How (Not) To Write Like A Designer BUT Blogging Is Totally Cool!

February 18, 2009

Somali Pirates prefer Direct Deposit

When starting this blog, I was more concerned with the writing aspect of it. Whether relating a certain topic to my experiences as a designer, or simply doing a bit of research and writing about design history, my intent was (and still is) to weave some kind of narrative into my posts. Despite my love for the game (the game=graphic design), if I could make a living as a writer (or Somali Pirate), I probably would. That being said, I’d be foolish to not share this article from Core77, How (Not) To Write Like A Designer. Design writer, William Bostwick gives five tips on how to write about what we do.

While the article focuses primarily on writing copy for clients, the tips apply to any kind of writing. Maybe not blog writing though, because we all know that Blogilslavakia is a land of lawlessness — abound with grammatical misfires, unnecessary quotations, and scriptural disarray. But that’s what makes it so much fun!

I remember reading a few years ago that blogging was eroding the English language. I’m not so sure about that. I like to compare bloggers to the hobbyists who ushered in The Age of Radio, or the artists, writers, and designers who created the 60s counterculture magazines. Granted, a lot of us are in it for the clicks, but I don’t have to be older than I am to say, never before has there been this much writing on design. We can’t all be making ourselves dumber. Or are we?

Anyways, someone should do a How To Write Blog Like A Designer article. I’d do it but I’m rather hungry at the moment. I’m also having a tremendous craving for Raisinets, whose original wrapper (thanks Candy Wrapper Museum!) actually makes me want Cracker Jack(s?) instead.


Or maybe I’ll just have a Shaquille O’neal Mr. Big bar.

People you should know about: Earnest Elmo Calkins, the Father of Modern Advertising (the grandfather of graphic design?)

December 30, 2008

C.L. Barber’s The Commercial Messenger

One of my favorite podcasts is SVA’s MFA Designer As Author: Paul Rand Lecture Series. Each podcast, most of which are lectures by Steven Heller, covers a topic in the history of graphic design. This morning, I watched Earnest Elmo Calkins and the Birth of Commercial Modernism. In it Heller discusses Calkins and how he is responsible for commercial modernism in America, or more precisely the melding of art and advertising to create the early manifestations of the industry that now drives American culture.

Calkins, an ad man, sought to advance the profession of advertising with an almost idealist bent. He believed advertising had the potential to uplift culture. While the goal of advertising is to sell, a result is also an implicit agreement between manufacturer and consumer that what is advertised lives up to its promise. This leads to higher quality products. In a consumerist culture, I guess that could be considered ‘uplifting.’ Calkins also believed in the modernist idea of the amalgamation of art and industry. Apparently his first exposure to the world of art was at the Pratt Institute (*cough* I went there) School of Design Exhibition(source). In the MFA podcast, Heller attributes Calkins interests in art to his visit to The 1925 Exposition of Art and Industrial Products in Paris. It was there that Calkins discovered modern art (Art Deco), and subsequently brought it back to the states and began incorporating the style into advertising.

Modern art reflected the monumental change that was happening in the early 1900s as the world shifted out of the industrial age and into the machine age. The motifs of modern art were reactions as well as celebrations of new distinctly modern phenomena like airplanes, trains, and even motion itself. By advocating this idea of art in industry, Calkins brought this new and exciting art to the masses via advertising. It must be noted though, that Calkins aim wasn’t only to bring together style or art and commerce, but to use the art to alter the perception of goods, which in turn promoted sales. This was done through not only the implementation of the modern style but the style adapted to what we now refer to in the creative process as the concept. This is essentially the birth of the creative team. Calkins employed artists and assigned them briefs which they would then solve using their style. The style reflected the times but also invoked an emotion that could be used to stimulate consumption, thus, the birth of modern advertising.

You could say Earnest Elmo Calkins wrote the book on modern advertising. Actually, he did; it’s called Modern Advertising. Written with partner Ralph Holden, Modern Advertising details the mechanisms of advertising. It is essentially the blueprint for advertising as it has been for almost a century.

I’m still reading through the book as well as learning about Calkins, but I just wanted to bring attention to Earnest Elmo Calkins, as he is partly responsible for our very profession, graphic design.

People you should know about

December 15, 2008

When I think of design authors, the first person who comes to mind is Steven Heller. After that I got nothin’. In the past, it wasn’t something I’d given much attention. Lately, however, I’m finding myself just as interested in the author of an essay as I am its content. My guess is there are definitely some “heavy hitters” out there, the folks who write about design, and write about design A LOT. Ellen Lupton is one such heavy hitter.

Author of eight books on design, and countless articles and essays, her bio reads like a bibliography of design institutions and resources. She’s contributed to Print, ID, Eye, Metropolis, The New York Times, New York Magazine, and other publications. Even more incredible, she not only writes about design but is fully active in the community as a designer, curator, and director of the Graphic Design MFA program at MICA.

In her bio it says she has ‘recently focused on bringing design awareness to broader audiences’ and it’s apparent even on her site. It includes an essays section featuring writings on a variety of topics pertinent to design, an interviews section with interviews she has done with notable graphic designers (Michael Bierut, Carin Goldberg, Jonathan Hoefler, Paula Scher), and even a section with tips on how to become a design author. It’s an incredible resource for designers, or anyone interested in design at all.

I’m going to continue my search for heavy hitters and posting about them here. In the meantime, check out Ellen Lupton’s site, and definitely bookmark it.

Chicken Soup

December 4, 2008

Since an early age, I’ve been waking up at the crack of dawn. I come from a long line of early risers. My mother was a schoolteacher who woke up every morning around 5. My grandmother lives in England, and honestly, I don’t know her sleeping habits but whenever she visited during the holidays, she’d be up just as early as my mother, sipping her morning tea. Before I moved to America, I lived with my great grandmother in Jamaica. I don’t remember much about those times, but I do know Mama didn’t take no mess, and she probably had us all up before the cock even waddled its way out the chicken coop. The point I’m trying to make here is I get up early.

When I worked full-time, my days began with the typical morning routine, followed by a few minutes on the computer, checking email and reading the latest headlines. Rarely was there time to sit and recharge my senses, as your Yogi might say. These days are a little different. My predisposition to waking up early, coupled with the fact that I now work at a tiny workspace in the corner of my room, allows my mornings almost infinite possibilities. Some mornings I wake up, immediately walk to my lonely acoustic guitar and awkwardly, though passionately, finger my way through my paltry repertoire of nineties pop songs. Other mornings, I walk straight to my desk and resume working on whatever project I had been tinkering with the night before. And then there are mornings like these. The mornings you wake up and you’re so inspired you want to call radio stations. Well, not really.

Anyway, some mornings you get up feeling like TODAY I WILL DO SOMETHING GOOD. Those mornings pretty much anything you come across has the potential to inspire. Combine that with a healthy blog-reading habit and you’ve got the recipe for a Chicken Soup For The Soul kind of day. If you’ve ever read any of those books, you know that nothing inspires people more than other people’s stories. Well, this morning while browsing Design Observer (I read other blogs but Design Observer is just so good!), I came across this interview with designer, Carin Goldberg, from Success Secrets of the Graphic Design Superstars, a blog whose namesake pretty much sums up its content. Goldberg is one of my favorite designers. She’s designed hundreds of book covers, some of which I have here on my bookshelf (love these!). Her work is so inspiring to me because it appears to come from a deep understanding of design history, as well as a highly conceptual thought process. Not only that, she does what I want to do: work with writers. Every time I look at her work, I get that warm feeling inside about the possibilities of my career as a designer. Yeah, it’s being sentimental, but as the poet Beau Sia once championed, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH SENTIMENTAL?”

Get some chicken soup here
Go see Carin Goldberg’s work here

What do Tom Hanks and Graphic Designers have in common? Nothing, but. . .

November 18, 2008


Remember the film Cast Away, that charming turn of the century picture starring the indelible Tom Hanks as a corporate executive, left stranded on a desert island after a plane crash? Remember Wilson — Wilson, the volley ball, Tom Hanks only friend and the one thing he had for company on that lonely desert isle?

Well, Imagine if you replaced Tom Hanks with a graphic designer(yourself), and Wilson the volley ball with a modest collection of design books and resources. I’d say you’d be left with something like this:

Make Five’s Desert Island Reading for Graphic Designers, a top five, and runner-ups of graphic design reference books.

Some of my favorites: Megg’s History of Graphic Design, Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style, A Smile In The Mind, How To Be A Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul(Though I feel this should be a runner-up)

*thanks Kristy for the link