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kottke.org posts about design

Artist “Logos” from Iconic Jazz Album Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2020

Jazz Musician Lettering

Reagan Ray (previously) surveyed 100s of iconic covers of jazz albums (Blue Note, anyone?) and isolated the lettering of the artists’ names. I love these sorts of compilations — this is like a mini-tour through the history of graphic design in the 20th century.

The Typography of Star Trek

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 23, 2020

Star Trek title card

poster fro Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek typography

In an extended excerpt from his book Typeset in the Future: Typography and Design in Science Fiction Movies (Amazon), Dave Addey goes long on the typography and design of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (and Trek in general).

Alas, The Original Series’s inconsistent typography did not survive the stylistic leap into the 1970s. To make up for it, The Motion Picture’s title card introduces a new font, with some of the curviest Es known to sci-fi. It also follows an emerging seventies trend: Movie names beginning with STAR must have long trailing lines on the opening S.

Study of the Creative Specimens

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2020

Study Creative Specimens

Study Creative Specimens

Study Creative Specimens

Study of the Creative Specimens is a collection of fantastical hybrid creatures created for Adobe’s 99U conference by Mark Brooks and illustration studio alademosca. Prints are available from Paper Chase Press. (via colossal)

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite!

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2020

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

Rise Up. Show Up. Unite! poster

A group of creatives led by Jessica Hische are creating unofficial posters for the Biden/Harris campaign in order to increase visibility of the campaign.

Last week, I [Jessica Hische] had a good conversation with the Biden creative team. I shared that one of my concerns for the upcoming election was the lack of visible support for the campaign. There are a lot of folx within the creative world and beyond posting on social media about voting (a wonderful and necessary message), but few of those posts mention the candidates by name. It’s somewhat implied that if you’re promoting voting or voting rights that you’re likely voting Biden and encouraging a Biden vote, but it’s not explicit. There’s a “I guess I’ll vote for him if I have to” vibe throughout leftist social media, but exasperated resignation doesn’t get people to the polls.

From top to bottom, art by Jessica Hische, Mary Kate McDevitt, Lauren Hom, and Joanna Muñoz. You can participate by downloading a template that includes the Biden/Harris logo — you can find the link at the bottom of the article.

Cool Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 08, 2020

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Modular Signage for the National Library of Luxembourg<br />

Sascha Lobe’s team at Pentagram has designed a functional and stylish modular signage system for the National Library of Luxembourg. The signs use cubes (inspired by LED clock displays?) that can be reconfigured into different words by library staff.

Numerical and alphabetical cubes are the foundation of the BnL’s modular signage system. In handling massive volumes of information and growing library collections, it is essential to free the library staff from rigid systems and equip them with the ability to easily make signage changes.

The flexible signage plan, consisting of 25,000 resin cubes, 6000 tableaus and 2,400 numerical shelving characters, enables staff to independently customize information as the library’s collection fluctuates. The resin cubes, constructed from a durable material, also translate the timelessness of the library and its long-standing presence throughout the years and into the future.

The only (but perhaps significant) downside to the signs is that they are not actually super legible when compared to a non-modular alternative. They sure do look great though.

Update: This post got shared on Twitter by a couple of librarian pals and Librarian Twitter was not impressed by this signage at all. Not legible, not accessible, and difficult/fiddly to maintain were the main complaints. As someone who believes that design is primarily about how something works and not how something looks, I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t hit that point harder in this post. I do love the aesthetics of the project, but from the photos, the legibility looks terrible. Maybe it’s different while navigating the space in person, but if not, you have to wonder how helpful hard-to-read signs are to patrons.

Browse Through 72 Years of Ikea Catalogs

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2020

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea Catalogs

Ikea has uploaded scans of all 72 years of their annual catalogs, from 1950 to 2021, to their online museum. (The company’s optimism that there will be a 2021 is heartening.) An entertaining time machine of Scandinavian design trends.

Designing the Unknown: the New Biden-Harris Logo

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 14, 2020

On Tuesday, Joe Biden announced that Senator Kamala Harris would be his vice-presidential running mate. The campaign was quickly updated to include a new Biden-Harris logo designed by Hoefler&Co. in collaboration with Biden campaign advisor Robyn Kanner:

Biden Harris Logo

But the designer of the logo wasn’t told who the running mate would be beforehand, so how did the campaign get it out so quickly? According to Jonathan Hoefler, the design team designed a whole collection of logos for potential candidates gleaned from reading the media tea leaves.

A consequential decision at an unpredictable time, conducted under absolute secrecy, poses an interesting dilemma to the typographer: how do you create a logo without knowing for certain what the words will say? Logos, after all, are meaningfully informed by the shapes of their letters, and a logo designed for an eisenhower will hardly work for a taft. The solution, naturally, involves the absurd application of brute force: you just design all the logos you can think of, based on whatever public information you can gather. Every credible suggestion spotted in an op-ed was added to the list that we designers maintained, and not once did the campaign even hint at a preference for one name over another.

I would love to see some of those alternate designs (Biden-Warren!), but there’s no way in hell they’ll ever see the light of day, especially before the election.

Update: Several designers weigh in on the new logo. I love Debbie Millman’s take:

I never, ever thought I’d say this after a lifetime in professional branding, but on the spectrum of good branding versus effective branding, I’d say at this point it is irrelevant. Frankly, the Biden-Harris logo could have been scribbled on a napkin and I’d be happy. Trump’s brand is beyond repair and is now more dangerous than ever. The soul of our country is at stake.

That logos don’t matter that much (unless they are either great or horrible) is probably true more often than designers and branding folks would care to admit.

The User Experience Design of Lego Interface Panels

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 06, 2020

Lego Console Interfaces

I thought George Cave’s The UX of LEGO Interface Panels was going to be a fun distraction, but it’s actually a great layperson’s explanation, using familiar Lego pieces, of how interfaces work in the real world and the design considerations that go into building them.

Shape coding is one approach to differentiation, but there are many others. Colour coding is perhaps the only one to break into our everyday vocabulary, but we can add four more: size, texture, position and operation coding. Together these six are our allies in the design of error-proof interfaces.

Size, shape and colour-coding are the fundamentals: quick-wins that can fix a lot of interface problems. Texture is also a great differentiator for blind operation, particularly on small dials requiring precise control.

(via sidebar)

The Winners of the Malofiej International Infographics Awards for 2020

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2020

Malofiej Awards 2020

Malofiej Awards 2020

Malofiej have announced their 28th International Infographics Awards for 2020, which they refer to as “the Pulitzers for infographics”. You can check out some of the top infographics here, culled from newspapers, magazines, and online media from around the world. The full list is available here, complete with links to the online winners.

The USPS Introduces New Hip Hop Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2020

USPS Hip Hop Stamps

On July 1, the USPS is introducing a set of four stamps celebrating hip hop. The stamps were designed by Antonio Alcalá based on photographs by Cade Martin. In an interview with Steven Heller, Alcalá explained how he thought about the design process:

Hip Hop has a long and rich history, and from the start, I knew I wouldn’t be able to represent its totality in one set of stamps. But because it is such an important part of our nation’s art, and one of our most significant cultural contributions to the world, I knew we needed to at least begin representing it somehow. Hip Hop has four widely recognized key elements, or “pillars”: Rap, DJs, Graffiti, and B-boying (known more broadly as break-dancing). Using contemporary images that quickly and accurately depict the genres eased the burden of having to represent the many histories within the subject.

You can preorder the hip hop stamps on the USPS website.

A Short History of the Cooper Black Typeface

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 24, 2020

In this video from Vox, Estelle Caswell talks to Bethany Heck and Steven Heller about the seemingly ubiquitous typeface Cooper Black.

There’s a typeface that has made a resurgence in the last couple of years. It’s appeared on hip hop album covers, food packaging, and advertising. Perhaps you know it from the Garfield comics, Tootsie Roll logo, or the Pet Sounds album cover by the Beach Boys. It’s called Cooper Black, and its popularity and ubiquity has never waned in the hundred years since it was first designed.

Cooper Black tends to get a bad rap from type aficionados (too popular, too cartoony) but this video — and Heck’s comments in particular — have given me a new appreciation for it.

Carly Rae Jepsen Uses My Silkscreen Font in a Promo Video

posted by Jason Kottke   May 21, 2020

This morning, Carly Rae Jepsen released a new album called Dedicated Side B (stream here). Amidst rumors of fresh music, the pop star had been teasing fans with its release all week, including this video of a simulated chat posted to Twitter and Instagram yesterday.

Long-time readers will recognize that the chat text is displayed with typeface called Silkscreen, which I designed back in 1999, an era of small monitors and even smaller fonts.

Carly Rae Jepsen, Silkscreen Font

Back in the day, Britney Spears used Silkscreen on her website, and now it’s come (sorta) full circle with Jepsen. Silkscreen pops up here and there every few months, and I’m glad to see people are still getting some use out of it. It was retro when I made it and now its retro-ness is retro. Culture is fun! (thx to @desdakon for spotting this)

The Best Book Design of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   May 19, 2020

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The Best Book Design of 2019

The AIGA has announced the winners of its annual 50 Books / 50 Covers competition for books published in 2019. The competition recognizes excellence in both book design and book cover design — some of the winners placed in both categories. You’ll notice there are not a lot of books here that you’d find on the front table of the bookstore — the winners tend to be from smaller publishers and/or academic in nature and/or about art or design. For lists containing more mainstream books, check out the lists from the NY Times, Buzzfeed, and Lithub.

The books pictured above (from top to bottom) are Rusty Brown by Chris Ware, When Brooklyn Was Queer by Hugh Ryan, Love Drones by Noam Dorr, Signal. Image. Architecture. by John May, and False Bingo by Jac Jemc.

Chair Times: A History of Seating

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2020

Vitra Chair Times

For a limited time, you can view the feature length documentary Chair Times: A History of Seating online for free courtesy of Vitra, a Swiss design company. Here’s a trailer:

In the focus are 125 objects from the Collection of the Vitra Design Museum. Arranged according to their year of production, they illustrate development from 1807 to the very latest designs straight off the 3D printer, forming a timeline to modern seating design.

Accompanying the film is a book of the same name. (via moss & fog)

The Origin of 8-Bit Arcade Fonts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2020

Aided by Toshi Omagari, who wrote Arcade Game Typography, Vox’s Estelle Caswell explores the origins and history of 8-bit arcade fonts. From the description of the book:

Video game designers of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s faced color and resolution limitations that stimulated incredible creativity. With each letter having to exist in a small pixel grid, artists began to use clever techniques to create elegant character sets within a tiny canvas.

As the creator of a tiny pixelated typeface, I find this stuff infinitely fascinating.

Portrait of a Coronavirus

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 04, 2020

Soon after the CDC started to mobilize to address Covid-19, medical illustrators Alissa Eckert & Dan Higgins were asked to create this illustration of a coronavirus that could be used as the “face” of the epidemic.

Coronavirus Portrait

The novel coronavirus, like all viruses, is covered with proteins that give it its character and traits. There are the spike proteins, or S-proteins — the red clusters in the image — which allow the virus to attach to human cells. Envelope or E-proteins, represented by yellow crumbs, help it get into those cells. And membrane proteins, or M-proteins, shown in orange, give the virus its form.

In a video released last February, Eckert explained a little about what she does at CDC.

Pandemic Travel Posters (Inviting You to Stay Home)

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2020

Pandemic Travel Posters

Pandemic Travel Posters

Jennifer Baer of the “Coronavirus Tourism Bureau” made some travel posters designed to get you interested in staying inside and exploring your own home during the pandemic. Posters are available for purchase.

Iconic Art & Design Reimagined for the Social Distancing Era

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

While it predates the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying social distancing by several years, José Manuel Ballester’s Concealed Spaces project reimagines iconic works of art without the people in them (like what’s happening to our public spaces right now). No one showed up for Leonardo’s Last Supper:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights is perhaps just as delightful without people:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

And Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus has been rescheduled:

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Ben Greenman, Andy Baio, and Paco Conde & Roberto Fernandez have some suggestions for new album covers:

Corona Art Design Reimagined
Corona Art Design Reimagined
Corona Art Design Reimagined

Designer Jure Tovrljan redesigned some company logos for these coronavirus times.

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Corona Art Design Reimagined

Coca-Cola even modified their own logo on a Times Square billboard to put some distance between the letters.

Corona Art Design Reimagined

(via colossal & fast company)

Update: Some emoji designed specifically for COVID-19. The Earth with the pause button is my favorite. (via sidebar)

Stream Helvetica & Other Design Documentaries for Free

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 23, 2020

Thinking that some people might need high quality entertainment while shut inside due to the COVID-19 pandemic, filmmaker Gary Hustwit is streaming his films online for free, one film per week. First up (from Mar 17-24) is Helvetica, his documentary on typography and graphic design. Here’s the trailer:

Click through to watch the whole film. (via daring fireball)

No Frills Branding

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 12, 2020

No Frills Branding

No Frills Branding

No Frills Branding

Designer Kunel Gaur, head of a creative agency called Animal, has redesigned the packaging for several familiar brands using minimal black & white graphics and unadorned typography. The designs don’t seem to be collected in one place, so you’ll have to poke around his Instagram to find them.

That LV bag actually looks like something Virgil Abloh would design — it would sell like hotcakes. Dye it millennial pink and you’ve got a freaking worldwide sensation. Fashion design is so easy!! (via moss & fog)

An International Eye Test Chart (circa 1907)

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 27, 2020

Mayerle Eye Test Chart

From the collection of the US National Library of Medicine, an eye test chart designed by George Mayerle around 1907 to be a complete vision testing solution for speakers of several languages.

Running through the middle of the chart, the seven vertical panels test for acuity of vision with characters in the Roman alphabet (for English, German, and other European readers) and also in Japanese, Chinese, Russian, and Hebrew. A panel in the center replaces the alphabetic characters with symbols for children and adults who were illiterate or who could not read any of the other writing systems offered. Directly above the center panel is a version of the radiant dial that tests for astigmatism. On either side of that are lines that test the muscular strength of the eyes. Finally, across the bottom, boxes test for color vision, a feature intended especially (according to one advertisement) for those working on railroads and steamboats.

Mayerle was a German optometrist working in San Francisco when he made the chart, designing it for use in a city with a diverse population. My pals at 20x200 are offering limited-edition prints of Mayerle’s chart in a variety of sizes.

See also the history & typography of eye test charts, Optician Sans (a font based on eye chart typography), and Eye Charts for Drones.

Face ID Compatible Respirator Masks

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 17, 2020

Face ID Respirator Masks

This site is making N95 respirator masks that work with facial recognition software, so that, for example, you can unlock your phone while still wearing a mask.

After uploading your face, we use computational mapping to convert your facial features into an image printed onto the surface of N95 surgical masks without distortion.

Our printer uses inks made of natural dyes. It’s non-toxic and doesn’t affect breathability.

You can use your mask for everyday life as a barrier for airborne particle droplets.

Face ID Respirator Masks

Face ID Respirator Masks

It is unclear whether these will actually ship or not — “Q: Is this a joke? A: Yes. No. We’re not sure.” — but they’re definitely not planning to make them while there are mask shortages related to COVID-19. And it appears the masks will work with iPhones…you just add a new face (while wearing the mask) to your phone’s face database.

The Sleep Blanket

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Over a period of three months, Seung Lee knit a blanket showing a visualization of his infant son’s sleep patterns from birth to his first birthday.

Sleep Blanket

The sleep data was collected with the BabyConnect app which lets you export to CSV. The CSVs were filtered and converted into JSON (using Google Apps Script and Python) which could then be used for visualization and tracking.

Brilliant. This deservedly made Flowing Data’s list of the Best Data Visualization Projects of 2019. See also Global Warming Blankets and this train delay scarf.

Shake: A Typeface with Parkinson’s Disease

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2020

Shake typeface

Shake is a typeface made from the real handwriting of a person living with Parkinson’s disease. Creative director Morten Halvorsen:

My mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s eight years ago. And her handwriting has changed in the years since. I created this font to preserve her handwriting, and enable her to continue to write with her own letters.

A new version of the font will be available each year to capture his mother’s worsening condition. Donate a few dollars (or more!) to download the font — all proceeds go to finding a cure. You can also download a template so that you can document the handwriting of a loved one living with Parkinson’s — for a fee (donated to Parkinson’s research), Halvorsen will turn it into a font for you. (thx, kevin)

A Collection of Children’s School Notebooks from Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 22, 2020

School notebooks

School notebooks

School notebooks

School notebooks

For the past 15 years, the folks at the Exercise Book Archive have been compiling a collection of children’s school notebooks from around the world. In the extensive digital archive, you can find writings, drawings, and aimless doodling in exercise books from as far back as 1773 from countries like the US, Ghana, Latvia, Brazil, and Finland.

The Exercise Book Archive is an ever-growing, participatory archive of old exercise books that allows everyone to discover the history, education, and daily life of children and youth of the past through this unique material. The Archive includes hundreds of exercise books from more than 30 different countries and dated from the late 1700s to the early 2000s. It is preserved and managed by the Milan-based NPO Quaderni Aperti (literally, Open Exercise Books).

If you follow them on Instagram, they are pulling some interesting pieces out of the archive. And if you happen to have any old exercise books from your youth (or your parents’ or grandparents’ youth) lying around, you can donate them to the cause.

How to Please Elise

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2020

How to Please Elise

Christoph Niemann with a clever take on the Beethoven composition for piano, Für Elise. He’s offering it as a letterpress print — but supplies are low so order quick if you want one.

And according to Niemann, the chart has been factchecked and is accurate.

Official Posters for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 16, 2020

Wow, check out the official posters for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

2020 Olympic Posters

2020 Olympic Posters

2020 Olympic Posters

What an amazing array of styles and disciplines — there’s manga, shodo (calligraphy), Cubism, photography, surrealism, and ukiyo-e. That stunning poster at the top is from Tomoko Konoike — fantastic. As you can see, posters from past Olympics have tended towards the literal, with more straightforward depictions of sports, the rings, stadiums, etc. Kudos to the organizers of the Tokyo Games for casting their net a little wider. Love it. (via sidebar)

Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana in the 80s & 90s

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

Africa Movie Posters

Africa Movie Posters

Africa Movie Posters

In order to drum up business for local movie theaters in Africa (most notably in Ghana), theater owners would commission local artists to paint movie posters.

When Frank Armah began painting posters for Ghanaian movie theaters in the mid-1980s, he was given a clear mandate: Sell as many tickets as possible. If the movie was gory, the poster should be gorier (skulls, blood, skulls dripping blood). If it was sexy, make the poster sexier (breasts, lots of them, ideally at least watermelon-sized). And when in doubt, throw in a fish. Or don’t you remember the human-sized red fish lunging for James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me?

“The goal was to get people excited, curious, to make them want to see more,” he says. And if the movie they saw ended up surprisingly light on man-eating fish and giant breasts? So be it. “Often we hadn’t even seen the movies, so these posters were based on our imaginations,” he says. “Sometimes the poster ended up speaking louder than the movie.”

You can check out more of these amazing artworks in this Twitter thread, this BBC story, on the AIGA site, and at Poster House, which has an exhibition of these posters up through Feb 16.

Update: I removed this modern-day spoof of the Ghanaian posters from the post. The tell is the reference to this amazing GIF. (thx, erik)

World Underwater

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2020

World Underwater

Inspired by a trip to Venice, the world’s most prominent example of what life could be like in many of our coastal cities in the years to come, Hayden Williams made a series of 3D rendered images showing what our world might look like underwater. (via the morning news)

Ridgeline Maps of the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 08, 2020

Ridgeline Map Italy

Using Andrei Kashcha’s Peak Map tool, you can create what’s called a ridgeline chart — picture the album cover for Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures — of the elevation anywhere on the Earth. Try it out here. (via @eramirez)