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Free Range Fonts: The Google Web Typographic Project

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 29, 2015

Any web designer scouring through the Google Web fonts library knows how stultifying it can be to find the right combination of faces. After peering at the third (or tenth) waterfall of characters, serifs and weights start to blur into a typographic mess. Self-described tech-tinkerer, Femmebot (Phoebe E.), has come up with a  solution to show web fonts in their natural environment: Google Web Fonts Typographic Project.

The project sets Aesop’s Fables, from the Project Gutenberg translation, in Google web fonts. A minimum of two web fonts are paired, and are set in elegant layouts which combine the faces with background images, illustrations, and simple shapes. The result is a scrolling cheat-sheet of sometimes surprising, often pleasing, typeface combinations. Better yet, the selected fonts are listed on each layout and are hyperlinked to their page on Google Fonts. In most examples, the page designer is credited and linked as well. Google Fonts Typography continues to be a collaborative project, and Femmebot is accepting submissions through her Github account.

The project is the first in Femmebot’s larger initiative: 25x52, or 25 projects in 52 weeks. While the 25x52 seems to be a bit behind schedule – only seven projects have been completed since last summer — the projects have yielded interesting discussion and collaboration. In her end-of-year retrospective, Femmebot shares a thoughtful analysis of what the initiative has taught her about work and the perception of achievement.

Below: screenshot from Google Web Fonts Typographic Project. Used with permission.

Screenshot from Google Web Fonts Typographic Project

Artists, Money, and Envy

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 26, 2015

Colleen DoranWhen the San Francisco Gate reported that author Danielle Steele’s assistant embezzled $400,000 from her accounts, many comments to the article relished the author’s financial woes. The rancor of comments led cartoonist/writer Colleen Doran to muse on the conflicted relationship artists have with money. It’s a situation made toxic by low expectations, envy, and hackneyed stereotypes.

In Art and Money, Doran describes her pursuit of financial stability as a bid for freedom to pursue her art — a habit of fiscal prudence she shares with F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet artists who are financially successful are met with scornful envy. Doran writes:

“What sick mixed messages this ambivalence about material success sends to creators. They are constantly told they are fools for being artists, doing work for the love. Then they are told they are fools for doing art for money. They are fools for not managing money well. Then they are told that artists are constitutionally incapable of handling money because they are foolish artists.”

(Fitzgerald is spared this abuse because he died practically destitute, although because of his wife’s overwhelming medical bills, rather than any artistic financial ineptitude.)

The point of Doran’s article is one that she repeatedly makes: knowing how to manage money can make the difference between being a full-time artist, or one held back by juggling thankless part-time jobs. Buying into the stereotype of the starving artist, and denigrating those who are successful only holds artists back from realizing their goals as creators and successful business owners.

Photo of Colleen Doran used with permission.

Making Brands (or at Least Their Logos) Responsive

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 22, 2015

Last fall, UK designer Joe Harrison unveiled his exploration of scalable logos. The result was Responsive Logos, a simplistic website featuring the logos of major brands such as Coca Cola, Walt Disney, and Kodak. As the viewer resizes the browser window, the logos respond, becoming both smaller, and stripping away elements. At the window’s smallest size, the smallest recognizable feature remains: Chanel’s interlocking Cs, the Guiness harp, Nike’s swoosh. As Harrison wrote on his website, “The concept aims to move branding away from fixed, rigid guidelines into a more flexible and contextual system.”

The logo project follows his earlier Responsive Icons project, in which a detailed graphic of a house resizes and sheds gables, windows, the chimney, and the door as the screen resizes. At the screen’s smallest size, only a simple house shape is left. Harrison started the project to explore “the perfect balance of simplicity in relation to screen size.”

Both projects utilize SVG files, deployed as image sprites. The sprites are packaged with CSS rules and media queries into an encapsulated SVG file. Smashing Magazine analyzed Harrison’s Responsive Icon project, and published a detailed how-to. They conclude that scalable SVG icons satisfy some key needs, for responsive ads, logos, and application icons. With Responsive Logos, Harrison elegantly illustrates their application in branding.

Logos from screenshot of Responsive Logos. Used with permission.

Responsive Logos screenshot

Flickr Wall Art Puts a Spotlight on Creative Commons Commercial Licenses

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 15, 2015

Creative Commons FlickrIn mid-October, Flickr announced the roll-out of a “new opportunity” for users to share their work as photo-mounted or canvas-printed Wall Art. One month later, the photo-sharing site announced that it had added over 50 million “freely-licensed” Creative Commons images to its Flickr Wall Art service, without the participation of the photographers. The announcement understandably enraged Flickr users. As Dazed reported, Flickr, or rather its parent company, Yahoo, would pocket all profits for the bulk of the sales, with the photographers receiving only a small attribution at the bottom of the print. (A small number of curated photographers, contacted by Flickr, would receive 51% of the sales.)

The announcement resulted in a firestorm of outraged articles from ardent Flickr users such as Jeffrey Zeldman, with the consensus being that the move on Yahoo’s part was short-sighted. As Flickr co-founder Stewart Butterfield (who left the company in 2008) told The Guardian, “It’s hard to imagine the revenue from selling the prints will cover the cost of lost goodwill.” Copyright advocates predictably took a tough line. Artists’ Bill of Rights urged Flickr users to change the licensing terms on their uploaded images from Creative Commons to “All Rights Reserved”, and warned that “‘share and share alike’ needs a reality check in today’s internet: the CC license adds dollars to an internet entrepreneur’s pocket, not yours.” The only organization that seemed to be unperturbed was the Electronic Frontier Foundation; EFF’s intellectual property director was reported as saying that it didn’t appear Flickr was doing any wrong.

The issue wasn’t that Yahoo intended toviolate copyright law. The images folded into Flickr’s Wall Art collection were covered by Creative Commons licenses which permit commercial use: “Attribution” (CC BY), permitting wide usage, including altering, remixing, and distributing; Attribution-ShareAlike (CC BY-SA) permitting the same rights as the CC BY license, as long as any derivative work is covered by the same license terms; and Attribution-NoDerivs (CC BY-ND), permitting distribution without alteration. Additionally, users had to knowingly select the CC commercial licenses. Flickr’s default license stipulates, “All Rights Reserved,” and users can select from any of the six licenses covered by Creative Commons, including the three which don’t permit commercial use.

However, many users, including supporters of sharing and remix culture, felt that Yahoo’s intention to profit from the works covered by the CC commercial licenses violated the “spirit’ of the Flickr community. Web developer Jen Simmons wrote “If the only option for preventing corporate abuse is to lock everything behind non-commercial-use licenses, the whole purpose of Creative Commons is weakened.” She identifies a key weakness in the Creative Commons commercial licenses — the licenses make no distinction between different kinds of commercial use, lumping together major corporations with small businesses, non-profits, and individuals: “I don’t believe that photographers, illustrators and others who want to share their work should have to agree that big companies can do whatever they want, including selling copies of those images on a massive scale. ”

In a thoughtful essay, Morten Rand-Hendriksen pointed out that the spirit of the Flickr service (which he defines as the “commonly agreed upon understanding” of its users) is at odds with the legal interpretations of the CC licenses. Rand-Hendriksen boils down the dissonance between spirit and legal meaning to “everyone should be able to do whatever they want with my photos, including earning money off their use without sharing it with me, as long as they are not the corporation that hosts those photos or a large corporation that should be able to pay me.” He agrees with Simmons that the Creative Commons licenses may need reevaluating. But as he concludes, “If you put content on the web, remember that the [Creatie Commons] license you apply to that content is universal. It grants the same rights to your neighborhood blogger and the corporation that hosts your content.”

Yahoo eventually backed down on the scope of the Wall Art Project, apologizing in a December 18, 2014 blog post. They announced that they were removing the Creative Commons-licensed images from the Wall Art pool and refunding all sales of those images. (Flickr users can still produce Wall Art of their own work, and only the work of Flickr-curated licensed photographers appears in the Wall Art site.) Artists’ Bill of Rights used the episode as an object lesson, cautioning creators to not use Creative Commons licenses, and urging them to embed metadata in their images, and register their copyrights.

In Memoriam: Charlie Hebdo

Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 12, 2015

Graphic Artists Guild members have been contributing artwork in the memory of the cartoonists and staff killed at Charlie Hebdo’s offices last week. Below is a sampling of the submissions.

All artwork is copyrighted to the artist, and used with permission.


© JP Schmelzer JP Schmelzer


© Michael DaterMichael Dater


Doug Jennings


© Lisa ShaftelLisa Shaftel


© Diane Barton Diane Barton


© Jennifer MertzJennifer Merz


Anonymous World Citizen

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