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Portfolio review 2014 notes

2014 April 22

A few brief notes on the latest AIGA portfolio reviewer experience, before I forget it completely…

The experiences surrounding this year’s review were extremely frustrating, which is the main reason more than a week has gone by without my making any comment. Setting those aside, though, the review itself was fine. Let’s see…

First of all, re: my big plan to get to the bottom of these web site splash pages that students kept bringing in long after the concept has effectively vanished from the real world… I guess that now, like the great Tootsie Pop enigma, “the world may never know.” Because, of course, this year I didn’t see a single one of them. Oh well. I guess that’s sorted one way or another; hey ho.

Students also seemed better dressed than last year. At least, those I met with; whether that’s indicative of anything, who can say. Hopefully it helps them.

I met a number of students who had converted their process sketches into a scroll-y thing (apparently made with InDesign, I learned) for the iPad (which most of them seemed to be toting). The first time I saw one, it was interesting; as I saw more of them it struck me as increasingly dumb, for whatever my opinion is worth. I mean, to the extent that there’s any point to examining process work—personally I wouldn’t care, though I know some people want to see it—doesn’t a “cleaned-up” and organized version kind of defeat that point? I don’t know.

Also for what it’s worth, I did something similar once, back 14 years ago, all the same. For at least one of my senior year projects, I created a little process and notes minisite using html and (crap 1990s) CSS. (InDesign and magic tablets—and, for that matter, good CSS—being then fantasy dreams of the unrealized future.) So I understand the instinct I suppose. My professor liked the idea, moreover, finding it a novel break from “all those ITOYA notebooks.” Though, had he encountered more such, maybe the novelty would have worn off quickly for him as it did for me. Again, who knows.

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Cleveland “sin tax” campaign: a visual analysis

2014 April 6

The good voters of Cuyahoga County have been asked to renew a “sin tax” to fund “maintenance” expenses at stadiums located in Cleveland. I think it’s fair to assert that: 1) this is a controversial proposal, and 2) of multiple reasons for that controversy, one of the most prominent is the issue of whether or not stadium funding counts as a taxpayer giveaway to affluent professional sports franchises.

Critics argue forcefully that it is. Backers, including the Greater Cleveland Partnership and Northeast Ohio Media Group, have argued throughout the campaign that it is not. The latter reported the GCP stating that “FirstEnergy Stadium, Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field, are ultimately owned by taxpayers…” Followed by a quote from Councilman Jack Schron that “This is not the teams’ property we’re protecting. It’s our property.”

Schron and other renewal proponents seem, so far as I know, to have literal fact on their side. The argument that “this is public money going to public property” seems, nonetheless, like it’s meeting resistance; as a designer, I would like to suggest that contrary visual messages may be a large part of the reason.

Let’s have a look at the stadiums in question. What do you see?

Progressive Field exterior

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April 2014

2014 April 2

I signed up to review portfolios yet again, after all, so I’ll be doing that from 11-1 on Friday, April 11. (Sign up here if you want to join me, either as reviewer or reviewee.) I see that this session is the first to sell out, so at least there will presumably be no shortage of students.

After much prevarication, I finally decided to go through with this again largely because I concluded that, by proxy, it’s the equivalent of people coming to me and asking for advice and help. I did not feel quite to the point of saying “no, go away.” (Yet.)

That, plus boredom. Things have been a bit quiet around here of late, and while spring is on the way it’s hardly sit-on-the-balcony or go-enjoy-the-park weather. I did make use of the time to complete the first draft of my second book, for anyone interested.

Meanwhile, I’ve decided that I will at least try to get something for myself out of this year’s portfolio review: I am just going to go for broke and ask about these inexplicable web site splash pages that they all show up with. Again, iirc these mostly went out of fashion when these students were like seven years old. Maybe in pouncing on this I’ll risk seeming even more like Old Weird Guy, but 1) do I care that much? and 2) if it vexes me it might conceivably vex people interviewing them for actual jobs, so perhaps best to prepare them.

Mostly, though, I’m just curious to confirm or deny my theory of out of date professors/assignments that badly need helped into the 21st century.

Lakewood mash-up: pub crawl + trolley?

2014 March 25
by Matt

Right around four years ago, I published a little diversionary project titled The Great Lakewood Pub Crawl Map. This was, in essence, a guide to our fair city’s two bar-lined (roughly) parallel commercial thoroughfares, Madison and Detroit Avenues. Visually, it also belongs in at least a loose sense to the popular if increasingly tired “fantasy transit map” genre, in that I was inspired by the image of stops on a subway or streetcar line.

The great (if out of date) Lakewood Pub Crawl Map

Click for larger image

Once upon a time, of course, these were streetcar lines; though long since eliminated in favor of (sometimes spotty) bus service, that detail aside Lakewood basically is the classic definition of a “streetcar suburb.”

I bring all of this up, today, because (dammit, I’ve buried the lead again haven’t I?) of an unexpected new relevance: apparently, the city of Lakewood is considering bringing back “trolley” service on these streets, largely motivated by their popularity as linear drinking emporia.

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IndieWeb, etc.

2014 March 21

Even in these days of semiretirement, I continue to find value in occasional visits to warrenellis.com. This recent post, “IndieWeb,” serves as yet another example.

Apparently, there is now a thing (project? campaign?) dubbed IndieWeb. It’s difficult to explain in part because it’s difficult to grasp, but the first line of content at indiewebcamp.com probably summarizes the idea as well as anything I have found: “The IndieWeb is a people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.”

I think further thoughts are going to require a scattershot approach…

…not least because, again, this all seems complicated and opaque once you try to delve beyond one-sentence summaries. The web site itself is a perfect demonstration of why this concept, and so many similar open/independent programs, will probably remain niche alternatives to the “corporate web.” Basically every page, to say nothing of the whole, seems to be begging for that catchall dismissal: “TL;DR.” (And, for older generations, “MEGO,” which is definitely a big part of my reaction.)

Also, is it just me or does “IndieWeb” sound incredibly 1990s? Personally I’m just fine with that; I have no idea how it plays to other audiences. Maybe younger adults are now too young even to notice.

In any event, like Ellis, I find this interesting all the same. A number of factors have, over the past year, been enhancing my appreciation for open, user-community controlled tools, and sharpening my distrust of what Bruce Sterling has called “the stacks.” read more…

Display status, winter 2014

2014 February 20
by Matt

A little note for the record about yet another of life’s little misadventures, which played out over the past couple of months.

When I elected to buy a Mac Mini, as-noted previously this meant buying a standalone display for the first time since 2002. Since when technology has changed a lot, but the basic problem that worried me a dozen years ago hasn’t: as much as any typical gadget there is, a desktop display is something that it would be very helpful to examine in-person before buying, but this has never been a very practical option and certainly isn’t in the context of modern retailing.

So I made do with reviews and buying guides, studied hard, prepared a detailed spreadsheet, and finally settled on a ViewSonic model… which seemed to be out of stock everywhere. The “manufacturer” did take my order… then several hours later realized that they were also out of stock, and, owing one presumes to poor supply-chain/contractor management, wouldn’t be in-stock for weeks if not longer.

So I tried again, and purchased a highly-rated display with the IPS technology that is apparently the new hotness and an absolute must… and after weeks of fighting with settings, finally had to write it off as unworkable. Wacked colors, terrible terrible banding and hard edges in gradients, and absolutely zero help whatsoever from the alleged customer support options.

So, crowdsourced wisdom having dismally failed, I decided to try a different approach and seek out some expertise. And here I will name names, because I can give some credit. Small Dog Electronics of Vermont not only has cute branding, but genuinely helpful people (or at any rate one of them) who gave some thought to my needs and provided personal recommendations. I researched all of them anyway, and finally settled on another ViewSonic product; I wasn’t best pleased about giving them another chance after the way this whole fiasco began, but at this point a practical solution took precedence.

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Ni No Kuni: Totally Worth It

2014 February 9

I rate Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for Playstation a 9.6/10.

I don't play many video games, but if there are many more of this quality, then perhaps I should

Alternate rating: “OMFG.”

Beyond that, where to begin…

It has been just one week shy of a year since I declared my interest in this game, and intent to play it some day. About… five weeks since I received my secondhand PS3 and began playing. And about one week since I began the final stage of the game. Which was an absolutely shocking spike in difficulty compared with the other 95% of the game.

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Client success story: VASSAL

2014 February 3

It’s strange that I’ve been around long enough that I can completely forget about some things, even since I’ve been working as a professional. Recently, an occasional client reminded me of a small project I worked on a good five years ago, that had completely slipped my mind: a logo design for a general-purpose virtual board game application called VASSAL.

Property of client

Property of client

This is still in use, which by itself seems surprising; as is typical in graphic design, much of my work is ephemeral, and volunteer projects like this can easily dry up and blow away. But the project is still going strong, apparently. And this design is still in use.

It has a bit of a clunky character seen by itself, in a large format, but I recall that our emphasis was making an effective icon in small formats. And I think that still works; if you visit the site, I think it makes for a splendid little icon in browser location bars and tabs. And, best of all, my client remains very pleased.

Lasting value!

Portfolio updates

2014 January 27

After a year and a half* I can finally share some of the work I’ve been preparing for DuPont, most of which is for its Pioneer division. I’ve added three items to my main studio site here, here and here.

This work is still very restricted in terms of what I can show you and how, which is why I haven’t simply included the images in this post. But, y’know, Modern Alchemy has the professionalism and organization to handle your sensitive corporate protocols for communications and whatever else.

Most of the work so far, meanwhile, including everything that I have permission to share, is pretty businesslike. No award-bait deliberate-freak-out shockers, but then that’s not really my line. I am satisfied with the results in the context of what I’m charged with doing. I included this, for example, because I was very pleased with how remarkably bright and inviting it looks given the limitations of: letter size, no bleeds, and a big huge wall of numbers.

Also FWIW I made various other updates to the portfolio, and the rest of the main site. It’s remarkable how things get out of date… but this should hold us for a while, now.

* Has it been that long already…?

A bunch of old rubbish: links 1/11/14

2014 January 11
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Once again, I have continued dragging web shortcuts into a folder on my Mac desktop even though I have long ago quit any kind of regular “linkblogging” program. It’s just a reflex now, I suppose, something like Dr. Strangelove… In any event, once again I have gone through the great heap remaining from the past year and pulled out items of interest, if only for my own purposes. This time it seems a bit more like a generalized year-in-review to accompany my personal version.

As one of my favorite artists has written, “walk backward through your life, and look at everything you missed.”

I actually posted this link, way back in February, but I bring it up because 11 months later I have indeed followed through: I received a copy of Ni No Kuni for Christmas, and subsequently bought a secondhand Playstation3 to play/view it, and I’m about five days or so into the game now. More on this in time, probably.

Another memory from last February, a story about the Australian government finally and successfully calling BS on Adobe’s long-notorious overseas price gouging. As I noted later, this turned out to foreshadow significant events a few months further into last year…

Late that same February, another item that looks a bit different in retrospect: remember the kerfuffle about Marissa Meyer banning working-from-home for Yahoo(!)? Again, a few months later and I had a whole new perspective on what constituted nefarious behavior at this and other internet companies… I’ve switched pretty much completely to independent search engines since the middle of last year.

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