What kind of graphic designer are you?

As with any profession, it’s important for graphic designers to be introspective. I have experienced life as a graphic designer in multiple stages: with no actual training in the field (1996–1998), as a graduate student in visual communications (1999–2001), and as a professional designer (2002 to present). I have witnessed all of the below subspecies of graphic designer (and I have been or continue to be one or more of them myself). Thinking about where you fall in these categories can help you understand your work and why some people look at you that way.

Uber Conceptualist
This designer says things like, “The single straight black line in a field of white represents human kind’s unwillingness to recognize its own shortcomings.” Then when his client says, “Yes, but we asked you to design a logo for the county fair,” he sighs and walks away. It’s important for design decisions to have meaning, but when the meaning is so abstract it has to be explained to everyone who sees it, graphic design crosses over into fine art—a different field altogether.

Hack
This person uses Comic Sans and starbursts. Also clip art.

Prima Donna
This person hates you. How dare you question his design decisions? If you don’t like it—or don’t get it—it’s because you’re too dumb. And who needs you anyway? Also, every other designer who has ever created anything is just so corporate. Bunch of sellouts. Especially Paul Rand.

People Pleaser
The yin to the Prima Donna’s yang, the People Pleaser takes any suggestion that comes along. Bold this? Yes. Add 17 photos to page three? You’re the boss!

Tech Guy
One of the great things that desktop publishing did for the world was that it put powerful graphic design tools in the hands of anyone who owns a computer. Conversely, one of the terrible things that desktop publishing did for the world was that it put powerful graphic design tools in the hands of anyone who owns a computer. The Tech Guy designer can tell you everything you would ever want to know (and usually much, much more) about all of the advanced functions in Adobe Photoshop, then uses the software to create fliers for book sales that look like laundry that got washed with Joseph’s Technicolor Dreamcoat.

Old Timer
The Old Timer has been setting metal type by hand since you were wetting your diaper, and doesn’t need any of these newfangled devices to help him.

Of course, these are gross exaggerations, and every good designer has at least some of the above in him. It’s important to balance the Prima Donna with the People Pleaser—to have confidence in your abilities and your decisions, but to be able to hear criticism with an open mind. It’s valuable to let your inner Uber Conceptualist battle it out with the Hack—to think in deeper meanings but to make your work accessible. And every designer should be able to make the best use of his tools—à la the Tech Guy—but to understand the origins of the principles of graphic design the way only the Old Timer can.

And while every designer should have a little of each of the above, maybe you lean a little too far in one of the above directions. And that’s why people look at you like that.

Uber Conceptualist photo by Fausto Giliberti. Old Timer photo by Leroy Skalstad.

Interpreting Unwritten Rules of Baseball: Part 2

In Monday’s post, Paul began a discussion of how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball. Based on the overwhelming response, it is possible that we managed to divide an already partly interested audience, yet again? Today I’m going to tackle some of the unwritten rules that address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

Don’t steal the catcher’s signs using means outside of the diamond. It is okay to be on second base and steal signs from the catcher. It is the responsibility of the pitcher and catcher to conceal those calls through various signs.

Interpreters should not conceal their messages. Otherwise they take the chance that they will get lost in translation, stolen, or misinterpreted. If the theme is a single complete thought, it should be easily repeated by the interpreter and conveyed by the visitor at the end of presentation. Having someone in your audience tipping your pitches is a totally different story.

Intentionally throwing at hitters will be reciprocated by the other team. Turnabout is fair play. In the event that a pitcher throws to hit a player (while not aiming at the head, see Monday’s post) you can expect revenge will be taken within the next couple of innings. This goes for intentional body shots but can happen on unintentional tosses as well. This can continue back and forth until the umpire starts tossing players out of the game. (Paul, I had an image of Pedro in Red Sox gear but I thought you would enjoy this one more.)

As interpreters, if we are found preaching or proselytizing at visitors you are going to get a returned negative reaction. Visitors to interpretive sites, in most cases, are intelligent people. No one wants to be preached at even if you are right. You will garner more support through carefully crafted messages that relate to your audience. You can expect a similar reaction if you are simply fact vomiting as well (minus the vomit…you know what I mean…I hope).

Base runners should not shout or distract a fielder getting under an infield fly. Imagine this, you are rounding the bases and the shortstop is about to catch an infield fly ball for the out. Just before he makes the catch you yell, “HA!” making the shortstop drop the ball. This is considered “bush league” (a term used to describe amateurish play below the professional level) in Major League Baseball.

For interpretation, extraneous information not related to the theme will detract from your presentation. Chasing tangents or being distracted from your thematic message will lose visitors. Not to say that you shouldn’t take advantage of those impromptu moments that may command your attention. For instance while leading a geology hike you hear the rare and elusive A-Rod call “HA!” You have to take that opportunity to interpret it, but somehow relate that distraction back to your theme to keep you efforts intact.

Don’t discuss a no-hitter in progress. Much like professional baseball players, Paul and I are extremely superstitious. (We are also similar in body types, bank accounts, and our affinity for tight pants.) If the pitcher for your team is in the process of throwing a no-hitter, you don’t say anything about it. If you do and the opposing team gets a hit, it is your fault. Announcers are the worst at following this rule. Joe Buck can kill a no-no like no other.

At your interpretive site if you have a no-hitter in progress and a visitor is buying in while moving up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, leave them alone and let them make their own conclusions. Just because we see the light bulb going off doesn’t mean we need to check the switch. We also think we know what’s best for the visitor but we never know what brings a visitor to our sites and what their motivations are. Lead but don’t guide.

Don’t steal bases when leading by a wide margin. Come on, there’s no reason to show people how fast you are. The only reason to break this rule is if you are in peewee baseball and you have new shoes and you must show others how fast they make you run. Just because you can swipe a bag because you can get away with it, doesn’t mean you should. (That goes for baseball too.) That’s all I’ve got.

Don’t admire your home run right after you hit it. This is a sure way to get yourself plunked at your next at bat.

Have you ever had a moment when Freeman shined down from the great visitor center in the sky and everything about your program went perfectly? The crowd was awesome, they asked all the right questions, and spent several hundred dollars in the gift shop before they left, buying everything related to your message. Don’t brag or someone in your office will throw a stapler at you.

Don’t use steroids. While we are on Manny you should also never grow your dreadlocks so long that they name the thing you wear under your ball cap a mandana.

 

The Rule of Third (Base) and other unwritten rules of graphic design/baseball

Not too long ago, my co-author and friend Shea called me with an interesting question: “Is there a way we could somehow incorporate baseball into our blog about graphic design and interpretation?” It seemed like a stretch, but since baseball is a mutual interest, we thought we’d give it a try this week.

In today’s post, I will discuss how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball (actually, for the purposes of this post, they are, in fact, written rules of baseball). Thursday, Shea will address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

If you intentionally hit a batter, don’t aim at his head.
Sometimes a baseball pitcher needs to send a message. Suppose the pitcher is unhappy with a player on the other team for violating one of the many unwritten rules of baseball, and he decides to intentionally plunk him with a pitch. It’s an unwritten rule that the pitcher should aim at the batter’s backside rather than a more vulnerable area, like his head.

Designers send messages, too, and it’s important not to aim at your audience’s head. Large fields of bright red, using lots of different typefaces, bolding everything, and filling every last square inch of white space—these are all examples of being overly aggressive, or aiming at your audience’s head. It’s important to get your message across, but you don’t have to beat people over the head with it.

Don’t step on the foul line.
This is more of a superstition than an unwritten rule, but many players—pitchers, mostly—avoid stepping on the lines drawn on the field as they enter or leave the field between innings. There are parts of the field clearly designated for different purposes—fair territory is for game faces and steadfast focus, foul territory is where players can relax and prepare for the next inning. Stepping on the line between those two areas muddies the distinction between them.

Designers rely on lines and areas with clearly defined purposes as well. A grid system helps designers decide where to place important elements on a page. (See a post on the grid here.)

Don’t slide with your spikes up.
When a runner slides into a base with the spikes on his shoes up, there’s a risk of serious injury. This is something noted jerk and Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb was famous for. Clearly, for designers, this rule relates to using starbursts. You’d have to be a real Ty Cobb to intentionally inflict those pointy aberrations on your audience.

Don’t make the first or third out at third base.
For various strategic reasons that I will resist detailing here, base runners should avoid making the first or third out of an inning trying to reach third base. They’re better off staying at second, if the situation allows, rather than risking making an out at third base. That said, there are occasions where it’s okay to force the issue and aggressively try for third base.

Designers use a Rule of Thirds as a guide to attractive compositions. Like baseball’s Rule of Third Base, though, there are times when the compositional Rule of Thirds can be violated. See a post about the Rule of Thirds here.

Pitchers should not show up their fielders.
When a fielder makes an error, pitchers have to resist outwardly showing their displeasure. Even though the pitcher has inherited a difficult situation because of his teammate’s misstep, he has to suck it up and focus on that next batter.

Similarly, every design project is a collaboration. If the copy writer comes in with too high a word count or the photographer gets thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple, the project manager still needs to own the project and work with team members to get it right.

Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter.
This is just a weasely thing to do. Swing the bat. This is not a concern in the American League because no one bunts there.

Well, there you go. Tune in next week when we’ll delve into the importance of working pitch counts when setting type!

Odds and Ends: Cleaning Out Shea’s Phone Edition

Okay, I’m still in the process of cleaning out the IBD Archives (which happens to be an old shoe box that I keep under my bed filled with top-secret IBD memorabilia, along with photos of old girlfriends) with this second installment of Odds and Ends. Much like anything with the title “Jersey Shore,” Paul’s Odds and Ends installment on Monday doesn’t officially count.

This time I was going through my phone, deleting photos of errant moments of friends that should have been deleted a long time ago, and I came across several photos that were worthy of sharing. Here are the images as well as some random thoughts associated with them.

Who doesn’t like fried chicken, or fried anything for that matter? I know KFC is not the best place to get fried chicken (a tie between Roscoe’s in Los Angeles and Gus’ in Memphis) but my main motivation when visiting this new KFC was directly related to these signs.

At least the signage is original. (Insert your own bad joke here about the Colonel’s original recipe of 11 herbs and spices, or bowties, or seersucker suits, or goatees on old men who sell chicken, or graphic designers in Colorado.)

This is from my neighborhood’s snowcone stand. I’ve been wanting to say something about the misspelling but who am I to judge spelling? And I can’t risk being banned from banana cream pie snow cones (which is not on the list, but it’s a custom flavor I invented that requires a delicate balance of banana, cake batter, and vanilla syrups).

This is one of the best self-guided trail markers I have ever seen. It’s painted right on the rocks found on the Golden-cheeked Warbler Trail in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Texas. I was tempted to steal one. On one shoulder, Don Simons encouraged it, and on the other shoulder, Jay Schneider said he would call the police. I took only pictures and left only footprints. Though I still think it would look great in my office. They were also concreted into place.

Again, who am I to judge? This comes from Mugs Coffee in Fort Collins, Colorado. At least they are trying to do the right thing. Much like me in college algebra. I still failed, though honorably.

If you have some pictures of funny signs or other odds and ends send them our way or post them on the IBD Facebook page.

Accepting Criticism

I’m on vacation this week, and I’m spending some time in a bathing suit, so I figure what better time to write about being criticized?

Being a good designer means understanding the rules of type, color, and composition. But beyond that, it’s just as much about understanding and appreciating the perspective of your audience.

It can be difficult to invite criticism on a design project—especially when you’re happy with it and you’re really only seeking validation. It can be particularly hard to hear feedback from nondesigners on a design project, because when aesthetics are involved, everyone will have an opinion, but not everyone will be able to articulate their thoughts. There’s nothing worse than, “I don’t like it but I can’t say why….”

If you’re a surgeon and some guy on the street says he thinks you ought to practice your craft differently, you can say, “Well, I went to school for this, so I think I’ll do it my way.” Graphic designers, on the other hand, can’t really say (as much as we’d like to), “Well, I went to school for this, so you have to like my work.” On the other other hand, if you’re a guy on the beach in a bathing suit and some guy says to maybe lay off the cheese steaks and ice cream, you are free to punch him in the face.

Many of you may be familiar with the website Interpretation By Design. (I’ve included a screen capture for reference.) As we’ve done several times over the last couple years, we recently changed the look of this website. This time, when we unveiled the new theme, we posted a link on Facebook and asked for feedback.

I was looking forward to comments because I liked the new look, and hoped everyone else would, too. We received a handful of comments on Facebook, a few more in the comments section of the current post at the time, one more (oddly) in the comments section of a post from September of 2009, and a handful of text messages (all from Shea, who is just so happy to have an iPhone). I really wanted everyone just to say that they loved the site and how handsome and witty and charming IBD is exactly half the time (on Mondays), but that was not entirely how it worked out.

Some people liked the new look and said so. Some constructive comments led to changes that I consider improvements (the original bright white background was hard on the eyes, so now it’s a warm neutral), while other comments offered food for thought but did not lead to changes (some people are distracted by the rotating header image; others like it). In this case, asking for and receiving constructive criticism did not only lead to immediate changes on this site, but it helped broaden my perspective as I undertake future projects.

Oddly, I am much more apt to solicit feedback on projects that I am not happy with (in design circumstances, that is; I do not intend to solicit feedback on how I look in a bathing suit this week). If I am happy with how a project is going, I worry that constructive criticism is going to derail me. Nevertheless, I always do ask for comments (again, not on the bathing suit). Sometimes criticism leads to small changes that make big improvements, sometimes I do actually receive the validation I sought, and every now and again, I consider changing careers.

Ultimately, seeking feedback on design projects is not just some part of the process to be checked off a list. Take the time to really listen to comments, look for patterns in the feedback, consider new ideas, and make open-minded decisions about whether to make changes.

And maybe consider skipping that second cheese steak of the day after all.

Graphic Design Apps We Kind of Like

Every now and again, I wonder if my iPhone could be more to me than just the second-favorite member of my family. To that end, I regularly search the Internet for new apps that I might add. Invariably, I come across articles with titles like “10 Apps Every Redhead Must Have” or “The Best Apps in the History of the World for Baseball Fans” or “Download These Apps Now or You Will Die.” That all seems a little stark for us, but there are some good smart phone apps for graphic designers that I kind of like, so I thought I’d share.

Note that I am a cheapskate, so the apps listed here are free, with one notable exception at the end. Also note that I use an iPhone, so I ran these apps past my Android-using co-worker Jamie King, who confirmed their existence on that platform or suggested similar alternatives.

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Palettes
You may have guessed already that this app generates color palettes. You can create color palettes one color at a time using standard color sliders, or you can generate palettes from photographs.

When you have a palette that you’re happy with, you can export it in any number of ways. The app provides detailed information (hex codes, CMYK and RGB breakdowns, etc.) for each color. (Available for the iPhone. Jamie reports that this does not exist yet for Android users, but suggests one called My Color Guide.)

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Adobe Photoshop Express
Friend of IBD Amy Ford told me about this app, which allows you to make some of the basic adjustments you would make in the full Photoshop, like cropping, brightness, contrast, etc., right on your phone, as seen with this photo of my daughter below.

With the availability of this app, it is now officially possible to install Adobe Photoshop on any electrical device, including your toaster, your rechargeable toothbrush, and yes, your Android phone. (Available for the iPhone and on the Android market.)

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SimpleDraw
This app allows you to draw on your screen in several basic colors and different stroke weights. It is great for quick sketches, playful doodling, and entertaining your children in airports. You can save images that you like to your phone or email them to Grandma and Papa right out of the app. Note that if your children have been eating yogurt with their fingers, your screen will get sticky. Also note that if you only have one mobile device, your children will fight over it until one of them drops it in their yogurt. (Available for the iPhone. For Android users, Jamie suggests a similar app called Kids Doodle.)

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SignGuru
Friend of IBD Joan Lawrence recommended this app to us. And when she did, she said, “I haven’t had time to check it out yet, but it sounded good.” Well, if she had checked it out, Joan would have found a terrific app loaded with information. A section called “Specs and Guidelines” contains information on everything from color combinations to engineering basics, as well as guidelines on the Americans with Disibilities Act (ADA) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), among much else.

Not only that, a section called “A Good Sign?” shows you images of signs, which you evaluate with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and the app tells you whether your opinion is “Correct!” or “Incorrect.”

As a person who frequently tells other people that their opinions are incorrect, this appeals to my sensibilities. (Available for the iPhone and on the Android market.)

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WhatTheFont
This app identifies typefaces for you. Yes, it should be called WhatTheTypeface, but WTT is not as funny as WTF, and it’s free, so what are you going to do? Using the camera on your device, you photograph type that you find in the environment around you and upload the image. WhatTheFont uses recognition software to put a name to the typeface. I struggled with this app until I realized that your photos have to be oriented vertically rather than horizontally, but since then, I’ve been enjoying it. It doesn’t get it right every time, but even when it can’t find an exact match, the app suggests similar typefaces. (Available for the iPhone.)

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Dexigner
I almost didn’t download this one because the icon violates my first rule of logo design: No eyeballs. (Rule #2: No globes.) (Rule #3: Cleverly put a globe in an eyeball and you are banned from logo design forever.) Anyway, I did download the app and found that it contains a lot of useful design-related information, including a calendar of upcoming conferences and competitions, a list of recommended books, directories of designers, studios, and museums, and a lot more. (Available for the iPhone. Jamie did not find this on the Android market, but said that one called Dsgn: Design & Typography News might work.)

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MLB.com At Bat
Okay, so this is in no way a graphic design app, but I put it here because it’s just so great. Seriously. In my tenure as an iPhone owner, I have purchased only one app, and it’s this one. Best $14.99 I’ve ever spent. I like to stream the local Phillies radio broadcast and pretend that I’m eating a cheesesteak on the New Jersey boardwalk. (Available for the iPhone and on the Android market.)

Well, there you have it, our Top 7 Apps that Redheaded Baseball Fan Graphic Designers Must Have or They Will Die. Go get ’em!