“The design of a book is the pattern of a reality controlled and shaped by the mind of the writer," writes John Steinbeck in the opening lines of The Log from the Sea of Cortez. The Nobel Prize-winner’s account of the 1940 expedition aboard the seventy-six foot charter Western Flyer—with reliable drinking chum and noted biologist, Ed Ricketts—was conceived to collect marine invertebrates up the Gulf of California coastline. What it became was an internal study of man’s whole self and irrefutably, an exploration of process. "How does one organize an expedition: what equipment is taken, what sources read; what are the little dangers and the large ones? The design is simple, as simple as the design of a well-written book. Your expedition will be enclosed in the physical framework of start, direction, ports of call, and return."
Spot for Jaguar's XKR done by our pals Johnson & Wolverton at EuroRSCG in New York. This has been out for awhile, but I hadn't seen it before they returned to Portland last week to keynote our local AIGA chapter's vendor show. The YouTube doesn't do it justice (especially since the uploader didn't maintain the true aspect ratio; the original was done in widescreen and is scaled vertically here so that the car looks crap), but you get a sense of the piece's rich surface. I am always amazed at how J&W bring a transcendent print sensibility to film, and delighted at their omnivorous approach to process: the dude with the midlands accent at the beginning is the actual driver of the car; they had a camera riding shotgun with him which picked up his chatter on its condenser mike. This could have and would have been ignored by a different filmmaker, but they noticed that there was something about his voice that was perfect for the brand. English, but not posh, and not that Guy-Ritchie-fake-cockney thing either. He sounds tough and professional, like a fighter pilot. Totally silly, if you break it down, but perfect in the context of the spot.
This kind of thinking has always been hallmark of J&W's work: production events like shoots are really exercises in raw material gathering, and are carefully planned to allow for lucky accidents, rather than hew tightly to a storyboard. The real work happens back at the shop. All filmmakers work this way to an extent, and certainly editors play a greater part in the success or failure of a work than most layfolks realize (the editor here was Neil Gust, by the way; a respected musician and former staffer at J&W Portland and now an independent editor in NYC), but my sense is that J&W push production earlier in their process than most, so that there's more time to tinker and generate additional material. Nothing gets ignored.
Anyway, great spot. The only downside is that I've had to stand Conahan hiding behind walls in our offices at regular intervals throughout the day and calling out "I'm in the tunnel now, buddy." More on J&W's presentation shortly.
Drawn pointed out this Flickr set of matchbox label art. The set contains some amazing examples of two- and three-color illustration. Negative shapes on one color plate become the highlights and contours of figures that are fleshed-out with seemingly abstract shapes in a second color. The artists define forms, create shadows, etc. in the most minimal way. At one time these illustration techniques would have been well-known but in this age of cheap digital full-color output, would it be taught anymore? The crude printing used in these examples – with their loose color-trapping and registration – betray a low budget and unrefined technology but there is virtuosity in the way the illustrators overcome the limitations of the reproduction process.
Tangentially related to the post below, from Scott Stevenson, a pithy observation about language design in software development that holds true in brand development, to wit:
Many developers believe in the "start with something simple" philosophy when writing code, but may not immediately realize it works just as well for writing copy. When you sit down to write about what your app does, start with just that — explain what it does. Read the whole thing. Via John Gruber. Also related, and of interest: The Plain English Campaign (via Ace Jet 170).
A Web page contains so many variables — dynamic presentation as well as content — that the old rules of, say, writing a headline to fit a given space might not seem as valid as they did on the printed page. The Washington Post does a better job of it than others (the Times and its dense galaxy of headlines presented as unordered lists to mind). A case in point is this morning's editorial page reaction to Barack Obama's speech on race:
Here, you get a four-line encapsulation of the page's content, and the result is even amusing, assuming you know the players: Eugene Robinson, the Post's reliably center-left columnist; Michael Gerson, the former Bush staffer who implausibly mined the speeches of JFK and FDR to write talking points for the Current Occupant; and the Post itself, whose editorial page is run by arch-conservative Fred Hiatt, which makes its three-word smackdown of Gerson's column even more interesting.
To me, what is of interest here is how the Post manipulates its content management system to provide a summary of the section's content that would only work on the Web: the same sequence of information wouldn't work as well in the contents box of the printed front page. It requires the immediacy of the hyperlink. Moreover, it is entirely different content from that on the columns' respective pages. You may say that I'm on about nothing here, but most content management systems (including the one I'm using now) are designed to work with strict categories of information; the default would be to excerpt the headline of the column as a hyperlink, which would work technically but almost surely ignore the need for pith. The fact that the Post's Web folks have taken a detail so small into consideration is worthy of congratulation. The Web is different, and no matter how clever we think we are in our talk of "buckets" and so forth, once the buckets are set out, it's worth thinking about teacups and even thimbles.
Almost every day, the Web delivers me a big, fat, favor. This morning, it's this Flickr set taken from World of Logotypes, a collection of trademarks, most executed in the so-called International Style, published in the mid-1970s. Looking at the thumbnail page, what struck me is how many of the logos matched the stroke width and color of Helvetica Bold (or Berthold AG Old Style Medium, which was still in common use then). No surprise—since that typeface was the corporate brander's choice in those days— but I had never really thought of it in those terms until I saw them all collected on a single surface.
Many thanks, Mr. Carl, for the exhaustive post, and for the inspiration: it occurs to me that we really need to get one of those saddle-type scanners designed for books so that we can share some of our library; these books are getting more scarce, and such a resource would render a good deed to my pocketbook.
On a related note, I remember encountering at Powell's a similar collection containing trademarks executed by Pinch colleague Mr. Hal Wolverton in his youth. I didn't buy that book at the time, and now I regret it; Hal claims not to know anything about it, but I think he'd just as soon forget it. I don't share that opinion: if any of you come across it, holler.
These sleeves, while amusing unto themselves, are even funnier when you know that their designer, New York-based Nikolay Saveliev, produced twenty copies of each (140 sleeves total) and released them into the wild. Visual remixes of this kind are fairly common among waggish designers and particularly students, but what sets these apart is not their pitch-perfect execution (Saveliev strikes just the right balance between the broad visual metaphors favored by academic presses and the "good enough" execution produced by working within an environment limited by budget and bureaucracy) but the acuity of the writing. "Importance of Efficiency of Specialization, Tonight"? "Magnetism Against the Lactic Euphemism"? Freaking awesome. A superb example of writing as design, assuming that Saveliev did it, which—given the perfect aridity of the illustration—I suspect. Via iso50.
AIGA has gotten in bed with Adobe to publish a font collection for students. The package, priced at a freaking reasonable $149 (ten bucks off for AIGA members), contains 500 weights from 25 families, and features a couple of frankly surprising choices: Monotype Grotesque (the old 216), for example, and the full optical collection of Slimbach’s Kepler, which I don’t see too much nowadays, but can set with a lovely color, especially over longer texts.
When I was a student, a large chunk of the money my grandmother left me went straight to Adobe; in those days, while I wasn’t opposed to pirating, I never had the chance to practice it because my sources had crappy taste. If I wanted Bodoni Book or Franklin Gothic, I had to put the $149 (late eighties dollars, too) on my Citibank Visa (24% APR). It was worth it, because I got to work with faces I was interested in and when you pay that much (remember: student, adjusted dollars), you value the hell out of it. It’s the way I feel now when the Enschéde folks bend me over the pommel horse for one weight of Lexicon. The value of the product helps me to forget that I can't afford it.
So: today’s kids have it easy, and that’s good. But I gotta have a beef, and here it is: about a third of the faces in Adobe’s student pack are installed free with the standard CS package. Still, that’s a net gain of 17 families, right? Great, and some of them are useful, workhorse choices: Avenir (12 weights), Univers (27 weights). But who the hell really needs Chaparral? And Cochin? Bernhard Modern? What is this, 1988?
At any rate, I applaud AIGA for brokering this deal. It’s good for students. But I’d like to see the national get its weight behind different kinds of targeted package deals with some of the smaller foundries: a book package, for example, using selected weights of Frantisek Storm’s excellent text interpretations of Baskerville and Walbaum with selections from Underware and H&FJ. I’m not talking about a 500-weight package; that’s a problem in itself. But 4 weights each of 6-10 carefully-selected families might put a little in the pockets of the indies, and give students a sharper palate (and palette).
Something everyone who works with type (and that includes you MS Word jockeys) should know, from type designer Mark Simonson: “The physical embodiment of a collection of letters (whether it’s a case of metal pieces or a computer file) is a font. When referring to the design of the collection (the way it looks) you call it a typeface."
This is from the preamble to Typographica’s Favorite Typefaces of 2007, which is always worth a look; as The Great Emancipator said: “People who like this sort of thing will find that this is the sort of thing that they like."
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