Month: June, 2010

Book covers, trained designers & lessons in pauses

Bravo’s latest reality show, Work of Art is pretty painful to watch. But we still watch it. And then we complain and laugh about it… a fun Wednesday night routine, you could say. Last week the contestants were asked to design book covers for a book title assigned to them. Obviously there’s a ridiculous time constraint on all of these projects and that can be really harsh when asked to design for something you’ve never read (one contestant did use the majority of his time to quickly read through all of Frankenstein—impressive). Alas, such is the nature of the show.

They weren’t asked to create artwork for a templatized cover, as I was thinking they would be more like this, but rather they were expected to incorporate type displaying the title and author. I thought a couple of the images were great, but it was when the typography came into play that it was quite obvious most were out of their element. A sensitivity to type is not something people usually just pick up from image-making, but rather study—and often study intensively. It’s the quickest way to tell a designer lacks formal training. And it cheapened most of the covers on the show. The winner of the challenge created his own lettering and produced what I thought was a lovely cover. The giant, loud Bravo logos laying over that thick black bar on top aren’t exactly working in its favor… but what can you do. (Design Observer posted about this episode last week as well and quite an extensive comment list pursued if anyone’s interested in nerding out.)


In semi-related news, AIGA recently posted their 50 Books/50 Covers showcasing some of the best work in book + book cover design of 2009. Entertainment Weekly posted a link to AIGA’s top covers on their website, which triggered some mixed responses from (presumably) a non-design related crowd as opposed to the Design Observer comments on the Bravo show. Some folks thought they were beautiful and well-done while others thought they were mundane or even pretentious. It’s not entirely clear in all cases, but it seems safe to say that many of the negative comments are saying that subtlety or a minimalist approach equals boring. They want something that “pops” off the shelf—and this is also often heard from the marketing crew at publishing companies. I think it was even said on that Bravo show in response to someone using a smaller image—that it simply won’t sell. Why isn’t anybody saying that covers can grab the reader’s attention by simply being beautiful versus exploding off of the shelf? It doesn’t always have to use loud colors or completely fill the space in order for people to take a second look. Not to mention, when you’re using less, it usually means more.

Liz Danzico, (designer, teacher and editor) recently posted about the power of pauses on her blog, Bobulate.

We tend to think of the pause as awkward. In speech, pregnant pauses connote uncomfortable silence; we veil silence with fillers. As professional communicators, we’re trained to deliver smooth speech, censoring out “um” and “ah.” This distaste for the pause — and the inverse, seeking an always-on state — is a battle we face at work, at school, and in industry at large.

I propose that we’re too impatient with the pause, and as a result, we’re missing out on a great deal. What would happen if, as communicators and designers, we became more comfortable with the pause? Because it turns out we can add by leaving out. The pause has power.

I agree. There’s a time and a place to fill the space. But by taking out some of the filler, we can usually appreciate what’s there just a bit more. Here are some of my favorite (and minimal) selections from AIGA’s selected 2009 covers:



Same Hill, Different Day

Gorgeous photos from Paul Octavious, designer and photographer in Chicago:





Prints are for sale of this last one at 20×200.

Weekend escapades

H was out of town this weekend, which meant my productivity was up at home. After slowly gathering screenprinting materials for a while now, I’ve finally put together the janky set-up on the porch I’ve been dreaming of and gave it a whirl.


Not a complete success, but not as scary as I thought it would be. To start, I didn’t use any darkroom lights, and just applied the emulsion to the screen in the bathroom as quickly as I could. I put it in the cabinet under the sink to dry, which only took a couple hours. (From what I’ve read, people estimated time for drying to take from 1 hour to 2 days—which is a pretty big difference.)

Then I got to use the excellent pie-tin lamp creation on the porch. I had ordered a BBA No. 1 photoflood bulb from Amazon, so it only took 10 minutes to burn the image. And when I washed it out, I got this:


So it didn’t burn quite as well as I would have liked. I tried printing with it anyway and got a little bit of a result (which was exciting!) but certainly not good enough. I’m 99% sure this is because the transparency I printed at home wasn’t opaque enough. It came out a little grayish instead of completely black… but I tried it anyway. Next trial, I’m going to try doubling up transparencies by taping them together, but I can imagine this only works for large areas, and not when you have fine detail in case it doesn’t match exactly? We’ll see.

In other news, Tiger found his new summer spot.


Aw, I’m sorry art schools…

but, it’s amusing nevertheless.

From today’s Grain Edit post (via Johnson Banks: Thought for the Week), some checklists are passed on to carry with you to such events as graduating student shows (including of course, a phone app):




As they mention over there at Grain Edit, this is of course a bit cruel. You can’t blame anyone for not knowing any better, right? You know who we can blame—the designers who have been practicing for years and still falling victim to many of these cliches. (I’m sure I’ve made some tired blunders myself…)

Anyway. My favorite is the Poster Pose—that really is everywhere, isn’t it? And the Manifesto—”The best thing to do with a boring message that nobody cares about is to call it a manifesto and make it look important.”

Ghost Bikes Film

The ghost bikes film documentary project is exploring the intersection of street art, activism, and mourning on the streets of cities around the world.

A new documentary, Ghost Bikes Film: Portland to London, is in the works of being made, and needs a bit of financial assistance. Meaghan Wilbur and crew have set up an account using Kickstarter which makes it super simple for folks to hook up funding immediately—it actually connected right to my amazon account and was easy-peasy. At varying levels of donations, you can get private access to blogs, postcards, copies of the film, etc. But most importantly, you’ll help get this movie out there. Check out the trailer below, and some more words from their website:

Since bicycling, for numerous excellent and timely reasons, is becoming a more ubiquitous part of our transportation environment, tragedies that were once brushed aside as mere accidents are now becoming emblematic of an infrastructure and culture that needs to change. Stories about road rage from LA and Chicago made recent headlines.

Since January 2009, we have been collecting footage and interviews for a feature length documentary about the worldwide ghost bikes project. Beginning in our own backyard in New York City, we started with the ambitious goal of photographing each of the over 60 ghost bikes that have been installed in NYC since 2005.

Everyone’s Music Politics Art and Community Throwdown

If anyone’s in Chicago next week, head over to this EMPACT event to benefit the Civilian-Soldier Alliance. From their facebook page:

The EMPACT Series (Everyone’s, Music, Politics, Art, and Community Throwdown!) once again brings you our monthly benefit series. This month’s event will be for the Civilian Soldier Alliance (CSA). The CSA is a group that works in supporting antiwar Veterans and GI’s throughout the country.

Thursday June 17th, 2010
@ The Wicker Well
1637 W North Ave.
$5 Donations (no one turned away)

featuring live jazz by the Bryan Doherty Band

and as always the people’s dj’s collective will be rocking the house on the 1’s and 2’s

MC Luis Tubens

This event will also feature artwork from the Veterans and GI Antiwar Movement (Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnem). This will be an EMPACT Series not to be missed!

E.M.P.A.C.T.- Everyone’s Music Politics Art and Community Throwdown, is a monthly series that showcases live bands and DJs while fundraising for deserving community groups & not-for-profits. Check our fb group here.

The goal of E.M.P.A.C.T. is to spread culture, diversity, and knowledge of community issues while providing a common ground for activists, educators, artists, and community organizers to celebrate the commonality of our struggles. Bring some friends & your beautiful self!

Share the road

Today is the second anniversary of losing a good friend to a bicycle accident. Clint was the fifth cyclist in 2008 to be killed in a car collision, and his accident was during the week of promoting bike-to-work week in Chicago.

We worked as a design team in school and formed the best partnership I’ve had yet. Lots of designing and giggling and serious-ing and dreaming about opening our own studio one day, and calling it The Ninth Room. Happy to have had that and sad that I miss it now.

A friendly reminder to all to be mindful on the road, whether you’re in a heavy cycling city like Chicago, here in Iowa City, or anywhere else at all.

poster from Hipster Nascar

3D Typography

I saw on Design*Sponge yesterday that a new book from Jeanette Abbink and Emily CM Anderson is out and about—3D Typography, published by Mark Batty, features over 100 international designers, typographers and artists. Here are some spreads:




In early 2009, I saw the Dimension + Typography show at ISpace in Chicago. Curated by Jimmy Luu and Ryan Molloy, they showed a lot of similar work to the new book (from what I can tell from their contributor list without spending the $45). I remember feeling a bit disappointed at the show. There was a whole lotta “neat” and not as much interesting as I had wanted. As 3d typography is becoming more hip and prevalent (gallery shows, books, commercials), I think a lot of it is moving toward the coolness and away from the area of mind-blowing linguistics. But as with most “art” practices, I guess that’s always the case, right?

Illegal Wedding Fair!

Last December, 38 NY State Senators voted against gay marriage. And this Sunday in NYC to benefit Marriage Equality New York:

Eat, Drink, & Demand to be Equally Married!
You are cordially invited to attend an illicit new wedding fair featuring a hand-picked selection of talented event professionals dedicated to helping same-sex couples celebrate their love and commitment in style.

Equally Wed did an article on the event which says:

If you’ve ever attended a straight wedding fair, you probably haven’t gone to another one since. First, there’s all that heterosexist bride-and-groom lingo buzzing in your ears. And then the questions asked about your groom or husband-to-be, or quizzical looks if you’re a man checking out the bridal glory—and not as the gay best friend of the bride-to-be. … [Organizer of the event, Kiwa] Iyobe says they “looked around and noticed that while there were about a million ‘bridal fairs’ for heterosexual couples in NYC every year, there wasn’t anything comparable in production value for the LGBT community.

Folks will be there from LGBT-friendly companies to represent photography, invitations, catering, apparel, planning, etc—the whole works. So here’s to hoping the event goes amazingly, and hopefully next year’s fair will be bigger, better and legal to boot.

photo from Lez Get Real via Wikipedia

Sara Berks

A project from Brooklyn designer Sara Berks, where four softcover, sewn books document the soundtrack to her life.