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Monthly ArchiveMay 2015



Studio projects Wednesday May 27 2015 07:03 am

John Nash (1928–2015) & Alicia Nash (1933-2015)

Our autobiographical book series, Moments Carved in Paper, has me spending a lot of time trying to remember, and then contemplating, past events as possible stories to include in the books. This is one that will go in there somewhere.

The recent death of Nobel Prize winner, John Nash, reminded me of one of my favorite design projects and an absolutely wonderful evening. Bob Gill said a good idea should be “Surprising. Original. Inevitable.” I think this is one of those ideas.

I was completely absorbed by the idea of Nash’s Nobel-Prize-winning “equilibrium theory” presented in the movie A Beautiful Mind, starring Russell Crowe as John and Jennifer Connelly as Alicia. I probably showed the movie in one of our Friday Sessions. Anyone remember if that is true? I also worked with Ari Garber on a VC Family Album page for the movie which was one of my favorites. I’m sure that will also pop up somewhere.

In the movie, Nash is at a bar with a group of friends when he begins to develop the theory of what is now called the Nash equilibrium, the idea that won him the Nobel Prize in 1994.

At the bar, he and his friends start to compete for a beautiful blonde in a group of five women. “If we all go for the blonde,” Nash says, “we block each other. None of us is going to get her and the others will feel rejected. But, if no one goes for the blonde, and we only go for the other women, it’s the only way we win.

The best result comes from everyone doing what’s best for himself and the group.

Hendrik-Jan Francke did some internet sleuthing and approached me with the name of Lynne Butler, a former Princeton professor of Mathematics where John Nash taught, who often lectured on the topic of The Collaborators’ Conundrum, an explanation of Nash’s theory. Lynne graciously accepted our invitation to speak.

Below is the poster Ivan Markos, Scott Gaston, Jessie Perlin, and I came up with. The students did a great job on the photo to illustrate a complex mathematical problem.

If you asked me what I wanted to be for Visual Communications, it was that rope.

Below is a nice photo of Lynne Butler with Chris Mears (VC’03) talking at the end of the evening.

I really, really, really should have recorded this talk. I bet I’ve wished that 500 times since this night.

I came home the afternoon I heard the news of their deaths and watched A Beautiful Mind. Sitting and watching as the “pens” scene happens at the end of the movie had me sitting alone in our living room with tears streaming down my checks into my beard.

Studio projects Tuesday May 26 2015 01:12 pm

AIGA / Philly Feedback workshop April 23, 2015

At the recent AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback 17, we offered a Lead Graffiti Creative Workshop as a raffle item to generate some excitement. After a drawing of business cards 9 students from Tyler School of Art, Kutztown University, and Hussian School of Art, attended the workshop. It was a great group, lots of questions, interesting design strategies working without sketches, and an overall nice day that finished on time.

The photo below shows the lockup for the second color along with the final broadside.

You can click on the image and see a double-sized image for some additional detail. The first and third rows of the broadside have been rotated to keep the pages in reading orientation.

The broadside was carefully folded and torn to produce the text block for a 12-page, 2-color book with a hard cover which was produced without glue or sewing. The bookform is called a “meander” book.

The book will be included in the Rare Books & Special Collection of the Library of Congress and in Special Collections at the University of Delaware Library, both of which maintain complete collections of these workshop books. In addition the books will be included in the libraries at Tyler School of Art, Kutztown University and Hussian School of Art.

We love this workshop. It is a great entry experience to letterpress for anyone with any interest in design, typography, creativity, and printing.

Studio projects Friday May 08 2015 07:08 am

Thoughts on Feedback 17

AIGA / Philadelphia Feedback 17 invited me to review senior design portfolios on Tuesday, May 5. These are things I saw 3 times or more that need improving. Take it all with a grain of salt. Mine is one opinion. Personally, I think it is a pretty good opinion.

Centered design

There is nothing wrong with centering if it is done with a conscious consideration for “it is better centered than not centered.” Too often centering is the default layout. No designer, student or professional, should do any part of any design by default. You should be able to point at every element and answer the question, “Why is it like that?” Understand the basis for how you do things so you can immediately answer with something besides “I don’t know.” Every time. And without pausing.

How do those layout bits work for or against each other? If you aren’t sure DO NOT do it that way. This goes for every choice of typeface, its size, its weight, italic or roman, color, line break, etc. Every choice should be deliberate and for a reason. Think of the design as a speaker’s tone-of-voice delivering a speech. Your pitch goes up to pose a question. Your voice whispers when you want people to lean in. Words have a pause between them. A phrase gets repeated for emphasis. Design needs to have ALL of these things applied to the visual tone of voice of your piece. Your piece is a speech. An announcement. A plea.

Designer’s opinion of their project

Too many pages in the portfolios didn’t feel like the student had an opinion about the subject of the project. They seemed to be doing it because that was the assignment. Empathy for a product is not easy to summon up, and the simpler the design, the harder this is to do. A design and its presentation needs to look confident. For example consider a toothpaste ad to promote its taste. How about a sandwich with toothpaste on it and the headline, “We don’t recommend it, but we would understand it.” Make the product your favorite product, no matter how boring it is. Go all the way. Fall in love. Make your target audience fall in love.

Portfolio pages & the images on them

YOUR PORTFOLIO should stand out and then YOUR WORK should stand out. Take a workshop at House Industries and learn to do some hand lettering. Make that opening page personal. Don’t make it corporate. Don’t make it like EVERYONE else’s. Make it yours. Yours and no one else’s. More than half of the portfolios i looked at had their logo in the corner or the center of a completely blank opening page. How about a can of pork & beans with a hunting knife stuck in it. Nope, I don’t know what it means, but at the end of the day I’m going to remember seeing it. Maybe at the end of the portfolio you could have a blank page with a knife in it and in small type it says, “Death to dull pages.” And then remind yourself that you want to do that on your portfolio every time you show something in class.

Here is an idea. How about a portfolio with the title “5 design ideas” and then limit it to five projects? You show me your portfolio and ask me to pick my favorite five projects and to rank them in order. Then the opening page of your portfolio says, “Turn the page and see the project Ray Nichols (he dared me to do this) thinks is the worst piece in my portfolio.” I’ll tell you my name at the end of the portfolio. Seriously, how fun would that be? Then at the end of the portfolio put both of our résumés. To pull off something like this your 5th worst piece needs to be as good as everyone else’s 2nd best piece. Actually, that would be a good way to do every project. Pass this page on to a couple of juniors in your program. Let them have a extra year to play with the idea.

Most of the ledger-like portfolios (ink-jet printed) I saw looked like they all came from the same school. Don’t let yours look like you came from the same school even if it is the same size and you come from the same school. They are usually bland and lifeless. You start out with boring stamped on your forehead. Or “follower.”

With iPad portfolios the rhythm becomes monotonous. Image. Image. Image. Image. Image. Back up and see the image. Image. Image. I noticed that while I might remember a piece, overall I cannot remember much else of what I saw in an iPad portfolio. The order gets lost in the technology. I don’t have a strong sense of how many projects I saw. It is far too easy to show too much until everything turns to oatmeal. Perhaps instead of 5 spreads in a magazine, show 1 film of someone turning the 5 spreads.

And personally I don’t like being told what you are doing. If I can’t see what you are after in a project, what you think it is important, your tone of voice, you telling it to me takes me backwards.

Almost everything was a rectangle. A 3D object against a white seamless adds some dimension to the page and help create a visual hierarchy to the elements. A page of rectangles generally looks flat and lifeless. There are six ways to create visual space: 1) overlap, 2) scale, 3) focus (soft edges recede toward the background), 4) position in the format (lower looks closer), 5) color (warm colors advance / cool colors recede), 6) tone (as in aerial perspective looking at distant mountains the mountains look lighter in tone). Good designers use them. Often I just didn’t know where to look except to follow the normal reading order of upper left to lower right. Come on. How boring is that?

WORDS: Your design CONTROLS the reader. Little blocks of type describing the project in the lower left corner of the opening page of a project are lost. Why do you think cigarette packaging always wanted to put the warning there. Now they aren’t allowed to. You shouldn’t either. Rewrite it in 3 words and put them somewhere I cannot miss. Yell  what you want me to know. Don’t yell your idea, but yell something to help them get your idea. Then play with making me see it without it being in 72 point type. Make it big and light. Make it small and red. That is design.

IMAGES: Make some photos black & white. If everyone in class did a package design and everyone took a photo, yours should look different from all of the others. The opening photo image in a series of 2 - 4 portfolio pages should have some sense of context. Typically students feel compelled to line up 4 objects and “snap.” Aren’t there other objects or placement you could use to style your photo, nudging the meaning to help the viewer understand your work? Do wine bottles always have to sit on their bottoms. How about them all being empty with their corks and a corkscrew laying in front. You could throw in the lines that the photographer liked the wine.

Here is the photo we use to promote our most recent book about a stories I have about each of my parents.

The book is Selfie! because of that photo of my parents, pre-me. My mother’s story is about her going to a Cars concert at the then Spectrum in Philly. My dad’s story is about the Vatican. We like having the sense of chaos to our work. Lead GRAFFITI. Rushed. Spontaneous. Confident. Step in and take a look.

Your portfolio is a design project and not just a place to gather all of your projects. Here’s 3 things to keep you in the mind of that person looking at your portfolio when you’re not there to explain things.

1) Multiple pieces with little difference

Multiple books in a book cover series MIGHT not need the same layout. If you show 3 covers that are exactly the same, and I’m assuming the image(s) are different, does that make a positive statement about you as a designer? If not, find ways to add your design skills to each. Multiple cards, coasters, packages, etc. don’t say anything about your abilities as a designer if you just change a word or two here or there. Unless you change the words really, really well. Every piece of every project either takes you forward or backward. Sideways is not forward.

2) Photographs and illustrations without any design context

Throwing in a page or two of pure photography or illustration looks out of place. If you have 4 fine art photos you really like, show 3 and then take one of them and turn it into a book cover. This shows that you are able to produce images for design projects. Without the design context you leave too much responsibility for “getting it” to the person looking at your portfolio and I promise most all of them “will not get it.” Making them get it is your job. Same goes for illustration. Find a way to apply it to a movie / play poster or book cover.

Several of the portfolios had good photography and illustration, but if you are looking for work as a designer, use it in a design project. Try imagining it on a package for something completely odd. Toothpaste, pizza, etc. Think of an interesting design that will justify the image. And don’t put it on a book cover for the most obvious book on the planet. Illustration of zombies? Put it on a book about religion or an article on medical techniques for making people live longer.

3) Ideas / concept

I once got in a very fun argument with someone who said you need the right typeface for the right job. “You wouldn’t use wedding script for an ad for nails and you wouldn’t use a bold sans serif for an ad for lacy lingerie.” “Whoa,” I said, “You need the right idea for the right typeface.” Just consider a nice photo of lacy lingerie and the Franklin Gothic Bold headline “Hardcore lingerie.” Or a beautifully lit, photo of a pile of nails on the opening page of a do-it-yourself magazine article, like a wedding invitation using Nuptial Script and the headline saying, “The perfect marriage between a rock and a hard place?” Never have a favorite typeface. Have a favorite idea that uses a typeface really well and change it every few minutes.

Good luck to all of you new designers. Go out there and knock some people dead in their tracks. “Death to boring pages.”

events Thursday May 07 2015 01:05 am

Upcoming Lead Graffiti events

We seem to be doing a lot of things related to AIGA / Philadelphia lately and that has been nice. AIGA is truly a great design organization and it is particularly helpful to students.

May 2015

Jill at the Formal School of Bookbinding : Jill is enjoying 2 consecutive week-long, leather binding workshops with Don Rash, who operates the Formal School of Bookbinding from his Plains, PA studio. Don works in the German style of bookbinding which offers some nice variations from what we are used to. Week 1 was an introduction to leather bindings focused on flat cord and raised cord bindings along with a nice leather touch for the book fore-edge. Week 2 is on full-leather binding. We are looking forward to this extending our capabilities (and fun) in our bookbinding work.

AIGA / Philadelphia’s Feedback 17 : Feedback is a portfolio review for area design programs. I think there were about 8 schools represented. Ray was asked to deliver the opening motivational talk what looked like about 120 student participants. His talk was about “Wwagsd?” It is a talk he often used to encourage his own students, to “use the moment” and ask yourself, “What would a good student do?Right here, right now. Often at a workshop, studio visit, class, etc. small things can make a huge impact over time. An extra question here or there. Standing closer to the person at the center of the event. Volunteering quickly if one is asked for. Far too many students are far too fearful. One interesting student came up to me during some of my down time toward the end and said, “One of the other students from his school said I had been the toughest on him and he wanted me to look at his portfolio.” If you could spend your days with that kind of attitude you could take your talent some place special.

AIGA / Philadelphia Night CapsEnjoy a drink and some laughs while Mikey Ilagan, Editor-In-Chief at Geekadelphia, moderates a Q&A on the ins-and-outs of the design industry with regional creative leaders. I will be on the program with Christine Fischer, a design strategist at Vangard. The focus is on “education vs. experience” or in other words “getting a job or going to graduate school.” Event happens at United by Blue which is located at 244 N. 2nd Street (on 2nd just south of Race Street). Doors open at 6:30. Recording starts at 7:00. If you tweet about it, try including the following tags: @leadgraffiti @aigaphilly @mikeyil #AIGAnightcaps @UBBphila. They typically average about 30 attendees. I’d love to see the evening at least beat the average. Admission for AIGA members is $5, nonmembers - $10, and students - free (bring your ID).

June 2015

AIGA / Philadelphia’s SPACE Gallery : Lead Graffiti has been invited to exhibit work from their Tour de Lead Graffiti poster journal project at the SPACE Gallery. We will have posters from each of the 2011 - 2014 editions. SPACE gallery is located at 72 N. 2nd Street (at Arch Street). The gallery is open Thursdays from 3:00-7:00pm, and Fridays / Saturdays from 1:00-7:00pm. AIGA Philly SPACE, not only serves as AIGA Philadelphia’s headquarters, but aims to serve the arts and cultures community of Philadelphia through unique exhibits featuring (but not limited to) the art of graphic design, engaging workshops, and lectures designed to inspire interest and understanding of graphic design and the visual arts.

Gallery talk in the SPACE Gallery on Saturday, June 20th at 3:00. Should be fun to just walk around and talk. Come. Ask some questions.

July 2015

Tour de Lead Graffiti 2015 : It is Tour de France time from Saturday, July 4 through Sunday, July 27. That means this will be our 5th Tour de Lead Graffiti, a daily poster journal following the Tour. That means we will be watching the Tour live on TV from 8:30 until noon. Then head over to the Glass Kitchen for lunch & pie and discussion about what we saw during the stage and how we might translate those events into a 14.5″ x 22.5″ poster. This is done each day of the tour for 23 consecutive days. Last year Ray alone averaged more than 114 hours a week for the 23 days. We call it “endurance letterpress.” Over the project we did 109 runs. You can link to the 2014 TdLG project by clicking here. You can click on the poster image and cycle to the next stage. From any of those pages you can also link back to the 2011, 2012, or 2013 Tour de Lead Graffiti projects.