I have been bookmarking examples of contemporary graphic design on a Tumblr blog called The Way Things Look for about 6 years now. I don’t pay attention to it very often anymore, but early on, I spent a fair amount of time pruning it. It served as a visual bookmarking station, basically an alternative to Pinterest. I would find things from people’s portfolio sites and post a representative image from projects I wanted to remember. Eventually, the hand-picking method devolved into reblogging other things that came across my Tumblr dashboard which was actually more efficient than finding them across the web and the quality didn’t really take a hit. Now, The Way Things Look stands as a static archive of things I’ve enjoyed over the last few years but I still go back to reference things once in a while. Tonight, while working on the Small House book, I needed to grab an example of an all-text cover (set in all one point size), a partial dust jacket, and an alternative to cloth hardbinding. That’s when it comes in handy.
My friend Amy at 826michigan recently asked me if I’d design another edition of the OMNIBUS for them. It’s only been a few months since wrapping up the last one, and the fatigue hasn’t quite worn off yet, but for whatever reason, I said… “ok, let’s do it!” Hopefully I won’t regret that. I already have four different book projects in the works, all in various states of development. Wait… I just started another one, so that makes it five books. I’m so overwhelmed with side projects I’m forgetting them. It’s probably too many projects at once, and my attention can only handle so much, but book work is such a pleasing activity and results are so satisfying that it’s very hard to say no, even when I know I should. The image above is a type treatment I started in Illustrator the other day in response to Amy’s cover prompt: represent the three cities serviced by 826michigan in a skyline. I’m not much of a draw-a-skyline kind of guy, but I’m certainly a stack-a-bunch-of-letters kind of guy. Set in big, beautiful Maelstrom Sans from Klim, the best foundry out there.
Last night I spent a little time looking for a serif to partner with Akkurat for a book I’ve been working on. There’s something neutral but fairly specific about the shapes of Akkurat. It’s not as silent as Helvetica or Univers but still doesn’t go out of its way to draw attention. I declares itself without screaming and shouting. Below is a rationale I sent my partner in the project to outline a few thoughts:
Hopefully we can solve the second font problem soon. I have certainly been thinking about it... I still believe the quote passages should have a different visual style than the essays, ideally bringing a touch of warmth and connoting the historical nature of the quote sources (without being too literal or too linked to one certain era). We are searching for something that is essentially a display font, since it will be displayed larger than text size, and is used as much for its aesthetic merits as its content. It should be heavy, but not too heavy, and should be able to share space with Akkurat, our alpha male. Ideally our serif will have straight serifs that mirror Akkurat’s terminals and a total lack of stress to mirror Akkurat’s geometrically-drawn skeleton. Your intuition for Bodoni is spot-on since it achieves most of that. It’s too loaded with historical connotations for our purposes and a bit too contrasty, but it’s in the ballpark. I have been looking at all the serifs I have access to, and at first everything can seem like an ideal fit, then upon closer inspection, the charming idiosyncrasies can start to seem a little too... idiosyncratic. When fonts are displayed at that size all the little details are revealed (that flat a in the samples from a few days ago jumped right out at you, for example). Untitled Serif is unique because it was actually designed to be as neutral as possible. It’s the only serif that I know of that actually started with that concept as its guiding principle. I think it’s worth considering and it’s well within reach (I recently picked up web versions of regular and italic for my website for $75, which turned out to be a great move... it’s a dream to use). We might consider picking up the medium or bold weight for $50. That’s where my mind is at right now, but like always, I want to sleep on it and see if I agree with myself in the morning! I can screenshot some samples and pair it with Akkurat if you’re interested in seeing them. Here is an excerpt from the Kris Sowersby’s thoughtful explanation: “I made all Untitled Serif design decisions while reading. After each round of changes, I embedded the updated fonts into an ePub of Orwell’s 1984 and read several chapters. If a detail stood out, I removed it in the next round of changes. I kept doing this until it was totally comfortable to read.”
The image above shows some screenshots I cobbled together on my phone to show the two fonts sharing the same space. The mix seems to have everything we have been looking for, with nothing more and nothing less. Akkurat sill keeps its alpha status and Untitled Serif has the room to express itself whether it intends to or not.
Yesterday, after work, I spent the evening working on commissioned graphic design work, which can often be tedious and difficult. Those are the times when my mind wanders off to simpler, less stringent, tasks. I found myself looking at this year’s Tour de France schedule and felt the urge the trace a stage route map again, similar to the set of posters I designed during the summer of 2014. There’s something about the mindless clicking with the pen tool that feels so good, and at the end, you have a strange snake-like shape to compose with. It’s actually a lot of fun.
A couple weeks ago I reworked a calendar layout I originally designed in 2009, and one of the things I changed was the scale. I thought I might do the same thing, here. Originally I created the stage route series in 2014 as a set of posters… but now I’m thinking… what if they were a set of post-cards. Emphasis on post, I guess? They’d have little significance as actual printed objects, but it’s nice to give them some sort of definition outside the world of digital documentation. Little, meaningless projects like this are a good way to unwind and come back to larger, more important projects, with fresh eyes.
Last night I splurged on Lydia, the moderately aggressive, but friendly calligraphic typeface from London-based foundry, Colophon. I have loosely followed the output of Ben Critton, since ~2010 when I first became aware of his MFA work at Yale. Lydia, designed around that same time, stands as my favorite of his typographic experiments.
I go through occasional bursts of preparing older projects for display on my website, always driven by one thing or another, usually a job application or AIGA get together (assuming any of my old friends or acquaintances decide to see what I’ve been up to lately). The question always comes up: how to present them?
Most of my personal projects were never printed or put into production of any kind, they were just exercises for the most part, and even if they were printed, my photography skills are only now starting to come around. Like the World Champ poster I made one night when I was thinking about Tony Martin wearing the rainbow jersey during the Tour de France. It was just a dash to get an idea onto the computer. It was never printed but I still thought of it as a “poster.”
I nearly forgot about the Moonhead poster I made in 2013 until a couple nights ago when I was digging through files. That one actually had a purpose, a group exhibition, but I donated the only print (which cost over $45 at Kinkos believe it or not) to the organizers. It went to a good home at least.
These old projects are good candidates for mocking-up in Photoshop. It’s funny to see a span of skills represented in a single image, like the ones above. I didn’t know enough about Photoshop the year I made that calendar poster to even come close to mocking it up with such subtle tones and custom-drawn drop shadows. Now I do, and it helps give these old projects a modest presentation after years of waiting patiently on my hard drive.
Which goes with which? Only one way to find out.
So many charts, diagrams, presentations, and marketing sheets... all in the past two years.
Trial, error, eventual completion. I’ve intended to make process gifs for other projects, partially for my own reference and enjoyment, and partially to highlight all the mundane decisions that go into producing a “simple” end result. This particular gif is thirteen frames long, one for every drafted page in the native InDesign file.
What do you say to a childhood friend who now lives in Japan?
You try to capture as many memories as possible with blue sharpie.
Test imagery for a larger commemorative piece.
New t-shirt layout for my department’s movie-viewing series. Icons thanks to the internet and Image Trace (please don’t sue me).