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

Mastering the history of videogames

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Edinburgh's National Museum of Scotland is currently hosting the rather superb Game Masters - a major exhibition showcasing the work of thirty of the most influential computer games designers and studios, and featuring 100 of the greatest video games since Tomohiro Nishikado's seminal 'Space Invaders' (1978).

Originally shown at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne, this exhibition traces the development of computer games in a broadly chronological order, starting with arcade games, and covering the PC, console, multiplayer and tablet eras.

The setup is uniquely interactive and hugely absorbing. As well as allowing visitors to actually touch exhibits in a museum (you can play every game at your leisure), the show features filmed interviews with designers such as Peter Molyneux, Tim Schafer and Yuji Naka.  Also on display are sketchbooks, doodles, notes, character concepts and storyboards for many of the titles, including some fascinating initial drawings for DMA's 'Lemmings'. Particularly for the younger visitors to the exhibition, these paper artefacts, signposting the design thinking and narrative concepts behind the titles, serve to remind us that a computer game starts with a great idea.

I took my Minecraft-mad 10-year old son along and he was suitably awestruck at the whole experience, despite being bemused by the arcade games, and somewhat underwhelmed by the slower, more experiential 3D offerings.  For a ten-year old, gaming begins with TT's full Lego franchise output, along with Marcus Persson's aforementioned Minecraft, which had its own dedicated 10ft wide projection screen.

The stand-outs for me included the wonderful arcade game Robotron 2084 (Williams, 1982) and the ambient electro-laser beauty of Dreamcast's 2001 effort, Rez.  Check them both out, and enjoy -

Robotron 2084 - Viz Kids/Williams, 1982, Designed by Eugene Jarvis.

Rez, published by Dreamcast (2001), designed by Tetsuya Misuguchi. 

Will Wright's SimCity and Sim2000 also featured, but seeing those games running in early Windows on a PC holds very little in the way of positive memories now and felt truly dated.

The real cultural significance of an exhibition like this goes beyond a celebration of the most lucrative of modern pastimes, it somehow taps into the pioneering spirit of what is still a very young medium.  Many of the studios and designers featured represent entrepreneurial milestones in the creative industries, and their narratives - a set of biographical information boards for each designer/studio - clearly contextualises the technological and design developments in areas like game engines, user interaction, interface design, computer graphics and storytelling.

This exhibition runs until March and is well worth getting along to at least once. Is there anything negative to mention? Well, the omission of any titles by Westwood Studios (and by extension, Electronic Arts) seems a bit harsh.  Its worth noting that you only get a three-hour slot for your £10 entry fee, plus most of the merchandise in the shop is predictably overpriced. The National Museum website contains all the details, including a list of the 100 games.

Integrating Inherent Vice

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Way back in July 2009, in a post entitled 'Surf's Up for a Postmodern Giant', I took a look at the book cover for Thomas Pynchon's acclaimed novel 'Inherent Vice', which had just been published. The artwork featured neon typography and an illustration by Darshan Zenith. Now, almost six years later, the director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, There Will Be Blood) has made a movie of the novel. It features an ensemble cast including Joaquin Phoenix, Reece Witherspoon, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and Katherine Waterston, and has already garnered a number of glowing reviews for its 'psychedelic noir' portrayal of L.A during the earliest days of the 1970s. Anderson's recent interview with film critic Mark Kermode gives a good insight into the movie and the creative challenge it presented.

What's particularly pleasing, as a big fan of both the writer and the film director, is how the visuals to promote the film are a beautiful and seamless extension of the original book cover design.  The campaign by BLT, an agency specialising in cinema campaigns, has built everything around the neon-stroked typography from the original cover, and this has worked across all channels.

The main poster is designed by Dustin Stanton, who also worked with Paul Thomas Anderson on 'The Master (2012). The supporting visuals include personalised posters for the main characters, a 'last supper' parody of the full cast, a brilliant 12" record cover for the soundtrack (composed by Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood), a clever website, and a killer trailer which blends the type treatment into the credits.

Book Cover of the Year (S)

Friday, 19 December 2014

At this time of year I'm fairly ambivalent when it comes to reading the various 'best of' lists that appear for all the art, film, fashion, TV and comedy produced during the preceding 12 months. Music might be the exception. Whatever your era, the best music of any given year helps define certain stages of your own personal history. So music lists have always seemed worth compiling and worth reading. John Peel's Festive Fifty was the benchmark, and I guess its equivalent now is on Pitchfork or BBC6 Music.

In terms of graphic design, annual lists are very often a top ten of TV advertising, or possibly magazine or album covers. One list I'd like to see is book covers, and if anyone is compiling a 'best of' for 2014, then that's one list I'd be happy to contribute to, because the best book cover of this year (and also of 2015, given that the title is not actually due to be published until February next) is 'Girl In A Band', the long-awaited memoir of American rock musician Kim Gordon.

The erstwhile bass player in Sonic Youth and pioneer for women in rock music is finally spilling the beans about the birth of indie rock, the New York scene in the 1980s, and her life with Thurston Moore. The title of the book comes from a lyric in the song Sacred Trickster, from Sonic Youth’s final album, 2009’s The Eternal - “What’s it like to be a girl in a band/ I don’t quite understand.”

The big challenges in designing the cover of this book have all been met - capturing the laconic nihilism of Gordon's demeanour,  establishing the context of her personal journey, and tapping into the zeitgeist of Sonic Youth's considerable contribution to music and culture. If, as a graphic designer, you've ever put together a list of dream jobs, surely this would be right at the top. Perhaps you'd even get to meet the author, which I guess happened for CHIPs, who did the work. So here it is.

Source : Pitchfork.

Sight And Sound in the 70s

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Recently rediscovered - a set of vintage copies of Sight and Sound, tucked away in an old folio case in the study. The four shown below are from 1973 (Spring and Autumn), 1975 (Summer) and 1976 (Summer). A look through them can tell you a bit about editorial design during that era.

At the start of the 1970s, editorial design was in a state of change and upheaval. The 'Americanised' version of the Swiss Style that had dominated the mid and late 60's, exemplified by the overuse of Helvetica and Avant Garde, was looking tired and boring.  There was a sense of stagnation in mainstream magazines, and everything looked the same. Fortunately, the counterculture had shifted into a more pop-based phenomenon and this gave design, (and in particular typography) an injection of looseness it hadn't experienced since the days of the Constructivists.  Wolfgang Weingart led the way, and almost singlehandedly reinvented the rules of typographic design, but in the commercial magazine market, there was still room for adventurous combinations and the odd bit of left-field art direction.

Sight And Sound typified this. These four editions, all edited by Penelope Houston and designed by John Harmer, show all of the excesses and restrictions of layout style of the period.

The two mastheads are a good starting point. In the earlier editions, there's a superweight, psychedelic-tinged sans serif with a sort of fanzine-like personality. The cost is interesting to note too - 30p or $1.50 for a copy.  By 1976 the price was up to 55p or $2.00, and the masthead had been redesigned in tightly-tracked extended Eurostile, probably the classic version of the title, and it still looks great.  It even feels a bit digital.

For the spreads there is an overwhelming sense that everything is very static.  I went through all four magazines and found an awful lot of very boring spreads, even if the films weren't. The typographic colour is very dark and flat.  In the articles, there's very little in the way of pull-quotes or subheadings. The body text, set in Times, is justified and hyphenated, and there's a distinct lack of whitespace or contrast. If a spread is set into three column pages, we get just that - three basic columns of non-stop body copy, kicked off with a two-column span standfirst (in the same typeface) and most of the photographs are set neatly into really obvious positions.

There are some exceptions, and I've included a couple of beauties here, the Tarkovsky and Visconti spreads which are a real joy.  The article by Claude Legrand look great too, with a weird font combination and a great empty column. Some classic seventies bespoke typefaces feature as well - the sporty line font for the Cannes Festival and the brilliant block type headline for a review of Nicolas Roeg's 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'.

Compared to a current film magazine like say Empire, or even the modern Sight and Sound itself, everything feels rudimentary. At a glance, some of the  articles look half-finished, as if they may as well be set using lorem ipsum.  There are no full-bleed images, no text run-around, and all the captions are in barely-legible italics. But I think this visual blandness might be missing the point of the magazine. What the design says is less to do with the limitations of the publishing technology of the time, or the art direction, and more to do with the quality of the journalism and content, which was of a very high standard.  A longer attention span may be needed to read it, but you do get fully absorbed in it.  The reviews pages in the Spring 1973 edition is a case in point.  At least six or seven of the movies reviewed, covering just 12 weeks of release time, have all  become classic 1970s films, and with no pictures, quotes, ratings or frills at all, all you get is just the pure writing.

Contents, Summer 1975.

Tarkovsky - 'Solaris' and 'Andrei Rublev', Summer 1973.

Visconti - Obituary and Last Film - 'L'Innocente', Summer 1976.

Reviews, Autumn '73 - including Sam Peckinpah, Bob Rafelson, Nicolas Roeg, Don Siegel, Robert Altman.

Article on financing European Cinema, Claude Legrand, Spring 1973.

Cannes Festival Special, Summer 1976

Man Who Fell To Earth, Review, Summer 1976

Eurostile Next at Linotype.
Eurostile - Fonts In Use.
Sight And Sound -  Selection of 70s copies on eBay.

Talk : Digital Strategies For Creative Artists

Thursday, 11 December 2014

During the first week of December I was fortunate enough to do a couple of related evening talks at Edinburgh Contemporary Crafts, a multi-disciplinary collective specialising in ceramics, jewellery, textiles, print and furniture, which runs workshops from two studio locations in central Edinburgh.

The talks were entitled 'mARTketplace - Digital Strategies For Creative Artists' and focussed on the planning, optimisation and implementation of e-commerce enabled portfolio websites.  The audience were skilled and highly-creative artisans looking to get their work noticed and sold in their own specialist marketplaces.Whilst I was researching and writing up the talks, I designed a couple of posters to promote the events, and managed to throw in my current go-to font, an excellent multi-purpose sans serif from Hoefler & Co called Knockout.

Both of these talks lasted about two hours. I used two Macbooks, a single projector, and a sketchbook. In the first talk I covered quite a lot of ground about getting started properly on a web design project - being organised, analysing, planning, writing and positioning the site and its content. Quite a few in the group already had a website of some description, so the talk encouraged them to take an objective step back and reassess their key goals in using a digital channel.  For those without a web presence, I covered some of the classic pitfalls and mistakes, and digressed into domain names, search engines, mobile-friendly content, and social media integration.

I also introduced the group to a useful way to get started with a strategy for presenting their work - a swing'o'meter-style art direction scale, hopefully explained simply with this sketch -

For those in the group who already had websites which used proprietary templates, or dated layouts, the feedback was no surprise - they all complained of poor access to editing, limited flexibility in terms of rearranging and organising new content, browser compatibility issues, and some confusion over domain names, copyright and so on. Some of the specialist hosting platforms around now do address these issues (Squarespace and Format spring to mind), but a bit of careful analysis and a pencil can usually solve a lot of the basic design problems at the outset.

For the second talk I gave the group a brief overview of the design process - sketching, wireframes and mockups - and then concentrated on looking at some of the more user-friendly and reliable e-commerce tools, including Tictail and Weebly. This included a pretty detailed demonstration in Weebly, which is actually a very versatile and intuitive site-building app.  It also has a detailed help section to complement the user-friendly administrative area.

The feedback was really positive for mARTketplace, and I'll hopefully be invited back in 2015 to do some followup workshops.

Ergodic Goes Digital

Saturday, 8 November 2014

One of my final year students came to me with an interesting idea for his end-of-year project. He was writing a novel, and wanted to design and self-publish it, both in print and in digital formats. The writing was 'a bit experimental', but he also wanted to explore format itself, and he'd heard me mention ergodic layouts during a class on grids. He was still finding his way around the technology, but understood that self-publishing for devices like the Kindle was pretty straightforward. The challenge was really about experimenting in what is essentially still a new format, with the aim of creating an illustrated digital novel.

Digital publishing is definitely entering a new phase, where consuming and publishing the written word via a screen is easier than ever before. Twitter, new long-form content distributors, and an increase in digital ad spending have encouraged this. Self-publishing is now a desirable option for many writers. For designers however, digital publishing suffers from the same sort of issues that the web was plagued with in the mid 90's.  It's full of complex workflows, interchangeable (but not necessarily complementary) file formats, and an ever-expanding range of devices, resolution sizes and standards.

Of course the web came good in the end. Browser convergence, the arrival of HTML5, and a more print-led sensibility have allowed web design to become much more expressive, driven by a revolution in UI and web typography. Today there are thousands of everyday websites out there that stylistically and visually (as well as technically) would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. So we could be forgiven for thinking that this is where digital publishing should be headed too.

The student project was to be a semi-autobiographical story, influenced by writers like William Burroughs, Alasdair Gray, and Mark Danielewski. I liked the sound of this from a literary perspective, but in terms of design I could see that it might pose a few problems. These writers had all published books that featured experimental typesetting and challenging narrative techniques; Burroughs used cut-ups, foldouts and non-linear editing; Gray and Danielewski had explored unusual typesetting and unconventional page layout (see Janine 1982 and House of Leaves respectively).

Clearly this would be a joy to work with in print, but much more difficult to pull off in digital. When I expressed this concern, the student replied with a quote from David Carson, who famously said, "don't confuse legibility with communication". Now I don't disagree with the statement, and it was revolutionary in 1996, but Carson does feel a bit dated now.  Certainly in terms of digital design and screen media, legibility is the whole basis of the success of the user experience, so it has to be dealt with in an appropriate way.

On the other hand, whilst interactive magazines can be very engaging, eBooks in particular provide a reading experience that feels very passive. What's more, if you are a writer who wants their work to reach the digitally-literate audience, there aren't a lot of options (yet) open to you in terms of the experimental sensibilities that naturally work with handheld devices.

With all this in mind, Ross set about creating an organic, stylistically challenging book blending design ideas such as ergodic layout and handmade typography, with literary devices such as cut-ups, footnotes and illustrated text.  It isn't finished yet, but he received a Merit in his project submission, and here are some samples -

Some large sections of the book, entitled 'Bat Snake Rat' can be found on the author's Behance site here.  His name is Ross Turnbull, and he graduated in 2014.

Underline Styling

Thursday, 25 September 2014

The phrase 'concept is king' is one of the defining ideas in design education, and it is a tenet that really does hold up. Production, execution, craft - these aspects of the discipline are 'emergent' once the problem contained within the brief has been identified, and the concept has been formulated.

But lots of the creative thinking is still bound up in the production part of the design process, where design choices, techniques and nuances are all driven by the concept. So very often, a simple design technique can be the inspirational spark that pushes the concept.

Minor design techniques related to typography are a good example, specifically the ways in which software tools can themselves be improvised to create effects and forms that may well not have been intended. One great example of this is the use of underline styles in InDesign to create stylish and classic type effects that always look good in print, and are increasingly finding their into digital design. The effect looks like this -

This is achieved by tweaking the underline properties in the character styles palette. Once you've got the settings you want, you can apply it to any piece of text. You can also set the underline and the type to the same colour, to produce typeset copy that just looks like horizontal, ragged lines - a technique popularised by Neville Brody in the 1990s (a slightly lazier way to get this effect is to use the rather beautiful typeface Blokk).

Here's the technique -

1. In InDesign, create a text box for your type and type in any phrase. I've used a carriage return for each word, left-ranged, and set to Helvetica Neue Condensed Bold, then set solid at 30pt/30pt.

2. Select the text, then in the Character Styles palette, create this setting as a style, and name it appropriately e.g. h1, and apply to the selection.

3. In this new h1 style, we choose the underline option, and switch preview on in the panel.  This allows you to see each change you make. Now tick underline on and you'll see an underline appear for each word.

4. Now we add some weight to the underline, offset it using a negative value, and then colour it. The trick is to make the underline weight equal to or just greater than, the pointsize. The offset then needs to be negative, and you just click it up until the underline evenly covers the word. You can tweak the leading to control the size of gap you want between what are now blocks of colour under the type. Change the underline colour and that's it done. The process will look a bit like this -

This visual style is being seen now in web design too, but the technique to achieve it is different.   Instead of using 'underline' (a text-decoration property),  CSS styling requires the font to be given a background-colour, and the gaps are controlled by padding and line-height.  A recent example of this can be seen in the excellent new redesign for London's Design Museum website, which combines fullscreen photography with left-ranged type featuring the aforementioned typographic texhnique, like so -

The Classic Rand

Thursday, 7 August 2014

It's been out-of-print for the best part of ten years, but Paul Rand's 'Thoughts on Design' is finally available again. With 164 pages (featuring 94 halftone illustrations and 8 colour plates), this book explains Rand's ideas about the role of design in the world, and shows how symbols and type, underpinned by strong conceptual thinking, can be combined to create the pure and clear kind of visual communication that we're all familiar with in modern branding and corporate identity.

Rand's philosophy is summed up in his most well-known quote - "Simplicity is not the goal. It is the by-product of a good idea and modest expectations" - and of course he has plenty of brilliant examples of his work to back this up - ABC, IBM, UPS, Westinghouse and Enron to name but a few.

Along with Reid Miles and Lester Beall, Paul Rand was a leading proponent of an Americanised commercial approach to the Swiss Style, and this little book is a must-read for all students of design. You can order it on Amazon for about £12 in paperback and £8 on Kindle. And as a taster, read Michael Bierut's introduction to the new edition, 'Thoughts on Thoughts on Design'.

Paul Rand website

Teaching Type @TypeCon 2014

Saturday, 19 July 2014

TypeCon is the annual conference hosted by the Society of Typographic Aficionados (SOTA), the international organisation dedicated to typography and typographic design.

This year's conference takes place in Washington DC from July 30-Aug 3rd and one interesting event in the program is the ninth annual Type & Design Education Forum, a day of special programming focussing on the concerns and developments for typography in design education. The forum takes place on July 31st at the Hyatt Regency Washington, and the theme this year, "Keeping It Real : Learning from Trial & Error", looks at the creative process involved in actually teaching design, investigating aspects of reflective practice, workshop strategies and classroom approaches.

The full program, available on the Typecon website at TypeCon/Education, looks pretty interesting, with plenty of hands-on examples, demonstrations and talks by leading design educators and typographers.

Other highlights from TypeCon 2014 include a much-anticipated keynote presentation by Tobias Frere-Jones, one of the world's leading type designers, and formerly a partner with Jonathan Hoefler at Hoefler & Frere-Jones in New York. Their public and acrimonious falling out earlier this year has been a major talking point for typographers worldwide. Frere-Jones currently teaches typeface design at the Yale School of Art MFA program, alongside Matthew Carter (who designed Verdana and Georgia). Should be well worth seeing if you are lucky enough to be there.

TypeCon 2014
Font War : Design World's $20Million Divorce (via Business Week)
What Went Wrong Between Type Legends (via FastcoDesign)
Tobias Frere-Jones

Something Worth Schering

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

On Thursday May 1st I attended the latest LongLunch talk.
The venue was Glasgow School of Art's new and extremely impressive Reid Building, and the speaker, introduced as the designer who needs no introduction, was Pentagram's Paula Scher.

Scher, arguably Pentagram's most successful designer, is amongst the most influential designers of the Twentieth Century, has been at the forefront of graphic design and design education for the best part of 40 years.  In her opening remarks she claimed that she 'still looked good from a distance', and then went on to deliver an engrossing and typically brilliant talk, taking the audience through many of her most famous projects, including the High Line, Public Theatre and the Windows 8 branding.

Scher talked about her long career as having been through three distinct phases - a 'stylistic' period during the 70's and early 80's,  mostly involving experimental typography and postmodern pop-cultural ideas, then a 'large scale' period during the 90's (when she applied huge typographic-based murals onto buildings), and finally a socially responsible period, dominated by ergonomic signage and large-scale external and environmental visual communication. Other topics covered included painting, the impact of modern technology on the creative process, artistic inspiration, and the politics and economics of working at Pentagram.

It was great to see a significant number of my current and former students in the audience, and some were brave enough to ask Paula questions in the Q&A afterwards, including Emma Hart (currently a designer at Edinburgh agency Stuff), who asked what we all wanted to know - what Paula Scher's favourite typeface is and why. The answer came back as 'I think that Futura still has it. It still does look really great, even if the ascenders and descenders are a fraction too long'.

After the talk and a huge ovation, Scher signed posters (including the one shown here, a nice birthday present), and accompanied a big section of the audience to the CCA bar, where she chatted, posed for numerous pics and selfies, and generally looked very good close up.

An edited version of this post originally appeared on www.welovedesignetc.info on May 2nd.

Deliberation and Authenticity

Saturday, 19 April 2014

It will soon be interview season again. I can expect to look through upwards of 150 portfolios, samplers and applications, but there will only be between 20 and 30 places on offer across our Visual Communication courses. Some very tough choices lie ahead. So we have to try and get it right. Mostly I think we do, but the process is organic rather than methodical.  Getting onto a good course is the first step to a career in the Creative Industries, and things are definitely looking up for design graduates.

Upbeat Government figures published earlier this week, and reported in the DRUM, suggest that the creative industries produced a growth of almost 10% in 2012, outperforming all other sectors of UK industry by generating a stunning £8m  per hour. 

Design saw an employment increase of 16.2 per cent, and in publishing, the figure was up by 7.5 per cent. Publishing in particular has been reinvigorated by digital technology and the introduction of new formats. But the reality is still that one third of art and design graduates are without permanent work a full three years after completing their course.  Competition for work has probably never been higher. So for prospective designers, whether school leavers or career-changers, getting onto a good college course is more crucial than ever. Which brings me to the question which prospective applicants always and ask, and which the process of interview must answer - what are you looking for in a prospective design student?

Generally speaking, design is about problem solving skills, from those that are strictly rational, analytical and objective, to those that are much more imaginative, artistic and subjective. And students need to have the potential to develop in this way, to grow into the role of problem-solver, creative thinker, decision-maker. It goes without saying that a strong interest in art, the ability to draw (or continuously doodle), and an aptitude with computer skills are beneficial, but these are secondary to the urge to create visual messages, and evidence of that urge. And that's what we as tutors are required  to quantify at interview.

As well as an up-to-date portfolio (which must include solid sketchbook work), students must have something interesting to say about why they want to be a designer. Maybe they fell in love with record sleeve art, or graffiti, or movie posters, or film title sequences, or the labelling on clothes, or the livery on the side of a jumbo jet. Or maybe they just want their artwork on a roadside billboard in foot-high bold lettering, or in Empire Magazine. They'll get about 40 minutes or so to convince, but at the very back of everything, if they want to contribute to that £8 million an hour, we will be looking for good evidence of two latent qualities - deliberation and authenticity.


Back in the 1960's, the Swiss-Style acolyte Karl Gerstner stated that in graphic design, the creative process could be reduced to a series of informed and rational choices made by the designer.  This is a good rule-of-thumb, where a level head and a propensity for considered analysis and attention-to-detail are prerequisites.  How is your portfolio organised? Can you assemble the various bits of an idea into a coherent narrative, into something people other than yourself can understand? Can you do with pictures or shapes what a writer does in an essay? Do you lose sleep over work that isn't as could as you'd like? Your portfolio and its presentation generally reveal this.  At its core design is an organisational discipline, the technical assembly of visual elements, and you will spend a lot of your professional time trying to convince clients that you understand them and that you are in control of their information, or their brand identity, or the message they want to disseminate in whatever format or channel is required. So whilst inspiration and basic creativity are useful to the novice, the urge to be deliberate is the real key to opening your mind to learning and using the design process.


It's a well-worn cliche that a designer needs to be a sponge - and there's no doubt that having a broad general knowledge and an eclectic variety of interests is a major tool for any designer. A real love of popular culture, and its provenance, is a good place to start.  The more you know about stuff, the better you'll be at generating and communicating ideas, the easier you'll find research, and the faster you'll make connections and devise concepts using visual signs, symbols and ideas.  This will make your work authentic, and that in turn is what makes it clever, relevant, well-executed, and on brief.

The independent film maker Jim Jarmusch explains it perfectly -  “Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent."

So if there is good evidence of deliberation and authenticity in a portfolio and if we hear it in a candidate's answers to our questions, and in the questions we are asked, then the road to a successful career in visual communication will be one step closer and we can tick the 'yes' box in our list.

Approaches to Experience

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Talking of Creative Exchange, the current exhibition running there is called 'Experience', and features work by HND Visual Communication - Interactive Design.  The show focusses purely on one project, the YCN Competition submission for 2014.

Solutions to 4 briefs are on exhibit - Morrisons, LTA, Dominos Pizza and Confused.com - and the underlying connection between them all is that the design of the user experience is the central way in which the problems within each brief is resolved. As one of the tutors on the course, its always difficult to be objective about the work, but the format for this exhibition certainly encourages the viewer to think differently about screen design and interactivity. Each project is displayed on a single A1 poster, where the students have arranged samples of the work to tell the story of the idea and how it solves the particular problem set by the client.

A great example of this is the work by Ricardo Alvarez, whose project showcases a combination of product design and interactive screen design for Morrisons. This project envisages a freestanding tablet console displaying running App that allows shoppers to quickly find, price and organise their imminent in-store experience. In fact, the App is actually a mobile-friendly website which you can access anywhere, and when you present your store card or log in at the console, your plan is downloaded and available to review, edit, share or submit to the checkout.

Another approach to this project comes from Jen Pearce, who produced a slick typographic-based video advert for her idea of 'Quick 'n' Click', that combines online and in-store shopping. Her A1 poster features nine storyboard screens from the video to illustrate the concept and communicate the narrative. You can check out the video advert on Jen's website.

Alan Sutherland chose the Confused.com brief and produced two short video clips and two vines to bring to life his concept of 'mixed messages',  a really contemporary promotional channel to push Confused.com's already virulent brand. The pair of media player clips mashed up well-known rock songs with lesser-known cover version videos to create a bizarre twist on the familiar.  The vines used clever anagrams of confused. In the one shown here, confused translates as 'co-eds fun', depicted as a vine featuring two scantily clad girls having a pillow fight.

Anna Beziuk opted for a more straightforward App design for the LTA brief, allowing the target audience to quickly search, propose, organise and share tennis matches in their local area. The bold colour palette and crisp typography gives the interface a really fresh post-flat design feel.  Anna also set up a nice HTML5 demo of the user experience, check it out here.

The opening night was last Friday, and as well as a big turnout across our various Vis Comm courses, the event attracted graduates and industry professionals from a variety of Edinburgh and Glasgow agencies, including Peach Digital, Eskimo, Whitespace, Mortonward, Primate and Interesting!  The show is on until March 28th, and you can find out  more at the Creative Exchange website.

Creative Exchange

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Back in May of 2013, a new commercial workspace for creatives in Edinburgh called 'Creative Exchange', had its launch night. The event attracted a big crowd of artists, designers, entrepreneurs and educators from the creative industries community, all keen to celebrate the opening of a much-needed, state-of-the-art, affordable business incubator for collaboration and innovation.

CX is actually a joint venture between Creative Edinburgh, the Cultural Enterprise Office, Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh College, and provides workspace for up to 80 individuals, groups and businesses. As well as ultra-fast 4G broadband and an on-site gallery with an exciting programme of exhibitions, CX is housed in a superb Victorian ex-Corn Exchange building (formerly the head office of the now-defunct creative agency Navyblue).

In the run-up top the May launch, the Visual Communication team at Edinburgh College was given the opportunity to be the first educational course to use the space. We hosted a 'one week' project, and exhibited design work at the official launch, alongside our colleagues in the BA Photography course. We also negotiated a dedicated space in CX, which includes a suite of Macbooks on hire for students to work in a self-directed capacity. CX is also very convenient to bring external clients, industry collaborations and visiting educators to, because it's located in the heart of Leith, where many of Scotland's leading advertising, marketing and digital businesses are based.

Our upcoming projects at CX include an Interactive Design show (March 7th), a Graduate Review night (April 30th), where a group of design mentors, former graduates and final year students will get together to present and share current and past work, and our end-of-year show on May 29th, a one-night only event (which last year won a commendation for Best Educational event at the Scottish Event Awards).

CX has quickly established itself and is now home to a number of creative companies and freelancers, and it's definitely worth checking out of you are an SMS, a start-up, or a freelancer. The CX website at www.creativeexchangeleith.com has a comprehensive pricing guide as well as some excellent visuals of the space. And if you are curious about the CX logo and branding, it was designed by Jon Walton, a Designer at Interesting!, whilst he was completing his HND in Graphic Design at Edinburgh College.

Neon Type and Salvaged Signs

Sunday, 9 February 2014

One of the first places we took our design students on the Berlin visit was the Buchstabenmuseum, a permanent exhibition of salvaged neon signage and type from the former East Berlin. The museum, the brainchild of Creative Director Barbara Dechant and CEO Anja Schulze, is housed in an old East Berlin department store covering some 350sq m.

The collection features station names, business signs and letters, neon shopfront lettering, and an array of super-sized chrome letters and landmark signage. Some of the lettering is wired up to switches and can be toggled on and off, or from one letter to another. Fonts like Avant Garde, Helvetica and Gill Sans dominate the selections, although there is some great vintage Germanic lettering and script signage from nightclubs and cafes. I wasn't sure at first whether this fascinating experiment was mere novelty or a serious endeavour. turns out its a bit of both, and a brilliant idea that is well worth the visit.

Museum Details:
Holzmarktstra├če 66
10179 Berlin-Mitte

Luftbobler @ Transmediale/CTM

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Last week I was in Berlin on our annual study trip - three tutors and 30 students - ostensibly to attend the 25th Transmediale Festival.

Berlin has so much to see in terms of design and the creative arts, and we managed to cram in visits to The Berlinische, the Bauhaus Archive, the Pergamon and Neues Museums, and Buchenstabmuseum. The Bauhaus Archive in particular was superb, and featured, much to my delight, an exhibition  called 'Werbegrafik 1928-1938' by renowned graphic designer Herbert Bayer.

A personal highlight however was an evening's entertainment at Transmediale, in partnership with Berlin’s annual contemporary and electronic art and music festival CTM, as Dinos Chapman gave a performance of 'LuftBobler' to a packed audience in the HKM auditorium.

The CTM festival theme of ‘Dis Continuity’ was aimed at exploring the connections between past and present musical movements in the context of  DIY pop culture and academic research, and featured over 150 performances, concerts and installations, split across the city’s iconic industrial arts venues including Berghain, Stattbad and Kunsthraum Bethanien.

Myself and fellow tutor Richard Bisset went along to see if Chapman could live up to his growing reputation as a musician and techno producer.  Chapman duly delivered, with a superb 90-minute live set, augmented by a series of spooky custom-directed films, featuring (one assumes) the artist himself dressed in a white rabbit suit, exploring urban and rural landscapes, via a mixture of overlays, collage and digital colour effects.

Chapman began making experimental electronic music re-creationally a decade or so ago, and his music is apparently inspired by 'insomnia, horror movies, and boredom'.  Which is a very good mix, and might explain why Chapman was recently described by The Wire as 'a sort of David Lynch of the dancefloor.'

The actual music reminded me a lot of early Aphex Twin (circa Selected Ambient Works 85-92), with a mixture of spaced out trance percussion, cacophonic noise and intermittent melody.  In that sense it didn't seem particularly ground-breaking, but it it did manage to feel energetic and, more importantly for a major visual artist moving into a new medium, relevant. Get a flavour of the work with this video:

The Holy Grail of Digital

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

After an extended sabbatical, a good way to start back on textwrap is by looking at Macaw, the much anticipated new web design tool, created by Washington-based designers Tom Giannattasio and Adam Chris, and due to launch at the end of this week.

Macaw might just be the holy grail of digital design - a wireframing and mockup tool that fully integrates print design paradigms and then exports layout as semantic, valid HTML and CSS.  Neither Photoshop or Illustrator, the two design tools from which Macaw draws much of its functionality, are equipped to do this. The implications are a faster workflow, greater scope for UI specialists to create workable ideas, and a closer creative connection between design and development.

The past two years or so has been a tumultuous period for digital which has changed the way many designers approach the screen design workflow. That change has really been all about adopting tools which can handle fluid layouts and resolution-independence, like Illustrator and Sketch. There are three major developments which have facilitated this shift:

1) The emergence of Responsive Design as a standard requirement
The age of static screen sizes, the notion of 'above the fold' interfaces, and the standard 72ppi screen resolution are long gone. Not good news for Photoshop.  With fluid screen widths and heights, a range of resolutions to cater for, dynamic image resizing, and an emphasis on grids and visual clarity to achieve consistency and proportional layout, vector-based tools Illustrator offer a superior design environment. Illustrator provides a resolution-independent workspace, multiple artboards and canvas sizes, re-useable symbol assets, and exceptional type, measurement and alignment tools.

 2) The Flat Design trend
The migration of print-schooled designers to digital was the driving force behind the reinvention of screen design as a flat, minimalist experience, and with CSS3 able to render gradients, shadows and border effects, the skeuomorphic rendering in Photoshop mockups started to look naff very quickly. Vector shapes, clean lines, and SVG graphics (rendered via CSS3) have improved useability and style. Illustrator's block shapes, clean vector curves and 2D rendering look great, plus SVG can be exported directly as CSS3 to run in HTM5's canvas tag. Plus UI icons and kits are almost exclusively designed in vector formats.

3) The golden age of Web Typography
Once CSS3's @font-face became a reality, typography on the web was changed forever. As well as decent leading and letter-spacing controls, CSS3 now also has optimised legibility, letterpress effects, and even jQuery kerning. Being able to import a huge variety of new typefaces through resources like Typekit, Font Squirrel and Google Fonts has revolutionised web design by allowing ideas and composition techniques from print (such as mix and match typography) to transform and dominate landing page design. Illustrator's superb type controls, and its ability to create character and paragraph styles are ideal for the job.

The demise of both Flash and Fireworks have also played their part in the move away from the Photoshop workflow. But there is still a gulf between visual design and the browser, because you can't export Illustrator wireframes or mockups as HTML5 and CSS3.

This is where Macaw enters the story. Macaw was designed to offer all the advantages of Illustrator's layout tools - shapes, typography, fluid screen sizes and layered positioning - to streamline web production by converting visual layout directly to standards-compliant valid code.

Calling itself “the code-savvy Web design tool,” Macaw creators Tom Giannattasio and Adam Christ say the software is designed to push HTML as the “standard deliverable at every stage of the process – from conception to deployment.” In their sneak peek video, Giannattasio and Christ walk users through creating a blog page with Macaw.

Macaw's Features
Users of Illustrator, Photoshop (and InDesign) will recognise many of Macaw's layout features. Elements can be dragged onto a fluid canvas and positioned exactly to quickly create accurate wireframes and mockups for multiple screen sizes. There are excellent shape, asset, library, colour and typography panels, a draggable, adjustable grid, and some very useful touches such as nudging, snap-to-grid and a style guide generator. CSS settings for attaching backgrounds, positioning elements absolutely, and using complex layer groups is also catered for, and the really cool preview mode allows the layout to act like a browser window to test scrolling and navigation. Once the layout is finished, you can name your layer stack and elements as semantic html5 tags such as article, header, section, aside. This file can then be exported as HTML5 and CSS3, and Macaw produces very clean, semantic code.

Macaw will definitely offer a good alternative to Adobe's tools, and graphic designers will be able to prepare working layouts without having to resort to templates and bespoke online editors.  If they are passing files onto developers, the production process will be greatly speeded up. A measure of the interest in Macaw was demonstrated when the recent Kickstarter campaign met its goal of $75,000 in just 24 hours.  Roll on Version 1.0 on Friday 17th.

The Macaw website covers all the main features of the tool, including this great sneak peek  -