29 February 2012

[comic] Adeiu, "The Elderberries"

2787Thank you, Corey Pandolph. And that's sincere.

A comic strip we've all been very fond of around here is winding down. The Elderberries, a strip which, more or less, has the same surreal and genuinely-funny take on being old as Cul De Sac has on being young, is ending.

I actually wondered about that a few weeks ago, when suddenly the gigantic Japanese conglomerate decided to sell off and close Elderpark (tagline: A great place to park your elder). In fairly short order the stern Russian cook, Ludmilla, was splitting to run her own retirement home, taking the Professor and the General with her; best-friends Dusty Winters (the eternal cowboy) and Boone (the retired UPS drive who bled brown) were hieing off to New York to share quarters; Evelyn was off to live with one of her ever-neglectful kids, and the ever-beleaguered Miss Overdunne was being sprited off to Italy to live with her now-no-longer-unrequited suitor, who ran the nearby tavern.

Everyone was going places, but we weren't sure where the comic was going and … well, now we know.

We'll miss those characters.

Whereever you go, Mr. Pandolph, we wish you'd of continued the strip … but we do wish you well.

[design] Multiple Tools? The More, The Abler

2786This graphic I found interesting because it reinforces some things I've conceptualized about the practice of graphic design and digital tools:

  1. Photoshop is teh awesum:
  2. Adobe is massive:
  3. QuarkXPress is the minority platform.
I don't think a designer should be necessarily counted out because he or she doesn't have skills in, say, Illustrator as well as Photoshop as well as InDesign. But the skills required to use all three at a basic level of proficiency are pretty transferrable from one to the other: the Beziér-based Path tool works the same basic way, and the difference between how a vector and a pixel conspire to make your .ai file different from your .ps file are quick to learn and become intuitive soon enough.

An enlightened teacher or mentor in the art and practice are essential, of course. 

But if one's going to learn one, one should get into the others. Being a triple-threat Illustrator/Photoshop/InDesigner says more than you know how to use three important tools – I think it also shows that you're willing to rise to a certain challenge.

The biggest surprise? QuarkXPress isn't mentioned at all.

(via Pariah Burke's repin of Calvin Lee's pin at Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/pin/124974958379513909/)

Show off your graphic design skills with business cards from UPrinting!

28 February 2012

[OR_liff] Fisher Scones, A Taste Of The Real Northwest

2785A few days back, I celebrated finding a KATU artifact and bringing it home. The KATU 2 Sign sits, overlooking the living room; when the light is on, we're either all looking at it and admiring it, or I'm down in the studio wasting time doing design or creative work.

The name of the company then, Fisher's Blend Station, Inc, as I remarked then, seemed a mite awkward name for a media conglomerate, and indeed, the company's mission has moved on. In my reading, however, the company only spun off its flouring enterprises as late as 2001. While I have no evidence, I do know that for a great deal of the early part of the 20th Century, in the Northwest, Fisher's Blend flour was the flour, at least it was Fisher's most popular product. And when the Fisher family decided to start broadcasting, with radio station KOMO, it seemed reasonable to advertised Fisher's Blend flour … on 'that Fisher's Blend station', as I also read elsewhere (and can't find the reference, sorry … you'll have to take my word on that). When a holding company was founded to nurture the burgeoning broadcast business, it must have seemed natural to call it just that.

This story at Historylink.net has a more big-picture overview of the history of Fisher.

It did not distance itself far from its flouring origins, and that chapter of the story we look at today. Anyone who's been to a state fair in the Pacific Northwest during the last several decades will surely remember a Fisher's Scone stand. There's surprisingly little to a Fisher's Scone; A hot, just-made (or very very recently-made) triangular biscuit made of Fisher's flour, butter, and raspberry or blueberry jam.

It's a hot biscuit and jam, is what it is, which makes its pervasiveness in PNW culture all the more a triumph. By marketing them at state and county fairs in Oregon and Washington, Fisher made a genius move that will forever have them linked with what is really part of the PNW frame of mind and frame of reference.

Hell, I want one right now. Those babies are magnificent.

Last year, KING-TV in Seattle celebrated the Fishers Scone (amusing that this story is from a FisherComm competitor, but you gets your gold where you finds it) with this report:

Either way you look at it, the Fisher companies have been influencing Pacific Northwest tastes, for better or for worse, for more than a century. I count this in the better column.

26 February 2012

[logo] Before and After: Banfield Pet Hospitals Logo Redesign

2784Banfield Pet Hospitals went from one modest office on NE 82nd and Broadway (that we once patronized, Back In The Day™) to a far flung pet clinic archipelago with literally hundreds of branches, some as far away as Great Britain. It's heart is still in Portland, as to say: the NE 82nd clinic is across the street from world headquarters, a nicely-done brick building with a public dog park in front.

When it originally expanded to PetSmart stores, it called itself VetSmart but eventually moved all those clinics to the Banfield brand. And when they did, it looked like this:

… and I enjoyed this. It was dead clever. 

It's hard to really be distinctive when designing a logo for a vet. Judging by what I see, it's usually some combination of kitty and doggie, with a human hand sometimes offering encouragement, comfort, or maybe just a scritch on the head. And this does that.

But where it really excels is in the lower left, on the back side of the kitteh's leg and the underside of the belly. Notice that those lines are absolutely straight, where as the rest of the cat has natural contours? Now add those to the frame of the cross, which is thereby preserved, and you have a tiny little fillip that really kicks this one up to the next level. 

That's the sort of little detail that makes an aspiring designer say wish I'd have thought of that one! and sets it apart, though in a very subtle way, from all the kitty/doggy combos out there. The rest of the display is kind of clever, though they couldh ave done without the cross as the tittle on the 'i'; it moves the crossbar on the f and the main part of the i down making the whole word look undone. However, I'd always read the bevelling on the l and the d as a nod to the freeway that gave the clinic its name; it makes the word Banfield resemble FHWA signage lettering.

Recently we've seen a new version of the logo emerge, and this is it:

Gone are the cat's body breaking the cross's frame, and the cross has a sunny aspect to it in the color. The human's hand is gone, leaving Fluffy and Fido looking into the distance for their pal; the type has been refined and polished. 

But the polished type has lost the quirkiness of the original, and the cross, while more compact and easier to design to, has also lost its quirky attitude. It retains the interest of the old logo because of the similarity to it, but has dropped a great deal of its charm for something more buttoned-down, more slick. 

That's not to say it doesn't have its own cleverness. The dog-cat profile that proceeds in from the lower-right is formed by one artfully-carved strip reversed out of the cross. And the sunny yellow color does feel cheerful.

But this is just mere cleverness, while the earlier version was cleverness which bespoke genius.

The revision isn't bad, but I'd of preferred they just left it alone. The new isn't bad, but the old was a first-place winner.

And the babies are probably missing their friend something fierce. Pets are like that.

21 February 2012

[pdx_liff] The Bits Of PDX Broadcast History You'll Find In Hawthorne Junk Shops

2783We are now the proud owners of a sign. But this is not just any old sign.

Portland's Channel 2, KATU-TV, signed on in 1962. It became an ABC affiliate in 1963.
The wooden shadowbox backing up this bit of translucent plexi (or Lucite, maybe) denotes it as having a vintage of 1958, though that's when Fisher Broadcasting (then Fisher's Blend Station, Inc) received a construction permit for KATU. Don't know if they knew that was when they were going to get the network affiliation. The provenance for the objet is still rather shrouded in the mists of time.

The sign looks like thus:

The translucent plastic sign can be slid out because of the missing bit of metal frame on the right. A small 40-watt appliance bulb lives in the box and looks about as old as the rest of the sign. The crafting and cutting out of the plastic forms used to create the logo's forms is as precise and immaculate as you'd want to see. This was a labor of love.

This appears to be a sign that could have hung in an office window or been mounted on a wall somewhere. How this might have occurred is far from evident. The only idea of provenance we have is the sticker, whose date must be held in some doubt. However, the design of the sign looks identical to the logo design on the television cameras I've seen in historic shots of it. It might not actually date from 1958, but it could easily have dated from around 1963 or so.

The station, KATU, is owned by Fisher Communications. Back in The Day™, it was known as Fisher's Blend Station, Inc. Kind of an awkward name for a media conglomerate. As I understand Fisher's history, though, the company that evolved into Fisher Communications began life as the Fisher Flouring Mills in Seattle, circa 1910 or so. Their most popular product was Fisher's Blend Flour. If you had a Fisher's Scone … a yummy little number made of a piping hot biscuit made of Fisher's flour with warm jam spread inside … at any Pacific Northwest State Fair through the sixties and/or seventies, then that was from the same company. And, early on, Fisher's Flouring Mills apparently realized the value of broadcasting in spreading the word about their signature product … Fisher's Blend Flour …via the new medium. One thing probably led to another, and the next thing you knew, Fisher's Blend was a broadcasting company too.

Fisher Communications have come a long way from their flouring beginnings. Fisher's flour is still made and Fisher Fair Scones are still served, but they do not seem to have a connection to the communications company any more. C'est la guerre, mon cher. 

On the way home there was some discussion over where it might go. Being broadcast graphic design, I felt very possessive about it and thought about some way it could come to the basement to live in the studio with me. But The Wife™ made an excellent gestalt case for it living upstairs in the living room, where everyone we'd have over might see it. And we'd get a chance to brag, of course, thought I to myself, thought I.

So it now occupies a position of honor in the main room upstairs, less than three feet from the TV screen, on which we watch KATU (well, as long as the digital signal will let us). And, in the dark, why, it looks so very warm and nostalgic …

Warms my heart to have this under my own roof, it does. I am a lucky person, in a way.

While I was writing this, The Wife™ sent me a link to a picture of DX reception of KATU from about 770 miles distance. The newsman in depiction is Rick Meyers, a newscaster I liked quite much, when I was a little tiny guy: http://www.johninmontana.com/oregon/katu-id.jpg.

And, as long as Shadowhouse's loss is my gain, might I suggest that you all keep an eye on http://www.shadowhouse.net, Shadowhouse's web page. They still got great stuff there, it's almost all half-off to reduce the wear and tear of moving it, and when they get a new location, that's where you'll find out about it. 

20 February 2012

[logo] Four Blue Screens: The Windows 8 Logo

2782Software brand identities, they be funny things, yarr.

Software enthusiasts tend to fly these things like flags and they begin to feel as though, merely by looking at a symbol and identifying it it becomes, in a certain real way, theirs. I remember the minor uproar when the icon for the Mac Finder got changed just a little; the big collective point-and-laugh when Quark debuted a logo that was all but exactly identical to that of the Scottish Arts Council; and the wistful sigh of regret when Apple shifted from a rainbow to a cold, glossy sheen.

Didn't know so many people felt that way about Alar. So 1980s.

Anywhoozle, it struck me as odd that Microsoft should even want to update the Windows logo. I thought it rather keen. The original logo, back along about Windows 1, was very straightforward and functional. Showed what it did. Didn't mess around.

Yup. Pretty nifty. But it went from that, evolving, to this:

The accent for me isn't so much on the type (though I enjoy it muchly) but the evolution of the graphical representation of the idea of windows. It was obvious up top, and here in the middle it has the flag-like wave the world has come to know and love in the design. 

There is a thing in design called dynamic tension. Anything squared off and balanced or aligned or symmetrical expresses a sort of 'locked down' feeling … all energy balanced, all bases covered. Giving something a slant visually suggests unbalance, and we all understand potential energy on a primordial level, so we imbue the unbalanced logo with a sort of energy. Dynamism. Tension. Dynamic tension. And despite it sounding like a damnation, in Logoville, dynamic tension, artfully managed, can visually energize a logo.

But MSFT has a habit of not leaving well enough alone. And thus, and so, and here, courtesy of the design giant Pentagram is the new look of Windows 8:

The four blue screens. 

I don't place a whole lot of emotional value into the Windows logo, actually; there are other logos I care much more about. But I thought, in its 7 incarnation, with the warm color and the reduction of the wavy-flag look, it had arrived at a certain good place. And then MSFT took it elsewhere.

I don't think it's a failure, per se; Windows 8 is going to live and die on whether or not it's a great OS. I can't believe that MSFT doesn't have a few more tricks up its sleeve; with the formerly-beleaguered Apple now well resurgent and on its way to the top of the IT heap, MSFT isn't the computer-gawd it once was, but is still a Titan, with human experience worth, as the MCP might have said, worth 'millions of man-years'. The personal computer of today isn't the same as the personal computer of 2003 (or even 1993) and that's where the battle is to be waged.

But in the side-skirmish that is graphic design, the Windows 8 logo is kind of blah. Nothing to get too excited about. Flat. A bit uninteresting. But it does synch-up nicely with MSFT's Swiss-influenced "Metro" design language, emphasizing simple, clean typography, simple shapes for thumbnails and straightforward design. 

In that way, it is a success.

But the logo? I think they should have left well-enough alone. The flag? It was kinda cool.

14 February 2012

[OR_liff] Mount Hood Is Good … Boringly Good

2781I've declared my love unending for that beautiful Multnomah Indian maiden sitting on our eastern horizon, Mount Hood, or Wy'east, as the original natives called her. She gives Portland a backdrop that other cities would kill for (I know, I've asked Jacksonville, Florida). Smooth in profile on the south, rugged (but not too rugged) on the north, the mountain, the highest one in Oregon, seems to reflect beatifically upon the city that looks back with a highly-photographed, come-hither expression.

Of course, she's one of the Cascade Range's famous sleeping giants, who could (and have) erupted violently enough to lay waste to multiple square miles and throw entire states into darkness before noon. It's like living with a gorgeous killer next door, a femme fatale like no other.

Or is it?

I was transfixed by an article in The Big O that attempts to explain Hood's comparative quiescence. While Rainier sits in majesty, intimidating Seattle and threatening to unleash lahars as far west as Puyallup if they get any more uppity, Hood hangs out in the distance like a mellow fellow traveller, at ease with her surroundings.

It turns out that Mount Hood is good … boringly good.

After analyzing crystals embedded in lava from relatively recent eruptions, the researchers found that hot magma from deep below Mount Hood consistently mixes with cooler, mushier magma nearer the top weeks to months before an eruption.  
The heating makes the magma less viscous, or more runny. Potentially explosive gases can harmlessly escape the thinner mixture -- think of the bubbles that stream to the surface when you open a can of soda, Koleszar said.  
And that prevents a high-powered explosion that blows the mountain's top. 
The entire article at OLive is here: http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2012/02/mount_hood_unraveling_the_myst.html.

Bottom line here, a so-called "Plinian" eruption … which is what Saint Helens had, and what almost every other volcanic mountain can expect to have at one time or another, is, through the chance of the process described above, extremely un-likely to ever happen with Mount Hood.

That's not to say, of course, that an eruption at Hood wouldn't cause some level of catastrophe. And lahars … mud, ice and rock flows that can scour out a river valley … are still a likely thing with our peak. Actually a lahar can happen because of an out-wash of glacial ice or an avalanche, not necessarily triggered by volcanic activity at all. So wariness of the volcano next-door is not to be discouraged.

But it is reassuring to know that the Mount Hood we're familiar with isn't likely to change much even if she erupts, and moreover, we know why.

The geologic province that the eastern reaches of Portland is embedded in is named for a pioneer community that's received a lot of ribbing over the years for being Boring.

Turns out, majestic Hood is the most boring volcanic of them all. 

[pdx_liff] Why Portland's Eastsiders Point And Laugh At The West Hills

2780Today in our Dept of Fighting-The-Man-Against-Gentrification Dept, who would think that the cozy residents of Hillsdale … a place one might describe as 'tony' … would enlist in the cause. According to The Big O, here's a First-World Problem for you, two blocks of a street in that nabe, Southwest Sunset Boulevard, is wanting for curbing, sidewalking, and a bike lane.

The neighbors along those two blocks? DO NOT WANT!:
Those who live on the two blocks in question worried that their "rustic"  street would be turned into “a hard urbanscape” with the installation of an "ugly concrete" sidewalk and bike lane. 
… and, I'm sorry folks, no disrespect intended, but I just had to laugh. You see, my turf is out around Southeast 122nd Avenue and Market Street. This is a part of portland that people west of César E. Chávez Blvd (or, 39th Avenue to the unreformed) still haven't completely realized is within Portland city limits. People see our streets and furrow their foreheads over how 'distressed' my corner of town is. The fact that the property owners (according to the story) have been using the public right-of-way for landscaping (or something) enters into this not-at-all, I'm sure.

What the hassled residents of Sunset Boulevard call rustic is what many of my neighbors call the street in front of our house. 

If you ever thought there wasn't an east-west divide in Portland, or wonder why the east-side regards the west-side with such suspicion … well, here ya go, Scout.

Just what the hell is a 'hard urbanscape' supposed to be, anyway?

02 February 2012

[art] If Shepherd Fairey Had Met Bob Ross …

2780.Maybe agitprop history might have been a bit different:

Inspired by Shepherd Fairey's OBEY GIANT;
Image of Bob Ross rendered from BRI Logo (via BRI):
above image intended as homage only and is
not for sale.

[print] Charlotte Brontë: The First Zinester

2779.Here in Zinelandia producing zines is second nature; a little-known section of the municipal code stats that you have to either be creating one or planning one or you have to move to Gresham.

Fortunately, the Zine Police will let you off if you just say you're planning a zine. It's like having a screenplay in Los Angeles; the default position is that you're going to doing one any day now.

Written circa 1830, when the eldest Brontë sister was 14, a very tiny, handwritten volume, one of a series of "Young Men's Magazines" (the mind is intrigued here) is smaller than 1.5" x 2.6" but packs 4,000 words and a setting in Glass Town.

Big deal. I was perusing similar volumes in the zine stacks at the Multnomah County Library just last week.

But if you wanted it, you'd of have to had ponied up about $1.1 million at Sothebys.

If Charlotte were alive today … well, hell, she'd be scratching at her coffin lid demanding to be let out. But still.