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Example of modular grid used for project

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This project involved laying out a dense amount of information using a modular grid to create a poster. The project concept revolved around the content given, i.e., an excerpt from Edward Tufte’s book, Envisioning Information. This excerpt discusses how data can be perceived on a macro and a micro level.

The poster must be accessible on two levels in order to be successful. First, the content arrangement had to be intriguing enough to draw in the viewer. Second, once the poster acquires the viewer’s attention, the content had to be readable. If the line length is too long or the body copy is too bulky, the poster won’t be able to retain the viewer’s attention.

In addition, the poster had to be laid out using a modular grid: each square in the grid 15 picas on a side with a 1 pica gutter.

My poster went through several roughs, from arranging all the images on the outside forming a container for the body copy to using the diagonals in a couple of the images to direct the viewer. None of these really worked well until I decided to use just one image as the focus. I then arranged the rest of the images in the grid along the bottom and broke up the mass of pictures with the reference text. I added a screen of the black and white drawing of Paris to create visual interest and reduce the starkness of the white background.

Final poster for project 6

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The body copy worked better in three columns, instead of two. Thirty-one picas felt too long to read. After several trials, I realized the reference text looked better at the same point size as the body copy.

I chose the set the title using all caps for the word ‘micro’ and all lower case for the word ‘macro’ as another visual hook to draw in the viewer. I think it works well because the idea behind “Micro and Macro Readings” is to relay data on two levels of equal importance. Setting size-descriptive words in cap sizes opposite to their meanings negates the antithesis of the words and visually represents them as equals.


front page of On (Design) Bullshit

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After researching grids (see previous post), this next assignment entails creating a magazine layout for a blog article. This article, written by Michael Bierut and entitled On (Design) Bullshit, first appeared on the Design Observer blog in May 2005. Mr. Bierut discusses the use of bullshit by creatives in “selling” an idea, the merits of using bullshit, and how creatives react when bullshit is called on what they’ve said. It is a very entertaining read.

The grid for this layout is a standard 4-column grid with 1p6 gutters. This is not a modular grid as there are only columns and no designated rows. Nevertheless, I maintained a consistency in the horizontal realm across all pages.

I decided to go with an understated design reminiscent of literary magazines. I used Garamond, 11 pt with 13.2 pt leading, for the body copy and DIN for the heading, byline, and pull quotes, etc. The pull quotes are set at 8 pt with 9.6 pt leading.

Middle spread of the On (Design) Bullshit magazine layout

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Literary magazines tend to have a lot of white space for an opulent look so I chose to layout the body copy across two columns in the center of the page. The pull quotes (actual readers’ comments from the blog post) are placed in the margins with full justification for a clean look. The body copy is left justified with a ragged right edge for easier readability.

Back page of On (Design) Bullshit magazine layout

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I purchased the images from iStockphoto. I chose to use photos of Venetian carnival masks because they are typically beautiful, but could be masking something quite ugly. Kind of like some instances of bullshit.

Example Grid (Click for larger view)

Grids have been used for centuries, starting with the hand-drawn monastic manuscripts, as a way of organizing information in a readable and pleasing format. With the advent of movable type, the typographic grid became an inherent part of the printing process.  Following World War II, Josef Müller-Brockmann championed the use of the modern typographic grid. As the printing process has changed from hands-on to digital, grids have evolved to give even greater flexibility to designers.

According to Alan Swann, “a grid is a geometric division of a space into precisely measured columns, spaces, and margins.” Using a grid allows a designer to quickly and easily create a cohesive layout for books, magazines, and websites. The grid also offers a designer a balanced structure on which to hang the design. Rather than confining design, grids allow infinite variety. They offer a tangible rationale for placement of graphical elements, while giving the designer the opportunity to break the grid to add an element of surprise.

Example of grid in use (Click for larger view)

Designers who Modern designers who use grids are in all aspects of the graphic design industry include Khoi Vinh, Mark Boulton, and Tobias Frere-Jones.


How to Understand and Use Grids, Alan Swann, pub. 1989

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For project 4, we were tasked with choosing an excerpt of an inaugural address and creating a poster using only typography. The successful result would “amplify or subvert” the meaning in the excerpt through the design and layout of the type.

I chose to use FDR’s first inaugural address because today’s economic climate is somewhat similar to that of 1933, though not nearly as bad. What I hadn’t realized when I picked the speech was that FDR’s famous quote, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…,” was from that first address. The sentiment is more relevant today than it was 77 years ago, especially with fear mongers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh hyping terror on TV and radio every day.

The main focus of my design is on “fear itself.” I’ve arranged the words to form an arrow of sorts that point down to a jagged looking substrate made up of the rest of the sentence which describes the perils of buying into the fear. The words “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified” remain separate to emphasize the reality of the fear we’re confronted with on a daily basis.

Of the three fonts available, I chose to use Gotham because the idea I wanted to convey required a no nonsense, firm vehicle. The other two choices were Knockout, which seemed too playful, and Caslon, which seemed too formal.

I worked with several color combinations, finally settling on a black field with “fear itself” in red. This seemed to convey the direness broadcast by the talking heads. I considered having “fear itself” in yellow because yellow is associated with cowards and fearfulness, but I didn’t think it would get the message across very well.

My daughter, who is 9, was looking at my finished poster this morning and I was pleased that she was able to read the jagged substrate. That showed me that I had the balance between density and readability right. I was also pleased that she understood what FDR was meaning when he made his address. Perhaps there’s hope for the future, even with TV’s influence. Then again, we may have cause for concern according to this story from ABC News, “French ‘Game of Death’ Shocks Audience, Contestants.” Sadly, Glenn Beck and the like may be more influential than the sound reasoning voices in counterpoint.

The show currently running in the Cress Gallery is of a collaborative team, Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. I had the pleasure of seeing the Visiting Artist Lecture given by them just prior to the show opening, and speaking with them at the show.

Kahn and Selesnick have collaborated since finishing college in 1986. They specialize in mixing narrative histories with elaborately constructed “artifacts” of the time period depicted. Characters and artifacts are captured in panoramic photographs for posterity.

The show in the Cress Gallery features The Apollo Prophecies and the newest collaboration, Eisbergfreistadt. The former details NASA’s discovery of a Victorian settlement on the moon, with the astronauts being greeted as gods, while the latter covers the 1923 founding of a city on an enormous iceberg that floated into port in Lubeck, Germany.

My favorite aspect of Kahn and Selesnick’s work is that the line between fact and fiction is ambiguous. Obviously, it’s pretty easy to tell in the Apollo Prophecies what’s fiction (almost all of it – astronauts did land on the moon, but that’s the extent of the facts), but Eisbergfreistadt is entirely different. The “memorabilia” from the iceberg city mix actual artifacts with those constructed by Kahn and Selesnick and there’s no indication of which is which.

I asked Mr. Kahn how much of the historical narrative/artifacts were real and was told the economy in Germany, 1923, did crash. Inflation was exponential and cities started printing their own money. However, the money was devalued almost as soon as it was printed and eventually the paper it was printed on was worth more than the denomination of the marks. For example, one day an egg may cost 500,000 marks and the next day the same egg would cost 1,000,000 marks. People started using the marks as wallpaper, etc. One of the items on exhibit is a beautifully crafted coat made from marks.

Kahn and Selesnick use black and white for most of their photography. I had a chance to ask Mr. Selesnick how they choose the palettes they work with. Mr. Selesnick said he prefers not to use color at all, but when they’ve decided to use it, in general the palette has low saturation. The point of their work is to make things look historical, so rich bold colors wouldn’t convey age.

Kahn and Selesnick take their inspiration from many sources. One of the artists that stood out for me was William Blake. They showed several examples of photographs that were finely detailed derivatives of William Blake prints.

The show is very impressive and ought not to be missed. Definitely see it before it’s gone. The show runs in the Cress Gallery through March 16th.

DIN (hopefully well-kerned) (Click for larger image.)

Albert-Jan Pool is a German-based, Amsterdam-born type designer. He studied type design at the Royal Academy of the Arts in Amsterdam and after graduating, moved to Germany. Pool served as the type director at Scangraphic in Wedel, near Hamburg from 1987 – 1991. He was then the manager of Type Design & Production at URW from 1991 – 1994. During his time at URW, he completed the typefaces URW Imperial, URW Linear, and URW Mauritius. In 1995, he started his own design firm called Dutch Design. This coincided with his redesigning the DIN typeface.

DIN is an acronym for Deutsches Institut für Normung, the German Institute for Standardization. The first version of DIN, a realist sans-serif typeface, was released in 1923 by the D Stempel AG foundry, based on a 1905 typeface for the Royal Prussian Railway Company, later becoming the pre-cursor to DIN-Engschrift. The Berthold Foundry released a version of DIN in 1929. Both versions were also released as stencils to be used on engineering and technical drawings, primarily as oblique typefaces.

In 1936, DIN 1451 was adopted as the standard typeface used for engineering, traffic, and business in Germany, mostly as DIN-Mittelschrift. The typeface quickly gained recognition as it was seen on traffic signs and building signage throughout Germany.

Even though the DIN typeface had only two weights, several top designers were using it extensively in print. Albert-Jan Pool was approached in 1994 by Erik Spiekermann to redo DIN 1451 to make it a more versatile typeface for modern use. Pool created a cleaner, smoother typeface in five weights (light, regular, medium, bold, and black) and later released a true italics and a condensed style, each in five weights. He is currently working on a rounded version.

References: The Story of FF DINWikipedia: DIN (Typeface)Wikipedia: FF DIN , Identifont: Albert-Jan Pool

The final part of this ligature project is taking the experimental ligature piece and applying color – specifically two complementary colors. Technically speaking, complementary colors are those colors directly across from each other on the color wheel, i.e., green and red or yellow and violet. (For a quick easy lesson on color theory, click and read Basic color schemes: Color Theory Introduction.) When doing my color study, I thought it interesting to see colors next to each other that really wouldn’t get any compliments from many people and were even quite painful to look at.

I worked with eight different color combinations looking for the best solution from those. The ideal solution would consist of two complementary colors that were balanced without one dominating the other, no matter which was foreground or background. In order to prove the colors are balanced, they have to be applied on a diptych of the ligature experiment and reversed from one to the other. “What exactly does that mean?”, I hear you cry.

color ligature thumbnails

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Well, check out the thumbnails of my color choices. You’ll notice that each color pairing is applied twice, but in reverse order. Also, note the art boards are arranged in pairs. Each pair of two colors could be called a diptych or 2-paneled piece of artwork. The beauty of this arrangement lies in the ability of the mind to complete forms from implied lines. I chose to maintain the orientation of the experimental piece from the feedback I received in class because I noticed that the forms naturally flowed into each other in the middle where the white space separated the two pieces. If the white space wasn’t there, you’d not see a nice flow. You’d see a train wreck.

Here is my final solution. I think the colors are balanced, although slightly jarring to look at after a while. It does look different when printed. I think not being backlit helps a lot.

Final solution

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In case you’re wondering what’s up with the middle pair in the top row, that was a happy accident that occurred when showing a classmate how to change the colors in Illustrator. I plan on printing it out and submitting it to the “Take Art/Leave Art” show opening Friday at AVA.

Mrs Eaves Just Ligatures (lower case)

Edit: Based on feedback from in-class critique, I’ve rotated the cropped composition. Let me know what you think in the comments.

I have had a great time exploring ligatures and I’m impressed by the detail that goes into really well formed characters. I’ve learned that anyone can just stick two letters, numbers, or marks together, but it takes care and skill to make them look good and work within the font. My hat’s off to type designers who do this for a living and do it well. As an example of some intriguing ligatures, check out this set of Mrs Eaves Just Ligatures. I particularly like the “gg” combination, for reasons that will become obvious. Although the letters are not connected, they clearly go together and add personality to the font.

I chose to work with Bauer Bodoni Roman after making thumbnails using three different fonts. My favorite combination is 4 and 7(third down on the right in the picture), but since the scope of the project only allows us to use letters, I went with a close runner up, “gg.”

Thumbnails of Bauer Bodoni (Click to view larger)

In combining the letters, I chose to merge the characters with as little white space as possible between them, making them look, as a couple of people mentioned, like they were hugging or dancing. Where the two loops of the “Gs” intersect, I smoothed out the crossover making the letters a cohesive whole and continuing the roundness characterized by the Bodoni font.

The second part of the project entailed expanding the ligature and creating a cropped composition — one that is balanced and formally resolved. I think my cropped composition flows well and is engaging, while retaining the inherent characteristics of Bodoni.

The compositions were then both transferred to 10” x 10” illustration boards and inked. The ligature is an 8” x 8” square with a white border and the cropped composition fills the 10” square.

gg Ligature (Click to view larger)

Ligature - Cropped Composition (Click to view larger)

Cropped composition rotated (Click for larger view)

For the next project in Typography 1, I have to create a ligature. All you clarinetists out there may be wondering why I don’t just go buy one, especially since the ones that come with clarinets are usually lousy and we all know a really good ligature can make the difference between a decent tone and a squeak. Those in medical fields may wonder why I’m dabbling in surgery or dentistry. I assure you, I am not.

While I was very familiar with the word, I’m amazed I hadn’t noticed until now that the same term is used in so many different fields, which led me to actually look up the word:

Ligature - as defined in Dictionary on Mac OS (Click for larger image.)

From the Latin ligat-, meaning bound, it’s perfectly understandable why two letters stuck together, hopefully in a pleasing manner, would be called a ligature.

I’ve found quite a variety of opinions about ligatures on the “intertubes,” from absolute love of the ligature to advocating against ever using it again. Design O’Blog loves ligatures, as evidenced by the glowing commentary of the examples posted, while Daniel Will-Harris has no love lost for them. A couple of his points are that ligatures are no longer necessary and, certainly in some cases, make the text harder to read.

According to Wikipedia, ligatures originally made transcribing easier (fewer characters to write) and later made typesetting easier (fewer characters to set). The other advantage was easier readability, especially for the character combinations fi, fl, ff, etc. Ligature use dropped off with the popularity of sans serif typefaces, as ligatures were no longer needed for readability.

I think ligatures still have validity in today’s design. For example, they show the difference between a well-designed book and one slapped together without thought to readability or aesthetics. As points out, decorative ligatures can “add elegance and individuality to a setting.” These ligatures are usually used in display type, as they would certainly make body copy harder to read. So, I’m excited by the prospect of creating a beautiful character of my own. I’ve chosen to use the typeface Bauer Bodoni Roman. Check back in a couple of days to see the fruits of my labors.

The simple pleasure of holding a sibling's ear

Simple pleasures arise in all aspects of our lives; the trick is to recognize and acknowledge them. I know when I’m feeling stressed or hurried it’s hard for me to realize I’m missing out on the small things that bring me joy. Sometimes, I’m lucky enough to recognize more than one in one day. Today was one such day.

Right now I’m having trouble concentrating on writing this post because I’m wanting to listen to my daughter read to my son and hear his excitement. That’s a rare simple pleasure I love to witness.

Creatively, I have a harder time finding simple pleasures. I always wonder what it would be like to have the urge to draw or sculpt or paint, etc. I agree with Chip Kidd, who said a blank canvas would eventually make him cry. Nothing intimidates me more than a blank page.

So, in thinking about creative simple pleasures I had to look closely at myself and really question why I was interested in design and enrolled in an art program. The answer was surprising to me, only because I hadn’t actually tried to quantify it before. I find simple pleasure in problem solving and am grateful that, so far, each of the assignments in my classes has come in the form of a problem statement. Understanding the parameters of a problem allows my mind to start finding a solution. (I think that goes along with the “packing gene” I inherited from my father. I can take a huge amount of stuff and pack it into a small space, with room to spare.)

Finding a solution in an unexpected place is another creative simple pleasure. I was working on my project today and thought I had a good solution. It was engaging, well balanced, and pleasing to the eye, however, it was going to take an awful lot of ink to complete. My instructor suggested I continue pushing the limits and see if I could find a solution that worked and would require less ink. I don’t think I’ll be using less ink, but I’m pleased that I followed her suggestion. The final solution I chose is better than the first and the flush of pleasure at realizing I have a stronger solution was well worth the effort.

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