Brand Minimalism

Art in America Magazine has this look back at an exhibition from 1980 that examined the striking similarities between minimalist art and corporate identity design. Titled “Objects and Logotypes: Relationships Between Minimalist Art and Corporate Design” and curated by Buzz Spector, the show juxtaposed identities for companies like the Aluminum Company of America, Chase Manhattan Bank and International Minerals & Chemical Corporation with minimalist works from artists like Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Carl Andre.

Brand Minimalism

Spector did not intend to present these juxatpositions as a critique of either corporate design or minimalist art.

The nuanced relationship he posited between Minimal artists and the surrounding corporate culture was founded neither on gestures of ironic appropriation nor on an explicitly antagonistic position. Instead, the visual and material imprints of corporations were, in Spector’s view, inescapable conditions of aesthetic discourse in mid-20th century America. Having been exposed to the ‘ubiquitous presence… of the CBS ‘eye,’ IBM’s girder-like initials [and] the pristine mechanics of Alcoa’s ‘A,’’ Spector wrote, Minimal artists ‘assimilated the hard-core message of the successful logotype.

Nevertheless, the reaction from some members of the minimalist art community were pretty negative. Spector recounts:

I sent copies of my essay to Andre, Judd, LeWitt and [Robert] Morris. Only Morris responded, and with great hostility. He told Susanne Ghez that he would not permit the loan of his work to the project. Neither would he permit reproduction of his work. It was no coincidence, a short time later, that Castelli Gallery, which represented Morris at the time, suggested to Susanne that this project was such a bad idea that if she went ahead with it the gallery would not lend work to future Renaissance Society shows.

It’s fascinating and a little funny to think that an artist of Robert Morris’s stature would find such a comparison to graphic design so threatening that he would react with such enmity. Read the full article here.


Typekit Practice

Adobe’s Typekit team recently launched this pedagogical microsite devoted to helping their customers hone their typographic skills. It’s built around practical lessons — there are two so far — that dive into the finer details of setting type for the web. It already looks like a good resource; if Adobe remains committed to it and it keeps expanding, it could become an indispensable one.

Typekit Practice
A lesson from Adobe’s Typekit Practice.

The Last Record Shop

A community artspace in Hamtramck, Michigan is planning this fall to turn its gallery space into a fictional record shop, replete with fictional albums. They’re soliciting the public at large — designers, really — to create made-up record sleeves for made-up bands, which they will use to stock the shop’s bins.

The finished sleeve should feature artwork back and front, including the artist/band’s name and track listing, along with — and this is important — artwork for the spindle label. Plus, liner notes, band bios, lyrics, however much (or little) you want to include — anything that brings to life your imaginary band’s legendary album.

This sounds like it could be incredibly fun; I can’t wait to see the results. If the organizers receive enough high quality submissions, they hope to print a book memorializing the show, which only runs from 7 Sep through 18 Oct. More information here.


Nikki Sylianteng’s NYC Parking Signs

It wasn’t that long ago when New York City’s parking signs were famously redesigned by Michael Bierut at Pentagram, but that apparently didn’t satisfy designer Nikki Sylianteng. She took it upon herself to craft an altogether new design that eschews Pentagram’s textual approach and opts for a visual representation of parking schedules.

Sylianteng’s guerrilla parking sign

On her portfolio page for the project, she explains:

My strategy was to visualize the blocks of time when parking is allowed and not allowed. I kept everything else the same — the colors and the form factor — as my intention with this redesign is to show how big a difference a thoughtful, though conservative and low budget, approach can make in terms of time and stress saved for the driver. I tried to stay mindful of the constraints that a large organization like the Department of Transportation must face for a seemingly small change such as this.

Sylianteng has also been documenting incremental changes and improvements to the concept on this Tumblr blog, which includes these thoughtful optimizations for the color-blind.

Read about the project on Sylianteng’s site. It also appeared in a recent issue of The Atlantic.


Correct Title Capitalization

I’m kind of a freak about capitalization. Not that I know how to capitalize things properly every time, but I feel that at the very least I aspire to capitalize the right words in a title. Doing so, I find, adds a subtle but worthwhile dollop of goodness to written text. Proper capitalization shows that you care about the English language, that you know that in a given headline, not all words should be treated with equal emphasis, that some of them deserve more prominence than others. In that sense, capitalization is, to me, the very same thing as good typography.

Alas, not very many people seem to share this passion. There are folks who care about grammar and spelling, but few people care much about whether the first letter in a given word within a headline should be upper case or lower case — that seems to be a bridge too far for most. And I’ve never seen software that cares about capitalization, either; most software is completely disinterested in written style, and even word processors show only a fleeting interest in grammar, much less capitalization.

Which is why I was so happy to come across, a very, very simple site that does nothing else but automatically correct your written text so that it appears in proper title case. So if you have a headline like “Jumping From The Ledge Upon The Landing,” you can enter it quickly into this site’s sole entry box and find out instantly that the correct capitalization is in fact, “Jumping from the Ledge upon the Landing.” Isn’t that much better?

The site’s rules are adapted from “The Chicago Manual of Style”:

  1. Capitalize the first and the last word.
  2. Capitalize nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, and subordinate conjunctions.
  3. Lowercase articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions.
  4. Lowercase the “to” in an infinitive (I want to play guitar).

I never thought I’d see anyone interested enough in capitalization to translate these rules of grammar into software, but in fact the script that powers this is based on work by Daring Fireball’s John Gruber (of course!), done way back in 2008. I had missed it until now. I intend to urge every developer that I work with to adapt this script going forward — and if you work on software I hope you’ll try to implement it, too. Your grade school grammar teacher will be very proud of you if you do.


Egg Hunt

This morning Laura and I took our daughter to an Easter egg hunt here in Bloomington, IL, where we’re visiting family. She’s in the center, below, with the basket. When the organizers yelled “Go!” all of the kids started their mad scramble and it occurred to me that this is all just training for Black Friday sales and similar acts of consumer frenzy.


Record Store Day and the Vinyl Comeback

The New York Times provides some background on the annual event for independent record shops:

Though a promotional event, Record Day underscores the mini-renaissance of vinyl. As recently as 2008, only 2.9 million LPs were sold in the United States, representing about 0.7 percent of annual album sales, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Last year those sales climbed to 9.4 million, representing 3 percent of all albums, and the independent, off-the-grid nature of many of those sales may mean that vinyl’s numbers are underreported.

I’m generally skeptical about the persistent rumors of a mini-resurgence in vinyl sales, but it seems real.

Record Store Day is today so get out there and demonstrate your authenticity by buying something.


Slow Motion Collisions

I have some good news and some bad news. First, the good news.

Next Wednesday evening in New York City, I’m hosting a panel discussion called “Slow Motion Collisions: How Digital Design Careers Evolve” for AIGA/NY. I’ll be joined on stage by Justin Van Slembrouck of Digg, Jill Nussbaum of The Barbarian Group, Cemre Güngör of Branch, and Agnieszka Gasparska of Kiss Me I’m Polish.

This is a diverse group of extremely talented designers who have each produced some truly amazing work. But this will not be a portfolio show. That is, these folks will not be showing off their work and talking about how awesome their products are or how wonderful their clients are.

Rather, we’ll be having a lengthy group conversation about the highly varied career paths that designers undertake in order to build careers within a market that has been in perpetual flux since its inception. I’ve asked these folks to bring their war stories, their tales of chance encounters that led to unexpected career detours, their recollections of the earliest days of their careers, and their insights into what they would and would not do differently now. The hope is to unpack how they got to where they are today. It’s going to be really instructive and tons of fun.

The genesis for this panel is actually a project of mine that I started working on last fall, but that I haven’t talked about publicly until now. That project is a book about this very subject: how design careers evolve, how people get from the very beginning of the working phase of their lives, in their late teens or early twenties, and eventually find their way to successful careers in digital design. It features about a dozen interviews with designers who have “made it.” Some of them are veterans of the industry and others have less than a decade of experience; some of them are devotees of the startup industry and others are committed to client services. I’ve tried to cull a wide variety of design career paths together to make for a really interesting group. The folks appearing Wednesday night — Justin, Jill, Cemre and Agnieszka — are all interviewed in the book. The rest of the slate will be announced soon, but there are some wonderful people on the list, trust me.

Now for the bad news.

The book is still a few months away from completion, and as a result, I decided not to promote this Wednesday night’s event too far in advance, instead allowing AIGA/NY’s own well-oiled publicity machine to get the word out among their chapter members (another great reason to become a member). As a result, the event is pretty nearly sold out — which, really, I’m grateful for, because it shows that there’s interest in this topic even without me having to promote it. There are a handful of seats left though, so if you move fast, you might be able to pick one up at the AIGA/NY Web site. (If you manage to get a ticket, please say hello after the show!)

If you can’t get a ticket, or if geography would have prohibited you from attending anyway, then stay tuned to this blog for an announcement about the book very soon. More than three-quarters of the interviews have been recorded, transcribed and edited, and I just designed the book cover earlier this week, so it’s starting to really come together. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.


Are Magazine Apps Dead?

Magazine industry veteran Robert Newman posed this question to several influential people working at the intersection of digital media and print magazines. The results are very insightful. Here’s a sampling:

Josh Klenert, Executive Director in the Digital Customer Experience team for JPMorgan Chase:

A lot of what was done in wave 1 of app magazines ignored the lessons of web over the last 20+ years. I am incredibly optimistic about magazine-like storytelling on digital devices, but binding them to print production cycles in monolithic downloads must evolve. I think that’s why we’re starting to see lots of robust feature-length stories told directly on the web in responsive web packaging.

David Jacobs of 29th Street Publishing:

What we have learned is that the replica will never be successful. Consumers have soundly rejected them: digital subscriptions make up only 3% of total subscriptions. But I am of course optimistic about the future of magazine apps, since the industry has an opportunity for a reboot.

Joe Zeff of Joe Zeff Design:

I wouldn’t say that magazine apps are dead, but that they are in dire need of a transfusion. I continue to be optimistic because there’s no stopping the proliferation of tablets. There will continue to be a market for applications built specifically for these devices.

Mario García of García Media:

We still see a lot of static, turn-the-page-type of magazine apps. We need to begin to look at the tablet’s peculiarities, to what it can do, and then exploit that. It is not a print publication per se. It is a combination of book, film documentary, a little TV, some radio. It is multisensory, and we have not explored that fully yet. It is also the closest we can come, so far, to a digital experience that matches a lot of the intuitive movements that we are familiar with via print.

Jeremy Leslie of magCulture:

The initial excitement across the industry, from publishers and creatives, has subsided as the reality of making apps hit home. From a business point of view the promise of easily slipping app production into the print workflow was foolishly naive, while editors and designers who were keen to experiment soon found themselves stretched too thin. On top of this, sales have been disappointing so most apps have reverted to simpler replicas as a holding pattern while publishers work out next steps.

Read the full article at Newman’s site.