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.)

Romans and Serifs and Printing, Oh My!

Many people have already written about the topic I’m going to cover today. However, because I’m well-known among my circle of close friends for talking about things everyone else has already spoken on, I have no qualms in saying that today I’d like to talk about the Renaissance period—with regards to typography.

The Renaissance was a time of great creative and mechanical advances which began in Italy. Typography was one of many things which received a boost in this period. The invention of both Gutenberg’s printing press and Roman-style typefaces helped to pave the way for modern typography.

It’s the typeface that I’ll be discussing in a little more detail. Nicolas Jenson’s Roman-style typeface set the stage for modern lettering. In contrast with the heavy strokes and dense, complicated flourishes of the blackletter typefaces which were used for print after Gutenberg’s printing press was developed, this new typeface is far more clean and easily legible. It has an appearance which would not be out of place even in a modern typesetting application.

Aside from the fact that the image is very small (good images are hard to come by) and the text is in Renaissance-era Italian or Latin, the letters are easily legible. I know for a fact that blackletter typesetting is not nearly so readable at small sizes—I’ve tried to read printed text set in blackletter before (in German, and in a physical book, no less), and it went quite badly. Jenson’s typeface, however, is easy to decipher.

This break from tradition into something new and wonderful with an influence that lasts so long is typical of the Renaissance era. Works of art such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Last Supper are still regarded as some of the greatest paintings of all time. They are still as beautiful now as they were then; just the same, Jenson’s idea of Roman-style letters for typesetting is every bit as functional today as it was then—if not more so, because blackletter is no longer a feasible fallback option.

In my opinion, making note of such huge successes in classical design is incredibly important. The design of a typeface which inspires the style of lettering for centuries to come is a clear example of ideas gone very, very right. It’s inspiring to me that such a huge change from the norm of the times could take off and have such success long-term. It’s exactly this that I feel is the largest benefit to studying older design, in fact. The possibility for such huge success is still around today, and that’s incredibly inspiring.

And isn’t inspiration the biggest factor in coming up with successful design to begin with?

References:

“Timeline of Typography.” moravian.edu, n.d. Web. 4 March 2015. <http://home.moravian.edu/students/s/stsss03/portfolio/photographs/timeline_shostak.pdf&gt;

Token718. “Nj_ceaser.jpg.” Photograph. Wikipedia. Wikimedia upload, 17 November 2011. Web. 4 March, 2015. <http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b0/Nj_ceasaer.jpg&gt;

The Capital Eszett

Ein großes Problem für Deutsch Typografie!

Because of the diverse additional characters in the alphabets of the Western world, there is a strong need for the inclusion of special characters in typefaces.

Characters such as É/é, Å/å, and Ñ/ñ are already supported in many typefaces. This makes typography in languages like Spanish, French, and Swedish easy to do without losing the meaning and pronunciation of words. Some languages, however, are not always so lucky.

The German alphabet contains additional letters with umlauts, as well as one other character—the eszett. As said in an article on ergonis, “The eszett (sometimes referred to as the esszett or Scharfes S) is a letter that is totally unique to the German alphabet” (German letters, n.d.). The appearance of the eszett is similar to a Greek beta:

The eszett represents a sharp “S” sound—not, as non-German speakers might assume from the appearance, a “B” sound. This means the word “weiß” sounds similar to the English word “vice” (although it means “white”).

There is a problem with the use of the eszett, however. Because it never appears at the beginning of a word, it was not initially created with an uppercase form—only a lowercase one. Because of this, any instance of an eszett has traditionally been replaced with “SS” when rendered in uppercase or small-caps. This can, however, cause confusion between similarly spelled and pronounced words and names. This necessitates the use of a capital eszett character for typesetting (Capital Sharp S, 2011).

German Typographers have had to invent this capital eszett as a new Unicode character. It looks like this:

However, compared to the number of typefaces that exist on our planet, only a few support the capital eszett. Support for the character is especially sparse on mobile devices (Hardly any Support, 2012).

Many people argue that there is no need for this character. However, as Herrmann argues quite thoroughly (2011), there are multiple reasons. More common support for and use of the capital eszett character will reduce confusion in uppercase and small-caps typesetting of all kinds.

Is not conveying a message without confusion the reason for typography? And wouldn’t supporting the capital eszett help that goal in the German-speaking world?

I invite you to share your opinions on the ẞ!

References:

“German letters – umlauts and the eszett” ergonis. n.p., n.d. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://www.ergonis.com/products/tips/german-umlauts-eszett.php >.

“Capital Sharp S – Germany’s new character” Typography.guru. Ralf Hermann, 23 Jan. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://typography.guru/journal/germanys-new-character/ >.

“Hardly any Support for the Character Capital Sharp S (ẞ) on Mobile Devices” opentype.info. Ralf Herrmann, 10 July 2012. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://opentype.info/blog/2012/07/10/capital-sharp-s-mobile/ >.

Image Credits:

“126.gif.” Image. Paratype. Eszett, 2004. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://www.paratype.com/pictures/help/term/126.gif >.

“Capital_ß.svg.” Image. Public domain. Wikimedia, 2008. Web. 11 Feb. 2015 < http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e4/Capital_%C3%9F.svg/220px-Capital_%C3%9F.svg.png >.

Type-BLOG-raphy

On occasion, a designer will find themselves in need of inspiration for typographical projects. Visiting a blog dedicated to the art of typography can serve as that source of inspiration, but finding a good blog to visit can be an intimidating prospect. When found, however, these shining jewels among blogs stand out quite clearly as sources of Muse.
One such blog is Typostrate. This blog immediately comes across as impressive. Scrolling horizontally between header and content are many black-and-white examples of different typographic pieces. Below this are more examples, some similar and some different, but in this case in color. The explanatory type on the blog is easily legible; the title is also legible, and attention-getting as well; and the typographic examples shown display many different forms and meanings. There is even an option for designers and typographers to submit their own typographic works to the blog. It’s a wonderful source for a variety of inspiration!
Another blog I was pleased to stumble upon is Wayfinding & Typography. The blog has very clean and easy-to-use navigation, which is a big plus. And, knowing from reading the ‘about’ section that the author of the blog is German, the minor language errors are easily excusable. The blog discusses topics such as character support for unusual characters not used in English (for example, the “capital sharp S” character, ẞ), signage, and webfonts[sic]. It’s very cool and worth a look, especially for those who consider support for other languages to be an important feature in a font, which I definitely do.
A third and final blog I would like to share is the design et typo blog. (The blog is written in French, and I did read it in French, but a link to the translated page is available for English-speakers.) An example of one interesting post on this blog is one where the author of the blog was asked to review another, younger typographer’s typo en mouvement, or “moving typography”. What’s really cool about this is the fact that the blog author was willing to review it and offer helpful input like he did. I always enjoy seeing a professional that is willing to help a younger person along and tell them not to give up. It’s really heartwarming, on top of the blog and its content being inspiring.
Of course, these aren’t the only inspiring typography blogs on the internet. When I searched for “typography blog” in a Google search, it yielded “about 25,600,000 results” in “0.25 seconds”! That’s way more than I could possibly comb through, so don’t take my word as the be-all-to-end-all of great typography blogs. Go ahead and hunt for yourself as well… But definitely check out those listed here, too. If you like my writing, then chances are you’ll like the work on those blogs as well.

…Nah, I Think I’ll Write This Later.

Almost all of us do this, for one reason or another. Either you’re lazy, you’re tired, you’re fed up with a class, or you’ve just forgotten you have work to do—there are all sorts of reasons. And this thing is awful; it’s no help to anything in the long run, but yet I, like many others, fall victim to it again and again. This thing of which I speak is, of course, procrastination.

Procrastination, for the uninformed, is the practice of procrastinating—id est, to put off work until ‘later’ for a lengthy amount of time in favor of being generally unproductive. Many a time I’ve procrastinated on an assignment, only to find myself stressed out and rushing to complete it right before the deadline. (It’s a good thing I’m productive under pressure, or my bad procrastination habit would have doomed me right from the start of public school.)

Today, I’d like to write a little bit about how to prevent procrastination. It’s something that gets talked about a lot, but it does bear repeating so that it sinks in more effectively.

The first thing that really helps avoid procrastination is to impose limits upon yourself. Let’s say you give yourself so many hours of free time per day; the rest of the day, you have to do work, and so your projects will fit into that time slot. When I staunchly forbid myself from accessing my diversions, I’m able to get a lot more work done.

Another thing is to offer yourself rewards for completing tasks. If you finish that big project, you can get into that chocolate bar you’ve been craving. Such incentives work very well for a lot of people, according to basically everything I’ve ever read, ever, and also upon my own experiences.

The third good motivation to get your projects done on time is to move to a place where you will be less likely to be distracted. When I work in the studio instead of in my room, I’m far less tempted by the presence of computer devices to browse through tumblr and chat on Gmail instead of doing my projects. It also helps me get more into the mindset to work. The studio is a place specifically for work, so while I’m there, I work.

And finally, the absolute most important thing to arm yourself with in the battle against procrastination is willpower. This is something that trips up a lot of people; I’m an ongoing victim of weak willpower, and that’s why my procrastination habits continue. You have to want to do your project and get it done in good time. Convince yourself that you’ll be better off if you do. Limit your access to diversions—perhaps even move to another location to do so—and offer yourself incentive to get things done.

But most of all, remember not to push yourself too hard, either. Neither pulling an all-nighter the day you get an assignment nor pulling an all-nighter the night before an assignment is due will make you a very happy camper. Remember to eat, sleep, and set aside at least a little time to relax and wind down.

Classic Cars Versus Graphic Design

Classic: adj. 1. an older style; 2. a style which never goes out of fashion.

There’s just something striking about the look of a well-kept classic car. Back in the days when the look and sound of a vehicle was more important than its fuel economy or its affordability, those big, beautiful cars you see in classic car magazines and at antique car shows reigned supreme. The Lincoln Continental, the Lamborghini Countach LP500S, the Ferrari 250 GT California Spyder, the 1970s Dodge Challenger, the Lancia Stratos—all are snazzy, look-at-me examples.

But above all those other cars (yes, even above the expensive Lamborghinis and Ferraris!), the one vehicle that makes me stop and stare, without fail, is a Chevrolet Corvette C3 Stingray Coupe. The purr of that beautiful engine alone is unhealthily sexy, but the look of that car is the real attention grabber. The Stingray is a multi-meter long car, with the majority of its length in the front—a feature that puts it in stark contrast with rounder modern cars. The hood of the ’Vette rises at the sides above the front wheels for a distinct and characteristic silhouette; the metal skin rises in an arc over the rear wheel wells in a way that draws the eye back to that gorgeous hood and pulls the look of the whole car together into one unified whole. Yes, I am a big fan of the Corvette C3. (Show me one in royal blue and I will squeal.) But why is that at all important for a graphic design blog?

Well, I’ve said it already. The Stingray is an attention snatcher. And just what is it that graphic design is primarily for? Well, it’s to snatch attention, of course! And it’s a strong belief of mine that good design is like a good classic car. There are a few points that factor in especially strongly on that note.

Your car should, ideally, stand out from all the boring, purely efficiency-based cars on the road around you; so should your design stand out from the efficient, but plain signs of the stores down the lane and across the street from you—you want to draw attention to your business or client, instead of the competitor. Your car should make people stop and stare; so should your design make people want to look at it, rather than turning them away. Your car should be memorable, the kind of car that people think about after you’ve turned the corner; so should your graphics inspire thought in your audience, so they’ll remember your message. And finally, just as your car should be beautiful and uniquely yours, so should your design be distinctive and easy on the eyes—a graphic that seems commonplace or ugly can’t make its intended impact, because almost no one wants to look at something boring or unsightly.

Now, maybe classic cars aren’t your thing—maybe cars in general just don’t interest you—but the point stands regardless. Design should catch attention. And more importantly, design should be classic—modern is all well and good, of course, but if you go with the modern, utilitarian look, you’ll never stand out. Be bold, be sleek, and be the designer who can’t put up a design without turning heads from across the street. Stand out like a beautiful, unique Corvette among the commonplace cars of the day; not only will you earn yourself more attention, but that attention will lead to you earning yourself more business as a graphic designer, too.

Rhythm and Beat Design into Submission!

Work it harder, make it better, do it faster, makes us stronger!
More than ever, hour after, our work is never over!

Daft Punk – Discovery – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

I find that working with fun, catchy, and inspirational music playing in the background leads to me turning out work that’s easily two times less riddled with teensy little perfectionists’ horrors—those tiny flaws that only you and your instructors can ever seem to spot; the ones that you let go because you’re just too frustrated with the project at hand to bother avoiding or fixing them anymore. Many people prefer to work in silence to keep their focus, and that’s fine, but I have some very good reasons why a lot of the time, it’s better to work with music playing in the background instead.

An important thing to remember is that design feeds off of creativity and inspiration. There are certainly a lot of design concepts that can be taught and referenced out of a book—what the individual parts of letters are called, which colors have good contrast together, how to balance and align the bits and pieces of your design professionally, and other such things—but without the initial idea, no creation ever truly gets off the ground. There have been times where I’ve had an assignment to do for some creatively-oriented class or another, when I’ve been told to write a limerick for English class or draw a short comic for art class, and I’ve simply had no ideas. In other words, I’ve been without inspiration. And in most cases, if I turn to music, that inspiration will be with me in only a matter of moments, a song or two, maybe only a couple of verses. That one perfect lyric will jump out at you and flick the switch in your head—this is what I should do! Music is a valuable source for creativity fuel; it would be foolish never to turn to others’ vocals for inspiration. (Just be sure never to plagiarize! Nothing is ever truly, completely original, but that doesn’t mean you can blindly copy everything from a song, either.)

So, now you have your idea. Turn off the music so you can focus, right? Well, um, okay, if you really can’t focus with any background noise, go right ahead… But I strongly suggest you leave the music on. Why? Because one: it will continue to inspire you and help you develop your idea further; two: it will keep you from losing track of your original idea; and three: it will muffle out the sounds of any other potentially distracting noises around you—you can’t hear your roommate shuffling around and making noise in the kitchen nearly as clearly when Daft Punk is crooning sweet, sweet Digital Love into your ears. It also has the added bonus of warning people who know you, and know that you listen to music while working, that you’re busy and they should either warn you before coming in to talk with you, or just stay away altogether. If you’re working in silence, it could be assumed that you’re doing something that can be interrupted. For example, my sister has the bad habit of barging into my room unannounced and making declarations when I don’t have my ‘I’m working’ music on, but if I do, she generally leaves me alone—unless it’s really important, of course.

Listening to music is also useful for another couple of key reasons: it kills boredom and keeps your stress levels down. If you’re enjoying the music you have playing, you’re less likely to wander away from your project in search of something that can actually hold your interest for more than a few minutes. (I’ve done this. I forgot about the project for a couple of hours. It wasn’t fun.) And, if you’re enjoying the music, you’ll generally be happier, which means you’re less likely to get angry and mess up whatever it is that you’re working on—or mess up yourself, which would be even worse. If switching on the Homework album can help you keep a cool head and stay safe while you’re working on, well, your homework—definitely go for it!

Work hard, do things as well as you can, never slouch about and procrastinate on your work, and you’ll only be all the stronger for it creatively. You may have more and more assignments piling up, you may be toiling for hours on end, and it may feel like you’ll never, ever be finished with your work—but when you have music playing, it will most likely be quite a bit easier to handle. Take my word for it; I wrote this whole blog article while listening to music, and boy, am I glad I did! Find a musical genre that works for you creatively, and let’s see what you can produce while the notes are washing over you~.