I’ve been thinking for a little while that the text on Ministry of Type is maybe a tad too small, making me guilty (perhaps) of that terrible designers’ conceit, small type syndrome. I’ve been designing sites for clients lately with much larger text, around the 13-15pt range, and coming back to my own site with its small text gives me a bit of a jolt. So here goes, bigger text, and a switch to FF Dagny Web Pro from FontFont, delivered via Typekit. I like FF Dagny a lot for its own characteristics, but I have to admit I’m fond of it too because it reminds me of Univers and Folio. Of course, if either of those two Linotype faces were ever to be available for online embedding (ice-skating through Hades, anyone?) there’s no guarantee they’d actually work well in the browser anyway. Perhaps right now type designers at Linotype are working on web versions of their entire back catalogue?
Oh, and yes, I was thinking of this when I wrote the title.
I was browsing through the AIGA Design Archives and was attracted right away to this book cover for Design and the Elastic Mind. Irma Boom designed the cover and the beautiful lettering was done by Daniël Maarleveld, you can see more of his lettering and some background info here (thanks to Sean Kelly for the info). I’ve been experimenting with creating letters from guilloches, so I wanted to look a bit closer at how the designer had done these. It’s pretty interesting, though I’m guessing it’s software filling paths with a basic guilloche than any kind of mathematical derivation of the letters themselves. It’s still very attractive and effective, and I’m wondering what software was used to make it — exploring Excentro I’ve not seen any path-filling options — so I shall ask.
I had a look round for more info on the book, and found that it’s supporting an exhibition of the same name at MOMA. There’s a website devoted to it including this Flash ‘interactive’thing, which grandly introduces itself thus:
The exhibition highlights designers’ ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and history—changes that demand or reflect major adjustments in human behavior—and translate them into objects that people can actually understand and use.
Now, after a while poking around on the site I can say that it’s somewhat lacking in that regard. The typography is unremittingly dreary; a set of very long lists set in microscopic low-contrast text with odd arrows that imply function but give none, bullets all over the place and thoroughly opaque labelling of everything. There’s an animated overlay that briefly shows images from the extended info for each of the list entries (which of course obscures the title and brief intro to it), and traces lines to other things that it’s apparently related to. You can click each of the things and find some actual interesting information in there, and some really nice imagery, but the sense of confusion never really goes away, you’re left with questions — where am I in the site, what is this, what are these connections for and about? If the intention is to show that there’s loads of stuff out there, that it’s hard to read and that finding out about any of it is an onerous task and that following the connections between things is baffling and involves you having to do work to even find out what it is and is connected to, then the site is a blinding success. And what is it with those arrows?
Shame really, because the book cover is quite lovely.
This post falls squarely into an imaginary new-to-me category, as it’s apparently been around since 2004 and I’ve never ever seen it before. I’m not sure how, I’m convinced I’ve looked at stuff related to Liechtenstein in the last 6 years, and this is exactly the kind of thing I like. So yes, the other day I was emailed a link to the portal of The Principality of Liechtenstein with a message to have a look at their ‘new’ brand (I think my correspondent may have seen it here on Creative Roots). I’m wondering whether the brand just hasn’t been promoted much — or maybe I’ve just missed it. That website doesn’t do it any favours that’s for sure. Anyway, big surprise: it turns out the brand was designed by Wollf Olins, so I can only assume that their work from 2004 must predate whatever decision they made to push ugly and huh? as brand virtues, as this is rather lovely.
The type is essentially made from dots (an idea I love) and this presents a nice twist on that, using stages on a morph between a flower and a star, theoretically including a circle as one of the steps. According to the brand documentation, the flower represents the agrarian roots of the Principality, the circle is the financial side and the star is ‘industry’. I’m a little unconvinced by that, as I’m pretty sure that industry wasn’t the endpoint in Liechtenstein’s development, nor was finance merely a step along the way. Perhaps it’s best thought of as a device to indicate the range of things you can find in Liechtenstein. Regardless of that, it makes for a pretty story and an attractive logo. The overall effect is of something encrusted in diamonds (or at least Swarovski crystals), though looking at it again I’m reminded a little of early-20th Century theatre illuminations, the old ‘name in lights’ thing. Certainly the associations are of glamour and wealth, which seems to suit the Principality just fine.
The crown is a nice touch as well, and if I’m honest was what caught my eye at first — one of the perils of using a crown as your own logo I guess. Again, as is apparently unavoidable with country branding, the elements of the crown have particular meaning related to aspects of how Liechtenstein would like you to think it thinks of itself as having (sorry). Made of symbols for nature, dialogue, finance, industry and rootedness the crown works well and forms a recognisable little device when used on its own or with the abbreviated LI mark. The component symbols are used across brochures and other materials as a rather refreshingly retro pattern. I doubt I’m alone in being reminded of 1970s wallpaper, but all in all it works well and compliments the other decorative elements — the flowers, mountains, trees and (especially) that nice illustration of Vaduz Castle.
Here’s a nice topical post for St. Valentine’s Day. I just read about this fun project over on Brand New: Redesigning Valentine’s Day. Studio 360 came up with the idea, following on from previous ‘challenges’ to redesign Christmas Day and the Gay Freedom Flag. I normally like reading things like this because of the fresh thinking and the usually interesting return to first principles as a place to start, but this feels a bit flat. Brand New give a list of positives and negative aspects of Valentine’s Day, and they have some interesting ideas, but if this was a branding brief, I’d start with a list of brand aims, what we want to achieve:
Accessible—Whatever symbols you use, they have to be recognisable. At some level it’s a similar task to designing a national flag; a child must be able to draw it recognisably.
Obvious—Love may not actually be blind, but it’s certainly not thinking at full capacity, so whatever you use to characterise it has to work on an emotional, intuitive level. If you have to think about it too much, it’s failed.
Fun—It really can’t be serious. Romantic love is mad, illogical, impulsive and emotional — there’s no tedious routine here, no worries about bills or ailments or whatever, it’s about life, and it’s exciting.
Optimistic—It has to speak of unbounded promise, of potential, of positivity, happiness and, not to put too fine a point on it, the fruits of love — kids, basically, assuming reproduction is possible with one’s intended. It has to lift our spirits and make us feel good.
To go with the brand aims, you want to see what’s wrong with the existing brand:
Commercialisation—Money (or the exchange of valuable/useful items) has been part of love, marriage and romance for however long we care to look back into human history: dowries, bride prices, dynastic unions, etc. Negative? Perhaps. Just part of life. I say deal with it.
Waste—An increasingly valid point. If you value something, you keep it safe, dry and clean. Otherwise, you’re going to discard it, right? You’d want it to be biodegradable and recyclable — and surely you wouldn’t want the symbols of your unending love to have poisoned a river with its manufacturing byproducts?
Taste—Ah, it’s all so crass, isn’t it? The schmalzy, glittering gifts, the plush, the fluff, the overly decorated crap that fills the shops, the low-quality chocolate, the forced roses, the sheer lowbrow nature of it all. Yes, if I admit it, this is the main problem I have with it all.
So what did Brand New come up with? A cross, essentially, a cross that sort of looks like a V. Made from the diagonal axes of the heart symbol, curved a bit to soften them up, and vertically orientable to indicate availability, it’s iconic and reasonably flexible, and the suggested application on Facebook and the like is pretty nice. The thing is, with those colours it really reminds me of the brands for the Pink Ribbon Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer. If I saw this symbol without knowing its origins, I’d assume it was part of the branding for one of these two charities, and given that Valentine’s isn’t serious, and breast cancer is, this is a problem. Also, it’s too reliant on accurate reproduction of those gentle curves. In most people’s hands it’ll just be a plain ‘X’, a symbol of affection certainly, but not quite the heartfelt romantic love you’re trying to get across. So as much as I respect Armin and Bryony, I think this symbol is a dud. It’s too serious, too cold, too (sorry) dull. It’s based on diagonals across a heart, so it’s based on a heart. Why not use a heart symbol then?
And this is the root of it. We already have a set of well-recognised, simple, straightforward symbols we use to indicate romance and love, and we have a very flexible brand palette, ranging from rose pink to carmine red. The biological (and anatomical) associations with the colour are pretty obvious, and happily elicit a strong emotional response of exactly the sort we’re looking for with Valentine’s Day. No other colour does the job; for example even if Tiffany Blue is a welcome sight for some on Valentine’s Day, it’s not the colour that people will ever associate with love, just merely one of the benefits of it.
So, let’s look at the symbols of love and Valentine’s Day, then. What do we have?
Hearts on everything! This surely is the main thing everyone associates with Valentine’s Day. It’s simple, obvious, easy to draw, recognisable, and even has a kind of logic to it. It may not be a perfect image of a human heart, but it’s close enough — the way it’s usually drawn, it’s round, plump, healthy, it’s a symbol of fullness, of comfort, of abundance. It’s even the symbol Armin and Bryony started with to create their cross, so why gild the lily?
The god of erotic love, we all recognise Cupid; the winged, plump little boy carrying a bow and arrow. These days he’s pretty much interchangeable with the legions of generic winged babies floating around with ribbons, hearts, garlands of flowers and the rest. They’re often called cherubs, but these aren’t the four-winged, four-faced, ninth-rank angels from the Bible at all, so while there’s not going to be much confusion, you can call them putti. Whatever you call them, they’re often depicted doing something slightly mischievous; Cupid represents the impulsive and childish nature of love. He is anything but serious, he is newborn love personified. In a literal sense too, he represents that ultimate product and beneficiary of love - the child.
What better symbol of romantic love than the genitals of a plant? I guess a picture of our own organs would be considered a little forward and might embarrass the waiter at that nice restaurant you’re at. People give all sorts of flowers on Valentine’s Day, but it’s the rose, the red rose that’s become the ultimate gift of love. It’s the richness of colour, the fullness of the shape of the flower, the heady scent, they’re beautiful and inspire our senses. They’re also a bit pricey around Valentine’s Day, so to be cynical for a moment, they say, “Look, you’re worth me shelling out for these things, even if they are going to be dead tomorrow”.
Chocolates, sweets, a nice meal – a gift of food has been a tangible sign of love for as long as we can tell. It has to be something rich and indulgent, preferably sweet, uncommon and yes, expensive. In the past, honey was the acme of sweets, to get at it you usually had to kill the hive (and face the angry bees), and that made it much, much more expensive. It’s no accident that we have a honeymoon (not exactly an everyday occurrence) and that the promised land was described as a land of milk and honey. Giving a gift of honey to your beloved showed that you were willing to spend money on them, and that you had it to spend. Commercialisation is hardly new when it comes to love.
I think the branding of St Valentine’s Day is pretty much perfect. It fulfils everything it needs to do. Sure, it can be tasteless and crass, but it can be refined and beautiful too. You’ve four symbols with which to express your love, the abstract heart, the figurative cupid, the symbolic flowers and the tangible gifts of food, and you have a colour scheme you can use to brand any additional gifts and accessories, lingerie, wines, foods, lighting, and so on — you can simply do whatever you want with them.
Valentine’s Day is an incredibly democratic event; the barriers are low, the incentive to be creative high, and the rewards of success extraordinary.
And, of course, you can refuse to have anything to do with it and grumble about all these grinning idiots facehugging all over the damn place and upsetting the horses. Clearly, that’s the sensible opinion, held by all right-thinking people, which, I guess, is the point.
Andy Polaine recently tweeted a link to this video on David Airey’s site about Hatch Show Print, a letterpress shop established in 1879 in Nashville, Tennessee, which is still operating. The manager, Jim Sherraden, has strong views on how to run the shop, with a motto of “preservation through production”, the idea being that all the equipment, all the blocks, everything, is still used regularly, even if it’s for one print. Sherradden regards the shop as a living museum; everything is letterpress, and done by hand, and interestingly:
we don’t introduce new typefaces because I don’t want to pollute the integrity of the archive.
I’m glad someone is doing this. I’m glad that this style, so American, is being maintained, that these wood blocks are being used for printing and not for decorating someone’s wall, and that these presses are still operating and being maintained. I’m glad someone’s doing this, because I don’t think I’d want to. I know I’d find myself craving new typefaces, screenprinting, digital print, variety. So yes, I’m glad someone’s doing this. Someone else.
One of the design sites I read regularly is Fubiz, and on there I recently read this post on Daniel Carlsten’s work for the new gambling site, Gnuf. I’m rather fond of the type and iconography of playing cards (as I’ve posted before), so a new identity using many of those themes is going to get my attention, especially as Carlsten has designed a typeface for Gnuf based on them. Looking at how the whole identity works on gnuf.com, I like how he’s not tried to ‘smooth out’ the type, keeping the instead the odd widths and shapes of the letters and numerals and their exaggerated, oddly-placed serifs. I guess there are free fonts out there that do the playing card thing well enough, since the theme hardly requires fine kerning or balance, but it’s unusual and worthy of comment to see it as part of a nicely integrated identity like this. It’s worth checking out the rest of Carlsten’s work too, there’s some lovely work in his portfolio.
Normally I find all-Flash websites intensely frustrating and rarely recommend them to anyone. I think no matter how glittering with effects, how technically accomplished they may be, they represent a regrettable attitude to the web; a lack of ‘playing nice with others’ that keeps the information locked away, often unlinkable, frequently unquotable and usually inaccessible. Still, sometimes there are sites that do something so nice it’s worth linking to them, despite their Flashtastic nature. A few days ago It’s Nice That linked to the new site of Established & Sons which has some lovely things, and some lovelier type treatments using URW’s Didoni. One of my favourite examples is below:
Some time ago I quietly redid the logo for The Ministry of Type, recreating the crown image out of little dots. I didn’t make an announcement out of it at the time, but I was (and am) pleased with it — it’s a lot more me now. I had a number of reasons for wanting to redo it, mainly that even though I drew the original crown image, it was very close to the official ones, and related to that, those Keep Calm and Carry On posters have become so incredibly popular that I’ve had more than one person ask whether there was a link between them and my site. Short and long answer: no, there isn’t.
So, it was time to redo it, and with the dots I was feeling very pleased with myself indeed, until the very next day when I saw a link on TypeNeu (I think) to the recent work of Brighton’s own Colophon foundry, specifically their typeface Perfin, which has a crown made of dots in it. Consternation! Had I unwittingly ripped them off? But no, their crown is very different from mine, and I’m pretty sure I had my idea without seeing theirs, and more importantly, there’s plenty of room in the world for lots of things made of dots. Still, it did provide a nice excuse to get in touch and I can confirm they’re an extremely talented and nice bunch of people. Here’s a bit of Perfin, designed by Alison Haigh for Colophon, you can see their inspiration for the face: the perforations and dot-matrix printing Royal Mail use to identify post in their systems.
That was some time ago, and I was reminded that I’d meant to make a post on this when I read on Brand New about the new Pfizer branding. Ignoring for a moment the regrettable update to their logo, I was drawn to the other brand assets that Siegel+Gale produced for them — the dotted illustrations and typeface, below.
I can imagine that there were all sorts of discussions that likened the dots to pills or something or other, but to me, thinking of Pfizer as one of those old 20th Century companies like ICI, IBM and all that, I had images of mid-century computer displays, specifically a type of nixie tube called (I think) a pixie tube. I’ve got a picture of some basic nixie tubes below, as it seems that the type I’m familiar with—where the letters are formed from individual points of light — are quite rare. Indeed, this is the closest I could find online to the type I saw in my father’s and grandfather’s workshops. They’re really rather beautiful things:
A couple of nixie tubes. Image courtesy of Adam Greig on Flickr.
So yes, that Pfizer logo change. Overall, it’s good, but it’s just that P. It seems so disconnected from the rest of the name now — I really think they should have kept the serif in it, it provided a visual ‘push’ of the P into the F. Just my opinion, mind.
Entirely coincidentally, I get to post about another archive of a long-running and well-known magazine; this time, Playboy. John of I Love Typography tweeted a link to this, just over 50 issues of Playboy from 1954 to 2006. The site will require you to install Silverlight, but is fairly well put together and easy to use, with a nice contents feature that also lists the ads and a search function that works well. To be clear, Playboy is a pornographic magazine that used to use good journalism and good design as a fig-leaf (as it were) to try to get some respectability. It's still a magazine for pornography, objectifying women. Of course, the images and type I’ve included below are not pornographic.
I’ve never looked at Playboy magazine before — its reputation preceded it and there are many better ways to read good journalism. There are some interesting-sounding articles in the earlier editions though; just a quick look through reveals interviews with Fidel Castro, Miles Davis, Sterling Moss, loads of fiction, journalism, pages and pages of dense, dense text. Then, so randomly you almost ask “What’s that doing there?” a picture of a young woman with not much on. I must admit I didn’t really look at the newer issues, as after the logotype changes in 1972 the whole thing looks a whole lot less appealing, and makes me think perhaps the magazine becomes a bit more straightforwardly pornographic from this point. The bits of type and spreads below are mostly from the late ’50s and early ’60s, and are just an example of some of the lovely bits of type and layouts in the magazine. So yes, go and have a look at the Playboy magazine archive, but keep in mind the attitudes and harms it represents.
It’s Nice That linked to this great piece on Amusement magazine, telling the ‘real’ story of how the iconic figures and objects in videogames were made. I love the idea of these things being made in a workshop - the pong one below is great. It took me a moment to recognise the Mario mushrooms being carved out of stone, but boy, if someone ever was to make them that way I know of quite a few people who’d want to buy one.