is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. RSS sponsorship opportunities available through /Syndicate Ads.
If you have one or more of Apple’s handy but easily lost MagSafe 2 adapters that allow older Apple laptop power supplies to work with modern MacBooks, then you’ll appreciate the MagCozy—a clever little silicone tether that prevents the adapter from getting lost. When I first came across this product online I filed it away in the back of my brain, but since I use several MagSafe 2-adapted older power supplies at home and at work, I kept finding myself wishing I owned a few MagCozies. A couple of weeks ago I finally got a hold of some and they’re terrific—highly recommended. Find out more at cozy-industries.com.
I have an old, white iMac Core 2 Duo model that I bought eight years ago that’s still getting good, routine use in my household. It’s a media server, a DVD and Blu-Ray ripper (thanks to an inexpensive external drive), and a station where we check the weather and news in the morning. Every year I think that this is the year I’ll probably need to replace it, but every year it soldiers on.
On the other hand, I have a handful of iPhones in the house, all of which are younger than that iMac, that do nothing but clutter up drawers. I know that I should probably turn them into Apple for responsible recycling, and I will at some point, but I keep thinking I might be able to do something useful with one or more of them. The closest I’ve gotten is turning my old iPhone 4 into a makeshift clock radio for our guest bedroom (and an old iPad into a baby monitor).
A search for other ideas yields articles from Mashable, Photojojo and Lifehacker full of suggestions. There are some decent ideas in there that I’ll probably try, but none of them make the iPhone seem as robust a long-term device as my iMac is. This is probably because iOS devices are so personal; they really come alive only when your own data is resident on them, so to repurpose them generally means finding a single, dedicated task to assign to them. That’s fine, but it seems to be a waste of sheer computing power.
Anyway, I’m just musing publicly here, without any real purpose, mostly because I’m wrestling with whether to upgrade to an iPhone 6, an iPhone 6 Plus, or not to upgrade at all. My current model, the iPhone 5, works surprisingly well for being two years old. I recall my iPhone 4, at the same milestone, became so bogged down and unusable that I couldn’t upgrade soon enough. The iPhone 5, on the other hand, still performs ably, even if updating it to iOS 8 yesterday made it a measure more sluggish than before. There’s clearly a legitimate argument for just hanging onto it for another year or more—which, if I’m thinking in terms of what kind of ecological mess we’re all going to leave behind for our children, would probably be the most responsible choice.
These fifty illustrations focus on singular objects—mostly modes of transportation, and primarily cars—that typify famous films or TV shows. A few of them are straightforward, like the Death Star and three versions of the Batmobile, for instance. But the majority of them are cleverly oblique, and manage to capture their subject matter in unexpected, witty ways. Here are a few:
It’s unlikely that the art form of comics, at least insofar as it has been practiced to date, will be remembered for its sterling treatment of female characters or women creators. The track record is pretty awful, to put it kindly. But two articles this week highlight hidden strains of women trying valiantly to carve out their space within the medium, and of previously obscured ties to real world feminists in one of its most recognizable characters.
Over at Collectors Weekly, a fascinating repository for reflections on just about anything you can collect, writer Lisa Hix offers a profile of comics creator Trina Robbins, a longstanding proponent of women in comics and a historian of her gender’s participation in their making. The profile, which traces Robbins’ book “Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists, 1896-2013,” outlines the contours of female creators in the industry going way back to the dawn of the form, before even the so-called Golden Age of Comics which was initiated by the debut of the first super-heroes. It’s a truly fascinating overview. Read it here.
In this week’s issue of The New Yorker, staff writer Jill Lepore unearths the “secret past” of Wonder Woman—not just the origins of the plainly feminist ideals that formed her, but the very real roots of her creator and his family in the feminist struggle during the early part of the last century. It’s a complex story about people who held presciently progressive ideas during a period of American history that was blatantly unkind to deviations from the norm, and about how they managed to smuggle those notions into the mainstream, creating one of the most enduring pop cultural figures along the way. Read it here.
The Leica M Edition 60 is a commemorative rangefinder camera whose body is meticulously crafted to recall the glory days of analog film. It looks gorgeous, and I confess a certain weakness for its aesthetics.
But it costs an absurd US$20,000 to own. The whole premise of it strikes me as ridiculous, especially this video that shows it being unpacked literally with white gloves.
I find it so sad when companies create these exorbitant editions of their products. It’s symptomatic of a brand that’s so beholden to its own legacy that its greatest ambition is to stop making real products for real people. Another famous example is the notorious 20th Anniversary Macintosh which did nothing for nobody, least of all for Apple.
For the past year or so, these freestanding signs showcasing maps and local information have been appearing throughout New York City. They were designed by Michael Bierut’s team at Pentagram, working with City ID, Billings Jackson Design, RBA Group, and T-Kartor—all for the city’s Department of Transportation. They signs are primarily geared towards visitors, so being a New Yorker myself, it’s hard to evaluate their effectiveness. But they’re beautiful works of municipal graphic design, and demonstrate a rigorous attention to detail that’s sadly too rare in public design efforts.
The signs come in a range of sizes to match their environments. Many of them are installed as part of New York’s Citibike docks, though those aren’t as impressive as the obelisk-like form of the freestanding signs.
My favorite detail is probably the system of intricate icons of architectural landmarks developed for the signs’ graphic language—sixty-four were commissioned for this first phase of the project, with more to come.
Now on exhibit at The Museum of the City of New York: “Mac Conner: A New York Life,” a retrospective of artwork from—sigh—“one of the original ‘Mad Men’.” Conner was a commercial artist working in Manhattan in the 1950s and 60s, doing illustrations for ad agencies as well as magazines. His style was deft, competent, and relatively conservative. But, given the benefit of hindsight, it is now recognized as wonderfully of its time, even surprising in the way it invests mid-century life with modest drama. Personally, I find it to be superb stuff.
The exhibition features some seventy of Conner’s works and runs until 19 Jan 2015. The New York Times also ran a story about it in Stuart Elliott’s advertising column (which is technically on the Business desk; you’ll have to keep holding your breath if you want serious appraisal of commercial arts from the paper’s Arts section).
The latest in A Book Apart’s indispensable guides to the art and science of Web design and development is Jason Santa Maria’s “On Web Typography.” It clocks in at less than 150 pages but it nevertheless offers a comprehensive, thoughtful and highly readable primer on how to approach typography in today’s browsers. Jason, an old friend and fellow Brooklynite, was kind enough to answer a few questions about it over email.
When I opened the book for the first time I realized that you spend a lot its pages covering typography in the broadest sense. Did you originally set out with such an ambitious plan?
When I really started digging into it, I kept coming back to the idea that good typographic practice is almost universal across mediums. The basics stay the same, but the refinements and detailed tuning for a specific medium are what require special attention. Just as putting 10-ft. tall type on the side of a building is different than on a business card or phone in very specific ways, the foundation of what makes good typography work remains the same.
Did you find that the current state of the art made it easy for you to translate typography fundamentals into Web typography fundamentals? Or was it still harder than you’d like, in spite of how far along browsers have come?
Yes and no. Things like fine control over hyphenation or kerning are so common in print design as to be an afterthought, but that kind of fine control on a Web page doesn’t reliably exist yet. Or at least the means to approximate that kind of control can leave you frustrated. On the other hand, the amount of control we already have on the Web to have our typography adapt to better suit a reader’s environment is remarkable, and only getting better. The fundamentals are exactly that in either medium, but the upper end of control or adaptability are exciting and maddening.
How much of your motivation behind this book was about pushing people to work more in that “upper end of control or adaptability”?
My main motivation was really to find a way to talk about the uncomfortable stuff beyond putting a typeface on a page. To pull typefaces apart and look at how they’re constructed, or to reason out why one typeface works better aesthetically than another. Those topics can be uncomfortable because there are really no right answers, just different forms of good. And that’s okay, but I wanted people to get to a point where they could embrace that discomfort, rather than being frustrated by a lack of prescriptive pathways. Because of that, this book ended up being more about my personal process than an academic one.
That personal aspect was a pleasant surprise. Some of the concepts that you float, like “type for a moment” and “type to live with,” were really interesting and reflect a particular way of looking at typography. To what extent is this book “Jason Santa Maria’s Type Manifesto”?
I guess in as much as it’s just my personal approach, warts and all. I don’t profess to have it all figured out, but I tried to unpack my thought process for typography so that it might be helpful to others. I know that type can feel like an impenetrable wall to newcomers, like some cryptic art form that only designers who have practiced for decades can understand. My hope is that I can help make typographic learning more welcoming with what I’ve picked up over the years. So, maybe it’s not so much a manifesto but one designer’s process for working with type.
So is the book intended primarily for newcomers who are looking to develop their own personal process for working with type?
Yes, but really anyone who is new to design or came to design without formal training. I’ve worked with so many great folks over the years who are smart and confident in their skills, but still feel confounded when it comes to typography. I wanted to write enough of a primer for that kind of person that would give them a good foundation and open a door for them to learn more on their own.
For those who are already skilled students of typography, this book might not have new material. But when you get to that point, most of your further learning probably comes from hands-on work rather than books. Regardless, no matter what skill level I consider myself in different areas of design, I always enjoy reading about someone else’s process. Sometimes to glean new methods for work, and sometimes just to reaffirm what I’m already doing.
When you finished writing, were there any ideas left on the cutting room floor that might suggest a second book?
Absolutely! There were lots of topics I wanted to delve deeper into that had to be trimmed—like icon fonts, or a more thorough exploration of responsive typography. Bcause it’s a brief book, and in order to try and paint a well rounded picture, I needed to start closer to the beginning. But I think that’s fine. It leaves the door open for another book on the next few steps in typography for the Web, or better yet, deeper learning by getting your hands dirty. If this book can make type more approachable as a practice to anyone whose work overlaps typography in some way, I’m happy with that.
“On Web Typography” is available in just about any form you like from A Book Apart.
In some ways it’s a triumph that this day didn’t come sooner. Defying tremendous odds by surviving as a thoroughly respectable computer magazine up until now, Macworld Magazine was effectively shuttered today when its longtime publisher, IDG, abruptly laid off virtually its entire staff—just one day after they dutifully covered Apple’s iPhone 6 and Apple Watch announcements. Valleywag has the story here. Though the web site will continue, the print edition is no more.
Hardly anyone I know was still actually reading the printed magazine anymore, but I still subscribed. Along with The New Yorker, it has been the only paper subscription I’ve maintained over the past five, maybe even ten years. It feels like it’s been a long time since I found the concept of a magazine particularly interesting, but for some reason—maybe just habit—I still enjoyed getting Macworld in the mail. I’ll miss it, and I wish the departing team all the luck in the world.