Ream-n-KleanI really always wonder how product and brand designs like this can hang around as long as they do.

Perhaps it’s a matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or perhaps they still have printed bags left over from the 1930’s? Doubtful. But amusing.

Okay, not to mention the product name itself. Also a relic from earlier times, I imagine.

And Bryn Mawr Smokers Sundries is now Chenille Kraft Company in Illinois, with a single graphic placeholder website.

Maybe I should offer them my services…

Semantics vs Aesthetics

The separation of content and style is a philosophy that is strongly encouraged in design, and especially web design these days.  The main idea is that this allows great flexibility. Colors and styles can be changed without affecting actual content — text or photos.  Different styles can be applied depending on how a visitor is viewing, such as via computer, mobile phone, or as a printed out version of a page.

It’s tricky to fully put into actual use, though, and most web designs I’ve seen or created mix style with content at least a small amount. 

The one exception is blogs — especially template-based blogs hosted on providers like typepad.com and wordpress.com.  In this case, the content must be separate from the style, because the front-end content is constantly changing, being updated and rearranged by the blogger.

Additionally, in order to maintain full functionality offered by these services, the back-end, behind the scenes content also has to stay the same (for the most part), and can’t be changed or accessed by a designer at all.

This was the challenge I faced in redesigning the blog from my previous post to match the rest of my client’s (totally custom built) website.  I learned quite a bit more than I knew before about CSS styling during this project.  Perhaps I will post some tips on what I discovered. In general, a success.

Spry Gallery Goods

example galleryI am moving this post here from an old blog I started a few years back which has lain dormant for a while. The one post that did garner a bunch of attention was the Adobe Bridge script I cobbled together to automate creation of the XML needed to use the lovely photo gallery presented by the developers of Adobe Spry. I’ve used this script to create photo galleries for many client sites as well as my own.

I do plan on addressing code design here, so this is an appropriate place for the script to live.

Spry is a relatively new and easy-to-use AJAX library. AJAX use is very common on the web today, one of the technologies that powers what is often referred to as “Web 2.0.”

Basically, the technology allows webpages to change and update without requiring the user to “refresh,” “reload,” or navigate to another page.  For example: Gmail, which updates every incoming mail every so often without user interaction. And saves drafts every so often in the same fashion.

Find the download link and nuts and bolts of using the script after the jump.

Continue reading Spry Gallery Goods

Was It Better Then?

better thanProofreading is important in print design, and that means more than running spell check. The omnipresence of auto spell check has allowed designers to become much more lazy on this point.

Instead it should make them more vigilant (note to self!), because this reliance makes it easier for other kinds of errors to make it into final products.

For example, grammatical inaccuracies. Or simply typing “cat” instead of “can”. Or using the wrong version of a homonym.

Fixing those that do slip by can look almost as silly as the mistake in the first place.

For example, this sign in a shop on South Street has a word cut out of it and replaced. It immediately caught my eye — I was just walking past, rather quickly, when I saw it (okay, okay, I admit, I shop there everyday… ;).

It looks silly, and makes the whole shop look kind of second-rate, which it’s not (it’s actually a rather fancy “erotica shop”).

My husband speculated that maybe this was part of a marketing campaign, a sign with a changeable tag line. We pondered what other slogans could be featured:

“Better LEAVE Your Boyfriend”
“Better WANT Your Boyfriend”
“Better KILL Your Boyfriend”

None of which seemed as likely as the mixup of then/than making it all the way to the final printed poster.

S6 Truss

Click to View LargerThe International Space Station is very near completion with the success of the latest mission, the addition of the S6 Truss, the last part of the station’s “backbone.”

The design of the ISS evolved somewhat over the years since it was first conceptualized, but hasn’t changed too much.  It’s a relatively elegant structure.

I was surprised to remind myself that the Station’s construction began very recently in 1998, after the end of the Cold War allowed designs and ideas to flow more freely between Russia and the US, and also with Europe, Japan and others.

The ISS is a momentus accomplishment. Not only the impressive technology, but the coordination of design and construction thoughout so many nations all over the world.

Incarcerated Questions

two surveysOne of the most important goals of graphic design is to facilitate communication. I am surprised when people don’t recognize this fact. (Cough, cough, my dad, when I was describing this project to him!)

My sister, Tamar, runs a non-profit in New York City called the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of NY. The CA has been around since the 1860’s, and has a mandate and a right, written into the NY State consitution, to monitor conditions in New York State prisons.

Tamar’s work focuses on the women’s prisons in the state, and in addition to inspecting and monitoring the prison conditions, her group also coordinates advocacy groups, lobbying efforts and re-entry programs.

Monitoring conditions in prisons, and reporting the findings, is a slippery slope. Physical visits to prisons need to be coordinated well in advance, and, like any inspection, a lot of “tidying up” will happen before the inspectors arrive. (Think cleaning up your house before a dinner party.) The resultant inspection will most likely find things in different state than they normally would be (Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle’s observer effect applies).

So Tamar decided to also gather data on prison conditions another way — by asking questions of the inmates themselves. 

She enlisted me to help transform her pages upon pages of questions into something the inmates would want to pay attention to, something they might even view as fun, and not become bored with. We worked hard to create documents with enough color, whitespace, consistency and clarity to elicit a large and accurate response.

We’ve created a few different surveys by now, on general prison conditions, on reproductive health issues and more, that have been sent out to all incarcerated women in New York State, and the response has been very good. 

I learned quite a bit about graphic design of surveys doing this, but also a lot about design in social communication — how to craft each question, in what order to ask them, how not to be leading towards a certain answer, and how to view questions as your target audience would. This can be helpful in business situations just as well.

Check out one of our finished surveys here, if you wish.

Residual Chance

I was recently reminded of the saying, “Luck is the residue of design.”  This quote* was the title of a lecture given in the 1950’s by Branch Rickey, former Major League Baseball executive. He was most famous for initiating the integration of major league sports by signing Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers in 1947.

I am a believer in this saying. How to put the concept to use is another question.

One can pretty easily design to have bad luck. For example: get drunk at a bar and drive home while speeding. High chance of bad luck finding you, in one of a myriad of ways.

Good luck is not quite so easy to run into. We don’t know in advance what juxtapositions will be useful to us, and it’s certainly not only high-minded, “good angel” decisions that allow for fortunate chance meetings or ideas. 

My current best  guess on how to design for good luck is to follow your own instincts. Make each decision your own, and make sure you are doing what you truly want to be doing, at every single moment over which you have control.

That way your residue trail will be something you can appreciate and be proud of.

*It seems the full title is actually “Luck is the Residue of Opportunity and Design,” which is a bit more obvious but less interesting.

The China Probrem*

mondy_closeGood design has a lot to do with good typography. And as a corollary, good writing, and therein, good spelling and grammar.

With the ubiquity of spell-checkers these days there are few excuses for misspellings in final published work, be it destined for print or online.

Some things get lost in translation, however. It’s certainly common to find grammer and spelling mistakes in equipment manuals translated to English from Japanese, for example. And it’s somewhat of a cliche amusement to check out Chinese restaurant menus translated to English.

One of my favorite Chinese food restaurants has had the same typos on the front cover of their menu for as long as I’ve been ordering from them, so at least 3 years.  The thing is, they’ve gone through several menu redesigns during that time. The current incarnation has nice graphics and even some photos.  But couldn’t anyone along the way point out the simple changes that would make me stop laughing whenever I see the menu?

Hey, maybe they want me to laugh. Who am I to argue with that. All I know is this: Mondy close. We delivery. Words to live by.

* where I cribbed the title for this post

Form and Function

thermaltake_level10_pcForm following function is a concept that I first grasped in Biology class. Specifically I think the first example of this that really drove the point home was the design of our lungs: all the bronchi and bronchioles branching off to create the maximum surface area to transfer oxygen to our blood.

In design it’s a strong concept. One I like to follow. In this new “gaming computer” tower by BMW Designworks Group for Thermaltake it really works.  From the designers:

Each high-quality component featured by the “Level 10” concept is enclosed within its own protective case, rendering it not only an integral part of the design but also guaranteeing interchangeability and transportability.

The concept also has an aesthetical answer to the physical necessity for best possible cooling, this also being associated with the virtual world of the gamer. The asymmetric arrangement of the robust vertical heatsink and the horizontally located individual components creates a strong architectural statement, clearly revealing the powerful cooling characteristics of the Thermaltake Gaming Tower.

Usually our workstations end up with the cover off, for better cooling, so they look like this anyway, only not nearly as pretty. Via Core 77.