Archive for the ‘What’ Category

Helvetica is Jan

Friday, August 8th, 2014
Neue Haas Grotesk, Christian Schwartz, 2004

Neue Haas Grotesk, Christian Schwartz, 2004

Speaking after Stefan Sagmeister at a conference is a bad idea. I’ve done this many times. It’s not that Stefan is nothing less than a true gentleman and good friend, it’s that when he finishes, I can look out at the audience from the side of the stage and see people streaming out en masse. “Well that’s what I came for, time to go,” they must be saying. I’m not crazy about doing this, as I tend to come off as, “and now for the easy listening break.”

Years ago, I spoke at a conference following someone, not as generous as Stefan, who was one of the hip and cool designers at that time. She talked about the critical theory and deconstruction of meaning regarding a logo she designed that looked exactly like Helvetica, but the crossbar of the “A” was removed. People seemed enthralled. I just thought, “and…”

Now, I’ve become that person, waxing on about the importance of the differences between Haas Grotesk and Helvetica. Sorry. I know everyone has a major hard-on for Helvetica, but I can’t look at it as anything but the less attractive sister of Haas Grotesk, like Jan and Marsha. Originally, Helvetica was Haas Grotesk, but over time changes were made for expediency. Christian Schwartz redrew Haas Grotesk in 2004, based on Max Miedinger‘s 1957 version.

Compared to standard issue system Helvetica, it’s elegant, crisp, warm, and legible. It doesn’t suffer from the “generic” look of Helvetica. I’ve been using it probably more than I should. I promise, however, to not talk endlessly about the lower case “r” at my next lecture. Maybe just a little.

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Haas Grotesk (L) Helvetica (R)

Haas Grotesk (L) Helvetica (R)

Helvetica in Switzerland

Helvetica in Switzerland

Helvetica in Switzerland

Helvetica in Switzerland


Mutilated Bodies

Monday, July 14th, 2014
Herb Lubalin poster, Davida Typeface, Louis Minott, 1965

Herb Lubalin poster, Davida Typeface, Louis Minott, 1965

Some fonts are bad. They are like that photo of a horrible car crash that you can never unsee. It’s not because they are cursed or especially ugly (well, some are), it’s because they have been mutilated and left to die. As I’ve grown older, I’m drawn to typefaces that may, perhaps, strain the limits of good taste.

Last week, I used Davida, designed by Louis Minott in 1965, on an annual report project. Noreen suggested I was not following the corporate system and could be opening the door to future infractions. I saw it as adding some zest and excitement. I see so much good taste sans-serif typography on a daily basis that I’m starving for something wrong.

The problem was getting a good cut of Davida. The original is really well drawn and formed. But someone along the way discovered it in the bin of forgotten typefaces and beat it regularly. The digital version is a far cry from where it began. It’s been around the block. My only choice is to redraw it myself and try to save it.

The lesson here is to find the original version of any font, see what it was meant to be before someone redrew it in a dark basement. I pledge to continue to rehabilitate Davida regardless of the current typographic style du jour.


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Sense and Sensibility

Thursday, June 26th, 2014
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Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral

Call me old-fashioned, but I think it’s important for a designer to know certain basic issues like the size of a business card and what information belongs on an envelope. Nevertheless, I see a great number of portfolios that have envelopes with phone and fax numbers, business cards that are unwieldy and oddly sized, and examples of 3-dimensional promotion that goes against the laws of physics. No this isn’t the fault of the owner of the portfolio. Clearly nobody took the time to explain these basic issues. I’m guilty of this myself. I’ve often talked to students and assumed someone else already taught them the information.

So, I can complain and be the cranky designer who laments that world isn’t what it was when I was a youngster, or I can help. When the good folks at asked me what course I’d like to do next, I suggested we dig deeper into basic issues of layout and composition and move into the stuff we make. Foundations of Layout and Composition: Marketing Collateral gave me a chance to start at the beginning with issues like audience, determining a budget, and what items to produce. I then added basic information on business cards, letterhead, swag, 3-d promotion, and posters.

I’m hoping the examples I use are interesting and inspiring. I rounded up some of my favorite firms like Eight and a Half and Modern Dog. But the main goal is to explain simply the most basic information with collateral. Don’t get me wrong; I’m fine with something being unexpected. In fact it should be. But it’s best when you know why it’s not ordinary. Nobody should be in the position that I witnessed a couple of weeks ago:

Me: Why did you decide to make the letterhead a unique size?

Designer: What?

Me: I’m not sure that a 5×7 card is a poster. What was your intention?

Designer: What?

Me: Is the envelope mailable? It looks like it will fall apart and cost a ton in postage.

Designer: Why are you so mean?

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Raindrops on Roses

Friday, June 20th, 2014

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Watching Glass

Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Cary Grant cool glasses

Cary Grant cool glasses

I have a bad habit of buying the same item repeatedly. It’s not as if I decide I need a few of the same shirt. I forget I have these items and keep buying more. I have a massive amount of khakis and blue Sperry sneakers. Each time I see them I think, “Hmm, now those are pretty nice.” I have every possible kind of madras shirt, as if anyone would notice one from the other. And I have way too many eyeglasses. There is a store in Pasadena, Old Focals, which is rather like a heroin den would be to others. I keep buying the same few styles of glasses over and over. Just this morning, I thought, “I like those glasses Harry Hamlin wears on Mad Men. I need to go get me some of those.” Of course, I already have several just like them.

And why vintage glasses? I can’t get on board with some of those groovy new styles. I don’t want to look like I’m a DJ or hip-hop star, although it’s doubtful anyone would make that error. If sturdy eyebrow glasses were good enough for my grandfather, and thick simple frames worked for Cary Grant, that’s good enough for me.

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