Design Competition: Internship: SPOT Card Competition

Competition page on Alex’s website. Unfortunately for you, the competition has closed.

As is the nature of the beast, through a series of back and forth emails, me, Alex and Angharad managed to figure out the specifics of the competition we were going to run and how. We figured out the length, what we were asking for, where we were asking for it and all the other stuff. Alex hosted the competition rules on his site, so they read our article, went to him, and then got the PDF required to enter the competition, Did their thing, and then send it back to us. That’s about as streamlined as we could make it.

Alex’s PDF grid

It really did make me reflect on how important market research is. Knowing who your demographic is and how to interact with them is the cornerstone of any successful not just business, but public service.

I don’t know what’s going to happen with the competition page, but here’s the link just in case you want to have a look.

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Design Competition: Internship: The little things

A HTML stripper I was asked to use. Don’t I take you to all the most glamorous places?

I assumed the hard work when it comes to being a freelance writer would be in having to write something worth reading. How wrong was I? Angharad showed me the process I would need to go through to upload what I write to the Grafik website.

Grafik uses something called Protein to manage their online content. It’s an awful lot like WordPress, except Word press is easier to use. I would also need to strip the HTML code from my text using a website designed for that very process. I can’t really tell you why, but when your boss says ‘do it’ you do it. Nothing quite makes what you do real like all of the ridiculous mundane things you have to do, to get it published.

Dancing in the rain (you know, like the film) is a wonderful fantasy, but once you’ve done it, you realise how muddy your shoes get. You also get wet. It’s part of the package. You can look forward to sitting around the table in the pub and exchanging war stories with your colleagues on day.

Design Competition: Internship: Angharad Lewis

This is Angharad Lewis. As you can see, she’s a very nice person.

My point of contact for Grafik is Editor Angharad Lewis. She was my studio leader last year and I wrote a piece for her on five comic books I think everyone should read. I think you should read those comic books too, so here’s the link to that article. The process of writing to inform, as well as the restraints placed on you by what you have to write, I find to be quite enjoyable. I look forward to finding ways to keep doing this in the future.

Grafik Takeover: My ‘Zine’

The other part of the Grafik takeover was to create a ‘zine’ using content from Grafik’s website. Being obtuse when it comes to graphic design and what it has to do with me, the majority of my time working on this zine was spent being conceited. I spent years telling people that I had no interest in doing a graphic design degree, just like I had no interest in animation (more like no interest in doing the animation) and now, here I was doing an editorial task where I was effectively relegated to layout design. As an illustrator on an illustration course, I felt more than entitled to drag my feet with this, especially since this was my first visit to Adobe Indesign since the book I made last year.

I decided to pick several letterform articles to use for the content of my zine, half because looking at the letter at such a scale that it ceased being a grain of sand on the beach and instead became a skyscraper, made me consider how much effort can actually go into designing a typeface, and half because it was the first suggestion on the brief.

I went looking for the most bizarre looking letters I could find, to really emphasise the letter as the focal point of each spread. It’s funny how little I know about design (and funnier how little I bother to pick up). There are no doubt conventions that are routinely applied in the production of graphic design, but being unaware of any that aren’t strictly speaking, common sense, I decided to pursue a minimalist approach to the layout. (Also, from quotes I’ve heard, but can never remember properly, the ‘best designs do the most work with the least elements’ or something to that effect.) Every letterform would be massive and accompanied by only the title of the article and the body copy. No other elements. I didn’t want to play it too safe, so I went with white font on a black background. Using solid colour as the background hasn’t worked out well for me in the past, but I wasn’t convinced that it was an entirely futile endeavour. I spent some time trying to pick an appropriate font, and settled on Futura. It has a weight to it which helps it stand out in white on a coloured background. I also like the relative scale and density of the letters. 

One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.
One of my spreads. Note the subtle symmetry.

Honestly, the only thing I felt enthused about doing was the cover page, since I was effectively naming and marketing the zine. I showed my work in progress to our resident designer Sarah Boris and Angharad and they gave me some feedback on font types, colour schemes and other considerations.

Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.
Designers On Design. Issue 1. Coming to a store near you never.

Sarah really helped me bring together the cover. It should be interesting to see how the publication is taken as a whole, should I ever witness anyone flicking through it. I looked at some random magazine layouts online, to get a sense of where my design was in the grand scheme of things. While I had been particular about my placement of elements in relation to each other, I can’t claim to have used an extensive grid system. Nor could I, with so few elements. My colour pallet is unorthodox to be sure, but if now is not the time to experiment with such things, when is? I have the rest of my life to be boxed in by clients saying ‘I want this’ (pointing at someone else’s work), ‘but in red.’ I tried to keep an eye out for orphans and widows and eliminate them with extreme prejudice. (Of course I’m talking about one word lines of text at the top or bottom of paragraphs, not people, but I wanted you to be unsure about that for just a little while.) The extreme prejudice part I should redact as well. It was more like mild disinterest. I did actually alter at least one column of text to remove a widow though, so yay me.

Another spread
Another spread

The back cover was intended to be reserved for the local printers who had offered to print all of our studio’s zines in exchange for free advertisement. While the initial conversation I had with them as one of the studio’s representatives went very well, and most students did end up getting their zines printed, my sporadic attendance resulted in me missing out. As a result, my back page is slightly different and you will either think it very clever or utterly asinine depending on whether you are me or not.

The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you're not me.
The back page of my zine. Like I said, you either like it, or you’re not me.

The process of readying the indesign document for print has not been an enjoyable one and I do wonder what I would do If the internet wasn’t full of people who’ve already gone through the disasters that confront me. A prime example would be the alarming amount of difficulty it took to even produce a PDF where the black I had used throughout my entire zine would actually show as the same colour it was in the Indesign file. And we’re not talking about CMYK vs RGB or anything, we’re talking about black. There’s a sketch from an old TV show called the Fast Show that comes to mind, so it’s time to move on.

Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Sketchbook page considering cover treatments
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone's contact details off of it. It's like all my Christmas's have come at once...
Another sketchbook page. Not only did I cleverly work a Prinny joke in there, I had to redact someone’s contact details off of it. It’s like all my Christmas’s have come at once… because redacting is awesome. Take that Freedom of Information Act!

Graphic design is a school of study in it’s own right. It has it’s own principles, sensibilities, history and purpose. It always bothers me when I’m supposed to learn about another school of study than the one I signed up for. Especially due to my woeful lack of knowledge when it comes to the school of study I did sign up for. I understand the course is helping ground all its students with a solid knowledge-base in all sorts of things, but I can’t help but feel being a jack-of-all-trades will simply leave me a master of none. Being just as good as the next guy, or 10,000 other people applying for the same position, doesn’t help me stand out, now does it?

An unfair claim to lay at the door, when the course made no secrets about its content and delivery? Perhaps, but It’s almost time to have that awesome portfolio that knocks people off their chairs while looking at it, and I’m not seeing it happen.

The irony of all this is that editorial work is effectively just taking stuff that already exists and repackaging it; the hard work has already been done. This was not a time or effort heavy project that required months to compile and present. Honestly, I like what I ended up with and I did get to play around with the cover quite a bit.

The technical difficulties of creating hi-res images from the tiny files on the website was an issue for me as well. This is the problem with relying on the internet all the time. Not every solution some random guy puts on a forum is the right one for you.

I also had to reprint the finished zine twice, since the purple printed considerably darker than it appeared on my computer screen. And that is the most important lesson to be gleaned from the whole experience: never expect it to all go right the first time. Give yourself time to account for unforeseen difficulties, technical hiccups and have some wiggle-room in your budget to get past all that stuff.

Grafik Takeover: Take 5

After completing our manifestos, we were to prepare for our ‘takeover’ of the design website Grafik. Angharad Lewis, one of the core staff in our studio who also, conveniently enough, works on the website, had intended the students to create two end goals: an editorial ‘zine’ using existing articles on the website and also pitch ideas and then create our own articles for the website.

Since I stalled with the first project while I did the second, let’s talk about that one first. We were asked to pitch three ideas for articles to Angharad based on the pre-existing article categories on the website. We could try to commission a designer to write a short piece on a letterform, logo, cover-shot or something along those lines that interested them, or personally write an article about an up and coming talent .

My three suggestions went in order of safety, safest first. I started with the obvious, suggesting contacting any of the professional designers assisting our studio to write a letterform, logo or whatever, article. Then I suggested writing an article on an up-and-coming illustrator who goes by the name of Certain Streeks. (Who lives here)

A screen-grab of Certain Streek's website.
A screen-grab of Certain Streek’s website.

I was aware that his style might be an odd fit for Grafik but looked at it as an opportunity for them to diversify. Thirdly, I suggested some sort of list of ‘graphic novels everyone must read’. As I explained this idea , Angharad suggested using the ‘Take 5’  format already on the site, where writers, you guessed it, talk about five things with a common theme, however specific or vague that may be. I thought this idea to be the least likely to gain traction, since comic books are rarely talked about as actual graphic design, you know, in the same sentence as the Bauhaus, or even in the same book.

Angharad decided to go with the ‘five graphic novels for everyone’ suggestion. I think I had already made a presentation on Maus and possibly Persepolis at that point, so it might have been obvious I wasn’t just going to list a bunch of Batman comics (and don’t get me wrong, from Arkham Asylum to Year One, there’s plenty of Batman that I recommend, just not to everyone). I wrote some rough copy using a phrase somewhere along the lines of ‘ for those who don’t want to get bogged down in capes and spandex’ which I think helped my case immeasurably.

The entire point of the article was to bring attention to the medium and its potential for involving narratives (which there is clearly no shortage of a market for, looking at how TV series are doing right now). The combination of image and text is simple to understand, can be visually striking, but you can also have subject matter as complex as you like. Just because there’s that dude with the pointy ears and that other one who can fly, doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all of the medium. The fact that most of the books I put on the list were actually available to borrow from the design library of the university shows that at least someone else out there shares my belief that these comics have worth as a reference point to professional designers, or designers in training, at least.

After the words came the pictures, so I contacted Gosh Comics in Soho to see if they would be amenable to me photographing their versions of the graphic novels in question. They were, so I did. Unfortunately, the lighting in the store and the stiffness of some of the book’s spines made high quality photography a little too difficult for someone who photographs as intermittently as me. I bought all the graphic novels that I didn’t already own and finally picked up the full set of Transmetropolitan, my favourite comic book series ever, and went on my way.

Persepolis's spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.
Persepolis’s spine was too robust to allow me to photograph the pages without having my hands in-shot.

The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.
The gloss paper of the Sandman comics plus the nature of the in-store lighting combined to screw up my pictures.

It was at this time where my attendance was, let’s just say, a little choppy, so I emailed what I had to Angharad, she agreed with my concerns that the photography needed to be redone, so I redid it at home, with natural lighting (and a little less concern about getting in the way of paying customers), sent the new photos and resent the copy for the article, which apparently didn’t get there the first time, and, er, went about fighting crime in my underwear instead of attending university for a while.

Luckily for me (and you), Angharad published what I sent her and now you can check to see if your favourite non superhero graphic novel is on the list here. Hopefully we can all agree that the images in the article are a little more polished than my first attempts.  

In a year full of missed deadlines for me, at least I managed on several occasions here to say ‘I’ll have it to you on Wednesday’ and actually get it done and delivered on Wednesday.

Despite my lacklustre attendance towards the end, this was a very enjoyable experience for me (and not just ‘cos I got to buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books). I picked the Press Pass studio to ‘unlock my inner wordsmith’, as the studio selection presentation advertised, and while you’ve no-doubt noticed from the average length of my blogposts, it could afford a little more time behind bars, writing is something I enjoy doing, probably more than art, actually. In this project I got to write about something I have a genuine interest and passion for, hopefully share that interest and passion with others, fight for a cause and buy a S#@t-tonne of comic books. And also dubiously claim to be a published writer.

The opportunity to do some photography is always welcome. It helps me appreciate the length professionals go to, to ensure they get the best lighting, composition, subject material and clarity in their work. You know, I can’t help but think that, one day, someone might run an educational course on that. Wouldn’t that be something?  On top of all that, this might have been the first time in my life I actually imported photographs into photoshop to like, y’know, edit them? To use them later as photographs?. I’ve had photoshop for years. It’s my core illustration tool and here I am, messing around with colour saturation and contrast and whatnot. I know, right? Madness.

Also, go check out Gosh Comics. They sell comics. And, oh boy, will you go ‘Gosh!’ when you see how many. Once you’ve read my list, you’ll have at least five books to pick up, so on your bike, I say! And yes, sigh, they do sell Batman…

New Brief: Manifesto

Following on from our visit from designer Anthony Burrill, our studio was given a new major brief to tackle. The idea was to look at artist manifestos and to effectively create our own, with a minimum of 16 pages to be ultimately bound to the work of all the other students. The work was to end up A4 in size, with the duplicate versions being in black and white to save on printing costs.

The funny thing is: I’d meant to create a manifesto of sorts last year after looking at Lawrence Weiner’s Declaration of Intent. I think I have a clear understanding of the kind of work I what my name associated with. At the very least, I have clear preferences.

My desire for the manifesto was to devote one page to one ideal to strive for. Two major influences were the Make Good Art book of a speech Neil Gaiman gave and a book of posters by one Anthony Burrill. 

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One spread from Neil Gaiman’s book of his speech ‘Make Good Art’

Angharad Lewis, one of the studio leaders, brought this book in from her own collection to show the class. Whilst I’m sure Gaiman made all the words with his mouth, I remain unsure if he is responsible for the design and layout of the book. 

What I tell you next will give you a very large insight into how I perceive graphic design and it’s use. After Angharad showed everyone the book and left it in the studio, I immediately went and read it. I know Neil Gaiman from having read The Sandman, a comic book series he wrote in the eighties or nineties, which is still, to this day, of of the finest examples of comics to show some of the inherent potential of comic books as a medium, which are mostly being squandered in the endless repetition of superhero stories (and don’t get me wrong, I love Batman, the Hulk and all that madness, but they keep rebooting the franchises because they’re diametrically opposed to progress, growth and consequence in all their storytelling). I read Gaiman’s words, I absorbed their meaning, took his points to heart, and then observed they way they had been visualised on the page. This is the way I look at graphic design. To me the accurate dissemination of pertinent information is the core function of ‘graphic design’ in the traditional sense. Aesthetics are secondary.

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Another spread from Gaiman’s book. At least I know if design doesn’t work out for me, I’ll always have my prowess as a hand model to fall back on.

Consider the following works of Burrill below and how they get their point across.

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Anthony Burrill poster 1
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Burrill poster 2. Best. Caption. Ever.

To say there are no design elements in these examples of Burrill’s work would be incorrect, even comparatively speaking, in reference to the book above. However, there is clearly a much stronger focus on the message and it’s beauty. If the layouts in Make Good Art artfully speak, then Burrill’s work boldly shouts from atop a mountain. I lack the experience or, right now, the patience, to design in such a way as the above book, so I decided that my starting point for my manifesto would focus on a more Burrill-istic approach. In a rare situation for me, I actually remembered to show my process as I was doing it. It will become apparent that my skill with text is, shall we say, in it’s infancy, but so what? If Pianists were afraid of playing badly there would be no pianists at all!

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‘Do it now.’ The most direct way to push myself away from my habitual procrastination.
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I think this works, however I do find it much harder to have the confidence in layouts than I would have with illustration proper
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The behind message says ‘do it again’ and I’ve crassly superimposed ‘but better’ over it. The message is strong, the delivery, however…
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The amount of negative space you leave in an image is proportionate to your confidence in the design. So am I at mostly 50/50? Hmm…
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Because no trip to photoshop is complete without the obligatory Gradient effect and/or drop-shadow text. Don’t all groan at once or you’ll push the planet off it’s orbit
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Did you see what I did there?
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I find it very difficult to feel that any kind of layout work like this adds much value…

They say good design is about using the least amount of tools to get your point across unhindered, so putting ‘again’ there three times seems somewhat superfluous to me, but all art is subjective, so the law of averages dictates that all of those versions will find approval from someone.

The most important thing, though, is to have versions. Even if it merely proves you had your best idea first. Having such ground work gives you more confidence going forward and alternatives to consider later. While it’s still fresh in your mind, now’s a good time for you to google Gaiman’s Sandman and then read it. I read mine from my local library, but if you like your ‘free’ with more immediacy and the vague aftertaste of flouting piracy law, you will no doubt have no trouble finding the seminal work online. You’re welcome.