Do you know if your city, town or suburb has an official flag? If your answer is no, you aren’t alone. This fascinating TED talk by digital storyteller Roman Mars is worth a listen and could prove helpful if you are ever asked to design a flag for your village or subdivision. As Mars points out, “City flags may be the worst-designed thing you’ve never noticed.” Read More »
More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.
The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.
While thumbing through Austin Kleon’s book “Steal Like An Artist; 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” (Workman Publishing), we happened upon a graphic sketch that Kleon admits he “stole from his friend Maureen McHugh.” It spells out seven phases in the “life of a creative project” from an emotional perspective, not the usual process steps – e.g., concept development, research, storyboards, etc. It shows that for most of us in creative fields, projects proceed along two parallel tracks: one cerebral and dedicated to problem-solving, the other moody and erratic. Because we at @issue can’t leave well enough alone, we decided to steal McHugh’s — via Kleon’s – idea but let Kit Hinrichs embellish it with his own doodling drawings. Here it is.
Name one major company founded or headed by a designer? (Apple doesn’t count since Steve Jobs wasn’t actually trained as a designer.) If you can’t come up with one, you’re not alone. Designers create, they invent, they innovate, they make products and brands more successful, more visible, more desirable, but other than running their own design studios, they typically don’t lead businesses. “30 Weeks: A Founders Program for Designers” in New York City is determined to change that. Operated by Hyper Island, a Swedish educational company, and supported by Google in partnership with the SVA, Parsons, Pratt, and The Cooper Union, the experimental program wants to transform designers into founders through a 30-week course in start-up mentorship, discussions with industry leaders, group critiques, tools, hands-on help, and an environment where participants can focus on their own products. Enrollment for the 2014 program, which starts in September, is closed, but it is worth following nonetheless to see if designers can be trained to take the lead.
As we celebrate Independence Day in the U.S., it seems fitting to give credit where credit is due to Francis Hopkinson, who substantial evidence shows designed the first American flag in 1777. Hopkinson, a New Jersey lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, had a natural love of heraldry and art, and dabbled at graphic design (a profession that didn’t exist back then). During the American Revolution, Hopkinson was serving as chairman of the Navy Board’s Middle Department, when it got an urgent request to come up with an official banner of some sort that soldiers could carry into battle. At the time, the rebelling colonies were flying a flag that featured a variation of the British Union Jack in the canton surrounded on three sides with horizontal red and white stripes. (It looked like a knock-off of the British East India Company flag.)
Without a strong concept, illustration is just glorified doodling. The same can be said of design as well. Those entering these professions need to exhibit more than technical skill; they need to engage their minds and imaginations to get at the crux of the story they want to tell.
I was reminded of this while watching Craig Frazier’s video. A prolifically talented illustrator who still sketches thumbnails with pen and ink and cuts his final image out of rubylith film, Craig explains. “If there is anything magical about making illustration, it happens at the sketch stage. That’s when the idea comes out of the pen. The DNA of the illustration exists right in the sketch. If it is not there, it is not going to show up later on.”
Editor’s note: Packaging design presents its own unique set of challenges to graphic designers that differ from other kinds of print design. Here, we asked Brad Murdoch from Process, a premium packaging manufacturer based in Salt Lake City, to help us identify some common mistakes. Process handles custom packaging and fabrication through its network of overseas manufacturing facilities.
Brand consultant Alina Wheeler has developed a phased process for researching, clarifying and implementing a brand strategy. A reminder that building a strong brand demands more than a logo, Wheeler outlines a disciplined approach that has been used with success by several major companies. Her book Designing Brand Identity: Essential Guide for the Whole Branding Team (John Wiley & Sons, third edition) distills this process into five easy-to-follow steps. It’s worthwhile advice. Following this process will not guarantee branding success, but ignoring it will inevitably lead to a muddled identity program that confuses consumers and employees alike.
A logo is widely considered the most important visual expression of retail brands, corporations and institutions. The symbol is a graphic “stand-in” for the entity, communicating its personality and values through a unique and memorable combination of colors, shapes and typography. The latest episode of PBS’s Off Book web series explores “The Art of Logo Design,” with designers Stephen Heller, Sagi Haviv of Chermayeff & Geismar, Kelli Anderson, and Gerard Huerta commenting on the role of logos today.
Ira Glass, the host and producer of the Public Radio International storytelling program, “This American Life,” expounded on what nobody tells to beginners. Singapore-based filmmaker, David Shiyang Liu, took Glass’s comments and turned them into a video. Glass’s words are insightful and reassuring in themselves, but displayed as kinetic type, we pay rapt attention with both our ears and our eyes, which makes Glass’s observations all the more meaningful.
PBS, America’s public television network, has been running a 13-part, bi-weekly web series on experimental and non-traditional art forms. Produced by New York-based production company Kornhaber Brown, the “Off Book” program features interviews with well-known designers and artists working in various creative disciplines, including typography, interactive art, book illustrations, product design, indie music, fashion design, videogame art, steampunk, and more. Running between five and seven minutes, each “Off Book” segment lets innovators explore the process, motivation, meaning and relevance behind their work. This segment is on typography. To see other topics in the series, go to PBS.org/arts.
World-renowned German industrial designer Dieter Rams defined the latter half of the 20th century with a parade of landmark products. Head of design for Braun A.G. until his retirement in 1998, Rams’ many designs — coffee makers, AV equipment, consumer appliances, calculators, radios, record players, office products – found a permanent home at many of museums, including MoMA. His Universal Shelving System for Vitsoe is still considered as contemporary and functional as it was the day it was introduced. Rams once described his design philosophy as “Less is Better.” In the early 1980s, he pondered the question: What is good design? The result is the 10 principles stated above.
Designer/typographer Erik Spiekermann, who founded the globally renowned MetaDesign and FontShop, is the recipient of this year’s German Design Lifetime Achievement Award. Here, he spoke at length with gestalten.tv on his approach to and philosophy of type design, visual languages, design processes and other subjects. His remarks are thoughtful, informative and inspiring, and though this video is nearly 14 minutes long, we think it is worth viewing. Congratulations, Erik. Well deserved.
Fear of failure was the theme of this year’s student work exhibition at Stockholm’s Berghs School of Communication. As part of the program, Berghs asked some of the world’s most renowned and prolific designers, artists and writers to share their thoughts on the subject. Included in these interviews were Milton Glaser, Paulo Coelho, Stefan Sagmeister, Rei Inamoto, Michael Wolff, and Lis Johles. Here designer Milton Glaser explains why it is so importance to “embrace failure.”
Probably more people know what a microbiologist does than what graphic designers do. Undoubtedly your aunt and grandma – and possibly even your mother – don’t have a clue. They’ll look at a printed piece and praise the photography, the illustrations, the writing and sometimes even the feel of the paper, but they aren’t quite sure what role the designer played in this. That’s why we are grateful to the Design Council UK for producing a video that succinctly explains what graphic design is and what graphic designers do. We recommend that you forward it to every member of your family especially just before a holiday gathering, and perhaps selectively to a few clients.
In his book “The Designful Company,” Marty Neumeier, director of transformation at the brand marketing firm, Liquid Agency, argues that business management itself has an aesthetic component. “Of course, everyone knows you can apply the principles of aesthetics to the curve of a fender, the typography of a web page, or the textures in a clothing line. Yet you can also apply them to upstream strategy, organizational change, and marketplace reputation,” he says. In the chapter “The Rebirth of Aesthetics,” Neumeier charts the elements of aesthetics and attaches questions to them that all types of businesses – even design firms, large and small – should ask themselves to become more innovative, identify how the parts relate to the whole, operate more creatively, and arrive at a strategy that will lead to market distinction and long-lasting growth. It’s good to end the year by taking stock of what you’re doing and where you want to go.