Archive for the 'Design' category

 | March 20, 2012 11:18 am

I saw this quote on Fountly and quite liked it:

"Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works. If it works big, others quickly copy it. Then you do something else. The trick is the doing something else."

It’s attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci.*

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* I’m highly skeptical of this attribution and want to see a reference. Even better would be to see the quote in context. Most of Leonardo’s words of wisdom come via his notebooks, and that’s not usually how he wrote things in his notebooks. For the open source writing book, I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the notebook translations, and this just doesn’t sound like Leo. Mostly because Leo didn’t seem to be that concerned with others copying him. He enjoyed being emulated. With all that said, I still like the quote. (Even though it is an error to map modern sensibilities onto our ancient role models.)

 | December 28, 2011 1:49 am

Elegant-Book-page1One of the most difficult (and, subsequently, rewarding) publications to create is that of a photographic or fine arts book. Unlike a novel, or a book with a sane number of images, fine arts books have a lot of variables. These include a written narrative, photographs and the artwork, and the typography. Additional page decoration add to the complexity. Things can get really sticky because all of the different elements rebound against one another, but it’s essential that they all sing harmony to the melody.

The photography needs to match the timbre of the text, and the typography should cause the whole to resonate. When everything comes together well, a carefully crafted volume will draw readers like famished revelers to a feast. They’ll linger on the artwork, study the captions, dwell on the text, and ponder the message.

About a year ago, I played around with different layouts for such a publication. Initially, I wanted to experiment with a style known as “formalism”, which combines some of the best aspects of Swiss/Modern school with a slightly more relaxed attitude toward using decoration and embellishment. I had planned on developing a template for a side project.

An Elegant Book - Page Spread 1

Unfortunately, I never got much further than the layouts that you see here. Life and circumstances prevented me from completing the side project, and the typography didn’t have the right tone for other things I was working on. So, the template I was going to create languished.

Until last week, that is.

An Elegant Book - Page Spread 2

A little under six months ago, I got married. As part of the celebrations (which are still ongoing), I created a wedding album for my wife. Instead of working from scratch on the album, I chose to use the “Elegant Book” template. This means, that I’ve finally cleaned it up enough that I feel comfortable releasing it into the wild. I hope that someone is able to enjoy and make use of it! (Merry Christmas, belatedly.)

Downloads

An Elegant Book. This archive includes all of the files and fonts needed to install the template. A PDF example can be found here.

Installation

To install, download the .zip archive. Then, extract it and open up the main document file, which ends in the .sla extension. Once the file finishes loading, select the “Save as Template” option from the “File” menu. Be sure to place a checkmark in the “Include Font” and “Include Color Profile” boxes. Select the directory where you would like to save the template (you will probably want to make a new one). Finally, click on the “Save” button.

When you save a template into the Scribus Templates folder, it will copy the template file, photos, and fonts to the directory you specify. It will also add the template to the template gallery.

Template Use

Once you have downloaded and installed the template, you can create a new document by clicking on the “New From Template” link in the “File” menu. When the template file first loads, it will provide you with several example pages that can be used in your layout. Simply delete the sample text/images and replace them with your own.

To adjust the appearance of a particular block of text, you can apply character and paragraph styles from the “Text” section of the “Properties” dialog. To modify the appearance of a whole page, you can make use of the “Apply Master Page” option under the “Page” menu.

Examples

Below, you can find a few of the page layouts I used in the wedding album. The template contains additional examples.

Book Cover

Book Title Page

Prologue

Engagements

Commitments

Bridal Veils

Celebrations

Memories of Weddings Past

 | November 29, 2011 8:34 pm

Sometimes it’s important to be extremely fussy about otherwise inconsequential things. There’s a reason why people fight over the proper pronunciation of már ‘habitation in Quenya (the m takes on an mb sound), pirates versus ninjas, and the proper placement of footnotes. It’s not that any of these particularly matter, but when pronounced, understood, or typeset correctly, such miscellanea greatly enrich the world.

For months, I’ve been distressed about how LaTeX handles footnotes. (Which, to be clear, is much better than how Word handles them.) Notes are used for subordinate details, which provide additional information, insight, and wit. In that role, they provide an important supplement to the main text.

Depending on which type of note you choose to use – foot, end, or side – there are certain rules which govern how they should be typeset. Robert Bringhurst, author of “The Elements of Typographic Style” and the authority on book typography lays it out pretty well:

Footnotes are the very emblem of fussiness, but they have their uses. If they are short and infrequent, they can be made economical of space, easy to find when wanted, and, when not wanted, easy to ignore …

In the main text, superscript numbers are used to indicate notes because superscript numbers minimize interruption. They are typographic asides: small because that is an expression of relative importance, and raised for two reasons: to keep them out of the flow of the main text, and to make them easier to find. In the note itself, the number is not an aside, but a target. Therefore, the number in the note should be full size.1

 

Unfortunately, this isn’t how LaTeX does it. Instead of having a superscript in the text and a full sized numeral in the notes, it uses superscript for both.2 Not only is it wrong (as far as anything can be wrong in a war of opinions), but it’s really hard to change. Most of the document classes only give you one or two options for the footnotes, and they’re not generally any better than the default. Nor does the heavy of all footnote packages, footmisc, provide a fix. Which means, if you want to adjust the way that the number appears, you have to hack the class at a lower level. (Sigh.)

Unless, you’re using memoir, that is.

It turns out that memoir provides hooks to customize everything about the footnotes. This includes the style, the size of the font, and … the numerical label. (If you’d like, you can even use symbols.) The code below will give you properly formatted references:

  • superscript in the text
  • full sized numeral in the note
  • numeral out-dented into the margin by 1 em
  • note text typeset left flush

\footmarkstyle{#1}
\setlength{\footmarkwidth}{-1.0em}
\setlength{\footmarksep}{1.0em}

The \footmarkstyle macro is used to remove the superscript, \footmarkwidth is the size of the box containing the note label, \footmarksep is how much to offset the numeral from the text.

Notes

  1. The footnote is flagged by a superscript in the text, but the note itself is introduced by an outdented figure of the same size for the text of the note. (Taken from “The Elements of Style,” page 69.)

2 Which is, frankly, unsightly and distracting.

 | November 25, 2011 7:47 pm

KDE just published their newsletter for Quarter 3 2011. It covered the Desktop Summit, held in Berlin during the summer. Working on this edition was quite a bit of fun due to the joint nature of the summit and the location. Berlin has a wonderful history in design, from the Bauhaus school to the grunge design of the 1990s. It was fun to pay homage to the German School. You can download a PDF copy of the report here.

 | November 18, 2011 8:05 pm

Note: The entries in this series are adapted from a lectures I’ve been giving to my Apps101 course. It will also form the basis for a presentation that I plan to give at a conference next month. If you have any thoughts, I would love to hear them.

Every Sunday, my wife and I read stories to small children. It started as one of those strange opportunities that life sometimes presents and has grown to become one of the highlights of my week. There is something wonderful about kids. I’m not sure if it’s the innocence, the wide-eyed wonder, or the capacity for faith; but when a child looks at you, it’s possible to believe that a better world might just be possible.

Not to whitewash the whole thing, though. For all of their wonderful qualities, small children can also be difficult. Those wide-eyed moments of innocence are easily shattered. Small children scream, they cry, they tantrum; they hit, bite, claw, push, and shove.  They’re very good at taunting, alienating, and belittling others.

Which is to say, small children are much like adults, except … smaller. They have many of the same capacities for good and evil, creativity and destruction, kindness and cruelty. The seeds of the men and women they will become are all present, and you can see interests and passions already at work.

Small children are also notoriously distractible. They’ll move between games, toys, playmates [1], and activities. They’ll build, break, and bless. You’ll see moments of heartbreaking tenderness, comic relief, and dangerous volatility. A single play session can hold all of the drama and frivolity of a Shakespearean play.

There is one thing, however, which never fails to hold the children’s attention: story time. When the book is opened and the story announced, the effect is magical. The fussing screams quiet, the rowdy sit still, and the distractible engage. An entire room of two and three year olds will sit in a circle, and raptly listen while read to.

Show me more… »

 | November 16, 2011 5:59 pm

For the past several months, I’ve found myself teaching technology courses. (Which is strange, since I’m not really a technologist.) To date, I’ve taught courses about Web Development, Programming, Networking, and (most recently) … Microsoft Office. I hope that you can appreciate the irony in this.

While I don’t have anything against Microsoft [1], I have a grudge against Office. This isn’t because it’s unstable, that it often makes easy things impossible, or that it has mangled and masticated my work. No, my single biggest complaint against Microsoft Office is that it contributes to an uglier world.

Don’t believe me? Consider the default typefaces: Times New Roman and Arial [2].

There is a reason that Times New Roman (as used by Word) and Arial are reviled. The one is a knock-off of a newspaper font meant for narrow columns, and the other is a Helvetica copy. In Word, they are used for the body and headings, respectively, and that is wrong. Using Times New Roman for body text results in way too many characters per line and makes the text more difficult to read. Using Arial with Times New Roman leads to a font-mismatch of epic proportions. Fonts have histories, personalities, and contexts and Arial and Times New Roman just don’t fit.

And I’ve said nothing about Word’s notoriously poor type-handling and typographical quality [3]. Whether it’s optical margins, font kerning, ligatures, or numerals; it’s all consistently wrong. Microsoft is a big company, if they wanted to get things right, they could.

But, they don’t.

For that reason, I spend most of my time convincing people not to use Word. I steer them toward writing tools like Scrivener, which provides a lovely way to capture ideas and create drafts; page layout tools like Scribus and InDesign, where they can exert fine-toothed control over the appearance of their document; or (best of all), technologies like LaTeX and LyX, which combine the best of both worlds.

Unfortunately, though, Microsoft Office is one of those pieces of software that everyone needs a familiarity with. It’s in every industry, and many companies, universities, and organizations mandate its use. For this reason, I’ve kept most of my venomous opinions to myself. (Moreover, it would be bad form — crass, even — to directly slander the Office Suite to students taking an introductory course in Microsoft Office.)

* * *

Instead, I’ve decided to take a different tack. Rather than directly attack Word as the embodiment of “good enough,” [5] I’ve been trying to cultivate an awareness of beautiful communication.

We’ve had class discussions about what it means to communicate responsibly, looked at why an author [4] has a special accountability to her audience to facilitate understanding, and I’m planning a discussion about how beauty influences understanding. And while I’d prefer to be teaching LaTeX, LyX, Scribus, and the related technologies, these conversations have made the course extremely enjoyable; insightful, even. What’s more, I’ve been tremendously impressed at the depth that many of the students have shown.

For the most parts, these aren’t graphic design students or art connoisseurs. Yet, they know what beautiful communication looks like. They recognize carefully crafted writing, differentiate between effective and distracting illustration, can filter out chart-junk, and appreciate beautiful design. Nothing needed to be taught, they just knew. Certainly, they might not have the vocabulary to express the technical details, or the knowledge to produce similar work on their own, but the apps students know what good is when they see it.

I’ve been so impressed in the comments and insights, that I’ve found myself wanting to repeat the conversations with a slightly different audience: the readers of this website. You, dear readers, are an interesting group. Some of you are coders, designers, and artists. Others are scientists, engineers, and technologists. Still others are horse people. But despite the diverse backgrounds, many of the people I’ve met through the postings here have greatly impressed me with their knowledge of writing, typography, art, and design.

For that reason (and if you will indulge me), I’d like to pose a few of the same questions that we’ve been discussing in my apps class and to hear your thoughts [6].  Here is the first:

While the soul of a message lies in what you have to say, there are other aspects of creating a presentation, numerical report, or written draft that are important as well. One of these is how beautiful the final product appears.

Whether we like it or not, Western culture has a bias for beautiful things. We like slick electronics, nicely designed clothes, and carefully typeset literature. Indeed, in many cases, it is expected.

Companies like Apple, IKEA, the Gap, and others spend millions of dollars each year making sure that the materials their customers come into contact with – literature, advertisements, signage, etc – are beautiful. In the advertising world, such branding and impression management offer lucrative opportunities.

But how important are such considerations for individuals? Should a teacher judge the contents of your final report based on the font you choose to use? Should an employer reject an applicant because they used Comic Sans when composing their resume?

For that matter, what makes for a beautiful report, poster, paper, or flyer? How can you strike the balance between what you have to say, how you have to say it, and the impression that the final product gives to others?

Please let me know what you think in the comments.

__________________________________________________

[1] Indeed, unlike many open source people, I have a great deal of respect for the people at Redmond. They’ve created some very nice technology. Their developer tools, for example are superb (though costly) and their expression design tools are handy (once you get the hang of them).

[2] I will concede that more recent versions of Word have gotten much better in the default fonts department. The default font in Word 2007 and 2010, Calibri (for body texts) and Cambria (for Headings) are nice fonts, but … the default document settings are still lackluster. And when you start considering the default color palettes … well … we’re back to ghastly.

[3] Yes, I know that Word 2010 supports advanced OpenType features. But it is inconsistent and requires quite a bit of work to get right. As far as I’m concerned, another example of actively making the world an uglier place.

[4] I’m using the terms “author” and “audience” very broadly. In addition to those who string words together, I’m also including those who speak, present, and use numbers to communicate larger truths about the world.

[5] I’ve got a serious peeve about “good enough.” The enough is a qualifier. Good enough prevents people from striving for excellence. Instead of making the additional refinements which would transform the draft, picture, service, or product into something truly outstanding, people stop at “good enough.”

[6] In full disclosure, I also have a somewhat selfish rationale. I am currently workshopping the last few chapters of Open Source Writing and I’ve found these conversations help to inform the information found in the book.

 | October 25, 2011 2:57 pm

Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.

That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences, or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Unfortunately, that’s too rare a commodity. A lot of people in our industry (technology) haven’t had very diverse experiences. So they don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.

— Steve Jobs, Wired, February 1995

via Swiss Miss via Brain Pickings

 | October 5, 2011 5:05 pm

There is something wonderful about paper. It provides a way to capture and transmit thought, preserve knowledge, beautify a space, or entertain. But that’s not all, paper can also be used as a medium to create spectacular pieces of art and sculpture.

A couple of months ago, while attending a conference in San Francisco, I stumbled on the Paper Tree, an origami shop in Japan Town. Though I didn’t really intend to, I stayed for nearly an hour. I was inspired.

Though I don’t aspire to be an origami artist, it is hard not to appreciate the craft and care it requires. An origami master is simultaneously balances aesthetics, planning, and architecture.

But origami isn’t the only type of paper art. There are other techniques — paper case, papier-mache, paper collage, and cutting — which are beautiful in their own ways. In the months since visiting paper-tree, I’ve enjoyed looking at many examples of paper art and thought I might post a small gallery here.

Allen and Patty Eckman - Bear
Allen and Patty Eckman - Bison
Allen and Patty Eckman - Boar
Allen and Patty Eckman - Dancer
Allen and Patty Eckman - Plains Dancer
Allen and Patty Eckman - Life on the Prarie
Helen Musselwhite - Gypsy caravan
Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Rabbit
Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Wood
Helen Musselwhite - Daphne in the forest
Helen Musselwhite - The Green Wood
Helen Musselwhite - White Poppies
Helen Musselwhite - Wild Garden
Helen Musselwhite - Woodcutters Cottage
Jen Stark - Pixelated
Origami Artist Galen - Bison
Origami Artist Galen - Dragon
Origami Artist Galen - Samuraii Beatle
People Too - Computer Users
People Too - Cut Paper Art
People Too - Photo  Shoot
Peter Callesen - Hummingbird
Peter Callesen - Pagoda
Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Hedgerow
Junior Jacquet - At Ready
Junior Jacquet - Contemplative
Junior Jacquet - Masks
Junior Jacquet - Partners
Junior Jacquet - Starting Gate
Junior Jacquet - Thoughtful

Allen and Patty Eckman - Bear

Allen and Patty Eckman - Bison

Allen and Patty Eckman - Boar

Allen and Patty Eckman - Dancer

Allen and Patty Eckman - Plains Dancer

Allen and Patty Eckman - Life on the Prarie

Helen Musselwhite - Gypsy caravan

Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Rabbit

Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Wood

Helen Musselwhite - Daphne in the forest

Helen Musselwhite - The Green Wood

Helen Musselwhite - White Poppies

Helen Musselwhite - Wild Garden

Helen Musselwhite - Woodcutters Cottage

Jen Stark - Pixelated

Origami Artist Galen - Bison

Origami Artist Galen - Dragon

Origami Artist Galen - Samuraii Beatle

People Too - Computer Users

People Too - Cut Paper Art

People Too - Photo Shoot

Peter Callesen - Hummingbird

Peter Callesen - Pagoda

Helen Musselwhite - Autumn Hedgerow

Junior Jacquet - At Ready

Junior Jacquet - Contemplative

Junior Jacquet - Masks

Junior Jacquet - Partners

Junior Jacquet - Starting Gate

Junior Jacquet - Thoughtful

The artists on display are:

 | October 4, 2011 8:05 pm

Note: I have had several people ask about the Open Source Writing book, so I thought I would provide an update. I am still working hard and fast and hope to finish very soon. There are several chapters that still need technical review and two chapters that need to be updated for new software. The goal, though, is to have it ready by the end of the year. I’ll provide more updates as I have them.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on the e-Book version of Open Source Writing. While most of the work has related to getting the text cleaned up and making sure that the images are formatted properly for e-readers, this isn’t all. I’ve also been experimenting with the inclusion of video and interactive elements. (It turns out that most of the upcoming eReader platforms do a reasonable job of supporting HTML 5. The Barnes and Noble Nook already allows for the inclusion of video content and they’ve stated that supporting canvas is high on their task list.)

Show me more… »

 | October 2, 2011 4:19 pm

LIbreGraphics Magazine - Issue 1.3LibreGraphics magazine is one of those sorts of bold things that the open source world needs more of. It’s designed as a catalyst for discussion and, more importantly, a showcase of what can be accomplished with open source software.

In the graphic arts world, a sizable number of graphic design users have this idea that the only software worth using is a suite of proprietary (and extremely expensive) tools. For that reason, one of the stated goals of LibreGraphics magazine (part of their manifesto, in fact) is a desire to shatter this idea.

They want people to know:

As users of [free software], we know that our work, when executed well, is indistinguishable from work produced by more traditional means. Thus, ehre we will unite all our previously disparate successes. We will elevate the discourse around LibreGraphics as a professionally viable option, raise awareness, and show that it is the vision of the artist (and not the cost of the tool) that is important.

They do an excellent job.

Issue 1.3 of the magazine was just released. It takes a look at what it means to work collaboratively. It is available for download on the LibreGraphics website or for purchase. (If you have trouble downloading from the main site, there are mirrors available.)

The Voice in the Shell - Page Spread

LibreGraphics - In Print

Graphics1.3-3

Colored Extravagence

Breaking Into Floss