Road Trip! The Journey Behind the Cover Art for the Handbook’s 14th Edition
Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 25, 2013
So what do Mr. Dill, a burnt draft card, a hula doll, and a wooden nickel have to do with pricing guidelines? These are some of the characters making an appearance in José Cruz’s cover art for the 14th edition of The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. Depicting the view from the driver’s seat on a long road journey, his illustration is an exhuberant, I-Spy mélange of detail. Look closely; the cover tells a tale.
Right click onto the cover image to pull up a large version. © Jose Cruz
Cruz had long been familiar with the Guild’s Handbook, having used it when he started his freelance design career in 1977. He was recommended by Michael Doret to create the latest cover art. (Doret is the husband of Laura Lynn Smith, the illustrator of the 13th edition, and is the designer of the Graphic Artists Guild’s logo.) Inspired by two of Cruz’s published works – “Mars vs. Earth” (Workman Publishing), and the serial illustration, “13 Bullets for Sam Spade” -- the Handbook’s art director, Sara Love, suggested a roadtrip as a concept for the cover art. The concept is apropos for the Handbook, implying that the book functions as a road map for planning a successful creative career.
Below: An early sketch for the cover art. © Jose Cruz
The resulting artwork tells the story of a long, adventurous cross country road trip. Clues to the identity of the driver (Joseph Cross, Cruz’s alter ego), time period, and location stud the illustration. A partially burnt draft card, with a registration date of 1964, places him squarely in the 1960s. The arrow-straight highway, with mountains looming in the distance and coyotes lurking at the side of the road, put the car in the southwest. A baseball card for a Yonkers player tells of the driver’s New York City origins, while the Bay State engraving on the car key, tickets from the Indiana State Fair, and trolley tokens from San Francisco hint at the driver’s circuitous route west. The journey is portrayed in the placement of the artwork, with the front cover depicting where the driver is going, and the back cover is the view through the side window, showing where he’s been. The glowing sky appearing over the horizon line hints at the unknown future.
The artwork also depicts the artist’s own creative journey. Homages to Cruz’s creative influences from his early career sprinkle the illustration. The fly perched on the steering wheel is a representation of an image by iconic album artist Charlie White III, one of Cruz’s first inspirations. A subtle reference to Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, and Pushpin Studios (hidden in a Gold Star trading stamp) acknowledges their support of at the start of his career. (Pushpin & Associates represented Cruz in the 1980s and Milton Glaser provided encouragement and exposure.) Even Cruz’s daughter Jo-X Rae and close friends, Daniel Pelavin and Michael Doret, make an appearance on the label of a 45 rpm record.
Cruz also skillfully places the Handbook and the Guild as central to the artist’s creative journey. The title of the book is framed in the steering wheel and dashboard, with the Guild logo functioning as a compass. (There’s also an homage to graphics software programs embedded in the steering wheel; familiar icons for pointers, cropping, and other tools appear to be engraved in the central column.) On the cover back, the description of the Handbook appears as the text on an actual roadmap.
The illustration is a showpiece for Cruz’s skill, and reflects his philosophy of “less is more and more is less, more or less.” His work ranges from the deceptively simple (such as his Simpletons), to the lushly complex. Working digitally permits him to construct layers of simple objects, creating complex, rich images. For the Handbook illustration, Jose researched source materials extensively, so that the details (such as “atomic” paddle ball souvenir) fit with the 1960s timeframe. The artwork also reflects Cruz’s artistic influences: the art deco styling of Joseph Binder and A.M. Cassandre, the geometric artwork of graphic designer George Hardie, the designs of the English artists Bush Hollyhead and Mick Haggerty, the lushness of Charlie White III’s illustration, and the beautiful typography of Michael Doret and Daniel Pelavin.
A nationally recognized illustrator with an impressive list of clients, Jose attributes his success to a lot of hard work – entering illustration annuals, and hauling his portfolio from meeting after meeting with art directors. He received his early art education at the Dallas Skyline High School from Bud “Norton” Hemedinger, a former NASA employee who taught commercial art, and from his TCU teachers graphic designer Margie Adkins, and illustrator Don Ivan Punchatz. Cruz's first job was working for Punchatz at The Sketchpad Studio, a realistic fantasy-art shop. However, upon seeing the geometric artwork of George Hardie and Mick Haggerty, Cruz changed his style.
From that point, he began as a freelance illustrator, building in the 1980s and developing relationships with then prominent art directors such as Judy Garlan from The Atlantic, Fred Woodward from D Magazine and The Rolling Stone, Dan Lloyd Taylor from Money Magazine, Mitch Shostak at BusinessWeek, Milton Glaser, James Noel Smith from both the Dallas Morning News and the Times Herald, and Stan McCray from Houston City and Boston Magazine.
All images © Jose Cruz. www.x-factor-e.com/home.html
Yahoo: 30 Days of Logos, and One Huge Controversy
Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 23, 2013
Yahoo’s unveiling of its new logo unleashed a firestorm of criticism and scorn from across the board, from designers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, ad agency executives, CEOs, and just about the entire Twitterverse. To an extent, they asked for it; for the month preceding the unveiling, Yahoo coyly released a new logo redesign daily. The teasers were generally unexciting; as Kevin Farnham and Geoff Katz (the designers of the original Yahoo logo) pointed out in AdAge, “…some of them could have used a random font generator.” Mark Kingsley on RockPaperInk speculated that the 29 days of logos resembled the efforts of “an inexperienced designer searching for the magic typeface.”
Even though the 29 predecessors set the bar fairly low, the final logo revealed on Day 30 failed to impress most (one of the rare exceptions being an enthusiastic review on Fast Company). Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer’s Tmblr post on the design process added to the ire. In her post, she described how, “one weekend this summer, I rolled up my sleeves and dove into the trenches with our logo design team,” evoking for many logo designers bad memories of micromanagement from clients with a knack for Adobe Illustrator.
She continued with a list of criteria she and her design team were striving to meet, including, “mathematical consistency,” and results that met their internal polling of Yahoo employees. Designer and educator, Christopher Murphy, described Mayer’s post as superficial and revealing an overweening hubris that completely underestimated the design process. It didn’t help that many designers felt a logo iteration by Yahoo intern, Max Ma, was not only far stronger than the final chosen logo, but didn’t even make the cut to be one of the, “29.”
The new logo is based on Optima, Hermann Zapf’s elegant humanist sans serif. The largest complaint from typographers is that the logo word mark is badly kerned. Additionally, the fuzziness of Optima at small sizes, the unsuitability of Optima as a tech company logo font, and the dated look of a subtle bevel applied to the letterforms were pointed out in article after article. A video rationalization of the logo, constructed as an animated blueprint, came under withering attack as nonsensical post-design justification, and was lampooned repeatedly.
The “mathematical consistency” heralded by Mayers was debunked by designer and educator, Glenn Fleishman, as a “ridiculous notion:” “The only type designs that are "mathematically consistent" are used for computer-readable purposes…All other faces…are designed for optical consistency.” Optima itself defies Mayers’ goal of “mathematical consistency,” since it was not designed for mathematical precision, but rather was based on Renaissance-era stone carvings.
Many felt that the real flaw in the Yahoo logo unveiling was less in the design of the logo itself, but in the strategy (or lack thereof) behind the brand development. Oliver Reichenstein wrote in his cutting critique, “Logo, Bullshit & Co.,” “Brand design follows brand management, not the other way around… For a brand like Yahoo there is something more important than spacing, kerning, colors... It’s gaining trust.” Margot Bushnaq on Brand Bucket outlined several mistakes Yahoo made in taking a “lean branding approach:” they designed in isolation, overhyped the rebranding, got stuck in details, and thought too small. Steve Cody spoke for many when he described Yahoo’s effort as not letting the right people do the right jobs: “creative design specialists… not engineers.”
But is the Yahoo logo an unqualified failure? For some designers and business leaders, no. Armin Vit on Brand New described the logo as a disappointment after the expectations raised by the 30-day rollout, but feels that the word mark itself is “fairly nice.”John Maeda, President of Rhode Island School of Design, concludes that in a digital age, companies are distinguished by their product and experience rather than through brand identity alone, and commended Mayers for her visibility, making her, “the perfect living logo.” Mark Kingsley in his article, “Malcontent,” pointed out that Mayers and the Yahoo logo design team “did do pretty much everything more recognized designers would do” in designing the new logo. He speculates that the ire over the logo stems from “the fear that what we once thought as our special ability isn't so special after all.”
Perhaps the most thoughtful response came from UK designer Mark Collins on his blog, Pixxel. Titled “Be nicer,” the article laments the vitriol which the design community unleashes on design it deems substandard. Collins writes, “When commenting on design always try to imagine the designer(s) that created it is in the same room as you. You’re speaking directly to them; human-to-human.”
The article is something of a surprise coming from Collins; he rarely minces words in his acerbic, often funny, on-target articles. As he points out at the outset, he’s frequently guilty of what he preaches. But he nails the instinct to eviscerate when he states that, “the majority of those making negative comments are simply following the voice of the few in a bid to be accepted.” And as he concludes, ultimately only time will tell if a design is truly effective.
The Interaction of Color: Truly Interactive
Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 17, 2013
Design students (particularly those of a certain age) are familiar with Joseph Albers’ tome, The Interaction of Color, published by Yale University Press. The popular reference is an explanation of Albers’ complex color theories, first published in 1963 and illustrated with 150 rich color plates. The Press recently released The Interaction of Color as an iPad app. The app contains the full text of the original book, including 125 color plates and 60 color studies. It’s enhanced with over 2 hours of video commentary and an interactive feature that permits the user to move and overly color swatches. Users can also create and save designs and color palettes into a format read by vector-based design software, such as Illustrator.
For those who prefer the feel of paper (and want to experience Albers’ work in the medium for which it was intended), the Press is also selling an affordable paperback release of the book, released in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the original publication date.Those with deeper pockets can purchase the complete edition as a two-volume set, including lush silk screens of the color plates.
Joseph Albers (1888 – 1976) was a Bauhaus-educated stained glass artist, designer, printmaker, and painter. In 1933, under pressure from the Nazi regime, Albers and his wife Anni emigrated to the United States. Albers became a noted teacher at Black Mountain College in North Caroline; his students included Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Susan Weil. In 1950, he headed the newly-formed Department of Design at Yale University, where he remained as a Fellow after his retirement. Albers is most noted for his work as an abstract painter and color theorist, particularly for his extensive series, “Homage to the Square.” During his diverse career, he created stained glass, designed furniture, printed woodcuts, and produced reliefs in rock and steel.
Below: The app includes interactive color-swapping and video commentary.
Images © Yale University Press.
Carrier Pigeon: Giving Wings to Creativity
Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 29, 2013
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.
Mixed Reactions to Adobe’s Creative Cloud™ Subscription
Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 22, 2013
In 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.
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