14 February 2006

[design] Klein's Three Basic Laws

These are personal, as are the names. The reader may borrow them if they wish.

Cutsforth's Axiom
  • "Never let the computer design for you"-Cecelia Cutsforth, Graphic Design dept chair, Portland Community College.
This was maybe said in so many words maybe a handful of times but was repreated in countless ways throughout her instruction. The point is, with digital design tools the sine qua non of graphic design today, a sort of laziness can set in. With a few keystrokes and a mouse-click or two a Photoshop user can deliver special effects not even dreamt of ten years ago. But these tools are complex and have seemingly innumerable adjustments. Sometimes it's easier just to issue the command and move on.

In doing this, you've let the computer, via defaults, make decisions you, the designer, should perhaps have made. In a small way, you've reliquished the right to call yourself a creative, which is also part of the point.

Tools will make your job easier and quick, but it's you who must use the tools. My own corollary to this would be that if you do settle for defaults, do it with knowing. Understand you've made the choice to go with the default and work with that choice. And, if the defaults don't work for you, create new ones.

Remember, double-spaces between paragraphs are fine for Word users, but you, designer-person? Space before and Space after. And style sheets!

Gruber's Rule
  • "A designed thing should look designed"-inspired by Linnea Gruber, Graphic Design instructor, Portland Community College.
This was a theme I took away from Linnea's instructional style, and driven home by a few personal moments of discovery. Naturally, the non-designer can't necessarily pick up the cues that the designer knows to look for (alignment, hierarchy, color, etc) that the designer will probably see but the designed piece will feel more finished, more complete than the one whose design amounts to something thrown up against the wall to see if it sticks.

On the other hand, once again, design is a thing of intention too: if the feeling is one of randomness and chaos, then that can show. But, strangely, that too can be designed. Is communication going on? Then design has happened.

Goudy's Proposition
  • "Anyone who would letterspace lower case would steal sheep"-attributed to Frederic Goudy, Type God.
This statement isn't particularly secret or will benefit from my commentary, indeed, it inspired the title of a book on designing with type. Actually, as the Creativepro.com website review of the book Stop Stealing Sheep notes, the actual quote had to do with letterspacing blackletter. Being a Modern sort, I'll be blunt and say the reference to stealing sheep is a bit over my head but I think I get it; Goudy abhorred letterspaceing blackletter and minuscules and figured anyone who would spend their time doing that might also spend time in other disreputable pursuits. Dancing comes to mind.

This statement, to me, addresses appropriatness of design again. Most fonts, movable type as well as digital, are designed not only with respect to thier own forms but also to the space they have between them. Typefounders have already done the grunt work of letterspacing for us. Certainly attention must be paid to overall kerning and tracking, but letter-to-letter, the basic stuff is already there.

Note this seems to conflict with Cutsforth's Axiom but doesn't really; font metrics are designed by other designers. You aren't letting arbitrary computer defaults do your work for you, but the insight of whatever designer created the font and its metrics.

If, on the other hand, the font one's working with is a badly created font, then that's another issue. And, as far as stealing sheep, I'd just as soon walk up to one and go "kitty!".

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