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

Ten Books — A Graphic Designer’s Reading List

March 27, 2012, 2:30 PM

Thinking about Eye Magazine’s question, ‘How should we choose texts to guide students through the info-blizzard?’, I checked my library to see what I would recommend reading first to a younger me. I remember that when I was in college, and during my junior years, I was always struggling with which book to buy next. Choosing one on a specific topic, say typography, meant many late hours spent on reading reviews, looking for photos of spreads and so on. So many, but which one would ‘teach the most’? There were no libraries or bookshops to check first, and I couldn’t afford to get a ‘wrong’ one, postage was quite expensive.

Unlike the lucky ones living in London, New York or other big cities with proper libraries, book shops and art schools, the rest have to settle with buying online. Without guidance, this can be daunting, especially on Amazon, with its huge range. You might get a bibliography from your school, or you could find reading lists of great designers (see end of article for links), but these are rarely short, affordable or, most importantly, helpful and relevant for a less experienced person.

This is why I’m keeping my list to ten books. Five ‘basic’ books that will get you through almost anything, five more that will help you build on the first. Most of them are about graphic design, but those that aren’t will help you just as well, maybe even more. Here they are, each with a short reason-why:

 

How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul
by Adrian Shaughnessy
ISBN-10: 1856697096
ISBN-13: 978-1856697095
This book will give you a very good general idea on what it actually means to be a graphic designer. Whether you plan to find a job or start on your own, Mr Shaughnessy offers plenty of details on what you need to know and do. He also interviews several high profile designers, asking for their tips. The table of contents, laid out on the cover, is more than self-explanatory.

 

The Elements of Typographic Style
by Robert Bringhurst
ISBN-10: 0881792128
ISBN-13: 978-0881792126
While there is no such thing as too many typefaces (unless they’re on the same layout), this is less valid for typography books. Good typography is the backbone of any design, whether it’s a small Christmas card or a large supergraphic signage system. Hermann Zapf’s ‘wish to see this book become the Typographer’s Bible’ written on the back cover says it all.

 

Grid systems
by Josef Müller-Brockmann
ISBN-10: 3721201450
ISBN-13: 978-3721201451
The 80’s are some thirty years back now and fortunately David Carson is just one, so you’ll need to learn the basics of grid systems, especially now that webdesign has finally caught up in using great typefaces and proper, even flexible grids. While the previous book will explain some of the basics, this book by Müller-Brockmann is the cornerstone. You don’t have to become a gridnik like Mr Crouwel, but any piece of design – just like architecture – needs a good structure.

 

The Brand Handbook
by Wally Olins
ISBN-10: 0500514089
ISBN-13: 978-0500514085
Unless you’re living on a remote mountain, growing your own vegetables, you’ll know by now that brands are all around us. In this day and age, understanding branding has become maybe even more important than classic skills like typography or grid design. This book explains what brands are and how they work. If you’re involved in any commercial business, branding is essential for success, whether you’re a designer or not. You’ll rarely find such concise, no-bullshit writing on branding as from Mr Olins – and these days everyone writes about branding.

 

Steal like an artist
by Austin Kleon
ISBN-10: 0761169253
ISBN-13: 978-0761169253
This book has just recently been published, but I’ve rarely seen such concise pieces of advice for any creative venturer. You can read its ten short chapters in less than an hour, but you’ll find invaluable advice, ranging from copying as the best form of learning or freedom from debt to the importance of habits and perseverance. Buy it, read it, keep it on your table and browse it again and again.

Graphic Design, A Concise History
by Richard Hollis
ISBN-10: 0500203474
ISBN-13: 978-0500203477
Graphic design has changed significantly with the introduction of PCs in the 1980s and with the spread of the Internet in the 1990s and especially the 2000s. Still, the core ideas remain pretty much the same as the ones used by the Bauhaus or Paul Rand. The past is a great source of inspiration, as long as you keep in mind that you need to steal from many, not just one. Hollis’s book is a great start (also look for the Meggs tome if you have the time and the money).

 

A Smile in the Mind
by Beryl McAlhone & David Stuart
ISBN-10: 0714838128
ISBN-13: 978-0714838120
Design without ideas is mere styling. This book shows plenty of memorable examples of fine design, the kind that makes you smile with admiration. The projects shown range from playful, witty to humorous or ironic, covering the main business sectors. It also contains interviews with 26 of the best designers, explaining how they got their ideas. A must have for any designer striving to learn how to think.

 

Paul Rand
by Steven Heller
ISBN-10: 0714839949
ISBN-13: 978-0714839943
Probably the best monograph ever written about a designer, especially about Paul Rand. He is regarded as one of the finest thinkers, with work spanning from advertising, publishing to corporate design and children’s books. This book will show you the endless possibilities in design (even before the web) and introduce you to one of the best heroes you could have.

 

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
by Haruki Murakami
ISBN-10: 0099526158
ISBN-13: 978-0099526155
It’s not about design, but this book will teach you about the importance of perseverance. Murakami offers great insights into what it takes to have a long and fruitful career. It also talks about the benefits of sport, especially for creatives that are bound to their chair for most of the day. Btw, this cover shown here is designed by Chip Kidd, look him up too.

 

Siddhartha
by Hermann Hesse
ISBN-10: 0141189576
ISBN-13: 978-0141189574
This is my all time favourite book. There’s so much to learn from it, but the main reason I’m including it here is that it talks about the importance of leaving your familiar places to experience diversity and about the search for meaning. It’s a great book for any designer that learns that best things come from ‘seeing’ (not just looking) around you, and dares to step out of the ‘bubble’ designers usually tend to live in.

Ending note
Making the list hasn’t been easy. I had to leave out many gems like ‘From Lascaux to Brooklyn’ by Paul Rand, ‘Make it Bigger’ by Paula Scher or the wonderful “The Art of Looking Sideways” by Alan Fletcher. Also, the recently published ‘An A-Z of Visual Ideas’ by John Ingledew and ‘LogoDesignLove’ by David Airey are worth reading and keeping close, for daily references. All these will help you a lot, but in the end, the best way to learn is still working with a senior (in addition to doing a lot of work yourself, paid or personal). Read these and go out and find somebody better than you, learn everything you can, then find somebody even better and repeat. Good luck!

FURTHER READING & LINKS
— read the Eye Magazine article that triggered my post;
— browse my Anobii online library — ask me if you want more recommendations;
— read my reviews of the LogoDesignLove book and other great books;
— check out Designersandbooks — the favourite books of many great designers;
— also worth browsing, Frank Chimero’s and Jason Santa Maria’s book lists.

favicon

375

Harry Pearce, “The Schizophrenic Road” — a lecture on keeping your soul alive

December 5, 2010, 8:41 PM

Even if it took place a little over a week ago, Pentagram-partner Harry Pearce‘s lecture titled “The Schizophrenic Road — Part 2: A design journey from a road in west London to a tree in Zanzibar” still echoes in my head, pushing me to launch some of my personal projects that I keep postponing constantly. But about that later.

Held at the Institute of Education’s Logan Hall (filled up to the last row) and hosted by Harry’s friend and D&AD president, Sanky, the lecture was divided in five parts:

  1. Look Both Ways
  2. Free the Word
  3. Little Sister
  4. Night Vision
  5. Street Alchemy

Sanky was first on stage, introducing his friend and telling a short story on how they met, waiting for an airplane to India, sharing their thoughts. The story was continued by Harry, saying how the sudden friendship between “two designers on free-fall” began in the airport’s waiting lounge and how he found enlightenment in India, while his partner, Paula Scher, only “got shit”, as she would later tell him.

Harry’s design journey started with a 440,000 year-old piece of stone, found on the bottom of the sea in one of his holidays. Thinking at first that it’s just an interesting-looking stone, he later realised, as the stone fit perfectly in hand, that it was actually an ancient tool, one of the early manifestations of design — and what an efficient design!

A 440,000 year-old axe.

1. LOOK BOTH WAYS

I bet that few were those in the hall that didn’t envy Harry for his friendship with Alan Fletcher. To have such a great mind as a mentor and close friend, what a blessing. Alan Fletcher was the one that encouraged Harry to keep collecting the occasional photos he took of signs all over the place. Starting from a road in West London to a tree in Zanzibar (hence lecture’s title — the sign on the tree said “Heaven Café & Restaurant”, pointing the direction, but as one nail was lost, the sign now humorously pointed towards the sky — too bad I didn’t take a picture of that), these signs later led to the creation of Harry’s “Conundrums” project and book (a long and intricate story for that as well). Funny thing here is that even though Alan advised Harry to keep taking the photos, he didn’t — he started only after Alan asked for the photos to put them in the “The Art of Looking Sideways” book. When Harry told him he didn’t have anymore, Alan replied that he had 3 weeks to get a double page spreads worth (story told in another presentation).

Road signs

"...looking at the world in a slightly off way."

The important thing to remember is that Alan Fletcher said this was Harry’s “looking at the world in a slightly off way”, something we all should try to achieve if we want to keep our creative spirit alive.

2. FREE THE WORD

The second part was about some of Harry’s projects, all of them based on typography as the chosen medium. The first ones were PEN International’s beautiful identity and “26 Exchanges“, both about “language bringing cultures together”, the last one presented during the Design Festival in 2009 (Sanky also being part of it). The main idea was to get 26 western writers together with 26 foreign ones and have them talk to each other, expressing their art emotionally rather than through translations.

Next were 52 Cards, typographic posters for Macbeth, Doll’s House, Modern British Sculpture, Roy Harper, Lippa Pearce (Harry and Domenic Lippa’s studio before they joined Pentagram — Domenic was in the audience as well). Another interesting project was the Dana Centre visual identity, where “typography [ended up] growing with the building”. All the projects proved once more how good typography can create powerful images. Few would forget the Macbeth poster, with it’s large title written in blood (you can view some of the other works at the end of the article).

3. LITTLE SISTER

The Haiti visual, yet another of Harry's striking works.

The big surprise of the evening was Harry inviting Peter Gabriel on stage. For almost twenty years, they have both been involved in humanitarian projects, namely Witness, the organisation that uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations, co-founded by Peter Gabriel. He talked about the organization’s goals, achievements, almost bringing the audience to tears (and Harry as well) through his moving, real-life stories. His modest, simple and direct way of speaking was admirable.

Peter Gabriel on stage.

Some of Harry’s most powerful works have been done for humanitarian purposes, like the Burma or Infantry posters (more than enough proof that design can help change the world):

The Burma poster was actually carried on the streets by the Burmese people during their protests.

Another project presented was The Hub, also part of Witness, the place to upload any videos showing human rights violations. Harry talked about how technology’s rapid development has helped people, being so easy these days to share videos with the help of a simple mobile phone. This part ended in a moment of silence, held in the memory of Natalya Estemirova, a Russian human rights activist and reporter shot and killed in 2009 because of her constant effort in telling the world of the atrocities happening in Chechnya. I guess the part’s title was also an homage to her, as initially this would’ve been called “Little Brother” (“Little brother turning the camera on Big Brother”, as Harry explains).

4. NIGHT VISION

The fourth part was about dreams, Harry mentioning “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by C. G. Jung and talking about the journals documenting his dreams and how they have later influenced or actually developed in some of his work projects (one example being the Anish Kapoor exhibition in 2009). He talked about one of his friends, a musician, whose guitar singing tried to resemble “the flight of a butterfly”, Harry’s foretelling dream from a few nights before ending in the words “until the last butterfly”. He also mentioned Stefan Sagmeister‘s sabbatical year practice (Harry being good friends with him) and the benefits of taking time off, traveling — Harry being a huge fan of India and the East in general.

Stefan Sagmeister's poster on dreams

This fourth part ended with a humorous conclusion, showing Stefan Sagmeister’s “My Dreams have no meaning” work (part of his book/project “Things I have learned in my life so far“, also a magazine cover designed for the Centre Pompidou in Paris). Stefan sent this to Harry, to which he replied with a similarly-designed poster:
“But Harry’s do.”

5. STREET ALCHEMY

Harry Pearce and Alan Fletcher

The last part of the event returned to Alan Fletcher and Harry’s photographs again, on a more personal note, Harry telling of his last meetings with Alan before his death. Also touched during the Q&A, Harry reminded all of us how important is keeping a child-like openness of heart, one of the traits Alan Fletcher and his work so easily seemed to benefit from.

His presentation ended with this beautiful dedication from his mentor:

A PERSONAL CONCLUSION

All in all, a very inspiring event. I think the most important thing that I’ve (re)learned is that one must always keep feeding the creative soul, especially through personal projects. Maybe you like collecting old typewriters, maybe you enjoy photography, maybe you like to get your hands dirty with clay modelling, pottery, sculpture or even carpentry or maybe you simply enjoy some good old pencil drawing. It does not matter, just as long as you get away from your daily work (and I would definitely add getting away from the computer) and let your mind roam free. The Design Challenge project was born from a similar need, with the help of a few friends (hopefully, it’ll start again with the new year). I’ve also been thinking of a new project for weeks now, something more personal, more like a daily exercise to keep your muscles fit — Harry’s lecture really helped in pushing this project up to the top of my to do list.

Looking forward to more inspiring events. Thank you, Harry.


Main sources (besides my own notes and photos):
Pearcing Thoughts, on Design Week (subscription required);
Pentagram at the Design Museum on Noisy Decent Graphics;
— AIGA’s blog on Harry’s first lecture;
— AIGA Flickr slideshow with some of Harry’s works.


Later update: you can now watch Harry’s very similar presentation for Design Indaba. Got two clearer images as well, the first being the tree in Zanzibar with the witty sign, the second with Alan Fletcher’s drawing:

A witty sign from Zanzibar.

Alan Fletcher's drawing for Harry.

favicon

337

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!

favicon

335

Designing for Retail Brands: 6 Key Considerations

September 12, 2010, 11:20 AM

An article written in collaboration with Adam Rotmil — a fruitful exchange of ideas and a refreshing experience. Also available on the Adam Rotmil Partners blog.

Companies that have a strong retail presence require a powerful, memorable, and positive brand. It must be different from the competition and visible in the urban space. These are six things we have learned.

1. HOW WAS IT FOR YOU?
Even with the most visible, most advertised brands, it’s about a positive experience. Big media purchases may bring a spike in sales, but does that equate to positive reputation? Brand engagement with company employees has shown more long-term value. Having your own mini-army of proud, confident and helpful employees means connecting with customers at the most vital touchpoint: human contact. While price is one major element in customers’ decisions, most of us would rather go where we feel we are treated better, even if it costs a little more. For this to happen, employees must understand the brand and feel like part of its culture. Take for instance Apple. With rare exception, they’ll do almost everything to earn your satisfaction. Even if that means bending rules. It is a proven axiom that the most effective advertising is positive word-of-mouth. With the advent of social media, this is even more the case.

2. PLAN FOR TRAFFIC WITHIN THE RETAIL SPACE.
Where do you want customers to go first? Graphic elements are valuable in wayfinding, helping the customer get what he wants faster. But think about why grocery stores put the milk in the back. It’s so you’ll spend more time inside, discovering more, and buying more. Think about IKEA and their amusement-park approach to retail spaces. People who shop there feel that the space is meant for them, that they can stay as long as they like, and have everything they need.

3. COMPETITION INFORMS COLOR CHOICES.
Choosing colors requires first investigating the brand’s competition. What’s the most used color? the second? What’s the primary color of the biggest competitor? For food products, red might be the easiest color to spot. If everyone else is using red, doing the same thing can be a missed opportunity. Using blue often makes sense, since it is liked by men and women and implies trust. But, it may not help you stand out if most other brands are using blue. It is an important balance for the brand to look like what it is (whether coffee or life insurance), and to stand out. Some of the most memorable brands, such as Kodak, have colors that same-class competitors do not. And when I say Kodak, you instantly recall the Kodak yellow. When you think Cisco, you recall the Cisco teal.

4. THE BIGGER, THE BIGGER.
Does size really matter (in retail)? Many clients ask for “the bigger, the better strategy.” These people are smart business owners. And big does work, at least in theory. But, check if it really helps. Urban spaces are extremely crowded most of the time. Imagine a completely white fascia or a large mesh ad on a building. Everything around it would be all images and big type. But you’d be the quiet space everybody would turn to. You’d stand out because you’re different: you’re not shouting. Designer Bruno Monguzzi reminds us, “If you continue shouting, you are not communicating better. You have simply removed whispering from the system.” Think about the Beatles’ release of The White Album. When it hit retail stores, it was an oasis.

5. ARE YOU IGNORING SENSORY CUES?
Best-in-class brands have cues that can be dialed up or down. These cues include the senses. Everyone can recognize a Tiffany’s box. Failing to integrate lighting, color, shape, touch — even smell — means missing opportunities. Developing brand properties, or attributes, is the best way to gain top-of-mind relevance in your customers’ minds. It also gives customers a beacon toward the brand. The shape and color of Sephora’s striped entrance, for instance, makes it easy to recognize from far away. Lighting is sometimes more important than the logo outside or the posters in the windows. The flooring is an opportunity to connect with customers emotionally. How does it feel: cold, soft, textured, solid, reliable? These attribute choices will influence how the customer feels about the brand, and how they will remember the retail experience. Remember stepping inside an Adidas shop. You know the smell, you recognize it right away. Memory takes many forms. It starts with specific experiences and gradually crystalizes to a general association with a bundle of promises and expectations. Triggers to recall these memories include scents, music, materials, lighting, furniture, being offered a cup of tea, and more with a well-thought retail brand.

6. BATHWATER GOES. BABY STAYS.
New brands usually start from zero, with the luxury of getting it right in the first place. Redesigned brands, however, are much more complicated and require caution. Unless a brand is toxic, don’t throw out the brand’s entire DNA. The core of its visual identity has gained years of equity. The essence of brand properties (colors, symbols, a mascot,…) may be of great service to the revitalized brand. With Cisco, the bridge-in-a-box became a more open and abstract symbol. But the core DNA of the bridge, all of its implications, and the literal connection to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, remain. Reinventing a brand, while keeping the merits it has earned, helps ensure customer loyalty, while expanding the customer base.

Many of the general principles about brand strategy and design apply to designing for retail. But these are some considerations we think you should bear in mind. These are just starting points. Talk about these issues with your colleagues and your clients. We hope this helps you build a better brand expression.

Iancu Barbărasă is an experienced graphic designer specialised in brand identity design. He has previously worked for the leading Romanian branding and design company Brandient, taking part in large rebranding projects like Dedeman and CEC Bank, internationally awarded (Best of Awards and Merit at Rebrand, 2009, Rhode Island, USA). His experience covers a multitude of design fields, from identity, retail, packaging to print and web design. As of September 2010, he is living and working in London, UK. Iancu believes that good, idea-driven design means good business and a more enjoyable life for everyone.

Contact Iancu via E-mail
Visit Iancu on the web at www.iancul.com

Adam Rotmil runs the Japan office of Adam Rotmil Partners, specializing in brand strategy and design. He has 15 years of brand and design experience with companies of all sizes. He held a senior creative position at Marsh and McClennan Companies, the premier global services firm. Adam later designed at Brown Brothers Harriman, the largest private bank in the United States. Adam lives in Japan and partners with experts worldwide, sharing projects and talent. His singular vision is to improve brand value through strategy, exploration, and discovery. Adam knows good work implies social awareness, dedication, honesty, and integrity.

Contact Adam via E-mail
Visit Adam on the web at www.adamrotmil.com

favicon

331

Proud as I can be: Brandient 101 — The book

March 28, 2010, 1:47 AM

Later note: even if it is filed in the ‘Book reviews’ category, this is not one in itself — it is more of an announcement of the book’s launching, as I was involved in it too.

Rarely have I been so proud to be a designer as I am now. Two days ago, Brandient launched “Brandient 101”, the first book dedicated to Romanian brand design (limited edition of 101, signed).

I’ve been part of more than a handful of projects presented in the book, all of them being great experiences, from which I’ve learned a lot — the more difficult, the bigger the challenge and, of course, the reward. Working at Brandient for the last 3 years has been the real school that formed me as a designer (a brand designer, to be more precise, or a communication designer, as Mr. Erik likes to say), learning from and with my colleagues on all occasions, stressful or not (I found out over the years that the bigger the pressure, the faster you learn & work — of course, too much pressure is never a good thing, but one can never underestimate a designer’s ‘magical’ ability of pulling the ship around on the right track while the client is already ringing at the door :P) .

The book is designed by Cristian -Kit- Paul, Brandient’s Creative Partner, one of the best Romanian designers and also a great photographer — definitely follow him on Kit·blog. He’s also a very skilled speaker, another example that being a great designer is not only about drawing well-thought logos & identities, but also about explaining them, about promoting design as a business tool and last but not least, about teaching and inspiring the others.

But enough with the raves, here it is:

» Continue reading

favicon

326

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

•••

iancu-design-challenge-15-bike-ride

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.

Gabriel-Svoboda

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)

favicon

312

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.

favicon

289

IKEA Sans replaced by Verdana

August 25, 2009, 11:48 AM

I dare you find a designer who doesn’t love, or at least respect IKEA for its design dedication. Scandinavian design is almost synonym for functional design, well-thought design, void of any unnecessary elements. From their simple and practical packages to functional but homey stores and to their beautifully designed catalogue (3rd most printed publication in the world, after the Bible and yes, Harry Potter), IKEA has always been true to great design—I still remember how I asked every relative or friend that went abroad to bring me back an IKEA catalogue to draw from as I was studying for my design college exams (there was no IKEA in our country at that time).

Starting this summer, however, IKEA decided to give up the beautiful IKEA Sans (a very well designed Futura offspring) and IKEA Serif for Verdana, the omni-present web typeface, designed for Microsoft. As the Cracked fellows usually say: dear God, why?

Futura, designed by Paul Renner, is one of the best geometric typefaces, a timeless chef-d’oeuvre, which, unlike Helvetica, never seems to loose its human touch, its friendly-but-practical look, no matter where it’s used (Helvetica has been so overused through the last 50 years that it has practically lost any personality, becoming a shape-shifter, a typeface that can express almost anything, depending on the context). All IKEA’s communication, from catalogues to retail graphics were heavily based on their modified Futura, making everything look clean, clear and timeless. Verdana, even if it is a very readable typeface on screen, can’t even be compared to Futura when it comes to display usage. Microsoft-related products, as we all know, are anything but beautifully designed.

Take a look and see for yourself:
beforeandafter_futura-vs-verdana

Before and after:
beforeandafter_ikea

I’ll get the new IKEA catalogue soon, but, sadly, there will be one reason less to enjoy browsing it. As they say, it will be just business—nothing personal.

(via Please copy me, Typophile — Thanks Mihai)

———

Update:
Last night IKEA’s outdoor was changed, down went good old IKEA Sans, up came Verdana. Take a look for yourself:

IKEA-verdana-outdoor-m

It is quite clear now. While in small sizes Verdana is decent enough, especially with its italics, on large prints it’s bad. IKEA Sans’ beauty was enough to sustain a phrase written on white background, with a lot of white space around. Verdana simply can’t do half as good. It looks cheap, amateurish. If I didn’t know this was a global decision I would’ve thought the local agency just let some rookie do the outdoors late at night, in a haste.

Another thing that keeps bugging me: there’s talk now all over the place, the entire community debating (most disapproving IKEA’s move). Few, however, mention that IKEA has replaced their own typeface, IKEA Sans, and not Futura. This is important since their typeface was customized, quite easy to tell apart from Futura and Century Gothic, its ‘parents’. And easy to extend with support for some new languages. I doubt IKEA’s sales dropped much during the crisis considering their target (take a look at McDonald’s, they’re booming), so jumping to a cheap, innapropiate typeface just because it’s a bit cheaper on the short run seems to me like very bad management.

But, of course, nobody can tell for sure if it really matters. Sales may drop or may rise, but nobody will link them to a typeface. After all, most people can’t tell the difference between serif and sans. For them it will be a change that never happened: “hasn’t it been like this all the time?”

———

Later update:
IDSGN posted a thorough article about the look of the new IKEA catalogue compared to the former — Just as I thought after peeking around the UK website, Verdana looks good in the catalogue thanks to careful typesetting (extensive use of negative trackin, leading and italics). The problem is that the catalogue is a carefully designed product, made over several months, while normal communication will be done locally, most of the times by less-experienced designers or art directors (I’m talking about Romania and other countries with less general expertise in graphic design than UK, Sweden or Netherlands, for example). Type will be most of the time set with the default settings, without the thorough care the catalogue is designed with. Take a look:

after-1
after-2

———

Mr. Kottke agrees, Verdana is not the best idea, and posts a link to a 1965 IKEA catalogue, which would sell just as well today.

———

Things really got big: 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 (you can read the whole interview here).

———

favicon

286