Labeling Your Customers

If you've spent time listening to NPR while driving in or around the Fairfield county area, you've probably heard the ads for the dentist who caters to cowards. The first time I heard the ad I winced a little. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the quality of dental care is fine, but I don't think saying that you cater to cowards is a good way to get new business. I can't imagine drivers thinking—hey I'm a coward, that place is for me! Identifying your business as catering to cowards is essentially the same as calling your customers cowards. Can you imagine if Walmart's tagline was, "We cater to cheapskates"? I think maybe it would be better to emphasize gentle dentistry rather than the shortcomings of your customers.


Surprise from Apple

I upgraded to a Macbook Pro a few weeks before Snow Leopard's release so I ordered it as an upgrade. This is the package Snow Leopard came in.

I was a little surprised when I saw it. Up until I received this, all aspects of Apple's business that I had encountered felt as though they embodied the Apple brand. Their visual identity is almost uncannily consistent. Everything feels as though it's been considered with just a little bit of extra effort to ensure it meets the standard. This envelope doesn't have that same quality—it feels thoroughly average. I don't think that they should start sending all their mailings in pristine white boxes in order to satisfy my expectations, but I'm disappointed there isn't at least a one color logo somewhere. On the other hand seeing this is encouraging because at least it shows they're human.


Some of my favorite TED talks

These TED talks aren't exactly new but I find them pretty inspiring.

Paula Scher gets serious

Stefan Sagmeister shares happy design

David Carson on design + discovery


Lubalin Now

I saw Lubalin Now on Saturday, it was excellent and well worth the visit down to Cooper Union while it's still up. Some of my photos are over on flickr.


Target's new store brand

Target's new identity for their store brand, up and up got me thinking about my brand buying habits.

Reasons I buy brand name products:
1. I think the quality I'm getting is worth the price
2. I like the brand/company

Reasons I buy store brand products:
1. I don't believe that a comparable brand name product adds much additional value.
2. I have limited history with any specific brand in this category and so have no brand name bias.

The up and up identity looks like a higher quality product that just happens to have a store brand price. Unlike many other store brands, the up and up packaging doesn't imitate its brand name counterparts, instead it communicates a unique value through its simple layouts, contemporary colors and clean typography. Up and up spans both of the categories I listed above with a store brand price and name brand looks. In the end though the question remains; will up and up live up to its packaging or feel more like its price?


Good way to start a Monday

I got an e-mail this morning saying this blog had made a list of the Top 50 Typography Blogs. I don't feel like I deserve to be on a list that contains so many people I look up to but it's certainly encouraging.


A few quick thoughts on drop shadows

Setting up a drop shadow on some type seems pretty straightforward right? You can use the drop shadow tool or maybe just duplicate the type and move the copy behind the original and offset it a little bit; at least this used to be my thought process before class with Ed Benguiat. Below is an example of what you might get if you set the drop shadow that way.

The drop shadow in the preceding illustration is an exact duplicate of the shape above it. The problem with the method shown above is that even though it reproduces the shapes perfectly, the shapes aren't uniformly thick at all points. When drop shadows are added to type they are no longer just representations of shadows, they become part of the rhythm of the word. The lack of visual consistency caused by technically correct drop shadows breaks up the rhythm of the word.

The example above shows the inconsistencies in the diagonal and round shapes. The diagonals get way too thin or disappear altogether and many of the round shapes end up too heavy. One solution to this problem is to cut apart the letterforms that make up the drop shadow and adjust it manually. Below is an example of the drop shadow manually adjusted.

Problems like this remind me that I need to trust my eyes and not just the numbers.


Something I completely fail to understand

When littering the objective is usually either convenience or laziness.

Why would someone go out of their way and climb over/under the scaffolding just to get rid of their coffee cup like that?


Usability isn't just for the web

This sign always puzzles me as I walk by it into the grocery store. The objective of the sign seems to be to get customers to bring shopping carts with them from the parking lot into the store to assist the people who have to gather the carts in the parking lot. It seems like a really nice idea but there's one major problem. Look I even did a little infographic to explain it.

If the sign had been placed out in the parking lot where all the carts are it probably would work great. Now it accomplishes two things as you walk into the store. It could make you think, "oops I should have brought a cart in… oh well." or possibly, "oh yeah, I need a cart" then causing a customer to grab from the ones by the door. In either circumstance the sign fails not because of bad design, but because of bad placement. This is where usability is crucial. Good design doesn't end with making sure the type on the sign is legible; it's also placing the sign in such a way that the people that need to use it can get the information they need at the time that they need it.


This is Maya Olivia

I'm an uncle today.

There are some more great pictures over on Steve's blog


Print isn't always dead

Seth Godin recently wrote an article about what the results might be if Craigslist cost $1. The premise of the article is that a one dollar fee could cause just enough friction to prevent spamming, while generating revenue and getting rid of some of the problematic anonymity that corresponds with free. I think he's dead on.
This same concept of friction applies well to marketing campaigns. Sending out a direct mail piece to thousands of people has some significant printing and mailing costs that can't be avoided. In light of the costs it can be tempting to compare a direct mailing to something like an e-mail blast. However, this comparison isn't a complete picture. E-mail can be sent by anyone to any number of people and so there's very little value or trust placed in an individual e-mail. In contrast the cost of a mailing gives a small amount of legitimacy to the message being sent; it says our message is worth enough that we invested in printing this and mailing it to you. Granted I get plenty of junk in the mail, but the stuff that manages to make it all the way to my physical mailbox tends to be more relevant to me and fewer in quantity when compared to what makes into my digital inbox let alone the spam folder.
E-mail is very powerful tool but shouldn't be mistaken as the only tool. In this case print isn't dead.


Ji Lee

Recently I was on the AIGANY website checking out Small Talk No. 1 with Ji Lee, the Creative Director at Google's Creative Lab. I checked out his website and found some amazing work. Below are some of the images from his independent, "Word as Image" project. These compositions are exactly what I love about graphic design, they embody simple, thoughtful communication.


The trouble with training

Warning, for those of you who haven’t realized this yet, the following post will reveal how much of a geek I really am, so you may want to proceed with caution.
Throughout high school and during the first half of my freshman year in college I played a card game called Magic the Gathering. In Magic you play against one opponent and use the cards in your individual deck to either bring your opponent from 20 to 0 life points or force them to be unable to draw a card from their own deck, causing them in either circumstance to lose the game. As you may have guessed based on the name of the game, the cards that you play with have names and artwork (and sometimes even back stories) reminiscent of a Middle Earth-like universe. Because of the fantasy theme mixed with strategy the game is fun for many different kinds of players. There are people that just collect the rare cards, those who make themed decks based on certain criteria, those who play in local tournaments and even some people who play professionally.

I started out as a very casual player, I didn’t really feel the need to learn anything beyond the basic mechanics of the game. A couple of my friends also played Magic but they were much better than I was. For months I would go over to their houses and play against them with my loosely assembled deck of cards and would get destroyed match after match. At first I didn’t understand why this was happening, maybe I wasn’t buying the most powerful cards, or maybe I was using the wrong color (there are five to choose from after all). Thankfully they got tired of crushing me and took some time to explain what I was doing wrong. They taught me what it meant to design a deck of cards that had a single purpose in mind and as much redundancy to get at that purpose as the 60 cards allowed. It wasn’t long afterwards while I was playing against other casual players that I began to notice how much different my mindset about the game had become. I had built my deck of cards into a finely tuned machine while my opponents were using cards they picked because they thought the name sounded cool. As a result of my new understanding the outcomes of these kinds of match-ups were almost completely one sided. Soon I began entering tournaments and eventually went on to try my luck at Pro Tour Qualifiers (PTQs).

As I began to practice for the PTQs, Magic transformed into very precise exercise. It was about calculation, evaluation and statistical likelihoods. Following one particularly grueling practice session my friend Paul said to me, “Hey do you want to play a match for fun.” The moment he said that to me I had a realization. I was playing a different game than the game I started to like in high school. Granted I was no pro player but I had traveled far from the realm of hobbyist and there was no going back. Eventually as college took more of my time I had to step away from my card habit. There was just no way I could maintain any meaningful skill if I no longer had time to practice. Unfortunately my mindset about how to play the game had changed so playing with casual players was really no longer an enticing option so I gave it up completely.

Through this experience I started to observe a life principle. The more I practiced the more the sensitive I became to both good play and bad play. This is a good thing because a genius strategy or clever trick is all the more brilliant when you understand all of the factors involved in making it. The only problem is that you become equally aware of all the bad play as well. This is just like life as a graphic designer.

"Mother and Child" by Herb Lubalin

"Families", "Marriage" by Herb Lubalin

Designs like the examples shown above are so amazing and make the whole process of study feel worthwhile. I may run into many crummy designs in the mean time but thankfully experiencing those moments of brilliance keeps me pursuing more despite the increased sensitivity to everything that’s not.


Sub-optimal type choice

Right now I am taking a web development class. Currently I know how to use Dreamweaver and deal with websites through that program only, but I really want to be able to code by hand and not lean on a WYSIWYG editor like a crutch. As part of the course curriculum I had to order a book. I opened it up and was greeted with this:


All Optima…

It's that horrible clowny bold face that really gets to me
I can't understand why they would have set this whole book in Optima. Unlike on the web, in print there are so many options to choose from.


Jamie Stolarski

I've been enjoying the beautiful design, type and illustration work of Jamie Stolarski. The definitely check out the rest of the portfolio.

via The Best Part


Oh google…

So my wife asked me to look up what process is to become a physical therapist and like all Gen-Yers I started to type "how do you become…" into Google and Google responded with this list of helpful suggestions. My personal favorite is the first.


Brand miscommunications

When I go to the mall with my wife we usually tend to stop by The Limited. Luckily for me The Limited is a visually stimulating store. The displays and colors are usually beautiful and the use of typography is elegant so even though I may not be interested in checking out pants or skirts I can look around not end up bored. During a recent trip I saw an autumn sales flier and eagerly picked it up, hoping for some good design to look at. Unfortunately I ended up with this:

I was completely surprised. I began to wonder if I had picked up a catalog from a different store or if there was some kind of mistake. For those of you not familiar, here's a screen shot of their website. The website exhibits The Limited's actual visual identity.

I don’t think these two designs could be any more different. Seeing such disparate pieces from the same organization just reminds me that the importance of consistent visual branding still seems to be undervalued. While it’s certainly true that there’s much more to a brand than it’s visual identity, it is one of the more important factors that sways a person during their first encounter with the brand. This concept is probably illustrated most clearly if you compare a brand to a person. People form their initial assumptions about other people based on their appearance. Actually it makes a lot of sense that way. Most of the time vision is probably going to be the first of the senses to encounter any given person. This is where the visual brand comes in. The visual brand tells you what kind of a company you’re dealing with. It tells you whether you’re about enter a Shop Rite or a Dean and Deluca’s. Granted a well-dressed person could still be a jerk and a great visual identity could still belong to a crummy company. However as designers we don’t want our audience to wade through a sea of mixed messages hoping that if they hang around for long enough they’ll find out what a good brand the company is on the inside. The goal of visual branding is to communicate the personality and values of the organization visually so that when a customer interacts with the organization the interaction is consistent through and through.


A small idea to improve twitter

I'm not a rabid twitter fan. I check twitter once or twice a day and might tweet 5 to 6 times a week. When I go to follow a new person and look at their feed and see that they have 3000+ updates and have updated 20 or more times in the last 24 hours I get a little concerned that their content will be overwhelming and so I sometimes pass on users who update very frequently. Additionally when considering following someone I want to know what the person tends to tweet about most commonly so I can avoid users who only update about their exploits on the morning commute or what kind of sandwich they're about to eat.
It would be amazing if right below the total number of tweets there was a listing for the average number of tweets per day as well as a list of the user's most frequent hash tags. See the example below

Pepsi's Colorful New Bottles Part 2

A little while ago I mentioned the appeal of the new pepsi bottle design. I bought one because I thought it looked nice not because I usually drink soda, so the bottle sat in my fridge for a while.

Every time I opened the refrigerator door I noticed how well it competed visually with everything else in there. Even when I wasn't looking to get a drink it was always the first thing my eye was drawn to when I opened the door because of the bright colors and simple design. Not only does this bottle compete well on the shelves in a supermarket but it also competes well for attention once it's made into your home among the other products that you've purchased. This is just one more reason why the packaging is really effective.


Light writing

The last assignment in Ed Benguiat's class was to design a three dimensional E. The assignment sounded like he was expecting to receive a lot of "E's" that were physically constructed so I wanted to break out of the expectation and make something that would be truly three dimensional but different than just giving depth to a Bodoni. I chose to do light writing. I've seen it a lot lately so I was worried that I wouldn't be the only one who did it or that it would just come across as really trite. I think the results were pretty nice so here they are.

After the class ended I got a few questions about how did them so I thought I would share the process.

How to do light writing

The supplies you will need are:

  • A dark place to take photos

  • A camera that you can control shutter speed

  • A tripod or surface to act as tripod

  • Some kind of light source you can hold

Once you have all of this the actually process to produce the "E" is really simple. Just set up your camera and tripod, disable flash, set the shutter speed to somewhere between 10 and 20 seconds, click the button, turn on your flash light and draw until the shutter clicks closed. It takes some practice to get good shapes so if you need to do this for a project with a deadline you may want to give yourself some time.
Happy light writing!

If I had done a little more research before writing this post I would have mentioned Rob, one my classmates, who posted about his process making a three dimensional E. He did a really amazing animated version, it's definitely worth checking out.