Category Archives: Print Design

This is the coolest project I’ve worked on in a while. It’s a poster to advertise the annual Jazz Festival at Mineral Area College, where my Creative Improv counter-part, Michael Goldsmith teaches music and leads the jazz ensemble.

Why did I love this project? I could combine my love for jazz music, art and design and create something that really embodied jazz.

A bit about my design process

I spent hours sketching Delfeayo and coming up with a really loose sketch that could be incorporated into the poster. I was try to re-live this style. After much tweaking, layering and coloring it just didn’t have the right feel. Failure… but that’s OK – because it made me think about other ways to bring the ‘hand-drawn’ feel to the poster. I decided to the make the text and background elements all have a hand-drawn feel and leave the photo pretty much as is.


The above sketches were all drawn with marker on tracing paper, then scanned and layered in Photoshop to create the final, colored illustration.

Inspired by the hand-drawn feel above, I took some of my own watercolor textures and layered them in the background and over the left side of the suit jacket (subtle, eh?). Then I added some hand-drawn typefaces in various angles. I wanted it to have a bit of a haphazard, hand-created, imperfect feel.

I’ve talked about this in the past on this blog. I was reminded of this debate from a past professor who re-blogged a post by Frank Chimero.

So, should designers be coders? The answer is, “Yes, to an extent.”

I say ‘to an extent’, because we can’t expect a web designer to be able to do everything a programmer can. These are two different career paths. We can and should expect there to be an overlap between these separate fields. This overlap mainly lies in knowing HTML and CSS. (now you know what the question marks are for in the graphic). So designers should understand code and be able to write HTML and CSS.

Adobe’s recent release of Muse has surely stoked this debate even more. Muse promises to rid the need for a programmer/coder (you know, the way that Microsoft Publisher rids the need for a designer). The problem with this is that Muse promotes a lack of coding knowledge and as a result web designers are still uneducated about coding and their websites are worse off because of it. Websites are not digital versions of print design. They are living documents in 4D – changing based on user interactions, responsive design, dynamic elements etc. For more on why Muse is not the answer to web development, read Elliot Jay Stocks’ assessment.

The point here is that web designers should understand and be able to write HTML/CSS. As a comparison, take this example I mentioned in the aforementioned blog post,

…an architect should understand how a house is built. Otherwise, the architect has become a meaningless decorator of a medium he doesn’t understand.

Frank Chimero says it like this,

Design decisions are not only affected by the characteristics of the content being designed, but also the qualities of the format. The best way to understand the characteristics of the web is to speak its language.

What are your thoughts on this? Should web designers know how to code? How extensively?

Want to know where to start learning how to code? Check this out: Don’t Fear the Internet

 

Since the 2008 presidential election, I have become aware of design in politics and how the quality and effectiveness of the design effects particular candidates.

As designers, we have a lot of responsibility to design for the greater good and not put forth an image (both meanings of the word) that is misleading, untrue or inciting of any negative action. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have a responsibility to not oversell something or someone, if we want a clear conscience.

Below I’ve outlined a few examples of design that has a played a role in our perception of a the candidate.

A few examples, off the top of my head:

Yes we can… make you think I’m God-incarnate

Overtly and overly optimistic political campaign website for Barack Obama. Did we all really think he was going to be ‘God-incarnate’ and a perfect president (note the glowing blue sky/cloud feel)?

The problem with this website design, as I’m starting to see, is that if I were to design a website for ‘God’ – it would probably look pretty close to this. Same colors. Similar logo. Similar quote in the header (at least the ‘I’m asking you to believe’). This is a problem, because he’s not God, but was pretty much marketed as such.

As I wrote about on this blog in the past – this was a great website design, logo and branding. The best that national politics had ever seen. But my question is: Was it over-selling Obama? Just a bit.

Did we think he would be anything more than a politician with skin on? If we bought into the design/marketing – maybe.

There’s an Alaska-shaped lake in the US, don’tchaknow?

To all you middle school kids who have taken geography, you know this map is NOT accurate. It is outrageously false. I know that Palin’s goal was to express that she was the governor of a state that is very large in comparison to the continental United States. Do you want to highlight something in your career that you only put half your effort toward (Palin resigned before finishing her first term)? Why create something that is false, misleading and very untrue? Clever, maybe – but I don’t see it winning any design awards. This logo opens up the floodgates for more people to question the intelligence of Sarah Palin. Why open that door?

LBJ mushroom cloud commercial

Misleading. Fear-Mongering.

It’s not a direct ‘design’ piece but is marketing and political in nature. The commercial worked and drew on the emotions of the American people. Drawing out the fear of a nuclear war and pointing a finger at Barry Goldwater was the goal of this commercial. It worked, and as Milton Glaser is quoted in this article saying, “And even though you knew it was bullshit, your heart swelled anyway.”

You betcha they’re surveying symbols!

Most recently, this graphic has been the center of debate. I don’t subscribe to the idea that Palin is responsible for the recent Arizona shooting. However, her advertisements and words and those of other talking heads need to be scrutinized when violence against politicians arises. Taking responsibility for your words and actions is a necessity. That means acknowledging when something you say or do is in bad taste, as this graphic was. We learned this as a child – why is it that politicians forget this fundamental rule of responsibility? (Another example is when Sharon Angle’s was quoted about using  ‘second amendment remedies’. That is an incitement of violence and nothing less.)

One explanation of this graphic was that it was simply using ‘surveying symbols’.  Maybe that was the intention, but how many American’s are surveyors and would get this reference? It’s more likely that it would be interpreted as a gun sight. You can’t tell me that the Palin folks didn’t know this is how it would be inferred? After all, it’s the perfect graphical symbol to appeal to hunters and gun rights activists around the country. If it should have been a surveying symbol, shame on the designer for not correctly ‘visually communicating’ a surveying symbol. My guess is that the designer was directed to use a gun cross hair – and they did that effectively. Palin and others needs to be more careful about the graphics they present and the words they use.

Wrapping up

We have all seen political ads, designs and words that over-reach their boundary. The question becomes – how do we know how over-reaching it is? How do we know how much violence something or someone may incite with their words or ads? The answer is: We don’t. This is why politicians and the designers that work for them need to be held to a very high standard. They need to realize how much sway they have with their ‘supporters’ – especially their fringe supporters.

What political ads, designs and words have you heard or seen recently that were inciting violence or simply overselling something?

What do designers do? Make things ‘pretty’ and ‘put a new coat of paint on something’, right?

Wrong.

A designer is someone who communicates visually through various mediums. This could be through print design, web design, and especially wayfinding design (the design of directional signs in our environment).

The end result is hopefully something that is visually appealing or ‘pretty’. Pretty should not be the goal, though. It is simply the natural byproduct of a designer who has taken the target audience into account while crafting a readable and functional piece of design (whether it’s a business card or a full-on website). What most people see as ‘pretty’ are simply visual symbols that resonate with a particular target audience and communicate a particular message in an exemplary way.

Some examples

Let’s take wayfinding. Directional sign on the interstate communicate visually. They tell what city you are approaching, which way to turn and so on. They aren’t simply pretty or pleasing on the eyes. They communicate visually. Interstate signs may also look pretty if the text wasn’t white, but instead were a slightly lighter green from the green background color of the sign. Decisions were made by designers about the readability and functionality of the sign, therefore stark white and dark green was the outcome. Design decisions are made in terms of functionality, readability without much focus on ‘pretty’ – because if it communicates visually, ‘pretty’ will hopefully be the natural byproduct.

The same argument can be made for web design. A website should be functional first and foremost. If I don’t know what a link is or what page I’m on, the web designer has failed already. A website can be ugly and functional – think Google search results. A website can be pretty and not functional – some graphic designer’s flash only websites. The best option is for the website to be both functional and beautiful.

On the flip side

Of course a designer should create things that are ‘pretty’ – but this should not be the end goal. Isn’t that what fine artists are for? (EDIT: I mean that fine artist don’t usually have to reach a target audience and therefore don’t need to worry about communicating the same message to everyone) As I often say, there should be balance between form and function. For argument’s sake, form = pretty and function = successfully reaching the target audience.

Form and function work together to create a successful design – but reaching the target audience is the goal, while ‘pretty’ is the byproduct of reaching that goal.

Now it’s your turn! What do you think of the balance between form and function? For designers, is ‘pretty’ the end goal or not?

A few years ago I had a course where we were encouraged to push the limit of what graphic design is and break the rules of design and typography to create something fresh… as fresh as sweet, sweet mountain dew. Here are a few pieces from that time period (which also draw much inspiration from designer, David Carson). I call this my ‘make the professor happy’ era of my design work. 🙂

I've known Kristina for probably 5 years and it was a pleasure to design her wedding invitations!

The script typeface is called 'Buttermilk' and I purchased it from a great illustrator/type designer named Jessica Hische.

The swirls were customized from an original set of 'swirls' I had. The secondary typeface used for body copy is Baskerville Old Face. It seemed to go well with the elegance of Buttermilk

A person tends to critique a design in one of several ways. The most common, and usually least valuable, is by gut reaction.

D. Keith Robinson

I totally agree here. I remember back when I interned at Workbench Magazine (now My Home My Style) and the Assistant Art Director, Doug Appleby would critique the magazine spreads I designed. Note: I would get his advice and critiques multiple times a day. He would always look at it for a minute or two before even saying a word. I believe he was really analyzing what I designed and what he thinks of it, instead of just saying his gut reaction.

iconnect magazine advertisement

I recently designed this advertisement for placement in the A. T. Still University alumni magazine. It’s pretty cool to come full circle with a project. I had designed the iconnect website (see this post) and now print advertising for it. I also designed the first ever website for the alumni magazine – Still Magazine. More on that to come later.

Recently, Mitch Goldstein (a great designer and educator at Rhode Island School of Design) blogged about his holy sh*t moment. His was that you could photograph type instead of just ‘typing’ it. A design student, Brittany Loar responded with her ‘moment’ as well.

Here are few of my holy sh*t moments:

  • Throughout high school I would design everything with drop shadows. During my second year of college I realized NOT using a drop shadow was actually better. I do break this rule sometimes, but with great subtlety.
  • As far as typography, I realized that I could kern out (generous space between letters of the word) words to add more contrast with other type (see this logo). I learned this closer to my third year of college.
  • As far as page layout, using very generous margins with blocks of text really opened some things up for me (see this print ad). This as well was learned during my second year of college.

These probably don’t sound too groundbreaking if you’re a designer, but for a young designer (as I was), they are huge.

Now it’s your turn!

What was your holy sh*t moment in your profession, whether you are a designer, writer, photographer, programmer, or any other type of professional.

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Creative Improv started over a year ago as a way for Michael Goldsmith and I to work together and provide web, print and identity design to clients. It has been a joy to continue to work closely with ‘Goldie’. It feels like a dream come true, to be crazy busy with design for such a wide range of projects as fellow artists, bands, museums, a math curriculum, and even a bridal shoppe.

We’ve had business cards since the beginning, but we’ve just now got letterhead and envelopes. Check them out below!

A technical note – we used OvernightPrints.com for our printing and everything came out perfectly. The color was spot on and the ability to do a full bleed on the envelope was freeing!

Letterhead and envelope for Creative Improv

Business Cards for Stephen Emlund at Creative Improv