Wednesday 25th Jun 2008
I rediscovered a set of saved images and links I had, labelled “150 Years of Dutch Advertising Art”. I’ve had the link sitting around for quite some time in the vast dusty archives of my home directory, and I can’t understand why I’ve not put it up here before. The site is an incredible collection of fascinating and inspiring images, from the baroque and painterly to the most sparse and graphic. Great stuff.
As usual, I’ve had to trace some of them with trusty beziers - I’ve just finished doing this one. I love the PK monogram and the composition of the two styles. Fun to trace too.
Update: I have been reliably informed that as the exhibition was about medals and military insignia, the PK monogram is designed to resemble military insignia. Thank you David and Yves! Hmm. Military insignia, huh? Something to research…
It’s got to that point: I’ve got three browser windows open with more tabs in each than there’s room for (hello little arrow at the right of the tab bar) so maybe I should get on with doing something about them.
First up is the work of Jason Munn. I’d come across the books poster before, but for some reason not gone on to Munn’s website, The Small Stakes which has the added bonus of allowing you to buy some of his work. There’s a short, but interesting, interview with him on Grain Edit too. Go and have a look at his site though… it’s a shame the National Novel Writing Month one isn’t available to buy! It’s one of my favourites, along with the book one of course:
Note: I found the NNWM poster here.
What happens if you produce a map of, say, the United States of America, only showing the streets? Will you be able to recognise non-man-made elements of the landscape, like mountains, or rivers? Well, it turns out yes, you can, as Ben Fry has done so. Interestingly, you can see how in the midwest there are counties that appear to have hardly any streets right in the middle of ones that are riddled with them - though this is apparently more due to how they identify a street than a lack of any thoroughfares. The difference between the east and the west of the continent is quite marked too - the west’s street patterns appear much more strongly influenced by the topography than the east, though given the scale and type of said topography, that’s hardly surprising. Here’s a scaled down image as a teaser, but definitely go and look at the originals.
This Flickr set of vintage logos has been around a while now, and I looked and didn’t immediately get much inspiration. I mean, anyone else who’s linked to them has done the equivalent of, “Hey look, old logos! Um. Yes. Old logos!” so I guess I’m not alone.
Still, patience rewards the virtuous (or something) and I had a closer look through the ‘Original Size’ of all of them - my, that was a fun exercise, thank you, Flickr - and found some logos that I think are pretty interesting. Unfortunately, most of the ‘logos’ on those pages really don’t deserve the distinction of being called logos. In fact, most of them are pretty poor. I guess that makes the good ones stand out better. Perhaps.
So, enough bad-mouthing. I’ve traced (manually, of course, with lovely beziers) the ones I either like, or think are inspirational and felt quite a bit of ’70s and ’80s nostalgia in the process. You may have a different set of choices of course, and no, I wouldn’t include the Lubalin logo in the ‘crap’ ones. I just don’t like it very much. I know, I know, there’s a space in Design Hell reserved just for me… Below are thumbnails of the ones I’ve traced, and I’ve added notes for most of them too. If you’re reading this on the home page, click “Read the rest…” to see the whole lot.
Bauldoff linked to some scans he’d done of the 1980 promo for the typeface Haas Unica, by Team’77. I’d seen a copy of this back in the 90s but then forgot about it until seeing these scans - back then I was only a callow youth so the idea of improving Helvetica didn’t seem so remarkable or interesting as it does now.
Essentially, Haas Unica came about as a result of analysing the original version of Helvetica, its variants (as they were in 1980) and similar faces and seeking to improve them - to produce the ultimate archetypal sans serif face. A single face to unite them all, if you like. Looking at the comparitive settings of both faces at text size shows how subtle the differences are, with a detail closeup first:
You can get an idea of the kind of analysis they did from this little snippet:
The character width of Haas Helvetica appears to us to be generally somewhat narrow, so that the rhythm of the typeface is rather uneasy in its effect. The same applies to Akzidenz Book. Linotype Helvetica is wider than the Haas version in relation to its character area and appears to us to be generally more balanced. Its character width corresponds basically to that of Univers.
And the results, based on improvements and adjustments to the stroke thicknesses, relationships of the capital letter widths, numerals and the basic forms of the letters:
The differentiation of capital letter widths leads to a tighter rhythm in upper case composition. A slightly more open form in the Haas Unica specimen setting, compared with the original version, together with the individual corrections to characters, improves the readability of the typeface, especially for continuous text.
Unfortunately when the face was released there were some legal problems as Linotype and Scangraphic both claim ownership. As a result it is no longer available commercially, which is a huge shame. Perhaps a petition for the conflicting parties to get over themselves and perhaps release the face jointly? I mean, making some money from it is surely better than making none at all - especially when ‘ownership’ is being judged from contract and the shifting seas of corporate ownership. Meanwhile, some people are taking matters into their own hands by redrawing the letterforms for their own use.
On the left is the original Haas Helvetica, on the right the new Haas Unica, and in between some transitory and experimental forms.
Drawn! the other day had a link to this treasure trove of retro illustrations, posters, books, covers, and pretty much everything else committed to print, and an on-link to the Mid-Century Illustrated Flickr pool. Looking through these is a bit like browsing ffffound, you keep finding things you want to keep links to… or just keep. I tend to want to redraw things, as I find it helps me understand how it was done a bit better and I often learn some new technique or style, or get inspiration for something else. I particularly liked the Black Pearl cover - it’s an engaging and compelling image, but made with just three colours. No halftones or tints either. I didn’t redraw this, I just used clean-up techniques to recreate it:
The Aircraft Propulsion Data Book is interesting as the curve appears smooth and aerodynamic, but under close examination it seems a bit… well, clumsy. Still, that’s the kind of thing that interests me - for example, when doing things like icons the details can seem crude and ugly up close but at their intended size provide useful (and subtle) clues on how to interpret the whole image.
Also in the sets of images are various examples of very nice typography, these two caught my eye in particular:
And linked from the Photo Lettering one, this beautiful, beautiful thing:
Then, finally, no collection of mid-century illustrations would be complete without at least one retro-futurist image, so here’s a fabulous subway illustration by Klaus BÃ¼rgle:
I came across Jörg Block’s site this morning from a link on Drawn! There are some fantastic illustrations and paintings on there; I love his clean, crisp, often isometric drawing style, and especially the page layouts:
Have a look at the paintings too, they remind me of the paintings of intersections and roadworks you’d see advertising the Glorious New Future in the 50s and 60s, but with a solitude and darkness that suggest the future isn’t all that glorious at all. Of course, he could just like architectural paintings and puts the figure in for scale?
There are some interesting-looking infographics here on NOTCOT, apparently providing some sort of analysis of various literary works. I’ve had a look through them, and while they’re certainly attractive, they don’t seem to provide any insight at all. The one immediately below, for example, might suggest how shorter sentences bunch up together in the narrative flow, but there’s no guarantee that several groups of small sentences, separated by (say) many long sentences, a short sentence and more long sentences might overlap, giving an illusion of a single bunch of terse, active prose. The rotation of the line by 90 degrees with each sentence is an arbitrary insertion in the ‘analysis’, and in itself provides no valuable meaning - it doesn’t even serve as a neutral carrier for information, rather it distracts the reader and confuses the data.
Some of the other illustrations provide a little more promise, but with having to refer to an (again) arbitrary key, any insight a graphical representation could provide is quickly lost. But, they’re beautiful. It’s as if the designer flipped through Tufte’s books without reading anything in them, and decided to create something that ‘looks like that’. OK, I’m being harsh; I’m sure that after a fair bit of reading and working out how the diagrams were made, there’s some vague possibility of gleaning some tiny hint of insight into the literary style of various authors, but you have to get past the fact that they seem to be primarily designed to be pretty* rather than useful. You can see more of the works on the designer’s site, apparently called “Untitled Document” (at the time of writing), here.
As for the ones attempting to depict sentence structure, they certainly leave a massive amount to be desired - in order to work out the difference between a colon and a parenthesis you’d have to get out your micrometer and be prepared to annotate like crazy. Or you could just read the original text. After all, there’s this amazing set of symbols and conventions that have been used for years to convey meaning and sentence structure. It’s called written language. Heard of it?
* And to appeal to people with more money than design sense, looking at the prices.
Courtesy of the ever-fantastic Ace Jet 170, this collection of images of the 1958 Penrose Annual. A couple of my favourites at the bottom, but I just had to trace the Amores one, below. I love it. The M-R* ultra-ligature was rather satisfying to do.
UPDATE: I originally thought the R was a K, but Jes Sherbourne kindly corrected me. Despite the whole thing still being rather beautiful, I have to say that’s one of the worst Rs I’ve ever seen!
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