Student Assignment Celebrates the Ordinary

We love student assignments because the parameters are loose enough to let the imagination run free – no client demanding that the piece “work harder” at branding or asking to see the metrics to prove that the design solution had the desired effect on the target audience. They are unbridled creativity, pushing the limits of personal talent and skill. So, when we ran across some animations done by 20-year-old Matthew Young, a graphic and communication design student at the University of Leeds in the UK, we were charmed by his innocent storytelling. “Colin the Umbrella,” completed in a week, fulfills a creative brief to celebrate the ordinary by making it seem extraordinary. Young’s story line has the undercurrent of the soul-searching angst of a young person searching for a meaningful purpose in life — and a sad ending.



Euphemisms – substituting a positive description for a negative one – have been a device used by marketing and advertising writers forever. For example, apartment ads that can only promise that it is “clean and sunny” are a sure sign that the place is cramped and drafty with a fresh coat of paint. If it says “in an up-and-coming neighborhood,” you know it’s a dump in a dumpy area.

Corporate writers will try to soften the blow for shareholders by talking about a “challenging” year, when “disastrous” might be a more apt description. Marketing writers will look for ways to turn a perceived negative into a positive. Some politicians and scam artist will say anything short of an out-and-out lie.

Lately doublespeak has become a universal language, so we thought we’d provide a brief glossary of what the terms really mean.

In Other Words

Design Education

Teaching Design to Inner City Kids


Design, particularly graphic design, is not a profession that most inner city kids consider, partly because many don’t know that such a profession even exists. In fact, the whole notion that somebody had made design choices about the size, color, typography, etc. of a simple sign comes as a revelation to some kids. Jessica Weiss, a student in the nonprofit Inneract Project program, explained her surprise. “I just thought, oh, someone wrote this sign. Someone wrote that sign. No, it had to be designed.”

This is exactly the lesson that Inneract Project founder Maurice Woods hoped to pass on. Woods, a senior designer at Studio Hinrichs in San Francisco, started the program in 2004 when as a graduate student in a University of Washington’s Visual Communication Design class, he got the assignment to “Use Design to Try to Change the World.” Drawing from his own experience growing up in the violent teen-gang and drug-plagued town of Richmond near San Francisco, Woods wanted to help young adolescents expand their awareness of the career options open to them.

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“Bored to Death” Animated Type Title Sequence

The new HBO comedy series “Bored to Death” created by novelist Jonathan Ames is about a fictional writer named “Jonathan Ames” who hires himself as a private detective. For that kind of story line, the opening title sequence had to reveal a lot of background information – namely that the show somehow involved a novelist, fascination with words, a central character who lived a “noir” fantasy life, and a comic book quality. Tom Barham, title sequence director for Curious Pictures, found a way to weave all of this into the opening sequence by animating typography and using it to carry viewers from scene to scene and letting characters interact with letterforms as they walked across the page. The “flashlight” effect with darkened edges of the book also created a nice noir touch.

In an interview with Barham explains, “I wanted to do a combination character and flip-book animation to move the Jonathan character from location to location in a book format. Additionally, since the characters were made from text contained within the book where they exist they needed to move and interact with each other as if they were emitting or leaking letterforms or words.” The title sequence uses words from Ames’ original story and illustrations by comic artist Dean Haspiel, who is also the basis for the Ray Hueston role, played by Zack Galifianakis.


Drawords Draws to An End


Since last spring illustrator Craig Frazier has posted a new drawing online each week, inviting @Issue readers to submit a caption to explain what’s going on. Readers emailed him more than 8,000 captions during the course of his Drawords project from places like Slovenia, Paris, Dallas, Scotland, Estonia, Milwaukee, Australia, San Francisco and Trenton. “The project has been a testament to the power of the Internet to create a forum for worldwide participation on a single creative endeavor,” he says. Craig personally reviewed every submission to pick the week’s winning entry and “almost selected” winners. “I looked for wit, subtlety, surprise, and particularly insight into the drawings that I, frankly, didn’t see,” he explains.

For us, Craig’s project proved that when designers and writers bring their own unique perspective to a topic, the result can be more imaginative, quirky and stronger. Interestingly, the frequent similarity between “almost selected” entries also showed us that certain themes are universal and that humor and wit know no cultural borders.

Drawords is now available in book form at In thanking readers for their entries, Craig adds “I hope this project brought a moment of frivolity, if not creative challenge, to you – I know it did both for me.”


Good Climate Change Posters


The start of the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week seems like a good time to look at some of the posters produced on the subject. These are from Good 50×70 (aka Good Amsterdam), a nonprofit initiative aimed at promoting the value of social communication in the creative community, inspiring the public via graphic design, and giving select charities a database of communication tools they can use in their campaigns. Good 50×70 hosts an annual online contest inviting designers to create posters on seven critical global issues, as described in briefs by seven charities. The best 30 responses in each category as chosen by a distinguished jury are cataloged and exhibited worldwide. Here is a sampling of Climate Change posters produced from the brief provided by the World Wildlife Fund.

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Photographer as Entrepreneur:
The End for Rodney Smith

The End

There are assigned projects and self-generated projects that you do for the love and joy of it. Ten years in the making, The End (Is Just the Beginning) by photographer Rodney Smith is pure passion, wit and style …a total delight. The pleasure Smith took in producing this book comes through on every page. The 16×20 inch, 15 pound tome is hardbound on imported linen with a hand-printed silver gelatin photograph on its slipcase. The design by David Meredith and text by Walter Thomas beautifully mirror and play off the whimsy and elegance of Smith’s black-and-white photographs. Smith, whose editorial and commercial clients range from the New York Times to GQ, Starbucks to Visa, documents a surreal world with a photojournalist’s eye. The End was published by Smith in a limited edition of 1,000 copies, with each signed copy priced at $750.

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Public Service Campaign

Pink Glove Dance

The feel-good video of the year, the Pink Glove Dance was put together by the employees of Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland, Oregon, to generate funds for and raise awareness of breast cancer. Created and directed by Emily Somers, the video features some 200 real St. Vincent doctors, nurses, lab techs, and kitchen and janitorial staff who volunteered to participate in the making of this joyful public service plug. Filmed at the hospital during a regular workday, the employees donned pink exam gloves (the signature color for breast cancer awareness) and danced to the beat of “Down,” the R&B song by Jay Sean. Medline Industries, Inc., the company that makes the gloves and produced the video, will donate a portion of the Generation Pink gloves toward mammograms for uninsured women. This all goes to show that public service videos, even for a subject as grim as breast cancer, can be uplifting and fun.


Stamps to Help Kids Learn

Every year since 1924, the Dutch Postal Service has worked together with the Stichting Kinderpostzegels Nederland (SKN), or the Foundation for Children’s Welfare Stamps Netherland, to produce a series of stamps to help disadvantaged children both in and outside the Netherlands. The last campaign raised more than 9.3m euros to fund educational programs. The special edition stamps, which cost a little more than regular stamps, have been sold door-to-door by Dutch school children since 1948. Art director Christian Borstlap from Kessels Kramer Creative Collective designed this year’s playful worm-like creatures, which were featured both on the stamp series and on postcards. The little worm people were turned into an animated commercial by Paul Postma Motion Design.

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Electronic Popable Books from MIT

Pop-ups — or books with mechanical or movable parts – have been around since at least the 13th century. Designed so that images rise up from the page when the reader lifts a flap or moves a tab, pop-up books have been a special niche of publishing, partly because they are so labor intensive to produce. Once written and illustrated, the story has to go to a paper engineer to layout pages with nesting pieces so that the sheet can be run through a press. The nesting pieces then have to be die-cut, collated and assembled by hand. Dozens of workers are often needed to fold, insert paper tabs into slits, connect paper pivots, glue and tape, all to produce just one book. That was yesterday. Now thanks to students Jie Qi, Leah Buechley and Tschen Chew from MIT’s High-Low Tech Group, a few more specialists will need to be added to the production team. Electronic popables integrate paper-based electronic sensors that allow amazing interactivity — turning on lights and moving images at the touch of a finger. Will it catch on or will the line between printing on paper and electronic media become so blurred that consumers will opt to watch the story on a screen?


Geometry and Art Intersect in Outer Space


Geometry, the mathematical study of shapes and their relative positions in space, lies at the heart of design and typography and the physical order of the universe. These posters by UK-based applied mathematician Simon C. Page for the International Year of Astronomy ’09 (IYA) depict the wonders of the universe through the use of simple geometric lines and circles. Page, a self-trained graphic designer, had originally created these images for a self-promotion piece, but the math-inspired art caught the attention of the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO, which asked to turn them into posters to promote the International Year of Astronomy’09, a global effort to raise awareness of astronomy. Retro in feel, Page’s posters aptly capture the beauty, dynamism, and mysterious orderliness of objects in space. They are available for sale from

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Approved by Good Housekeeping
and Ladies’ Home Journal

Good Housekeeping

For the past century, the Good Housekeeping magazine Seal of Approval has been a hallmark of reliability for household goods. Run through a battery of performance tests by the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, each endorsed product has been backed by the magazine’s two-year limited warranty. Good Housekeeping’s oval-shaped Seal, which has gone through nine design updates since it first appeared in 1909, has been coveted by product manufacturers and proudly displayed on packaging. Now the magazine has rolled a Good Housekeeping Green Seal of Approval, based on metrics that evaluate a product’s composition, manufacturing, packaging and other attributes from an environmental standpoint.

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Motion Graphics

Inspiring New Zealanders to Read

A national not-for-profit organization, the New Zealand Book Council promotes reading in general, but with a particular emphasis on New Zealand writing and writers – “our own artists, stories, and point of view.” In this video, the Council brings the printed page to life by turning the paper itself into stop action animation art to move the story forward. For the video, it chose one of the nation’s most celebrated books, Going West, by New Zealand literary giant Maurice Gee. The book, published in 1992, describes a steam train journey across the country, and the title was adopted as the name of the Auckland region’s first writers’ festival in 1996. The Going West festival now draws over 350 writers and performers to Waitakere City for the annual literary event. We couldn’t find anything on the Internet about the creative team behind this video. If anyone knows, please share it with us in the Comments box.


Armchair Space Travel

To manifest Toshiba’s tagline “leading innovation” and promote the company’s new LCD TV Series, ad agency Grey London gave viewers the ultimate armchair-viewing experience by launching a living room chair to the edge of outer space. Filmed in Nevada’s Black Rock desert, the team, led by Grey creative director Andy Amadeo, tethered a lightweight balsa wood chair to a helium balloon and watched it rise to an altitude of 98,268 feet. The rig, which according to Federal Aviation Administration rules could not weigh more than a total of four pounds, carried a Toshiba’s IK-HRIS 1080i camera to digitally record a bird’s eye view of the chair and four independent GPS systems to track the chair’s position during its 83 minute ascent into space. The ad was shot by Haris Zambarloukos, the acclaimed cinematographer who made the feature films “Enduring Love” and “Mamma Mia.” The Space Chair commercial began airing in the UK this week.

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