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Visual and graphic design

Max Gadney, originally uploaded by moleitau.

I was fortunate enough to work with Max from 1997-1999 right at the beginning of BBC News Online, one of the hardest and funniest times I’ve had in my life.

He’s still at the BBC commissioning and cultivating interesting new formats for online stuff, but he has another life where he creates some lovely blends of comics illustration and infographics for WW2 magazine.

On his blog he also goes into great depth on the decisions and techniques he employs in the creation of the pieces, for instance, this one.

It’s a fabulous resource for those interested in narrative infographics, not least because Max is completely honest about what he thinks has and hasn’t worked.

He’s both exploring what’s possible with some fantastic work and learning in front of us.

Lovely.

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"Napkin Sketch" Nokia ad, originally uploaded by blackbeltjones.

Pleasantly surprised by these new adverts of ours.

Gone are the cheesy grinning yoof models gleefully living the ‘mobile lifestyle’, and instead we have a languidly expressive line sketching the form of the new phone.

It’s the archetypal ‘back of the envelope’ sketch that captures the essence of the design, communicates it to another with casual power.

I like that the ad is not covered with ‘features’, ‘benefits’, acronyms or tech specs either. It’s confident enough to say the clear, simple design of this object will sell it to you, or not.

The fact that this can now be the primary image in the advert also shows the iconic status of the clamshell as the shape of mobile telephony in the popular mind.

Which is going to be an interesting challenge for all the mobile device manufacturers when they want to innovate beyond that – not just Nokia.


p.s. I hate those pompous “disclosure” lines that people use when writing about companies they work for, but as you may know, I work for Nokia, and usually I hate their adverts, so was prompted to write this, the views here stated may not be those of my employers, yadda, yadda.

Alan Moore, interviewed:

"There’s an awful lot of synasthesia, I mean one of the greatest writers, a lot of the greatest writers, one of my favourites, Vladimir Nabakoff, he was a synasthetic…to him, the letter ‘O’ was white, the word ‘Moscow’ was green flecked with gold…olive green, flecked with gold. I can see that. And it’s a good thing to try and develop. Synasthesia is a great literary tool. You’ll be able to come up with perfect metaphors that are really striking and strange, because they maybe jump from one sense to another – try describing a smell in musical terms.


Actually, it can be quite easy. Also, it’s how we tend to do things anyway. They’ve just proven that – you know when Jilly Gordon gets on a roll on The Food Program and she’s talking about: “..it’s a kind of buttery, composty, tractory – I’m getting peat, I’m getting burning tyres…”. Now they’ve done tests – those people who describe the flavour and bouquet of wine, they’re not describing the flavour or the bouquet at all – they are synasthetically describing the colour. They’re taking visual cues. They did things where they’d put an odourless and tasteless colour agent into white wine to make it look like red wine, and then they’d note the kind of language the wine-tasters were using. When it was white wine they were using: “…buttery, new-mown hay”…you know, yellow, basically, was what they were saying, whereas when it was red wine they were saying: “…its wonderfully fruity, blackcurranty”…talking about red things. It’s synasthesia. It’s how a lot of our senses…I think synasthesia is probably a lot more common than the sensory aberration that it’s made out to be, and there’s probably a key there, somewhere, to how we sense everything. Synasthesia. There’s something there."

I hope so.

It would be wonderful to harness synasthesia in the UI of mobile devices. Going beyond multimedia output and multimodal interfaces – delivering meaning in Gladwellesque thin-slices of preattentive recognised patterns.

I’ve got about a month of my time in April to look into this at work. I’m thinking of looking at the Mindhackers, Damasio, Hiroshii Ishii, Ben(s) Fry and Schneiderman, and Ambient Devices as a start.

I’m very aware this is far from an exhaustive list; and moreover, it’s only the cognitive science / interface research worlds I’m thinking of so far.

I have a feeling, inspired by Alan Moore’s thoughts,  that looking into other fields of sensory endeavour might also be revealing: sculpture, painting, drama – or ritual, religious or otherwise – ways of constructing feelings and understanding through all our senses.

Ns_sensesIt it looks like we have at least 21 of them to play with…

With recent announcements of the increasing capabilites for new visual possibilites (Flash, SVG in Nokia mobiles) and coincident pronouncements on the constraining nature of the WIMP interface hangover into  the mobile context, I think it’s a good time to look into this.

Anyway – if you have any thoughts or contributions, or want to get in touch about the subject, leave me a comment, trackback or drop me a line to the usual address…

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See also, Abe Burmeister’s reflections on the seminal "Interface Culture" some 8 years on from the publication of Johnson’s book.

“Anyone who would letterspace lower case would steal sheep.” – Frederick Goudy

The Typepad templates insist on letter-spacing or tracking the type of the section headers in my side bar. I don’t have a clue how to get round this other than to upgrade to the $150 pro level, which is far to much money to spend on the self-indulgence of blogging, let alone the self-indulgence of being a typography nerd, when most people probably read this tripe with the type their RSS-reader dictates.

I’ve fiddled as much as I can to try and get the design to something I like (no way I can find to make the main body of text any wider – which really ticks me off as it’s not quite a comfortable reading width for a single column, and it’s a fixed, not ‘fluid’ design) within the constraints of the Typepad UI, which really, really encourages fiddling. The ‘safety’ it inspires, along with the myriad tiny but tempting changes one can make lead to hours of fiddling.

6Apart should sell some AdWords space in their interface, the amount of time my eyeballs are in it…

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BBCi is no more! The BBC.co.uk homepage has ditched the BBCi identity in favour of what people outside the BBC peskily persisted in calling it, despite spending lots of funny money on marketing.

What a relief. One hilarious consquence of the BBCi branding was how often when I met people external to the corporation or where introduced at an event at first they thought I worked for BCCI, the disgraced financial institution.

So far good.

However the new logo isn’t, shall we say, “all that”.

I’ll lay odds it was designed by a corporate identity design agency, and looked great on a powerpoint or on a piece of foamcore; but it really doesn’t survive on the webpage. I’ll also lay odds that a designer or client-side coder inherited eps files from the bigshot agency and cursed them as they struggled to reduce it to the size on screen with out it looking too ratty at the edges.

Their hard work was in vain. There is no need for this vainglorious logo other than having given marketing managers something to nod sagely about for a couple of months and sign cheques.

It’s literally a waste of space, occupying prime real-estate with tatty nonsense that doesn’t tell you anything that the URL you’ve entered, or the nice discrete classic Lambie-Nairn designed BBC logo in the top-right hand corner, or for that matter the demoted-but-distinctive doesn’t already tell you.

Also, BBC – the design agency you hired haven’t ready the BBC’s corporate identity guidelines – or they have wilfully ignored them.

Lambie-Nairn’s guidelines state that the boxed-capitals of B, B and C are Solid Colour (black, white, green, whatever) with the letterforms “punched-out” from the solid colour, revealing through them whatever colour is behind (as in the top-right-hand-corner version). The letterforms are not meant to be white on colour as executed here.

Also – what are those psuedo-3D planes behind the BBC.co.uk doing on a site which has done so well in the last couple of years in reaching a lovely, consistent, graphically strong ’2D’ aesthetic?

What the hell do they signify? What do they add?

It’s really a shockingly bad, sophomoric logo which should never have made the cut, even if it was deemed there was sufficient reason to retro-brand the site.

2/10.

Ah well. I’m sure the rage will subside and I’ll get used to it, like I did BBCi.

From Zeldman:

“Dear Mr Antonioni:

I recently screened your classic film, The Red Desert, starring Monica Vitti and Richard Harris. I have a problem with the way you used screen space. My theater’s screen is big and wide. It is capable of handling many actors at the same time. For instance, crowd scenes and battle scenes work well. But in your movie there are only a few actors — and many times they are pictured in one corner of the screen or another, against a stark minimalist background. This is a terrible waste of screen space.

Funny stuff. But then I don’t go to the cinema to pay my gas bill. Horses-for-courses. I have a feeling that my “If Post-Offices where like Cinemas” essay wouldn’t be nearly as amusing.

Paulpod has outlined a little more about his FOAC idea. I had reservations about it, when he first described it to me [in the pub however, so maybe I wasn't paying too much attention], in that it

  • it seemed like a lot of work
  • it required the encoding and interpretation of very abstract, subjective values
  • it seemed like a lot of work

However, I guess that the second point is just what designers do when they make choices around colour, type and form in any design; and FOAC kind of reminds me of my dim, distant past as a printers devil when you used to see the designer’s scribbled pencil instructions on the edge of the plate: “make it more citrus-y!” etc.

Michael Beirut at DesignObserver:

“…at another presentation, I glimpsed what perhaps will be a starting point for a new certainty, perhaps the ultimate one. Michael Braungart, author with William McDonough of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, talked about how graphic designers are contributing to the destruction of the environment. Braungart is not a designer. He’s a chemist. At one point in his presentation, he displayed a chart that described the precise amount of toxic elements in a single ink color. You felt the audience, 2000-plus strong, draw a collective breath. Here, at last, was true certainty: the promise that every piece of graphic design, each an amalgam of dozens of arbitrary, intuitive, ‘gee, this looks right to me’ decisions, could be put into a centrifuge, broken down into its constituent parts, and analyzed for the harm it could do to our environment.”

Best not get started on the ecological impact of the stuff that makes up a typical designer’s computer then…

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