Who and What Are You Working For? Jeff Goodby Ruffles Some Ad Man Feathers

June 24, 2009

There’s a shitstorm of dialogue brewing over on AdAge right now. Earlier today, Adage published an article written by world famous ad man Jeff Goodby, decrying what he sees as a gross trend in the ad world of agencies creating work simply for the sake of receiving awards. He not only finds fault in agencies, but in the award organizations who continuously award what he sees as less than effective, if not outright dubious campaigns.

As one would expect, the comments are pouring in, and it’s not just your usual comment-fodder either. Some of these folks are making truly valid points. See for yourself.

Also, this is a conversation we designers need to have amongst ourselves. Have we also become “connoisseurs of esoterica?”

Adage: Jeff Goodby: We Are Becoming Irrelevant Award Chasers

What Is Good Design Now? A Conversation with Three Designers

March 27, 2009

photo by Swissmiss

Last night, I had the pleasure of sitting in on What’s Next For Design?, a VW sponsored panel discussion held at the New York Museum of Arts & Design. Moderated by Adam Gopnik, author and staff writer for the New Yorker, the panel featured three designers from three different disciplines: Pentagram partner, Paula Scher, architect, Ahmad Sarder-Afkhami, and furniture designer, Jonathan Adler.

The discussion began with Gopnik speaking briefly about his own relationship to design, its power, and his view of how design has always been “the primary impetus for innovation,” even in the realm of fine art. He then introduced each panelist, briefly discussing their work and engaged them in conversation. The atmosphere was informal and Gopnik did a wonderful job of moderating what shaped up to be a fairly lighthearted discussion.

His first question asked of the panel, what, if they can remember, was the first thing that made them notice design. Paula Scher recalled Alex Steinweiss’ album cover for South Pacific, while Jonathan Adler (who was absolutely hilarious) talked about a ceramic leopard and a ceramic cake owned by Mrs. Goldstein, his neighbor growing up in southern New Jersey. Ahmad Sarder-Afkhami discussed what he called “the permeability of sound” in his childhood home, in Iran.

South Pacific album cover by Alex Steinweiss. What Paula Scher recalls as the item that made her first notice design.

The discussion then moved to the design process, specifically, the rationale and logic each designer has when approaching a project. Adam set this question up by talking a bit about Paula’s recent design for The New York Philharmonic. It was interesting to hear her speak about the logic behind some of the design decisions. For instance, the brief called for a mark that needed to be legible regardless of language barriers, which is why Scher chose to do a circular lock-up. The mark itself, though it’s a wordmark and in English, communicates without ever having to be read.

Paula Scher’s design for The New York Philharmonic

In posing the question, Gopnik spoke of good design possessing a certain “lucidity” in that the style dictates the solution, to which Paula responded, “That’s what you’re supposed to do.” (Probably my favorite quote of the night. Can I get an AMEN?)

No discussion on contemporary design can be had without the recent Tropicana gaffe getting a mention. Gopnik used it as an example to ask the question, how does bad design happen. While Paula spoke specifically about the problems with the Tropicana redesign, Jonathan Adler summed it up succinctly. “Bad design is done by focus groups. . .The more idiosyncratic the design, the more a focus group would hate it.” Yet, often the most memorable designs are fully idiosyncratic. He spoke specifically of a banana vase he recently designed, a terrible idea in the eyes of his business associates, which proved to be a hit at a recent trade show.

Jonathan Adler’s banana vase. An example of idiosyncratic design being good design. Photo from apartmenttherapy.com

The final question, directed at Mr. Sarder-Afkhami, asked how an architect works through a recession. Although he has been fortunate enough to not have experienced a major drop-off in work, Ahmad has found himself thinking more about what is excessive and what “inherited programs” of living are no longer pertinent to the way we live. It’s a fascinating subject, which I’d love to hear more about.

When the floor opened up, I asked if the designers noticed that design has been getting more media coverage than ever, and how that affects the way they approach a project. The consensus is that it certainly has. “Every magazine has a design column,” said Paula Scher. It’s definitely true, but where does that leave us as designers? Moreover, how does this new transparency in design affect what is considered good design, now?

more coverage of this event over on Swissmiss

Why The New Facebook Doesn’t Suck. Part 2 of 2

March 24, 2009

brought to you by the Zuckerberg Appreciation Society

In part 1 of this article, I pointed out some of the changes that made the new Facebook a little, if not significantly, better than the old Facebook. If you’re still not convinced the new Facebook doesn’t suck, I’m not sure what else I can say to sway you, but here are some more notable improvements.

I recently had a client request that I design his Facebook page. “Why would you want to do that?” I asked. My stance was that Facebook pages weren’t all that effective. On Myspace, there is no distinction between a regular user profile, and a musician profile; A musician profile can interact with others in the same manner as regular profiles. It is this direct connection with their audience that prompted musicians, such as David Hasselhoff, to create Myspace pages.

cover for Hasselhoffs hit single, Hooked On A Feeling

On the other hand, Facebook’s band pages were little more than a page on Facebook that served no real purpose. Sure a band (celebrity or business) could message users who became “fans” but beyond that, they couldn’t really interact with users. The overall effectiveness of the page was questionable. I suspect most bands created Facebook pages just to make sure all bases were covered.

The new Facebook has done away with Pages. Instead, profiles for organizations or public figures are no different than regular user profiles. The owner of such a profile now has the ability to become an active part of the information stream on user homepages. This means their messages have a much better chance of reaching their intended audience. Moreover, it forces them to actively engage their audience, which is crucial to successful new media marketing.

While an average user may lament a marketer or organization’s ability to “infiltrate” their content stream, it is important to note that for this to happen, the user would have to have already added the organization as a friend. Also, as I’ve mentioned before, with the click of a button, users can silence an overzealous marketer. This is far more effective than the old Pages model, where contact was made via messages that may or may not have been opened.

The other change, which I have to admit I’m not entirely crazy about, is the Highlights section. This acts somewhat like the old newsfeed in that it shows “photos, notes, and other content you probably don’t want to miss” over a longer period of time. While the stream is updated in realtime, the Highlights section only changes when something you might be interested in is added.

My issue with the Highlights section is that it’s not customizable. Unlike the stream, a user can’t determine what and from whom she wants highlighted. The whole thing seems kind of arbitrary, which was my problem with the old newsfeed. It’s a good idea, but unless they make the section customizable it’s working against what they’re trying to do with the rest of the site.

The last change I’m going to note, and I’m not really sure if this was changed in the last version of Facebook, is the toolbar. In the last version of Facebook, I found it thoroughly confusing that there was no obvious way of seeing all your events, or going to all your applications. If I wanted to go to an application, I’d do the ass-backwards dance of viewing my profile and clicking the app there. To see all my events, I’d look in the right column, and under whatever events were happening that day, there was a “see all events” link.

When the new Facebook launched, I found the link had been removed. After cursing aloud, and even considering writing a Why The New Facebook Sucks post, I realized all that information was easily accessed via the toolbar. This may have been the case in the old Facebook, but the fact that there were several other places to access the same information was more confusing than it was helpful. Now, if I want to access my applications (not that I ever use them. Well, only that cool bookshelf one.), I know to look at the bottom of the browser, on the toolbar.

I also noticed Facebook widened the rightmost column. It may look a little clunky but it makes sense from an ad space perspective. I don’t know much about Facebook’s click-through rates, but I suspect they’re pretty low. Anything that can be done to make it better is a good move on their part.

Well, that’s all I have to say about that. If you still don’t believe the new Facebook is an improvement, you should consider not using it. There are tons of other social networks out there. You’ll just have to convince everyone else to join.

read part 1 of this article

Bloomberg Has A (Design) Posse

February 24, 2009

Long before most of us even knew what an Obama was, NYC Mayor, Mike Bloomberg had the politico-graphic design game on lock down. Back when I used to intern at Graphis, I relished the days when I’d get to peruse the many boxes of entries sent in by designers all over the world. I remember holding in hand a copy of a Vince Frost designed magazine, and nearly fainting with excitement. I was but a lad and suffered the occasional bout of design-induced syncope.

Around the same time, Bloomberg had sent over a couple boxes of things: letterheads, calendars, t-shirts, and the like. I was amazed at how well designed everything was. All the pieces were thoughtfully designed, making use of a simple color palette of orange and white, a unified system of typography, and an overall aesthetic that was business but with a freshness one wouldn’t exactly expect from a politician (though Bloomberg is obviously more than just a politician).

A couple years down the line and Mike is ruffling a few feathers by seeking a third term as mayor, but it’s no big surprise that he’s doing it in style. Head on over to mikebloomberg.com and have a look around. It’s not necessarily a content-heavy site but it damn sure looks good.

I’d love to know who’s responsible for his design work. Top-notch stuffs!

link: mikebloomberg.com

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.

25 Random Things about Graphic Design (and stuff)

February 6, 2009

scene from my childhood. note: I’m on the other side of the picture.

At a dinner party the other night, I decided to take advantage of a lull in conversation to discuss what I thought was a pretty interesting topic. “Facebook is on its last legs,” I said. “Soon it will become Myspace.” A conversation topic it did not make. The most I got was a shrugged shoulder. Not even two shoulders but one singular shoulder. Defeated, I changed the subject but I still stand by it; Facebook has indeed gone the way of Myspace and nothing supports my theory more than the 25 random things meme.

The idea goes as follows. You post 25 random things about yourself, preferably unknown facts from your childhood. You tag 25 of your friends. They in turn post their own note and tag 25 more people. As everyone on Facebook knows by now, it’s really caught on. So much so, in fact, that the backlash has already found its way into TIME Magazine – err website…whatever.

Well, despite my belief that Facebook has reached its tipping point, I still find myself on the site several times a day. Funny enough, the 25 random things are what keep me coming back. In honor, I’ve decided to do a 25 Random things about Graphic Design post. Why? Because it’s what Paul Joshua Pfeiffer would have done, you know, if he wasn’t busy being Marylin Manson and everything(I honestly don’t know if this is true. Wiki says it is not, but you have to wonder where the whole thing got started).

25 Random Things About Graphic Design

1. Claude Garamond, publisher and legendary type designer responsible for designing the letterforms that led to some of the most widely used typefaces throughout history, died in poverty at age eighty-one.

2. The Michelin man has a name, Monsieur Bibendum. He’s also a century old.

Monsieur Bibendum

3. The Nike swoosh was designed by Carolyn Davidson in 1971, while she was a student at Portland State University. She was paid $35.

4. Woody Allen uses the same typeface in the titles and credits of nearly all of his movies. The typeface is Windsor.

5. Peretz Rosenbaum is one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century. He is responsible for the IBM logo, the old and arguably most recognizable UPS logo, the Westinghouse logo, and many other design icons. You know him as Paul Rand.

6. According to Salary.com, the median salary for a graphic designer in the United States is $45,704.

7. The worlds first website(as we know them today) was launched in 1992. You can still visit the URL here.

8. What we now call sans-serif typefaces were once known by a number of names: Egyptian, Antique, Grotesque, Doric, Heiti, Lineale, and Simplices. I think sans-serif works just fine, thank you.

9. Walker, the sans-serif typeface designed by Matthew Carter for the Walker Arts Center has up to 5 “snap-on” serifs that can be attached to each letterform using keystroke commands.

10. Georgia, another typeface designed by Matthew Carter, is named after a tabloid headline which reads “Alien heads found in Georgia.”

11. Baseline magazine, first published in 1979, was originally intended to be a promotion vehicle for new typeface designs.

12. Newly defunct The Designers Republic was hired to design the in-game artwork, packaging and manual for The Wipeout video game series as part of a carefully marketed ploy to position the game among the “fashionable, club-going, music-buying” audience the publisher was trying to attract. The results make Wipeout games some of the most visually stunning ever.

13. Due to the incompatibility of the letterforms in the title of Avant Garde magazine, Herb Lubalin first created the typeface Avant Garde, with its many ligatures, out of necessity. It wasn’t until later that he created a full set of glyphs.

14. The term “Web 2.0” emerged sometime in 2002 (despite the claim that Tim O’ Reilly coined it in 2005) with Dermot A. McCormack’s book Web 2.0: the Future of the Internet. . .

15. The Coca-Cola logo was made using a style of hand lettering called Spencerian Script. (thanks for the correction Nick)

16. Jerry West is the silhouetted player in the NBA logo.

Jerry West taking it to the hole

17. The late Tibor Kalman once had a party in a supermarket to commemorate the arrival of his book Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist. As party favors, he gave guests signed canned goods.

18. The Great Seal of the United States was designed in the 1770’s by the then secretary of congress, Charles Thomson.

19. The Red Cross is known as The Red Crescent in Muslim countries. Its logo also changes from a cross to a crescent.

20. Raymond Loewy, known primarily as an industrial designer, also designed a crap-ton of logos including the logos for Hoover Vacuums, Exxon, and Shell.

21. Vince Frost is the shit.

22. Facebook uses a modified version of the typeface Klavika for its logo.

23. Myspace, Arial Rounded Bold.

24. Thank God this is almost done. *bangs head against wall*

25. I leave you with this.

The Pusherman’s New Look: MenuPages gets a makeover

January 27, 2009

My friends and I have given 2009 a few nicknames already: Year of The Hustle, The Age of Responsibility, Year of The Penny-Farthing, and The Year of Unemployment. None, however, ring more true than one I came up with just this morning, 2009: Year of Not Ordering Take-Out Every Night Anymore. With “the economy” and recession being clubbed into our psyche on a daily basis, I’ll spare ye the budget talks but I will say, since I no longer order take-out every night, I seldom visit what used to be one of my most frequented sites — MenuPages.com aka The Pusherman.

Further proof that 2009 is/will be The Year of The Penny-Farthing

My roommate and I do sometimes get lazy, and fall back on our old habits. This past weekend we decided to order from one of the many Mexican spots in this section of Brooklyn. You’d be surprised how many there are. Because we had lost, or I had torn up in celebration of the new year, all our menus, I had to make a visit to The Pusherman. Imagine my surprise when I saw The Pusherman had gotten a makeover. Not only did he get himself a new logo, but a whole new interface. Pusherman, good to see you’re finally getting with the times. I must say, though, you’re looking a little wider than I’m comfortable with. Ya look good though. Truly.

The new logo was designed by Mucca Design. Brand New has also covered it here.

Ed Fella and The Cranbrook ‘Style’

January 14, 2009

Ed Fella, detail from his Cranbrook Thesis Project, 1987

There isn’t many an art school whose name, when mentioned, brings to mind a specific style of graphic design. Most student work reflects the prevailing trends of the day. Cranbrook, however, is one of those rare schools with a name that is synonymous with a design ‘style.’ The graphic design work of many Cranbrook alums often treads the line between art and pure experimentation. The reason for this is due to Cranbrook’s approach to teaching, which, according to Meggs, “has long emphasized experimentation while rejecting a uniform philosophy or methodology.” I think it could also be attributed to the work of graphic design legend, Cranbrook alum, and CalArts professor, Ed Fella. His work has had a tremendous impact on not only his students, but on an entire “generation” of designers. His typographic experimentation, which could possibly be traced back to Dadaism, was a precursor to the deconstructed type now synonymous with the early to mid 90s (David Carson).

While I’ve never been big on the whole 90s aesthetic, Ed Fella’s whimsical work has inspired me since I first came across it, back in college. There’s a kind of intimacy in his work that you don’t (and probably shouldn’t) find too often in graphic design.

Phil Lubliner, Bingo, 2004

There are a couple designers working today who I’d say come out of the same tradition of typographic experimentation, and whose work I find equally enjoyable. Fellow Brooklynite and Pratt grad, Phil Lubliner’s work has a quality all its own. Alex Trochut’s work has the same whimsical quality but in digital. Lastly, and the inspiration behind this entire post, is the work of Cranbrook alum, Matthew Gavin Walsh. His site is essentially a blog, but a blog like no other, because it is made up entirely of his doodles, illustrations, and random musings. The Ed Fella influence is apparent, but Walsh’s brain is operating on it’s own wavelength. Just a quick scroll down the page and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience.


Poetry, Guns, and Graphic Design: Good Morning To You Too!

December 23, 2008

This morning I woke up and began my usual rounds of the design blogs. Of course, there are the year-end round-ups. Brand New does its Best Logos of The Year post. Design Observer has a great review of Reasons To Be Cheerful: The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles, a monograph of a fairly obscure British designer whose work is now getting widespread attention, due in part to a blog entry from early 2007 which apparently led to the monograph itself.

Still, it’s not a design morning for me.

A client once mentioned to me how it seemed a lot of designers were also writers (or at least want to be). Not too surprising, I thought. It’s been said that graphic design and the written word go hand in hand, both being conduits of language and communication. So it’s natural that many designers have an affinity for not just the letterforms but the words the letterforms create. Some designers have such a profound love for the written word that it becomes an overarching theme in the narrative of their work (Linda Zacks comes to mind). Others have taken things even beyond that. With his 2001 book, The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters, Chip Kidd has done what, for me, would be my piano necktie achievement as a designer/writer. Lets face it. We’re all working on novels. We only keep these blogs because marketing publications say its good for business.

Piano Necktie

As I said, this morning is not a design morning for me. Instead, I want to take a look at poetry. If this were the first day of classes, this would be the moment you calmly gathered your things and made a hasty exit towards the registrar’s office.

First, let me set things up for you. Every morning, I start my day by reading a poem aloud. Usually, it’s whatever poem is on The Writer’s Almanac, since it’s set as my default homepage. This morning, however, my browser had stayed open all night. So after reading a bit on the design blogs and realizing I wasn’t in the mood, I remembered how the other day it had come to my attention that Robert Bringhurst (Yes, that Robert Bringhurst), is also a poet, and a serious one at that. I did a quick google search for his poetry, which led me to a few of his poems. Holy buttbuckets! Bringhurst is a poetry beast. Below is The Beauty of Weapons, a poem Bringhurst wrote about an UZI. A f*cking UZI.

The Beauty of Weapons
by Robert Bringhurst

El-Arish, 1967

A long-armed man can
carry the nine-millimeter
automatic gun slung
backward over the right shoulder.

With the truncated butt
caught in the cocked
elbow, the trigger
falls exactly to hand.

These things I remember,
and the fuel-pump gasket cut
from one of the innumerable
gas masks in the roadside dump.

I bring back manuscript picked
up around incinerated trucks
and notes tacked next
to automatic track controls.

Fruits of the excavation.
This is our archaeology.
A dig in the debris
of a civilization six weeks old.

The paper is crisp and brittle
with the dry rock and the weather.
The Arabic is brittle
with the students’ first exposure

to air-war technology and speed.
Ridiculous to say so, but
the thought occurs,
that Descartes would be pleased:

the calculus is the language
of the latest Palestinian
in the field of theology.

The satisfying feel
of the fast traverse
on the anti-aircraft guns
is not in the notes.

It lies latent and cool
in the steel, like the intricate
incarnate in the radar:

the antennae folded and rolled
like a soldier’s tent,
sweeping the empty
sky and the barren horizon,

the azimuth and the elevation,
sweeping the empty air
into naked abstraction,
leading the guns.

The signal is swirled until it
flies over the lip like
white, weightless
wine from the canteen cup.

Invisibly, the mechanism sings.
It sings. It sings like a six-ton flute:
east, west, always the same
note stuck in the rivetless throat.

And yet, a song as intricate
as any composition by Varese,
and seeming, for the moment, still
more beautiful, because,

to us, more deadly.
Therefore purer, more
private, more familiar,
more readily feared, or desired:

a dark beauty, with a steel sheen,
caught in the cocked
mind’s eye and brought
down with an extension of the hand.

from The Beauty of the Weapons: Selected Poems, 1972-82. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982. (View book)

It’s remarkably beautiful, yet his choice of words and the way he stacks the consonants against one another capture, not only the brutality of the subject matter, but the very sound the weapon creates. But don’t take my word for it.

Read this assessment of the poem by Canadian poet, David Seymour.