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kottke.org posts about design

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)

Flowing Data’s Best Data Visualizations of 2019

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2020

Nathan Yau of Flowing Data picked his ten favorite data visualization projects for 2019. All the projects listed are worth a look … but maybe, just maybe, this post is really just an excuse to let my eyes feast upon Scott Reinhard’s historic topographic maps once again.

Scott Reinhard

Designer Scott Reinhard takes old geological survey maps and combines them with elevation data to produce these wonderful hybrid topographic maps. From top to bottom, here are Reinhard’s 3D versions of a 1878 USGS Yellowstone map, a 1904 USGS map of Acadia National Park, and a 1899 USGS map of the Grand Tetons.

Shampoo Packaged in “Bottles” Made of Soap

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2019

Product designer Jonna Breitenhuber has come up with an interesting way to get rid of plastic shampoo and body wash containers: by packaging the liquids in bottles made of slow-dissolving soap.

Soapbottle

Soapbottle

Soapbottle is a packaging made from soap. As the content within is being used, the soap packaging very gradually dissolves. When finished, remnants can be used again, as hand soap or processed into detergents. Soap is made of natural ingredients and is biodegradable: waste can be completely avoided.

You can see Soapbottle in action here:

I love that you open the bottle by cutting the corner off with a knife. See also Biodegradable Food Containers Inspired by Egg Shells & Orange Peels. (via moss & fog)

Beautiful News Daily

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 27, 2019

Beautiful News

Beautiful News

Beautiful News

Each day since the beginning of October, the team of designers, technologists, and researchers at Beautiful News Daily (a project by Information Is Beautiful) have been posting infographics and data visualizations that share some good news about the world. The site’s tagline is “unseen trends, uplifting stats, creative solutions”.

The bad news we see everyday on news websites, newspaper front pages, and magazine covers is important (or can be, if it’s not designed to keep people frightened and hooked on the news), but the good news is just as significant (or can be, if it doesn’t cause you to forget the world’s true suffering and turmoil).

You can keep up with Beautiful News via their website, their weekly newsletter, or Twitter & Instagram. (via moss & fog)

Renderings of Our Dystopian Pop Culture Future

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2019

For more than 11 years for a series he calls Everydays, Mike Winkelmann (aka Beeple) has been making a daily picture. As you might expect from the breakneck pace, some of them aren’t that interesting (there’s a lot of juvenile stuff here tbh), but my favorite ones are the Black Mirror-ish with decayed or repurposed pop cultural references.

Beeple

Beeple

Beeple

Beeple

You can view more of Winkelmann’s work on Behance, Tumblr, and his website. (via dense discovery)

The Hippie Aesthetic of the 60s Is “Art Nouveau on Acid”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2019

I had somehow never registered this before, but it was (ridiculously) obvious once it was pointed out to me in this video: the psychedelic design of music posters in the 60s were inspired in part by the Art Nouveau movement of the late 1800s. For instance, here’s an absinthe advertisement from the 1890s and a 1966 Pink Floyd poster.

60s Posters Art Nouveau

“You can draw a straight line between Art Nouveau and psychedelic rock posters,” Martin Hohn, president of the Rock Poster Society, says. “Mucha, Jules Chéret, Aubrey Beardsley. Borrow from everything. The world is your palette. It was all meant to be populist art. It was always meant to be disposable.” He later adds: “What the artists were saying graphically was the same thing the rock bands were saying musically.”

Life in Miniature

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 19, 2019

Delph Miniatures is a small company that makes what they call “modern miniatures”, 1/12th scale miniatures of everyday things like washing machines, ironing boards, and mobility scooters. Ellen Evans’ short documentary about the miniatures and the mother/daughter team who make them is completely delightful; I love everything about these women and their work.

They make contemporary miniatures because they want to represent our culture as it is right now and not as it was back in Victorian or Elizabethan times.

Our inspiration is not in resource books or museums, but physically around us, all the time, in our homes, in the shops of our home city, Bradford, and in the lives of our friends and family. We love creating something different and modern that someone wants. In this way our range has expanded as people have asked for more new things. Ideas are all around us. You may be living in a Victorian house but you still have your TV, your microwave, and your computer.

Just look at this meticulous work by Kath Holden and Margaret Shaw — the attention to detail is inspiring:

Delph Miniatures

Delph Miniatures

Delph Miniatures

Yes, that’s a wee condom and its wrapper, which Delph assures us is made of actual latex and “the correct size diameter scaled down of a standard condom”. You can buy your own here for £8.58. The mobility scooter is £77.81 and you can buy everything you need to make a mini beauty salon right here, including a “free wifi” sign and dome-type security camera. Shop the rest of their store here..so many good things! (via the morning news)

Logos of Video Game Consoles from 1976 to the Present

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 14, 2019

Video Game Console Logos

Reagan Ray has collected the logos of video game consoles from 1976 to the present. He ignores the first generation of consoles because there would have been too many to include. (Historical interlude: I didn’t know gaming consoles were broken down into generations. Apparently we’re in the 8th generation now — Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, and Switch.)

See also Ray’s collections of classic airline logos, record label logos, 80s action figure logos, American car logos, etc..

A Fresh Look for The Atlantic

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2019

The Atlantic launched a new visual identity the other day, complete with a new logo, custom typeface, updated website, and iOS app. Here’s the first cover carrying the new look:

Atlantic Redesign

The effort was led by Peter Mendelsund and his senior art director Oliver Munday. You can hear the pair talk a bit about their process here:

And more from Mendelsund in this conversation with editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg:

My favorite kind of design is a kind of time-released design, where you look at something and you have an immediate impression of it, and then you, upon further reflection, find something in the design that adds to or subverts that first impression.

Really nice work and methodology behind it. Hearing designers talk about how they approach their work always makes me miss practicing design on a daily basis, a former vocation of mine that seems very very far away these days.

Posters as gateways to a more expansive world

posted by Patrick Tanguay   Nov 04, 2019

While we’re on the world building topic, here’s another article on design within games, this one about the posters used in the upcoming Control and the Polish cyberpunk-horror game Observer.

Observer poster by Mateusz Lenart

Alongside various made up advertisements, brands, book covers and propaganda signs, posters are symbolic of a larger universe, helping to broaden and flesh out any fictional world. An incredible amount of effort is put into creating video game settings, and the poster is but one of many tiny details carefully designed to draw you deeper.

The designers for both games were able to research the vast number of posters of different periods and locations to inform their own creations.

“Posters were a great tool for us to build a story and establish the world design. In one way, they show how this future world is organised, the rules of it etc. but they also represent the protagonist’s various dilemmas,” Lenart explains.

Control poster by Jenna Seikkula

“If done right, [the posters] can help convey everything from small trivial details to the broader story arc. These aspects enrich and deepen the lore and the world.”

Observer glitch poster by Mateusz Lenart