Information Design Watch

October 15, 2011, 4:54 pm

The Life of &

By Henry Woodbury

The ampersand’s job is to let type designers cut loose. It’s supposed to stand out, you see.

Jacob Gube offers a splendid appreciation of this splendid character covering history, styling, encoding, and what not to do:

Jacob Gube's Visual Guide to the Ampersand, Excerpt

(Apologies to our Facebook fans, who are getting this twice.)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Infographics, Information Design, Language, Typography, Visual Explanation

May 17, 2011, 8:48 pm

Name That Type

By Henry Woodbury

Not likely to be a game show anytime soon, but still fun for design geeks: It’s Type War! (Via commenter tmarthal on the Arial vs. Helvetica post.)

Type War Example

Nice UI as well.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Typography, Web Interface Design

April 13, 2011, 2:51 pm

Arial vs. Helvetica

By Henry Woodbury

I’ll never forget the quiet afternoon in the office when one of our RISD interns, reading a design magazine, suddenly shouted out “I can’t believe it! These people think Arial is a good typeface!”

Can you tell Arial from Helvetica?

Take the quiz.

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Comments (5) | Filed under: Typography

February 6, 2011, 8:34 pm

Readers are Always Looking for an Exit

By Henry Woodbury

Lawyer and professional typographer Matthew Butterick, author of the book and website Typography for Lawyersexplains why typography matters:

Given multiple documents, readers will make more judgments based on typography as they find it harder to make judgments based on substance.

On one level this is pretty reductive. A situation where all other considerations are equal except typography (or design, for that matter) never exists. But just because a reader starts reading an article or brief doesn’t mean the reader will finish it. Butterick writes:

I believe that most readers are looking for reasons to stop reading. Not because they’re malicious or aloof. They’re just being rational. If readers have other demands on their time, why should they pay any more attention than they absolutely must? Readers are always looking for the exit.

It’s an information design problem: How do you move a reader along in the flow?

Next question: Is legal size really necessary?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Books and Articles, Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Typography

December 3, 2010, 10:18 am

Meta Works (Remodeling Dynamic Diagrams)

By Henry Woodbury

In Tim’s last post on Remodeling Dynamic Diagrams he mentioned our decision to use web fonts. By maintaining font files on our server and referencing them via @font-face calls in our CSS files, we can bring to our web presence the Meta typeface we have long used in our diagrams, presentations, print collateral and Flash animations.

This demo page shows the Meta Web version we have purchased for the site redesign. Internally we have tested it on Internet Explorer 6, 7, and 8, and current versions of Firefox, Safari, and Google Chrome (such incremental browser testing is part of our process). It also works on the iPhone’s Safari browser.

If the fonts on the demo page don’t resemble the image below on your browser, let us know!

A sample of Meta

UPDATE (December 9, 2010): As Andy mentions in the comments, the lower-case y in Meta Web Medium renders with a flaw. This appears on all Windows-based browsers. We’ve reprocessed the fonts and uploaded a new demo.

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Comments (2) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, Implementation, Technology, Typography, Web Interface Design

October 31, 2010, 6:52 pm

Maps and Legends

By Tim Roy

No, not a post about the REM song.  But I could not resist a brief mention of Axis Maps who has produced a beautiful mashup of two of our favorite things here at Dynamic Diagrams: maps and typography.  To date, the folks at Axis Maps have produced detailed typographic renderings of two cities: Boston and Chicago, but there are more in the works.

Map drawn using only typography

Detail of the Chicago map

The Boston map

Each map was hand-made, with type carefully overlaid on the existing cartographic structures.  Clearly these were a labor of love and the resulting work shows it.  See more at http://www.axismaps.com/typographic.php

(Thanks to Smashing Magazine for the tweet pointer to this great material)

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Maps, Typography

October 27, 2010, 6:57 am

A Small Taste of Design (Remodeling Dynamic Diagrams)

By Tim Roy

Poetry is emotion put into measure. The emotion must come by nature, but the measure can be acquired by art.
- Thomas Hardy

It has been a week since an update on the redesign of the Dynamic Diagrams website, but work has been progressing steadily behind the scenes.  Kirsten, the lead information architect on the project, has worked with the team to develop a solid set of functional and business requirements which have gone through several reviews.  With requirements now final, some slight changes have been made to the information architecture of the site itself, although the emphasis remains on the overall design.

One of the steps in creating an information architecture. Our site did not require this many Post-Its!

Wireframes are also complete and so the work has been turned over to Matt, who is the design lead.  It is not an enviable job, designing for a group who spend their days fully focused on all things visual.  Matt’s first decision was to use “web fonts“, an emerging standard that allows us to employ our company standard, Meta, without having to use (or maintain) image files.  This provides us with a tremendous degree of flexibility while still allowing us to create a consistent look and feel for Dynamic Diagrams.

A sample of Meta

Matt has produced a first draft of a design style and has received feedback from the working group.  This will result in a second version that will be presented to the entire Dynamic Diagrams staff sometime next week.  Despite the tough audience he will be facing, Matt can be assured that we will provide him with useful feedback (as opposed to the “I’ll know it when I see it” or “looks good, but can you make it blue?” nightmares that haunt all design professionals).  As reported earlier, the biggest change will be in providing a far wider and deeper range of work from our portfolio and Matt and Kirsten seem to have that well in hand.

A large format diagram from 1999.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Dynamic Diagrams News, Information Architecture, Typography

February 2, 2010, 1:21 pm

Easy = True

By Henry Woodbury

An interesting article on “cognitive fluency” offers this great (ironic) infographic:

Easy = True

Reporter Drake Bennett leads with the fact that “shares in companies with easy-to-pronounce names do indeed significantly outperform those with hard-to-pronounce names.” He continues:

Other studies have shown that when presenting people with a factual statement, manipulations that make the statement easier to mentally process – even totally nonsubstantive changes like writing it in a cleaner font or making it rhyme or simply repeating it – can alter people’s judgment of the truth of the statement, along with their evaluation of the intelligence of the statement’s author (my emphasis).

However, the flip side of easy equals true — or “an instinctive preference for the familiar” as Bennett defines the concept — is that to generate reflection or curiosity, you may need to make things less familiar. It’s a good thing we know how to do both.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Cognitive Bias, Information Design, Language, Marketing, Typography

December 16, 2009, 9:35 am

Alphabet Makeover

By Kirsten Robinson

The Onion cleverly skewers design makeovers for the sake of newness and freshness AND over-reliance on focus groups in their hilarious article, “Alphabet Updated with 15 Exciting New Letters.

Skywriting with the new, improved alphabet. Source: The Onion

Skywriting with the new, improved alphabet. Source: The Onion

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Marketing, Typography

November 17, 2009, 11:27 am

Typography on TV

By Henry Woodbury

The New York Times runs a breezy article on typography mistakes in popular culture which fortunately links to Mark Simonson’s incisive review of the typography in the television show “Mad Men”. Here’s an sample of Simonson’s critique:

These lipstick ads feature Fenice (1980) with Balmoral (1978) for the script caps. Amazone (1958) for the script lowercase is fine here, but the outline looks too much like a modern computer graphics effect (which is what it is).

Belle Jolie Ad from Mad Men

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Typography

April 21, 2009, 8:27 am

Ban Comic Sans?

By Henry Woodbury

Comic Sans didn’t spring to life on its own from the primordial Windows ooze. Typographer Vincent Connare designed it:

…one afternoon, he opened a test version of a program called Microsoft Bob for children and new computer users. The welcome screen showed a cartoon dog named Rover speaking in a text bubble. The message appeared in the ever-so-sedate Times New Roman font.

Connare went to work on creating an appropriate comic font for Bob. Not long after a Microsoft product manager included his creation as a standard font in Windows and the spread of Comic Sans began. The spread of efforts opposed to it soon followed.

Connare retains a wry appreciation for his most famous work:

“If you love it, you don’t know much about typography,” Mr. Connare says. But, he adds, “if you hate it, you really don’t know much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Comics, Technology, Typography

March 11, 2009, 1:52 pm

Retrobrands, Part 2: The Meatball versus The Worm

By Lisa Agustin

Official Nasa Seal
Official NASA Seal
NASA Insignia (the Meatball)
NASA Insignia (“the Meatball”)
NASA Logotype (the Worm)
NASA Logotype (“the Worm”)

T Magazine’s recent writeup on the history of the logo for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an interesting counterpoint to Matt’s post on the rebranding of Howe Caverns. In 1959, a year after the agency was founded, James Modarelli of the NASA Lewis Research Center created the NASA Insignia, which was meant to serve as a less formal version of the official NASA seal. The Insignia, also known as “the Meatball,” is a composite of individual design elements — the sphere is a planet, the stars represent space, the vector represents aeronautics, and the orbit represents space travel–cast in a patriotic scheme of red, white, and blue. The result is a logo that looks, to some, too literal and amateurish, yet romantic and nostalgic to others.

The Meatball was used until 1975, when the agency unveiled the NASA Logotype, a subtler, more futuristic take on the agency logo that strips the name down to a single curving element to spell out the four letters. “The Worm” is sleek, serious, and more corporate– not a surprise given it was created by a corporate identity firm, Danne & Blackburn.

Given the history of its logo, one would assume that further work on the NASA brand would take the Worm further along in its progression — more forward-thinking, future-type approaches. Right? Wrong. Turns out that use of the Worm was discontinued in 1992 (although it may be used with permission for commercial purposes), and NASA returned to using the Meatball, which it still uses today as its official logo. Why the return to the earlier version? Columnist Alice Rawsthorn’s take:

The Meatball was revived in 1992 as part of the efforts to revitalize NASA after its traumas of the 1980s. NASA decided to bring back the symbol of its golden age and has stuck with it ever since. The Meatball still reminds us of the triumph of the Mercury and Apollo missions, even though NASA has never recaptured its former glory, as illustrated by its recent problems with the design of the Ares spacecraft system.

Unlike the Howe Caverns brand, in which the old identity was seen as an impediment to bringing in a new audience, the NASA Insignia represents big dreams and new frontiers, a transfusion that NASA’s image could really use right now.

For more on NASA’s logo, see:

http://history.nasa.gov/meatball.htm

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Branding, Marketing, Typography, User Experience

December 12, 2008, 12:17 pm

Creating Guideposts for the Visual Design Process

By Lisa Agustin

Droid SansA web site’s design is the marriage of the analytical and the aesthetic. The analytical side involves sifting through the front-end research (strategic documents, content inventories, user interviews, etc.), and translating these into a positive and engaging user experience.  Coming up with the architecture is a creative activity, but it has its roots in research activities that most clients understand and accept.

Developing the site’s visual design is usually the bigger challenge, since this is when subjective concerns like personal preference may come into play. Personal opinions about design may put the project at risk (read: endless review cycles) if these are not managed correctly.  With our projects, we frame design discussions in the context of project goals and best practices.  Conversations about the site’s desired look and feel are as specific as we can make them: Are there corporate brand guidelines?  Does the site have to complement other sites and collateral?  Are there sites you like/don’t like and why?  This approach has served us well. Still, there have been exceptions where we’ve created a visual design concept that clearly meets all the requirements, but the client is not satisfied with the result.  In the best scenarios, the feedback is specific and actionable. But then there are other design reviews where the response is a little more cryptic: “It’s not quite I was looking for,” or the dreaded “I know it when I’ll see it.”  What then?

I thought about this when I read how Droid, the font for the new G1 cellphone, came to be. Google wanted a font that was “friendly and approachable” with “common appeal.”  The iterations developed by font studio Ascender Corporation ranged from an early typeface that was considered too “bubbly” to the more “techno” computer-based font, which was also rejected.  Because the definition of an “approachable” font isn’t exactly clear-cut (at least to me), I suspect debates about the options used some kind of visual scale, a more complex version of the continuum graphic at the top of this post.  Seeing the range of options would be easier than just talking about them, and it would then be possible to pinpoint the desired result. We’ve developed such tools ourselves, adding information about what the advantages and tradeoffs may be in choosing one direction over another.

Another example of this design continuum is the perceptual map used to guide the design development of the Xbox 360 game console (scroll down for the perceptual map).  The project team arranged seven console designs on a grid that used “architectural/organic” vs. “mild/wild” axes, with the existing design as a reference.  This tool ensured that the conversation was about design language and not about design preference, while also giving non-designers a way to compare the different console designs. (For more on the Xbox 360 design process, see this earlier Information Design Watch post.)

I would love to see more examples of visual tools that can help guide the design process. Readers, have any of you successfully adapted or developed similar tools for guiding design-related discussions with clients?

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Prototyping, Typography, User Experience, Visual Explanation, Web Interface Design

October 8, 2008, 12:44 pm

Political Word Clouds in Color

By Henry Woodbury

Using the Wordle platform, blogger Ann Althouse created a pair of word clouds from last night’s Barack Obama – John McCain U.S. presidential debate.

McCain’s cloud:

McCain word cloud

Obama’s cloud:

Obama word cloud

Althouse makes a profound point:

The most interesting words — like “Jell-O” and “corpse” — were only said once and stay off of their clouds. I’d like a program that makes a graphic of all the words that only appear once. They’re especially… important.

From a design perspective, what’s important is that word color, font, and placement don’t mean anything. Wordle allows you to choose your own colors and fonts for your word cloud and provides a gallery of placement options (horizontal, vertical, half and half, etc.). You can randomize all settings or reposition the words using current settings until you like the way they look.

Althouse is a law professor, but she has an art background and often blogs on art, photography, and the media. She clearly went for an aesthetic result in these two clouds. The McCain cloud looks like the “blue chill” palette, but I think the Obama cloud uses a custom palette, one designed to be different but complementary. Not that that means anything.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Color, Current Events, Language, Typography

April 24, 2007, 11:00 am

The Art of Mexican Blackletter

By Lisa Agustin

If you’ve seen a bottle of Corona beer, you’ve already seen a sample of the Mexican Blackletter font.  With origins that can be traced back to the Blackletter or Gothic miniscule from 12th century Europe, this font conveys a sense of history and religious tradition. But while it may bring to mind reverential or scholarly images, its use as a multipurpose typeface for everything from shop signs to tattoos makes it a part of contemporary life in Mexico, says Cristina Paoli in her book Mexican Blackletter. Perhaps most interesting is the idea that Mexican Blackletter does not have a fixed appearance, since most of the time it is drawn by hand, usually by someone who is not experienced in typography. As Paoli noted in a recent interview on NPR’s The World:

Most of the time its drawn by hand. And this really has a tremendous impact on the actual shape of the letter. So it makes the whole letter form and its ornaments much more soft and loose. More times than not it’s made by the inexperienced hand of just ordinary people. The outcome is a typographical creation release from the rules and constraints of typography.

To read/listen to the NPR interview: http://www.theworld.org/?q=taxonomy_by_date/2/20070423

To read an excerpt adapted from the book: http://www.graphics.com/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=476

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Art, Books and Articles, Typography

February 2, 2007, 4:37 pm

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards

By Henry Woodbury

The 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual makes for a compelling set of photographs:

New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970) New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (1970)

The iconic strength of Massimo Vignelli’s signage comes readily through in black and white, but I would think almost anyone who has travelled by New York City subway will think of these numbers and letters in color:

New York City Subway Signage

Long ago I jotted down a quote by art collector John C. Waddell from a design article in the New York Times Magazine:

When I think of the East Side, it’s green; when I think of Lincoln Center, it’s red. Massimo and Lella Vignelli did that to my head.

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Comments (0) | Filed under: Color, Design, Information Design, Typography