Exploring Stories

I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I finished my thesis project, Same Moon, and graduated from my MFA program! Time flies, especially when you’re no longer pulling all-nighters.

My thesis project was a two-year process, and it was incredibly challenging, but it was also so much fun. Possibly my favorite part of this multifaceted project was designing an interactive ebook, which I called Exploring Stories, that used stories to allow a traveler to explore a famous historical place.

Exploring Stories - LaunchThe concept for Exploring Stories was, whether visiting a site or simply exploring from the armchair at home, users could read stories that were geotagged to specific spots within a map of the tourist destination (Angkor Wat, in the case of my demo), and explore the rich heritage of the place, told from many different perspectives and times throughout history.

The stories represented the physical space, and were navigated via a map rather than a traditional, linear Table of Contents. Users could bookmark their favorites, or explore other stories from the same time period or perspective. Users could also add their own stories to the map, to share with others or keep private in a sort of journal.

For users who were actually at Angkor Wat, their position showed up on the map so the app could be used almost as a guide, and users could access the stories near to them, and stand in the places the story was referencing.

Check out the demo video I put together below:

It was so much fun for me to explore what reading could be, and really push the limits of what defines a book or a reading experience. I love that the interactivity of ebooks or apps allows for new kinds of interaction—in mine, the user gets to go exploring, choose their own adventure and even add their own stories to the “book.” And the interactive abilities allowed me to build a tool that enabled users see the world from different perspectives, and provided an engaging portal to access history and make it come alive, rather than be lost in the past.

exploringstories-map1 exploringstories-map2  Screen Shot 2015-04-16 at 11.18.53 AMexploringstories-bayon exploringstories-train

I was inspired in a lot of ways by The Silent History app, which I wrote about in a previous blogpost, and by an amazing service called Maptia, where users tag blogposts to a map of the globe. If you aren’t familiar with them, I highly recommend checking both of them out!


Four Years in a Book

Dear Readers,

My sincerest apologies in having been so neglectful in writing these last few months. I have been incredibly busy finishing my MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in Graphic Design, and sacrificed a lot of my favorite pastimes—including gardening, watching movies, and unfortunately, writing blog posts—in order to do so. But the deed is done, my diploma in hand, and I am back!

One of the final steps in graduating, as a designer, is to put together a portfolio of the work I did over these last four years. While the vast majority of people view design portfolios online, and when I go to interviews all I really ever show is my portfolio website on my iPad, we are still required to also create a beautifully designed portfolio book to showcase our work. And I have to say—despite it being less relevant than it used to be, I’m really glad to have my work collected in such a lovely, bound anthology. There is something about the heft of a book, the texture of a page, and going through all those projects one page after another, that gives a certain feeling of gravitas to my work. For all its versatility and accessibility, the online portfolio just doesn’t quite capture that same feeling.

Working Magic: TOCI had a lot of fun designing my portfolio book. I am interested in digital design and book design, and I love both cutting edge design developments as well as the history and tradition of design going back to the days before set type and the printing press, so I tried to bring that juxtaposition of modern design and design heritage into my portfolio. I chose an old-fashioned blackletter typeface and a modern sans serif, I found layout inspiration in the simplicity of pages from illuminated manuscripts, and tracked the project number in the upper right corner in a visual style that echoes the step by step indicator in software wizards. In general, I tried to exemplify my personal style, with clean and elegant layouts, lots of white space, bright colors and  little details that add fun and a bit of interest to the simplicity.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Capable of Working Magic, my portfolio design was inspired in part by a quote from Carl Sagan. In it, he talks about the power of books to communicate and bring together people from different epochs, which to him seems “proof that humans are capable of work magic.” I love that quote for many reasons, and in particular for how it seems to really express delight in design.  This idea of delightful design is something I value, and wanted to emphasize throughout my portfolio.

Working Magic-IntroductionWorking Magic-quoteOne of the challenges to creating a beautiful, professional book is figuring out how to present the rough stuff—the process, the sketches, the drafts—in a way that doesn’t look jarring next to the polished finished work. One technique I used was to put the wireframes or sketches on a navy background, sometimes with little notes scrawled on the edges to show thought process and development.

WorkingMagic-wireframesWorkingMagic-LogoSketchesAnother fun design challenge was designing my portfolio website. For all that I love my portfolio book, at the end of the day my website is more important. The challenge with the website was to create an interactive, responsive, screen-viewing experience that had the same aesthetic as the physical 8×10 printed book that I designed. This meant the same typography styles and color scheme, and a simple, clean layout that referenced the layouts I used in the book, but adapted for the web viewing experience, taking into account things like the ability to scroll and needing to look good on screen sizes changing from a large desktop to a potential employer’s small smartphone.

Working Magic-Chap1

PortfolioWebsiteIf you are interested in viewing more of my portfolio book, you can find it online on issuu, and my online portfolio is at www.rebecca-wright.com.


Around October last year I decided to bite the bullet, man up, go for gusto, no guts no glory, buckle down, gird my loins, etc etc, and submit my work to the Creative Quarterly design contest. Our directors do a pretty good job of keeping us informed on upcoming contests and submission deadlines, but I’d always lacked the confidence in my work to actually submit anything. However, having finished two years of grad school, and knowing that one of my classmates had been selected as a winner of this contest last year, I decided that I just might possibly finally potentially maybe have good enough work to submit to the contest.

Plus, Creative Quarterly had a student category, a submission fee of only $40 per design which is apparently outrageously cheap, and unlimited submissions which meant that I didn’t have to go through the agonizing indecision involved in picking just one piece. How could I not submit?

In the end I chose four pieces: my religious architecture posters and future of furniture book (both of which I polished up over break), my most recent typography project on Huronia and the language of the Inuit, and my poster from my film festival project last semester (I thought the poster turned out particularly well. Or rather, it was the one piece that I wasn’t embarrassed about!). I rushed to photograph and submit a couple of them, especially the Huronia project, as I had only finished it two days before. I agonized over touching up the photographs and choosing the final images, filled out the submission form, and nervously hit submit.

And then, honestly, I kind of forgot I had submitted them. I knew it would take awhile to hear back, and I was so swamped with school projects that the contest just sort of faded away into the back of my brain and then into oblivion.

So when I got an email in late December with the subject line “CQ30 Runners Up Announcement” it took me a minute to figure out what it was talking about. And then I realized my work, while not a winner, was selected as a runner up, and that in fact I had two of these emails—two of my four submissions had been selected (the film festival poster and the future of furniture book)! However, I immediately wondered how meaningful this was, if perhaps dozens and dozens or even hundreds of entries were selected as runners up. But when I went to www.cqjournal.com/winners.html, my name was in the Graphic Design: Student, Runners Up category with 10 others, and my name was the only one with an asterisk to “denote multiple winners.”

Film Festival Poster
Film Festival Poster
Future of Furniture Book
Future of Furniture Book

All in all I’d say that’s not too shabby for my first contest submission. Still room for improvement, but this helps give me faith that I’m actually creating and designing things to be proud of. It’s always nice to know that other designers like what I create. The work itself will be showcased online when the Creative Quarterly 30 issue is sent out in the spring, but perhaps my favorite part of this whole thing is that my name is officially listed on a webpage named winners.html!

My Typographic Murmuration

Do you know what a murmuration is? The first definition is what it sounds like, the act of murmuring. Its second definition, however, is a group of starlings. Groups of different animals have different names, from a herd to a flock to a swarm to a school. Some animals have very specific names, including a gaggle of geese and a murmuration of starlings, or on the more sinister side, a murder of crows and an unkindness of ravens.

(You really have to see the birds in motion to understand how amazing they are.)

I’ve only ever seen a murmuration once, when I was studying abroad in Florence in the fall of 2008. According to this great Quick Guide on murmurations, this was the exactly the right place to be in order to experience it: “[this] mesmerizing act is typically seen at dusk throughout Europe, between November and February. Each evening, shortly before sunset, starlings can be seen performing breathtaking aerial manoeuvres, before choosing a place to roost for the night. These range in number from a few hundred to tens of thousands of birds.”

It is such a beautiful phenomenon, and such an awesome word; I’ve always loved sharing it with people. So when I needed to chose a visual theme for a book I was assigned on typography this semester, I decided to go with starling murmurations. The idea was to use it as a inspiration for the abstract illustrations and a visual metaphor for explaining the rules and concepts of typography.

I ended up having so much fun with my designing murmurations. I used the two photographs below (found on the blog Chasing Light) as a basis for some of my spreads, but everything else was based on typographic forms and abstract arrangements of curves.

Murmuration #9, Rome, Italy, 2009

Murmuration #5, Rome, Italy, 2009

I also used Processing, a programming language built for visual design, and found a program that simulated flocking situations. With the help of a computer-programming friend, I edited the program to use letterforms instead of the original triangle shapes as the flocking objects, and took screenshots of the resulting program. I combined those with abstract line arrangements and patterns of large black letterforms. Every illustration I tried to make evoke movement, wind, groups, a flock of birds, and the graceful lines formed by a murmuration of starlings.


Table of Contents Letterforms Digital Type Type Categories Punctuation Leading Set Type

Designing Sacred Spaces

I recently revamped a student project done for my Experimental Typography class last semester. I’d put a lot of work into the images, but I wasn’t entirely satisfied with how the final layout had turned out. So during my vacation I took a few days to re-evaluate it, figure out what parts I wanted to keep and what I wanted to redo. Below is the description of my project; you can also see it up on the Behance Network: Designing Sacred Spaces.

For Experimental Type class we were given the assignment to create a series of three 18″ by 24″ posters on architecture that use hand-made type. I chose to theme mine on religious architecture (I’ve always been fascinated by what makes a space feel sacred), with the first poster on Cathedrals (featuring stained glass), the second on Mosques (featuring geometric tile patterns) and the third on Buddhist Temples (featuring wood carved). The three posters featured words used in prayer or meditation in their religion.

Designing Sacred Spaces, Lecture 1: Cathedrals
Designing Sacred Spaces, Lecture 2: Mosques
Designing Sacred Spaces, Lecture 3: Buddhist Temples

One of the difficulties was that a lot of the beauty of these religious spaces comes from the intricate, time-intensive detail that they are decorated with—the challenge was to figure out how I could create a reasonable replica of the style with the resources available to me. For the Cathedral poster I used a skill I learned in high school and designed and created the stained glass window myself (I bought supplies and rented studio space at San Francisco Stained Glass Works). The Mosque and Temple posters I created using a laser wood cutting machine at the Stanford Machine Shops. I used photoshop to touch up the photos, including adjusting the colors to have a deep, rich feel to them and make sure there was enough visual differentiation between the two designs cut on the laser cutter.

For the poster composition I wanted to strike the somewhat difficult balance between a structural, clean modern architectural feel and the intricate, rich, traditional older feel of the religious buildings. For a sense of structure I used alignment and variations in size and leading for the different text blocks, along with two light rules. I used the typeface Pullman for the main title and the list of lecture topics on the left column, which is an angular typeface with a geometrical feel that I felt gave it a more intricate, ritual aspect. The other typeface I wanted to be very clean and simple, to balance the character of Pullman, so I chose Univers in a variety of weights and sizes. I also tied the posters together by giving all three a column of black on the left, where I traced the continuation of the the photographs to emphasize that the lectures were about designing these spaces and give a subtle allusion to a blue print or plan for the design.

All three posters feature original photographs of original artwork. All work copyright Rebecca Wright.

Angel Island and Its Ghosts

On Monday I turned in the final version of my “iPad App” for type class (aka a pdf with the same dimensions as an iPad screen)—mine was on Angel Island. It was really fun to create, in part because it required me to take the ferry over to Angel Island twice and spend a morning/afternoon walking around, enjoying the beautiful, peaceful island, and taking pictures.

I wanted to talk about the history of Angel Island, which is really quite fascinating and remarkably unknown. I focused on a few specific areas of its history:

  • Chapter 1 was on European discovery (the first European ship in San Francisco Bay, the San Carlos, anchored off of Angel Island)
  • Chapter 2 was on Native Americans (I tried to focus on the Coast Miwok tribe, which used to frequent Angel Island, but also discussed the Mission Dolores, and the essentially genocide during the California Gold Rush)
  • Chapter 3 was on Chinese Immigrants (Angel Island was home to an Immigration station, the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island, which dealt with a lot of Asian immigrants during a time of American racial discrimination against them. Many other immigrants came through that station, but I focused on Chinese)
  • Chapter 4 was on recent history as a California State Park

This did skip several interesting episodes of the island’s history, but I did what was feasible for the scale of this project (~30 pages). My goal for the aesthetics was for it to feel a little bit historical, ghostly, and official/bureaucratic, in order to emphasize its role in history. Also, keep in mind it was for my class on Experimental Typography, so it is a little bit on the unusual side. I’ve included a small selection of the 34 pages below. Enjoy—feedback appreciated!

(all work copyright Rebecca Wright)