April 2008 Archives

Airport gum

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Finally getting around to transcribing everything I wrote last time I flew. I find that I get a lot of thinking done on planes. It's a nice bit of escape from my normal routine.

What I'm wondering right now is whether or not convenience stores at airports sell more gum than normal convenience stores do. It seems logical that people would exit from planes, ears unpopped, and seek out gum. But do they actually? I could just be making silly assumptions.

On logos

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At the moment, typography-heavy logos are popular. Many logos are solely typographical. That's fine. Some of the most famous and long-lasting logos are just logotype. Take IBM and ABC. Both are just treatments of letters. Both are well known in design circles. Both are instantly recognizable. There are loads of other examples of type-based logos. But I'd rather talk about a different kind of logo right now. That different kind of logo doesn't even need typography. A good example of this sort of logo is the NBC peacock. It communicates well and is well known. It works and is recognizable without the initials.

All is not well in logoland, though. At this point in time, many logos are quite similar to each other. They use basic fonts and are distinguished by the configuration and colour of words, as well as by small additional elements (example: the fast forward symbol on the Futureshop logo, the slant of the Zellers logo). Some logos are boxed, some have a coloured ground. Many logos don't say much about the company. This, in my opinion, is the result of the (sometimes) bland rules of good design being implemented in uninspired ways by bored (or boring) designers.

All of this, of course, does nothing to help me rationalize the logo I'm currently working on.

At least two people

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I was looking at a piece of design the other day that I just didn't get. It was a handbag with a graphic on it. It didn't speak to me. However, looking at that bag, something occurred to me: in order for a design to appear in the wild (that is to say, on a bus, in a food court, on a coffee table, whatever, as long as someone has bought it), at least two people need to understand it and believe that it is a good idea. The designer needs to think that it might be a good idea, that someone else might want it. Someone else (a consumer, for example) needs to agree with the designer and buy that design. I know that most of the time, far more than two people will believe that the idea has potential. I like this, though, as a rule. For a design to appear in the wild, at least two people need to understand and like it.

Spectacularly bad faucet design

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I managed to run across some really fantastically bad design today. I've found my new winner for the Least Usable Faucet Award. In the shopping concourse underneath a major Toronto office tower (BCE place, I think), I found a very difficult washroom. The problem with the whole thing was (is, considering that the faucets are most likely the same as they were this afternoon) that the sensors on the water saving, germ eliminating, effort reducing faucets were in the wrong place. If someone gives me a sink, I'm inclined to wash my hands at least partially in it. What the clever designers behind this particular washroom gave me did not really present that option. The idea seemed to be to position the sensor such that the hands of the user would be as close to the faucet as possible. If the hands of the user are positioned within the confines of the sink, the faucet doesn't go. To get the faucet to go, the user is forced to place her hands directly under the faucet. This results in hands pointing towards the edge of the sink. At the edge of the sink, there is, of course, a counter. This means that, due to the positioning of the sensor, water runs off the hands of the user and onto the counter. Result: wet counter. Not good faucet design, by any stretch of the imagination.

Painters in the park, but never graphic designers

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It seems that people like watching painters paint in parks. It stands to reason, since people often hold such events, that painters don't much mind painting in parks. They may even like it. Okay, so painters like painting in parks and people like watching them. This leads to all sorts of painting-in-parks events. Why not graphic-design-in-parks events, then? They're both visual things. They both turn out very visual, mostly flat things.

Today, I found out why there are no graphic-design-in-parks events. I took my laptop for a trip to the park today. The weather was nice and I wanted to sit under a tree. Big mistake. I now know why computer geeks like living in dark dungeons. The noonday sun turned my screen into a mirror. While it's great to see that I don't have any food stuck in my teeth, a reflective screen isn't exactly fantastic for doing picky work with colours and curves. I don't think we'll be seeing groups of designers mocking up newsletters or logos in parks any time soon.

Ozone depletion: a hairdressing plot

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Here's an entertaining one: the unseasonably hot weather is causing side effects. My skin is becoming sunburned, my feet are getting warm, most irritatingly, my hair is getting sun bleached. That last one is an issue. My blue is turning suspiciously blonde under the profoundly bright mid-April sun.

This got me to thinking. I'm figuring that ozone depletion could be a clever plot dreamt up by an international consortium of hairdressers. Consider: CFCs, in the past, were a major cause of ozone depletion. Where do CFCs come from? Aerosol cans. A product contained in aerosol cans? Hair spray. Who uses hair spray? Hairdressers. And how do hairdressers benefit from ozone depletion? Dye jobs fade in the summer, resulting in more trips to the hairdresser for touch ups. Aha!

An open letter to Facebook

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Dear Facebook,

You have access to huge amounts of information about me. You know what city I grew up in, what activities I take part in, what parties I go to. You know what I study and when I'll graduate. You know what interests me and what causes I care about. You know how old I am, what my gender is, even my sexual preference and relationship status. You know where I live and who my friends are.

Why, if you have so very much information about me, do you insist on serving me ads that aren't relevant? You attempt to sell me foolproof scrapbooking supplies, on the assumption that I don't know thing one about design. You'd better tell the design school I've been attending for the past three years that you don't have confidence in their teaching. You'd show gay men ads for dating sites where they can meet great girls, wouldn't you?

Facebook, you have all the power and information in your hands. You have the technology. It's not a new idea. Why can't you serve relevant ads? You know what kind of music I listen to. Can't you give me pertinent ads from HMV or iTunes? You know what sports I like, and yet you refuse to advertise frisbees.

I cannot understand, no matter how hard I try, why a website that collects so much personal information is so bad at personalizing advertisements.

Absentee parents in picture books

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In discussing the classic picture book Are You My Mother? today, an important question was raised. Namely: Why is the bird not concerned about who his father is? The baby bird moves heaven and earth to find his mother, but is completely unconcerned by the absence of his father. Could this book be an early example of positive depictions of single parenting? Is the bird unconcerned because he sees his father solely as an earner and would rather seek nurturing from his mother? Who, the bird should be asking, brought in the worms while mother was warming the eggs? Constantly, the little bird asks, "Are you my mother?" Why does a book written long before the mainstreaming of single parenthood present a baby bird with no father in sight, and no concern for his absence?

NOTE: Don't take the above seriously. If it were meant to be serious, there would be footnotes.

The life ruiners

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There are people who ruin your life by being terrible. They make everything collapse around your ears through malice or other negativities. Then there's the other kind of life ruiner. These people don't want to ruin your life at all. Sometimes, though, it feels like they have. They ruin your life through goodness. They ruin your life by being wonderful. Most of the time, you don't feel ruined. You feel better for having known them at all. It's only when you realize that no one else is as wonderful. That's when you see the good, the wonderful and the true as life ruiners.

Kitchen mitre box

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I've just had the silliest idea ever. This is the ultimate in excessive kitchen gear: a kitchen saw and mitre box. Get perfect right angles on your bread slices! Carrots, sliced at 45 degree angles! It could revolutionize the geometry of food.

Door bed

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This is something I've been meaning to make for a while: Get some old doors (maybe six or so) from the ReStore or some other similar used hardware place. Take two and attach them together, side by side, with something quite strong like a few strips of metal bolted legthwise across the join. Do the same thing with two more. Stand the two sets of double doors up on end about six feet away from each other. Take the remaining two doors, with their long edge on the ground, and attach them to the double doors so that they form a box type configuration. Strong hardware is a good idea. After that, just throw some rails and slats into the whole thing. Ta da! Bed made of old doors. It's sturdy, it's more interesting than an IKEA bed frame, and it's cheap, too. Now I just need to get around to making it.

The Vernacular Woman

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Finally finished a little site that I've been working on for a couple of months. Why did a small site take a couple months? Because I was trying to take a complicated idea that's also been done to death and make it new and simple. The result is a video with a little scene by scene didactic track down below. It's kind of like those audio picture books that little kids have.

Test all the children

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When I was in school, every math teacher I ever had got treated to the frustration of trying to make me show my work. I never knew how I got to the answers, I just did. There was no process to grade on the test, no way to see if I was doing it the right way. Not showing my work was, of course, a Bad Habit. Now that I look back at it, I think that life might have been a little less frustrating for my teachers if they'd had a little background on the way I work and what sort of personality I have. Being an INFJ, I have the habit of intuiting, of not knowing why, but just knowing. That was my problem in math.

My thought, then, is that instead of waiting years for university career counsellors to do the testing, people should be tested on day one. I suppose that means having five year olds doing personality tests, although I'm sure there's a more humane way to do it. Every teacher knows that different people learn differently. Why don't they act on that? If we could sort out how children could best succeed, and if they could be taught in an appropriate way, school might become a lot less frustrating for everyone involved.

Urban mini-forests

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A fun strategy for getting more green space and biodiversity in cities: In cities with wide sidewalks, tear out a strip a couple feet wide, next to the road. Lay in a good supply of soil and other necessaries, and then plant a micro-forest. Instead of those wussy single trees in grating, you'd wind up with a nice sound break between people and cars, as well as a habitat for urban wildlife and a good drainage system. It's a win for everyone.

Charlie Angus: master of rhetoric

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Charlie Angus has a new manifesto/article/thing up on his site about the currently infamous Bell Canada throttling debacle. It's good and nice and necessary, but what really strikes me about it isn't the content, but the form. Anyone who says that rhetoric is a lost art has clearly never read anything written by Charlie Angus. He piles it on. It's good rhetoric, though. I'm all for clever use of language as a tool in the political arsenal.

Link (maybe I should change my CSS so that my links actually look more like links...)