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kottke.org posts about design

“Star Ribbon”, a USPS Stamp by Aaron James Draplin

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2019

Draplin Stamp

It was not my intention to turn kottke.org into a stamp blog (recently: Ellsworth Kelly, Leonardo da Vinci) but you know what they say: cool postage comes in threes. My pal Aaron James Draplin recently shared on Instagram that he was asked to submit some designs for a stamp for the USPS and then, because he’s an awesome designer, one of his designs is going to become an actual stamp.

TEARS ROLLING DOWN MY CHEEKS: Last thing I want ANY post I put up to sound like some sweaty, formal press release, so I’ll just come out and say it: I GOT TO MAKE A STAMP, YOU GUYS.

I’ve had to keep my big trap shut for over a year on this one. And I when I got the call to throw some designs into the ring, I have to tell you, even that nod was enough. It was enough just to be that close to one of my FAVORITE institutions of all time: The American postage stamp.

Here’s why he’s so fond of stamps (I totally agree):

You know why I love stamps so much? Because everyone needs a stamp. Everyone gets to enjoy the art on them. Too many times, art and design is only for those who can afford it. Stamps? They are a democratization of design. And that? That’s my favorite kind of graphic design.

The design is a perfect illustration of Draplin’s throwback design style — it’s got that Spirit of ‘76 thing going on but is also solidly contemporary, just like his work for Field Notes. (via df)

W.E.B. Du Bois’ Data Portraits of Black American Circa 1900

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 13, 2019

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the hand-drawn infographics of W.E.B. Du Bois, noting that the great African American author, sociologist, historian, and activist was also a hell of a designer. Now Whitney Battle-Baptiste and Britt Rusert have collected Du Bois’ data portraits of black America into a new book, W.E.B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits: Visualizing Black America.

Web Du Bois Infoviz

Web Du Bois Infoviz

The colorful charts, graphs, and maps presented at the 1900 Paris Exposition by famed sociologist and black rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois offered a view into the lives of black Americans, conveying a literal and figurative representation of “the color line.” From advances in education to the lingering effects of slavery, these prophetic infographics — beautiful in design and powerful in content — make visible a wide spectrum of black experience.

W. E. B. Du Bois’s Data Portraits collects the complete set of graphics in full color for the first time, making their insights and innovations available to a contemporary imagination. As Maria Popova wrote, these data portraits shaped how “Du Bois himself thought about sociology, informing the ideas with which he set the world ablaze three years later in The Souls of Black Folk.”

Confessions of a Letterhead Collector

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2019

Design historian Steven Heller collects vintage letterheads and shares some examples at Design Observer.

Letterhead Heller

Letterhead Heller

The design of blogs owes much to the letterhead (and, perhaps more obviously, to the newspaper masthead). Blog posts are, after all, public letters “to whom it may concern”. The first design I did for Gawker was quite letterheady and I loved & envied my pal Dean Allen’s letterhead-inspired design for Cardigan Industries.

Update: Loooots more great letterhead examples at Letterheady. (thx, jenni)

Creating Saturday Night Live’s Cue Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 30, 2019

As part of their YouTube series on how the Saturday Night Live sausage is made, this short video details how the cue cards that the actors read from during the show are made and used. There’s even a tiny little bit in there about how they use whitespace (between words and lines) to make sure the cards are readable from a distance.

I am kind of amazed that the cue card process is still done by hand. I don’t want to see any hard-working staffers or interns getting fired, but it seems like a couple of fast large-format color printers capable of printing on poster stock and a block letter handwriting font could dramatically streamline the workflow, particularly when late-stage changes are needed.

The Colorful 80s Vibe of Blank VHS Tape Cases

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2019

I don’t know about you, but my house was blanketed with VHS tapes. The tapes were filled with episodes of Star Trek and movies meticulously taped from network TV without commercials — you had a to be a real Johnny-on-the-spot with the pause button or you’d miss a few post-commercial seconds of Chevy Chase’s antics in the G-rated version of National Lampoon’s Vacation. This video is a quick two-minute ode to the colorfully designed cases those tapes were sold in. Total memory bomb seeing these again.

The Flag of the Popular Vote

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 10, 2019

Flag Of The Popular Vote

Toph Tucker has designed an algorithmic version of the US flag called the Flag of the Popular Vote, where the size of the stars and stripes are proportional to the current populations of the original 13 colonies (stripes) and current 50 states (stars). There’s also an animated version with tiny new stars appearing when new states are admitted into the union and the stars & stripes shift in size as populations grow. This New Aesthetic flag reminds me a bit of Rem Koolhaas’ proposed EU flag.

The Best Movie Posters of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Movie Posters 2018

Check out these and many other top posters of the year at Creative Review, The Playlist, Little White Lies, and MUBI Notebook.

The Top 10 Title Sequences of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 27, 2018

From the Art of the Title, the picks for the best opening credits sequences of the year. Their #1 is Babylon Berlin, which would have been my pick as well.

Babylon Berlin Titles

The list also includes the titles for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, which might be the most visually inventive box office #1 in recent memory.

Interestingly, two of the sequences on the list aren’t from film or TV but from conferences: Semi Permanent 2018 and Made In The Middle 2018. Only three out of the ten were from movies.

The Best Book Covers of 2018

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 19, 2018

Book covers have long been one of my favorite design objects and with all the talented cover designers at work out there, 2018 produced a number of notable covers. In choosing some of my favorites below, I consulted Literary Hub’s 75 Best Books Covers of 2018 (according a panel of book designers), Paste’s 18 Best Book Covers of 2018, and The Casual Optimist’s Book Covers of Note 2018.

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

Book Cover Design 2018

From top to bottom, Cherry by Nico Walker (designed by Janet Hansen), Hippie by Paulo Coelho (designed by Tyler Comrie), My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (designed by Darren Haggar), Circe by Madeline Miller (designed by Will Staehle), and Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott (designed by Lauren Wakefield).

James Niehues: The Man Behind the Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 11, 2018

I’ve you’ve ever skied or snowboarded in the US, Canada, or many other spots around the world, chances are you’ve used a ski map painted by James Niehues. He’s hand-painted almost 200 trail maps for places like Alta, Vail, Big Sky, Okemo, and Mammoth.

Ski Magazine regularly ranks the Top 50 resorts in North America. Jim has hand painted 45 of them. His tools of choice are a camera, a notepad, a paintbrush and a canvas. Every painstaking detail — peaks, cliffs, trees and shadows — is painted by hand. Jim’s large and beautiful paintings have helped generations of skiers navigate and capture the unique character of each mountain. He has had more impact on the image and feel of skiing than almost anyone, yet few people know his name.

With the help of a small team, Niehues is publishing a hardcover coffee table book featuring all of his work along with a series of prints. Here are a couple of the maps that will be in the book:

Niehues Maps 01

Niehues Maps 02

Optician Sans

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2018

Optician Sans

Eye charts at your optometrist’s office typically only have 10 letters on them: CDHKNORSVZ. Inspired by that lettering, creative agency ANTI Hamar and typographer Fábio Duarte Martins have expanded that abbreviated alphabet into a free font with a full alphabet called Optician Sans. Here’s a video look at how they did it:

(via khoi)

The Iconic Jazz Album Covers of Blue Note Records

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2018

In part 2 of Earworm’s series on jazz, Estelle Caswell talks to producer Michael Cuscuna about the iconic album covers of Blue Note Records.

Inspired by the ever present Swiss lettering style that defined 20th century graphic design (think Paul Rand), Blue Note captured the refined sophistication of jazz during the early 60s, particularly during the hard bop era, and gave it a definitive visual identity through album covers.

The covers were the work of Reid Miles, who was paid $50 per cover but later landed a gig making ads for the likes of Coca-Cola to the tune of $1 million per year. Here are a few of the covers designed by Miles for Blue Note:

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

Miles Blue Note

RIP, Pablo Ferro

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2018

Film & design legend Pablo Ferro died this weekend at the age of 83. Ferro was known for designing the iconic opening title sequences for Dr. Strangelove and Bullitt (among others).

He also designed what is probably my favorite movie trailer, for A Clockwork Orange:

I wrote about Ferro’s work with Stanley Kubrick in this post 10 years ago. From a piece by Steven Heller that I linked to in the post:

Kubrick wanted to film it all using small airplane models (doubtless prefiguring his classic space ship ballet in 2001: A Space Odyssey). Ferro dissuaded him and located the official stock footage that they used instead. Ferro further conceived the idea to fill the entire screen with lettering (which incidentally had never been done before), requiring the setting of credits at different sizes and weights, which potentially ran counter to legal contractual obligations. But Kubrick supported it regardless. On the other hand, Ferro was prepared to have the titles refined by a lettering artist, but Kubrick correctly felt that the rough hewn quality of the hand-drawn comp was more effective. So he carefully lettered the entire thing himself with a thin pen.

The Art of the Title also interviewed Ferro about the Strangelove opening credits.

The titles for Strangelove were last-minute; I didn’t have much time to produce it. It came up because of a conversation between Stanley and I. Two weeks after I finished with everything, he and I were talking. He asked me what I thought about human beings. I said one thing about human beings is that everything that is mechanical, that is invented, is very sexual. We looked at each other and realized — the B-52, refueling in mid-air, of course, how much more sexual can you get?! He loved the idea. He wanted to shoot it with models we had, but I said let me take a look at the stock footage, I am sure that [the makers of those planes] are very proud of what they did and, sure enough, they had shot the plane from every possible angle.

Update: The Art of the Title also did a huge three-part interview with Ferro as a career retrospective. Great deep dive into a substantial career.

Psst. Fast Food Secret Menus Are Rare Spots of Fun in Assembly-Line Dining

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 31, 2018

For Literary Hub, Alison Pearlman writes about how secret menus at fast food joints like In-N-Out (4x4, animal style) and McDonald’s (a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger with a McChicken sandwich crammed into it) are an attempt by customers to push back against corporate standardization.

As you might guess, chain restaurants with units in the many hundreds or thousands lean toward standardization. The larger the chain, the more it regulates everything from menus to service, which creates the public perception of a homogenous and regimented operation.

This is the strongest at limited-service chains because every segment of the company-designed encounter between patron and server is at its most rote. Regulars are supposed to be addressed the same way as first-timers. Managers don’t encourage servers to recall a repeat customer’s favorite dish or how much ice she likes in her tea. That would only slow operations down-the kiss of death for a high-volume operation. If a server does become familiar with a repeat customer, that relationship could lead to special treatment, such as extra generous provisions of fries or special sauce, but interactions like these stray from the company line.

The piece is excerpted from Pearlman’s new book on the design of restaurant menus, May We Suggest: Restaurant Menus and the Art of Persuasion, which sounds fascinating. As a former designer who still very much thinks like one, almost every time I interact with a restaurant menu, I’m looking at how it’s arranged and designed. I think often of William Poundstone’s analysis of Balthazar’s menu.

2. The price anchor. Menu consultants use this prime space for high-profit items, and price “anchors”, in this case the Le Balthazar seafood plate, for $115 (£70). By putting high-profit items next to the extremely expensive anchor, they seem cheap by comparison. So, the triple-figure price here is probably to induce customers to go for the $70 (£43) Le Grand plate to the left of it, or the more modest seafood orders below it.)

And of course, there’s the 11-page menu from Shopsin’s circa-2004 that defies all rational analysis, a “tour de force of outsider information design”.

Pierre Cardin’s Le Palais Bulles

posted by Chrysanthe Tenentes   Oct 23, 2018

I’ve been taking refuge from the news in music (WQXR or Spacemen 3, lately), art (more on that here soon), novels (this weekend’s perhaps ill-timed read was Naomi Alderman’s The Power), and travel fantasies. Here’s one I’ve been thinking about for months.
palais-bulles.jpg
Pierre Cardin’s Le Palais Bulles is not open to visitors but can be booked for events, so if anyone reading this ends up planning one there *please* do invite me. The compound, just outside of Cannes in Théoule-sur-Mer, was designed by Hungarian architect and “concepteur of bubble housing” Antti Lovag from 1975-1989.
le-palais-bulles.jpg
French designer Simon Porte Jacquemus stayed in the bubble palace over the summer and got some pretty incredible shots (his Instagram page is a nice escape in itself).
interior-gradient-palais-bulles.jpg
Dezeen has a series of interior shots of the 2016 renovation.
palais-bulles-sink.jpg
pink-interior-palais-bulles.jpg

The Typographic Ticket Book

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 18, 2018

Type Ticket Book

Hoefler & Co are selling copies of The Typographic Ticket Book for type nerds on the go. The idea is that when you’re out and about, you can issue citations for “use of display font at text size” or “unironic use of Helvetica” to people and businesses misusing type.

Contains fifty tickets, each neatly perforated for a satisfyingly loud rip prior to presentation. Bound in soul-deadening municipal pressboard, with a heavy-duty 100pt millboard backing, and foil stamped with an official-looking clip art emblem in gold. Police uniform not included, nor recommended. For novelty use only.

Looks like the book contains a few in-jokes as well…I spotted “$TKTK” as the fine for “failure to replace dummy copy” and the kerning on the fine for “improper kerning” looks a liiittle tight to me.

Lots and Lots of Control Panels

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 03, 2018

Control Panels

Control Panels

Control Panels

This blog collects examples of control panels, analog and digital. The site’s tagline reads “in praise of dials, toggles, buttons, and bulbs”.

Pictured here from top to bottom are a photo of a Berlin power station in 1928 by E.O. Hoppé, typography samples from Hoefler & Co, and the steering wheel from a Formula 1 car. (thx, paul)

Color Palettes Through the Ages

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 10, 2018

Color Leap lets you time travel back through the color palettes of history, from colorful Egyptian sarcophagi circa 2000 BCE to stained glass windows circa 1000 CE to advertisements in the 1950s.

Color Leap 01

Color Leap 02

Clicking on the colors will copy the hex code for that color to your clipboard. (via design observer)

The Web Design Museum

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2018

Ok, if you started using the web 15-25 years ago, prepare yourself for the nostalgic blast of the Web Design Museum.

Web Design Museum

I remember all of these from back in the day — what a trip. Even kottke.org circa 1999 made it in there.

The best designed maps from the past two years

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2018

Published by the North American Cartographic Information Society, the upcoming 2018 Atlas of Design showcases 32 of the best maps made over the past 2 years. Atlas Obscura has a selection of maps featured in the book.

2018 Atlas Of Design

2018 Atlas Of Design

You can preorder the book here or view a list of all the maps and their designers included in the book.

Biodegradable food containers inspired by egg shells & orange peels

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2018

This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall Pass

Inspired by natural packaging like egg shells and orange peels, Swedish design studio Tomorrow Machine created a series of biodegradable food packaging called This Too Shall Pass. Anna Glansén explained the project in an interview with Matters Journal.

Ok, so generally, “This Too Shall Pass” is a series of food packages where the package and its contents are working in symbiosis. In this project, we asked ourselves how packaging can be made in the near future using technology that is available today.

The smoothie’s package consists only of agar-agar seaweed and water. To open it you pick the top and the package will wither at the same rate as the smoothie. It is made for drinks that have a short life span and needs to be refrigerated. For example, fresh juice, smoothies and cream. The packaging reacts to its environment so you could, just by looking at the package, see if it has been exposed to excessive heat during transport.

The rice package is made of biodegradable beeswax. To open it you peel it like an orange. The package is designed to contain dry goods such as grains and rice.

The oil package is made of caramelised sugar, coated with wax. To open it you crack it like an egg. When the material is cracked the wax no longer protects the sugar and the package melts when it comes in contact with water. This package is made for oil-based food.

(via @pieratt)

Typeset in the Future, a book about the typography & design of science fiction movies

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 13, 2018

Typeset In The Future

Inspired by the website of the same name, Dave Addey’s Typeset in the Future will look at how design and typography is used to build futuristic worlds in science fiction movies like 2001, Wall-E, Star Trek, and Blade Runner.

The book delves deep into 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Alien, Blade Runner, Total Recall, WALL-E, and Moon, studying the design tricks and inspirations that make each film transcend mere celluloid and become a believable reality. These studies are illustrated by film stills, concept art, type specimens, and ephemera, plus original interviews with Mike Okuda (Star Trek), Paul Verhoeven (Total Recall), and Ralph Eggleston and Craig Foster (Pixar).

You can pre-order the book on Amazon.

Logos for Trump’s Space Force from eight leading designers

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Bloomberg Businessweek asked eight designers to design a logo for Trump’s proposed new branch of the military, Space Force. 89-year-old Milton Glaser, designer of the iconic I ❤ NY logo, can still bring the heat:

Space Force Logo

I really really *really* want this on a hat. (via df)

Computer-optimized floor plans

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 01, 2018

Optimized Floor Plans

Joel Simon used a generative design process powered by a genetic algorithm to optimize the floor plans of buildings for different characteristics. That is, the algorithm “grew” buildings that had ideal floor plans for minimizing construction materials, shortest fire escape paths, and access to views — without worrying about how the buildings would actually be constructed.

The results were biological in appearance, intriguing in character and wildly irrational in practice.

As building materials and techniques continue to develop beyond the rectilinear bricks and concrete blocks, the “wildly irrational in practice” bit will become increasingly irrelevant. (via bb)

How Trajan became the go-to typeface for movie posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2018

In the early 90s, a digital typeface designed in the 80s — but based on the letterforms used in a Roman column completed in 113 AD — became the go-to typeface for movie poster designers. (Reminder: everything is a remix.) It was used on posters for movies like The Bodyguard, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Children of Men, and Quiz Show. This Vox video details the rise of the Trajan typeface in movie poster design and why its not used that often by big movies anymore.

The original Mac OS Control Panel done in cross-stitch

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 12, 2018

Mac OS Control Panel Cross Stitch

iOS programmer Glenda Adams made a cross-stitch embroidery of the original Control Panel for the Macintosh. Lots of parallels between designing cross-stitch patterns and pixel drawings & fonts. For instance, check out designer Susan Kare’s drawings for some of the original Mac OS icons and compare them to cross-stitch patterns. (P.S. Check out that date…)

See also this Lego Macintosh.

How the safety bicycle changed the world

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 09, 2018

early-ad-rover-safety-wikimedia-commons.jpg

This excerpt from Margaret Guroff’s history The Mechanical Horse focuses on the democratization of the bicycle at the end of the nineteenth century, as new designs made bikes more appealing to businessmen, children, and especially women.

In the 1890s, bikes got lighter as well as more comfortable. The average weight of a bicycle dropped by more than half during the decades first five years, falling from 50 pounds to 23. And since new gearings were able to mimic wheels larger than those of the largest Ordinary, speed records fell too. In 1894, while riding a pneumatic-tired safety around a track in Buffalo, New York, the racer John S. Johnson went a mile in just over one minute and thirty-five seconds, a rate of nearly thirty-eight miles an hour. He beat the previous mile record for a safety by fourteen seconds, and the record for an Ordinary by nearly a minute — and the record for a running horse by one-tenth of a second.

The Ordinary — which had by then acquired the derisive nickname of penny-farthing, after the old British penny and much smaller farthing (quarter-penny) coins — became obsolete. High-wheelers that had sold for $150 to $300 just a year or two earlier were going for as little as $10.

The first safeties, meanwhile, cost an average of $150 during a time when the average worker earned something like $12 a week. At such prices, the new bikes targeted the same upscale demographic as the tricycle. But a strong market for safeties among well-to-do women goosed production, and competition among manufacturers reduced prices, making the bikes affordable to more would-be riders and further fueling demand. In 1895, Americas 300 bicycle companies produced 500,000 safeties at an average price of $75, according to one encyclopedias yearbook. Even manufacturers were surprised at the demand among women, who thrilled to the new machines exhilarating ride. As one female journalist wrote, “If a pitying Providence should suddenly fit light, strong wings to the back of a toiling tortoise, that patient cumberer of the ground could hardly feel a more astonishing sense of exhilaration than a woman experiences when first she becomes a mistress of her wheel.”

Clunky touchscreens are easier to use than slick ones

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 03, 2018

Clunky Touchscreen.png

I really enjoyed Amber Case’s essay “The Hidden Cost of Touchscreens.” It’s a quick but surprisingly thorough look at where touchscreen interfaces are inappropriate or just plain go wrong.

For instance, touchscreens in cars are problematic for anything that’s going to be used during driving, because well, touchscreens require looking at a thing. For muscle memory and mission-critical tasks, physical buttons are better.

But I also appreciated her nuanced, experience-driven take on ways to improve touchscreen design, where too often clean aesthetics have pushed out strict usability.

Touchscreen design could benefit from some basic design principles. Color-based interfaces take less time to parse when they are glanced at. Image-based interfaces take longer for the brain to process, and the lack of contrast can be confusing, because each item must be distinguished from adjacent items. When so many images look alike, service workers must rely on position and muscle memory for speedy use.

When I worked in food service and in the mailroom, the uglier touchscreens were always easier to work with. They were color coded with bright, contrasting colors, making the boundaries between numbers or items very obvious. I found that the colors reduced mistakes. I’d usually tap the right items after barely even glancing at the interface. After a while, I’d only check the screen for mistakes at the end of the process, before submitting an order or printing a receipt.

I think touchscreens in general are more usable now than they used to be, simply because of learning effects: more of us are used to dealing with touch interfaces in lots of different contexts, and we translate that familiarity wherever we go. At a certain point, though, we bump up against some hard limits of the human brain, eyes, and hands. Trying to fight against those hardly ever turns out well.

Album covers designed by Andy Warhol

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

Of course you know he designed the album cover for The Velvet Underground & Nico…Warhol’s name (and not the band’s or the album’s) is right there underneath the electric yellow banana. But he also designed covers for the likes of Paul Anka, John Lennon, The Rolling Stones, Count Basie, Diana Ross, Kenny Burrell, and Aretha Franklin.

Warhol Covers

Warhol Covers

Warhol Covers

Warhol Covers

You can see more covers by Warhol here, here, and here. All of the covers he designed are collected in this book, Andy Warhol: The Complete Commissioned Record Covers.

The beauty of constraints in engineering

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2018

The design of the automatic-drip coffee maker is super simple and clever. By using a one-way value to pump the water to the top of the maker to drip through the grounds, you can get away with using only one heating element at the bottom that both heats the water and keeps the brewed coffee hot.

To engineer an object means to make choices; I’ll show you with this coffeemaker. The key choice: to use a single heating element to keep the cost low — 9 bucks in the case of this coffeemaker. Now the heater must be below the carafe to keep the coffee warm yet it also needs to heat the water for brewing. And since the grounds are at the top, that presents a problem. How do you get the water from down here to up here?

Bill Hammack shows how this works in just over 2 minutes:

Hammack’s videos are great. He also did this 11-minute video about how aluminum cans are designed & engineered and it’s not boring even for a second. (via @macgbrown)