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Designers Tackle the 36 Days of Type 2018

#36DaysofType

Each day a new character, and in our case, a new designer as we passed around the alphabet to explore type, animation, illustration, storytelling and more. Designers and illustrators around the world participated in 36 Days of Type by posting to instagram and connected with the #36DaysOfType hashtags. We decided to tackle the challenge as a team this April and May. Repetition invites creativity and crafting. We also invited the opportunity to try new techniques. We stuck (somewhat) to our original color palette and prescribed dimensions and dove in.

Each designer chose their favorite letter and gave some background. (Check out this reference for a quick guide on technical type terms.)

C

Joel

I always appreciate projects like 36 Days of Type for creating opportunities to try new tools and solutions in a design setting. I used much of that opportunity to explore computer-generated three-dimensional design and animation. While there are quite a few examples of this in the library of type we created, this “Inflatable C” is one of my favorite results of that exploration. While it’s quite minimal, it shows off some of the new options that the third dimension can create for designers like convincing depth in the subject and a more robust use of simulated physics. Along with all of that, this piece just makes me think of summer.

G

Kirstie

The double-story (or looptail) “g” is one of my all-time favorite letterforms. Even though it’s mostly superfluous, difficult to write and unrecognizable to the majority of population, I love how it seems to capture all of the personality of a typeface and its designer. For this illustration, I wanted to take full advantage of the letterform and do something playful to link the two counters. The shapes reminded me of pools of water, so I turned them into little ponds and, in the name of the letter “g,” added a goldfish leaping between the two. It’s a quirky little fish at home in a quirky little letter.

J

Alison

I think the most interesting part of a capitalized J is its arm. Many sans serif fonts do away with it for simplicity’s sake, but I like the way it can balance the otherwise asymmetrical form. I started with a grid paper sketch to articulate my idea. On paper I could visualize how to fit the two scoops of each J shape together and experiment with softly curved terminals. Then I moved to the Procreate app for iPad. I used a chalky brush to give body to the letter, and then used the eraser tool to define the edges and corners. Procreate allows layers so I could add illustrated florals between the tall, narrow J and the more squat, overreaching J tucked in where I wanted—and still have each piece editable. I fit organic shapes and ornaments in and around the ribbons to complete the bright composition.

K

Tim

One of my favorite aspects of the 36 Days of Type project was that it gave us freedom within a rigid structure. That sounds like a contradiction but it’s not—the project was completely open-ended, with no direction or client feedback, but at the same time, the content was inflexible (the letter of the day), the timeframe was limited (one letter each day) and as a team we also chose to limit ourselves to a common color palette. Freedom within constraints can lead to remarkably creative solutions.

For some of my letters I tried to build a formal letter shape, conforming to typographic traditions and crafted for legibility and grace. This K is an example. After looking at other K shapes in a variety of fonts and calligraphy I identified some of the geometric “bones” that I wanted to build my K around.

In other letter explorations, I chose a more conceptual approach. I thought it would be fun to build the letter P shape out of large, oversized pixels. In the animated version of this “P is for Pixels” composition, I created a digital sort of shimmer by slowly fading each block between a few different values of blue.

X

Brady

I love projects that require a series of explorations around the same prompt. Eventually your typical approach to the problem starts to feel tired and uninspired and you are forced to try something you might not normally consider. 36 Days of Type was that sort of project for me (even in just the 7 or so iterations I completed as part of our team approach).

Part way through my initial explorations began to lose their initial spark and I started looking around my environment at home for inspiration. We have a variety of patterned fabrics and other materials around the house, from curtains to coasters, and while studying them one evening I started to imagine how those patterns would look in motion. One pattern in particular happens to feel very much like a grid of geometric letter X’s.

Once I tested the idea with X, I wondered about the same concept applied to a different pattern-letter combination. It was interesting approaching the problem from the other direction the second time around, starting with a particular letter or number and trying to discover it in an already existing pattern.

You can see the whole set from the MJM design team on our Instagram account or by watching the video below!

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Can You Read Me Now: Choosing Fonts for Cataract Patients

All over the country, doctors and their teams work hard to restore vision for their patients. The ophthalmologist’s toolbox is outfitted with trusted, life-changing procedures and techniques like advanced cataract surgery with lenses that help patients rely less on their glasses. Eye care professionals help change their patients’ perspective by making the world brighter and clearer.

At MJM, we help provide clinics with educational tools, brochures, ads and websites that cater to people with cataracts. One of the tools in the designer’s toolbox is typography. From signage and directions to brochure and website fonts, legible type can set the tone for a patient’s experience.

Here are a few things we keep in mind when we make typography decisions for audiences with limited vision:

1. Choose high-contrast colors

Cataracts prevent some light from reaching parts of the eye that create an image. When text color is too similar to background color, letters and words may become muddled and difficult to distinguish. Black or very dark text on a white background is most legible.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - choose high contrast colors

2. Choose full-bodied letters

Fonts with a tall x-height, wide letters and long descenders and ascenders are easier to discern because they take up more space and create shapes that are easily recognizable.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - choose full-bodied letters

3. Used mixed-case type

ALL CAPS not only appears to shout, but it also can make text harder to read. So can italics. Our brains read words as shapes rather than identifying individual letters. And since we are more used to reading in sentence case, our minds can process those words more quickly.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - use mixed-case type

4. Choose moderate stroke contrast

Find a happy medium between uniform thickness (like Futura and other trendy sans serif fonts) and super high contrast. To someone with blurred vision, an ultra-thin stem can virtually disappear from the page.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - choose moderate stroke contrast

5. Avoid condensed fonts

They narrow the natural shape of letter forms to take up less space. But, this also means that they are more difficult to read.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - avoid condensed fonts

6. Use serifs for paragraphs

Serifs are like little signposts telling our eyes where a letter begins and ends. In a paragraph, they direct our eye traffic as we dig into longer copy.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - use serifs for paragraphs

7. Stay positive

Negative text (white on a dark background) gives the illusion that the letters are thinner than they actually are, making them more difficult to read.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - stay positive

8. Size matters

Twelve-point font looks different for Futura than it does for Brandon Grotesque. Printing an example proof can help tell if the font is going to be large enough.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - size matters

9. Embrace space

Without enough space between lines, letters and around the text block, legibility is compromised. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Increase leading (space between lines) to about 1.5 times the normal amount.
  • Increase tracking (space between letters) so letters are less likely to visually run into one another.
  • Increase the margins to appropriately frame the text.
  • Write concise copy. Adding content to a limited space can compromise legibility. Shorter copy can be compelling, especially when it gets read.

Graphic about choosing fonts for cataract patients - embrace space

Like most rules in design, there are always exceptions. A font with uniform line thickness and low x-height like Brandon Grotesque compensates by increasing the leading (space between lines) without manual adjustment. The font that populates a brochure may not be the best for an outdoor parking lot sign.

Reference: http://www.aiga.org/typography-and-the-aging-eye

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How to Fall in Love with Your Audience

I love being a graphic designer. But there are days when I find myself feeling listless—like everything I make is nothing more than meaningless, ephemeral “stuff.” To combat this problem, I’ve been trying something new: falling in love.

I don’t mean the fairytale romance kind of love. I mean the love that comes from genuinely caring about someone other than yourself. The kind of love that allows you to see the world from a different perspective.

Whether you’re a designer, content creator or business owner, falling in love with your audience can help reignite the passion for your work and allow you to do work that can actually make a difference in someone’s life.

1. Be Interested

Note that this does not say be interesting. Remember that this is about them, not you. Resist the urge to rattle off qualifications or experience and instead just listen. Treat every interaction with your audience—whether face-to-face or virtual—like a first date by giving them the gift of your full, undivided attention.

Ask them about their day, their likes, their dislikes, their hopes, their dreams. The more you’re able to see your audience as a complex, beautiful person and not just a customer or a patient, the more motivated you are to provide useful solutions to their problems.

2. Be Observant

If you’re meeting someone in-person, take notice of their surroundings. If you’re meeting in their home or office, pay attention to how they’ve created their environment. What people choose to surround themselves with can say a lot about them.

If you’re meeting someone outside of their environment, you can still pay attention to their mannerisms—the way they speak and carry themselves. Pick up on the little quirks and mannerisms that make each person unique. Hold onto these little gems and pull them out whenever you feel yourself getting frustrated and losing sight of who you’re working for.

4. Be Empathetic

As the creator of your message or service, you have the benefit of much more context than your audience. This divide is particularly striking when handling criticism or complaints. If someone comes to you with a problem, you likely already know that problem exists and have an excuse at the ready.

But rather than begin on the defensive, try to see it from their perspective. Reframe the problem and try to solve it in a way that most benefits them and not just in the way that is easiest for you. This will not only give you more compassion for your audience, but also provide you with greater insight into how to make your product or service better.

4. Fake It

Of course, there are many times when you don’t have direct access to your audience or it’s simply too vast to get to know them on a personal level. If that’s the case, you may just have to fake it.

Glean whatever information you can from customer surveys, user comments or social media followers and craft personas of who your audience might be. Think about what their lives might be like and consider how that will affect how they interact with your content or service. Find stock photos and stick them somewhere you can see them so you can put a face to your audience. The decisions based on these personas may not be authentic, but they will at least be sincere.

Remember that love is a choice. And when we choose to love the people we serve, it changes all of our lives for the better.

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Fresh Starts

January is all about fresh starts. There’s a white blanket of new snow on the ground. The air is crisp and clear. It’s the perfect time to re-center and re-focus. One of my January rituals is to go through every item I own and get rid of anything that no longer seems useful or relevant. It’s a process that always leaves me with a sense of lightness and clarity. By getting rid of things I no longer need, I can see how much I’ve grown and changed over the last year.

But as much as I appreciate this process once it’s over, the toughest part is always letting go of the things that I had high hopes for. The dress that should have made me look like a million bucks but never fit quite right. The book I thought would be excellent conversation fodder but  never actually read. When it comes to items like these, giving them away feels more like giving up.

I often struggle with the same problem when designing. When I’ve invested so much time and thought on an idea, it can be hard let it go even when I recognize it’s not working. It’s so tempting to double down, to invest even more time to try and make my vision a reality. But I usually only succeed in digging a deeper hole for myself to climb out of.

So recently, I’ve been trying a new tactic: being grateful.

Just because you’ve spent time on an idea that didn’t pan out doesn’t mean that it was time wasted. Just like a dress that doesn’t fit, an unrealized idea doesn’t have to be a failure or a mistake. It can serve a purpose — if only to teach you what not to do.

So rather than clinging on for dear life, acknowledge when something isn’t working, be grateful for the lesson you learned, and let it go.

With a new year comes endless new possibilities and it’s inevitable that some of those possibilities won’t work out. So embrace the uncertainty and appreciate everything you learn along the way.

Inspiration vs. Replication

Inspiration is one of the most necessary tools in a designer’s arsenal. It can also be one of the most dangerous if used incorrectly. Pablo Picasso once said “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” There are a few meanings to this, but the core message is that inspiration is something that shouldn’t necessarily be chosen preemptively to the start of the process. Expressive inspiration will reveal itself after one has done their homework.

In the design world, paying close attention to the trends others are establishing and following is essential to staying modern. There has never been a successful designer who didn’t watch closely what others were making. A terrific way to do this is paying attention to what is winning awards. This watchfulness is absolutely necessary, but it can also be a trap. If one merely spends their career replicating trends, everything that person creates will ultimately be homogenized and undifferentiated.

Replication is the downfall of the effective graphic designer. Peering at works at face value and simply following those exact guidelines in their work is not how one should approach their process. The effective designer will use inspiration, but before they can use it, they must do their own studying. They need to break it down and understand what exactly about the designs they are analyzing makes them successful and if any of the same elements have a place in their project. It is entirely likely that an element that works so well in one project may completely ruin something else.

Once a designer understands what concepts will strengthen their own, this allows them to branch out from that inspiration. Branching out from here allows the designer to use their plentiful creativity to build on top of their concepts and step into new lands design-wise. At this very point, they’ve now crossed over into creating something that is entirely their own, but with a foundation of understanding good design elements. Understanding this process can be the real difference between a sufficient designer and an award winner.

Returning to what Picasso said, finding inspiration is not the first task. Developing a path that will lead a person to the most appropriate inspiration and building from there should be. The end product will be that much better because of it.