Archive for the 'Design' category

 | September 28, 2011 4:28 pm

If you’ve followed this blog for long, you probably know that I have a slight interest in typography. I’m fascinated by the aesthetic quality of letter-forms, the psychological effect they can have on those who are reading them, and the ways that they are created.

In this TEDx talk from UCLA, graphic designer Andrew Byrom touches on all of those, and more. He speaks to the heart of a common artistic challenge: how to reveal the form within.

 | September 25, 2011 4:33 pm

Amongst horse trainers, there is a common piece of advice. It goes like this: “Experiment, observe, remember, and compare.”

This monicker is usually given in answer to questions such as, “How do I learn to understand my horse better?” or “How can I know if a particular technique will work for me?” But as useful as it might be for students of the horse, “Experiment, observe, remember, and compare” is sound counsel for just about anyone. (It summarizes the methodology of the scientific method, after all.)

For the most part, the work of observation is personal. There are cases, though, where it is possible to see the world through the eyes of another. This might be through artwork or explanation, but when it happens, it can be magical. Such is the work of Ernst Haeckel, a 19th century biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, professor, and artist.

Haeckel spent his career trying to understand the relationship between the different species of the animal kingdom. It was a life of intense observation and comparison, which is readily apparent in his artwork. Below, you can find some of my favorite folios from his books. All of the images are available from Wikimedia Commons. As are many others.

Show me more… »

 | September 14, 2011 4:27 pm

In Holland, we have two words for design. One is vormgeving (in German formgeben), and the other is ontwerpen (entwurf in German). In the Anglo-Saxon world, there’s only one word for design (which is design). That is something that you should work out.

Vormgeving is more to make things look nice. So, for instance, packaging for a perfume or for chocolate in order to make things fashionable, obsolete, and therefore, bad for society because we don’t really need it. While ontwerpe means, and the anglo-szxon word, but its stronger, means engineering. That means you as a person try to invent a new thing — which is intelligent, which is clever, and which will have a long-life. And that’s called stylistic durability. It means you can use it for a long time.

— Gert Dumbar

via SwissMiss via Frank Chimero

 | June 9, 2011 5:51 pm

At the moment, I’m entranced with eBooks. There are many reasons for this (and I’m preparing a rather long blog post which explores them), but one rises above all the others: electronic books offer an author the best way to tell complex stories.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video from TED, which demonstrates a “next generation electronic book” called Our Choice, by Al Gore. (The video is only four minutes long and well worth your time.)

Though I may be succumbing to hyperbole, I really think that we are seeing the future of non-fiction. We live in a tremendously complex world and those of us who in the business of shaping and communicating ideas — scientists, engineers, idealists, philosophers, teachers, and so forth– face an enormous challenge: how do we take that complexity and make it understandable to others?

For centuries, books have done an excellent job of combining two types of media: text/narrative and images. But while you can communicate many ideas with text and images, there is still a limit. For example, who really thinks that math and certain scientific disciplines are best learned by reading a book? Even an excellent mathematical textbook is only an adequate tool, hardly an exceptional one. It simply leaves out too much of the logic necessary to understand how certain relationships are derived. In such cases, one of the best ways to understand those relationships is to watch them be derived in front of you. When done well, think Richard Feynman, it’s much more instructive than a text narrative could hope to be.

This is where electronic books might take up the slack. In addition to text and images, it’s possible to add video and even interactive elements. There are certain principles that are best explained by a narrative and video clip. There are other concepts where an interactive examples best illustrate an idea. And there are still others where trial, error, and feedback are the best way to teach the concept. With an electronic book, you can include all three. Indeed, just about anything you can do on the web is possible, which is really exciting!

For the electronic version of the Open Source Writing book, I’ve been experimenting with video. (Both ipad and the Nook Color provide rudimentary support for the HTML5 <video> tag.) In the process, I’ve learned an important point: motion and voice make it really easy to show certain points. For example, if talking about how to accomplish a certain task with a computer program, there is nothing more effective than showing how it is done. The rest of the text becomes supporting documentation.

And I think that’s cool because it expands the types of stories I can tell (and isn’t that generally the point of new technology). Cool tech without soul is just flash in the pan.

Which leads to the next important question: how do you create these amazing pieces of electronic art without breaking your wallet or mortgaging your soul? Turns out, the answer isn’t nearly so complex as you might think.

 | June 8, 2011 8:47 pm

In November of last year, I helped KDE e.V. (the foundation that represents the KDE desktop project in legal and financial matters) redesign their quarterly newsletter. At the time, I thought that it was going to be a one-off project. There was to be an aesthetic facelift, after which I was to return to work on other things. That’s not how it’s worked out, though. Instead of  a one-time favor, the newsletter has become an ongoing commitment.

What is funny is that I wouldn’t have it any other way. The newsletter has allowed me to meet some wonderfully interesting people, such as Eugene Trounev (a graphic designer and illustrator) and Claudia Rauch (who handles the business side of things KDE), in addition to scoring me a free trip to San Francisco. But as wonderful as all that’s been, continuing involvement has allowed me to watch the design of the newsletter evolve.

Today, we just finished the third edition since the redesign … and … I’m really happy with the direction that it’s moving. The illustration, photography, and layout has gotten stronger with every issue and people seem to appreciate the work that’s gone into it. (It’s always nice to be appreciated and I had a squee [1] moment when Nuno Pinheiro, one of the fantastically talented artists behind the Oxygen project, actually said we were doing “really good work.”)

But don’t take my word for it (or Nuno’s), below are some of the layouts from the second and third editions of the newsletter. The second edition adopted “more than the sum of it’s parts” as a visual theme. The theme of the third edition is “India.”

 | March 28, 2011 10:06 pm

You know that obsession I’ve got with awesome stuff and the compulsion to share it? Well, it seems to have taken hold this morning.

There are two things in the RSS feed today that simply must be shared. For these, everything – looming deadlines, familial responsibilities, and miscellaneous addictions – can wait.

The first item is a link to LibreGraphics magazine. The second is a call for proposals from a conference of the same name.

LibreGraphics Magazine

First, the magazine:

LibreGraphics magazine is designed to serve as a catalyst for discussion; to build a home for the users of Libre Graphics software, standards, and methods. As users of these tools, we know that our work, when executed well, is indistinguishable from work produced by more traditional means. Thus, here we will unite all our previously disparate successes. We will elevate the discourse around Libre Graphics as a professionally viable option, raise awareness, and show that it is the vision of the artist (not the cost of the tool) that is important.

LibreGraphics Magazine - Issue 1.1LibreGraphics Magazine - Issue 1.2

There are two issues currently available. Both are great examples of what a LibreGraphics and open design magazine should be. They provide tutorials, opinion, perspective, and healthy doses of ideology. (Not too different from the publications written for open source code jockeys, actually.)

You can download both issues from the project’s website, or from one of the handy mirrors.

LibreGraphics Conference

Like LibreGraphics Magazine, the LIbreGraphics Meeting exists to “unite and accelerate the efforts behind Free, Libre, and Open Source creative software It’s the premiere conference for developers, users, and supporters of porjects such as GIMP, Inkscape, Blender, Krita, Scribus, Hugin, the Open Clipart Library, and the Open Font Library to gather and work.” In short, a meeting of magic and liquid awesomeness.LGM

The conference organizers are currently looking for help on two fronts:

  1. They need money. Since there are many open source developers and volunteers who would dearly love to attend and might not be able to afford the travel costs, they are trying to raise money for travel grants. They estimate that they need about $12,000. Please donate.
  2. They are also in need of presenters. If you are doing amazingly creative things with open source, consider submitting a proposal. The submission deadline is April 20th.
 | January 25, 2011 10:10 pm

Note: Still working on the book.

In my heart, I have a very soft place for engraved artwork.

I respect the tremendous degree of skill – a third drawing, a third etching, and a third sculpture – required to create it. I admire the way in which line density is used to create the illusion of tonal depth. But most of all, I love the texture.  Unlike other forms of art, you can both look at and feel an engraved image. (I’ve often wondered if this is why people love the feel of a newly printed dollar bill.)

For most of life, I’ve wanted to learn to engrave. Unfortunately, though, this will probably never happen. To learn engraving requires specialized equipment, time to practice, and the presence of a master who is willing to teach.

I have access to none of these.

But even though I will probably never learn to engrave, this doesn’t mean that I can’t create images with a similar quality and texture. One technique that shares much in common with engraving is the scratchboard.

When using a scratchboard, drawings are created using knives and other etching tools. You work on a thin layer of white China clay that is coated with black India ink, and carefully, you remove the ink to reveal the image within. For the past few weeks, I’ve been planning a project that might work well on a scratchboard, and for that reason, I’ve been busily looking into it.

While trying to learn more about scratchboard, I’ve come across two artists who specialize in it. Their online are beautiful examples of what you can achieve via scratchboard, but even better than the images is the insight into their work process that both artists share.

Below, you can find information about the artists, examples of their work, and a description of how they go about creating beautiful art.

Apollo Driving the Chariot of the Sun - Mark Summers

Show me more… »

 | January 21, 2011 9:34 pm

Most of the time, I don’t really consider myself a blogger. Nor do I think of this website as a blog. (This is mostly because I absolutely hate the term “web-blog.” It sounds like something you would give to a dog for constipation.)

I don’t post on a set schedule, I don’t cover a single topic, and I most emphatically do not believe in transparency. This website is here primarily to give me a place to run at the mouth.

With all that said, in the past few days I’ve run across a number of awesome things. And I’ve found myself lamenting (maybe for the first time ever) that I don’t have the time to be a do proper write-ups. Most of them deserve to be shared.  Thus, today I figured I would do a mind-dump of cool stuff.

What follows is a collection of awesomeness that has been culled from my readings and web-wanderings. There is no order, or logic. Hopefully you’ll find something beautiful and enjoyable.

Styrofoam Cup Art

The other day, Don’t Panic Magazine highlighted the work of Cheeming Boey, who transforms disposable garbage into beautiful art.  They’re beautiful, and awesome (even if drawing on styrofoam is kind of crazy).

Boey explains his madness like this:

You draw on styrofoam cups. But we throw those away! That’s crazy! Why do something so crazy?

I didn’t think it was crazy. People draw on napkins, receipts, wood. I was outside a coffee shop and had the urge to sketch while  people watched. I found a foam cup on top of a trash can, and it was all I had, so that was what I worked with.

It turned out nice, and I kept it. Then I made it a point to collect more, so I drew on more cups.

One day a co worker asked what I was going to do with all the cups I had around my workspace, and I said,” they’re nice, maybe I can sell them one day.” To which he said, “no one is going to buy that crap.” And here I am.

Here are a few examples of his cups. There are more on his Flickr page. If you like them, you can purchase one from Etsy.

Coffee Cup Art 1

Coffee Cup Art 2

Coffee Cup Art 3

Coffee Cup Art 4

Coffee Cup Art 5

Hvass & Hannibal

While browsing about on the website, The Fox is Black, I found a fabulous post about the work of Hvass & Hannibal. Hvass & Hannibal is a design duo based out of Denmark. They do really cool things with mixed media, origami, and color. Looking at a few of the pieces in their portfolio, I actually found myself wondering if there is anything they don’t do.

The pictures below show their facility with posters, paper, and paints.





Book Cover Infographics

This last piece is also something I saw on the Fox is Black. It’s the cover for a book of illustrations called “We are the Friction,” created by Jez Burrows. I’m a little put off by the 2 horse deaths and wanton sex act (but apparently, there’s only one of them), but I really like the chaotic combination of type, stylized illustration, and … transparency. (It’s pretty clear what the book is about.)

We are the Friction

In a lot of ways, it feels positively Victorian, although modern. (And no, that’s not supposed to make any sense.)

 | January 13, 2011 9:59 pm

Note: Still working on the book.

Since working on the Africa 2011 Calendar, I’ve found myself taking a thoroughly unhealthy interest in calendars of all types.  This includes highly innovative ones in addition to those of the more mundane variety.  In the process, I’ve learned an interesting lesson.  Calendars are a peculiar type of document.

Unlike a book or another piece of promotional material, they are typically meant to be part of the background. A good calendar really shouldn’t call very much attention to itself.  It should blend into the room or office, and should simple be there.  At the same time, it needs to be transcendent, functional, and inspiring. A calendar which raucously demands your attention is also a calendar which finds itself taken down and put away.  But if it’s not beautiful … then … what’s the point?

Perhaps that is why I am so impressed with the “Year of Light” calendar, created by Kristopher Grunert.  It is simultaneously stunning, functional, and interesting.  A wonderful calendar, which also doubles as a very attractive set of wallpaper. (You might also print it and hang it on your wall, in which case it would be marvelous wall-art.)

Year of Light - 2011-01

Year of Light - 2011-02

Year of Light - 2011-03

Year of Light - 2011-04

Year of Light - 2011-05

Year of Light - 2011-06

Year of Light - 2011-07

Year of Light - 2011-08

You can download the entire calendar from Kristopher’s website, here.

 | January 10, 2011 5:36 pm

Yesterday morning, I spent some time scouring the internet for visuals which creatively highlight the importance of water. I’ve been trying to think up six or seven different ways that I could approach a fund-raising brochure that I’m working on.

In so doing, I’ve found some wonderful images that provide a slightly different take on water. I enjoyed them so much, I thought that I would post them here.

The Person You Love is 72.8% Water

The first example is part of a promotional book put together by Teagan White, a design student and is based on a quote from Alan Fleischer’s book, “The Art of Looking Sideways.”


This second group is a series of illustrations drawn by Alexandra Zaharova & Ilya Plotnikov. I thought they beautifully understated the importance of water to life, everywhere.  These illustrations, or ones like them, could be used to great effect in a minimalistic brochure.

Note: This posting was originally part of Life, Water, and Propaganda. After some consideration, however, I decided to split it into a new post.  It just didn’t fit with the other very well.