Category Archives: graphic design

graphic design is a critical element in successful communications strategy

saul bass, america’s designer

Saul Bass — Contemporary Graphic Design

In the latter half of the 20th century, when it came to movies, TV, print, and corporate branding, nobody was busier – or better – than graphic designer Saul Bass.

His title design work for the movie blockbusters of the day — films like North By Northwest, Anatomy of A Murder, The Man With The Golden Arm, Vertigo, and many others — is still revered for its attention demanding content and arresting concepts.

Saul Bass was the graphic force that single-handedly changed the look and feel of American popular and corporate culture. His signature style was applied to virtually everything that had to do with print, film, or television, long before branding became a thing.

Before Adobe, It Was All Done By Hand

Students today should be reminded that his complex and complicated movie title sequences were concepted and produced before digital could even be imagined, let alone implemented. Then, accuracy was measured with a wooden ruler, a stopwatch, a film cutter, and some tape. A minor note, he did all this without Google and YouTube for reference.

His unique approach to title sequences was a spectacular break from the cookie-cutter template marketing methods cranked out by studios that had evolved little from the early days of film. His dramatic style used static design elements to convey mood, feeling, and focus to what had been traditional for the sake of tradition — and it worked.

Today, two-plus decades since his death, his work from a half-century ago remains vital, and is itself a continuing source of inspiration across a variety of media.

logos to trademarks

Chermayeff Geismar & Haviv Set The Bar

60 Years of Logos: Chermayeff & Geismar from Dress Code on Vimeo.

Two Legendary Designers On Memorable Careers

In one short (~3′) video, design legends Ivan Chermayeff* and Tom Geismar discuss their founding, the early days, what makes a mark memorable, and how they’ve planned for their iconic firm’s future.

If you watch television, use the post office, have a checking account, buy gasoline, or enjoy modern art, you’ve seen their work. Driven by research and pure instinct, the duo is responsible for a library’s worth of abstract marks and recognizable logotypes that continue to withstand the test of time.

In this video the unassuming pair go on record about the formative years, their staying power, and what they bring to the highly competitive table of corporate communications and graphic design.

Born in London in 1932, *Ivan Chermayeff died in December, 2017, at age 85.

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

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.

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

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.