Food for thought‘[...] do not think that good design can make a poor product good, whether the product be a machine, a building, a promotional brochure or a business man. But [...] good design can materially help make a good product reach its full potential. In short, [...] good design is good business.’
Thomas J. Watson Jr., IBM CEO

Happy New Year and a great 2011!

December 30, 2010, 12:23 AM

Thank you all for reading this year as well, in spite of the less frequent writings — it’s been quite a ride, especially moving to London this fall. Hopefully, things will get back to normal in 2011, as I really miss writing regularly (spider webs have begun to show up here and there inside my head already). I have two new projects (actually two new sub-sections of the website) that will start in January and I hope I’ll be able to get the Design Challenge team back together as well (again, to avoid the spiders getting too comfy).

May we all have a Happy New Year and a great 2011!


Colophon:
The text on the card is written with an Italic Fountain Pentel 1.3 (thanks Kit!) on a 140g Ryman A4 Notebook, photographed with an iPhone 4 using Hipstamatic (Lens: John S, film: Blanko, flash: Dreampop). The candy is from M&S — not a great taste, but good enough for decorative purposes :)

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Iancul.com — Hardest Thing, Designing My Own Website

November 12, 2010, 9:49 AM

A SMALL BACKGROUND

Designing your own identity must be the hardest thing for a designer — the old shoemaker saying still holds, after all. The first version of this site was made almost five years ago, mostly in Photoshop since I didn’t know enough Dreamweaver or HTML. It was a fresh graduate’s portfolio, with half of the works being school projects while the other half being done for a few small agencies I’ve worked for during college. It did its job, though, allowing me to move from Cluj to Bucharest and start working as an Art Director (my CD at that time, Avi (Octavian Giosanu), had much greater confidence in my skills than I did). The domain of that website was www.ibarbar.ro, an abbreviation of my name. After serving its purpose, I closed the portfolio and started a blog, mostly because it seemed a good exercise in writing and clearing my ideas about design and other things.

THE DOMAIN NAME

Iancul.com came just a year and a half ago, in January, 2009. While ibarbar is a short name, it’s less memorable and sometimes difficult to understand. And I wanted a more ‘serious’ website, hence the .com instead of the lifetime-paid .ro. Iancul is obviously based on my name, Iancu, the ‘l’ being the Romanian definite article, just like ‘the’ is in English. I wasn’t very sure about adding so much emphasis on my name, but I went with it because the .com domain was available and the six letters were much easier to design as a Japanese-like stamp, an idea I’ve been playing with for a long time. It also reads as Iancool, which I’m sometimes called, but I can’t really remember if it was before or after the website :).

THE ‘STAMP’

While obviously functioning as a logo, I like to see it more as an inkan or hanko, a japanese type of stamp (wiki). The idea came from my passion for Japanese prints, on which artists and publishers used to sign their names with different types of stamps (everyone knows Hokusai, but I’m a big fan of the Shin-hanga movement, as I’ve written before). I’ve drawn many versions, all using a fude-pen, a wonderful drawing tool, which allowed me to keep a personal, hand-drawn feel to it. All the crisp, unmodulated-line versions I’ve made looked cold, unballanced, soul-less. The only exception is the website’s favicon and the ending blog posts slug — the small size makes it work. So, while it’s not exactly a logo, it works like one in several ways, just as a handwritten signature sometimes does.

THE ‘BIG’ IDEA

Being a big fan of the International Typographic Style, I first wanted a Vignelli-like website — you know, Helvetica on a well-built grid (my german blood longed for it). But almost all the big design blogs used this approach (well, at least at the time I started designing my website): ex-NYTimes-Design-Director Khoi’s excellent Subtraction, Antonio Carusone’s AisleOne and The Grid System (go figure), David Airey’s LogoDesignLove or his just-launched Identity Designed (don’t be fooled by the serifed titles). Clearly, no matter how much I loved Müller-Brockmann, I had to do something different.

… maybe it was time to go back to the roots, book design.

Still using a Swiss-style grid (you can’t beat your own stuborness, you can only work around it), I started drawing Georgia-based layouts, thinking that if everybody’s doing modernist pages, maybe I should follow Mr. Tschihold‘s example and go back to the roots, book design. Wasn’t before long that I settled on the idea of having each blog post or case study (as I wanted the same layout for both, with minor tweaks) as a book page, with wide margins, page numbers (post’s number) and footnotes.

THE GENERAL LOOK


The top menu is as simple as possible, providing fast access to all the sections and showing what the website is mainly about. The interesting part here is the ‘More in footer’ button, which does exactly what it says, as I’ll explain in a minute. The menu is followed by a generous white space, containing the ‘logo’ and a ‘Food for thought’ quote from some of the great designers, meant to set the tone — I’m not into just posting links, pictures or videos from other websites and my work is definitely not just pretty colours and typefaces, there’s always some thinking involved, serious or not. I change the quote from time to time, as I have a small collection. On the portfolio page, the quote is replaced by the secondary menu, pointing to each case study and other work-related sections. Another difference between the blog and the portofolio is the background colour: cold, professional grey to support the works, warm brown for a comfortable feel while reading blog posts.

Whitespace. There’s never nearly enough whitespace.

Good books have wide margins, meant for your thumbs. This meant the classic sidebar had no place either on the left or the right, so I moved everything down in the footer. This allows the reader to follow the posts without any distraction. It also provides a lot of whitespace, ‘sliced’ every now and then by image captions, quotes or short but important paragraphs — these ‘tricks’ are meant to draw you into the main article, as we all fast-browse these days, scrolling down the pages and just reading here and there (a long, even column of text and images easily turns into a boring, monotone block that your eye begins to slip over without something to focus on). Of course, titles follow the same idea, starting from the left, easy to catch even if you roll your scroll wheel like a 6-shooter’s barrel when playing russian roulette. Another element that sticks out is the footer of each blog post, especially the social sharing part, since it doesn’t matter how good, witty or funny you are if the only one reading you is your girlfriend (not that’s anything wrong with that, either :) The ‘page’ ends with the post/page number and the up and down arrows that take you instantly to the top or to the footer.

Finally, the footer concentrates all the details that would usually be in the sidebar, together with an extended menu that provides access to other parts of the website that are not mentioned in the main menu. Search bar, categories, tags, featured posts, latest comments — they’re all here, helping you browse the content any way you feel like. Next to them, a short description of the website and the regular social networks links, RSS and email subscription buttons.

THE GRID

Based on a 960-pixel width, making use of 12 columns and supporting the 960 Grid System initiative, the grid is easy to guess, as all elements align on it with very few exceptions. Each column is 60 px wide, with 20 px gutters and 10 px margins. Even if the typography is mainly serifed, the ex-centric grid is definitely modernist, inspired by Hans Rudolf Bosshard‘s complex grid systems . Most elements are aligned on a 21 pixel-baseline grid, as the leading of the body text, but this baseline grid is more of a local one, for each ‘page’ rather than for the whole website. This is because grids are usually excellent helpers, making everything a lot faster to design, especially when dealing with multiple layouts that need to be part of a ‘family’ — but, they do have the bad habit of becoming too rigid to follow all around, every now and then. Striving to design the ‘perfect grid’ feels many times just as achievable as finding the Holy Grail.
(click on the image for the complete view)

THE STYLES

Typography is based on the ever-reliable Georgia (designed in 1993 by Matthew Carter), supported here and there by Lucida Grande (designed by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes) for notes, subtitles and footnotes. There are 7 pre-set paragraph styles that cover almost all needs, but I sometimes set type in custom sizes or colours.

TITLES ARE SET IN GEORGIA BOLD, 21/21 PT, ALL CAPS — WELL, IT’S ONLY 16/21 PT IN THIS PARTICULAR EXAMPLE, BUT YOU GET THE IDEA.

First paragraphs or introductions are set in Georgia Regular, 16/21 pt — They usually run along a few more lines, so I’m going to use lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, just to add a little weight to the paragraph.

Quotes or other important ideas that I want to underline are set in Georgia, mostly italic, 16/21 pt, grey — as you can see, they have the same width as the body text, but they start right from the left side of the page, just like titles.

SUBTITLES ARE SET IN LUCIDA GRANDE BOLD, 12/21 PT

Body text is set in Georgia Regular, 14/21 pt. That’s a little on the larger side, since I think there’s too many tiny-written design websites. A 12 pt line might be more than readable on paper, but on screen that’s a totally different story.

Lists are of several kinds:

  1. Numbered lists, indented from the main body.
  2. Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip.
  3. Consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat volutpat.

then there’s the

  • Bulleted list style, that has the same indent as the numbered lists one.
  • Ut wisi enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exerci tation ullamcorper suscipit lobortis nisl ut aliquip.

and the third,

  • em-dash lists style, again with the same indent, but using em-dashes instead of bullets (wouldn’t have guessed it, right? :P).

Other styles include inside quotes — the real ones, actually, as I tend to use the other italic style more as an attention drawer, as it can’t support long quotes, like this one:

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work … It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions … It’s gonna take awhile … You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

— Ira Glass

and finally, the notes style, almost always at the end of the article, also sharing the style with captions and texts in the website’s footer:

Notes are set in Lucida Grande, 12/16 pt — I’ll have to use that lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit, sed diam nonummy nibh euismod tincidunt ut laoreet dolore magna aliquam erat again, just to make my point.

Whew! Now that we got text styles out of the way, on to…

THE IMAGES

Grids are usually built with type in mind — they’re called ‘typographic’, after all — but being a designer’s website, images are just as important, so there are several presets that can be used.

Normal blog and portfolio images are 540 px wide, going as tall or short as necessary:

Then there are special cases when some blog images are 630 px wide and go all the way to the right margin, like in this case:

Rarely, I can use large, margin-to-margin images, that have a 780 px width:

Last but not least, there’s the small, squared image that can fit in the left side whitespace column. It’s size can vary, but only up to 220 px, over the 3 columns. Here’s an example (with some quotes, just to make it more interesting):

“Often people forget,” he elaborates, “that how clever you are with the latest technology is not the point. The equivalent would be like someone coming up to you and saying ‘Have you seen this book? It’s printed on great paper!
The true challenge is what messages are you putting over? How do you want people to feel about the work you’re doing? It’s a dialog. It’s never a monolog. Wherever possible, we’ve consciously tried to make sure that visual communication is an open-ended process.
If I manage to create a situation where someone had to think twice about something they’re doing, I would call that a success. I think the objects I leave behind are not the legacy I’m interested in. It’s whether I can leave behind a thought process.”

— Neville Brody

THE ARCHIVE

One thing I’ve always wrestled with is writing constantly on the blog. Some of the WordPress templates I’ve used in the past had post-per-month counters, but their Archive system was rudimentary. So the new design is meant to do two things: first, helping readers that browse the website’s history with reading the titles fast and checking which posts have more comments, and second, giving me a clear view of how many posts I’ve written each month.

THE INFLUENCES

Spread from "The Typographic Grid", by Hans Rudolf Bosshard.

One of my favourite books to look for type & grid inspiration is “The Typographic Grid”, written by Hans Rudolf Bosshard. Some say it’s the second part to Müller-Brockmann’s “Grid Systems”. Either way, it’s a wonderful book with plenty to learn from and admire. It’s here I admired the beauty of flush left titles with body texts begining just from the middle of the page and large, extremely letter-spaced titles (not set in all-caps, mind you).

As for website examples, I must admit I had a too-large list of good links (just go to Siteinspire and you won’t know which one to check out first). However, there were a few that I’ve kept coming back to more than often. First of all, Cristian -Kit- Paul’s Kit·blog, an excellent showcase of Leica photography (it used to be more about design, but lately it has become an impressive photo-blog — read his colophon). Second, Khoi Vinh’s Subtraction, a classic already, and Aegir Hallmundur’s Ministry of Type, also a beauty. Miles Newlyn’s website (designed by Gabi Toth), Erik Spiekermann’s blog, Frank Chimero‘s, Jeffrey Zeldman‘s, Brian Hoff‘s and A List Apart also had their good share of influence. Ah, and Edenspiekermann‘s, one of the best websites around.

Last but not least, this website wouldn’t have been online without the help from the guys at Dream Production, who patiently endured my type-obsessed feedbacks and coded this website. If you need WordPress (and not only) specialists, definitely give them a call.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far
— oh, all right, goes for the ‘skimmers’ as well :)

LATER UPDATE:
Feedbacks on the website’s redesign have been great, but one in particular made me very happy: Erik Spiekermann saying he loves my website. That is really something — thank you!

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New RSS feed address, please update your readers

October 25, 2010, 10:29 PM

Since the old feed worked just when it felt like it, I’ve deleted it and changed the address. Please update your RSS readers or any other feed-reading devices. I’m sorry for any trouble, hopefully this is for the best.

The new RSS feed is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/iancul-com

The comments feed worked well, but here it is, in case you need it: http://feeds.feedburner.com/CommentsForIanculcom

Thank you.

_

While I’m at it, the recent silence on the blog is supported by Virgin Media, who, after three weeks of waiting and daily calling (from my part, of course) to get the fibre optics installed, have concluded that connecting my location to their network is too expensive — this while my upstairs neighbour has been enjoying his TV & Internet connection every night for the last four years, oblivious of Virgin Media’s verdict. Still, there’s hope, I might get the dreaded cable this week, according to other employees.

First coming will be a small review on the Lou Dorfsman exhibition, currently on show at the Kemistry Gallery (it’s still on till October 30, so check it out, it’s worth it), so stay tuned.

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On quitting the best job & taking on world’s best: London

September 12, 2010, 5:46 AM

A DESIGNER’S COMING OF AGE

After three years and a half, Friday (September 10) was my last day at Brandient. I remember that during the first year, I was quite unsure if I had made the right decision, of quitting advertising. Gone were the large creative department with the big TV, the couch and the tennis table, the all-night free-bar parties followed by oversleeping, the sexy girls from the PR department, the “cool” factor that surrounded me whenever I said “I’m an Art Director”. Being a designer felt much more serious — less fun, more thought. And it felt lonelier. Fewer and fewer understood what I was talking about now: typography, grid, guidelines, packaging strategy etc. Not to mention the increasingly hard to answer parents’ question: “What do you do exactly?” Sadly, in my country, when I say “I’m a designer”, most still assume I’m in the fashion business.
Oh, the pain…

After two years though, gone were the doubts. Sure, I’d still envy from time to time my art director best friend’s living la vida loca style, but there I was, a 25-year-old, working on large national rebranding projects, having his designs produced in almost all the cities around the country. And those were not simple six-months-lasting outdoor campaigns, but large retail solutions, built to last for at least five or ten years. And it was all thanks to the small group that ‘angrily’ wants to make work that would rival the world’s best in a country that constantly tries to hold them back — and in a market where competitors would rather shoot themselves in their own foot than help build branding and design as a highly-valued and respected profession.

Three years and a half later, I’ve been part of some of the biggest rebranding projects ever to take place in Romania, I’ve learned more than ever and I’ve settled on what I like and want to do for a living. Projects with full responsibility have given me more confidence in my skills and in my decisions while working along the other designers has made me understand that any design approach can be valid, as there is no absolute truth in design, but a multitude of solutions. We are not saving people’s lives, even though we sometimes act like it’ll be the end of the world if the deadline isn’t met. That doesn’t mean that we are less important, as our work influences everybody’s lives, day after day. That comes with its moral responsability, and you can easily fall down the 12 Steps on the Graphic Designer’s Road to Hell, as Mr. Milton Glaser wisefully advises against. But here I go, raving again about the greater impact and  importance of design — but that’s just another important thing I’ve learned in these years: thinking like a designer and living like one, 24/7. Being a designer is a way of life, not just a job.

Some might say that writing all this is a little pathetic, overdramatic or just lame. But it has become a habit these days to forget the people you owe to. Everybody is so self-centered that few remember to even say thank you. Nobody is born all-knowing. And don’t be fooled, nobody got wise all by themselves. It takes a lot of confidence and shared experience from the older ones for you to get any smarter.

So here it is, my pledge to Brandient for giving me the best job by far a designer can have in Romania: thank you.

•••

AIMING SKY-HIGH: MOVING TO LONDON

A few years ago I was quite the unforgiving with those that chose to leave the country. There is so much here to do that I hardly could understand the ones that left in search of the better life, that few ever got. But as usual, the wheel turned around and I became just like them: eager to leave. There are many reasons*, but I’ll name just a few.

First, the challenge
Who wouldn’t dream of working together with the best in the world? Pentagram, Wolff Olins, Brand Union, Landor and so many other top companies that I look up to — why couldn’t I be there? They’re human, just like everybody else. Just as I’ve dreamed while in college of working at Brandient, the best in Romania, my dream these days is to succeed in working and learning from the best in the world. You’ll never get very far if you don’t aim high enough.

Second, the right time
I’m 28 years old. I’m not married (but I am in a stable relationship, and yes, we’re moving together). I do not have kids, nor do I plan to in the next three or four years. Even though I might be old by Alexander The Great standards, I think I still have much to learn and experiment. Just as Siddhartha, the best way to learn about life is to go out and experience it by yourself, in as many ways as you can, to see what you’re really made of. So, as O-Ren says: “Now’s the f***ing time!”

Third, the political, economical and social situation
There’s been more than 20 years since the fall of communism in Romania. Sadly, we’re still ruled by the left-overs of the dictatorial regime — corrupted politicians incapable of putting together even the slightest plan for economic stability. Local businesses are striving for survival while the government seems to excel at punishing any succesful entrepreneurship. Socially, the large majority of the population slowly sinks into cheap, mindless consumerism and cultural vulgarity. Worst thing of all, people have lost the pride in their professions, everybody just hopes to hit “the jackpot” somehow. There is no real self-respect, no trust in anything whatsoever.

Why London?
Because Marry f***ing Poppins, that’s why :)) It’s one of the biggest metropolises in the world and one of the most diverse. People’ve been gathering there for centuries, and those who make it are among the best. Sure there are plenty designers there (some 40k, from what I hear), but intelligent, hard working people are never enough, no matter how big the city. I don’t think I have to tell you about the artistic, the architectural, the ever-moving London. Last but not least, since almost everyone’s usually from some place other than London, moved in recently or having lived there for decades already, the differences between ‘locals’ and newcomers are easily overcome, unlike in other big capitals (Paris, for instance).

What will it take?
Luck, mostly — and patience. The cold hard truth is that it doesn’t matter so much how talented you are, but how well connected you are. Most of the time it’s just about being at the right place, at the right time. However, the good news is that luck can be ‘helped’. Sitting on your ass all day never got anyone very far, that’s for sure.

What’s left behind?
A huge need for design, for education, for sincere art, for competent and upstanding professionals, for succesful entrepreneurs. But that won’t happen without visionary leadership. Until then, Romania remains pretty much a no man’s land, where everyone is fighting for himself and nobody wins.

All in all, moving to London is a big gamble — but then again, I don’t want to look in the mirror twenty years from now and ask myself “Why didn’t you try at least? Were you too scared? Were you too comfy?”.

In the end, I’m hoping for the best, but getting ready for the worse. I’ll be living and working in London from September, 25th.

*Disclaimer: the idea of moving to London came first as a personal decision, but this is another story for another time :)

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Brandient 101 Romanian Identities

March 22, 2010, 11:59 AM

Brandient — the leading branding and design company in Romania, one of the most awarded in Eastern Europe and the one I’ve had the pleasure to be part of for the last 3 years — celebrates a wonderful milestone: over 100 brands and identities, developed over the last eight years. To honour this event, an exhibition will be held at Carturesti Verona in Bucharest (sub_Carturesti coffee shop). The opening event will take place on 26 march, at 5.00 PM, when Brandient’s designers will share their experiences during the “Brandient 101 minutes about design” talk. For more info, you can read the official press release.

The exhibition will be open from 26 march till 7 april. We’re preparing another surprise, so stay tuned.

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And Snow Covered The Land…

February 8, 2010, 11:18 AM

Such a wonderful thing to draw aimlessly on a torn paper, randomly picked among the piles of books and papers on your desk, never knowing what you’ll eventually get to — and not even suspecting that it’ll be related in any way to future events. If Mr. Glaser says ‘drawing is thinking‘, could it be that drawing is also a small peek into the future? I wonder…

(also on flickr)

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Best wishes to all!

December 25, 2009, 10:17 PM

May we all have a wonderful year in 2010!

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“Voyages Extraordinaires”—16th theme from Design Challenge

December 21, 2009, 8:02 PM

The 16th theme for the periodical Design Challenge was a series of covers for Jules Verne books. The mandatories demanded the design of three jackets, hinting the graphic style for the entire series (54 in total).

Here are my designs:

You can also check out Ciprian’s wonderful solution here.

Design Challenge is a group of creative people that test their wits and talents on periodically-given themes (usually on a two-weeks basis). The themes are given by rotation and are based on less comercial topics like book covers, movie posters, music covers and others (most of us work as brand designers so we try to challenge ourselves with something different from what we do every day).

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Jay Jay in Bucharest — a city with no respect

December 5, 2009, 3:15 AM

Jay Jay in Bucharest

Jay Jay Johanson sang tonight.
A voice out of this world.
An immense joy for the soul.

•••

If only had I had the pleasure of listening to him somewhere else. I can’t yet describe in words the anger and the desperation that overwhelmed me while watching the people around me. Jay Jay’s music may have trip-hop and electro elements, but in its essence, it’s very close to blues, or old school jazz — a melancholic man singing from the bottom of his heart. How can one trample underfoot such sincere music?

More than half of the ‘audience’ was talking loudly, chitchatting like grocery sellers in the market, backs turned from the scene, smoking their fetid cigarettes and drinking their beer. No respect whatsoever for the few that were all-ears, no respect for the few that felt shivers down their spines whenever Jay Jay’s voice sighed or trembled. No respect for themselves, the ones that are the ‘educated’ young hope for the romanian future. We all know each other more or less — advertisers, journalists, so called modern artists, musicians, entertainers, djs, vjs and so on. Small world. Crème de la crème. The ones present at every hip, cool, trendy, ‘indie’, ‘underground’, ‘alternative’ music event. Muse? They were there. Massive Attack? Of course. Placebo? Cohen? Goldfrapp? IAMX? You bet. All there. Sitting around, chatting and drinking. Like they just got there by mistake. Like it didn’t matter whether the singer was singing about his lost love or the last three burgers he just wolfed down while watching the game. Too bad Jay Jay didn’t have the strong enough sound system to cover up the truth: there is no real cultural demand in Romania. It’s all a façade.

Fuck you very much, hipsters and yuppies. You just proved once more that Romania doesn’t deserve to be european. Not now and not in the next ten years. And that’s being optimistic.

— iancu

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