You're Going To Be Fine

Generally I despise this kind of hallmark advice.

You know the sort, something that tries to evoke some sort of reaction as if it’s a revolutionary, deity-like discovery of thought, even though is is often closer to day-time television psychology.

But oh well, here it is:

You’re going to be fine.

I find my self compelled to say this, as it’s a big lesson I began to learn after I began my working life and I’m sure there are some people who are in that same position right now.

You’re going to be fine.

Honestly, totally fine. No problems. It’ll work out just dandy.

Jan Tschichold's Inspiring Penguins

It is far more valuable to see five beautiful pieces and understand how and why their beauty touches you, than it is to see a hundred beautiful things and merely understand that they are beautiful.

Today, I’m going to show you a few pieces of beauty that send shivers of joy through my heart, and how the designer behind them—Jan Tschichold—turned the mundane into the magnificent.

A hand-rendered concept produced by Tschichold while exploring his ideas.

After recently writing an article on how inspiration can provide a journey, I thought a few holiday snaps of an enlightening trip I’ve taken might be of interest.

Earlier this year I explored the tracks laid forth by one of the most renowned graphic designers and typographers in history — Jan Tschichold.

Pixar & Dreamworks: The Stories Their Brands Tell

Pixar is a billion dollar company because it knows how to tell a story.

They know how important it is and that without a strong story at the core, all the technical wizardry and aesthetic mastery of their films would be overly sweet.

Story telling is often as important in graphic design as it is in animation and film making, even if it isn’t as obvious — we use grids, type, colour and imagery to help bring stories to life.

When there is a lack of a story—of an idea—there is nothing but average design to be found. Why? Because there’s a lack of a point of interest — there’s nothing for the audience to grab onto.

So let’s learn from the mistakes and glories of others, comparing two story tellers who act on the same stage—Pixar and Dreamworks, of course—and the stories told through the branding of their films.

I’m talkin’ logos, baby.

Toy Story


Playful and fun — a great way to start!

This logo is a winner because it’s appropriate without being condescending.

The primary colour pallet aims it perfectly at its audience and nothing says “gimmie” like red and yellow. The type size, the chunkiness of it, as well as the playful way it’s laid out, make this cute in the right way and screams, well, “Toy”.

It’s also nice to see a logo which has depth (hinting at the 3D of the animation) without going straight to embossed trickery.

A Bug’s Life


Another nice and flat logo from Pixar. It’s lovely to see a beveled look isn’t what they go for just because their films are CGI.

The bugs eating away at the letters are cute and the little one between Disney & Pixar is a great touch.

The typeface is appropriately playful and has an exaggeration to it that suggests that we’re going to be shown little things really big (I’m looking at the i, f and e mostly), but it’ll be a gentle ride.

The slight warmth of the yellow is nice little ray of sunshine that gently touches down on the bug covered leaf.

All this adds up to a little reflection of the film — it has its footing in it.



I’m sorry, what?

Take a Journey of Inspiration

Inspiration should serve as a motivator and guide.

Much more than superficial beauty can be found within the depths of that which you find intriguing. A beautiful piece before you shouldn’t be looked at and seen as pretty then discarded completely—it should be explored.

Yet most seem to just look. They scour through a hundred beautiful images by this designer or pertaining to that theme and are somehow able to get through it all in minutes and consider themselves inspired.

Is this a real, luscious inspiration that has been found or is it something superficial? Has no more than an idea that can be lifted from the beauty before them been recorded in their mind? An idea which they can remember for their own projects?

This isn’t inspiration. It’s plagiarism.

Inspiration should be seen as a journey.

Enter the train station and buy a ticket to a far away destination. A destination deeper that most dare venture.

Inspiration can be found in almost anything if we are willing to give up a bit of time and look at more than just the surface. When we’re willing to break things down and look at each individual piece, something great can always be found. Sometimes the journey can be tricky and unexpected turns can present themselves and other times it’s smooth sailing. Either way, you will be a better creative for the travels taken.

First Stop – Pretty Pictureville

The train leaves from the station. We look at beautiful things along the way, until one ignites a fire within our souls. Then we stop.

Think about this piece that burns a white flame inside you. Perhaps it is an image that causes an illustrator’s heart to ignite a wild beat. Or a single sentence that causes the writers cheeks to dampen.

Second Stop – Blood Stained Falls

Take what was found at the first stop and pull it apart. Spill its blood upon the floor and dissect what is left.

Look at the beautiful work. Ask yourself why your heart pounded when you took it in. Was it the way this juxtaposed with that, or was it because it was an echoing of something you’ve experienced?

The key here is to constantly be asking your self why. Why did it do this to me? Why did I feel a flutter?

Book Review: The Anatomy of Design

Let’s be honest — most design books become nothing more than fancy bookends that hold in other fancy bookends.

It’s no surprise why — we love pretty pictures, so many publishers assume this is all we need. Just a few pretty pictures.

I don’t know who these publishes have spoken to, but the designers I know are enviably smart and don’t suffer fools, even if pretty and even if made of paper.

The cover has a lovely padding that gives a little something extra to your interaction with it

So we need real content — something to provoke, intrigue and teach.

And we need something that will last long enough to be worthy of revisit.

Consisting of a dash of theory, a splash of process and a dollop of history, The Anatomy of Design, by Steven Heller and Mirko Ilic manages to grip this fault-line pretty damn well. Being both beautiful and enlightening, it takes an interesting look at wonderful work and shows that “originality” hardly exists—and this is nothing to be bothered by.

The Anatomy of Design is a collection of projects that express the same ideas, or theories, in different ways, at different times, and most importantly, in different voices. It’s brilliant.

Notice that the page on the left folds out. What you can see on the top is some of the wonderful commentary found throughout.

A sample shot of the kind of info on the underside of that flap, there are normally 3—4 rows of these thumbnails.

Gutenberg and the Book that Changed the World

Few moments in history altered the course of human development like this single one.

What came with this first book was a massive leap in technology, and what’s more, accessible information that brought with it a struggle for knowledge, with the powers-that-be on one side and the common man on the other.

The moment of which I speak is the development of the printing press and movable type, which were brought together by Johannes Gutenberg to develop the 42-line Bible.

The 42-Line Bible is more than a book. It is a symbol for human thought. It is the result of hard, tireless work one undergoes when they understand their work to be important. Or they want to make some serious cash.

Gutenberg’s idea lead to the Renascence, the Scientific Revolution and the separation of Church and state as ideas flowed freely and it wasn’t only the monasteries, universities and wealthy who had access to books and knowledge.

The Book

The Beautiful Book

The Gutenberg Bible is the outcome of an orchestral combination of technologies and ideas that came together to produce the first book to be printed with movable, metal type, around 1455. It essentially introduced the printing press as it was to be known for hundreds of years to follow.

A page from Gutenberg's 42-Line Bible. The red and drop cops were added by hand, but all black text was done with the first true movable type.

A page from Gutenberg’s 42-Line Bible. The red and drop cops were added by hand, but all black text was done with the first true movable type.

Prior to the printing press, books were written by hand from a team of scribes, who were unable to keep a consistent visual tone, were prone to mistakes and were damningly slow. A single book was a process that could take months or years, rather than days or weeks.

This all changed with Gutenberg and his run of 180 Bibles.

That Damned Wall

Oh, don’t we hate that wall with such spite?

We smash into it and it stops us dead in our tracks.

We’re working away, working hard to give beauty to the problem before us and then … arch! Dried up! Tired! Bored! Sick of it! Sick of it all! Throw it all in!

I hate the wall. I hate it with all the lustful anger I can muster.

I hate hitting it, I hate staring at it. I hate that it makes me swear and cry foul as I wish upon it a destruction.

But we all know the truth — the wall is only in our minds. Our minds are what hold tight, not some outside force, so it is my self that I call a ‘fucking pain in the ass’. Such awful words on the tongue, aimed at my own mental anguish! Dreadful! Horrible!

When what is stopping us is our own minds,
we are trapped in an unbreakable bubble.

A joy in destruction

But I love bashing the wall — smashing it, destroying it. And because the wall doesn’t exist outside the confines of my consciousness I am the only one capable of obliterating it, so the bashing and smashing is ever more enjoyable as it’s a triumph over the self.

The Power of Emotion in Graphic Design

The driving force behind all our decisions is emotion.

It’s what makes us human, is what defines who we are and how we react to different situations. Graphic design is a platform from which emotional fighter-jets can be launched. So why is so much of what we see not much more than emotional paper-planes?

This logo makes me cry

Oh, what emotion this logo pulls from me!

The typeface gives a fitting air of femininity and gentleness.The heavier strokes of the letters negate any delicateness that one may consider this logo to have. The exclusive use of uppercase, the elegance of the lettering—especially the finials of the R and the E—lead to a quality of stability.

Then there is the child-in-womb beauty that the ampersand creates. This is the moment where my heart swells. The head of the fetus as ampersand that is sitting safely within the O just works. This is elegant design thinking at its best.

Not only does the ampersand look beautiful in itself, but the slight curve and attention to detail of it—especially the back of this child—and how it derives its shape from its mother O sends a tingle through my spirits. It looks so comfortable. It looks like the ampersand is fittingly the child of the O as their shapes compliment and reflect one another so well.

Reminiscent of a baby in the womb with face and feet so close, balled up, waiting for oxygen to fill its lungs, the ampersand creates a beautiful illustration that wouldn’t work if on its own. In lesser hands, this may not have been pulled off with such grace, but Lubalin manages it so well here. The concept is great, the execution perfect.

And it breaks my heart.

This bookmark slides a smile upon my lips

The stock has a velvety soft texture to it that is inviting, looking so warm that the fingers lust to reach out and touch.

Pushing "Wrong" Out of the Picture

Worrying about whether what you’re right or wrong means you are evaluating the ideas before they truly exist.

You’re judging before the work can be judged. It’s a dam to your creative flow that you need to learn to smash through.

While many of the decisions we make are made from experience, knowledge and plain-old instinct, we sometimes put too much effort into not making the wrong decision that no interesting ones are made at all.

Maybe it’s better to hold-off on deciding if something is right or wrong?

Why not just have some fun instead? Learn all the rules you can and then throw every idea out there in a wild haze of expression? Race after fun and excitement and enjoy the process for what it is, not what it could be. Let the bizarre and odd and unexpected into the development stages and forget about if any of it is right.

It’s often best to just forget about whether your ideas are right or wrong.

Before there is right or wrong

Before there is even a chance for you to make the right or wrong decision, dedicate your efforts to learning everything you can about your the problem you’re trying to solve. If you are working on a client’s brochure, then understand their words, their meaning and their goal as best you can.

If you’re writing a blog post, then understand exactly what it is you want to say. Try to grasp the angles from which you will fire your ideas.

Or if you’re a photographer or illustrator, think about the scene you’re wanting to capture and express. Think about the actors, the props, the stage.

Understand all that you can about the questions being asked.Understand all that you can about the questions being asked.

You do this so that when things are flowing, you can just go with it. You can follow the tracks this education lightly set. Not all the information will be remembered word-for-word, but enough to direct you in the right direction will.

The Jazzy Blue Notes of Reid Miles

Every now then, as you stumble through design history, you trip over and fall on your ass.

When you look closer at what caused you to stumble, you realise it’s a rather a big rock, one that you should have seen coming. Perhaps it was a big moment when things changed in our industry, in society, in theory and you’d simply been ignorant to it until that moment that it got caught under your foot.

More often than not it’s a person. When we first start studying we hear the names Josef Muller-Brockmann or Paul Rand and when we see more of their work, or read some of their words, we wonder how we didn’t know of them sooner. We could learn of them on our third day of study and argue that we should have heard of them on our first.

For me, the latest person whose name caused me to happily hit the dirt is Reid Miles, an amazing modernist designer who designed over 500 LP covers for Blue Note Records through the 1950’s and 60’s.

Blue Note Records

Blue Note Records was known for their selection of artists, whom they treated with a surprising amount of respect, rather than imposing upon them their own ideals about how their work should sound. They would go as far as to pay the artists for their rehearsal time, as well as their recording time, something which other independent music labels wouldn’t do. The benefits of this was improved sounds, relaxed artists and a comfort from all those involved that translated well onto vinyl.

And while the majority of the music they released was aimed at a wide audience, they would also work with lesser known and slightly eccentric jazz musicians. It’s almost an abstract thought, but the company wasn’t overly concerned with making money with these records as they want to simply write about new developments into the history pages of jazz.

This creative freedom is one worth noting, as it is perhaps this experimental, let the artist be an artist, kind of mentality that extended to their covers and to the ideas Miles had for them.

The Personification Printification of Jazz

When you look at the work of Miles, you can’t help but feel as if you’re looking at Jazz realised.

When he first joined Blue Note, he worked as an assistant to John Hermansader, the then creative director of the company. John’s work was quite lovely in its own right, but lacked a certain punch that Miles would go on to deliver. Initially Miles just wanted to keep up and continue the stylistic tradition that Hermansader had started, but in the end he elevated it to staggering heights.

His covers “sound like [they know] what lay in store for the listener“, Felix Cromey, Blue Note: The Album Cover Art which cannot be argued. Even to those who have no idea about—or hardly heard—jazz, the covers just look the way jazz covers should.

Perhaps its the typography? Or the photography? Or maybe it’s the colour? I think of jazz as an explosion of soulful sounds, which are peppered with extreme emotion. The covers that Miles designed have much in common with this idea.