Odds and Ends: Music Lovers

So this is one of those posts where I’m cleaning out my email inbox filled with ideas from readers to share on IBD. Keep the pictures and ideas coming our way.

I must admit, I have had my momemts. This incident of misspelling takes the cake.

The only thing more egregious than the spelling mistake is the overuse of punctuation by ABC Columbia. By the way, I’ve dropped stuff too.

In my post Relevance for the Irrelevant, I took on how something so old could still be relevant. It looks like VW is back with a second installment.

.

I can’t wait to see what the’ve done for the Super Bowl.

The last item I wanted to share today was sent in from IBD reader Joe Jacobs.

We both found it funny that they went out of their way to call out music lovers. It does make you look twice at the quiet hours.

Superfluous Songs and Steak

If Paul can write about something as superfluous as an NBA team mascot this week, since no one is reading, I’m going to take the opportunity to write about something near and dear to my heart, rap music. That’s right, for those paying close attention, (at this point, no one), Paul wrote on Monday about Hip Hop the Philadelphia 76ers mascot. Today, I’m write about hip hop the music genera. This is no coincidence. Paul grew up eating Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches, where is has recently been confirmed that the “steak” in those sandwiches is actually Hip Hop. That’s rabbit, for those not really paying attention.

You see, I was trying to be funny by making a connection between Paul’s random post and my random post, too. But since everyone one is on vacation or doing things much more important than reading this blog, my weak attempt at making fun of cheese-covered “steak” is unwarranted.

Prepare yourself. One of the greatest segues in the history of IBD, taking something random and turning it into today’s interpretive design topic, is about to happen. Here it is (perhaps I over-billed it).

Cheese is a good thing. Steak is a good thing. Is combining them into one item a good thing? I’m not so sure. On August 8, 2011, Kanye West and Jay-Z released their collaborative effort known as Watch the Throne. I have written about both artists on IBD before. My post on Kanye West’s new album was about centering text and my post about Jay Z was related to authenticity.

I admire both of them as artists but their combination leaves me with unresolved issues. If you like mayonnaise on your cheese steak sandwiches, I would guess this is not a problem for you. (By the way, I’m not sure what that really means either.) This is not the first time that they have collaborated. Both have been featured on songs by each other. But in the past but it was obvious whose song it was and that the featured artist was secondary to the primary artist. A few of the song are great but some are screaming for someone to take the lead.

I’m not saying that Kanye is the steak and Jay Z is the cheese, since that wouldn’t be true and Jay Z would clearly dispatch someone huge to my house in quick order to kick my keister (actual rap term) in front of my wife and children. They are both amazing alone, and together in small doses. But too much of them together and you find yourself confused, in ketosis, and faced with the urge to run several miles. (Of course, while you are running you would be listening to the Carpenters.)

I tell you all of this to remind you of the importance of hierarchy in your designs (okay, so maybe that segue was the single greatest leap in IBD history). Let’s say you are designing a program flyer on your historic tour of two Philadelphia institutions like Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks. Both may claim to be the best cheese steak, but don’t let the cheese cloud your judgment. Remember your theme, emotional connections, and the intangible elements that are going to bring visitors to your program. While laying out the document, make sure you place emphasis on the most important element. I like to separate the most important element and group the lesser important elements. Also keep in mind that too many elements can be distracting. I try to focus on three key elements, and if the information exceeds that I try to use odd numbers of elements such as five or a maximum of seven. Remember the hierarchy should visually guide the user through the piece.

Perhaps that’s why the song Otis works so well on Watch the Throne. The trifecta of Otis Redding, Kanye, and Jay make a virtual triangle. Maybe that’s why onions are also perfectly acceptable on a cheese steak sandwich as well.

Get to Know a Typeface! Cooper Black

Cooper Black is heavy, round, and friendly. It might as well be the third author of IBD. (The blog, not the book.) (We already have a third author of the book, and I would never call her heavy or round.) (You see, since Shea and I are heavy and round, like Cooper Black, and the two of us write this blog, the joke here was that Cooper Black could also be an author of this blog.) (I reiterate, I was not calling our reclusive and mysterious third author (of the book, not the blog), diehard Texas Rangers fan Lisa Brochu, heavy or round.) (Though Lisa is friendly. One of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! Hi Lisa!) (I better get on with this.)

When I look at Cooper Black, I think of Chicago. This is because I’ve always thought Cooper Black is what a traditional serifed typeface would look like if it ate like I did for the one week I spent in Chicago. (Did you know it’s possible to consider an entire deep-dish pizza a mid-afternoon snack?) It turns out there’s another reason to associate this typeface with Chicago: It was designed in 1922 by Chicago’s own Oswald Bruce Cooper. (At the time, Oswald was thinking, “It’s been 14 years since the Cubs won a World Series. It’s about time they win again!”)

In 1972, US President Richard Nixon issued an executive order that all communication worldwide be conducted exclusively in Cooper Black. It’s important to note that while the previous sentence is entirely false, it might as well have been true, because Cooper Black was used a lot in the 1970s. To wit:

This 1976 poster for the movie King Kong.

The flag (often mistakenly called the masthead) of National Lampoon magazine. This one here was from 1970.

The Beach Boys’ album “Pet Sounds,” released in 1966 (which we understand is technically not a part of the 1970s).

The end credits for the TV show Cheers, beginning in 1982. (Let’s face it: I was there in 1982 and it was still part of the ’70s.)

And just so that we know it’s still around, Cooper Black still shows up pretty regularly in high-profile places, as with the logo for Slurm soda in Futurama:

Cooper Black is the VW Bug of typography. There have been periods where it was wildly popular as the people’s font, then widely reviled as too round and kind of ugly, then popular again in a sort of ironic way. Graphic designers who use Cooper Black are the same people who wear plastic-mesh-backed John Deere baseball caps without ever having been on a farm. They think it’s funny but they’re not sure why.

Cooper Black is indeed used a lot, so many designers shy away from it, but it was carefully crafted by a talented type designer and it’s perfectly suited for certain purposes, so using Cooper Black cannot be compared to using actual bad typefaces like Comic Sans.

Ultimately, I like Cooper Black and would use it if the occasion were to arise. Now I just have to get hold of the guy and see if he wants to write this blog with us.

The Annual IBD Holiday Gift Buying Guide

Christmas gift buying personifies my procrastination. I was well trained by my father to make last-minute holiday gift purchases so that pressure aides in the decision-making process. I’m of course in the same boat again this year. But as a gesture as to the selfless person I am, I’m going to keep tradition alive of the annual IBD annual gift buying guide. (Well, this is actually the first in the line of a soon-to-be tradition. We have dropped hints before.)

By focusing my efforts into online searches of items for the designer, interpretive designer, blogger, or all around geek, it keeps me from thinking about the needs of my friends and family.

This really began when IBD reader Phil Broder emailed Paul and me saying, “All I’m saying is that one of you is getting Superman socks, and the other is getting Wonder Woman socks, and I’m not gonna say which.”

We are still waiting on the socks. Phil, here’s the link just in case you lost it, Fashionably Geek.

Check out these other gifts for the IBDer.

This shirt actually shows you available WIFI connectivity strength by lighting up. It also measures how many bars of geekiness are available from you. It can be purchased at Think Geek.

Amazon.com describes this book as “interesting and eclectic journey examining the unending versatility of nature, showing how to uncover nature’s ingenuity and use it to create beautiful and compelling designed communications.” I haven’t read it yet but I plan on it (as soon as I receive it as a gift). As an interpretive naturalist, the concept sounds promising. I’m always down for an interesting and eclectic journey.

Interested in getting your little woman inspired in the kitchen? First stop calling her little woman and second, buy her this. That’s Nerdalicious reports that the Kitchen Aid mixer are only available in Brazil, which seems well worth the trip for your Wonder Woman.

I’m not much on hyperbole, but this is the single greatest piece of furniture ever made. I can be purchased at Tom Spina Designs.

What would an IBD Christmas list be without a flow chart? This one leaves all other weaker flow charts (including Which Baseball Team Should I Root For? and Which Football Team Should I Root For?) tapping out in submission. This appeals to me with the subject matter and the taxonomy. It can be purchased at Pop Chart Lab.

Once you have bought all of this nerdy loot, you have to wrap it. This is the coolest wrapping paper I have ever seen. Based around QR codes (You can read Paul’s post on QR codes here. Also here.) Design Boom states the “UK-based studio The Chase have designed several Christmas wrapping paper using QR codes that suggest gift ideas when scanned.”

I have more. If you are interested let me know and I’ll put up some more. Happy shopping!

The Power of the Close Crop

When I’m with friends or family in a public place and we want a group photo, I hate asking strangers to take the picture. It’s not that I don’t want to bother strangers. I like bothering strangers. It’s that strangers, as a rule, stink at taking photographs. Waiters, in particular, are the worst. (If you are a waiter and you are reading this post, I apologize. Also, I would like an Arnie Palmer and a dozen wings.)

The primary offense of the waiter-stranger-photographer is that they stand too far away and zoom all the way out (and somehow still manage to cut off everyone’s feet). The photo ends up being mostly sky with a tiny collection of nearly unrecognizable, feetless people at the bottom. On occasions when I do resort to asking a waiter-stranger-photographer to take a picture, I find myself saying, “Step a little closer, don’t be afraid to zoom in. And where are those wings I asked about?”

By way of example, I offer this photo of my family and me taken by a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar in Somers Point, New Jersey, last summer. (To the waitress’s credit, she did not cut off our feet in the photo, and she was very good at her actual job, but you’ll see what I mean about the zooming. Did she think that tubby guy on the bench was part of my family? And does that guy think he’s fooling anyone drinking beer out of a paper Coke cup?)

Granted, nowadays it’s easy to crop digital photos, so this is less of a problem than it was in the days of rolls of film and printed photos. But still, why do people stand so far away and zoom so far out? And is it just me, or does my brother look like he’s eight feet tall in this photo?

On a seemingly unrelated note (I’m getting to the point, I promise), I recently received an email from Friend of IBD and noted Detroit Tigers fan Phil Broder with images of “actual billboards in Detroit, Michigan, put up by GM.” (The forwarded message says, “This is definitely cool … Pass this on to anyone who thinks old things can be cool!” I don’t know what it says about me that Phil thinks that I would think old things are cool.)

You can see a bunch more of these here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that these billboards were clearly not designed by the waitstaff at Smitty’s Clam Bar.

In my opinion, there are two elements to these billboards that make them successful. The first is the succinct, clever writing. Each slogan is short and packs a punch (much like most of the Tigers fans I know). The second element is a distinct aesthetic that relies on strong color combinations and sometimes extremely close-cropped images.

The close crop is not just a striking visual technique. It’s a powerful statement, one that expresses confidence that the subject of an image can withstand scrutiny. (Come to think of it, this may explain why waiters stand so far away when they take photos of my family and me.)

Moreover, in my opinion, close-cropped photos are more interesting to look at. (That said, cropping to the point of abstraction is a technique that has its place. For instance, I would not recommend cropping head shots down to a single nostril.)

Whether you’re a designer working with photos that have been provided to you, a photographer trying to capture the essence of a thing, or a waitress at Smitty’s Clam Bar, I’d recommend cropping just a little more closely than feels comfortable, and see how you like the result.

“Phone Here”

Friends of IBD continue to send pictures of funny and interesting signs our way. Over the last few years and many presentations later, our collection of funny signs and/or interesting approaches to design continues to grow. I have a few to share.

When all else fails use lightning bolts for emphasis. When bolts are not available use star bursts.

I hope this quote wasn’t taken out of context.

I’m pretty sure my wife made this sign.

I don’t know what is more amazing the unnecessary quotation marks or the fact that there are still pay phones that people can photograph and email in.

Keep the pictures coming, and keep in mind more can be seen on the IBD Facebook page. Thanks to IBD fans John Morrow and Kelly Farrell for sharing these pics.