30 July 2010

[design] The New Look Pac-10: It's Not Just a Logo, it's a Brand

Debuted yesterday: the new Pac-10 Conference's logo. It's kind of a slick production, and quite stylish when placed next to the design it succeeded, a box with big type and the suggestion of the setting sun.

There are appropriate images. The Pacific-10, encompassing the states of Oregon, Washington, California and Arizona (and soon enough to include Colorado and Utah) is the westernmost geographically-located big collegiate conference. the update includes two things you find quite a lot of the the west - the mountains (under the A) and the ocean (with a wave curling about the "10") into a slick, sleek shield.

And, of course, ours being a visual culture, we fixate on what seems, in the context, a daring update (your mileage may vary). But, after a year in which the Pac-10 almost ... almost ... eated the Big 12 to become the Pac-16, the attitude of the Pac-10 (the Pac-12, soon enough) has been shown to be a new, world-beating thing.

At least that's what they really want you to perceive here. The new-look Pac-10 is more than just about a new logo. It's about a new swagger and style, a new attitude.

Much of the credit for this new wide-shouldered confidence is being laid at the feet of the Pac-10's commissioner, Larry Scott. He led the charge to try to annex six more colleges, and has been at the forefront, the public face, of the new bold conference. In a succinct but punchy statement, he lays it all on the line. And the media events this week, with all Pac-10 football coaches in entourage, just really underline this.

This, my friends, is more than a new logo, it's the magic spell they try to cast with the word brand. It's the whole 50 yards on first down. It's probably why it's easier to find Pac-10 press extoling the virtues of the brand than decent graphics of the new logo (I nicked the above from Wikipedia's article). It's a nice logo, but just considering that would be kind of missing the forest for the trees.

But all this ... the "conference of champions", the academic reputations of the member schools, the positive aspects of life in the western USA, all these are contained in not just the logo, but the words and the stories they try to tell with them.

So far, they're doing a pretty good job.

If you like the Pac-10, you're probably liking this. And the new logo is a refreshing change from the old stale one, and cleverly executed too - and ready to turn the "10" into a "12", with little fuss, when the time is right.

We call it a pass completion.

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27 July 2010

[design] The Dying Art Of Design?

A while back I read an article by Salem's Von Glischka titled Don't Be A Tooler. The article is chewy food for thought, and can be read at http://artbackwash.blogspot.com/2009/06/dont-be-tooler.html. It generated a ton of discussion and I contributed a conment, and still to this day get emailed the occasional reply to the thread.

The idea of a tooler, as I understood it then and understand it now, is the sort of person who is a able user of tools like Photoshop and such and thinks that some mastery of the standard digital design tools makes them a designer ... but along the way, they've avoided acquiring the soft skills a designer really needs to create ... how to see as an artist, how to view a graphic design assignment as more than a chance to produce something that has a surface look of everything else.

That's not to say that you can - or should, in some cases - fight popularity. Can't really be done. But it demonstrates a lack of depth that talent can't always make up for, resulting in forgettable designs that don't really distinguish themselves at all. Sure, you can use Photoshop like a pro - but can you draw? Von Glischka is renowned amongst designers for his artistic, illustrative approach to designing, and the extra depth that "old-fashioned" skill provides his work informs every piece I've ever seen him do with a sort if interior logic and harmony.

It's tough to explain and sound like "whalesong and joss-stick" talk, but you look at Von's work, and you see it instantly.

Free and Numerous Tutorials and Resources as a subsititute for design intellect?

The intarwebz have been a boon to me and to many people who want to learn a new technique or see how some other designer achieved a cool effect. If you get on enough design mailing lists or Twitter, you soon find you can't swing a virtual cat - dead or otherwise - without hitting a list of nifty, fun tutorials on how to achieve this, that, or the other effect, and free resources for the stuck designer. Your bookmarks file will soon be filled to bursting.

But, as mom always said, too much of a good isn't a good thing anymore. Francisco Inchausté, writing at Smashing Magazine, holds a view that harmonizes, in its way, with Von Glischka. I'd put it this way: the embarrassment of riches on the 'net today, instead of making us nimble designers, actually threatens to turn us into lazy, deriviative hacks:
Dependance on resources such as freebies and tutorials is turning our design industry into an assembly line that churns out the same exact piece, with perhaps slight variation. Design is not a commodity, but the more that designers use freebies and the like, the more it will become one. The Web is just a large copy machine, as Kevin Kelley puts it. Design seems to be going down this road, too. Even our information resources—the design blogs themselves—are clones of each other.
I think he has a point. It doesn't take a career with a ton of success to realize that if we all use the same resources we all start looking like the same designer. Moreover, it's too easy to begin to browse your library of tutorials like a pantry of ready-made design solutions. Then, you cross the line into Tooler territory, and you stop using your insight, substituting a sort of reactive thinking for actual design problem-solving.

The overall prescription seems to be, back away from the computer for a while. Get a real design book or magazine and spend some time reading. Sure, you're a Photoshop virtuoso or an Illustrator god, but even I've seen in myself what will happen when you depend on digital apps to do all your work - they become your brain (as I write this, I'm in a epic struggle to get my drawing chops back. My skills have reverted to, as far as I'm concerned, a shambolically bad level).

So, get out the sketchbook and pencil. Break out them old Walter Foster "how-to" books if you have to. You don't have to show anybody your new bad drawings, and when your skill returns, you can look back at teh awful and say to yourself "see how far I've come".

It's a hard road to travel.

Not only are digital apps easy to use and come up with awesome f/x ... they're fun!!! So, that's a hard habit to break. Expect withdrawals.

But we mustn't forget that design and art is, first, and foremost, a human thing, and requires all the good, old fashioned, human skill our hands are capable of if it's going to be solid.

For all his public life, recently-departed gonzo cartoonist John Callahan was a quadriplegic with limited use of his hands. He drew with them anyway. It took both his hands to do it, but his cartoons were visceral and real. If you, like me, have full use of both your hands, you can at least try. Your design might be better for it - anything with a solid foundation tends to endure.

The Smashing Magazine article is at http://m.smashingmagazine.com//2010/04/08/the-dying-art-of-design/. Yes, it was done on a computer. Just savor the irony, peoples.

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[pdx] Thunderstorm Debris Over The Rose City

My The Wife" generally thinks I waste time and energy with Twitter, but paying attention to the Twitter stream pays off, I tell you what.

Earlier tonight, as I was doing some tech editing, I noticed my backyard was bathed in a beautiful salmon/ochre/russet-y sunset glow. Those are the best. They lend a timeless, eternal, suspended quality to the sunset. Very cozy.

At about 9:00 PM, Twitter-pal @forkfly said I encourage you all to look outside right now. Wow!, with a link to an amazing shot of the sky.

I dont know where @forkfly got that, but that roofline seems to make me want to say that was from somewhere in Sellwood.

Wow, indeed. I did look out, and got my own pix.

And this:

And this:

The first one was just to make sure I centered that big "bite" which adds to the drama of the cloud. The next two were to make something artistic out of the silhouette of the TV aerial, which for some reason makes me think of record album covers I'd known.

Watching the news a bit later on, we found that a lot of people caught this and uploaded them to the local TV outlets. KPTV-12's Mark Nelson seemed to be saying that this was some of what he called "thunderstorm debris" from all the t-storms we had east of the Cascades today. I didn't know that thunderheads broke up like that.

This beauty belies the gravity of the situation that the thunderstorms that spawned this amazingness probably marked the beginning of wildfire season on the dry side of Oregon, but here ... wow.

(NB: Forkfly's pic hotlinked to. All rights remain with the original picture taker. All rights reserved on my own)

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24 July 2010

[pdx] A Moment of Silence for Cartoonist John Callahan , 1951-2010

Just broken by the WWeek: Callahan, the famous PDX quad who draws teh politically-incorrect funnay, has passed on after a year of fighting additional ailments apparently brought on by surgical complications.

He was 59 years old, which, I suppose if you had asked him, was a whole lot of years longer than he thought he'd have gotten.

The WWeek note can be seen at http://blogs.wweek.com/news/2010/07/24/john-callahan-dead-at-60/

Also, centered at the bottom of his website's front page (http://callahanonline.com) underneath his portrait photo is simply the notation "1951-2010", which seems about right in tone - Callahan may have had many moods, but public sentimentality never seemed to be one of them.

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16 July 2010

[art] Old-Fashioned Painting Of Building Ads ... Up There

The craft of building ads is something that seems to be on the way out, or maybe just looks that way. Hanging vinyl banners is quick, easy, and efficient - but a lot less charming.

When it came time to show off the perfect Stella Artois, though, the company chose the old-fashioned way. Up There is a short movie that details that struggle.

It's viewable at a page at this link right here: http://uptheremovie.com. Since it shows off beer ads, you have to be of legal age to view. Please don't lie to them.

It's about 12 minutes.

I was utterly charmed, myself. H/T to Pete Vogel.

(Bandwidth warning: I'm decidedly not happy with the streaming. On my older computer, sound galloped ahead of the pictures by more than a minute, and on the more powerful computer we have around here, there was so much rebuffering that the computer evenually gave up about 6 minutes in. You will enjoy what you do see, promise you that.)

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[liff] Question Of The Day

It would seem to me that the most absurd shelves in the used-book store are the ones with the self-help books on them.

Discuss amongst yaselves.

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15 July 2010

[pdx art] An Artist A Day Back In April At Muse Art+Design

Continuing to be historically late-to-the-party, I wanted to share something that I stumbled on back in April before life became a bit sucky and distracting. But it involves Muse Art+Design, and watching artists work, which are two things I'm big fans of.

The other year, when we first got acquainted with Muse, it was April and we noticed they had put up spots all around the shop announcing something called An Artist A Day. It is, as it turns out, more than just a cool and canny bit of promotion. AAAD gathers thirty artists, one per day, who work in the front window of Muse, creating one piece per day, which is then hung about the shop and silent-auctioned.

Here's the best part: the proceeds of the auction are used to buy Art Supplies for the Schoolhouse Supplies store, which is a free classroom-supply store for teachers. The value of access to art supplies for schoolteachers should be self-evident. And it's supported by great local art supply companies, M. Graham and Art Alternatives, so you know it's good.

Muse does this once per year, and according to the AAAD website, they'll be accepting applications to particpate in the 2011 edition starting in January.

Here's the hip:
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14 July 2010

[type] Rustic Type as Exciting Design: Pete Vogel's Nutmegger Workshop

A while back in a posting I was recommended to the Nutmegger Workshop, http://www.nutmeggerworkshop.com. I was remiss in not exploring that link a little further, an oversight I rectify here and now!

Pete Vogel, the proprietor, specializes in reproducing the look and feel of old typographically-driven signs, back when sign-makers painstakingly and lovingly created every letterform by hand, with brushes and paint, resulting in a look that is old-fashioned but timeless, charming, and quintessentially American (like the signs that the Portland Building Ads blog finds on a constant basis).

Here he is, in his own words:

Basically, I am attracted to the unadorned typography and sign layouts from the past. I love looking at old ghost signs and faded brick ads, the historic link to the past is what fascinates me the most as I've always wanted to be transported back 100 years. Typography and old signage make great art, especially the larger scale signs. Consider these old replicas in the same context as architectural salvage pieces like a vintage cornice from a house used as a centerpiece for a large space. I think vintage signage brings the same dramatic impact, especially if it is relevant to ones city or living space, or to a favorite destination. Like any art, it's the same form of personal expression, but much more graphic and memorable.

These signs, all personally created by Pete, evince a time we see as more genteel and charming so well that they almost transport you there.

In 1902, the "New York Grocery" did business at the address of 420 Morrison Street. If you remember any Address Nerdery at all, then you know that the lack of a directional meant that this was west of the Willamette, and that there were 20 house numbers to the block meant that it would really at about where SW 11th Avenue is today.

Reproduced by Pete it becomes a warm, friendly bit of decor, invested with history:

Pete's signs are also done on a custom basis, which means any hobby or obsession you or your spouse or loved one might share can become a classy, old-fashioned, typographically-delicious bit of home pride:

And while this Oregonized Nutmegger (he imported himself from Connecticut, the Nutmeg State) has an entirely laudable focus on images from Portland history:

(Dore and Cook Steam Printers plied thier trade
on Front Avenue around the beginning of the 1900s)

He casts his visual design eye far and wide as well - why, not even France and Germany are safe - with charming result.

Pete at work: Clicky to Embiggen

It's nifty to be sure to see someone at work achieving the old styles in traditional ways. By keeping the past alive this way, we have a visual record which helps define the present and point at the future. It's type, and respectful historic type, so I like it a lot, and I see nothing not to like here.

See Pete's work at his site, http://nutmeggerworkshop.com, where his successes are on prominent display, his respect for history is evident, and you can perhaps buy some of your own.

Pictures used courtesy of Pete Vogel, to whom I extend sincere gratitude.

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12 July 2010

[bloggage] Move My Blog Off Of Blogspot?

A few readers latterly have said the same thing to me, in two basically different discussions in two different venues. It boils down to this:
You have great content, but Blogger/Blogspot is holding you back.
That would explain the general lack of traffic in a sort of gestalt way ... this blog is a labor of love, but I see others who put in as much work and their popularity has really taken off whereas mine kind of simmers and banks its fires (an observation I think is cogent regardless of whatever my ultimate goals for this blog form would be).

That I would get multiple ups for my content is encouraging, to say the least. I do try my best to keep it interesting.

The idea of Blogger holding this blog back or (as one fellow said) keeping it in a dark place, despite being simple in statement, I find I'm having trouble getting my brain around.

So, I'm throwing the floor open for discussion. While I make my own decisions about the future of this blog, I'd like to hear from as many voices as I can ... what is it about a free Blogspot blog that puts me at a disadvantage? What options are there open for me if I don't have the resources at the moment to host my own blog somewhere and am looking for a solution that is as much like Blogger as possible ... that is, something that allows me just to launch and get going, and let me customize what I want as I learn to do it?

I do have a Wordpress-hosted blog that I mirror a lot of posts on, just to experiment with, and that's http://zehnkatzen.wordpress.com.

Fire away.

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[type] What Is The Font In The "Made In Oregon" Sign?

Recently I responded to a reader who was playing around with the Made In Oregon sign that City Councilor Leonard just went up against the U of O over notice my image here in the blog header and asked me, essentially, what font that was.

The answer is, of course, it's no font at all ... at least not part of a designed font set.

The following is a riff based on the highly-informal self-study in graphic design history I've undertaken for most of my life.

When the original version of the sign was built ... somtime in the former half of the 20th Century, I forget the year ... signs like this were designed of a piece, I get the feeling. Before it was Made In Oregon, it was White Stag, designed with a flowing script treatment which I'm guessing was inspired by scripts of the day but not necessarily drawn from any of them.

When the sign went from White Stag to Made in Oregon, it was probably a conceptually-simple trick to design a font design for the sign that resonated with the White Stag design.

When I designed the "Unicorns" version of it I, in Photoshop, clipped out the letterforms that the word Unicorns shared with Made In Oregon ... specifically, the miniscule o, r, and n ... and created new letterforms using paths and filling with the fuzzy light texture ... letting the visual characteristics of the letterforms I did have inform the new ones I created. In a way, I let the old letters design the new ones, so they all kind of go together.

It does occur the me that an entire font based on the Made In Oregon script font would be a happy thing indeed. I need to get designing on that.

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09 July 2010

[type] Comic Sans - For When You Want To Strike Back At The LeBronzilla

Well ... how 'bout them Cavs?

By now even people who hide in caves know, LeBron James, in an epic orgy of self-indulgent media attention that will go down in the annals of bad taste, pretty much deserted his Cleveland fans to run to Miami. Where you stand on this pretty much depends on where you sit, but from my POV, the self-indulgence grew so very huge that the ghost of Andy Warhol materialized to say "Hey, dial it back, fella. Over the top there".

But of all the multiple ring media circus, designed to make even the most self-aggrandizing political pundit look absolutely buttoned down, the most absurd event of the whole cascade didn't really directly involve LeBronzilla at all. It involved one Dan Gilbert, majority owner of the Cavs.

Now, before I go forward with this I want to unequivocally state that I feel the Cavs' pain. I respect what they're going through. I remember the Clyde Drexler Blazer squads of the 90s, when the only thing standing between the 'Zers and a much-deserved 2nd championship was the MJ-led Chicago Bulls. It's heartbreaking to have your dream squashed by someone who doesn't respect you at all.

Now Mr. Gilbert felt it time to epistle eloquently, and timely the decision it was, too. Though, we must ask ourselves, of all the fonts he could have used to compose his missive, why did he have to choose Comic Sans?

Yes, you heard it right. RoseConnare's Baby. Here's a sample:

Read the entire missive here: http://www.nba.com/cavaliers/news/gilbert_letter_100708.html.

This is why those of us who bitch about Comic Sans being every where, bitch about Comic Sans being everywhere. Type carries mood and attitude, and the mood and attitude conveyed here pretty much approximate how you'd feel if the famous "Coffee's for closers" speech Alec Baldwin's character in Glengarry Glen Ross were delivered by the character after inhaling helium.

Doesn't quite have the same punch. I feel like I'm trying to suppress laughter at someone's funeral or summat.

That on the table, I completely sympathize with Dan Gilbert, and my heart's out to the Cleveland fans. Being a Blazer fan, I know heartbreak.

But, being a very powerful and wealthy man, doesn't Mr Gilbert have assistants to prevent him from doing things like this?

The next time you ask yourself why all those type geeks get so excercised at Comic Sans ... think on this.

And understand.

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08 July 2010

[design] PDX Iconized To The MAX: The MAX Vertical System Map

Here's something we missed ... and something that really took me delightfully by surprise.

First thing I want to note before I go there is that the all transit and rail maps eventually want to grow up to be the Tube Map. It's the serendipitous acme of transit map design. The "Tube" I refer to, is, of course, the London Underground, and its map, originally designed by Harry Beck in 1931, has achieved the status of icon, influencing the design of many systems since - it seems that almost every major European city rail system diagram echoes it.

Even though you probably had a version of it spring forth in your mind, unbidden, you can refresh your memory by checking out the Wikipedia version of its history at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tube_map.  It's correct enough. The premise is that, since you're travelling underground, simplification is the ideal goal - you can't orient yourself by landmarks when you can't see the land, and, if you're smart, you've entered the Underground knowing where you are, knowing where you're going, and having some idea of the line you're taking to get there. So, colored lines distinguish the rail lines, and simple dots and circles, evenly spaced, simply connected if they simply connect.

The result is orthographic, straight-line genius, and even though the basic graphic look has changed a little as the system has, the overall look of the map is more-or-less the same. You can see the kernel of the 1931 map in the slickness of the 2010 edition. The circuit-board-like design is, quite simply, timeless.

With the expansion of TriMet's MAX rail service map, which began geographically correct when the original downtown Portland-to-Gresham service took off in 1986, has increased in schematic aspect as the lines grew and the complexity increased. The current horizontal display, now viewable at TriMet's site as well as at MAX stations, does a magnificent job but retains just a little of that geographic familiarity. But the older trains (according to a quote in a Joseph Rose column that I missed back in February) don't have spaces that support a horizontal format as well. So, presumably, why don't we not only reorient the map but throw a little Europeanish redesign in it was well? We first saw this last evening, and since I missed the February column, I didn't know about it till then - and was most pleasantly surprised. This is PDX iconized.

Actually I don't know if they thought it was European. I will go so far as to say that I bet they know they thought it was smart. And I agree. Because, really, when you're riding on the MAX, what do you really need to know about where you're going? If you're smart, you have some idea of where you're going once you get off the train, and have a clear idea of where you got on and what line of TriMet's plethora of five glorious rail lines you'll need to use.

So, make sure you're on the right line, and count the stations. That's all you really need to do.

What I particularly find delightful is the little double-stripe connecting the Rose Quarter TC and the Interstate/Rose Quarter Yellow line stop. That the heart of the system - Pioneer Square - is represented by a big circle befits its iconic status in Portland geography. The bifurcated nature of the lines in downtown are simplified by combining the stations into one icon and merging the names with a slash.

And it, like great transit maps of its ilk, shows the loving influence of the great Beck design, the most iconic of all transit maps - the Tube Map - and we know this, because it works the same way.

We dig it.

Go see Joseph Rose's commuting column to see the map embiggened:
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04 July 2010

[art] An Heraldic Chimera (Great Authentic Heraldic Art!)

Now, latterly, I've been sharing some heraldic artwork I've been doing for my colleagues and cher cousins in the SCA. And one may rightly wonder to what end we are emulating the "real world" (or, as we somewhat tirelessly say, "Mundania").

I've been busy crawling the web page of The XXVII Congress of Genealogical and Heraldic Sciences, held in 2006 at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. This would have been a wonderful thing to have seen first-hand (I don't doubt that some of my more prosperous acquaintances were fortunate enough to have been afforded the chance (we are, actually, that in love with Heraldry)) but thankfully, they took pictures and shared them with the world.

The feeling I got looking at them was not too unlike my reviewing the experiences at the recent Known World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium (KHWSS 2010) that we held locally - except, of course, it was kicked up to a Who'. Nuvva. Level.

Here's an example of the displays on at the Heraldic Artists Workshop, which I would have travelled in steerage just for the chance to see:

But the requirement for fantastic beasties is a verity, and for the true example of this I give you the "UniDragLyon", credited to the artist Marco Foppoli:

Combining parts of animals to create other animals is a long and beloved tradition in heraldic art; the Griffin (heraldically sometimes spelt Gryphon), as in "Merv", is a creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion (or lyon). In this case, the head and foreparts of a unicorn sprout the wings and tail of a dragon and the hindquarters of a lion (or, again, lyon).. Thus, Uni ... Drag ... Lyon, unidraglyon.

The painting, most likely done with gouache (opaque watercolors) exhibits a sensitivity to detail and masterful control of materials of a true master-of-the-form. If the artist didn't get an award for this delightful beast, well, he ought to have!

This is the acme to which all of us who are interested in heraldic art must aspire to. Because, even if we miss this mark, we'll still create amazingly excellent pieces along the way.

(Nota Bene: The creators retain all rights to the above work. Permission to use as illustration has been requested some time ago but so far no reply has been recieved. Apologies to the creators for my impatience, but this was too good to resist sharing any longer. Please feel free to contact me at samuel.klein@gmail.com if you wish the images removed, but I'm hoping you will allow them to stay)

For the curious, here's the requisite link:
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[liff] The Bicycle Diaries: The Medieval Bicycle?

We PDX veloxiraptors fancy ourselves the modern example of the evolved two-wheel, people-power pilot, but what if it was found that bicycles, rather much like today's fixie, existed back in the 1500s?

The bicycle is the one in the pit on the left here:

... and the full story is here:
And remember, they can't put it up on the intartuebz without it being reals, yo.

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01 July 2010

[net liff] Scribefire Fixed It!

In the credit where credit's due department, we note that, given the presence of the screenclipped logo below, Scribefire's developer, Christopher Finke, has fixed the image upload problem.

Me and a whole lotta bloggers depend on and love Scribefire, which allows us easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy blog posting with quick image upload and FLAVENS. So, when you get a nifty free Firefox addon that allows you do this thing here, and he fixeded it, you give mad public ups.

I'm leaving the Muse Art & Design logo because you should go there.

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