Graphic Means: Film Project Explores Pre-Digital Design Production
Posted by Rebecca Blake on March 18, 2016
A film trailer released in early March has received a lot of attention, particularly among designers of a certain age (and with the Xacto knife scars to show). The trailer is for a film currently in production: Graphic Means: A History of Graphic Design Production. The film is the labor of love of designer and educator Briar Lovit, and explores the pre-digital era of graphic design, when design tools included T-squares, Letraset, amberlith, and a good relationship with a typesetting studio. Recently, Lovit talked with us about how the project came about.
Lovit never intended to produce a film. Her background is in book design, and she came of age as a designer in the mid-1990s, well after design schools had migrated their programs to be primarily digital. However, as she collected old design manuals from the 1970s and 80s – Lovit is an avid thrift shopper – she became fascinated by the step-by-step processes described in the books. Doug Wilson’s film Linotype gave her the inspiration to pursue a film about pre-digital design production. (Wilson is more than just a role model; he’s been actively mentoring her on the Graphic Means film.)
The timing is perfect for such a film. The revolution from manual production to digital design is fairly recent, and many of the people who made the transition are still around. She’s pulled together an impressive list of interviewees for the film, luminaries such as Steven Heller, Ellen Lupton, Tobias Frere-Jones, Ken Garland (creator of the iconic peace sign), and James Craig (author of Designing with Type). But what will give the film texture and weight are the unsung production heros she dug up: Gene Gable, who for many years ran the pre-press trade show Seybold Seminars; Frank Romano, the design historian and former editor of International Paper Pocket Pro (an indispensible resource for designers preparing print files); and a group of former cold typesetters in New York City, among others.
While young designers will be amused by the unrecognizable artifacts of a bygone era, Lovit feels there’s a larger story about how the creative process has been altered, and not necessarily for the good. She by no means rejects the ease that digital tools bring to design. However, as she put it, there has been a loss in contemplation, and inexperienced designers skip steps to rush to a final product. In her design classes (Lovit is Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at Portland State), she asks her students to ideate on paper before proceeding to the computer. The skill and labor that the manual techniques required, from creating comps on board to preparing color separations with amberlith film, meant that designers had to make much more deliberate, well-considered choices – something she hopes to impart to her students.
The film got its initial funding through a successful Kickstarter campaign, which raised one quarter of the total budget required for completion. Currently the film is in post-production, and Lovit is enjoying the collaborative process with Dawn Jones Redstone, her director of photography, and editor Emily VonW. Gilbert. She’s also been getting a lot of positive press, and was invited to run a session at the Portland Design Week on April 20th. Participants will be able to view “live paste-up demos” (mechanical artists would roll their eyes), rub their own Letraset letters, and view the Graphic Means trailer. Lovit is also actively fundraising, in part by selling calendars, buttons, and a pre-order for the film’s DVD off the film’s online shop.
NYPL Adds Public Domain Images to Digital Collections for Reuse by Artists
Posted by Rebecca Blake on February 02, 2016
The New York Public Library (NYPL) has added over 674,000 public domain images to their on online database of digital collections. The public domain database includes prints, photographs, maps, video, and manuscripts, which can be downloaded in high resolution. The NYPL statements on the collection indicate that the materials are out-of-copyright, and the public is invited to “go forth and reuse!”. However, a closer look at the NYPL selection process indicates that some images may not be public domain, or may have additional rights assigned, and artists are cautioned to proceed carefully before using the images.
The collection was developed with the NYPL Labs, an interdisciplinary team within the library with the mission of positioning the Library’s collections for the digital age. The NYPL Digital Collections overall provide a great resource of research, educational, and reference material for designers and illustrators. Visitors to the Collections can search by keyword, scroll through recently uploaded items, or browse collections such as Fashion, Nature, For Designers, or Book Arts and Illustrations. For illustrators needing reference material for historic projects, for example, illustrations of 1930s era farm life, the search features and collections can be a tremendous aid. To select for public domain images within a collection, the user checks the “Show Only Public Domain” filter selection. This filters for only images the NYPL believes are out-of-copyright.
Above: When in a collection, be sure to select for only public domain images to view images the NYPL has flagged as available for reuse.
While the newly added materials are described as “public domain” (items for which the coyright has expired or doesn't exist), the Library doesn’t commit to that legal designation. The Library legal team utilizes services such as reverse image searches and the Catalog of Copyright Entries to research the copyright status of items before release. However, because of changes in US copyright law, and the lack of provenance on many images (in particular photos), the NYPL demurs to definitively state the items are public domain. Instead, their blog post on the public domain additions clarifies that the legal team was unable to find copyrights to the items, and states that the Library is unable “to guarantee that we have not made a mistake in either the facts or the law.” The rights statement on the public domain images reads “We believe that this item has no known US copyright restrictions.” The statement also warns that the items may be additionally restricted: “The item may be subject to rights of privacy, rights of publicity and other restrictions.”
In celebration of the release, the Library is inviting the public to apply for a “Remix Residency.” The NYPL Labs is accepting proposals to reuse and remix from the collection to create “transformative, interesting, beautiful new uses of our digital collections.” As examples of such uses, they’ve provided links to sample NYPL public domain remixes, such as “Navigating the Green Book,” an exploration of travel guides that showed restaurants, hotels, and other establishments open to African Americans during the age of segregation. NYPL Labs is accepting proposals through the end of February. Recipients of the residency will receive a $2,000 stipend, consultation with the Lab’s staff and curators, and workspace in the NYPL research rooms.
Designer Jonathan Barnbrook Releases David Bowie “Blackstar” Graphics for Noncommercial Use
Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 29, 2016
In remembrance of David Bowie, designer Jonathan Barnbrook has released the graphics used on Bowie’s last album, Blackstar, for non-commercial use. Barnbrook announced the release via Twitter, and on Bowie’s Facebook page. The Facebook post describes the release as a tribute to Bowie: “Barnbrook loved working with David Bowie, he was simply one of the most inspirational, kind people we have met. So in the spirit of openness and in remembrance of David we are releasing the artwork elements of his last album ★ (Blackstar) to download here free under a Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.”
The post encourages fans to use the artwork for t-shirts, tattoos, and other artwork, but cautions that the license prohibits the use of the elements in anything that will be sold.
Barnbrook is an award-winning designer and typographer based in London. His studio has designed books, corporate identities, CDs, websites, and motion graphics, and distributes original typefaces through VirusFonts. Barnbrook worked closely with Bowie on a number of projects, including the design of packaging and collateral for the albums Heathen, The Next Day, Nothing has Changed, and Blackstar. In an interview with Dezeen magazine, Barnbrook acknowledged that the Blackstar album design marked Bowie’s mortality: “The Blackstar symbol [★], rather than writing ‘Blackstar’, has as a sort of finality, a darkness, a simplicity, which is a representation of the music.”
Below: Some of the graphics available for download. © Jonathan Barnbrook
Design Community Dismayed by Decision to Crowdsource Tokyo Olympics Logo
Posted by Rebecca Blake on January 22, 2016
At first it seemed that the Tokyo Olympics were on track for building a strong identity for the 2020 games. In July 2015, the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee unveiled a logo designed by Kenjiro Sano, a compilation of flat shapes that created a stylized Didone T, combined with a red sun identifier for Japan. The logo was an homage to the simple graphics created for the 1964 Tokyo Summer and 1971 Sapporo Winter Olympics, and was a refreshing contrast to the energetic, hand-script driven identities created for the Beijing, London, and Rio Games. However, the development of the Tokyo Olympics identity went into a tailspin when Belgian designer Olivier Debie accused Sano of plagiarizing Debie’s logo for the Théâtre de Liege.
When Debie and the Theatre filed a joint plagiarism lawsuit against the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the Tokyo Olympic Committee scrapped Sano’s logo. However, the committee’s solution to finding a logo was equally controversial. In mid-October, the committee announced it was crowdsourcing the logo design via a contest, essentially resorting to spec work. The winning logo designer would be awarded 1,000,000 Japan yen ($8,250) and two tickets to the opening ceremony, but would relinquish all rights to the logo in perpetuity. Numerous designers and arts organizations reacted with dismay, and the AIGA issued an open letter asking the committee to reconsider its decision.
AIGA’s letter to the Tokyo Olympic Committee, written by former executive director Ric Grefé, referenced AIGA’s opposition to spec work. First, the letter pointed out that the contest asked designers to contribute hours of unpaid work in the hope of being compensated. Secondly, by opening the contest to the general public rather than limiting it to trained designers, the Committee was disrespecting the design profession and devaluing the work of designers. Third, the reward offered for the winning logo is far below a fair fee for a mark that will generate vast licensing income. Grefé concluded by pointing out that the copyrights for the logo should properly reside with the designer, and not with the committee “in perpetuity.”
Grefé’s eloquent letter pointed out that the logo contest belies Japan’s strong design history: “Japan has a universally admired graphic design profession and legacy, imbued with stunning visual imagery, strong typography, yet simplicity, directness, and elegance in its highest and best form… we believe that you are compromising one of the powerful messages others in the world perceive as emerging from Japan: a strong graphic and visual design tradition, innovative visual explorations, and respect for every profession.”
Despite the controversy, the Tokyo Olympic Committee proceeded apace with the logo contest, garnering 14,599 submissions. (That resolve was not a huge surprise. The logo for the Tokyo Olympic candidate city bid had been crowdsourced similarly.) In early January, the committee announced that they had narrowed the selection to four submissions, which are undergoing an intensive review to ensure that the designs do not infringe on copyrights or trademarks.
The committee also responded to AIGA’s letter, stating that they felt the contest process was “a good opportunity” to engage the Japanese people. By engaging the President of the Tokyo University of the Arts to chair the selection committee, and involving 20 designers who are members of the Japan Graphic Designers Association (their equivalent of AIGA), they felt they were providing enough oversight to ensure the selection of a high quality design. Lastly, the Committee pointed out that the transfer of intellectual property rights complied with the Olympic Charter issued by the IOC, and has been standard practice for Olympic Committees.
In their follow-up on Eye on Design on January 17, AIGA opined that the Tokyo Olympic Committee simply didn’t understand the issue with work on spec. AIGA concluded that while they hadn’t expected the Committee to end the contest, they hoped that other organizations would “use their power and influence to create change for the greater good in the future, and not just make the decision that benefits them at a particular moment, regardless of the wider, global implications.”
In the meantime, the Tokyo Olympic Committee plans to unveil their final selection in March. Sano, the designer of the original Tokyo logo, continues to insist that he did not plagiarize Debie’s logo. Debie, however, has withdrawn his lawsuit, citing prohibitive legal costs. Debie’s potential to recoup his costs may have been hampered by his failure to register the Theatre’s logo design as a trademark.
Below: The logo design contest requires applicants to show their submissions in a variety of formats.
Holiday GIFts, Courtesy of Creative Mornings
Posted by Rebecca Blake on December 15, 2015
Creative Mornings, the global network of free breakfast talks on creativity and technology, posted a wonderful freebie for creative professionals during the month of December[L1] . The “GIF Channel” is a wall of GIF animations on themes relevant to freelancers and agency staff: waiting for feedback or payment, finishing a long project, or searching for motivation. The organization curated a collection of GIF animations, and has invited viewers to share a GIFt with their clients.
If you’re unfamiliar with Creative Mornings, their website is worth bookmarking. Their “Talks” page features links to over 2,600 Creative Mornings talks, filterable by city, theme, length, and language, pulled from their YouTube channel. Recently, they’ve published a channel of their most popular podcasts. If you’d care to check out a live Creative Mornings event, their “Cities” page links to local event pages.
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