Friday, April 27, 2007

Comics Anyone?

I admit that I was never a comic manic, although I wanted to be. I was never too excited about superheros, but I like the halftone patterns made by ink roughly applied on a cheap paper stock, and word bubbles, gods gift to the visual medium. It was a love/hate relationship, magnetizing to the graphics, repelling the storylines.

But I'm in luck. Comics are growing a big part in my life lately. I've discovered Chris Ware. The first I heard of the American cartoon artist was from a radio show in the US, in which he was interviewed. Divulging the secret that he always thought he would become a superhero when he grew up. I picked up a copy of Acme nr.3 One of the few comics of his that aren't sold out, and started reading.

The comics have funny, but noticably adult story lines. Jimmy Corrigan, my personal favorite of his characters is a little boy with a disfunctional family. It is displayed so professionally, and properly in a early 1900 style, and the adult jokes are hidden inside the wordy prose. The comics are incredibly well written, sarcastic, and clever, never over the top. Don't hesititate to read a full page of tiny 2-point type by Ware. It's worth the eye strain.

From a visual standpoint, the drawings are just as impeccable as the writing is. I was intrigued by the wallpaper-esque pattern on the cover of the comic, and was not disappointed by the inside. Beautiful line work, architectural drawings, and crisp hand-drawn titling. The work feels more like a piece of art than a comic book. I have considered dismantling mine, framing it, and hanging it on the wall, but I can't help but think that Ware's comics are going to be worth a lot of money someday. I'll be snapping up as many of them as possible in the future

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Lego's for Life

Have you ever built a city? constructed a home, or a functioning vehicle? Most people have nowadays thanks to legos. Okay, not the Grand scale you may have been thinking of, but it's true. Legos have been shaping childhood for decades now. I think it is even safe to say that most everyone in the western world has run into Legos at some point within their lifespan. Chances are you remember building something grandiose with the small plastic blocks.

But you also remember those dilemmas: Wanting to build a red building, but running out of red blocks before the first wall was finished; Needing one three "pronged" piece, and digging through the lego bucket to find it; trying to build a custom car, or boat, or spaceship, but being limited to the pieces in the lego model kits; simply put, having dreams much bigger than could be contained in a simple bucket of legos.

I have just found the jackpot for all those lego-saavy builders piddling around in the digital domain: Lego Digital Designer. It is a free program available for download on the Lego website. Working from a sorted drawer of lego pieces that never empties, you can build to your heart's content, and once the model is finished, upload it to the Lego website, and order a kit, with every specific piece, and construction instructions included, all packaged in a genuine Lego box. So go out, and relive your childhood -- digitally!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Perfect Words

Imagine walking into a meeting, and as the opening word the leader states that the goal is to design something "fair, equitable, and sustainable for all generations of all species of all time." Not a small task! What a strong statement! So strong that I have everything to say about it and nothing all at once, for fear of ruining the power of it. So I'll just leave it here for the day.

According to a colleague of mine this is how it is to start a meeting with William McDonough, green designer, and author of the famous book "Cradle to Cradle." What a smart man! I know I may be late on the bandwagon, but I just went out and bought a copy of the book, I need to know more!

by Lou Smith

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hold Onto Your Souls!

I'd say that as a general rule I'd like to hold onto my soul. Afterall, it might come in handy sometime, which is exactly why the title of this book intrigued me. "How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul" by Adrian Shaughnessy is a great handbook for new designers, in or just out of college. It isn't about design itself, but rather about being a designer. Not about lines, and colors, and shapes, it's about finding creativity, dealing with clients, and most of the in's and out's of becoming a professional designer.

The information it covers seems so basic, but is genuinely useful; the kinds of things you can find tidbits of in magazine articles but almost never compiled in one place. Which direction to hold you portfolio in an interview, how to win clients: "by doing great work all of the time," and even a quick overview of how to keep track of your design company's finances. It covers all the little stuff, so you can stop worrying about business details and start doind what you do best, design!

But the book doesn't stop with just business, it's like a mullet: business in front, and pleasure in the back! In the last pages of the book there is a chapter covering the creative process. In short, how to pull the best designs possible out of yourself even if your brain is kicking and screaming for ideas. My favorite piece of advice: "It is only by daring to experiment, and by taking risks, that rich and meaningful design is created."

It's also sprinkled with interviews from array of modern designers, providing unique insights into the profession itself, such as the tidbit from Rudy VanderLans: "It's only natural to be revered by your peers." Haha, he knows me so well! But seriously, there is lots of good information to be gleaned.

Not only is the content good, but the deisgn of the book itself is good. The pages are carefully typeset, and all samples are printed 2-color in the prettiest color black, and cyan ink. Every little thing about it is worth admiring, even the new book smell! So dig your nose into the pages, read every word, and don't forget to take a whiff.

by Lou Smith
Buy "How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul" by Adrian Shaughnessy on Amazon

Lulu Is My Friend

Clever, clever. The age of the internet has brought lots of different options for single run, print on demand, and personally published stuff. Cafe Press was the first, but I have never been excited by the collage of crap that you find on the site, and the all the restrictions with printing sizes and techniques. They started doing self-published books a few years ago or so, but I couldn't get the image of a crappily printed book with my name on it out of my head.

But there's a new self-publishing website online, (if not more,) Lulu! And it seems that it is getting over some major hurdles that Cafe Press had. There are plenty of different sizes of books to choose from, full color, or black and white, you can even choose between hard covers, and soft covers, and different binding techniques. The best thing is that they describe exactly what your going to get, and it's good. Nice paper, with brands color and weights right there for you to see, they even tell you the printer that they're going to use... Now this is built for designers. You can design every piece of the book, submitting a complete .pdf file for print.

This is fun! I'm getting all sorts of crazy design-studenty ideas... Zines, comics, poetry, documentations, and final portfolio pieces that I don't have to craft myself.... You can even add an ISBN number, [girlish giggle....] This is going to be so much fun! Design students need these kinds of resources!

by Lou Smith

A New Favorite Thing

The time has come to give a shout out to my new favorite thing... Architects Hatch . I saw it at Passagen, and like that Kylie Minogue song, I just can't get it out of my head.

The neon... the stripes... the workmanship... the joy!

It's so lovely, I really can't stop thinking about it. The pieces are made of a birch particle board that seems so raw, and rough at first, but on a closer inspection of the workmanship you can see why one would be willing to pay a good price for this piece. Hidden behind a laminate coating for years, this piece spotlights particle board, and gives it the glory that it has never received before.

The neon orange (or black for more boring people) inlayed stripes are so precisely set, they wrap around the piece matching
perfectly at all corners, and conjunctions. It looks nice, and seems simple but the whole stripe pattern was laid out on computer and carefully calculated. Precision! I love it! I wish it had been my idea!

Just imagine this piece sitting in your dining room, it would be the talk of your dinner party. Everyone would love you! If you are brave enough to put neon colors in your home then everyone should love you!

Last but not least, the architect who designed the piece is really cute! (what can I say, I'm a girl, I have to mention it!) Go out and buy one, or at least go to the website and drool over it like me!

by Lou Smith

Humanity Behind Bars

"Necessity is the mother of invention" Plato was absolutely right. I found myself stuck in a small town near Cologne on a Sunday morning with one cigarette in hand, and no lighter. What to do, what to do? I had to have the cigarette... so giving up wasn't an option. Lacking resources, everything is closed here on the weekend, I pulled out inventive my designerly skills and did what I had to. I used the electric stovetop. Heated it up, put the cigarette on the burner and took a drag.

It helped me to sympathise with a book I recently found called Prisoners' Inventions. How do you react do people do when only their most basic needs (food and heat) are provided for? What about the less than basic needs? Lighting up a cigarette, privacy, tattoos? They are not necessary for life, but in a way they are necessary to feel normal. These little bits of the outside world are helping to make such a restricted life bearable.

On noticing all of the ingenious inventions that his prisoner friends were making a prisoner called Angelo began compiling drawings and explanations of these inventions, which later turned into the book "Prisoner Inventions".

In his words "The prison environment is designed and administered for the purpose of suppressing such inventiveness." Prisoner inventions are all subject to confiscation by prison police, and are often gone within days of they're creation. That only makes the prisoners more creative, they constantly have to remake, and therewith rework the basic designs.

The basic idea of prison is to make the prisoners feel less human, and they are responding by creating things that simulate freedom, reviving their humanity. It's like an Ayn Rand novel behind bars. The "Prime Mover" fighting against authority not with words or weapons, but with inventiveness.

by Lou Smith
Temporary Services, Prisoner Inventions Website
University of Chicago Press Website