Archive for the 'graphic design' Category

the 1st amendment, defined

Designer, CEO Team Up to Deliver A Powerful Political Statement to Nation

In today’s hypercharged political atmosphere there’s a lot of talk, often uninformed, about the Constitution’s Bill of Rights and what the First Amendment means, depending on the point being conveyed.

One citizen’s bold response to the Republican’s damaged nominee for President.

This is an example of civics and citizenship that combines freedom of speech and freedom of the press in an elegantly crafted statement regarding the Republican party’s 2016 nominee for President of the United States. An important component in the process was the cleanly Spartan design of the full page advertorial.

Agree or not, this private citizen took the time, and wrote a very sizeable check, to participate in a thoughtful, non-commercial attempt to influence public opinion.

the forgotten paper cabinet

Paper cabinet

Paper Cabinets A Relic Of Times Past

As a freelancer for most of my career and an agency and publications creative director on several occasions, having a paper cabinet wasn’t just an item of convenience. It was a necessity.

Cabinet wasn’t a euphemism either. More carpentry than not, they were close to one-offs assembled out of board stock and covered in turn with a premium stock, intended to house that company’s product line. My favorite for functional storage was from Zellerbach, then a Mead company, that served as home to a wide variety of samples from various manufacturers.

When it was time to present, the swatchbook (and a couple of alternates) was pulled from the cabinet and joined the comps at the conference table, along with PMS swatches in a separate pile. All in all a formidable display of design competence.

Paper reps called on a regular basis, loaded down with their employer’s latest sample swatchbooks that needed a home in your paper cabinet. They plied you with gorgeous printed spec, and swayed you with stacks of examples that were often graded by sheer weight and mass.

Coated, uncoated, text, cover, specialty, premium – these were just part of the extended lexicon of labels that described the various functions of unique products produced by a number of paper manufacturers both domestic and imported.

Pick Paper First, Then Design For Effect

From basic newsprint to duplex card stock, creative directors, art directors, and designers would often reach for their samples box first, then design a project to match the latest product.

Champion Colorcast and Kromekote were two such unique surfaces that in turn dictated a design that could best address the visual properties of the paper. It wasn’t quite cart before the horse, but close enough.

One metallic coated paper I wanted to use wound up being printed as a spot color using a silver metallic ink to good effect.

A side benefit of the competition between what were then independent paper manufacturers was the deluge of design aids in the form of spec books filled with examples of an endless variety of techniques to enhance the paper used for demonstration.

It’s Time To Pitch

When it was time to present, the swatchbook (and a couple of alternates) was pulled from the cabinet and joined the comps at the conference table, along with PMS swatches in a separate pile. All in all a formidable display of design competence.

And then came digital, and web ordering, and overnight shipping, and print-on-demand. Today’s paper cabinet like this version from Neenah is a nifty app – technically superior, but lacking the warmth of tactile feedback.

Ideas and progs are these days mostly presented digitally (PDFs) – faster, cleaner, and ready to finalize. Physical comps are themselves more a vestige of bygone days, having given way to the export from a close to final design document of a ready for approval two-dimensional screen display.

Most of what’s printed today – defined by ink on paper – is arrived at without the messy necessity of one-time, handmade comps created by pros.

Desktop publishing’s local democratization of the process has dumbed down the workflow to a couple of barely considered steps: crappy, template driven layouts, cheap looking overused fonts with applied effects, and a couple of paper choices. Presto! Everyone’s an expert!

Truthfully, I wouldn’t want to go back to the way things were. And truthfully, I’m glad I was around for the experience.

the power of graphic design

Eiffel tower peace sign

How Visuals Convey Meaning

Jean Jullien is a French graphic designer and illustrator. Following the murderous November 13th attacks on Paris civilians, he did what he does best – illustrate.

The simple graphic that emerged from his brush and ink rendering was instantly adopted by social media as the world’s rallying symbol against the horror unleashed by lunatics intent on carnage. Recognizable, emotional, symbolic, evocative. Follow your heart.

converting ms word to dreamweaver

in Dreamweaver, edit>paste special

How-To: Word Docs Into Dreamweaver HTML

Dreamweaver isn’t the worst environment for composing long copy, but it’s far from being the most comfortable. Text editing programs, including BBEdit, Text Wrangler, any plain vanilla text  or word processing application, OpenOffice, and the most user installed editing app, Microsoft Word, are usually better suited to the task.

While Word is my least favorite creative application, it’s the one I usually turn to when composing long copy for my web sites. I’m not interested in Word’s clunky “styling” gimmicks or to-be-avoided-at-all costs so-called HTML coding. I’m just looking for a comfortable writing environment and for that Word works out okay.

On the other hand, Word’s formating and styling quirks render it a major pain if you try the most direct route of copy and paste to transfer the content into Dreamweaver. One reason is all the overhead metric garbage that comes along for the ride in a typical copy and paste scenario. Here’s how Dreamweaver solves that problem. (Word to InDesign uses an entirely different workflow: copy/paste, drag/drop, place. Lynda.com has a good intro tutorial here.) Continue reading ‘converting ms word to dreamweaver’

need social visuals? find a designer!

For Effective Design Get Professional Talent

graphic design is fundamental for great visual contentI can say with full confidence that every list ever written promising content tips for improving your social media message, including blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, will include a requirement for “great visuals”. It’s not a heavy lift to reach that fundamental conclusion. And it usually ends up as simple lip-service from the aesthetically challenged herd of faux authorities.

How Might One Find Great Visual Content?

Achieving that lofty goal gets real murky real fast. There’s very seldom a follow-up suggestion as to how exciting art is actually created, or how to make the design judgements that are the DNA of an art director’s job description.

Your friends won’t tell you, but I will: ugly doesn’t improve with time.

It’s as if those great visuals so easily referenced as the mother’s milk of social media marketing are created with the wave of an intern’s magic kittens and string GIF wand or by HR invoking a binding PNG spell.

Reality? Effective art isn’t an off-the-shelf commodity. It’s specialized talent that knows there’s never, ever a time to use Comic Sans. Or that Bevel and Emboss with Texture, added to an obscure Microsoft Office font derived logotype of sorts, doesn’t so much sing in glorious brand originality as cry out in eyeball searing pain that’s simultaneously embarrassing to everyone but the creator and destructive to the goal of encouraging commerce.

Your friends won’t tell you, but I will: ugly doesn’t improve with time.

Original Graphic Design For Great Content

Within the context of social media, visuals are usually derived from photographs, illustrations, or a combination of the two. They can be used as is or modified, combined, or sampled and combined with type elements and shapes. This series of PRSA event promos I designed illustrates the point.

Colors can be shifted, shapes and objects distorted. The best visuals are unique to their specific environment, not sloppily used warmed over leftovers. From social cover art and profile badges to press release supplements and web site assets, creative visual is not only desirable, but essential.

The Difference? Superior Engagement Versus Abandonment

And where are the sources for that exceptional visual content everyone is looking for? Begin with a creative director for concepts and execution. Art directors turn an idea into a finished product using various visuals, distinctive styles, and element arrangements. Pick a copywriter for a well turned phrase or snappy tagline that can catapult a campaign. Graphic designers. Illustrators. Photographers. Typographers. All play a strategic role in creating effective content of value.

So while everyone pretty much understands the role of visual content and what it brings to a message, greatness is achieved through actual talent and training, not just by proclaiming the task done and hoping for the best.

As the saying goes, go big or go home.

animated gifs enjoying comeback

animated GIFs have been around for awhile

baby cha cha and spinning globes

GIFs, or Graphic Interchange Format, was an early graphic format (dot-GIF) that demonstrated how different digital media was from print by offering flip-book like animation. One of my first attempts at the medium (READS, above) was constructed in Photoshop, while another early effort (HEADLINE!, below) was built with Fireworks.

My first recollection of the wow factor was of Baby Cha Cha, which easily holds the distinction of being the first viral internet/web sensation.

The GIF file was used extensively by the bulletin board ancestors to the web like CompuServe, which originated the format. When you see a GIF it’s most often in animated form (although there’s nothing in the file suffix to differentiate between animation and still), delivering economic motion characteristics in a sparse, somewhat choppy loop.

panic

gifs aren’t all cats blinking or presidents winking

GIFs definitely have their place as a banner ad upgrade. Unlike Flash movies, GIFs are perfectly compatible with Apple iOS mobile devices and easily jump email barriers that often stymie attempts to pass along Javascript effects. (How can you tell whether an image is a Flash movie or an animated GIF? GIFs can be selected and saved directly from your browser.) Because of its small footprint (depends entirely on complexity – large authoring files will generate large .gif output) and quick creation, GIFs are finding renewed popularity.

Programs used to render animation include imaging applications like Photoshop (top) and Fireworks (above) at the high end, freeware by the truckload directly off the net at the other. Production is easiest with the latter, more complex – and versatile – in the former. They’re often (and perhaps unfairly) thought of as the poor cousins of Flash (SWF) movie elements.

Awarded the distinction of being the 2012 US Word of the Year by the Oxford American Dictionaries, GIFs are enjoying a resurgence as a unique art form. There’s even talk by global PR firm Burson-Marsteller of resurrecting the medium as an actual tool for business communications. As if it ever went away.

I’ve put together a  vintage collection of animated GIFs over on my web site that shows how effective the medium is at maximizing a small space with a big message. No mischievous cats allowed.

desktop publishing changed everything

 

strohs-beer-classic-vintage-print-ad_2.jpg

desktop publishing transforms the communication arts

These days Software As A Solution (SaaS) is taken for granted, as evidenced by the proliferation of cloud-based apps delivering digital publishing output from your phone to your social page quicker than you can say Instagram. The unbelievable transformation from carving text into metal to clik-send blasted out of the gate in the late ’80s and hasn’t let up since.

By the late 1990s, less than a decade later, the conversion from analog to digital was all but complete.

Stroh’s was a legacy beer brewed in Detroit for decades before turning toes up in 1999 when the 150-year-old company

Continue reading ‘desktop publishing changed everything’

make your mark – logo design basics

logo power depends on design integrity

Logos, logotypes, and trademarks have become integral to everyday life, from the pictograms used to order your lunch at Mickey Ds to finding your way to the next road trip gas stop.

This six-minute primer from the PBS Off Book series looks in on the history, tradition, and uses of a visual identity and establishes the argument for professional design versus the DIY approach that’s emerged as a result of desktop publishing empowerment.

Properly done, visual identities are a powerful marketing tool that work to fulfill an observers expectations. When that design is poorly developed, communication suffers.

bikecraft custom motorcycle pub launches

barnett backs shiny new bike mag

With a masthead that reads like a Who’s Who of popular consumer oriented bike books from the last 30 years (give or take), Barnett’s BikeCraft officially stepped into the deep end this month with the print version of their previously announced custom moto mag. At a time when print’s hold on the American psyche is under intense pressure, the decision to assemble a team of high-profile displaced editorial and creative types seems counter-intuitive. But it works.

Publisher Mike Barnett’s appreciation for print extends back to when the El Paso based Harley dealer popped the cork in the late ’90s on their first vanity press project, the no-cavier-for-me beer and bbq crowd Barnett’s Magazine. Originally styled as a new and used classifieds pub pushing dealer inventory in times of scarcity, the glossier than rival Motorcycle Trader dealt mainly in V-Twin pedigrees. This lasted until the economics of sustaining a print model against a global glut no longer made sense and the move to a dot-com online edition was finalized.

At about the same time, the moto journalism talent pool was suddenly bursting at the seams, courtesy mainly of HFM’s decision to scale back – way back – on most of their North American titles before ultimately putting them on the block. With staffs at all the genre pubs slashed razor-thin, competent, experienced, premium print skill was suddenly on the market. Serendipity knocked, and a new print publishing venture featuring a fair number of Cycle World alums shepherded by long time former editor-in-chief Dave Edwards, along with notables from CW competitors, was suddenly viable.

back to basics – take the long way home and you’ll get there sooner

How important is it to have experienced pros in your corner, especially for a startup? Take the treatment of all the product announcements, career snippets, random ricochets, and anecdotal memos that accumulate like dog hair under the living room sofa. Notice the runacross header with the catch-all title “Goggles”? Lacking the equivalent of refrigerator magnets, it serves as a frame for the collected odds and ends ranging from Post-Its to short essays. This took thought and skilled graphic design to arrive at a clever solution done well that looks easy yet escapes so many others.

Just eight pages in finds So-Cal designer-builder Denny Berg (left, above) profiled for his unique body of work designed and built during his tenure with aftermarket parts manufacturer Cobra. For nearly 20 years this graduate of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design has created one innovative custom after another, each an exercise in form following function. Denny’s long been one of my favorites, widely regarded for his effortless style and laid back demeanor. Will the affable, accessible N. Dakota native ever get his own “reality” show? Uh, no. Which only means he’ll continue to inspire serious devotees of the craft with his dignity intact and his intellect secure.

looks familiar – for a reason

Barnett’s BikeCraft features art direction courtesy of CW expat Elaine Anderson, whose signature style after nearly three decades at the helm of America’s most popular bike book is unmistakable. The inaugural (No. 1, Summer 2012) issue of the seasonal quarterly takes advantage of plenty of editorial elbow room to hilite over a dozen richly illustrated features – bobbers, trackers, cafe racers – with inspired photography. There’s plenty of room for white space friendly, easy on the eyes, open leading type design that actually encourages rather than challenging readership.

With editorial, design, and content of this caliber and the small luxury of publishing as a quarterly, I’d have liked more attention to repro specs. Stepping up to a premium paper would add an extra dimension of crispness and detail this level of creative deserves. And the glaring lack of a robust supporting web site that’s less ’90s archival and more contemporary – I’d settle for a look that’s anything this side of 2006: Rolling Stone, anyone? – means an inexplicable squandered opportunity to connect, engage, and convert. Not porting the print concept online means turning one’s back on a market the size of, well, the planet. Not to mention the whole ePub thing going on these days.

Otherwise, it’s a worthy effort for a seasoned crew embarking on a challenging voyage. Here’s hoping they can stay the course.

 

powersports pays price for poor pr

 

the slippery slope to silliness

Several years ago I put together an easy to follow guide that offers solutions for three of the most common errors made by DIY publicists. Since then I’ve noticed a significant increase in the number of powersports announcements distributed under the hi-jacked heading of FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE! So poorly constructed they’re cause to wonder if a Kazakhstan goat herder isn’t ghost writing for the crowd source marketplace, they neither inform nor promote. No offense to my herder friends.

There’s a phrase common enough to pr practitioners (hack) that’s either a label of shame or badge of some distinction, if only among peers. Without naming names – and, sadly, you probably don’t know who you are – I’m gobsmacked at what the aftermarket seems willing to accept under the guise of published, presumed to be positive, information about products, services, and events by the former.

This isn’t about the errant comma, occasional misplaced modifier, or missing apostrophe. I’m raising the alarm over the wholesale abandonment of fundamental principles of grammar, any notion of style, and the essentials of literacy. Who needs complete sentences when an odd lot assortment of disjointed words strung randomly together into incoherent phrases passes as sense.

“air quotes” run amok amid out of control malaprops

I’m usually not a hard-core stickler for AP style, but. The increasingly sloppy gibberish masquerading as product praise not only offends my professional eye, but to the point does serious damage to a manufacturer’s online reputation and in-store brand. Unless, that is, the brands footing the bill think LOL ridicule is a desirable goal.

And it’s permanent. Once published to the web, these unintentional examples of no-talent hilarity circle the internet forever, ghost ships of puff piece silliness showing up on Google search “doh!” in perpetuity.

If you can’t hire a pro – and by that I mean someone possessed of a) basic writing skills and, b) a fundamental understanding that English, not Farsi, is North America’s marketing lingua franca – please take advantage of my basic tips for improving reputation and readership.




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