Unhappy Ending

Posted in Fortune Magazine, graphic design, Life Sucks by DCroy on 28 December 2009

Yeesh. This isn’t calligraphy, it isn’t typography, it isn’t even legible* – it’s just a jumble of vaguely letterish-formed computer shapes.

That’s in the first place. In the second place, why? What does this look have to do with the 00’s, with obituaries, with anything? I totally appreciate the Times’ dedication to innovative lettering, but come on.  Just, yuck.

*Look, we live in the modern world of the Internet (or as I like to call it, the “cyber” age). It might look good big on your own screen, or printed out, but if it’s this pixellated at the published size (and these are the actual published sizes), it’s just wrong.

The New Art Directors Club Logo is Total Dogshit

Posted in graphic design, Life Sucks, Off Topic by DCroy on 11 November 2009
Pink is the New ADC Logo

The '90's called - they want Franklin Gothic Back

No, it isn’t. It’s not that bad, really. Smack dab in the middle of the road, sure. Boring, even? Yes. But this isn’t about the boring, middle-of-the-road choices that were made, or whether it’s better than Paula Scher’s previous logo. This is about how they screwed up the execution.

The r-t letterspacing is, however, total dogshit.

I don’t know why, but everyone seems afraid to properly letterspace the r-t connection. It’s as though there’s a force field keeping them from ever touching. It’s tricky, I’ll admit, but there are at least two strategies for letterspacing a word with a lower case r-t. This dogshit is now a teachable moment. And we’ll all pause to vomit at the term “teachable moment.”

Option 1:

One option is to keep the force field in place. It’s a bad option, but if you are the sort of a person who, like a chaperone at the junior prom, just is not gonna ever have no letters touching, then go with it. All it means is that the overall tracking will be a little wider.

Force Field Letterspacing

No Touching Allowed

You should treat letterspacing as negative space, not linear spacing between the letterforms themselves. So, if we’re keeping the r-t space (the black line above), we realize how that affects the space between the outer edges of the r and t (the green rectangles above). It’s a difficult area to translate to the other negative spaces in your word, and there’s lots of room for individual interpretation. But it will help pull your mark together into a cohesive design. Unlike the original, which looks like a gap-toothed hillbilly.

Adc5

A Comparison - Mine on top, original in pink, wider tracking in yellow.

Above, a comparison, with the r-t space used as a guide for the rest of the tracking in the mark. The yellow is mine, the pink, original.

Option 2 – a.k.a. the better option:

This one connects the r and t, and allows for a tighter tracking across the mark.

Adc2

Tighter is better.

It requires a little drawing and a little finesse, but it works much better. Nontrivially better. Because I do think the tighter tracking in the original is the better way to go. So, don’t be afraid to have the r and the t touch. Even though, if you compared the r in Art with the one in Director, they’d look different, they are similar enough that the difference disappears. The thing about tricks like this is that, generally, people don’t notice the little cheats. They notice that everything works together better, perhaps in ways they can’t articulate, but better.

Comparison

A Comparison - Mine on top, narrower tracking in yellow, original in pink.

But not to be a total curmudgeon, there is some nice craftsmanship. I’m not sure if they used a different digitization of Franklin than mine, or if it was custom made, but it’s a nice version. I especially like the rounded joins (rather than the angled join shown in the blue circle below) and overall character. Frequently, in a logotype, I’ll sand those edges off, too, because it’s just nicer and adds a little craft to what could otherwise look like just another typed-in word. So, they get some points for the subtleties.

Adc1

Rounder is often nicer.

BTW, I redrew everything in like, nine seconds (because I’m not getting paid to do it), so, yes, it’s not perfect. (Man oh man, the trolls have made me preëmptively defensive. Thanks, trolls). Anyway.

Responding to the Response

Posted in graphic design, Life Sucks by DCroy on 29 June 2009

Note: I don’t mean for this to look like a point-by-point rebuttal, because that always seems kind of needlessly aggressive to me. But I’m including Mr. Knowles’s text and my reactions together as a convenience so readers don’t have to jump back and forth between posts.

First off, I thought the response was kind of fascinating. Commenter Martin beat me to it, so I can’t claim originality, but I would like to expand on this peek behind the curtain of the design agency process. And I do appreciate Mr. Knowles’s candor, even though I find almost everything he has to say distressing in one way or another (click here if you missed the original post or Jeff Knowles’s complete reply). Okay, here’s the reply to the reply –

As with a lot of design when it gets in the public domain people can only see the tip of the iceberg, and thats all that can be reviewed and commented on, you don’t see the 80/90% of blood sweat and tears and frustration.

This probably isn’t discussed much in design education, but you bring up an interesting point. The nature of design is that the result is of course very public, and only the result is public – nobody knows about Goudy’s life in the way they know about Picasso’s – but that’s the way it works. You talk about the frustrations as though the audience should care – frankly, we shouldn’t. Regardless of how difficult the client is, the viewer isn’t supposed to think of the frustrations; in fact, if we do, the design has failed (i.e. the charge is to communicate, in this case, a movie in the voice of the client; if instead what has been communicated is frustration, the job hasn’t been done).

Michael next informed us, and asked us to research, New Deal and WPA and sent WPA posters he liked, in particular the San Francisco world fair poster (which I think was even after the WPA, its at that point we designed the custom font, seen as he wanted to see stuff that evening, we had 5 hours. Michael liked the font, so we proceeded, next he wanted to see a more compressed version, deadline – one hour to redesign and e-mail new title cards so Michael could view it on screen in the Avid that afternoon.

Michael next informed us, and asked us to research, New Deal and WPA and sent WPA posters he liked, in particular the San Francisco world fair poster (which I think was even after the WPA, its at that point we designed the custom font, seen as he wanted to see stuff that evening, we had 5 hours. Michael liked the font, so we proceeded, next he wanted to see a more compressed version, deadline – one hour to redesign and e-mail new title cards so Michael could view it on screen in the Avid that afternoon.

Definitely an enemy of the public

Definitely an enemy of the public

This is another fascinating peek behind the door of a big time design studio. And another element that isn’t discussed too often: how much control should the client have? What is the balance between doing what the client says he wants, and providing the client with the best possible solution? Think of it this way: suppose Mr. Mann had said, “I just gotta have this in Comic Sans.” Presumably (hopefully) the designer could’ve persuaded him otherwise. The idea that Mr. Mann should know anything about design and lettering just because he is successful in a totally unrelated field is as unrealistic as me assuming I could direct a something as good as “Heat” just because I’m a graphic designer.

This is a tough thing to tell the guy who signs the checks, and we’ve all had our successes and failures. But still. Being a designer is not a matter of doing what the client says they want – they often don’t know what they want, or don’t know why they’re saying what they’re saying they want. Ideally, at this point in the process, design is education and research and lobbying and cajoling (especially when you’re trying to convince a client not to faceplant his bad idea all over every bus and billboard in LA).

The rest of Mr. Knowles’s paragraph is mostly excuses about fast deadlines. My response is, again, that’s the nature of the work. I have personally never had a leisurely deadline. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose – that’s true for all of us – but you can’t blame the deadline.

In terms of the posters, and even the new cover for the original book, we didn’t design them, we saw them at the same time as the rest of the public, they just used what ever bits we had sent for the titles, thus we didn’t apply drop shadows or textures, or use Impact or what ever it is, where they didn’t have the New Deal typeface.

This sort of sums up my take on the whole of this project. It wasn’t mismanaged so much as it wasn’t managed at all. The client wasn’t managed – starting with managing his expectations, managing the deadlines, and managing the concept; and after the design was approved, its implementation wasn’t managed at all either. I know that there are a million variables in any deal, but if you couldn’t have gotten the poster gig, it would’ve made sense to put together a criteria for the posters, etc. To blame the key art people is nearly as bad as blaming the deadlines. If your company is supposed to be leading the design, then you have to lead.

Again, I appreciate Mr. Knowles’s reply, and I think it’s an instructive look inside a design agency and at the sausage making aspects of the whole process. But in the end, none of what was said mitigates the failure of this lettering. I just hope Mann’s production company didn’t pay too much for this thing. They got a bad design, with a bad rationale, and bad advice.

Dogshit – The Rebuttal

Posted in graphic design, Life Sucks by DCroy on 25 June 2009

I received a lengthy response to the original post from Jeff Knowles of Research Studios and it seems only fair to give him the same space I used for the original rant. I even included an image so it looks just like a blog post. Take it away, Jeff –

Thanks for the critique David. As they say, everyone is entitled to their opinion, the font has gone down very well, but nice to see its made a big enough reaction to make someone research and write a piece on it.

Originally Uploaded by English Photos

Originally Uploaded by English Photos

As with a lot of design when it gets in the public domain people can only see the tip of the iceberg, and thats all that can be reviewed and commented on, you don’t see the 80/90% of blood sweat and tears and frustration.

First off, the Typeface is called “New Deal” from the economic program started in the depression in 1933. To give a bit of background, Michael Mann, the director, was very involved in the process, he reviewed and commented on everything single thing. Reason for using Neville, Michael Mann is a fan of his work, thats why we also did some of his previous films, Heat and The Insider. We had a few days to come up with ideas, Michael’s first reference was the London Underground font – Johnston, yes we were puzzled too, and I hope this sheds light on the processes we were instantly involved with. We worked on Johnston, and also offered a multitude of other typefaces which were relevant, and yes we even showed Kabel. Michael next informed us, and asked us to research, New Deal and WPA and sent WPA posters he liked, in particular the San Francisco world fair poster (which I think was even after the WPA, its at that point we designed the custom font, seen as he wanted to see stuff that evening, we had 5 hours. Michael liked the font, so we proceeded, next he wanted to see a more compressed version, deadline – one hour to redesign and e-mail new title cards so Michael could view it on screen in the Avid that afternoon. Next day, next change, a lighter version of the new compressed font, deadline – 20mins for redesign and new title cards. From first round of designs to final custom font their were probably 300 options, the director just wanted to see things, not be questioned, reasoned with or convinced of something, he just wanted to see things and make a decision, he had a million things on the film to deal with, the film is his baby not ours, we have to respect the client.

In terms of the posters, and even the new cover for the original book, we didn’t design them, we saw them at the same time as the rest of the public, they just used what ever bits we had sent for the titles, thus we didn’t apply drop shadows or textures, or use Impact or what ever it is, where they didn’t have the New Deal typeface. We would of loved to design all the applications and make a real tight consistent job, but it never works like that. i.e. the UK posters are different to the US ones, and the titles are different again.

If we had been designing a in house personal project for a WPA/New Deal typeface it would of been completely different, but it wasn’t a personal project, it was a client project with tight deadlines, calls at home from my sleep at 3am to get me out of bed to make changes right there and then etc etc, i.e. there are far more variables behinds the scenes to all projects, and the success of outcomes aren’t always whether it looks nice or cool.

J

The New ‘Public Enemies’ Lettering is Total Dogshit*

Posted in graphic design, Life Sucks by DCroy on 21 June 2009

How bad is this lettering?

Apparently, his schlong is also named Johnny Depp.

Judging by the placement, his schlong is also named Johnny Depp.

So bad that even my (long suffering but usually not terribly visually-attuned) gf mentioned it even before I could launch into my own usual spittle-flecked rant. She asked how something like this happens in the world of the commercial arts, especially at that kind of supposedly A-list level. My guess was that it was probably some crap-ass key art flunky trying to make a “font” and failing in a horrible and computery bad way, but getting it through because nobody involved in the production has any visual sense. As usual, my assumption was totally wrong. I make a lot of wrong assumptions, which is bad, but I’d feel worse if  the reality weren’t even crappier than my presuppositions.

In this instance, a “real” design studio did the crappiness. Which is worse because they should’ve known better. A flunky’s overreaching ignorance is one thing. A design studio’s badly miscalculated “ideas” (or stupidity or arrogance or laziness, it’s difficult to tell what, exactly, is going on here) are entirely another. Let’s see where it all went wrong.

According to this board, someone who seems to be from Brody’s studio (but who knows – it’s the Internet after all) claimed that it was inspired by WPA posters. How bad is this lettering? So bad that the fact that Dillinger was dead and gone before the inception of the WPA isn’t the worst thing about it. But let me say that again: Dillinger: 1903-1934. WPA: 1935-1943. So, okay, whatever websurfing that passes for research at Brody’s studio wasn’t as diligent as we could’ve hoped – one year, give or take, isn’t really a big deal, and I’m not usually one to let a few pesky facts get in the way of a good design. However, it’s just not a good design, and even if we give ’em a looser timeline, the WPA thing still doesn’t make any sense, for a number of reasons.

1. The WPA style was not the result of some populist tipping point  toward modernist poster design. It was headed by a Bauhaus alum who made it, by virtue of his place at the top of the bureaucracy that ran it, the house style of America’s experiment in socialism. From the Library of Congress:

The New York poster division was headed by Richard Floethe, a German-born internationally known industrial designer who was educated in the fundamentals of the aesthetic movement known as the Bauhaus… In an essay written in the 1930s…Floethe wrote, “…the government unwittingly launched a movement to improve the commercial poster and raise it to a true art form.”

Though personally, I would question just how “unwitting” it actually was. And Dillinger was a popular/populist story (like Bonnie & Clyde, etc.), so using a centralized government-issue aesthetic makes no sense.

2. But even if it did, the execution completely sells out the idea (such as it is). WPA posters were hand lettered and mechanically separated, which, by and large, meant that they were printed in solid colors. Odd or quirky though that hand lettered typography was, it looks good silkscreened flat on real WPA posters, where up there it’s jarring, what with the ridiculous fades and crazy picture behind it.

No gradient fades.

    No gradient fades.

    3. Another note on execution: it’s obviously done on a computer. WPA lettering was rough, warm, and imperfect – actually done by hand. The cruddy weights and awkward forms in the PE poster look, in the clean vector lines of a computer, only like mistakes, not the charming analog error that they should (by the way Kabel would’ve been just fine – that’s the one on the far right, and is consistent with the era).
    4. One more note on execution: the WPA posters were lettered. The letters themselves may have been quirky, but they were designed to work together as a specific word on the poster. Brody and Co. made a typeface and just typed it in. This is in no way similar to the process of drawing the letters on a WPA poster would’ve been.

    5. And anyway, it has no relevance to the Dillinger story. People would’ve heard about it from newspapers, magazines, newsreels, and radio. Not posters (especially not posters that’d yet to’ve been implemented).

    Here is a total of 15 minutes worth of research that would’ve afforded the designers a quirky, unique mix of lettering, but actually made some little bit of graphic and conceptual sense. Fifteen minutes, I guess, that the actual designers didn’t invest. Clockwise from upper right: a magazine, 1930; a hand painted sign, 1933; Dillinger’s wanted poster; a newspaper, 1935; .

    Not that hard, really.

    Not that hard, really.

    What have we learned? I don’t know – I’ve never been a big fan of Brody’s stuff (some of it was novel a couple decades ago, but nothing has ever blown me away). Does it even matter? I think so – it cost the studio whole shitloads of money (millions in media, at least) to put this in front of my eyes every time I turn around, and it was a phoned-in solution (at best). You have to wonder why they went with Brody, when there are plenty of American designers with a much better sense of our own history and, certainly, of typography (Brody, regardless of how much you like or dislike his work, has always sucked at typefaces – he may have justifications for the clunkiness of them, but that don’t mean they ain’t clunky).

    Maybe we’ve learned to do our goddamned research, especially when we’re getting paid a significant amount of money. Crapping out something like that and calling it WPA for no good reason is not research, it’s not design, and it’s not even cool to look at. It’s just dumb and wrong.

    Oh wait, I know what we’ve learned! It’s not always a shitty client that makes for shitty design. Sometimes designers just end up making bad, boring, crap graphic work. Maybe we’ve learned that just because we call ourselves designers, that doesn’t mean we’re necessarily very good at, like, doing design.

    * I actually don’t care as much as you might think by the tenor of that more-or-less bullshit bloggy attention-grabbing headline. If I really got as angry as that every time I saw stupid and lame design inexplicably backed by millions in media buys, I’d be dead of eleven heart attacks and seventeen aneurysms by now.