It’s been a little quiet around here. That’s usually the case when summer hits, and it turns into wedding and festival season. I’ve still been hard at work, I’m just too busy to blog about how busy I am (which, can we all stop doing that, forever?)
One of the projects I’ve been doing is a t-shirt design that I’m pretty excited about. I do a lot of my work on the computer, so using an actual pencil, with my hands, is so much fun. It’s definitely not finished, but I always like to see other people’s process, especially when it comes to hand-drawn things.
Adam had a fairly solid idea of what they were looking for when he contacted me, concept-wise, but not so much on the execution. So I spent my down-time at the LAN… I mean, umm… at… something not nerdy… working on sketches. The guy started out with a face, but I ended up liking the suggestion of a figure more than straight drawing one.
The band name will be worked out in much the same style, and the idea is for it to be one cohesive graphic when it’s finished. Looking forward to seeing this one on press.
I’ve been pretty lucky, in getting to work on some extremely cool projects. But I think this one wins the prize.
I’ve been a huge fan of the band since I was 11 years old, so being able to design something for them is one of those bucket list things that I never thought I’d actually get to do. But you can now purchase a shirt that I designed, from Green Day’s website. 11-year-old me would be both crazy excited and generally confused by the concept of the internet.
I had a number of people ask, so here’s how I ended up with the design. I started out by complaining to my husband that Green Day has something like 20 years worth of graphics, and have a ton of imagery to pull from. He said something to the effect of, “Well, just remember what you like about them. Draw that.” So I thought about how I got into the band in the first place.
My dad used to have a habit of wandering around NRM and just buying something. Either he liked the album artwork, or thought a band name was cool, but he’d pick something up at random and give it a whirl (one year, he bought me a White Stripes album and Gregorian Chant Music, you just never know what the man’s gonna get into). Some afternoon while we were out shopping, he bought a copy of Dookie. Later, we were tooling around in his Pontiac Sunbird and waiting for the tape to flip (has a more 90′s-nostalgia-ridden sentence ever been written?), when “All By Myself” came on and this conversation happened:
Dad: “Man, those kids are baked.”
Me: “Heh, yeah they are.”
Dad: “Don’t tell your mom you know what baked means.”
Since my first encounter with them came from a blue cassette tape, I figured I’d run with it. Making the actual artwork took a bit longer. I doodled up a cassette in Illustrator (so that I could scale it), and made a shadow, midtone, and highlight layer. I found some grunge brushes that I liked, and made a few out of textures I’d put together, and then just layered the crap out of them in Photoshop, and fiddled with the transparencies and blending modes. Honestly, the PSD file was an absolute ton of layers (all named super helpful things like “Layer 6 copy” – why do I do this to myself?) I probably couldn’t reproduce that exact graphic again if I wanted to.
The text is actually all handwritten. I had about 5 pages of various album titles written over and over again (sort of a Waiting print redux). “Green Day” and “Dookie” I actually nailed on the first try, but for the rest, I tested out a few versions. I had to figure a way to censor “Awesome as Fuck,” for sales purposes, and figured I’d just make it look as though it had smudged off. Which I did by… actually smudging it before I scanned it in. The whole thing is sort of a weird mix of computer generated and hand-made.
If you’re into it, they actually printed up both colorways. So you can get gray on blue, or blue on gray, right here. Thanks to Green Day, and the folks at Artist Arena, and John Moore, and my dad, who it turns out it way hipper than me.
I’ve been attending Can’t Stop the Serenity events for a few years now, and this past year contributed as a vendor. Since about every other person there asked me to make a Pittsburgh Browncoats shirt, I decided to finally get it done. Now you can show some hometown pride and your love for sci-fi westerns.
As for the details on this bad boy, it’ll be printed up at a local shop, on snazzy ringspun cotton shirts. Men’s sizing, small through XXXL. And if that’s not cool enough, you’ll also get free shipping to anywhere in the USA (yes, Hawaii, you too). I’m putting in the order for the first run next week, so get your orders in to the Op Ink shop.
Yeah, it’s that time of year again where I start telling people how they really need to go to WMC Fest (June 8-10, 2012). Last year was the first one I was able to make it to, and I know that Jeff and company have been working crazy hard to make this year’s even better.
Oh, and a music festival. I think they’re up to around 30 bands for this year, and have locked down a new space. You get to see Signals Midwest and Two Hand Fools before they play The Fest in the fall (congrats to both of yous, by the way).
It’s also a pretty amazing community event. I spoke to a lot of attendees last year that said they felt like they’d gone to summer camp. You meet a ton of cool people, and most of the cool people that I met at last year’s are coming back – as speakers, or artists, or just to hang for the weekend.
Now usually when I look at design conferences I get psyched about the speakers, the content, and then I look at the price and go back to what I was doing. I don’t have a day job subsidizing my continuing education, which means I can’t drop a grand on a conference (not including travel, etc.) The other awesome thing about WMC Fest is that it’s $50. That’s not even per day, or per conference hall, that’s it guys. For $50, you get access to all of the speakers, the gallery, and the music for the whole weekend. As an added bonus for my East Coast crew, it’s in Cleveland, which means the travel for us is also mega cheap.
That said, I believe it’s $50 through April 30th. I’m sure the price will still be totally reasonable after that, but this is the cheapest it’ll be. If you want to get your tickets and some swag to go with it, check out the WMC Fest Kickstarter. For the same $50 you were going to spend on tickets, you can get tickets and some cool WMC Fest gear, plus help to make sure they get funded (for those that haven’t been involved in Kickstarter projects, you only get money if the goal gets met. So if they don’t meet their $7,000 goal in time, they get $0).
And if $50 is still too much for you to spend on this sort of thing (hey, we’ve all been there), consider volunteering. I volunteered last year to take photographs during the presentations, and they have spots available for all different skill sets. This year, I’m actually going to be organizing our photo squad (so if you have some photography skills, or have a friend that does and might be interested, get in touch with me). You can also sign up to volunteer for any position here, or sign up for the street team to help spread the word.
Seriously, folks, go get those tickets.
Did you guys know that I’m also a wedding photographer? Well, I am. And because sometimes my work overlaps, I’ve started offering invitation design as a service.
You have two options for invitation design. One, you can head over to the Etsy shop and order sets of these pre-made designs. They’re semi-custom – you choose the wording, the colors, and the style. You save a bit of money on this, because I’m not starting the design from the ground up. I’ll be rolling out some new designs over the next few months.
Two, you can shoot me an email at email@example.com to get started on a totally custom design. I’ll set you up with pricing, and fill you in on how the process works. Just like my other design projects.
Either option is open to the general public (even international folks), so you don’t have to be booking with me to order invitations. But as a bonus, if you do choose to book with me for your wedding, you’ll get 10% off of your order. These take 3-4 weeks from order to delivery (5-6 for custom orders), so plan accordingly.
So my mother quilts and is pretty nerdy. There aren’t a ton of gift options in that particular Venn diagram overlap, so I went ahead and made her this custom iPad cover.
She’s pretty partial to the log cabin blocks, and apparently this pattern in particular. Setting up rectangles in Illustrator for the pattern didn’t take all that long (thanks, snap to grid!), but making all of the “fabrics” was a little time-consuming. It’s 13 different patterns, that I set up and then saved as swatches in Illustrator. I’ve always been a lot better at fabric picking than I was at the actual construction part of quilting, anyway.
Just finished up another round of updates on the portfolio site. This one is for content, which means I’ve got new work posted (and some better photos of old work).
Check it out, there’s plenty more where that came from.
You guys remember those Firefly posters I was doing? Well, there’s a new one up!
This isn’t a new project, but I’ve had to dig the original files back out for some reprints (and, in the not-too-distant-future, the special edition queen piece jerseys). When the boys first put together a deck team some years ago, I was tasked with making them a logo that would strike fear into the hearts of their opponents. It was to include:
1). The team name, of course.
2.) Their mascot, the hockey beard.
3.) The “don’t start nothin’, won’t be nothin’” line, from Men in Black.
It’s a lot to jam into a logo, but I think it turned out nicely. Since the team was almost entirely constructed of computer center work-studies, the name comes from their work study code (which also includes the gem, “If it almost fits, it fits.”) I got a few shots of the boys in action coming up.
“I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”
“My life is a testament to the idea that you can achieve whatever the hell you want if you possess a modicum of creativity, and a certain amount of naïveté concerning what is and isn’t possible in this world. I’ve had one-man shows of my paintings in New York, but I’m not a painter. I’ve authored several books, but I’m not a writer. I’ve made a living as a recording artist for the last 30 years, but I can’t read a note of music or play any instrument. I’ve somehow managed to make a career out of doing a great number of things I’m in no way qualified to do”.
- Boyd Rice
I found this via Sean Bonner’s site a few days ago. I’ve been out of graduate school for about four years now, so I’m not sure the work I’ve done so far constitutes a career. But I’ve certainly made a habit of doing things that I’m not really qualified to do. I’m technically an award-winning filmmaker. I’ve taught at a college. Sure, I have degrees in Design and in Film, so maybe I’m at least moderately qualified for those. I also took a job as a webmaster with only very basic HTML and CSS skills, and learned on the job. I’ve been paid to write, and I not only lack a degree in writing, I also never really considered myself a writer. I started a photography business. I’ve run heavy machinery, assisted in surgeries at a veterinary clinic, and taught myself to play a handful of instruments.
It’s my dad’s fault, really. The guy that built our living room, despite having no real carpentry experience. The guy that took a job he had no idea how to do, and learned by reading a manual over the weekend. He’s also taught a college course, without having a degree in anything. Where most people say, “Jeez, I can’t do that,” he says, “How can I get this done?” Whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, I was raised to figure stuff out.
Maybe that makes me qualified.
About a month ago, I was given the opportunity to give a lecture on web usability at Waynesburg University, and now I’m passing it along to you, people of the internet.
When most people consider web design, what they’re really talking about is graphic design – the layout, imagery, color, styling, etc. This all has a huge effect on user experience, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Things like effective marketing, information architecture, accessibility, and quality production have just as much to do with how usable (and how effective) a site is.
What is Usability, and Why Should I Care?
Usability is how a user interacts with a website. Every website is looking to fulfill some business objective, whether it’s selling something, convincing people to read content, or raising awareness for a cause. Creating a great user experience helps meet these goals. Just like a traditional brick and mortar storefront, the better experience someone has, the more likely they are to return. Conversely, if you make it difficult for someone to purchase from your website, they’ll just go elsewhere. A few weeks ago, I was trying to order a poster. I tried a few times, and the checkout function just wasn’t working. Now, I’m sure I could have called the company, or emailed the webmaster, but instead I just found the thing on Amazon and called it a day. Whatever it is that you want users to do, it’s important that you make it easy for them.
Creating a great user experience comes from understanding the goals of your site, and the goals of your user. Design is a visual solution to a problem. What does the site need to do? What do you want to communicate? What is most important? The better you understand your site’s goals, the better experience you can design for your users, and the more effective your design is at achieving your business goals. Say your primary goal is to get users to book a trip. Is the most attention-grabbing element the call to action, to book? Can users easily find how to book? Is contact information visible and obvious? It sounds obvious to make sure that the most visible thing is also the most important. But it’s easy to get caught up in the look of a layout, without realizing that the thing you’re calling attention to may not be the most important element.
Don’t Annoy Your Users
Users become frustrated when they don’t know what to do to get the information that they want. Don’t make me search your site map like I’m Indiana Jones. Great navigation does wonders for user experience, and lets a person know where they are, where they can go, and what their options are from here. You’ll notice on a lot of larger sites (like Amazon, or Best Buy) they’ll have what are called “breadcrumbs” – links that show you how you got to where you are (for example, Electronics > Cameras > Accessories > Lenses). It’s an easy way to orient users to the site structure, and for them to navigate around several thousands of pages without becoming overwhelmed.
Users also want feedback when something goes wrong. This is arguably a bigger deal in designing forms and applications, but applies to websites as well. There are few things more frustrating than having a program crash, only to receive a vague “Program has quit. Error 504″ message. Effective error messages should tell me what’s going on, why it’s happening, and what I can do about it. That poster I was trying to order? The error message simply said that the order didn’t go through. Is there a problem with the server? Did I type in my credit card number wrong? Do you not process orders on Wednesdays? The site succeeded in telling me what was going on, but failed to tell me what course of action to take. You want to avoid frustrating your users. This means your goal is to anticipate what people are trying to achieve (or, what you want them to achieve), and help them do that.
Managing expectations also has a huge effect on how a user feels about your site. Anyone who’s worked in customer service can tell you that most complaints are a result of customer’s experiences not matching their expectations. Users also become frustrated for the same reason – if I click on a link titled “contact,” I expect to get your contact info. If I suddenly find myself reading your company history instead, then my expectations aren’t met. A great deal of thought goes into not only how the navigation is presented on the site, but how it’s actually structured, and this is where we get into information architecture.
Information Architecture: Where Should I Put That?
Whether you put “News” under the “About” tab or in its own section is an information architecture question. How you organize a site involves weighing a lot of factors, such as:
The site’s goals (Do you want all users to be made aware of news?)
The user’s goals (Is the company’s news of interest to all our visitors?)
and basic common sense (How much news is there going to be?).
This influences navigation, page layout, and effects overall user experience. More content means more choices, and information architecture is more important for larger sites. This site, for example, has three whole links. It didn’t exactly require a flowchart. When I was working on Jefferson Hospital’s website, on the other hand, weeks worth of meetings went into just deciding what information would go where. When you have that much content, the site needs to be split into sections, and you need to provide useful navigation between them. Good user experience is reliable, useful, and unambiguous – to the people using the website.
Aesthetics vs. Usability
Is one more important than the other? You can find an abundance of websites that are beautiful but difficult to use, or highly functional but equally ugly. And some of these sites are successful, so who am I to judge? Personally, I don’t find separating aesthetics from usability to be helpful. The problem is a design problem. Sites should be visually appealing and functional, and you can certainly find examples of successful sites that are both. Ideally, you want to create a site that is beautiful, useful, and gives the user an experience that will encourage them to return.
“One approach to innovation and brainstorming is to wait for the muse to appear, to hope that it alights on your shoulder, to be ready to write down whatever comes to you. The other is to seek it out, will it to appear, train it to arrive on time and on command.”
- Seth Godin
I’ve come across a few pieces on creativity lately, bits that I’m stringing together. There seems to be a popular conception of creativity that is at odds with what I view as the actual process. There’s another bit from Godin, that I can’t find for the life of me now, about the myth of inspiration. That truly creative people don’t sit around, waiting and hoping for that spark to strike them.
“There’s nothing worse that you can do as a person that wants to be creative than wait until you’re feeling inspired. That’s when you find yourself in ruts. It’s when… you need to create from a wacky compulsion or because you’re on a strict regimen… and you’re forced to think about how to do things in a different way than you’re comfortable, that’s when shit gets cool and weird.”
- Brendan Kelly, Bad Sandwich Chronicles
“Amateurs wait for inspiration. The rest of us just get up and go to work.”
- Chuck Close
Creative people work, consistently. Certainly, not everything that they create is a gem, and it takes quite a few terrible ideas to create a good one. Kelly admits that he throws away about 99% of what he writes. The thing with creative folks – musicians, designers, artists – is that you really only see the 1% that sticks. It makes it easy to believe that ideas just come to them, fully formed, and they’re somehow just different from the rest of us. Inspiration is not some magic fairy that comes down from the ether, it is the reward of research, of thought, of trial and error.
Creativity is technical, analytical, and a lot of the time, it’s work. If you read the Bad Sandwich Chronicles article in its entirety (and if you’re offended by language, well, I would skip this one) Kelly goes on to outline how he writes lyrics. He uses word association, writing for a specific feel, and other exercises that “shock your brain into creating something.” When writing their last album, Green Day mounted two drum heads on the wall – one with different genres, the other with different eras. They spun the wheels, and wrote for whatever came up. Did any of those tracks make the album? Doubtful. Did they influence or inspire the tracks that did? Probably. My point is that when the inspiration well came up dry, they did something. They started working. They started thinking, and asking questions, and coming at the problem in a different way. That’s what creativity is.
“Rules and routines may be tolerable or even comforting in the short term. But eventually, they need to be scrutinized and in many cases rejected to make intellectual or emotional progress. Rebellion has to be part of the response to rigid social institutions, or stagnation is assured.”
- Greg Graffin, Anarchy Evolution
Creative people tend to see the world differently. They view the world through a different lens, question standards, and make connections. They’re curious. I’ve been asked where I start when I get a new project, and my answer is always the same – research. Whether it’s a logo, a website, or a tv stand, I have questions. Who is your audience? What are you trying to accomplish? What are you competing against (you need to be familiar with standards in order to question them)? Sitting around, waiting for a genius logo design to strike me isn’t a part of my process.
Creativity means making connections where they may not be obvious, and this is where I hop on my soapbox to explain how important interdisciplinary education is to people in creative fields. Having a broader view of the world, having more varied experiences, and having knowledge of other systems and cultures gives you more to work with. Being curious enough to seek out those experiences, and those connections, cultivates the kind of mind-set that creativity requires. How many great works of art or engineering started with someone asking, “What if we did it this way?”
Not a noun. Design is not a thing, it is a process. Design is form AND function, creating something that is not only beautiful, but useful.
The best designs are like magic tricks, seemingly simple. Something that anyone would look at and say “I could do that.” The New York Times logo is just a font. The Nike logo is just a fancy check mark. Five minutes in Illustrator, and let’s call it a day. But the finished product isn’t the whole story.
There’s a story going around where Picasso sketched a woman’s portrait in the park. When she asked the price, Picasso supposedly quoted her $5,000. The woman replied, “But it only took you a second to draw it.” To which Picasso responded, “Madame, it took me my entire life.”
True or not, it makes the point. The finished product – a logo, a portrait, a website – has intrinsic value. But there is also value in the process.
I’m settling into my latest gig, which is working on the Hear Me project at Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab. It’s a very cool environment, being able to work in conjunction with the robotics program. I’ve gotten to meet some extremely talented, and crazy smart, people.
We’ve finished the Hear Me website, and I’m now moving on to designing our Tell-Port, which is the portal that teachers will be using to upload kids’ stories. The Tell-Port is completely functional, but we want to improve the usability of the portal and at the same time make the design more in line with the existing site and media kit. We’re in a bit of a rush to get everything up and running, so I’m just keeping one foot in front of the other for now.
My brother asked me once why my photos of his kid are better than his photos. I said, “Editing.” Sure, I have a fancier camera, and a better understanding of basic photographic principles. Still, I think editing plays a huge role in getting a better finished piece.
And it starts in camera. Framing a photo, deciding on aperture and lenses, all of it is mentally editing. Taking out anything that doesn’t work, elements that distract from a photo instead of adding to it. Deliberately drawing focus to certain features, and away from others. Choosing the best angle. You take out the things that don’t work, and when there’s nothing to take away without sacrificing your goal, or your message, then it’s right. Mental editing.
Once I start going through photos, I edit them down even more. Out of focus? Gone. Bad angle? Deleted. I sat in on a talk with Jared Platt, and some of the other photographers attending were shocked at how he could so heartlessly delete photos of his own kid. “But that one’s cute!” Cute, maybe, but the focus was off.
I think a certain level of detachment is needed when you’re editing, and I think this is something that I picked up from having a background in design. We routinely did class critiques on our work, and you couldn’t afford to take comments personally. Either something worked, or it didn’t. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, then why is it there? It doesn’t matter how long you spent on it, or what you had to go through to get that shot. If the end result isn’t working, none of that matters. Because your clients aren’t seeing the effort – they don’t know the story behind it. All they see is the end result.
I was one of those kids that couldn’t decide on a major. I was interested in art, in science, in education. I still am interested in all of those things.
I started out in Elementary Education, then added a Graphic Design major. I realized at some point that I would rather teach at the college level than K-12, and dropped the education major. I had more than enough credits to have a minor, but I didn’t have enough in any concentrated area. I’d taken credits in Zoology, Chemistry, Ballet, French. Many of our other design students took a minor in marketing or communications, but I used my free electives as a chance to take whatever classes I found appealing.
I was also in our honors program (oh yes, I was THAT kid). I loved the way that our honors program was set up. There were a few courses you were required to take to graduate in the program (Honors Composition, Honors Orientation, and a Thesis course). Our program really stressed interdisciplinary study, and every spring, we had what was called a centerpiece course. It rotated between science, art, and social science. To take the course, you were required to create an addendum to another class.
At California, you could turn any class into an Honors credit by doing an Honors Addendum – some extra project that you would arrange with the professor. I did an addendum to my Intro to Music class by taking violin lessons, to my Photography class by creating a cyanotype, and to Intro to Earth Science by creating a Flash animation that explained weather patterns. For these centerpiece courses, you’d have to tie in another class you were taking that semester, and write a seminar paper that would apply to both.
When I see agencies that are pulling together design and technology, it’s just a natural way of thinking for me. I’m fascinated with TED, and projects like Deeplocal’s Nike ChalkBot or Nikon’s Small World. Creating connections between different fields, between different ways of thinking, finding new ways to disperse ideas. Design is design, whether you’re talking print, web, or automated chalk-spraying robot.
Combining science with art allows you to get a message across in new ways, but it’s the message that drives the technology. Without purpose, without research, these sort of projects would still be interesting, but they wouldn’t be useful. Infographics are often criticized as making data harder to understand, instead of easier, rendering them useless. I’d agree that this is sometimes the case, but many data visualizations I’ve seen have managed to be both useful and beautiful.
As mobile and interactive media become more pervasive in our society, the intersect of art and science gets larger, and the possibilities for design are nearly infinite.
I’ve been posting my word art projects for a bit now, but I haven’t been posting them as I do them. I’ve scheduled them out, to pop up on the blog in between regular updates. Fairly common for people that keep blogs. But you can see all of them, side by side, on my website.
Looking at them, all together like this, I noticed a trend. I love me some white space. Sometimes, very literally white space.
It isn’t client work, which means I get to design a piece however the hell I want. Still, I’m trying to communicate whatever meaning I got from the text. There’s a feeling that I want to get across. They don’t share the same goals as a logo or a website, but I still look at each as it’s own visual problem to solve.
When left to my own devices, I tend toward clean, simple, plenty of breathing room. I like to boil something down to its most basic parts. Or as Einstein put it, “Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.” Maybe I should add that one to the list.
At an agency I worked for, the boss man told me to “lose all the wasted space” on a layout. Space is money, and something (anything) could be printed there. Pixels are free. But in print, white space is a bit of a luxury. If you look around, you’ll notice that ads for budget places are packed to the gills with print. Text, images, shove something in there, because we’re paying for that space.
So what’s with all the “wasted space?”
There are a lot of advantages to negative space. You may not be getting as much information onto a page, but the information that is there can be communicated more clearly. Giving elements some space aids legibility – blocks of dense text are more difficult to read. Elements that are grouped together are often perceived as one item (it’s called the Gestalt Effect – see, I was paying attention in Psych 101). When images are grouped together with little space between them, your brain can read it as one big object. (This can also be used to your advantage, if you want your user to perceive disparate objects as a group.)
Which leads me back to communicating more clearly. Visual hierarchy is based around the idea that when everything is screaming for your attention, no one thing gets it. Establishing a hierarchy will lead someone through your layout – one element will pop out, then they’re led to secondary and tertiary elements. If you’re doing your job right, they’ll notice the most important thing first. There are plenty of ways to do this, and negative space is one of them. If you have a header with a lot of space around it, followed by a block of dense (by comparison) text, the header has more “visual weight.” When you came to this site, did you look at the header logo first?
Negative space is as deliberate a choice as any other decisions you make while designing. I don’t use white space because pixels are free, or I couldn’t come up with something to put there. I use white space because it belongs there.
The new site is up! You may have even just come from there.
I have a few scripts, on a few sites. They’re all open source. And while I’ve been able to tweak them to some degree, and change the look of them, I don’t know enough to alter the function. I certainly don’t know enough to write them from scratch.
1. I have a cool idea
2. Huh. I have no idea how to make that happen.
And for those of you who were hoping for some Op Ivy word art, it’s coming.