concept to publication

Category: graphic design Page 3 of 4

So adult it smarts

x-rated movie posters

There’s a collection of supposedly x-rated movie posters from the 1960s and 70s over here. What’s a little surprising about the collection is that the graphic design is pretty good. And the posters are very tame by today’s standards. The years slip by, and you don’t notice these sorts of changes until you look back . . .


Creative barcodes from Japan

creative japanese barcodes

Barcodes are the graphic designer’s bane. I’ve tried to integrate them in designs through color and other placement, but you constantly run up against the distribution people who insist on conspicuous white rectangles, regardless of the context. (I’ve tested barcodes on color backgrounds and found that they scan perfectly well.)

So I love these creative barcodes from Japan.


More posts on graphic design:

[catlist ID=32 numberposts=10]


Sad Young Lit Guys

sad young literary men

Nice conceptual book cover, via Book Design Review. Literary aspirations can be a heavy burden indeed.


Vocabularium rerum

vocabularium reurm, a printed book from 1495

An early printed bilingual dictionary, the Vocabularium Rerum provided German readers with the meanings of common Latin words and phrases. This edition (photo from Helga’s Lobster Stew’s photostream) was printed in Venice in 1495. According to HLS, the book can be seen”open to the public in the library at the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry on 16th Street in DC.” The label in the photo says that there are three known copies, the other two being in London and Vienna.

Notice the perfection of the printed book as an information technology — after about 513 years, the data is still perfectly readable. From a book design point of view, observe that the bottom and outside margins are larger than the top and inside margins. On a spread, this holds the facing type areas together; it also provides a place for the reader’s fingers. This page has nice even type color, especially considering the variation in type size.

I hope that label is on acid-free paper! I would not have set it directly on the page.

Words fail …

finer points in the spacing and arrangement of type

via Hoefler & Frere-Jones

Book cover design: On Fishing

on fishing by brian clarke

On Fishing is a good example of a mostly typographic cover that is distinctive, noticeable, and instantly conveys a sense of the book. The graceful loops of the swashes express something of the freedom and exhilaration of a good fly cast, while the title is forceful and remains readable from a distance.

Perhaps the upright modernist font — which probably began as a form of Bodoni — with its perfectly vertical axis, suggests something of a fisherperson standing steady amid rushing water, as the loops of the castline swirl around.

From a typographer’s point of view, however, the design leaves something to be desired. The hooklike extensions of the s and k are clever, and well enough done, but the connections between the swashes and the letter forms are rather clumsy. The B in particular is quite ugly, and the angle of the swash off the O is at least questionable. The way in which the swash connects is inconsistent: it gets quite thick where it attaches to the B, but it seems not thick enough where it attaches to the O and C.

All in all, a clever design that will probably appeal to all but the most curmudgeonly typophile.


There is some discussion on this cover here.


Online bookseller links for this title:


Trajan, the movie font

I don’t know why the Hollywood folks are so in love with Trajan, but it’s been a designer’s joke for years now — any Hollywood epic MUST use Trajan. I prepared a little talk on typefaces a while back for which I gathered together several movie posters that used Trajan. But this guy does me one better, in this amusing video on the subject.


My Photoshop default workflow

I process most images that I post to the web in Photoshop, and I have a simple workflow that does what I want with a minimum of fuss. The whole process only takes a minute or two. Allow me to demonstrate.

photoshop default actions

I’ve chosen an image more or less at random (except that it is one that I like, from this photoset). My vantage point was looking down at a river from overhead, with colorful leaves on the right. For the purpose of this demonstration the image has been resized to fit this space (435 pixels wide).

The first thing I do is to open an action I’ve saved under the name “open adjustments.” This opens three adjustment layers: levels, curves, and hue/saturation in that order, which is the order I make the adjustments.

First I look at levels. If they look well balanced I might leave them alone. Often they are weighted to either darks or lights, and I slide the midtone triangle to get a better balance. That often makes the image look worse but it puts it in position for the next adjustment, curves. Usually I find a midpoint that looks good and then generally make an ess-shaped curve in order to get a good range of darks and lights. Finally, I adjust hue/saturation. With my current camera this usually means just increasing the saturation a little bit.

photoshop default actions

Next I open an action I’ve saved under the name “hi-pass sharpen.” This sharpens the image using the duplicate layer – invert – blur – overlay – adjust transparency workflow that I have described previously. I don’t like oversharpening, so my default transparency is a modest 40 percent. It’s important to remember to select the background layer first or you will just be sharpening your hue/saturation adjustment. One nice thing about this way of sharpening is that it is size independent, so I can resize my image and do a save for web to reduce the file size without having to resharpen.

The entire process is done with adjustment layers and is completely nondestructive — no changes are made to the original image. Below the image as it came from the camera is on the left and the adjusted image on the right.

photshop default actions

Vector Magic

vector magic

VectorMagic is an “online tool for precision vectorization.” In other words, it is an autotracer that converts pixel-based images (photos, screen captures, etc.) to vectors, which can then be scaled without loss of quality. You upload an original image and download the vectorized result. This would be a big time-saver if you wanted to manipulate an image in a program like Illustrator. There could be other uses, which I will leave to your imagination, except to say that the folks at typophile can’t be altogether pleased, and it will be up to the user to observe copyright and EULA image restrictions. In my tests the program performed extremely well. In the screen shot above the original image is on the left and the vector conversion on the right.

Best book covers

Since I posted about the best magazine covers of the year, why not have a look at book covers too? When I first saw this selection of “the best book covers of 2007” (via BoingBoing) I thought it remarkable how the judges had chosen a group of covers that all reflect a similar aesthetic. Then are realized that these are not judged but rather Joseph Sullivan’s personal choices of the best covers of the year. Sullivan runs a blog called the book design review. His preferred covers tend to be typographic and conceptual with a somewhat retro flavor. He shows no interest at all in pictorial covers (standard in museum book publishing, my main gig these days). Of his choices this is my favorite:

the worst years of my life

X-Rite and Pantone

pantone color swatches for graphic design and printingX-Rite acquired Pantone several days ago for $180 million. Panton has been the leader for print color matching for decades. X-Rite produces a variety of color calibration software and hardware (including, apparently, something called the Munsell Frozen French Fry Color Standard). The acquisition has been pretty widely reported, though without much commentary. So what does it mean to users of the Pantone system?

It’s hard to be sure. Certainly it means that X-Rite has a virtual monopoly on the world of color matching. But really, as far as print is concerned, Pantone was already the only significant player. But Pantone was not a very innovative or collaborative company (as Walter Zacharias reports in a Friesens newletter) — their color swatches, for example, were printed on nonstandard paper under atypical conditions. Rather than cooperating with printers and others who wanted to improve color definition and integration, they protected their systems with very aggressive legal action. So there is reason to hope that X-Rite will be more open to new technologies and collaborative activities, and that this purchase will be a positive development for graphic designers.

Book Design: Persian Ceramics

I’m in the beginning stages of designing a new book about Persian ceramics. It will be a small book (for an art book), at 9.5 x 10 inches the closest to square I have ever done. This is the proportion known as the “turned pentagram” because it is the shape of a rectangle drawn around the five corners of an equal-sided pentagram. I still have a bunch of work to do, but an essay spread will probably look something like this:

persian ceramics essay spread

For entry pages I’m planning on putting the tombstone information at the bottom facing the large recto images. The chat retains the decorative initial (from the Poetica font set; the main text is a form of Garamond). Does this look okay?

persian ceramics entry spread

Here are the underlying page guides. The magenta area is the main text block — a four column block, although I may only use two columns for text.

persian ceramics design guides

The cover would use the same page design elements.

persian ceramics cover

Here’s a closer view of the type treatment.

title type treatment

Again, this is all a little preliminary, but it reflects my plans at this stage. I am trying, of course, to match the design to the content. You may be able to see from the first couple of spreads the sort of proportions that are typical of Persian ceramics. If anyone has any suggestions I would be happy to hear them.

Leila and Massimo Vignelli on living by design

new york subway map by massimo vignelli

Massimo Vignelli has been an influential promoter on Swiss industrial graphic design — design that tends to expose an underlying grid and often uses only Helvetica for type. He designed, for example, the New York City subway map shown above, in which the grid is apparent and is effectively used as a means of clearly presenting essential information. In the video below, Leila and Massimo Vignelli discuss some of items they have designed for use in their living space.


Related: The gastrointestinal system as a subway map


How to design a book without special skills or software

bamboo baskets book spread

It is now possible for anyone to print a book fairly inexpensively, using services such as Lulu or Blurb. Of course, printing should be distinguished from publishing, which includes not just the book’s physical production but its promotion and distribution as well. The big problem with any kind of publishing is getting books together with their readers, and self-publishers should be aware of the formidable difficulties this entails.

But that’s a topic for another time. Today I want to explain how to make a book look good if you’re not a designer and the only tool you have available is something like Microsoft Word. Before we begin, please be aware that it is more difficult to design a book in Word than it would be to do so in a program designed for that purpose, such as InDesign or Quark. I would hate doing a whole book in Word. But sometimes you’ve got to go with what you’ve got.

I know, of course, that hardly anyone who could benefit from the advice that follows is likely to accept it. Simplicity in design is one of the hardest concepts to sell, at least to novices. There is always the urge to add one more flourish or embellishment to “dress up” the text and make the book look “special.”

Which is exactly the wrong way to go. Please believe this. The way to make your book stand out is to make it simple. If you do this correctly it will also be beautiful. Besides, what you want is for people to read the words, right? So your goal should be to keep the design out of the way of the words!

There is a principle in Japanese design called “wabi-sabi.” The term is often translated as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete,” but the gist of it is unadorned simplicity. This will be our model. Specifically, if you observe the following guidelines I promise you people will compliment you on how professional your book looks. (Be sure to check with your print service in case they have particular requirements that override aspects of my advice.)

Thinking with Type

Continuing our week of laziness link love while I’m on the road, I Love Typography has a review of Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. I think you could say it’s a positive review. For example, “Thinking With Type is to typography what Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time is to physics.”

thinking with type

Text decoration

Since posting is light while I’m traveling, I think it’s time to devote another link to Bibliodyssey, that great ongoing compendium of book arts through the ages. This link is to an anonymous early 16th century Spanish parchment manual featuring examples of text decoration.

early spanish parchment design manuscript

Color names

Chirag Mehta has made a little application that will return a color name if you enter a hex code. Take the html web palette for this site, for example (the blog palette is slightly different). web palette You’d probably get a blank look if you said to someone, “Tom’s site is, you know, DDAA77, 996633, 880000, 819D90.” According to Mehta’s program, what you should say instead is that it’s in “tumbleweed, potters’ clay, red berry, and oxley.” Doesn’t that sound wholesome?

Just for fun, let’s try this with a few other sites, chosen more or less at random (the sites may use additional colors besides the ones I list).

  • Michelle Richmond’s Sans Serif is in “espresso,” “coffee,” and “Lisbon brown”
  • Buried Mirror also uses uses “Lisbon brown,” along with “Saratoga” and “yellow metal”
  • Classical Bookworm is “lonestar,” “brown pod,” and “rosewood”
  • ChezNamasteNancy uses “dusty gray,” “dove gray,” and “wedgewood”
  • India, Ink is “emperor,” “Bali Hai,” and “shuttle gray”
  • Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant is “emerald,” “Portafino,” and “blue zodiac”

Which brings us to the part of this post where we admit that this exercise has proven largely pointless. I don’t think you can visualize the color schemes of the sites very well through the color names offered. That’s partly because the names are inconsistent in nature. “Emerald” might reference an object with a certain color, but “Portofino” is completely subjective and arbitrary. Quick, what color is “lonestar”? (It’s a kind of vermilion red.)

I think that colors largely take their meaning from their juxtapositions with other colors. You can probably give a better sense of a color scheme by describing the response it evokes than by using arbitrary and inconsistent color names.

The end

A Flickr set.

the end

via Swiss Miss

On the Road

graphic design: covers of jack kerouac's on the road

Click the image above for an extensive collection of covers of Kerouac’s On the Road. How interesting to see all the different takes on the book! The Italians generally do a pretty good job.

RELATED: Why Kerouac Matters

Above all, On the Road matters for its music: its plaintive, restless hum. In it, Kerouac perfected a melancholy optimism and a yearning for solace a thousand times richer and subtler than the mournful sap that drips down from so many contemporary American films and novels….

Redesigning the Penguin UK website

penguin uk website redesign

At, Ann Rafferty talks about her redesign of the Penguin UK site. In essence the site is moving a little in the direction of web 2.0 — of adding more interactive features and offering more content. Rafferty explains:

As to why we’ve redesigned (and this is by no means the end – there’s a list of more changes just waiting to take effect), the answer is simple. Our readers told us to. We conducted extensive quantative and qualitative usability research with a specialist consultancy involving a lot of sitting behind two-way mirrors and biting back squeals of frustration when real-life readers couldn’t use our site – and we listened to all of the recommendations that they made. Months of workshops, designing, testing and re-designing later and we’re happy that we’ve shifted our site from being a company on broadcast to being genuinely reader-centric.

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