January 2010 Archives

Another map of downtown Montreal

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Below: I've done yet another map of downtown Montreal. This one details parking lots (dark grey) and the newly defined high parking lot taxation zone (light grey). Visible trend: parking lots in areas with higher property values are discouraged through the use of higher taxes. This goes hand in hand with the current master plan, which aims to densify the central business district.

NATO phonetic alphabet book

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I like alphabet books. I like A is for Apple, the making concrete of letters that is accomplished by associating them with things. And of course, I like standards. This is why I'm working up a set of illustrations for an alphabet book based on the NATO phonetic alphabet (you know, alfa, bravo, charlie and so on). Below, some of the first illustrations.

Colour for everything, especially wool

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The post below is cross-posted on my Open Colour Standard process blog, but I thought it would be worth a look here, too.

There absolutely needs to be an open standard for print colour. I'm behind that and I'm working on it. But I'm increasingly of the opinion that there's more to it than print and screen. There's a world of physical things that depend on some sort of colour specification, whether loosely defined and changeable or rigid and consistent. On that first count, the loose and changeable, I've gotten to thinking about yarn and other animal proteins like silk and even human hair.

Anyone who knits knows well the pain of not buying quite enough yarn to finish a project, going back to the store, and finding that the yarn you've been working with, while still called by the same name, is a slightly different colour than before. Eventually, you learn to buy more yarn than you think you'll need, just for the sake of consistency. That's the problem with dye lots. Every batch of yarn, while using the same dye and same general process, comes out slightly different.

I'm not proposing to necessarily solve the dye lot problem. I have a hunch that a large part of it comes down to white and the inconsistency of the base colour of wool. But it has gotten me thinking. Wool is an interesting test case. It's easy enough to deal with, it has good possibilities for home brew colour experimentation and, most importantly, there's the dye. Wool, being an animal protein, can be coloured with acid dye. Or, to you and me, food colouring.

The food colouring angle is a good one. One of the biggest challenges of thinking about a spot colour system is sorting out the physical colour. It's been a hurdle in my exploration of colour for print. How, the thought goes, do you decide what the gamut of inks going into the spot colours will be? Are those colours consistent across ink manufacturers? And so on. This is the appeal of acid dye. In North America, at least, there's a handy gamut all ready to go. It's the set of dyes prefaced with the letters FD&C; (food, drug and cosmetic) or D&C; (drug and cosmetic). That's a limited gamut of dyes already carefully regulated by a government body. It takes away the gamut decision and just leaves questions of application and method guidelines/best practices, as well as the development of physical colours from those dyes and the translation of those colours into digital.

In short, expect some proof-of-concept wool and hair dye experiments from me in the near future.

The scribble couch progresses

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I'll admit to drawing on furniture. To me, a white couch is an excellent opportunity to do something interesting. So there's the scribble couch. It's perpetually in progress and has been for the last year and a half. Whenever someone comes over, they get handed to fabric markers. At the moment, it's covered in poetry, tic-tac-toe games and some pretty darn nice curvy floral patterns.

Chalkboard fridge

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Fridges are great. They're great when covered in pages from old comic books, they're great bare and I'm increasingly of the opinion that they're great when they double as chalkboards. I say that, of course, because a few months back (call it October 2009 or so), I painted the fridge with chalkboard paint. It's handy for keeping a running list of groceries in stock, shopping lists, or in the case of the front of the freezer at the moment, my resolution for 2010.

Low art china cabinet

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My parents have a china cabinet, full up of all the ancestral stuff. In my life, a china cabinet would be inappropriate. Such a severe piece of furniture would put my plastic cups and mismatched mugs to shame. Below is my answer to display storage. It has the same function as a china cabinet, that of showing off my tableware, but lacks the gravitas of more traditional styles. Mine is made of milk crates and the slats from a broken IKEA bed. It's held together by nuts, bolts and some truly massive washers. I quite like it. It isn't, however, new, only newly documented. It was built in either late 2007 or early 2008. But I've been on a documentation spree lately, so here it is.

Umbrella Lamp

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Close to a year ago, I made the umbrella lamp. I'm posting it now because I've finally gotten around to documenting. It's fairly simple. The umbrella lamp is an old IKEA lamp with some bits removed and an equally old umbrella that's undergone much the same treatment. The light bounces off the umbrella spines, creating a slightly sparkly effect. It also casts a pretty excellent shadow. In short, dismembered IKEA lamp + broken umbrella = umbrella lamp.

Truth in design, Truth in production

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There's a design principle that I've often taken for granted. Distilled down to one word, it's Truth, with a capital T. But what is Truth in design? How does it apply? What, in short, does it mean?

There are two examples I like to use when explaining Truth in design. They both have to do with materiality. Here goes. Say you're designing a poster. You want it to look a little old school, a little messy, but still a little official. In short, you want your typography to have the look of an old-timey typewriter font. An easy reaction, when pressed for time, is to grab a typewriter font. I'm not talking about Courier, but instead about something that tries to mimic the little errors and ink blots of a worn out typewriter. But that font isn't very true. Use it and you'll find that all the letters look the same, each instance of a letter exactly like its siblings. It's not organic. It lacks soul. Not only that, but it's obvious that it wasn't done with a real typewriter. Then there's the truthful way. You dig out the old typewriter and honest to goodness type out the text you want. Scan it, clean it, integrate it into the poster. Each letter is a little different and the whole thing comes by its blotches honestly. In short, it's true. It's meant to look like the product of a typewriter and it does because it is.

Truth, however, is also utilitarian. That's where my other example, the one with the corkboard, comes in. Say, for the sake of argument, that you want the look of pictures or notices pinned to a corkboard. Sure, you can open up your graphics program and plunk a stock texture of cork in. You can drag whatever you want onto it, even simulate the shadows cast by the tacks. But why would you? In real life, light casts shadows for you. If you actually print the photos (or notices, or whatever) and pin them to a real cork board, it looks right, automatically. Why add shadows when light can do it for you? If you try to do it digitally, you'll miss something, or agonize for far too long in order to not miss anything. Do it in reality and the details are taken care of. Nature does half the work for you.

In essence, Truth is about materiality and reality. It's about doing it properly, with the right materials. In an idealistic sense, it's about knowing that you've got something right, that it is how it should be and isn't just an imitation. In a practical sense, it's about covering your bases, not by thinking out every eventuality, but by letting reality do the work. It may not always be convenient, but it will always be right.