Seersucker, Stripes, Star Wars, Synthesis, and San Francisco

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer (official arrival is June 21 at 8:28 AM CDT, to be exact). What really makes me happy is that Memorial Day also makes it acceptable (to some) to break out all seersucker-related clothing, even though the fashion police have long supported a permanent ban.

Living in the South, what’s not to like about seersucker? It is ultra cool, breathes well, is guaranteed to wrinkle, comes in fashionable colors (though sucker purists steer clear of anything but traditional blue) and has vertical stripes. It is even recognized by Congress when the Senate holds Seersucker Thursday in June (traditionally the second Thursday in June), where members dress in the traditionally southern attire (impressions of Colonel Sanders are not appreciated, but aggressive mustaches and bow ties are).

My wife says that based on my husky disposition that I should never wear horizontal stripes, but vertical stripes have a different effect. They make me look like Matlock. Seersucker also has its own fan page on Facebook with 260 fans. IBD’s fan page has 464, if that tells you anything.

In most cases in design, a bold element such as stripes, vertical or horizontal, should be used in small doses (much like seersucker for everyone but me). Unless it’s used in a way that represents the message or improves communication of that message, right? Or it’s used in a way that is original, supports the grid, or becomes a design element.

Several years ago I received a book titled The Star Wars Chronicles. Before you run away to read another blog that is much more insightful, witty, and generally more interesting, this is not going to be another Star Wars post. It just happens to be coincidence that the example I am using in today’s post is Star Wars related. I digress. I was immediately interested in the content of the book, obviously, but I was continually impressed with the visual interest of the design. A large component was striped elements, horizontal and vertical. I had to learn more about who was responsible for the book’s layout and design. I was so impressed, I was sure it was George Lucas himself.

I was wrong; it was Designer Earl Gee and Fani Chung of Gee and Chung Designs out of San Francisco, California. Their work has won countless awards, their logos start logo trends, their products have a special place in the Library of Congress (Paul and I have been banned from that library for incidents related to Paul’s red Crocs and my affinity for seersucker), and most importantly, their work is interpretive in nature. Many of their designs break the mold of what is generally acceptable in design circles (this is unconfirmed but they may even use PCs). Gee’s approach is apparent in this quote from an Adobe Design Center article:

“To me there is nothing risky about being innovative,” says Gee. “It’s far riskier to look dull and boring, and miss the chance to be unique.”

As interpretive designers we should always remember that it is our specific sites and stories that make us unique. By asking ourselves questions like, What makes our site special? What makes us stand out from others? What elements of our mission makes us different? You can focus energy into interpretive products—personal and non-personal—that can be enhanced through innovative design.

The Star Wars book goes beyond being innovative; it is also a perfect synthesis of the writer’s work and design. Each purposeful design element supports the message or current theme. The design is bold, stands out, and is forceful (no pun intended, okay intended), but it doesn’t take away from the content, it enhances it. Bold design choices such as stripes may not always be the best decision in design or fashion but if used properly they can be effective. Most importantly designers should strive to interpret the interpretation. The design itself should not be the interpretation but should be interpretive while maintaining legibility and other basic design functions.

The Adobe article goes on to say, “For designer Earl Gee, every design choice matters. No element is merely decorative. It either contributes to what the client wants to communicate, or it doesn’t belong on the page.” This should be the case for everything we design and how we manage interpretation. It should be purposeful.

The real purpose behind me wearing seersucker is to embarrass my wife.

World Series Game 6: Empire State of Mind

On Monday Paul made the following statement, “With the World Series effectively over, we now resume our regularly scheduled posts.” I think what Paul was actually trying to say was “I’m going to my man cave to Google images of kittens to make me feel better.” I wonder about his dedication to the Phillies conceding so early. I still feel the burn of 2004 when a now AAA team from Boston made a comeback against the Yankees (who led the series 3-0) in the ALCS and went on to win the World Series.

In game 6 Pedro Calrissian took the mound for the Phils against Andy Petit (Pettitte, corrected by Paul) for the Yanks. From the start Lando didn’t have his best stuff. Regardless of how the game would end this made me happy.

I have to give Paul some credit, he was right. The World Series is over and the New York Yankees are the world champs. I’m pleased even though it has come at the expense of my friendship with Paul (and Jeff Miller). As a reader of IBD you can look forward to an end of these baseball-type posts. Paul can look forward to spring training. You will have to get used to my references to the New York Yankees becoming slightly longer as the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees. You have to admit it has a nice ring to it. For those that have attended or will attend our various presentations, all images that display the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies will be replaced with a more current image of the 2009 World Champion New York Yankees that illustrate the same point, perhaps even better.

So what can interpretive designers learn from the New York Yankees?

Vertical stripes always work.

If you are not getting what you want out of a team of designers, budget more for changes.

Joba is an awesome name (not really related to design but if you are looking for a baby name, it is a good one).

Working on short rest can bring out your best.

Start your day with Jay-Z (Empire Sate of Mind) and end your day with Metallica (Enter Sandman).  

If you build it, they will come.

Spitting and scratching are two appropriate Photoshop techniques.

For those of you that have hung in there and continued to read despite the baseball banter, we appreciate it. For those of you that we will see in Hartford make sure that you rub it in to Paul.