December 31, 2009

Down to Your Toes

Everything you touch, use and wear should bring you joy and make your tasks easier. Witness these artistic, graphic, great colored socks by Happy Feet. Feel the color all the way down to your toes. Have a happy, joyful New Year's eve.


October 11, 2008

Simple Video Capture

Found a very simple piece of software that allows you to capture video on the Mac and costs only $20.

iShowU video capture It's called iShowU and it's easy, inexpensive and does what it's supposed to do. You can't take a screenshot of a DVD on the Mac with the built-in screen grabber. I assume this is for copyright protection reasons but in my opinion it's silly because people who want to find workarounds will and I use screen capture constantly to show things, discuss things etc. At any rate, luckily there are lots of great utilities out there and this one does the trick.

October 4, 2008

Play with Your Food

For the past couple of years, I've gotten a small calendar titled Play with Your Food, with fantastic food creatures created by Joost Eiffers and Saxton Freymann. 

Play with Your Food

Looking at October's artwork today, which is giraffes made out of bananas, I was charmed once more. When I looked the calendar up online, I found out that these two creative wackos have written books that have sold over a million copies. They deserve their success; their work is hilarious, original and beautiful.

August 30, 2008

Fantasy Fonts

Graphic designers are in love with type.

Fantastic Fonts

And for good reason. Fonts fulfill fantasies and dreams and conjure up images and moods in an intensely beautiful and fun way. You can really go to town with fonts. This latest foray comes to me from a project I am working on for my client, cabaret singer, Karen Kohler (more on that in the near future). No matter how long you work with fonts, like all subjects and artistic pursuits with real depth, there is more to learn, explore and enjoy. Fonts are as varied as the people who draw them. Combine their versatility and numerous options with your own imagination and you won't be able to sleep at night for the fun you will have with fonts. One of the boons of computers is that people who previously weren't exposed to the magic of type design are more aware of its lure. The trick is to use these extravagant font styles in combination with simpler ones and create a beautiful interplay of luxury, surprise and legibility for a masterful piece of graphic communication.

August 18, 2008

Magical Children's Books

Children's books are a great canvas for creative illustrators and thinkers/writers.

Zin, Zin, Zin, a Violin

The book pictured at left is currently being made into a DVD by my friend, Jacqueline Gordon and a newly formed company called Little Symphonies, Inc. headed by Lisa Cohen. The DVD voiceover is by Angela Lansbury, with a combination jazz/classical music track by noted musicians. I happen to own a copy of this book in my collection of children's books, which I unwittingly compiled over the past approximately 10 years of graphic design work, being captivated by the color, creativity and imagination in the best children's books. This type of picture book seems to be an ideal framework to allow imagination to run wild while keeping concepts spare and simple in humorous and inventive ways. The field is blazingly inspirational to a designer and lover of words cleverly paired with artwork.  

July 31, 2008

Sonia Delaunay: Living in Color

Sonia Delaunay created dazzlingly colorful paintings, textiles and household items.

Colorful art of Sonia Delaunay

Sonia Delaunay was initially a painter but became increasingly attracted by color itself and designed fashion and other items, including a great deck of cards. Robert Delaunay, her husband, also created compatible beautiful paintings, viewable at the Guggenheim here in New York. Another great husband/wife meeting of the minds. They must have been incredible inspirations to each other.

Perhaps one of the first really modern designers, working in the early decades of the last century but active until her passing in 1979, Sonia unleashed her wild colors on dresses, cutlery and created the first neon sculpture. She was friends with great artists and supported by many art movements such as the Surrealists, Dadaists and Futurists. She collaborated with Coco Chanel and Sergei Diaghilev. Her fluid movement from everyday items to “high” art appeals to my sense that art should trickle into all aspects of life, making existence richer, more fun, more intense, more thoughtful and more colorful.

July 24, 2008

Animal-Enhanced Advertising

Smart advertisers know that adding a critter to their product shots clinches the deal.

Animals in advertisingFeast your eyes on this adorable color-coordinated doe-like pooch in the CB2 room at left. Tell me he doesn't make the whole scenario several notches more interesting. Animals add so much to a product shot: humor, color and personality — in a way that nothing else can. A second runner up is using kids but since they are humans, after all, there are many more problems inherent in that approach. Animals have a sort of other-worldliness that adds to their appeal. It's as if they are saying, "Yes, we know we make this shot look so much better than it would without us but we aren't materialistic; we're just doing you a favor by enhancing your photo.”

July 21, 2008

Business & Art Are Buddies

My instinct tells me that business and art are allies, not enemies. This has been proven true in my work in graphic design. This week at a lecture by Ran Lerner on his excellent product designs, the same message came through.

Products designed by Ran Lerner

Products designed by Ran Lerner: candle, cutlery set, salt and papper set, wine rack

Ran spoke about the process of bringing products “to market” and I was struck by how similar his working process is to my experience in graphic design. Not having designed mass market products yet, although my rugs are beginning to bloom, I didn't realize that many of the same principles apply in the day-to-day work challenges of product design as in graphic design. Ran works with manufacturers such as Umbra. When presenting to companies, you must take their market into account. So your design is not just about taste; it's about satisfying a company's vision and their client base. This is very much like graphic design where the client's subject matter, audience and goals are key. Learning to work with different clients and audiences challenges your sense of creativity and visual expression. It doesn't need to be a restriction in a negative way. It's certainly a challenge but constraints build new solutions.

When I was beginning to design things, I did some pro bono and low-paying work for broke musicians who needed materials. They had no budget. I had to produce ads, posters, invitations, tickets, CD packaging and business cards in black and white on whatever paper was around. And my creativity soared. I talked to my father about it and wondered why I couldn't be that creative (and cost-effective) for my own projects. He said that constraints are a great and eye-opening tool in all artistic work. The validity of this became evident to me from working on these very constrained projects that were deeply satisfying. Yet another of life's conundrums: sometimes less really is more and even leads the way to more.

July 9, 2008

Living Learning

While doing research for a potential upcoming web client who is a journalist, I encountered the Columbia School of Journalism's website. I was impressed with its dynamic presentation.

Journalism's Brave New World

This is the best academic website I've seen by far. I believe this is a redesign, as I am quite sure I looked at their site last year and this was not the same site. The current design is successful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is stellar and varied photography, enhanced by intriguing brief captions.

Great Use of Simple Flash Animations

I have never seen an academic website that manages to convey the intellectual excitement of the institution until now. The site is extensive and contains tons of information. My only criticism is that I didn't find a sitemap, which a site this complex needs, besides search engine reasons to have it. This site is a great piece of marketing and informational “reporting” for a revered institution.

June 12, 2008

My Favorite Bald Movie Star

Bruce Willis and Telly Savalas have their appeal but you guessed it; it's Caspar the Friendly Ghost for me.

The Fabulous Caspar the Friendly Ghost

Besides being captivatingly adorable, Caspar is a very interesting character. The still at left above is from a 1940s cartoon where Caspar is crying because everyone is scared of him and he just wants to be friends with people. Finally, this little baby fox, named Ferdie by Caspar, shows up and immediately loves Caspar. There's actually a lot of drama and emotion in the story. 

Caspar is the CutestCaspar doesn't want to just be like any other ghost, going out every night to scare people; he wants to be nice; he goes against the crowd and it ain't easy. Like many great heroes, he takes the path less traveled and it can be a lonely, scary road. The fact that he looks like a little baby makes him even more hilarious and lovable. I always loved Caspar as a kid and I would guess that subliminally to me as a tot, part of the reason was likely because of his determination to forge his own way. Another reason to love him is his unfailingly upbeat nature. He is a brilliantly drawn character, inside and out.

June 10, 2008

Streamlined Shopping Carts

Recently, I've set up or am in the process of setting up four online shopping carts using PayPal as the merchant provider.

Recent shopping cart sites

Shopping carts set up for, left to right above:
Kitty Cat Loft, Liz Ward Art, Gotta Have It NY, modern rug site

My brilliant designer friend, Tracy Schloss, is the one who put me onto this offering from PayPal. This system is a great way to set up relatively simple online stores. Customers can pay using any major credit card, PayPal or a bank account. Advantages include:

  • NO up front fees

  • NO monthly fees

  • NO higher percentages for using certain credit cards

  • NO need to obtain a merchant account

  • NO need to obtain a secure shopping certificate (SSL); you use PayPal's

Merchant accounts are not easy to set up, cost more money and require a difficult approval process. The only negative to this PayPal option is its limited depth, which is part of why it's relatively easy to use. Things such as inventory levels and other nitty gritty details are not within the scope of this setup.

From the designer's end, the programming is simpler than with carts such as Zen Cart, OS Commerce or Miva, all good solutions for more complicated scenarios but much more work. From the vendor's end, the fees and hassle are considerably less. From the customer's end, any payment option carts normally let you use is available. This solution has made quite a few of my clients very happy and has enabled them to offer shopping on their websites when they could not do so with a regular merchant account.

June 6, 2008

Cautionary Tails

Kitty Puke SignThis simple graphic says it all. Created by Ellen Gibbs, this great design is available on mugs, t-shirts and mouse pads too. Protect your vulnerable friends with a warning of the inevitable kitty puke in any cat lover's life. Items are available at Cafe Press (the signs are no longer available but shirts, mugs and mouse pads are). 

Cat Vomit Products

May 22, 2008

Judging a Book by Its Cover

Gorgeous book covers entice the reader to seek within. I have long bought books for their covers, besides other reasons. I would always choose a great cover over a not great one when looking through new books. Holding a great cover while I read a book adds to the atmosphere and enjoyment of the whole book.

Great Book Design

While all cover designs are fun and important — magazines, brochures, annual reports — in that they set the tone for a piece and make its first impression, book covers express perhaps the most imagination since they foretell an inside story. There is such great range in modern book cover design too.

Book Covers by Louise Fili and Richard McGuire

Above, L to R: cover designs by Louise Fili and Robert McGuire, also the authors 

My own favorite book cover designer is Louise Fili, one of a handful of designers I have admired and who inspired me greatly when I started to design things (and still does). Another is Richard McGuire, whose children's books and toys are perfection. Richard McGuire's books and products are inexplicably hard to find, although you can find some of the books on Amazon. I actually called him up at the start of my career in the '90s and spoke to him. He is a hero of mine and a great designer and has created many illustrations for The New York Times and the New Yorker magazine.

May 16, 2008

“Websites for You
and Your Best Friend Too”

This has been my graphic design firm, Nonlinear nyc Inc.'s, ad campaign for about a year and a half now. These small ads appear in The Island Current (no website), our local paper that sells for $1 (the price is right) and gets read avidly by residents.

Nonlinear nyc Inc. Graphic Design

Nonlinear nyc Inc. Graphic Design and Communications

Nonlinear nyc Inc.'s mini ad campaign

A new ad will be running in the June issue, as seen bottom row, above left, plus a sneak peek at a future fourth in the series. It's fun to look at them as a group now that there are several. Designing ads, like any other specific item, has its own challenges and constraints. These have to be in black and white, I can only afford a small ad and what looks good on its own may or may not look good when seen in the context of a busy newspaper page. One tip someone gave me when I first started designing ads was to cut out your design and place it in the magazine or newspaper in which it will appear. You don't usually have control over the page on which they'll run your ad so you don't know if there will be white space or competing imagery right next to you. The people who lay out the papers have a hard job fitting all the ads in different sizes with clashing artwork in each issue. Nevertheless, it's a lot of fun to see yourself in print and it always will be, online media boom and from which I make the majority of my living notwithstanding.

May 3, 2008

Significant Type

What's in a typeface? Designers have heartfelt answers.

wandering into type

A documentary called Helvetica has come out. The title has made most people I've mentioned it to laugh, which indicates how many people are familiar with the Helvetica typeface, for one thing. If a movie came out that was called Baskerville, just as a random example, the title would elicit a blank response from most non-designers. Like the designers interviewed, I can go on a long road talking about type and have a strong view on Helvetica too. I'm of the “not” school. I love sans serif (without curly edges) type but admire so many other typefaces more (Futura, Univers and newer creations such as Agenda). What's really eye-opening about the film, though, is that it shows how ubiquitous this one face has become. 

Designers tend to be word conscious. Most graphic designers love the power of words; they are communicators, not just image creators. The iconic practitioners speaking in this film (Neville Brody, Paula Scher, Erik Spiekermann, Massimo Vignelli, Jonathan Hoefler, Tobias Frere-Jones and many others) made me realize that part of the clout (good and bad) of Helvetica is that you don't notice it specifically as type. It's purposely in the background.

One person pointed out that advertising lures people in by creating a mood first and then delivering its “sell” punch. Helvetica is unobtrusive so you may not know “what hit you,” aiding the sometimes subversive nature of ads and perhaps making mega corporations seem innocuous when they can be perceived as diabolical. This doesn't mean you can't play with it, as you can with any typeface. (I did my part above and incorporated part of the art from one of my rug designs designs inside the main word.)

“In favor” users love that it doesn't get in the way of a message. Artists who dislike it see it as lifeless, unimaginative and bland. It is used for hundreds of corporate identity systems; I love to create corporate identities but want them to have personality; the Helvetica solution is a cop-out, to my way of thinking. The movie shows countless varying examples of the type being used. It does a good job of covering contrary viewpoints, although I suspect creator/director Gary Hustwit falls in the “I like it” camp.

If you never thought about the power of typography, this is an eye-opening and amusing piece. And if you think about it all the time, as I do, it still opens your mind to some new and worthwhile ideas, many of which are complex and surprising.

April 3, 2008

Going to the Dogs — and Cats

I've been going to the dogs — and cats — lately.

Going to the Dogs and Cats

Photos L to R, by talented photographer clients Jay Ward and Audrey C. Tiernan

They say you draw to you whatever you love so I guess I am drawing fantastic animal-related clients to me because I love animals and have a bond with other people who love them too. The dog photo above is one in a portfolio by a primarily music-focused recent client called dogbrain Music. Jay Ward creates music by and for dogs, as well as human music. The photo at right is also by a new client I am so pleased to be working with, a superb photographer named Audrey C. Tiernan. She happens to also love cats and has two, Slugger and Pistachio, so you will undoubtedly get to see more sublime photos of these creatures as we complete her site. Going to the dogs — and cats — has never been a better idea.

March 30, 2008

Jazzy Update

Weep is the name of my jazz band. I put the project on hold a couple of years ago because I wanted to focus on design work. However, keeping my graphic design business afloat has kept me from concentrating on much else. So now it's time to fight those barriers and get on with things. The Weep website has been updated, I am glad to say, as it was in sore need.

Jazz Band

A recent project with a musician led me to think about it more again. We all deserve the wonderful addition that great music brings to our lives, whether as listener or performer.

September 1, 2007

Lenny Bruce's “Thank You Mask Man”

Voiced and written by Lenny Bruce, the animated cartoon, Thank You Mask Man, follows the adventures of a masked hero. Mask Man's fans are trying to thank him but he keeps galloping off so they start to get mad. Then he decides to bask in their adoration and misses helping out on a crime. Then he decides to check out homosexuality and the fans are grossed out. It's very cutely drawn.

Thank You Mask ManThank You Mask Man by Lenny Bruce

Stills from Lenny Bruce's co-created (with John Magnuson) hilarious animated film “Thank You Mask Man” from the 1960s

Lenny Bruce strongly shaped what we consider funny today. Leading comedians George Carlin and Richard Pryor credit him for influencing them. Lenny Bruce is famous for being funny in a groundbreaking way (bringing in current events and ideas), for using obscenities, for having a six-month trial (for obscenity charges but having also upset authorities in the Catholic Church, the police and elsewhere) and for dying young (age 40) of a morphine overdose.

Lenny Bruce appeared on TV only six times. In 2003, 37 years after his death, he was granted a posthumous pardon for his obscenity conviction by New York Governor George Pataki. It strikes me as ironic to see the small button at the lower right corner of the YouTube screen: "flag as inappropriate." I agree that it needs to be there but it's funny to see it sitting there calmly below this Lenny Bruce cartoon, which no one would call inappropriate today.

Still from Thank You Mask ManMask Man Character

More great stills from the original “Thank You Mask Man” Lenny Bruce cartoon 

November 4, 2005

Streets from Another Time

Driving through Cobble Hill in Brooklyn today, I discovered streets I hadn't known. This beautiful neighborhood is overflowing with graceful brownstones.

Enticing stores beckon from the main avenues. What struck me the most, though, was the narrow streets, built in a time before cars. On the main roads, you can drive just fine. But on the densely-inhabited inner streets, cars line both sides and there is only room for one average-sized car to ride down the middle. I cannot imagine how a truck (moving, for instance) would maneuver these passageways. It was a striking indication of how we are living in history.

The houses were built and lives were lived in them well before cars were an everyday fact. It makes you wonder who lived in each of the dwellings, besides how they got around. As a lover of Jane Austen, my mind drifts to her tales of early 1800s social goings-on and calling cards left behind in elegant foyers. For those who don't know, such “calling cards” were the precursor to today's mandatory business card. They began in the 1800s and were exclusively used by the upper classes at first. They contained only the person’s name in the center of the card, indicating that person had called and would appreciate a return gesture. (My design business can make you a gorgeous unusual or sedate and tasteful business card.)

Seeing the reality of life still thriving in these lovely houses gives me a calming sense of continuity. I hope these homes live long into the future and imagine they will. If you think about it, they long outlive us. They are, among other things, a testament to the builders’ skills, still going strong many decades and even centuries after their origination. May we all leave such a useful and appealing piece of ourselves for the future to enjoy.