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Communication Design

Carrier Pigeon:  Giving Wings to Creativity

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 29, 2013

Carrier Pigeon, CP9 art © Richard Kegler In 2009, a group of New York City-based artists, illustrators, writers and designers collaborated on an ambitious project: a commercially distributed magazine in which the artists would have complete creative control. A Kickstarter campaign the following year successfully raised printing costs to cover the first issue. The result is Carrier Pigeon, an approximately 100-page quarterly magazine featuring original artwork and text by both up-and-coming and well-known contributors such as Marshall Arisman. Each issue functions as a work of art, with the layout uniquely designed by that issue’s art director.

The perusing – or interacting with Carrie Pigeon goes far beyond the reading experience. Each issue incorporates tactile or dimensional features. For example, Volume 2, Issue 3, includes a magnetic pop-up paper sculpture by cover artist and painter Adam Lister; the issue covers images of sculptures which combine magnets with abstract paintings. The stories (fantasy, dark comedies, scifi, and other genres of fiction) are beautifully designed and illustrated with work in a variety of media, such graphite drawings, etchings, photographs, woodcuts, and paintings. Each issue also features six portfolios of international artists.

Now into its third year of production, Carrier Pigeon recently published their 10th edition, (the first issue of volume 3, CPX) and will be releasing it at the Governors Island Art Fair September 1st. The publication is a labor of love; the limited run of 1,000 copies is put together by volunteers and contributors, often in the workshop of printmaker and frequent contributor Justin Santz. The publishers hope to eventually have the magazine completely funded by subscribers, sales, and carefully selected advertising. Their vision is to keep the magazine as a creator-controlled, collaborative publication, one which “provides artists with a venue for telling stories in an undisturbed environment by fostering… unconditional artistic freedom in both direct subject matter and the interpretation of text.”

Above right: The front cover of the 9th issue, featuring three-color letterpress artwork by Richard Kegler. Below: The portfolio feature for artist Jennifer Ale from the 9th issue. All artwork © the artists.

Spread from Carrier Pigeon, CP9, artwork © Jennifer Ale

Mixed Reactions to Adobe’s Creative Cloud™ Subscription

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 22, 2013

Adobe® Creative CloudTM logoIn the three months since Adobe® announced it’s discontinuing its boxed version (and perpetual license) of Creative Suite® products in favor of a cloud-based subscription service, reactions from professional creatives has been mixed. The move provides both a deterrent to the rampant piracy of Adobe® software as well as a more stable revenue stream, since currently many users are unable or unwilling to pay for costly upgrades. Adobe® has bundled significant additional features in with the Creative Cloud™ software sets, including integration of a personal portfolio site via Behance® Prosite, integration of Typekit® webfonts, syncing of personal settings, tutorials, and more.

A cost analysis of the individual plans show that for Adobe® product users who purchase upgrades frequently, the cloud subscription service will lower costs initially. CNET calculated that the Design Standard boxed set would cost $1,648 for the initial cost and one upgrade, versus $1,800 for three year’s worth of Creative Cloud™ – and that would include eight additional software packages (such as Premiere Pro®) and online services.

For those users who skip version upgrades as a savings tactic, the new model will be more expensive. (This savings tactic may have been on the way out. Adobe® attempted to offer upgrades to CS6 only from CS5 and 5.5, but after a firestorm of criticism, changed the policy in January to permit upgrades from CS3 and 4). Digital Arts calculated that the tipping point on Cloud subscriptions – the point at which the monthly subscription becomes more expensive than a perpetual license – is 26 months for a CS6 Design Standard and 38 months for the CS6 Design and Web PremiumCS6 Design and Web Premium. Students are impacted the most; the tipping point for CS6 Design and Web Premium Student and Teacher Edition is just 20 months at the student subscription rate.

The backlash against Adobe® resulted in an online petition asking Adobe® to “Eliminate the mandatory Creative Cloud™ subscription model.” Protesters have a number of concerns beyond the pricing structure, including worries that Adobe® will hike up the monthly fees at any moment, and concerns about Internet connectivity, access to files, etc. (Adobe® has addressed many of the misconceptions about the Cloud model in their “5 Myths about Adobe Creative Cloud™.”) As of mid August, the petition had gained 38,000 signatures. Some users have been turning to alternatives to Creative Cloud™ and Adobe® products.

Adobe®, however, has been on track with their projected subscription levels since the release of Creative Cloud™. In a mid-June MacWorld article, Adobe® reported a total of 700,000 subscribers, and expected to reach their target of 1.25 million subscribers by the end of 2013. So far, Creative Cloud™ seems to be a success as a pricing model. But as a solution for piracy, the jury is still out; one day after the official release of Creative Cloud™, a torrent link to a pirated copy was uploaded to The Pirate Bay. Reports are that the copy works fine.


Adobe® Creative CloudTM totems

Putting a Face On It – Inside Book Jacket Design at Random House

Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 30, 2013

Chip Kidd & cover art by Seth in Inside Random HouseRandom House has posted a series of videos highlighting recent publications and giving an inside peek at the publishing house. One of their most recent uploads features some of their most noted art directors speaking on The Art of Cover Design. The video offers intriguing insight into their approach, as summarized by Robbin Schiff: “Our job is not to illustrate the book. Our job is to intrigue the consumer, set the tone, set the stage…” Key to their process is thorough research, including meeting with the editors, interviewing the authors about what their mindset was as they were writing the book, and closely reading the book manuscript.

While each art director brings his or her unique sensibility to the design process, they all take inspiration from the author’s words. The process is very intuitive; Chip Kidd describes getting a feel for a typographic versus illustrated versus photographic solution for a particular work. Sometimes surprising elements are incorporated. Peter Mendelsund, the designer of Stieg Larrson’s The Girl… trilogy, describes using a photocopy of his daughter’s hair in the cover design for the Girl Who Played with Fire.  The insight into the arduous process of repeatedly revising the designs, often working in tandem with illustrators, is priceless.

Brought to our attention by @brainpickings

Below: In the video, Peter Mendelsund, Chip Kidd, and Robbin Schiff discuss the process behind the design of selected book jackets.
Random House book covers

Creative Freelancers Conference: Recaps & Resources

Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 29, 2013

Miss the Creative Freelancers Conference in San Francisco this summer? There are a number of wonderful blogs posting links to recaps and resources. Guild member Cedric Hohnstadt posted on his blog a brief summary of the conference, as well as a list of articles written by conference presenters, and recaps from other attendees. The list includes some real gems, such as a link to Jessica Hische’s “The Dark Art of Pricing” article, as well as a recording for daily podcasts from HOWLive published by the design blog 36 Point.

Cedric cites the Pinterest page of Ilise Benum, the conference host, as the source for many of the links. The page features images repinned from a number of attendees, and gives a nice peek at the conference goings-on. Another good resource is the Creative Freelancer blog associated with the conference. The blog has published  articles written by  conference presenters with common sense advice, such as 7 Ways to Keep the CFC Momentum Going by Tom Tombusch and a video interview with Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union on How Not to Become Extinct.

A Year with the ADAA, Part 2: Mentoring an ADAA Finalist

Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 30, 2017

Over the past year, Guild member and designer Theresa Whitehill has had an unusual relationship with software giant Adobe: that of both judge and mentor in their student Adobe Design Achievement Awards (ADAA). A few months after judging the ADAA winners, her experience was extended when she was asked to mentor one of the student finalists. While the time commitment has posed a challenge, it’s one from which Whitehill has derived satisfaction and growth.


Q: Knowing how busy you are, how did you get roped into the free mentorship?

Late last year, a few months after the ADAA awards ceremony, ico-D (the International Council of Design, which collaborates with Adobe on the ADAA) contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in mentoring one of the ADAA finalists. I had a gut reaction that I’d do it, but I had to really think twice, since so many personal and professional projects have had to be postponed due to my busy schedule. But I was shaken by the election result, and I realized that the best thing I could do was to pass on my knowledge, even at the cost of burning the candle at both ends.

Q: How were you paired with photography student Martin Hoang as your mentee?

As it turns out, Martin Hoang had asked for me. That surprised me. Martin’s been through schooling for design, and has gotten a lot of recognition from being an ADAA finalist, whereas I didn’t even graduate from college — I’m a bootstrap kind of learner. I wondered why such an educated designer would ask for me, and ico-D responded that it’s probably because I have a unique perspective.

Q: Did you remember Martin’s work? 

While I was judging, I tended to not look at students’ profiles so as not to be influenced. But some student work really stood out, including Martin’s. Ironically, we didn’t award a first place in the photography category in which he had entries, since we felt none of the submissions quite warranted it. 

Martin submitted two projects to ADAA. One was a photojournalism essay about the welding artist who created the Bay Bridge Troll [an 18-inch steel sculpture which was welded to a section of the Bay Bridge when it was repaired after the earthquake of 1989]. The troll didn’t end up being part of the photo essay, and without that strong storyline, the judges felt that although it was well-executed and compelling photojournalism, it lacked the backstory to be able to understand the connection. 

Martin’s second project was promotional photography for men’s clothing. He photographed himself leaping in mid-air dressed in various incredible men’s fashion ensembles, and photoshopped himself out of the images, so that the clothing appeared to be animated. I was amazed by it, but some of the judges had seen similar work, so to them it wasn’t as original as it was to me — a good example of how the breadth of experience among judges was helpful when judging in such a compressed time range. While both projects were beautifully executed, neither had the original conceptual edge that the judges felt would overall warrant a first place prize. Martin was designated a finalist for the Bay Bridge Troll project, so that satisfied me because it was well-deserved.


I understand how to learn a new skill that is required for a job; I’m an on-the-job learner and always have been. You break it down and you find the resources that you need to do the next step; if the software doesn’t do what you need it to do, you find a way to get in through the back door. It’s learning how to learn, which you can apply to almost anything.


Q: So what is Martin’s mentorship project?

His idea is to take a tin for holding tea and re-imagine it so that it looks like the staff of the Monkey King, a Buddhist deity—Sun Wukong—from the Hindu pantheon. The Monkey King is a misunderstood trickster turned demi-god, and the subject of a lot of anime films – sort of like Hercules and his ascension to Godhood. At first I questioned the scale of the tea tin, asking Martin whether such a long staff would be satisfying to him in a shorter proportion. Martin explained to me that the Monkey King’s staff can collapse down to a small size, so the tea tin made sense as part of the story. Martin’s idea is to wrap the tin in leather and create bronze filigrees so that it matches the look and design of the Monkey King’s staff. That means he has had to learn or push his knowledge of a lot of technical and craft skills, such as wrapping and sewing leather, and metal casting, in order to complete the project to his satisfaction, so it’s quite ambitious.

Q: That seems to be a big stretch from photography; does that come into play?

Photography is not his only area of study and experience; he has great design skills and was familiar with metal casting from his education. It’s a great project for a mentorship, because it’s much riskier and out of the box. The concept is wonderful and imaginative, and it’s forcing him to learn new skills. He’ll photograph the final product, and that’s where those skills will come to bear.

Q: This also falls outside of your area of expertise. What kind of technical advice have you been able to give him?

Like Martin, I understand how to learn a new skill that is required for a job; I’m an on-the-job learner and always have been. You break it down and you find the resources that you need to do the next step; if the software doesn’t do what you need it to do, you find a way to get in through the back door. It’s learning how to learn, which you can apply to almost anything. So I’ve had Martin explain to me how he plans to approach the several crafts he needs to learn to be successful at this and played devil’s advocate to help him refine his approach. Initially, he planned to do just one bronze casting, and I was able to advise him to use an initial bronze pour at his school as a trial run so that he could troubleshoot any issues and revise in time for the final pour. 

As it turns out, some real technical challenges came up. He found that he couldn’t get the detail he wants for the filigree using the bronze-casting facilities at this school. For that, he needs a goldsmith’s foundry, which will permit him to pour the molten metal while the mold is spinning; this allows much finer, thinner details. He’s now looking for a goldsmith who would be interested in helping him with his project.


I’ve found my conversations with Martin have fed my own creativity. Explaining my creative process has been really helpful and has helped clarify my thinking. For a while I had dropped a lot of projects that weren’t “billable” simply because I couldn’t justify fitting them in, but found that recently I have said “Yes” to many of these again.


Q: What are the terms of the internship?

The internship goes for six months, and we were asked to make a minimum commitment to a one-hour conversation per month. We also email between sessions. Other than that, there are no expectations on the scope or type of project.

Q: What do you think is the biggest contribution you can make to Martin’s development?

Through the ADAA program, Martin got a job at Adobe. It’s a great opportunity, but it can be a super stressful environment due to the high level of work expected. So I started checking in with him between our monthly sessions. I see stress like an ocean wave — you either get dumped, or you get up on that wave and ride it in to shore. How you deal with stress will determine your longevity in the business—how far you’re able to go, what great projects you get to work on. I want him to learn to not be afraid of stress, but attack it and learn how to ride it. When I check in with him, it’s often with “How’s the surf?” and he might answer, “Surf’s up!”

Martin is very used to achieving through hard work, but there is a part of him that needs to be psychologically prepared for failures now and again; they are an inevitable byproduct if you are seeking to achieve. Martin is ambitious and wants to be in a position where he’s driving a concept; he still needs experience working with other people. But he’ll get there if he pays attention.

Q: Have you gotten anything for yourself out of this mentorship?

I’ve found my conversations with Martin have fed my own creativity. Explaining my creative process has been really helpful and has helped clarify my thinking. For a while I had dropped a lot of projects that weren’t “billable” simply because I couldn’t justify fitting them in, but found that recently I have said “Yes” to many of these again. I’ve realized that these projects that might be seen as more peripheral were actually feeding my core reason for designing, and, amazingly, everything is going very well in spite of this “over-commitment.” I’m more jazzed; I have more energy.

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