Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Save me from Comic Sans

I have had enough now. After years of trying to convince my own students not to use Comic Sans in their design work, I want to spread the word. I know it is nothing knew and the 'Ban comic sans website has been up and running for a for years now, please can we just stop now! Since moving to Nottingham, I have seen far too many poor uses of the offending font. It's not that I hate the font, just how over used it is in the wrong context. I have seen it as shop signage, on posters, memo's and many other items. The proliferation of it's use does make me think of Erik Speikermann's quote about poor typography. I am paraphrasing, but just because you give someone the tools to design doesn't make them a designer! It reminds me of the theory that if you give a monkey a typewriter and enough time he will come up with Shakespeare. (Don't quite know where I heard this one, so don't quote me) The problem is the time aspect. Design is usually turned around quickly and those who are not designers will not be able to understand the subtleties of font choice. It may look rounded and friendly, but that doesn't make it suitable!

Check out the Bancomicsans website.


In my time at Ravensbourne I was involved with delivering (albeit on a small scale) talking to students about Wayfinding. The term still raises a frown as many people don't know what the term means. While discussing this with colleagues, Finola Gaynor and Nima Falatoori, along with attending lectures by Cartlidge Levene about their work on the Barbican Centre system I have begun to take a much bigger interest in it.

It is not as many people think only about signage, but all kinds of environmental systems that can influence navigation around a public space. Students often find it difficult to think of other ways by which we traverse spaces, but once it becomes clear seem to enjoy the challenge. Browsing eye magazine on line recently I came across an article by John D. Barry who talked a little about this. In my experience at teaching at an institution like Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, I realized the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration. When students work on group projects with those from other courses they come up with solutions, which far outstrip the individual endeavours. It is about time as Barry suggests that Graphic Designers begin working with Architects and other types of designers to resolve problems such as wayfinding.
As he says ". . . As a practical matter, architects and graphic designers should be teaming up to create new environments; after all, we have to live with the results on on a day-to-day basis, so we might as well use our best intelligence and skills in designing them. We need both a historical understanding of lettering in architecture and a forward-looking technical understanding of how we interact with words in the modern world. The increasing use of electronic lettering on and in buildings, as embedded yet constantly changing visual information, adds a new dimension to the question; so do new forms of portable information, both visual and aural. Yet the fundamental problems remain the same, along with the fundamental nature of the human beings who use whatever architects build. Only the solutions change."

For those of you interested have a good look at the Cartlidge Levene website and their projects for Selfridges and The Barbican Arts Centre and also the project Pentagram did for the Bloomberg Centre



Friday, 25 April 2008

Information Design

I was accosted this morning on the way to work by a lady from Nottingham transport canvassing opinions over the proposed redesign of local bus timetables.

It got me thinking on the bus into work, about just how much information design is overlooked by the general population and indeed by some designers and educators. In this day and age information is all around us and being able to navigate that information in a clear and cohesive way is paramount. Since we all lead such busy lives, being able to decipher information, such as when is the next bus or train, how much fat or sugar is in my food and how to use my in car sat nav, becomes ever more important. Being in the business of education, many students don't see the importance of this function. They take it all for granted and only seem to want to make things look 'cool'. It's a gross over-generalization, but branding has overtaken many of the fundamental disciplines within graphic design. We are preoccupied with how our brands say something about us, rather than proposing methods to wade through the torrent of data thrown at us everyday.

I was reminded of a conversation with Michael Beirut of Pentagram about the New York Subway system map, when I took a group of students to visit the Studio on a field trip recently. One of the students asked a question about why he thought the NY subway map wasn't as successful as the Henry Beck London Underground map.

He talked about the fact that in 1979 Massimo Vignelli redesigned the map, with some of Henry Beck's principles in mind. The result was a very clear and simple map that dispensed with realism in favour of usability. The outcome, although beautiful and easy to navigate was discarded as many thought that the distortion of certain elements on the map, such as Central Park being shortened was tantamount to sacrilege. So why can a method work for one audience and not for another? I have no answers to this, but it did get me thinking about how an audience may need some time to live with a design in order to adapt to the change.

Another of the many thoughts that ran through my head were about the fact that lots of the published books about information design, were essentially about presenting data and not necessarily usability. In fact there are not a great deal of books out there about information design at all. I find there are more websites about presenting information than books. It may be that the interactive nature of the web, lends itself better to making us of filtering systems accessing databases and also looking at how animation can enhance the message. It is worth checking out visualcomplexity.com. Here there are many examples of how designers have attempted to map out information and decode it in the form of graphic design. These are not always that commercial, but proves a good testing ground for the kind of tihinking that is going on out there.

A question then. Is it about time we looked at Information Design in more depth in our educational curricula and saw the uses of developing solid information designers? If the answer is yes then we need more books, websites and resources from which students and practicing designers can learn, experiment and canvas opinion on. Why not have a go. After writing this I may just do so.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Helvetica T-Shirts

Helvetica again. It's becoming a bit of an obssession. I spotted these rather cool T-Shirts on an Australian website. They take a little time to arrive, but were well worth the wait.

Helvetica Mug

Since I am a nut about all things typographic, a student of mine sent me this rather lovely helvetica mug. Available only in the USA sadly from Veer.

Design Police

An ex-student of mine from 2 years ago contacted me to say he has got around to putting one of his final year projects up on the web. His intention is that people start using it, to be more educated about design and how much detail it requires along with having some fun. It was funny that Finola Gaynor found it at the same time and sent it to all the students. His name is Stephen Woowat and he now works at Elmwood in Leeds. I hope you start using it in interesting ways! To download the complete PDF kit visit: http://www.design-police.org/
Checkout his graduation portfolio too at http://www.woowat.com/

Tuesday, 22 April 2008


I spotted this on Jack Crossing's website and it really made me laugh, even though it is a pun. They are also available to buy, for those typographic nerds out there.
Available at:

Duck and Cover

I stumbled across this by accident on 'you tube' and thought it may help for those students struggling with the screen part of their typography unit. It may also give you some ideas for Information Design too!

">Duck and cover video

The first of many

OK the blog is up and running and it is now time to start posting.

I have been up in Nottingham now for about a month. The University is very well organised and I am happy to be here. I found a house out in the 'burbs and the cost of living here is so much cheaper than I expected. Hopefully with a little more money and some extra time, now that I can legitimately take research days from work, will mean I can work on all those little projects I always wanted to, but never quite got around to.