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.

Odds and Ends: Jersey Shore Edition

I have recently returned from my annual family vacation to Ocean City, New Jersey, during which I consumed 39 consecutive cheese-based meals. (Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.) Here are some things:

Enxitr
I found this sign at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier (whose website is a wonderland of animated gifs) on the Ocean City boardwalk. I had just sent a handful of kids (not sure they were all with me—they start to look alike after a while) on their last ride of the day, and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw this. The Really Cool Teenager working the ride gave me a bizarre look when I crouched down to take the photo, but I was not to be deterred. I liked the sign so much I added it to the rotating images in the header of this website (there’s a one-in-eight chance it’s at the top of this page as you read right now).

This sort of thing is one of the many reasons I always have a camera with me. (Another reason: the off chance that I might end up sitting next to Natalie Portman on a roller coaster at the boardwalk.)

Philly Birds
I have been a lot less productive since my co-worker Carrie told me that there are three free versions of the Angry Birds app. Also, my family has descended into a Lord of the Flies-style chaos in which the person who possesses the iPad is ruler of the tribe and the only one allowed to speak.

This T-shirt (which I received as a birthday gift while at the shore) from Cheesesteak Tees plays off the Angry Birds aesthetic and references the Philadelphia Eagles football team through the use of green. (Also, many naturalists will tell you that eagles are a kind of bird, so it’s a clever connection.)

I’d love to see an interpretive site promote a program through a “Friendly Birds” or “Happy Birds” campaign. (Please share it with us if you do!)

Everyday Peeves
I won’t tell you the name of the place where I saw these signs because I don’t want an angry flash grammar mob to descend on my favorite ice cream shop. But I will say that the deliciousness of my hot fudge sundaes (cheese sauce on the side) was tempered by these gross violations of two grammar pet peeves: 1. The unnecessary use of quotation marks (which make you wonder if they’re being sarcastic about something), and 2. The use of “everyday” (common, average) when they meant “every day” (how often I eat ice cream when I’m on vacation).

By the way, I didn’t notice until I posted this image here that my sister was peering out at me from the other side of the glass door while I took this photo.

Scriptwurst Hi
Last year, when I went to the shore, it was swarming with people wearing T-shirts with the word “ill” extracted from the Phillies logo. (I wrote about it here.) The next new fad, I hope, is this very friendly “hi” T-shirt, also extracted from the Phillies logo, from a company called Zoo With Roy. (The company’s name is explained in its tagline: “I want to go to the zoo with Roy Halladay.” They do another great T-shirt that says, “Ask me about my pitching staff.”)

This T-shirt (another birthday gift) accentuates how round and cheery the Phillies typeface, Scriptwurst, is. (I wrote about that back in 2009 here.) I particularly like this design because the single, tiny word “hi” in such a friendly typeface is an unexpected contrast to the somewhat negative national perception of the Philadelphia sports fan. (Note: People who say or think bad things about Philadelphia sports fans are morons and jerks who should be punched in the face.)

Mystery Message
Finally, this T-shirt was another birthday gift. I’ve included it here because some people do not understand the shirt’s meaning—and some have trouble simply identifying the typographic characters that make up the message. I’m curious what the IBD Nerd Herd thinks of it.

Now that I’m back from vacation, I’m off to the Fort Collins Cheese Detox Center. If you’re in town, please stop by. I’ll be the guy in the T-shirt.

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.

.

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.)

.

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.)

.

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.)

.

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.)

.

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.)

.

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.)

.

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!

Got the fearin’, power steerin’ — Thoughts from Panama

The second-best part of my job as the art director for the National Association for Interpretation is having the opportunity to connect with interpretive professionals at conferences and workshops. (The first-best part of my job is Coffee Tuesday.) I’ve just returned from NAI’s International Conference in Panama, where I was extremely fortunate to spend a few days in an amazing environment with talented, interesting people from around the world—a welcome break from emailing with Shea all day.

As with anywhere I go, I had my camera at the ready.

I took this photo because I like capybaras. They remind me of the Rodents of Unusual Size in the movie The Princess Bride. However, much of the discussion about this sign has focused on the unusual letter spacing in the word ANIMALS. One theory is that the person designing the sign inadvertently wrote the Spanish ANIMALES and then didn’t close the space (or only closed it halfway) after correcting the mistake. My theory is that the designer incorrectly pluralized ANIMALS with an apostrophe, then read IBD’s Grammar Pet Peeves and yellowed-out the mistake.

These are both stupid theories.

Notice the nuanced communication in this sign. The iguanas appear to be smiling. This is because it makes them happy when people slow down instead of running them over.

I posted this on my personal Facebook page, and Friend of IBD Amy Ford commented, “So, does this mean to watch out for big AND little iguanas? Mom iguanas and their babies? I’m confused.” Then, about three hours later, she commented again, “I’m sure you put this up there for us to comment that they used some stock clip art, as well…didn’t even bother to flip them…just changed the size.”

Clearly, Amy is a tormented soul and gave this sign way too much thought—which, of course, we here at IBD love.

I thought at first that the bird in this tour operator’s logo was a rip-off of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ mascot, the Pittsburgh Parrot. But then I realized that there are only about 50 people in the world who have actually been to a Pirates game and seen the mascot, so that was unlikely.

The typeface in the logo is called Lithos, also known as the Jurassic Park font.

This was on my bathroom mirror. I like the interpretive message, “We are invading their territory. Please don’t destroy them.” I also like to think that as soon as this Photoshop collage was completed, the lizard ate that ladybug.

The conference included a visit to the future site of the BioMuseo, an amazing and elaborate facility designed by internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry, who was once called a “one-trick pony” by noted architectural critic and bow-tie aficionado Shea Lewis.

This was in front of a boat dock near the Panama Canal. It supports my theory that nothing says “Important, Authoritative Message” like a big Mickey Mouse hand.

I attended an off-site session to the indigenous Emberá village on the Chagres River. While everyone else was learning from and interacting with the extremely gracious and welcoming community members, I was taking photos of signs. It’s a sickness.

When I saw this sign, found at the indigenous community of Salt Creek, I was happy for the warning and turned to walk the other way. Of course, I was horrified when our guide and the rest of the group started walking down the trail toward the caimans—even more so when our guide started throwing sticks into the water to attract the caimans’ attention. I tried to explain that caimans are a lot like crocodiles, and everyone told me to shut up.

He went thataway.

Finally, Panama is a rich and rewarding visual experience, and to experience it at its fullest, you must sit across from Jeff Miller at the hotel breakfast buffet. This is some of the most effective camouflage I’ve ever seen.

Get to Know a Typeface! Connecticut State of Mind

We recently received this question from Friend of IBD Patricia Perry through our Ask a Nerd! link:

I am a font nerd. I collect fonts much the same as other folks collect small china porcupines. I recently discovered “Connecticut.” I am in love with this font. Although it is not appropriate for every venue, I find its form and grace appealing. What are your thoughts on this cute little font?

To my knowledge, Patricia has never been in my house and I’m certain that she does not have a key to the safe in the basement, so I’m a little freaked out that she knows about my china porcupine collection. Nevertheless, Patricia is the one and only person ever to review our book on Amazon and she gave it five stars, so any question Patricia asks, we answer.

I had never heard of Connecticut as a typeface before (though I do know that there’s a suburb of New York City called Connecticut*). There’s not a lot of information about the typeface available online, but my guess is that it was designed by someone with artistic talents, but not much experience in typeface design. The first clue to this effect is that it’s available as a free download from a number of sites, including FontPark and Fonts 101.

I agree with Patricia that Connecticut is graceful. (I can’t believe I wrote “Connecticut” and “graceful” in the same sentence after this month’s college basketball championship.) The individual letterforms are great. They have an elegant, organic form, accentuated by tall ascenders, like those seen in the lower-case h and d in the sample above.

What bothers me is the way the letters interact with one another. You can see what I mean the sample above (which was created by a random text generator). The typeface is meant to emulate script writing, so it bothers me the way the letters don’t connect. This can be seen most clearly in the space between the i and s of is.

Look at the h and e in Shea. Not only does the terminal stroke of the h not connect with the e, but the angle of the stroke where the h would connect to the cross stroke of the e is different, so the illusion that you’re looking at handwriting is broken.

I would take Patricia’s comment that this typeface is not right for every venue one step further. I’d say that with this typeface, you have to not only choose the appropriate venue, but also use it in specific ways. I would definitely not use this typeface for large blocks of text at a small point size. But at a large size, short words, like my favorite Scrabble word Qi, emphasize the elegant, organic form while offering the opportunity to minimize the issues caused by the way the letters interact (if you’re only using this typeface for one or two words at a large size, you can take them into Illustrator and fix those issues).

There’s a lot to like about Connecticut (the typeface, not the cheating basketball team and its corrupt coach). Patricia’s affinity for its grace and elegance is certainly warranted. But as with many free typefaces that do not come from established, well-known typeface designers, it’s important to use it carefully and pay attention to the details.

And whatever you do, avoid the Merritt Parkway at rush hour.

*Note to Shea: This joke is funny because Connecticut is not just a suburb of New York, it’s its own state. I thought I’d explain, given how little time in your life you’ve spent in or near New York.

World of Coca-Cola Part 2 – Soda Shangri-La

Last week I don’t think I was efficient at expressing my thoughts about the World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta, Georgia. Perhaps I was too excited about opening day of the Major League Baseball season. I didn’t mean to come across as harsh because the place is really cool.

One of the major tenets behind Coca-Cola advertising is enjoyment. Phrases such as “Have a Coke and a smile” or “Enjoy Coca-Cola” encourage those who drink the soda to sit back, relax, and enjoy their product. That’s probably where it went wrong for me.  I try to look at interpretive sites of various types objectively and enjoy them for what they are, but I have now confirmed that I cannot enjoy anything. Being a fuddy duddy is really a drag.

As an interpretive designer, I am constantly searching for the next non-personal Shangri-La where images, type, resources, and interpretation all come together, hold hands, and sing “Sunshine on My Shoulders” and I feel self-actualization land on me like a truckload of Diet Coke. When what I should be doing is simply enjoying things for what they are, much like a soda.

When it comes down to it, interpretation should help build a connection between the visitor and the site. We can’t make assumptions; the visitor needs to be involved in the process, and opportunities for reinforcing the experience should be developed.

Some of the interpretive elements of the World of Coca-Cola seemed forced by making the assumption that visitors already think highly of the product. If you don’t have an affinity or some interest in Coke, it is difficult to think that an exhibit is going to give you warm fuzzies (that’s right, I’ve used the words fuddy duddy and warm fuzzizes in the same post) about a multi-million dollar corporation.

Regardless of how snazzy the technology is, how well selected the typeface is, or how well crafted the theme is we can’t make assumptions about our visitors. This is important for more traditional interpretive sites (museums, parks, and nature centers) to remember. We can’t assume that our visitors already find value in what we have to offer, what our mission is, and what our stories are.

In my opinion this exhibit (described last week) made the assumption mentioned above.

This was not the case for the entire site. One exhibit titled “A Coca-Cola Story” allowed visitors to be involved in the process. In my assessment of how visitors were using all of the exhibits, many visitors seemed to be spending much more time at this exhibit than any other.

Have you ever looked at someone and asked yourself “Do I look that old?” or “Is my gut that big?” or “What is wrong with Paul?” If so, then you can connect with this exhibit. Visitors have the opportunity to provide a story of special moments in their lives that involved Coke or how Coke has impacted their lives in various ways.

I think many of the visitors are drawn to see how their experiences (with Coke) compare to others. Many of the stories were funny while others were heart wrenching and inspiring. Where the stories of inspiration (mentioned above) were polished like a commercial, these stories were “The Real Thing.”

Of course after reading them, you want to leave your own.

My son decided to send his in digitally. I’m sure the code-breakers at Coke are still working on his story.

Three opportunities for reinforcement of the message were provided at the end of the experience. The first is appropriately titled Taste It!

You can’t visit this site without developing a serious hankerin’ for a drink of Coke. This where the minds behind the development of the museum took an opportunity to the next level, very successfully. You would expect a free sample but the opportunity to try 60 different Coke products from around the world? Now we’re talking.

As with all of the displays there, the dispensers were striking and used color-changing lights that added a unique atmosphere. This was the opportunity to for you to experience Coke in a new way. The picture above is before.

This is after.

The gift shop provided reinforcement to underlying themes and messages. Products such as these chairs made out of recycled Coke products support their green efforts.

The final reinforcement is that you get to take one of the Cokes bottled there on site, off the assembly line, to keep and remind you of your visit or to be given to your son in small doses to to help bring him down slowly from a sodadose. Next week I have more from Georgia packed with discussion about the letter G. I know you can’t wait.