17 February 2010
The designer's habit to use only lower case letters coincided with the growth of web mail. So there was a slither of functionality in this trend, although it reminded me mostly of the peak period of minimalistic functionalism, where capital letters were considered redundant to create readable text. Some designers believed that good typography could do even with less typographic tools. Recently, I received an email typed totally in capital letters. Apparently, a counter wave. The text looked very majestic, as if the sender expected his prose to be cut in granite for eternal conservation. However, the first thing that came to my mind was that someone should help the poor designer with the apparent problems with his keyboard.
Developments in type design always influence design styles in graphic design. As far as technological innovations are concerned, the Adobe company effectively determines what inventions in type design will reach the market and which ones will not, since Adobe has the effective monopoly of graphic software. The OpenType font format was created to allow for globalisation of the Microsoft and Adobe softwares. In order to do this, individual font files needed enough room to house super large collections of glyphs and the option to automatically replace or reposition individual glyphs depending on their position in a word. These options were needed because certain scripts required these options to create readable text.Using these possibilities (many more related options were created) could result in extremely large and complicated font files which had a very large scope of international use. One typeface could cover many scripts and languages.
This was not the only way the new font format was used, all possibilities could also be employed to create complex fonts for the Latin script. Like fonts with endless style variations, or alternative glyphs or glyphs combinations like ligatures. Also calligraphy could now be imitated with type, creating a sort of calligraphic pianola. One of the first large calligraphic fonts was the Zapfino by Herman Zapf. The history of this typeface is a long one but it is now available as an OpenType font carrying over 1400 glyphs. Young type designers are apparently inspired by the endless options of OpenType to create digitised calligraphy.Designing extremely large fonts is not special anymore. Automation in type design has progressed. Many tools have been developed to help the type designer to produce large collections of glyphs for one typeface. Specialised programmers make all these glyphs effective in various softwares. The weight range for a typeface for instance has become effectively endless, even starting with super thin hairline font that can only be used for display sized letters, otherwise this weight would be invisible. Type designers try to explore the absolute limits on both ends of the weight range.
Digital technology has had a tremendous effect on productivity, especially for graphic design. Making a font, or something printable (or visible in any other medium) can be done literally in a matter of seconds, so there is a tendency to produce in bulk for the sake of producing in bulk, to impress with quantity. The redundancy created in society is gigantic and has reduced effective productivity gains to only a fraction of its potential. We have started to produce like maniacs. Most stuff that surrounds people living in affluent societies is useless or even bad for them. Production has become so easy and cheap that a lot of what is produced will never be used by anyone. Groups of people have started to live on what is thrown away. The state of plenty in Latin type design – the amount of excellently designed Latin extensive fonts available in all traditional styles is now overwhelming – almost forces Western type designers to look for extremes or to serve very tiny niches.
For type designers of the non-Latin scripts professional developments are in many occasions still in their infancy. A lot of innovative work can still be done to create better representations in today's media. For type designers of the Latin scripts innovation is far less obvious, hence the tendency of current designers to look for extremes. Maybe a change of focus can alter the perspective and will bring unchartered territory in view. For instance, fonts specifically made for 3D representation or objects production facilities hardly exist.
11 February 2010
Making paper art (or craft) is popular. It has become a specific field in the already rich environment of the visual arts. There is something magical about paper. Until recently, it was the indispensable material for human communication, for recording our history and our cultural progress. Human civilisation is closely linked to the use of (printed) paper, the development of modern societies are unthinkable without it. Paper is unimaginably important and so ubiquitous. Nothing is more plain and nothing is more exciting. A paperless society has been predicted for the past 30 years, but the paper production has only increased every year.
It is incredible what some people can make with paper, whole scaled cities are created with it, or fantastically complicated book sculptures. Making scale models with printed carton has been a hobby activity for hundreds of years and printed carton is still the most important packaging material, generating a never ending stream of inventions for new applications. The traditional use of paper got new impulses by products like the carton furniture of Frank Gehry and the architectural structures of Shigeru Ban. To produce the smaller scaled art pieces, limitless patience, a sharp knife and some glue is all one needs. Paper has also become a material to produce animated clips as a sort of variation of the traditional 'putty' animations.
I have collected a few samples of paper art. First, an intriguing clip for the New Zealand Book Council. Second, perplexingly complex cuttings by Ebon Heath. Third, a sample of the many ways books are used make them three dimensional adventures from the creative simple sample made by Olafur Eliasson to the very complex works of the Chinese artist Long-Bin Chen.
09 February 2010
I can imagine that being in an economy in recession and an overly abundant pitching culture must feel like being between a rock and a hard place. However, there is hardly a reason for indignation. Invitations to participate in pitches have gone a bit out of hand because it has become so easy to send out as many invitations a you like. And surprisingly, most invitations are accepted. Also today's 'normal' procedure to send in effectively finished artwork has to do with the fact that at least in graphic design 'sketch proposals' have ceased to exist. Every move made on a computer can be printed without much extra preparation. More importantly, advertising agencies have always had the commercial habit of not even having the patience to wait for a pitch invitation to arrive, they pitched for work without being invited. The cold call. Elegantly dressed dog fights have been part of advertising since its advent.Participating in a pitch was a rarity during my career as a graphic designer. One could be asked to make an office presentation for a client or to muse with the client about how to organise a potential project. When there was, very occasionally, a design proposal competition, it was all very well organised and fairly rewarded. In most cases, clients did their homework thoroughly and spent quite some time in selecting a designer for their work. This practice must sound like a Walt Disney fairy tale to current designers. However, commercial practices have always differed substantially between one group of designers and the other. Architects, for instance, had a far more masculine dog-fight-pitch culture, which was always defended for the reason that it gave young architects a chance to break through. This sounds like a nice excuse, but so does financial innovation. In practice, even the world famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas pitched himself into receivership a while ago and was saved by a large engineering firm to continue his business.At the other end of the pitch culture are the type designers who still live in a half secret Freemason-like environment where time goes much slower than elsewhere. Watch makers seem like Formula One racers by comparison. Type designers never pitch against each other and their dealings with copyright issues seem to stem from another century.So there are huge differences in commercial habits between groups of designers and the difference was always initiated by the designer groups themselves and never by their clients. We should never forget that, a design culture is never forced upon designers; they themselves put it in place. That's how it works in the real world. So all tears are crocodile tears.Obviously, this doesn't take away the current pain, which is real. It's is very hard to reverse a commercial habit, but I have the impression that well organised design groups have learned to deal with a pitch culture gone mad. Only clueless clients indulge in boundless pitches. Cluesless clients can only help themselves and thus best left in peace. The Belgian wake-up call is embarrassingly obvious in content and directed to the wrong audience. If there will be a change, it will be done by own hands.And in general, if you have too much appetite you're more likely to eat something that's bad for you.
07 February 2010
Washington DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007.He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule. 4 minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk. 6 minutes: a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. 10 minutes: a 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.45 minutes: the musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.1 hour: he finished playing and silence took over.No one noticed.No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.This is a true story.Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the WashingtonPost as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: - In a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? - Do we stop to appreciate it? - Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made. How many other things are we missing?(This Urban Legend has been forwarded by Burton Kramer)Original article in the Washington Post
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