The show that explores timeless design principles and explains them simply. We discuss graphic design in particular, and design in general, to equip you with lessons in process, inspiration, and practice. Get a new concept under your belt in mere minutes and unleash your creativity.
Design Guy, Episode 40, Talking About Type: Let Your Voice Be Heard!
Download Episode 40 Talking About Type: Let Your Voice Be Heard! Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply.And before we begin, I'd like to announce my sponsor for the coming episodes. Yes, I have a sponsor. And that's Mark Batty Publisher. Mark Batty is an independent publisher dedicated to making distinctive books on the visual art of communicating. Affordable, well designed, thoughtfully created, and produced to last, MBP books are artful products that readers want to hold onto forever.A great example of their books, and one that ties in with this episode is the title, "Dot-Font - Talking About Fonts by John D. Berry. You may know Mr. Berry from his dot-font columns at CreativePro.com, which is a site I've enjoyed for many years. Berry, who is both an editor and a designer, himself, talks critically and entertainingly about type designers, font technology, and how lettering and type are ubiquitous in our culture. I've got a copy in my hand right now - It's a beautiful, perfect bound edition, just filled with great visual examples. Again, that's Dot-Font - Talking about Fonts. You can pick it up at markbattypublisher.com or, of course, at Amazon.Well, we're talking about Type. Typography. And we kicked off the discussion last time with a refresher on the importance of Type as that central and defining element in graphic design. It's what distinguishes it from other arts because everything we do traces to a definite message. A typographic one.And type is our primary artwork. Those letterforms are the clip art, so to speak, that we reach for above all else. And that's because these characters, these visual symbols, with which we encode our communications are evocative all by themselves. Designers often skip the other visuals, like photos and illustration, altogether, because Type, all by itself, has the power to produce images and emotions, even sound in the human mind.R. Hunter Middleton, said:(quote)"Typography is the voice of the printed page. But typography is meaningless until seen by the human eye, translated into sound by the human brain, heard by the human ear, comprehended as thought, and stored as memory." (unquote).In the book, Environmental Interpretation, contributor Richard Dahn writes:(quote)"In approaching typographic choices, it's helpful to keep in mind that typography has a "visual voice" that is dependent on the typeface chosen, its sizes and organization within (your) format, and the nature of the message. Emphatic messages such as EXTREME DANGER, KEEP OUT would demand the use of a heavy bold sans serif type, while a quote by Aldo Leopold might look better in a Roman serif set with generous line spacing. The visual impact on a sign can welcome the viewer to read and reinforce the meaning and sense of the message, or it can speak in such a dull and confused voice that the viewer will totally ignore the sign, or worse, misinterpret what is being said." (unquote)And I'm going to keep rolling with one more quotation...In Alex White's, The Elements of Graphic Design, he begins a chapter titled, "Listening to Type" with a word from El Lissitzky.Lissitzky says, (quote) "Typographic arrangement should achieve for the reader what voice tone conveys for the listener." (unquote)White furthers this by saying, "What do we mean by "listening to type"? Imagine listening to a book recorded on tape. The reader's voice changes with the story, helping the listener hear the various characters and emotion. A story told on paper should do the same thing. The "characters" that typographers work with are...headlines, subheads, captions, text, and so forth. These typographic characters are our players and must be matched for both individual clarity and overall unity."(end of quotation)Now, a few episodes back, I did what felt like kind of an offb
Design Guy, Episode 39, Talking About Type: An Introductory Word
Download Episode 39 Design Guy, Episode 39, Talking About Type: An Introductory Word Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply. Today, we turn our attention to Type. That grand subject of design, of graphic design in particular. And we'll seek to just approach the topic. This topic is the Everest of Graphic Design, and from a Graphic Design perspective, this is where a show like this one really begins. And that's because Typography is the heart and soul of graphic design. It's the bedrock. It's what makes graphic design what it is, and what separates it from other disciplines and arts. In an early episode, we set down the distinction between graphic design and the fine arts in order to make this very point. And it bears repeating, because often we're not clear on the difference. The lines between the visual arts seem kind of blurry, we might think the difference is one of mere format or of the techniques and tools employed to create the work. And while there's some truth to this, the ultimate distinction has to do with the role and purpose of type in graphic design. A difference in our objectives in using type. And what is that goal? Well, the goal is simply to communicate somebody's message. And while we might do it in an artful way, maybe an oblique or a slightly ambiguous way (perhaps to stimulate interest and attention and thought), ultimately, however, the message we're communicating is objective. There is a specific piece of communication intended, and, unlike the fine arts, where we're allowed to play in subjective spaces if we wish to, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and where meaning or message (if there's any intended) may be inferred in a purely personal way, that is not the case with graphic design. Graphic Design is a form of art that is linked to an objective typographic message. And that's with the intent of communicating something very definite, and of your audience receiving it as it was intended. And if we think about it, it just can't be otherwise. When Apple runs ads about the iPhone, you can be certain that they'll consider those ads to have failed if somehow you thought they meant for you to buy an Android phone, instead. When the state park posts a sign that says that they're closed at dark, or that you need to curb your dog, that's not open to the whim of your own private interpretation. The intent and the meaning are objective. This is not a realm where you can conclude that 1 +1 = 3, just because it turns you on to think so. So, our success as graphic designers is that we convey a definite message. And our principle means of achieving that goal is to encode the message in type, to craft our communications with all those letterforms that are the stuff of word and thought and meaning. Okay, so that's my preamble, and a bit of a repetition of points made before, so we'll move on and conclude for today with a couple of thoughts. My goal in the coming episodes is simply to offer some help with type. And I hope I can do that. Clearly there are limitations to an audio format. So, we'll play to the strengths of it, and leave the heavy lifting to the excellent resources I can recommend in my show notes - books and webpages and such. (1) To try to convey, say, the anatomy of type - ascenders and bowls and shoulders and stems - would waste your time in this medium - it's much more effective for you to look it up elsewhere. Instead, we'll talk "about" type. We'll take it from the big picture. How to think about it. How to approach it. How to better use it. And, finally on a personal note (and I try not to make personal notes because the show is not about me), this episode comes after a very busy and disruptive year of change that forced a hiatus from the podcast. It was John Lennon who said, "Life is what happens to
Design Guy, Episode 38, Adopt a Negative Attitude
Download Episode 38 Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply. Today we'll discuss why, sometimes, you've got to get negative to be positive. No, we're not talking creative mood swings here, or how to channel your anger into your work, or anything like that. We're talking about "negative space." And how giving attention to the negative space can strengthen our design compositions. Okay, so what exactly is "negative space"? Well, first of all, negative space is kind of an unfortunate phrase because the word "negative" is such a downer, but in the context of art and design, it is simply the opposite of positive space. Now, of course, that's not so helpful since we haven't defined positive space, either, so let's start there... Positive space is the shape of your foreground elements. If, say, you're looking at an illustration of a hippopatomus performing a high-wire act, carrying an umbrella - all the elements I've just described - the hippo, the umbrella, the high wire, make up the foreground elements. Taken together, their collective silhoutte defines the positive space. On the other hand, the space that surrounds her is the negative space (and yes, the hippo is a girl). So, if you were to take a marker and color in everything but the hippo, the high-wire and umbrella, you will have defined the negative space. Here's another example, drawn from Betty Edward's "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain."(1) Edwards reminds us of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, where Bugs Bunny reacts to something an runs. Maybe it was that episode in the mad scientist's castle with that big, orange haired monster wearing tennis shoes. Anyway, he panics and he runs, slamming right through a door, leaving a Bugs Bunny shaped hole behind. And it's that hole in the door that we want to remember. Because, in that hole, we see the exact shape of Bugs Bunny - his head and ears, his arms and legs, all perfectly circumscribed. So, that hole represents the positive shape, the positive space of Bugs. And it's what's left behind of the door that is the negative space, because the remaining part of the door captured the negative shape surrounding Bugs Bunny. I like this example because the the door put us in mind of our canvas or page which is almost always a rectangle of some sort. And with the positive space extracted (i.e., the shape of Bugs Bunny), what we've got left is our negative space. If you've logged as many hours as I have watching Chuck Jones cartoons, then this example is great and visual, and you'll never forget how to describe negative space. I mentioned this came out of Betty Edwards' book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, and if you're anything like me, somewhat frustrated with your drawing abilities, you'll want to grab this title for your library because it can really help you, really help you translate what you see to the page. It's also chock full of dramatic before and after examples of her students' work, which start out as just, totally juvenile looking stuff (I mean, stuff that looks like third-grade art class), but that progress, in some cases, to some pretty mature work. And not to digress too far on this subject of drawing, I was very encouraged once reading an interview with designer, Paula Scher. (2) If you don't know who she is, Paula Scher is an acclaimed designer with a very distinctive typographic style. She recounted about how she drew the honest conclusion that she couldn't draw all that well, but that she loved type, and focused on how to compose type and image together in innovative ways. And now, artistically challenged Paula Scher is at the top of her field. So, just a quick anecdote to encourage some of you out there. Designers can feel very insecure about their work and their abilities, and it helps to hear things like that now
Design Guy, Episode 37, All the World's a Stage for Designers
Download Episode 37 Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply. When beginning a new project, as much as is within your power to do so, choose the best of elements. You're going to be selecting type and image, among other things, and when you do, choose thoughtfully. Think of this as as an audition. If you were to assemble a high-caliber theatrical production, you'd screen for the best talent. There would be a line of candidates waiting in the wings, fidgeting nervously, awaiting their turn to show you what they've got. And you'd stock your ensemble with just the right personalities for the roles they were to play. You'd want them all to be great and capable and hardworking and suited for the personality into which they are to breathe life. But more than that, with an eye toward the ensemble you're putting together, you'd cast individuals who combine well, who coalesce into something...more. And now you're thinking chemistry, you're thinking alchemy, because you know that something magical and transcendent can happen when elements combine. Humphrey Bogart is great by himself, but put him together with Ingrid Bergman and something else is going on, something special. In the narrative arts, the craft term for this is orchestration. Elements are selected because they differ from or complement other elements. One character might be meant to serve as a foil to another. And so they act upon each other. And your job at this early, critical phase is to stage all the elements and action, keeping that broad picture in mind. How do the elements stand together? How do they combine? Is there good chemistry? What's the overall effect? This analogy to actors and such is helpful because we sometimes view individual elements as just static things when, in reality, each one is charged with personality and with power. Each one is an active agent in the mix. So, applying the analogy to design, what are we talking about? Well, in the stage that is our design. In the theater of our composition, we do well to remember our audience. Think of it! There's an audience out there that will be responding to what we do, reacting to the world and ensemble that we put together. Dramatists intend their audience to laugh or cry or feel a sense of foreboding or perhaps be so terrified that they jump from their seats. They are out to provoke a reaction. And we designers share the same aspiration. We want our work to be evocative and to communicate feeling. Or as the ever-quotable Seth Godin has said, "Communication is the transfer of emotion." So, let's say you're starting with your choice of type. Work hard to choose those typefaces. Give them thought. Like a casting call, you're looking for the right personalities. As an Anthony Hopkins or a Michael Caine are suited for mature, dignified, masculine performances, so also are classical typefaces like Garamond or Baskerville. And having filled that role, consider how these might combine with other elements. But be careful. There's likely a reason why Paris Hilton hasn't worked with Anthony Hopkins. And perhaps comic sans isn't fit to share the same stage with Sir Garamond. (I'm getting carried away.) But do look for interesting contrasts and complements and you'll start to get excited as the big picture develops. And if you're feeling it, then trust your instincts because they're a good, early indication that, when the curtain rises and your new design debuts, your audience will be feeling it, too.Subscribe in iTunes - it's free!
Design Guy, Episode 3, On Graphic Design
Download Episode 3 Design guy here. Welcome back. This is the show that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply. Last episode we defined design as the act of creating order out of chaos. And whether we're talking graphic or interior or environmental design, the basic definition stands because we're all engaged in the same PROCESS. It's a process that STARTS with a number of unrelated pieces and ENDS with an ordered unit. (1) Looking closer, Graphic design has its own set of concerns that distinguish it from other forms of design. And, I think, right from the start, we have to be clear about what graphic design is not. And that's Art. Oh, sure it is AN art. It's practitioners are artists. But it's not Art with a capital A in that it's not fine art. This is where people get confused. Especially when we see some of the stunning works of graphic design by luminaries like Paul Rand (2) or Milton Glaser.(3) Their work should be viewed in a gallery. They're models of artistic excellence. So, what's the difference? Are we splitting semantical hairs, or what? The distinction... is a question of motivation or purpose. Fine art is something that can be done in a loft, which is to say, it can be done for highly individualized ends. It can be done with no conscious purpose. It can be highly SUBjective. You might do it for your own enjoyment. Or to get a certain technical effect or for any other reason in the world. Sometimes there's a statement being made. Other times, if there's meaning, we'll leave that to the eye of the beholder to interpret. In other words, it's subject to personal interpretation, and IF it's subject to interpretation, it can mean anything. When we cast the issue in these terms, we begin to see that graphic design is different. It's inherently Objective. Sure, it INVOLVES art, and designers can leave room for some ambiguity or personal interpretation, after all, this generates questions in the viewer, which intensifies their interaction. But, ultimately, Graphic design is done with a clear, specific aim in mind. And what is that aim, but communication? Communication of what? The artist's inner feelings on the day of creation? No, it's not about that. It's not subjective, as we've said. Graphic design is linked to an objective, typographic message. We can communicate that message artistically, in a stylized way, there may even be a strong individual signature on the work that makes one aware of the artist behind it. I mentioned Milton Glaser before, and I'm thinking of his famous, iconic Dylan poster.(4) It's distinctly Glaser. But, in the end, it's commercial art. It's meant for commerce, to support a music company's product. And we're usually trying to sell stuff, whether that's the advantages of a certain denture cleaner, or a socially conscious screed about the impacts of deforestation. Regardless of subject matter, we've got to transmit specified meaning. And if people HAVEN'T understood, for example, that the iPhone is the most advanced, hip, web-capable phone available, then we've failed at our mission. If our work is not tethered to an objective typographic message, then we might as well stay in our lofts, because we're doing fine art. Massimo Vignelli (5) describes Graphic Design, in its purest form, as Information Design. As such, it doesn't even require imagery. It's about creating readable, ordered messages. In fact, type IS our primary imagery. Letterforms are symbols that create words which have power of themselves to produce pictures in the minds of our audience. If we set the word, "home," all by itself on a page, it evokes the most primal associations in all of us. There's no need to pay Corbis licensing fees for that photo of a house on a hill. Words are your best clip art. Hence, the rise of the swiss graphic school of design (6), which placed a premium on functional objectivi
Design Guy, Episode 2, What is Design?
Download Episode 2 Design Guy here. Welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design, and explain them simply. Today, we'll tackle the fundamental question. The one that frames everything to follow. So, before we get too specific, to define, say, graphic design, we want to begin by asking, "What is design?" What is design, itself? Now, there's a number of ways to answer the question. But the definition that I believe really distills it down to its essence, is this one: Design is the act of creating order out of chaos.(1) And what is chaos, but a randomness. It's a senseless jumble of elements. It's an absence of rules, a complete breakdown from any scheme that would lend sense or reason, or purpose or meaning to anything. And as human beings, we all have a desire for this order, it's a drive that's in our individual and collective psyche. That need to move away from chaos is in all of us. And when we're engaged in design, that's what's going on under the surface. It's really what's driving our efforts and moving our hands as our minds are churning away on the problem. Now, as a theme, this idea of order versus chaos runs really deep in our culture. It forms the foundation of our sacred books. Take the Bible for example, which starts right off, of course, with an account of creation. But what's even more interesting in light of our definition of design, is that it goes on to describe the earth being initially formless, and void, basically in a state of chaos, as if it's just raw material. And it's only after this Creator performs an act of Design by ordering it, that he can declare it "good." When it was chaos, it was not good or pleasing. But now that everything has been put into order, with purpose and function, it can be declared good. And the same account goes on to describe mankind as having been made in the image of a Creator/Designer. And, of course, man is ever ordering and designing his world. Some of us listening today would describe ourselves as creative professionals as we go about desiging the little worlds of our websites or posters or books, etc. So, we see this concept everywhere we look. It's all around us. So as designers, we're constantly engaged in it as we do our work, which boils down to combining many elements into cohesive whole. The more successful we are at integrating elements, the better our design outcomes will be. I like the word "integrate", especially in light of it's opposite, which is "disintegrate," which basically means to fall apart. I think that's why we speak in terms of design problems. They're like puzzles to be put together, or strings to be unknotted. As visual designers, we help untangle the problem of communication for our clients. We give shape and form and hierarchy to their message. Without our help, things fall apart. There's less meaning or purpose or sense to things that are poorly designed. So, if you call yourself a "designer", you want to realize that you're providing a true service to others in that you're helping them to order and make sense of their worlds: You just completed a website for some local musicians - well, you've just advanced how they perceive themselves, and how they want to communicate that idea to the world. You've created packaging for a new product - you've just given expression to something, you've somehow made it more tangible, so that people taking it off the shelf with their hands, can better grasp it with their minds, and assign meaning to it. This could be something mundane, a bottle of organic dandruff shampoo, but you've enhanced understanding and meaning so that others can better fit this new thing into the order of their lives, and be happier for it. And this kind of enhancement of order and purpose and meaning captures somewhat of the definition and high calling of design. And that's it for today. If you'd
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Design Guy strikes the difficult balance between educational content and attention-keeping delivery. He lives up to his slogan's promise of delivering "timeless principles of design", but all in perfectly timed snapshots.
Get them if you want to get an insight into design and learn how to think like a designer. I'm sure I will use the knowledge I've gained from these podcasts in many applications. Thanks design guy!
Designed to perfection.
I am so happy to have found the gold mine that is The Design Guy show. Topics are explained very well, there are great examples, insights and quotes. The host is a pleasure to listen to and is a designer to look up to. Shows are straight to the point but flow very nicely. The show has alot of style and the music by Kcentricity is great. I have learnt a lot on the show and I recommend fellow students to subscribe.