How It’s Made: Graphic Design

The design process is, for the most part, different for everyone. In my case, it’s more than a little nonsensical.

Allow me to explain. And here—let’s have an example.

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Earlier in the semester, my assignment in typography class was to create the cover and spread of a theoretical cookbook themed around a recipe. I decided on the 1917 cinnamon war cake recipe I got from my grade ten history teacher because, well, why not? It’s very tasty, and it wasn’t likely I would end up with a similar project to anyone else in the class.

So of course, my theme had to be WWI-related. My very initial thought was to do something like a front line cook book… but then I realized that was probably way overdone. And besides, this recipe wouldn’t have been made on the battleground. So instead, I decided to focus on the home front.

The first stage of development was to write a proposal and strategic brief explaining that thought process in many more words. That was boring and wordy and not worth showing here, so we’ll skip to the beginning of my ideation. (Which is totally a word; don’t let your spell-checker lie to you!)

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Alas, I have an incorrigible addiction to sketching in 4H pencil and you can’t really see what’s gong on in these sketches. The point is, though, that my teacher wanted title cluster experimentation and layout thumbnails. Despite not wanting to do that, I did it. For the marks. Yay. Oh, and also somewhere in here I made a mood board… Which I did not enjoy doing, for the record.

Next up came the wonderful world of “type hierarchical exploration”. (This was on the computer, thank Primus.) Basically, I worked from a layout thumbnail and, in steps, added differences in the hierarchy of my type to make it clearly apparent. Not really worth showing here, I don’t think. It was all InDesign busywork in my opinion. After that, though, I moved on to making half-size comps.

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Computerized and printed type of my final layout and hierarchal structure layered underneath little tissue flaps with colored pencil on them. To be completely honest, I hated this step. I hate making tissue flaps and I hate applying my colors by hand when I can use the select tool in InDesign, select my text, and colorize it with a few clicks. Way easier. Way less arm strain. But no, my teacher wanted hybrid linears, so that was what I had to do. (What is with the obsession with making this stuff harder for your students? I don’t have unlimited energy, you know!)

After some critiquing and drawing, during which I procrastinated mightily and created things the morning of the day they were due before my class at 1330h, I ended up with my final layout. I don’t feel the interim states are worth showing, so here you go:

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(This file is slightly modified from the way it was when I handed in this assignment because I had to use this cook book again for another project in another class. The old version is on another drive that I don’t currently have access to.)

To be honest, I feel like a lot of the steps involved in this process that were mandated were really not good for my process. My teacher advocates for the use of pencil and paper for, well, just about everything leading up to the actual construction of your project. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a waste of my time.

I have a drawing tablet and I can work perfectly well on the computer from the get-go. It’s easier, it’s less stressful, and it makes projects less ugh. Whatever “different thought process” y’all talk about comparing paper and computer? I honestly don’t really follow. The only difference is you can move things on the computer without redrawing everything five billion times. But maybe that’s just me. I do come from a very computer-heavy background, after all.

Don’t get me wrong; I do love working in analogue. I just don’t find that mixing the two systems works very nicely for me. I would rather pick one and stick with it the whole way through.

Consulting the Masters

Before making this blog post, I watched (or, for the most part, listened to whilst making notes) an RGD video with Rita Sasges titled “3 Things I Didn’t Learn in School”, dated 1800h November 28th, 2013.

I went in with the hopes that I would just learn a few things to carry forward in my classes and on into my career after college, if possible. Then, I opened the video—and it was 41 minutes long. I was more than a little bit flabbergasted, to be sure.

The video was packed full of information, life stories, and advice. There’s too much good information to cover in detail in one blog post, so I’ll cover things in brief.

Rita talked about how to sell your ideas to a client—how you shouldn’t talk about your process work; you should talk about the client’s problem and end on your design—the solution. She stressed confidence in delivery and control of the pace being imperative to the success of your presentation. She talked about how the details and the execution of your project are the most important parts.

Rita also highlighted the advantages of making and keeping connections with colleagues who have skills in other disciplines, including the legal and accounting fields. And at the end, after a rant about her pet peeves that made me feel a little better about my own perfectionist, prone to ranting tendencies, she left on a few answered questions. These included what to do with your portfolio as a student and how to get yourself out there when looking for a design job.

All in all, I’m quite pleased in my choice of archived webinar to have spent time on. I will likely look up a few more videos when I have more time—of course, time is always the issue. I’m glad that I took the time for this video, though. 41 minutes isn’t so bad when there’s so much good information packed into it.

Unjustified Design

Recently, I’ve stopped using justified text nearly as much as I used to. I used to have a compulsion to be sure I perfectly filled each line of text—I still do try my hardest to be sure I don’t leave whopping gaps at the end of lines, whether I’m writing digitally or on paper. But I’ve cone to realize that fully-justified text isn’t necessarily the best way to do things.

At first, I’ll admit, I was quite skeptical when my typography instructor impressed this fact upon me. But so many people agree (and have evidence) that I’ve changed my way of thinking somewhat. Ken Adams is one blogger who also advocates for the use of a rag on the right side. Another is David Kadavy. Both make arguments against the use of fully-justified text columns—from rivers in the text, to lines that it’s easier to become lost in, to bad text-block texture.

And I agree with them—for the most part, at least. It’s much more pleasing to the eye not to have massive holes between your words, regardless of how much messier the right edge might look. And it is easier to find and keep one’s place while reading if the margin is rougher on one side, I’ve found.

But at the same time, there is still something I find very pleasing about a perfectly aligned set of margins. I especially love it when the final line of a chunk of text either comes flush with the end of the line or makes a perfect mirror of the initial paragraph indent. It’s so even and symmetrical that way—and if I can do it that way without gappy rivers and gross letter-spacing, I’ll often prefer to. At least, as long as it’s a personal project, anyway.

And anyway, when writing a story (something I dabble in quite frequently), there’s something that’s still oh-so-very bookish about fully-justified text. Somehow the feel of it helps to draw me deeper into the story—like the perfect margins and the slightly different spacing between words frame the world and give the prose its own audible texture inside my head, much the same way placing an em-dash directly before a line break creates a more dramatic pause that’s longer-lasting and easier to savor.

But then again, perhaps that’s just me. I always have been a bit on the strange side of things.

Typography on the Web: And Why it Sucks Like A Dyson

It’s no huge secret that Adobe InDesign has far more typographic control than any web browser does. Microsoft Word is better, too—and even Linux’s LibreOffice Writer has controls for hyphenation and widow/orphan management.

The web has no such controls.

There is, at best, a clunky letter-spacing HTML workaround for kerning that can be applied in-line to individual letter pairs if necessary, but it’s hardly ideal. I’ve used it a couple of times before, and it really is a pain to do—not to mention that in-line CSS styling is generally considered bad practice.

Adjusting each letter pair this way can take you five minutes—in InDesign it might take one, if you’re extremely picky and precise in the way that I often find myself being. But even just locating the letter pairs that need adjustment in HTML can be an additional time-sink. It’s frustrating, it’s inefficient, and it’s one of the few things about HTML that I’m so very irritated by.

The lack of automatic hyphenation is another thing. Giant, unsightly gaps in the text I read online pop out every now and again, and it drives me up the metaphorical wall.

I frequently end up re-wording my own online text content so that it will fit more nicely into the space I’m provided, but I can’t fix the problems seen on another person’s screen. Where do their line breaks sit? I have no idea. Is this massive word going to wrap onto the next line and leave a horrendous gap in the rag? I can’t be sure, but I can be sure that automatic hyphenation settings would mostly fix that sort of thing.

And finally, on the topic of widow/orphan control… That one hanging two-letter word (usually “it”). It’s so incredibly aggravating. It makes me want to scream. It literally does not fit by the breadth of one measly pixel. Kerning would fix it. Hyphenating a line above would fix it. But no—the word sits there, alone, screaming taunts at me.

“I won’t go where you want me! Nyeh!”

And so I’m forced to select a different, shorter word somewhere to move the little scoundrel up to the end of the previous line.

I’m firmly of the opinion that CSS should make the attempt to include things like automatic hyphenation settings and kerning (even manual tracking/kerning for customizable spaces like blogs). But that’s only one person’s opinion, after all. So tell me—what do you think?

I Return, Though Not Triumphant

Welcome back, everyone! (That is, if I actually have any readers beyond my program. I sincerely doubt that.)

I know I said I was going to delete this blog over the Summer, but I never actually got around to it. That’s fortunate in a way, because I have to update it several times again this semester. Y’all can expect some more senseless blogging that I would never do under my own motivation.

Today, we’re going to talk about success. This? This, I do not consider success. This is a disappointment and a sharp increase in my stress levels—but I digress.

Success has perhaps a simultaneously looser and yet let forgiving definition for me than it does for many other people. Success is a thing that I strive for, of course, but often only as a side-effect of my struggle for perfection, or the closest to perfection that I can reach.

Because I’m a perfectionist, success on an assignment means a final mark of eighty percent or higher. A percentage in the seventies is cause for alarm. If a re-test is available to give those at my mark any chance of improvement, I will take it at that point. A mark in the sixties is an outright failure and will send me into a hurricane of internal self-scolding, anger, and distress.

100% completion is its own form of success and perfection. A satisfying completion can come in the form of 100% completion of a video game’s quests, side-quests, and collections; finishing a new chapter in a story I’m writing, even sometimes finishing the story itself; or even meeting and completing all the requirements of an assignment.

There are other things that I can consider success as well. Success is earning a detailed review on my personal creative writing or art—not just a positive one. Success is finishing something before its due date—or on its due date, before it has to be handed in. Success is being able to do something that I really want to do—for example a piece of art or writing. Success is bypassing something I don’t have to or want to do. Success is hearing someone use the correct pronoun in reference to me (‘they’ or ‘them’). Success is being perfectly calm for even a little while. Success is finishing a musical composition and listening to it for days on end in victory.

Because really, that’s what success is to me in the end. Success is a victory. Life is a war and everything I do is another battle large or small, another struggle to conquer, another victory to be won. Vene, vidi, vici is often the way things go for me; my desperate compulsion to be the victor means that I try harder, I do better, and I succeed. And the definition of that ultimate success includes others’ visions of success as well. Success is doing something well—and haven’t I done well so, so many things?

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall; Let’s Reflect upon my Blog

Blogging is something that many people consider to be imperative to building a good reputation in the design world of today. Yes, I do agree with this. However, I am of the opinion that a blog one is instructed to keep is an inconvenience and a stress-point more than anything, at least in my case.

I was first introduced to the wonderful[sarcasm] world of school-assigned blogging in my grade nine year—in the grade ten business class I took. My teacher at the time was very adamant that everyone in the class would all find it very enjoyable.

I thought it was terrifying.

I don’t remember the outcome of that assignment, but I do remember it made me hyperventilate quietly in the back of the room and feel like throwing up.

Here I was, a measly 14-year-old who wasn’t aware of myself as a person yet, and I had no idea why this prospect scared me so much when playing RuneScape under a username didn’t worry me at all and when I was so far from scared of almost anything else in general. Wary, perhaps, and cautious, but not scared. Now that I’m four years wiser and much more self-aware, though, I understand.

It’s because I’m paranoid.

If we fast-forward by four years to first-year college and jump into my first-semester communications class, we run up against another incident of my being instructed to blog for marks. By this time, I understood exactly why I was getting that nauseated, spine-crawling feeling.

It’s because I’m paranoid. My paranoia tells me that someone from the public will find this blog, this blog where I’m being forced to write what has no real thought involved and is on subjects that I would never naturally pursue, and equate it to my actual personality. I’m absolutely terrified of being perceived as a juvenile person by potential employers, of being seen as someone who is anything but who I really am. I’m scared my future reputation will be thoroughly tarnished by these mandatory assignments that I’m forced to comply with if I want the marks (which, because of my perfectionist compulsions, I do). Someone could find this blog when I’m an established designer and see the things I’ve been forced to write about… And they could apply that to me at the present time.

“Oh, hey they wrote about this that one time. Haha, who in their right mind would do that? Wow, I am so not hiring them.”

— Constructs of my paranoia manifesting as potential employers.
At least they use the correct pronouns for me.

But that’s not even getting into the possibilities my paranoid mind cooks up of someone unsavory tracing my very distinctive name to find me in real life. Or of my grandmother somehow finding my blog and discovering—before it’s safe for me to be outed—that I am not the person she thinks I am. I realize that these possibilities are incredibly slim, but one cannot tell that to one’s own paranoia and actually get anywhere.

But back to the story. By the time first semester was over, I was hoping and praying that, in the next semester, I would be able to get confirmation that I would not longer require this incredibly stressful blog so I could get rid of it. But no, of course not; I had to keep the blog around for another semester to use in my typography class as well. At least this time I had one blog post I knew ahead of time that I would probably actually care about (the one on the subject of support for the capital Eszett character), but I had not nearly enough room to write and it ended up feeling awfully stinted and not quite like myself. (What is it with you teachers and your obscenely short word limits?)

I have a freer word limit on this final blog assignment for the semester; it thus sounds far more like I do naturally, tone- and vocabulary-wise. Look at me, getting all meta. Yes, hello, what is the fourth wall? The fourth wall does not exist in blogging. The fourth wall will not protect you.

There are a good many things that this blog was supposed to do for me in this particular class. I was already quite stellar at most of the things where improvement was suggested as something that would happen, and no improvement happened because there wasn’t actually room for it with me. Mostly, all the assignment did that was useful to me was prompt me to learn about the capital Eszett issue, which I have henceforth become quite passionate about. Beyond that, though, the only thing it accomplished was stressing me out.

The deadlines also did not help. When I enjoy a blog, when it’s really my blog and not a school-mandated blog, I do it more frequently and with far more eagerness and passion than I’ve ever even tried to show for this assignment. When there’s a deadline on a blog entry, especially when it comes alongside an assigned subject, it just makes me not want to do it—because it’s forced, it’s not natural, and it’s not me. And also, it’s terrifying.

I’m already planning to delete all the posts on this blog after this last one is marked so that I don’t have to fret about someone reading them over the Summer. I just wish I knew whether or not I can delete the entire blog itself as well.

I will continue blogging, but it definitely won’t be for school purposes. I’ll stay in practice by writing on Tumblr under my pen name about things I have no restriction on as far as subject or vocabulary. Then, once I’m an SRGD, I’ll get back into blogging for design on my own terms.

The Fabled Second-Year Show

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In the graphic design program at St. Lawrence College, there’s a yearly gallery display of second-year students’ work which is aptly called the second year show. A large variety of work done by the students is displayed in this show.

The Classical Fables project piece created by Andrea McAllister is one that stands out because it features concise fables in an eye-catching way. The color palette and style are elegant, simple, and simply pleasing to look at.

McAllister’s design process began by considering the project requirements: to use illustrations relating to classical fables and to style the display of these two fables on a classical grid, “as a fables book would”.

In a private correspondence she stated, “I chose these fables because they were simple and had GREAT morales [sic]. I’m all about life lessons.”

She based her design decisions upon whether or not it suited the classical aesthetic. She also said that it took weeks to finalize her illustrations for the right classical look.

McAllister’s biggest challenge was the cover. She overcame the challenge by following feedback she was given in critiques to improve her work.

While I was studying Andrea’s process of design for this project, it further impressed upon me the importance of accepting and following the advice given by others in critiques. Getting a second opinion will often lead you to a better final product that you might have had.

Your project will be better—and so will your satisfaction, too.

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(All information and images are provided via private email correspondence between Tamarin Silver and Andrea McAllister and used here with appropriate permissions.)