Saturday 25 February 2012

Journalism [sic]

A week is a long time in blogging, and certainly too long to react to a newspaper article from last Sunday, especially when so much has been said elsewhere. And although when I read John Naughton's piece in the Observer, titled: 'Graphic designers are ruining the web', my reaction was immediate and I wanted to post about it, a busy week has got the better of me. But it is still in me, and I need to get it out. So as I snatch a few moments here, (still busy—more on that in a later post), find below a direct rebuff to Mr Naughton, in bullet points:
  • Good design recognises the need for accessibility in web pages and will allow for users to customise a page or switch to a text version should there be a need. Blame Flash and designers who design for themselves above the end user, not graphic design per se.
  • On the "print counterparts" comment: The Guardian website's print counterpart is one of the best designed newspapers ever. Unfortunately, I don't have time to go into why, I'll save that for another post, but needless to say, The Guardian understands the value of design, both in print and online. Just speak to the head of the design department next time you are in King's Place and he'll tell you why.
  • Technology has allowed for better web design, and more image rich sites, granted, but good design still considers download times and bandwidths. Again, blame inconsiderate designers if a page doesn't load, not the trade they ply.
  • You don't consider visual language to be information? Hmmm. Then you probably have never even considered that there is a language system to be decoded in graphic signposting systems. This also implies you clearly don't understand semiotics. You therefore do not have the knowledge to be able to judge such things.
  • The bit about Flickr and Futurists—your point here is what, exactly?
  • "I'm a minimalist: I value content more highly than aesthetics." This is an oxymoron. Minimalism is an aesthetic design decision, not a by product of a lack of a thought process.
  • The website you champion is a navigational disaster and clearly doesn't present a friendly interface or clear understanding of information hierarchy. Pity the dyslexics who would like to access its content.
  • It is not the designers who dictate the content of websites, so why even mention 'LOLcats' and Internet shopping?
As I've said here before, and it is one of the central themes through the essay I wrote to accompany my McJunk book, graphic design is a much maligned discipline, and there are good reasons for this. But if graphic design is going to get a kicking, then at least let it be critically informed and not a piece of nonsense such as this article is. And so, to one last bullet point:
  • Poor research and inadequate understanding are ruining journalism.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

The power of print

What started out as a bit of a shitty day, literally—I trod in dog shit on the way to Ipswich Station and got crapped on by a bird on the same walk—ended up being a great, but busy day. Firstly, I took 20 second year UCS Graphic Design students around a print works. Alphaprint in Colchester, once again, pulled out the stops and gave a fantastic tour of their fascilities. This is the second year on the trot that they've given this tour, and the students were fascinated and learnt a lot from seeing printing and finishing processes in action.

Students smell the ink on a 5 colour Mitsubishi.

Then I hot footed it across town to meet with my colleague, Russell Walker, who had arranged a talk by Abram Games' daughter, Naomi Games, of her father's work to final year graphics students. She told many a tale about his incredible life and strong willed nature, as well as discussing airbrushing (with an impromptu [dry] demo from Russell), and other techniques.

Naomi Games talking about her father.

The show is currently at The Minories Gallery in Colchester and well worth a visit, but be quick, it comes down on Monday 20 February.

More photos to follow on Flickr soon.

Saturday 11 February 2012

Le sac magic

For some reason, and one that she can not entirely understand herself, my wife felt compelled to buy some coffee sacks from eBay last week. She has absolutely no idea what she is going to do with them.

However, they are rather wonderful things.

See the rest of the range over on Flickr

Sunday 5 February 2012

And the title of the next programme is…

I've recently noticed a major lack of quality control in title sequences for some of the BBC's output. This is despite the continued excellence of some of the programmes. Take, for example, this atrocious piece of typography for Go West, a Friday night BBC4 programme that is currently running, about British bands 'making it' in America.

It appears as if the producer has allowed a GCSE work placement student to knock this together in iMovie, as the type slowly pans down the screen while images of adoring audiences at rock gigs in USA stadiums fills the background.

Unfortunately, the overall effect of the sequence just gives the impression of being 'cheap'. It is as if these type of BBC4 'talking heads' programmes have had the majority of their budget spent on paying guest speakers, while stitching together archive footage from the Beeb vaults. Hmmm, I'm probably not far wrong in this assumption.

The first title sequence that made me choke on my tea for its complete lack of aesthetic consideration was Timothy Spall's Somewhere At Sea. Be thankful I wasn't able to find an example online to post here. Like Go West, I'm sure it wasn't a big budget affair, but it did showcase a BBC veteran of high regard. Much like the programme that really did make me wonder what was going on in the minds of the graphics department at the BBC; Stephen Fry's Planet Word.

Comic Sans, please! This programme was dedicated to language—one episode even looked at the visual side of sign language—and yet the designers seem to have completely dismissed the importance of visual language in its title sequence. This is even more baffling when given that some effort had gone into the trailer, which at least attempts to smpathetically visualise and authenticate the subject matter being discussed.

Now I understand that the same level of design savvy can't go into everything, and that not all budgets will cover getting Why Not Associates to do the titles, (see Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes), but the issue is that you don't need to spend lots of time and money on making a considered and understated piece of typographic communication as this is more about rudamentory design choices—things that second year undergraduate graphic design students are adept at. And they are decisions that I am paying my licence fee for. You can seriously undermine the entire credibility of a TV programme with this sort of basic insult to your audience's intelligence.

Finally, don't get me started on the end titles; I'll leave that particular rant to David Mitchell, who is much more adept at such things than me.