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

Steal or copy — treading the fine line

October 30, 2009, 3:41 PM

“The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources”
—Albert Einstein

“Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”
—Pablo Picasso

“Instinct […] is memory in disguise—works quite well when trained, poorly otherwise.”
Robert Bringhurst



Last night I couldn’t go to sleep before making this poster (larger here)—it stood as a sketch in my Moleskine for two days. It is one of my works for the 15th Design Challenge (the theme being a bike-day-or-ride poster with the title “I want to ride my bicycle”). The concept is great: a giant, red-striking, italic B (Futura UltraBold, of course) suggesting the word “bicycle”, helped by the small bike icon (InfoPict Two) and being part of an already very well known song line, “I want to ride my bicycle” from Queen. Add that big red letter over a black&white photo (bikes in their urban environment) and you have a clear winner. Looks great (I actually have people that can testify, so please excuse the self-praise :P)

However, this poster—most likely—wouldn’t have been born without seeing another poster three days ago, browsing Flickr. This one was made by Gabriel & Svoboda, exibited at the A:Event—larger here.


Now, the obvious troubling question is: how much is my poster mine?
Sure, they only have the big italic B in common, and the black&white poster is obviously not the first or the last one to make use of a huge, dominating letter as the main focus of its composition. Just as I’m not the first to use red Futura UltraBold over black&white photography—Barbara Kruger did this way back, and she’s in most design books so almost every designer has seen her work at some point, even if only by visiting Centre Pompidou.

Usually we don’t really remember our influences, mostly because we always filter everything we see and learn through our own personality, through our own creative talent. I didn’t think of Barbara Kruger at all when I designed the poster, I only remembered her while writing this analisys. God knows how many other influences I had. But I did know about the other poster, I specifically wrote down in my sketchbook to use the big italic B to illustrate my own ideas.

In the end, I guess it comes down to how much the work is your own, to how well you’ve managed to bring it close to your soul, to how much you believe in it. To how much you’ve “stolen” it or made it your own, as Picasso says. Do I like the poster? Of course, I’m proud of it. Is it mine? I think so. But being an intelligent person, I’m never completely sure of anything (“Only fools are 100% sure, son” “You sure, dad?” “Of course, son”).

This having been said, in commercial work there’s a pretty different story. The last thing you want is to find out that your design resembles another—your whole effort for differentiating your client can be ruined just because somebody somewhere had a similar idea. This is why market research is important, just as keeping yourself informed on other fellow designers’ work is (but this also influences your work—feel the irony?)

Come to think of it, there is this recent case that touches the same problem: Wolff Olins’ Docomo vs Pentagram’s MAD. Many hurried to cry “copy-cat”, but that’s just plain thought-less reaction. All designers, consultants and advertisers (the serious ones, that is) know how many elements are involved during a project. And we all know that you can’t reinvent the wheel. The basic shapes will remain the same, nobody can “own” them, just like T-Mobile can’t own magenta—that’s just against common sense.

(quotes reminded by Adi – RO link)



"Browse less & draw more"

October 3, 2009, 7:42 PM

This is probably the best piece of advice I could ever give to a fellow designer. And I’m very very sure Mr. Milton Glaser would agree, as you can read in this interview, with Chip Kidd.

I made an iPhone wallpaper out of it, to keep it in mind as much as possible—maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to actually take this advice myself. Feel free to use it. Let me know if you like it. Thanks :)

Browse less & draw more

Browse less & draw more

And yes, nothing beats Futura. Ever.
(small hint to IKEA :P)



Come snow, come

September 12, 2009, 2:23 PM

Fun video for Wheezer‘s song, The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, featuring Warren Miller:

The song would be pretty much crap without the adrenaline oozing from Miller’s rides. But it did remind me of Wheezer’s funny video and song, Buddy Holly, directed by Spike Jonze (remember Daft Punk’s Da Funk?). This was the first video I saw on my new Windows 95 PC (it came on the CD), back in the days when Mortal Kombat 2 was the thing :))



Sun people vs. Ice people — Happy to be of mixed blood

September 3, 2009, 1:55 PM

Dave Trott manages to put it so simple, yet so true:

Louis Farrakhan is an American black militant. He said something I found very interesting. He said the world was divided into two kinds of people. Sun people and Ice people. Now by that he meant black (for sun) and white (for ice).

I don’t agree with that part. But if we take the racism out of it, and just look at the way climate and racial memory affect personality traits I think it’s very interesting.

Just look within one race, take white Europeans. Now look where they’ve lived for generations and generations. Contrast the Nordic types (ice people) with the Mediterranean types (sun people). See how the climate affects their characters.

In southern Europe the climate is warm and welcoming. There is plentiful food just growing outdoors. You could sleep outdoors all year round if you wanted.

So there’s nothing to do except enjoy the finer things in life, the added value items. The things that, in themselves, aren’t necessary for survival, but make life nicer. Painting, sculpture, music, fashion, the decorative arts, good food, lovemaking, all the right brain sensory activities.

Now take the Northern Europeans. The climate doesn’t want you there. It’s cold and miserable. You need to be protected from the very environment you’re living in. If you don’t spend all summer preparing for the winter, you won’t get through it.

So there’s no time for the finer things in life. Everything has to be functional. Gathering food, shelter, and fuel for the long cold months ahead. Concentrating on protection from the hostile climate.

That’s why northern European cars work in conditions that would kill a southern European car. Ferrari and Lamborghini are beautiful, sensuous, delicate pieces of automotive art. Volkswagen, Mercedes, Volvo aren’t.

Those cars don’t look beautiful, they’re not exhilarating. Because when they’re covered in snow and you turn the key, they have to start. The Italian cars don’t.

German food fills a function, Italian food is delicious. German architecture is strong and powerful. Italian architecture is delicate and beautiful. Scandinavian design is clean and minimal. Italian design is playful and over-elaborate.

You can always find exceptions to any rule of course. But, by and large, northern Europeans are better at war,
Southern Europeans are better at art. Northern Europeans are better at function. Southern Europeans are better at form.

Sun people can enjoy life today, they know the future’s safe, the climate isn’t trying to kill them, let’s have fun.
Ice people have to concentrate on logic, and making sure all the bases are covered, because they know mistakes will be punished.

Ice people are left brain. Sun people are right brain. Which is why most art directors are more like sun-people.
And most copywriters are more like ice-people.

And why Northern Europeans are better at product. And Southern Europeans are better at brand.

I guess I’m lucky to be of mixed blood: hot, passional oltenian blood mixed with cold, rational german blood—the hungarian blood is on the hot side too, I guess, while the transylvanian one is on the cold side :) I wonder where we’d place chineese blood, as it seems everybody’s going to have traces of it in the future :))

(thanks Sebi for the link)



Cited by Times — IKEA+Verdana gets bigger

August 28, 2009, 1:36 PM

Things really get bigger and bigger: after reading my previous post on the matter, yesterday I was interviewed by Lisa Abend for the Time Magazine! Read The Font War: Ikea Fans Fume over Switch to Verdana. Mr. Marius Ursache from Grapefruit also got interviewed, being the author of the online petition. Here’s my paragraph:

“They went cheap, in other words,” counters Bucharest designer Iancu Barbarasa, who blogged about the font change on his website. If he sounds somewhat bitter, there’s a reason. With its attention to the curve of even a $9 lampshade, Ikea has become renowned for its understanding of good design. “Designers have always thought of Ikea as one of their own,” Barbarasa notes. “So now, in a way, the design community feels betrayed.”

I can’t express what joy it brings me to be cited next to London, Tokyo and Melbourne designers. Thank you, Lisa.

Here’s the whole interview:

1. How did you first learn about Ikea’s switch to Verdana?
I first heard of it from a fellow designer on Yahoo messenger, then read about it on twitter which linked to Typophile and Please Copy Me (used Google Translate).

2. What’s you’re opinion of the new font? And why do you think Ikea adopted it?
Verdana is a typeface specifically-designed for screen use. It is efficient in small sizes, but bland in display sizes, especially in print. Seeing the new catalogue, Verdana seems to be working a lot better than I expected, but that is because it has been carefully typeset (through extensive use of negative tracking and leading). In outdoor communication however, which is done locally, things are not so good, since most advertising agencies do not have good type-trained designers or art directors (I’m not talking about UK, Netherlands or the few countries with strong design-conscient population). All in all, IKEA’s brand recognition will be affected by this. How much remains to be seen—after all, most people can’t tell the difference between sans and serif typefaces. Maybe it will be all forgotten in a few months.

Most probably, IKEA chose Verdana because its wide world availability, having support for nearly all languages (they have to thank Microsoft for that). Otherwise they would have had to pay for the design of additional language support. They went cheap, in other words.

3. A lot of design-related people are unhappy with Ikea using Verdana. Do you have a sense of why the change would provoke such outrage?
IKEA has always been a very loved and respected brand, especially among designers, who thought of IKEA as one of their own, one that understands good design. Any change would’ve upset people. Since the change is not for the better, at least not in an obvious, unarguably way, the buzz is even bigger, giving instant birth to petitions and blogs-twitter-forums bashing. In a way, the design community feels as if betrayed.



WordPress 2.7—at last

January 29, 2009, 4:53 PM

After 3 years and a bit, I’ve managed to upgrade! It all happened so soon (yeah, right :P) thanks to the instant updater and thanks to ISO50 for the useful tip. The new interface is great, works like a charm and I hope the blog—the website, actually—will soon be looking as well as it runs.


Now, if I could only get an instant designer as well, my long-delayed redesign would be up and running in no time :))

Later edit:
I’ll be tinkering for a while whith some layouts till I manage to finish the design. For now, I’ll be using Cutline 2.2. Please endure the horrors for a while, my CSS/HTML skills are deplorable :)



Snow everywhere

December 26, 2008, 6:20 PM

NW view of Straja Peak, Valea Jiului, Romania.

Few things can compare with the pleasure of freeriding through the snow powder, down the slopes of the mountain, through woods and alpine plains alike. I only hope that I’ll still be able to ski — meaning, we’ll still have enough snow — in Romania ten or twenty years from now.

Happy holidays everyone, snowy or sunny, just as you like it :)

You can view a larger image, along with others on my flickr. Two videos with my brother and I freeriding are also online on youtube, here and here :)

Later edit:
Well, it seems ‘freeriding’ is a snowboarding term, so the better thing to use would be backcountry skiing :)



Fude Pen — no way back

August 30, 2008, 3:14 PM

This post has been updated, check the bottom.

Last year I had the pleasure of playing with a “brush pen”. The beauty of its lines blew me away. Writing and drawing with it was such a pleasure! Drawing type, logos, sketches, everything looked different from a normal pen, free, vibrant, ever-changing in thickness, ranging from hairline-thin to broad, thick brush strokes. And everything without the hassle of dipping it in ink every three or four strokes. Just cap it back and put it in your pocket. I had to have such a wonderful tool.


Fude pen from Jlist

Several weeks of searching on the web only brought me frustration. Sure you could find it easily. But finding someone that would ship it to Romania was a different story. After a few months, a colleague told me she was going to Tokyo. You can easily guess my plea :) She brought me some brush pens—thank you Delia—and I was finally able to enjoy drawing with them every day (another friend brought back from Paris a big Corto Maltese poster, one could not ask for a better subject to copy and practice the brush pen). But the pleasure would’ve soon ended, since you can’t refill them (there are other refillable brush pens, a little more expensive, but the problem is the ink, you have to use special ink since other types would dry and make the brush tip useless).

Fortunately, last weekend I showed the brush pen to my sensei and he told me its real name: fude pen (“foo-day” pen). Searching again on the web, this time with the proper name, gave me the much expected results: someone that would ship fude pens to Romania. So here you are, JList ships almost everywhere in the world a lot of Japanese merchandise, fude pens included. Be sure to check out the wide variety of fude pens. I’d recommend the bold line one, the others I still have to test (the shipment’s on the way, can’t wait).

So, if you’re an illustrator, any kind of designer or artist, or just an asian-caligraphy enthusiast, the fude pen is a must have—no other drawing tool will ever compare (ok, fineliners excepted) :)

(foto taken from wikimedia commons)

Later update (Oct 2009):
I’ve found a much better and practical fude pen at MUJI (it’s called a calligraphy pen on their site, but with just one ‘l’), you can buy it online here. I bought myself half a dozen last time I went to London, they last at least two years without drying and they’re the best ones I’ve had so far (the tip is made of synthetic hair, not soft rubber).

Calligraphy pen from MUJI Online

Another later update (Jul 2012):

You can now find a wide range of ‘fude’ or brush pens shipped internationally by Cult Pens. Still, the Muji pen remains my favourite, as its brush acts more like a real hair brush, not a syntetic one. And they last for years (if you don’t use them daily, of course). My only gripe is they don’t come in other colours (red at least).



Massive Attack To The Heart

August 3, 2008, 3:45 PM


(view larger on flickr)

Superb concert last night in Bucharest. It thrilled me to see that not only did they know in which country they were (this may sound odd, but many artist coming here for the first time mistook us for Budapest—a big mistake, considering the ancient national issues between romaniand and hungarians), but most of their impressive type&image screen kept rolling strong headlines in romanian, among some being facts about our political problems. It really showed how serious Del Naja is about his campaigns and how much it means to him to fight for an idea through his music and shows.

And the music… well, it was enchanting, hypnotising, hair raising. Can’t wait to get the new album :)