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Communication Design

Copyright Office Closed for Government Shutdown

Posted by Rebecca Blake on October 02, 2013

Because of the Government shutdown, the Copyright Office is closed as of October 1st, 2013. While you can continue to use the online electronic copyright registration system, your copyright registrations will not be processed until the Office reopens. We'll keep you posted on when that happens.

Pushing Pixels: A Fresh Approach to Incorporating Photoshop into Web Design

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 27, 2013

Photoshop workflowIn the past couple years, since web developer Ethan Marcotte’s call for responsive web design, web design has seen significant changes. For designers coming from a traditional print background and accustomed to working within fixed dimensions, the developments in web design have posed a significant challenge to their traditional way of working. Web designer and educator Ian Yates addresses the limits of developing website layouts within Photoshop in his article, Photoshop's Role in a Web Design Workflow.

In the early days of website development, Photoshop, with its robust tools for building layered graphics from scratch and its familiar interface, was the natural software choice for designers. With a limited choice of screen resolutions current, many designers worked assuming a fixed dimension based on the most common screen size. The workflow went from presentation of a static comp, rendered in Photoshop, incorporation of client feedback into the comp, and development of the website based on the final approved design. This workflow wasn’t perfect in that it ignored the inherent fluidity of websites and range of browser window sizes, but it functioned well enough.

With the advent of mobile devices, including smartphones and tablets, a workflow that begins with the dimensions of the website – what Yates termed “establish a fixed canvas and work inwards.” Responsive design requires “thinking from the content outwards, not the page boundaries inwards.” Additionally, working from a static Photoshop layout gives clients the expectation of pixel-perfect fidelity, and doesn’t take into account the flexibility of web typography and browser-rendered page elements.

Instead, Yates proposes a fresh approach to web design which incorporates Photoshop, but isn’t reliant on it. In his workflow, the designer begins with a planning stage in which the relationships between content are sketched out and further developed in wireframes. Photoshop is utilized to develop the colors, textures, and visual elements of the website. The final step is to develop a working prototype of the website. Yates includes several links to resources for each step in this workflow process.

Yates’ article appears on the website, Tuts+, a hub of articles and tutorials on design and illustration, #D and animation, game design, development, audio and video production, and more. Tuts+ offers a wealth of resources for creatives at no cost – many of their articles and tutorials are openly accessible. More extensive tutorials are also available on Tuts+ Premium at a cost of $19 per month.

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

Cover art Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines, 14th edition © 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

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.

Details from the cover art, © Jose CruzThe 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 logo © YahooYahoo’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

Interaction of Color iPad app and book, © Yale University PressDesign 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.

Interaction of Color iPad screenshots © Yale University Press

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