advice to students, because the rewards for success at D&AD are huge - whilst the average graduate takes nearly 24 months to find work in the creative industries, 43% of D&AD winners gain employment within four weeks.

The highlight for me came from guest speaker Franki Goodwin, founder of the Franki&Jonny Agency, and a former graduate of GSA, who gave a riveting and insightful talk about how to interpret a brief.

She described her fondness for tackling the initial ideas with sketches and moodboards. That opinion was made explicit with a slide showing a pencil with the words FUCK PHOTOSHOP stamped on it.

Goodwin also observed that sometimes graphic design is actually not that interesting. She prefers to think outdoors whilst cycling rather than sitting in front of a mac and looking at what other agencies or designers are producing. One thing that strikes me about this sort of approach is that you can become entirely objective about the problem, rather than dwelling on the quality (or lack thereof) of both the brief and the client.

The Franki&Jonny agency specialises in graphic design for film, especially cinema promotion, and a standout example of her work was a poster for the Todd Haynes movie 'It's Not There' - the acclaimed Bob Dylan biography - into which she managed to blend aspects of Mondrian, Andy Warhol and the profiles of the four leading actors. During that particular project, her studio played Bob Dylan non-stop for about three weeks - a great example of what she terms 'getting immersed' in a brief.

I'm Not There
I'm Not There - Poster. Source www.frankiandjonny.com

Finally, Goodwin showed the group an example of a corporate identity, in this case a logotype for a London film company, a single mark which encapsulated a series of strict requirements from a fairly unimaginative brief.

In common with much of D&AD's activities, this was an inspirational and refreshingly down-to-earth event with real value for both educators and future designers.


Google Art Project

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Detail from Google Art

$1. That's the amount Google recently paid in damages to an American couple who sued for breach of privacy caused by Google's Street View activities.

But Street View does have some redeeming features. Google have just extended the technology with the Google Art Project, an online compilation of high-resolution images of art from galleries worldwide, which features a street-view style virtual tour of the galleries in which they are housed.

The project, launched on 1st February, includes works in London's Tate Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

The website supports a series of 360-degree tours of more than 400 rooms across the galleries, and also features 17 images at a resolution of 7 gigapixels (7 billion pixels).

Gigapixel technology allows you to zoom in and view the paintings through your web browser at proximities which are impossible even to a viewer actually standing in the room beside the work of art. Brush strokes, cracks and minute surface textures all become visible. And it genuinely looks awesome.

I haven't bothered reading Google's privacy statement, but I'm guessing that lots of web designers, art lovers and anyone looking for a decent desktop background will be screen-capturing gigapixel close-ups of their favourite pieces. I'd buy that for a dollar.

SVA Masters Workshop 2011

Saturday, 5 February 2011

An expensive but amazing typographical holiday this summer is the two-week School of Visual Arts Masters Workshop, held annually in Venice and Rome.

The SVA program, now in its third season, is an intensive hands-on workshop in design history, theory and application. Attendees get to research and analyse the roots of typography, draw type and letters from the classic models, and share in a community of practice with a faculty of Italian and American design professionals, including Steven Heller, Lita Talarico and Louise Fili.

The course, split into two week-long sessions, includes visits to Trajan's Column, the Pantheon, and the Forum, to examine in detail examples of the earliest Western Roman inscriptions.

Week one, located in Venice, focusses on Italian letterforms, from the Futurist, Art Deco and Fascist Modern periods, whilst the second week moves to Rome where the emphasis is on the development of the Roman letter from the classical period.

According to the press release, there will be collaborations with noted Italian design organisations and media businesses which could result in publishable print and web projects.

Entry to the course will require you to submit a portfolio by April 1st, and turn up armed with a laptop and the CS Suite. The cost, which includes tuition fees and all travel, accommodation and site visits, is $6,700.

SVA Masters Workshop 2011
SVA New York