Designed for Children II – Pushing the Envelope

What is a Children’s Book? I’ve shared some beautiful examples of children’s books by famous graphic designers, and recently I stumbled across a couple more that really push the envelope of what a reading experience designed for children can be.

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The Book with No Pictures

From the Vanity Fair article:

B.J. Novak’s The Book with No Pictures comes by its title honestly; the book is one filled with only words, in different fonts and colors and sizes. Funny, creative, and smart, the book, which forces the reader to say a slew of ridiculous words, is guaranteed to get a laugh out of any kid you know

I love so much about this. I love the idea of showing children the power of words, and the sense of exploration in where words can take them. And I love the idea of highlighting that power, and making the words themselves the hero, rather than any accompanying images. It hits home at an early age the power of communication, and that old adage that the pen is more powerful than the sword.

And making the words, as the star of the show, hilarious and delightful and fun and playful and imaginative and silly, just hits home how much fun reading can be—the best lesson there is!

Novak, known for his career as a comedian, started this project because he says he loves reading to children, and getting a laugh out of them. Starting perhaps with the idea that a comedian has to play to his audience, Novak wanted to explore how a children’s book could feel like it was on the child’s side. As he said in an interview with The Atlantic:

“If the adult had to say silly things, I knew the kid would feel very powerful and would feel that books are very powerful. Working backwards, I realized that if there were no pictures, it would be an even more delightful trick: The kid is taking a grown-up style book and using it against the grown-up.”

This idea that books are powerful reminds me of that Carl Sagan quote, which I wrote about before, and love so much:

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.” —Carl Sagan

Anyone that can teach children that books are works of magic is doing something right in my book!

 

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Little Nemo in Slumberland

The other book I wanted to share with you is an old classic: Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay. Recently some friends purchased the large format (10×13) Vol 1 of the Complete Collection of this classic comic strip originally published from 1905 to 1911. It is, admittedly, a little early for their newborn to enjoy it, but they are eagerly awaiting the age they can crack it open and enjoy these stories with their son.

From the Amazon product description:

Winsor McCay’s beautiful dreamscapes appeared in the New York Herald between 1905 and 1911, and the comic strip “Little Nemo” is considered by some to be the best, most brilliant comic strip ever published. Six-year-old Nemo (Latin for no one) falls asleep in his bed and is transported to the fantastical Slumberland—at the request of King Morpheus—where he encounters all kinds of strange creatures. At the end of each trip he wakes up, unsure of what was real and what was a dream. The exquisitely detailed, art-nouveau-style colored panels in this edition are reproduced from rare, vintage file-copy pages. Alongside George Herriman’s bizarre Krazy Kat, McCay’s work helped to create the grammar of comic art. This Little Nemo collection—an entertaining romp into Slumberland—also provides a lovely glimpse into the origins of an art form.

Often listed in the same category as Calvin and Hobbes (my personal all-time-favorite), Little Nemo is no vapid child’s tale with the same old tired stories. The images are fantastic, truly works of art, and the creative plotlines are an almost magical-realism style exploration of the realm of imagination and dreams. Its more mature approach to fantastical stories helps it appeal to both adults and children, and its role in defining and establishing the comic genre gives it a historic and cultural significance.

And it’s kind of just fun to read from a 10×13 book! It’s a good example of the format of the physical object itself giving a playfulness and importance to the content.

Both of these books are superlative examples of what a children’s book can be, and would be a fun addition to any child’s library!

 

Designing the Holidays

Holiday weekends can be jam-packed with parties, gift wrapping, cookie baking, envelope stamping, and general fun times and to do lists. If you need a break, here’s a quick post full of some lovely holiday cards featuring beautiful typography and clean, simple graphics. Enjoy!

From left to right,
Top Row:
1) “Wish you a merry Christmas!” by Áron Jancsó
2) unknown
3) Holiday card from Trollback+Company
4) Christmas illustrations for Fossil by Dustin Wallace

Middle Row:
1) Eames card
2) Designed by Erin Jang of The Indigo Bunting

Bottom Row:
1) HWT Star Ornaments from Hamilton Wood Type
2) “Merry Paper cut” by Silvia Raga
3) unknown
4) Art directed by Seth Nickerson

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.

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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.

Hey, Type Girl

The Hey, Girl meme has spread far and wide, and at this point is rather old hat. But typography jokes are few and far between, and as we type nerds  get so few chances to share our industry inside jokes I couldn’t resist sharing this collection, despite its lack of timeliness. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little extra Ryan Gosling to your day… Enjoy!

Hey Girl Leading Hey Girl Fleurons Hey Girl Ligature Continue reading Hey, Type Girl

Graphic Design Halloween Costumes 2

It’s that time of year again, and I have no idea what I want to be for Halloween. Despite a rather random desire to perhaps wear a wig, I’ve got zero inspiration. So I started looking around for some graphic design-related outfits. There are some fun ones out there, so I thought I’d share this collection with you; categories include typography costumes, Pantone costumes, web design costumes, and famous art costumes).

Typography Costumes

I’ve always thought it’d be fun to go as a letterform, but have never really figured out how to make it work. For example could your hands be serifs, if you did it just right? I haven’t figured it out yet, but here are some ways other people have made it work for them.

The first option seems to be body paint (the face paint example is from a fun article in The Atlantic):

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Font Paint

The second popular technique is cardboard construction:

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Pantone Costumes

These seem like a great idea—easy to make, easy for other people to get, and easily customizable—you can go as whatever color fits your mood. Not that original, but you’re still probably not likely to run into another Pantone color at your Halloween party. The second one’s a little bit weird because it’s actually a Barbie outfit, but it’s still kind of a cool idea…

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Pantone Costume

Web Design Costumes

My original graphic design costume post featured a couple of webby/pixelated get ups that were surprisingly effective, so I went searching for some more web-related options this year. My favorites include an 8-bit mask, a last minute 404 Error tshirt, and a fantastic Firefox logo.

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Firefox logo costume

Famous Design Costumes

And finally, some pretty impressive replicas of famous design and artwork. I featured a Lichtenstein girl in the last costume round up, but I found another really impressive version, complete with speech bubble, that I decided I had to include. There’s also a surrealist Son of Man costume, AND, my favorite of all of these ideas, a costume of the best Banksy artwork out there: the bouquet grenade. I’m betting it takes a lot of work to get the costume looking this good, but this guy did a stellar job!

Roy Lichtenstein costume

small_son of man halloween costume

bansky-costume

The Books of Chic Type

The phenomenal blog Chic Type provides a visual smorgasbord for type nerds, and if you haven’t yet stumbled across it I highly recommend checking it out. Blogger and designer Svetlana Bilenkina shares an amazing assortment of interesting, beautiful and usually custom-made typography, with examples ranging from posters to packaging, including a few awesome book covers.

I recently read her delightful post The Comfort of Thingy-ness Vol II featuring a collection of 20 book covers, and just had to share them. Here are a few of my favorites from that group:

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You might recognize the cover for The Manual of Detection from my previous post, Judging By the Cover—I still think it’s absolutely gorgeous. I also really love the ornate, swashy blackletter type on the cover of Shadow and Bone, and I was unsurprised to learn that the artist was Jen Wang whose beautiful work can also be found on the cover of Into the Woods (which I featured in another one of my posts, On My Wall). If you like the Shadow and Bone cover I recommend reading this great interview with art director Rich Deas which includes some really interesting images from the design development process.

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These two covers also really stuck out for me in the collection of 20. I am a little surprised at how much the typography on Love Slave appeals to me, since it has an almost 70s feel to it that I usually don’t go for. But I like the two shades of green and the graceful swashes combined with the stencil-like lines of the title—it hits a nice balance between cliche-ly romantic and a slightly edgier aesthetic. I also think that the title is well incorporated with the image, in terms of both composition and color. Perhaps the one thing I would change is the treatment of the author’s name, which currently seems to be crowding the title and fighting with it for prominence.

The other cover, The Kingdom of Ohio, isn’t really doing anything particularly original or innovative, it’s just pretty and fun to look at. Nothing wrong with that! And I’m super curious what the book is about—I might have to pick that one up at my local bookstore.

One thing I found interesting in the Chic Design post was the author’s comment about the joys of physical books, as opposed to just ogling the covers online. A bit ironic perhaps for a design blogger to be saying, but I know exactly what she means when she says:

“There is something inherently different between seeing the covers online, and touching them and feeling all the intricacies that went into their design and production.”

It’s good to remind myself that while it can be so easy to browse book designs online, there really is no replacement for the experience of browsing in an actual bookstore. All the little details about paper choice, the smell of a book and it’s weight in your hand, and the really quality details like embossing or foil stamping, are completely lost in the online experience, but they are something worth hanging on to.

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.

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