This is either something everyone knows already and will look stupid to post, or you’ll have your mind blown as much as I did when I stumbled upon it.
Usually, when I’m working in InDesign, I’ve got the project folder open in the Finder, where I keep the project files (extremely anally) organized. But then when you’ve got to place one of those files into InDesign and you open the Place window, it’s pointing to some sub-sub-sub folder from some other project, and it’s a pain in the patoot to drill down into your current sub-sub-sub folder (which you must do if you need the Place Options tick box).
But! I discovered that you can just drag the file from the open folder into the place window and InDesign automatically adjusts the place window to that file. Then you can use your place options and whatever. So either, you’re welcome, or sorry I’m such an idiot. Either way.
I’m currently working on some iOS apps, thinking about user experience, and at the same time reading stuff on an iPad and I’ve come to a conclusion: scrolling text is totally stupid. It has no analog to any previous human experience. And here’s the thing: that human experience even includes scrolls.
Even when paper scrolled, the text was organized in columns. Columns (and pages) make sense because you know where to continue reading when you’ve gotten to the end of a segment.
Device scrolling, though, is tedious because you never know how much distance has been scrolled by your finger flick. Instead of going back to the top left, you have to scan up and down to find out where you’re supposed to be:
This is another example of design for novelty rather than use. “It’s new so we gotta use it,” as opposed to “maybe what’s already working actually works.” This is, I think, a real minefield for designers – if we view ourselves as designers, we feel like we have to design something, but if we view ourselves as consultants, maybe we can advise against novelty for its own sake.
This is novelty design in that it feels like it was meant to take advantage of touch screen devices – design for the gadget’s capabilities, not design for the user’s um, use.
The good news is, everybody totally reads this blog and does what I say, so we can for sure look forward to at least having the option of paging through documents and magazines on the iPad from now on. World, you’re welcome.
Ever since I was just a little baby elitist with pretensions to cultural literacy, I’ve revered the The New Yorker’s stable of visual artists; their illustrators and photographers have always been the best of the best. So it was hard for me to criticize the new design. Until I saw this.
Apparently, the typical New Yorker level of visual quality does not reach the typography department. Assuming there is one, which, of course, there isn’t. But just look at this nightmare: the S’s are tipping over – why? And doubly why considering you know that they will appear to the right of a cap A and be impossible to letterspace correctly. Why the fully round C next to an A (if you can call being two area codes over “next to”)? Why the underlines? Why the angled A crossbars? Why anything that we’re seeing here? Quirks can be great, if they work together for a cohesive whole. These are quirks from the fourth dimension of terribleness, unconnected to anything.
I could go on (and on) about the failures of this face, but I think we can encapsulate it with that goddamn ampersand. They didn’t even bother to design one. It’s Caslon for god‘s sake. Look, guys, if you’re going to design a typeface, no matter how badly conceived, and you know that it’s going to need an ampersand, pro tip: make an ampersand. That Caslon & doesn’t match the weight or feel or character of the rest of the letters. Possibly because Adobe Caslon is nicely designed and the other is some weird jumble of half thoughts and regret (at least I hope there’s some regret here).
I hesitate to even show the following, because I disagree so heartily with the whole debacular typeface, but here. Here’s an ampersand. I was tempted to offer it up for free, but screw that – Condé Nast is a giant company, they can buy it if they want. So here you go. If you’re reading this, Condé and/or Nast, and want to make a deal, let me know.
It matches the angles of the cap A, and it’s not italic, and, perhaps most importantly, it’s not Caslon italic.
I generally try to avoid knee jerk reactions to redesigns. They tend to fall into an easy nostalgia for the way things were, or a crotchety “what’s-the-world-coming-to” version of, well I guess that’s nostalgia, too. So I’m not predisposed to dislike a redesign just because it’s new. I’m not even disposed to dislike a design just because it’s ugly – I really do like to hold out hope that some kinds of ugliness are just new kinds of beauty that we don’t know how to process yet. But this isn’t one of those situations. This is plain bad design.
At right is a detail and below that the whole thing.
1. Type salad number one: carrot shreds. This is a badly-designed typeface trying too hard to echo the logotype but differentiate itself from it, without understanding either of those two things. Here, the serifs are too wimpy, the attempt at a compressed version too little thought out (a nearly circular ‘g’ is a bad punt), and I won’t even get into how it’s been letterspaced here.
2. Type salad number two: giant chunks of something. Bureau Eagle or something like it. With the header face above it and the italics and drop cap below it, this overly black choice is too big and intrusive. What is the hierarchy of what we’re supposed to be looking at – the illustration, border tape, clip art, and this fat ass type choice are all competing. And in this contest, everyone loses (although everyone gets a garish “Participant” ribbon).
3. Type salad number three: endives. I know that technically the italic and the face below it are the same, but italics differ so greatly in form that for my purposes it can be considered as discrete. Given the choice to small cap the intro to the paragraph below, this is just distracting. Too light to read as a subhead, too busy (as italics are) to be integral.
4. Type salad number four: croutons (okay, the salad analogy is getting creaky, I know). This is fine on its own, but the small cap intro is, along with the upper and lower case italics just above it, the all-caps Eagle above that, and the weird failure of the headline above that (and above the illustration and to the side of the clip art) is too much. In a way it’s kind of amazing: each element, even taken on its own, is just too much. It’s like a hall of mirrors. Irritating, legibility-destroying mirrors.
5. This gigantic Chartpak-era border tape. This is perhaps the most offensive thing on these pages. It doesn’t serve to define space or guide the reader or just be pleasing. All it does is shout at me.
6. Clip art. Clip art, for god’s sake. Okay, I know it’s not clip art, but compared to most of the cuts in the The New Yorker, it really looks a lot like clip art, especially just floating there, à propos of nothing.
7. I know there’s no number 7 down there, but I have an otherwise fairly full and interesting life, so sometimes things fall through the cracks, okay? But this giant rectangle illustration, cutting off the headline and clip art from the junk drawer of typography below. It’s just a mess.
8. Four columns here. Three elsewhere (the most comfortable for reading, IMO). Two else-elsewhere. To continue with the texting-level of discourse here, WTF?
The The New Yorker redesign isn’t just ugly or just new. What bothers me about it is that it’s screaming at me. Life is annoying enough without your magazine screaming at you, too. As if its screaming weren’t bad enough, it’s screaming something completely uninspired: “Look at me! I’ve been DESIGNED!”
This is a stupid thing for design to say because everything on a page has been designed. We all know it has been designed. The designer can, and in this case, should, get out of the way of the function of the design (I feel like I’ve written “design” and “screamed” a million times, but then again I ain’t no writersman). The older design was just that: function. It looked like how it worked, and that made it not just subtle or pleasing, but relaxing and comfortable. The design was invisible, subsumed by what it was supposed to do. This new thing inverts that, and does so to its detriment.
So here’s what we do: we send the Condé Nast intern who was very very excited to apply all of his or her first year design techniques ALL AT THE SAME TIME back to some publication that needs screaming design to distract its viewers from bad writing or idiotic subject matter; and we bring back the more anonymous, more rigorous, more respectful design that the magazine had until now.
There has been a lot of hue and cry over this new logo. And by hue and cry, I mean confused sighing at its lameness, which isn’t really hue and cry at all when you think about it, but anyway. The whole process – 30 days of a “lets throw this spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks” type of (weirdly public) crit; the odd messages from the CEO, who apparently swooped in at the last second with the Optima solution, the blame/complimenting of the intern who did a (supposedly) better mark. The whole thing doesn’t make any sense.
Lost in all this, though, is just why it’s so bad. Optima is great, even if it’s generally seen as dated. It’s an extremely well-designed face and will have many more lives in the future, so it’s not necessarily a bad choice. I think, though (and Lord knows we need another stupid opinion about the stupid Yahoo logo, but here goes), that the reason it doesn’t work is because it’s badly designed. Not that it’s inherently a bad face, or that the ideas are bad (they are, but I’ll get to that in a moment). I’m also not arguing for the old logo or against the new one. I’m arguing for not sucking.
By that, I mean, here, the matter of expertise. There is no expertise in this new logo design, and that’s why it has failed so badly. In the original Yahoo logo, attention has been paid to the whitespace between the letters, which has as much to do with the rhythm, legibility, and character of a wordmark. The new one looks like it was done by an intern with an executive pointing at the screen from over his shoulder; a collaboration of two people with no expertise – one probably fueled by ego, the other probably by fear, and it that situation there’s no room for reflection or adjustment. And there’s also no consideration of expertise. This is, by the way, why there are design consultancies in the first place, and why the process (when it’s done right) doesn’t include the client looking at the screen while you work.
So anyway, it might indeed have been time to update Yahoo, but the old logo feels better because the white space works – not in a rigid way, but in a flowing way (B,C,D) that is pretty pleasing and also goes a long way toward conveying what Yahoo was trying to convey at the time. It really is the visual equivalent of that yodel jingle.
I tried to mark out the new Yahoo whitespace in the most generous way I could (2,3,4) to try and make it make sense – I tried more shapes and fewer shapes because I didn’t want to stack the deck, but there’s no way around the confusion of the letterforms, the spacing, and the white space. This confused, arhythmic jumble is, I think, what creates the overwhelming “meh” response of the new logo. It doesn’t communicate anything and it’s doing its non-communication in a jumbled, non-designed way.
In short, kids, don’t forget the white space. That’s my point here. And you CEO kids, hire a design firm!
Fox News is obviously terrible. I don’t even mean ideologically – I can handle people I disagree with, and it’s okay by me that they have their own network. What I don’t understand is the capacity my conservative friends have for being yelled at by assholes. Even if they’re assholes you agree with, they’re still assholes, and I don’t get why you’d invite those giant yelling heads into your living room.
But, red or blue, one thing we can all agree on is how shitty this type salad of election results is:
Even the type here speaks of a kind of assholish disregard for the audience. Fox is a giant, profitable company, disseminating information to millions of people. You’d think they’d at least consider the look and feel, but I suspect they leave it to some junior designer who knows how to work the software, or something. I can’t believe any thought went into any of this.
Six typefaces, approximately 9 jillion fades and bevels and whatnot, the whole thing is the visual equivalent of Bobby Brady playing drums:
Whatcha gonna do?
(Apparently, put as many ugly stripes, fades, and swooshes on your car as possible, and see just how far they can stretch a cheesy font they downloaded for free. Because, you know: integrity and service).
Drink it in. Drink in the cheesy video game design aesthetics of these bastions of American law enforcement. Here are some more, before I get into what I think it all means:
Drink ‘em in and maybe weep for my burning eyes, having to look at all of these fades and swooshes and stripes and swoops and all the colors of resplendent of junior college mascots and Trapper Keepers from the ’80’s. And so you don’t think I’m cherry-picking the badness, feast your eyes on even more:
Are your eyes bleeding yet? Of course they are. Because that stuff is just terrible. But, here again, my point isn’t to carp about shitty graphic design. My point here is about the aesthetics of authority – can we communicate authority without authoritarianism? – and about the process of design approval – why are police departments commissioning and approving these graphics?
To take the second point first: I wonder if there’s too much emphasis on personal choice in America. It seems strange to me that part of the process of designing emergency vehicles is making something that some police department official or town councilman thinks is “cool.” All of the above graphics are (ham-fisted) attempts at making something “cool”: fast, aggressive, graphics that would be at home in a video game or a sports arena. Because, presumably, the people making the aesthetic choices, the clients, here, are at home in the worlds of sports and video games. This is where choice becomes untenable, in my opinion. Cops have a tremendous amount of power to arrest, detain, tase, shoot, kill citizens. The problem with police is not a lack of power or machismo or aggression. The problem is a surfeit of all of that. These graphics, I think, exacerbate that kind of aesthetic of aggression. And these graphics, moreover, are chosen for precisely that reason.
Now, as a graphic designer for a company that provides emergency vehicle graphic packages, you probably have very little leeway in steering the aesthetic conversation away from that aggression to perhaps embody values more appropriate to the police (values like responsibility, citizenship, respect (for the policed and for the law), and tradition). Chances are, you’re some junior designer getting yelled at by the asshole who bought the vinyl cutting machines and has a cousin who does the purchasing for the county and is your boss. So the boss is trying to please the cops (who have no training in graphic design) or the politicians (ditto) and who himself has no training in graphic design, and you the designer has probably very limited experience with design. So we end up with the above crap.
Why is that the process? Why is the process in place on that produces the so often shitty values we see emblazoned on the sides of police cars? It’s not good for the policed, and I can’t imagine it’s good for the police, either. Just look at these next three and imagine what you’d think would be going through your head as you walked toward these cars at the start of your shift:
Those three are all obviously terribly ugly. But more than that, they’re communicating what is, I think, a completely misplaced patriotism. The message is that the police are true Americans, and anyone who runs afoul of the police officer (whether ultimately guilty or not) is somehow unAmerican. That is adding a vector that is unnecessary and, I would say, dangerous. Police can take your freedom and your life – they shouldn’t be engaged in communicating this kind of aggressive jingoism. Especially a kind of aggression that is inherently prejudicial against those whom the police are policing. In other words, all of us. They should be working for us, and within our own communities; not working as some kind of agents for the true America (and that’s just those three up there – the other messages are, to my mind, even worse).
You might say that it’s just stickers on a car, but bear in mind that the cops asked for, and got, these graphics. They are communicating this needlessly aggressive binary because they want to. They shouldn’t do it. And more than that, they shouldn’t want to in the first place.
So, what should we do? In my fantasy world that’s not filled wall-to-wall with ideological idiots, design would be a part of government, not farmed out to the lowest bidder (i.e., the least experienced). But that ain’t gonna happen. Maybe we could have civilian or voluntary design review committees to offer other values to consider beyond shit like this. Because, when you have design choices made by video game-playing sports fans, you get design that looks like a cross between a terrible sports team logo and a video game cop car (as shown below, in images from the manufacturers of cop graphics):
The graphics actually make sense, if you are a cop in a fake, CGI hellscape of razor wire, dramatic lighting, and low-poly shrubs – you know, Crimeville, where we all actually live. Am I the only one outraged that this is how they sell cop cars to police departments? I probably am, but still – holy fuck.
One last point (if the above can be said to constitute a “point,” which, the jury is probably still out on that one): Another major problem – at least to the naive citizen such as your correspondent – is that there is very little difference, graphically, between real police and private security departments. We should not fear or even really heed private security – businesses should not be in the business of policing, in my opinion. And we certainly shouldn’t be confusing rent-a-cops with actual police. But they both get their graphics from the same place, and that is a problem. When cops look as cheesy and ridiculous as the doofus patrolling a K-Mart lot, we are in danger of losing respect for them, as they are in danger of losing respect for themselves. Similarly, when a security guard patrol car looks more respectable than a real cop, we’re in danger of subconsciously conferring on a private company the respect that should rightfully belong to government (meaning, to us). When those lines are blurred – which they obviously are – it makes me think that we’re already living in a dystopian future.
Which, of course, we are.
I know I’m usually complaining here (am I? it seems like I am), but here’s something great, about which I will be doing the opposite of complaining: the Bryson Apartments sign in Los Angeles.
The lettering here is not simply one of the most perfect pieces of lettering* I’ve seen in a long time, but it gets more intriguingly, inventively perfect the closer you look at it.
Okay, so here’s a drawing I created of the lettering, based on a (more or less) straight on photo of the sign.
And here’s some trenchant** analysis: First, it just feels right. That is hard enough to achieve on its own, and so I was then wondering if there’s a way to discover why it hangs together so elegantly. I have an answer, if not exactly the answer. But in digging into it, I just ended up with more and more respect for the inventiveness of the work, of the experience of the letterer, and just how much subtlety you can insert into what is, on its face, just a simple sans-serif logotype. But there is a lot more going on here than just a simple sans serif.
Off center centers:
I know that if I was doing it, I’d probably line up the centers of the B, R, Y, and S (in other words, making the S symmetrical). And that would be okay, but this is way better because f you lowered the crotch of the Y to match the intersection of the two bowls of the B, then arms of the Y end up being way too wide compared to the N, B, R, and S. Of course, you could then make the N wider (which would make sense in that it would closely match the width of the O). But if you did that, you’d want to make the B and R wider, and at that point you’d lose the overall character (this was a luxury hotel, and big fat letters wouldn’t have communicated the kind of elegance that was all over everything else).
The point of the above is that, especially when you’re doing a single word of lettering, everything affects everything else. You can’t change one letter at a time, because the letters don’t exist as discrete elements: they are parts of an integrated whole (this is what makes lettering such an intriguing puzzle to type dorks like me).
So, it’s not just the center lines (although, one last point about that – to my eye, the lower center line on the B, now slightly higher on the R, and higher still on the Y and S adds a very subtle lyrical element that is then finished by the diagonal of the N. This may or may not be intentional, but that’s the way I see it).
Harmony without uniformity:
The above image shows how the proportions of the double-decker round letters relate. A: by themselves; B: overlapping; C: with the B and R flipped to show that the proportions all relate.
This is a kind of harmony that helps pull the overall piece together – each letter contains the same proportions, though deployed in different ways (in service to the requirements of keeping the within consistent widths, as we talked about before with the Y thing). What I’ve learned from considering this aspect of the letters is that harmony can be achieved without uniformity. Bryson here shows that you can make the viewer’s eye read a consistency that is created by a much more complicated relationships than simple things like aligning the centers or making the bowls the same size†.
An O that is pure genius:
In the above illustration, the blue is the width of the letters, the green is the width of the letter spacing, and the dark green is the counter space of the O (these are not, and are not meant to be, perfectly aligned with any part of a letter, since they are meant to indicate how things are seen, not how they aremeasured, because lettering is experienced via looking at it, not measuring it).
So anyway, we’ve settled on the widths of the letters BRSN owing to the constraints of the Y. But now we’ve got that O to deal with. Basically, you’ve got two options here – make it an oblong shape the same width as the other letters, or forget about all the complicated harmonies and just make a donut†† and hope for the best. But our designer did something way better – first, the O isn’t a donut, which helps it relate better with the B, R, and S, which aren’t geometric either. But here’s the genius: he created an O with a counter space that roughly equals the letter spacing of the other letters†. He’s showing us that the negative space, the counters, can be just as useful as the positive strokes of the lettering (something we all learn in Design 101, but that few of us use so masterfully) in creating the overall harmony of the word. So in other words, this is definitely something I’m going to steal in the future.
One more comparison:
You can see here how the BR and S relate, how the non-geometric O works with the BRS, and how the Y and N hang together. And you can also see how lettering a word is not the same as creating a typeface. Jumbled like this, and without their correct letter spacing, the letters look weird and wrong. But when you put it all together, you get a masterpiece.
* even more impressive when you consider it’s been rendered in steel by a sign company, most of which are notorious for ignoring the subtleties of letterforms.
** trenchant, I say!
† it may not seem like it, but this kind of thing totally blew my mind.
†† donut = geometric circle shaped O.
If you’ve ever wondered just exactly how nerdly I sound in person, now you can find out. Yesterday I was interviewed by a very cool young woman for a very cool radio show in Kansas City. And was just tremendously honored to share the airwaves with Mr. Sull, too. Check it out on the KCUR site here. And here’s the direct link to the audio mp3.