These posters by Ross Berens are beautiful. I’d love to see them higher resolution, and on nice paper, printed with archival inks, and yes, pretty much on my wall. They’re of all nine of the planets and their moons we knew before 2006*, with various details of their atmospheres, orbits and other features displayed using a range of infographic styles. They remind me of the posters and books I had as a child, but of far higher quality — these look like something you’d get from NASA itself, or today, the Science Museum. Lovely things.
* Yes, poor Pluto.
I just read this post by Joe Clark, linked from Daring Fireball, about why you shouldn’t use small caps for acronyms. In it, Clark provides some examples which at first glance seem to support his argument, but a little thought reveals them to be mere examples of ill-considered typography rather than a crushing blow on the use of small caps.
I’m well aware the whole article may well be trolling, but there is one particularly egregious argument I’ve heard many times when the subject of typographic style comes up - though normally about apostrophes:
This nonsense, promulgated by snobs like that bore Bringhurst who have not read anything written after Jane Austen croaked, ostensibly improves typographic colour. What it actually does is inhibit reading.
Of course, anyone who has actually read ‘that bore’ Bringhurst would know that he is far from a bore and that he is all about promoting typography that aids reading. Setting acronyms in small caps does work well in a large number of cases, and it does indeed improve page colour, thereby reducing distractions to the reader, but as in anything there are no universal solutions. From the very section in The Elements of Typographic Style on the use of small caps for acronyms, Bringhurst states, ‘Refer typographic disputes to the higher courts of speech and thinking’. In other words, if you’re not sure, remind yourself how you’d say it or think of it — think of the meaning first and the style should follow.
I feel a little dirty responding to stuff like this, but I have a point to make. Articles like this promote a dichotomy, an idea that this way is right and that way is wrong, this way is snobbish and that way is proletarian — but when applied to typography it boils down to utter nonsense. The goal here is to allow the meaning of words to shine through. If you use small caps and it makes something hard to read, you should stop using small caps for that thing, and vice-versa.
Making a typographic decision based on some political or class motivation is fine if it’s appropriate for the text, but beyond that vanishingly rare case it’s a mere affectation. Don’t be swayed by trash-talking and accusations of ‘snobbery’, please.
Oh, and on the subject of apostrophes (amongst other things), read The Complete Plain Words by Sir Ernest Gowers. It’s a good read, and full of good sense.
Thursday 17th Dec 2009
I’ve just seen this project on Swiss Miss and I really like the idea. Matt Robinson and Tom Wrigglesworth compared how much ink different common typefaces use at the same point size by drawing them out on a wall using biros. It’s not a scientific analysis or anything but it is a gloriously fun thing to do. I like the way they ended up with a graph made out of biros at the end of it, showing how much ink is left — the resulting evidence is its own data. It’s a great way of explaining typographic colour too. Love it.
Thursday 17th Dec 2009
One of the sites I visit regularly (or at least, read the RSS feed of) is Arch Daily. I’ve always had a strong interest in architecture and I enjoy looking through the pictures of new building designs — even if they do often look unrealistically neat and perfect. It’s nice, then, to find actual photos of an actual built structure, and this one caught my eye for the rather predictable reason that it’s got giant floor numbers painted in bright pink Helvetica Neue on it. As so often happens I was reminded of something, this time another set of car park numbers that also caught my eye, the Futura-esque ones on the Brighton Marina car park just down the road from me. I also think I have a bit of a thing for the number 5.
Now I really have been meaning to post about this for ages. So long in fact I really can’t remember where I found it. I don’t even have a link to it anymore and it’s only because it’s easily Googled* that I could find it again. As far as I understand it, OASIS is a map-based system for New Yorkers to see how open space is used in the city - the page about it describes this as enhancing the stewardship of said open space, whatever that means. Still, the new maps they’ve got are really quite lovely, and astonishingly detailed. I know our very own Ordnance Survey has maps this detailed, but the data is jealously guarded and even with recent changes in the right direction, detail at this level is not something for we mere taxpayers (who pay for it) to see and use without paying for it again. I hope the Ordnance Survey will see sense soon and we’ll see some fun applications with UK data like this.
* If everyone else is going to verb it, then I shall too.
Sunday 25th Oct 2009
I’ve been marking so many things in my RSS feed either to read later or ‘post about this’ lately, and yet it seems I’ve had no time to do either of these things. This is one I’ve had marked for a while, from the ever-inspiring For Print Only, and perfectly demonstrates why red and black is such a great combination in print. I love the spreads in this report, and I’ll definitely be referring to this as inspiration for a while. Lovely stuff, go and take a look at the other images — a couple of my favourites are below.
A quick heads-up on a book project I had the honour of being involved with. If you’re a regular visitor to Information is Beautiful you’ll of course already be aware of this, but just in case you aren’t, The Visual Miscellaneum by David McCandless is available for pre-order on Amazon. Sadly, I only had time to do one image for the project, but I see from the back that it looks like it made it into the book, so hurrah! Pre-order on Amazon UK here, and Amazon US here. It’ll most likely be available elsewhere too.
Sunday 13th Sep 2009
At first glance, The Shenzhen International Energy Mansion looks worth posting about only for the name alone, it sounds like some Metropolis-style sci-fi update of a concierge-equipped apartment block of the early 20th century. It looks, however, like any other office tower found anywhere in the world. Its rather standard shape is in fact deliberate and it does have some interesting features, explained in a way by these remarkable infographics on this Arch Daily article. I say in a way because they’re clearly made to be as much decorative as informational - with that huge pixellated type and simple iconography they bring to mind 8-bit game interfaces and thanks to the West/East labelling, recent revivals of the style like that in DEFCON. Anyway, have a closer look, and you can see how the building is designed to at least try and reduce energy use.
Saturday 15th Aug 2009
This is a great little instruction book on drawing animals - Les Animaux Tels Qu’ils Sont, full of beautiful little illustrations and diagrams - you can see it on this Flickr set, posted by Agence Eureka. The illustrations are all great, but I find that for most of them I prefer the intermediate stages in the instructions, they’re constructed from spare, sinuous lines and create a beautiful abstraction of the animal - capturing something of the spirit of it rather than an explicit diagram of what it looks like. The ‘final’ drawings seem a bit too obvious, perhaps. So once I’d drawn copies of my favourites, I noticed that they reminded me of hieroglyphs, hence my choice of title - judge for yourself below.
As an aside, I was interested by the authors listed on the book, R & L Lambry. The ‘R’ would be Robert Lambry and, well, there’s nothing definitive on who the ‘L’ is, but I suspect it might be Leon Lambry. That’s the only ‘L Lambry’ that I could find involved with illustration from around the right time. Anyone know for sure?
Saturday 8th Aug 2009
I’ve been following Penny Arcade for quite some time now - they run commentary and opinion on games with short articles and webcomics, expertly written and drawn by Gabe and Tycho. They’ve recently been running a series of webcomics exploring various short stories (not strictly on gaming, but perhaps in universes shared with many games), one of which is Automata. It’s all rather good and worth following (part 1 here, 2 onwards from here), but one thing that got my attention was the representation of speech between the automata characters, shown below.
I like the addition of the dots to the barcode pattern, hinting at multiple tones and levels of sound - something interesting to add to a script - and as the character in the comic refers to it as ‘clickwise’ I got to wondering how languages with clicks were transcribed in the real world. Unsurprisingly, there are various forms of dots, circles and exclamation points, forming a kind of visual onomatopœia for clicks, ‘tsks’ and ‘tuts’.
Comics of course have a rich vocabulary of such things, and I find myself sometimes wishing for a bit more symbolic depth to the Latin alphabet - new forms of punctuation perhaps, maybe even a whole new script, or scripts. To illustrate and explain further, I think everyone has come across the problem of misinterpreting or being misinterpreted when using email - you thought you were making an oh-so-clever dry witticism and it comes across as scouring contemptuous sarcasm (say), so usually the only recourse is to pick up the phone so that your tone of voice can be heard. However, since we’re increasingly using text to communicate, especially in the social, rather than business or technical, arena, and even more importantly in the plain text and short form media such as SMS, we may need to expand our symbolic vocabulary to indicate things such as tone of voice, humour, sarcasm and sincerity. We have emoticons of course, and in time some of them (beyond 263A, 263B and so on) may find their way into Unicode, but they’re pretty blunt things and as it’s subtlety we need, we’ll need something a bit more flexible and, well, more like language.
It’s a thought.
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