Tag Archive | typography

On Readings from Lupton, Brockman, and Gerstner

So I include these because I always get a kick out of seeing other artists’ notes:

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As I mentioned at the end of my previous post, I realized my big weakness was typography. So I did some quick searches as to what would be the best resources to consult and found what turned out to be a fabulous book: Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. It was a great deal of what I had been vaguely aware of for some time now, but had never clarified into principles. Not only was there a brief history of typography to put the different styles in context, but she added in “Type Crimes” of not-to-dos which were very helpful. I also liked the guidelines of mixing fonts… ok, I liked the whole thing. I’ll leave it at that and go to the more interesting parts: the questions it rose.
Studying the letter though is only a tiny portion of the work; How to lay out text on a page? Naturally this question led me to grabbing books on grid systems in design, specifically that of Josef-Muller Brockman. I found his text a thorough investigation of grid designs in print, rich with examples. Yet that led to the next question- when to use one grid system over another? And when you choose a grid system, how do you choose which variant to use? These questions were starting to lead me outside of graphic design, for in design for print, a designer will usually know how much text there is, what photographs there are, how the guiding thread of narration needs to lead the reader across the page, etc, and these will be the guidelines they’ll use. But what about for dynamic content?
This question led me to Karl Gerstner’s Designing Programmes, a collection of essays that I had hoped to gain more out of than I did. There are, of course, flexible design models that allow for a great deal of variation even when the content is dynamic… newspaper designs, for example. Yet… it still wasn’t quite what I was looking for. I wasn’t just thinking dynamic content in that the content changes from one page to the next, or one issue to the next, but from moment-to-moment, depending on dynamic information.
Of course what I would think to go to next would be website design resources, and there are a million of those. And though I still plan to check out some books I haven’t already seen, I feel as if I already know a great deal of what they’re going to say: Have a navigation pane, use a grid system to communicate clearly, always provide a home button… etc. But there are two things wrong with that sort of guidance:
One: it’s only elements. It’s like saying “to make an animal, you’ll need limbs, a brain, and innards.” Putting aside the fact that those elements were completely arbitrary, it doesn’t tell you anything about how the animal should act. For example, how should it interact with its environment? Let’s put it back in digital terms: How should an app or software interact with a user’s dynamic environment? Or how should the app interact with the other apps and software already on the device?
Two: this ‘limbs, brain, innards’ guidance points to only two design principles: first, clear information presentation (this goes back to traditional graphic design). And secondly, a clear navigational structure (linking).
Yet where does motion design fit in? Already designers in companies big and small are finding ways to make the motion design of a piece of software not only be elegant and pleasureable to use, but contribute to the ease of navigation and the user’s understood structure of the program. Look at Windows 8- for all I might pick at their interaction methods, the motion design is fantastic and quite unique. Yet you wouldn’t know it unless you actually picked up a Windows phone or tablet and started using it (and made it past the learning curve to actually be able to enjoy and admire the motion design… but that’s a different issue).
Undoubtedly, in regards to these questions, there are already long discussions and detailed blog posts by design professionals much more along in their careers and experience than I. And it’s clear I need to find them.
…..SIGH. Is it ridiculous of me to complain that there’s too much information available and I get tired of hunting it all down and the guilt I feel if I don’t?
Oh well. Off to google.

Working on Process

One of the things I’m always learning more about is the early design phase. It’s my favorite part, the place of boundless possibility. You have an idea, you say “okay awesome I’ll go talk to my potential users and find out everything I need to know about them!” but you can’t just show up on their doorstep with nothing, right? Otherwise they’ll give you all their hopes and dreams and you won’t know what the hell to do with them. So you make a quick mock-up of what you think it could be structured like. Just some wireframes. But since wireframes inspire no one, you make a few aesthetically rendered ones so they get it.
This is the part I get carried away with. I start doing the entire wireframe storyboards in this aesthetic style. Why not, right? I mean, you already have the aesthetic ones made, you’re just saving yourself work that you’d have to do later… right? (no.)

getting carried away with a first idea is never a good idea.

getting carried away with a first idea is never a good idea.

Usually when I’m working on a team, this impulse to keep running with something gets checked, but since I’ve started freelancing I’m learning that I have to have a different kind of discipline than I was anticipating: I have no problem with getting myself to work long hours before a project has even gotten funding… I have a problem NOT over-working an idea before it’s at the correct stage.
What happened next is completely natural, of course: as my user research began in earnest and I began meeting with many great, intelligent people, the scope of the project widened tremendously. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t see this as a bad thing; by entertaining other’s ideas by saying “huh, yeah, it COULD go that direction, couldn’t it?” I can make a list of all the possibilities. Then, once I have a good idea of the possible scope, I narrow it down to a small list of must-haves for something small, simple, with a big punch. Not a big scope- I’m not looking to nuke it. I’m looking to snipe it.
Inevitably however, the design now needs a complete revamp. “But wait!” a part of me wants to wail. “I’ve just spent so long on this beautiful design!”
…Actually, that’s a lie. There is no part that says that in me. Call me a masochist, but I get a kick out of crumpling designs and tossing them over my shoulder. They weren’t wasted- nothing’s EVER wasted. I learned a lot through creating that first iteration. But it’s back to the drawing board.
I often draw the same design a few times over and over; with each time i redraw it, I reconceptualize it into a more organized essence of its idea.

I often draw the same design a few times over and over; with each time i redraw it, I reconceptualize it into a more organized essence of its idea.

Part of that learning process is discovering your own weaknesses: and I’ve found a big one, one which was hidden during my time at Microsoft Research because I was working solely in the Windows 8 metro style. No, I’m not talking gradient meshes, although those are a pain in the ass… I’m talking about typography. So after I tackle that weakness head-on (Helloooo Ellen Lupton) I’ll post about that. Nothing like facing your fears right?
…I’d totally rather face a shark than face typography.
…..then again, that’s a poor comparison perhaps, because I like sharks. hm.