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Print has power, even in virtual form

2016 July 26

A novel experience, recently, related to print vs. electronic media in 2016.

Several weeks ago I designed a new web site for that particular pro bono project without end. I also wrote nearly all of it, which I suppose is indirectly relevant to the story. Anyway, more recently I was asked to adapt most of the copy into a print brochure. This was perhaps a first for me, and posed some interesting challenges. That said, more curious is that I had asked people to provide feedback on the web site, and got a few small suggestions from one person—but I received extensive comments and suggested revisions to the same text in brochure form.

Here’s the really funny thing. The brochure has not been printed. It was and as of this moment still is electronic media like the web site. But the response to a PDF of the “print” document was much more extensive than the response to the web site.

I can make various guesses about what may explain this. To be completely accurate, first of all, a larger group of people was directly invited to comment on the PDF brochure, compared with the web site. Still, all of the same people who had extensive comments on the brochure were made aware of the web site. One might imagine that at least some of the eager-beavers among them would have looked at it with a similar measure of editorial interest. Nope, not really.

Beyond that, I guess the brochure has more of a specific limited audience in mind, where as the web site was just posted “out there.” So maybe that prompted more concern. It’s also possible that I’m a better print designer than a web site designer, and that even in electronic form the “print” layout drew people in better than the web site.

I suspect, though, that some inherent features of the two formats were at work.

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Logowatch: DC Comics (again)

2016 May 17
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by Matt

Apparently DC Comics have redesigned their logo. Again.

DC Comics logo, mid-May 2016 edition.

Bleh. Meh.

I feel strange posting about this; I update this blog very infrequently nowadays, and I’m also not really a close observer of the comics “scene” any more. I suppose what notice I do take is mostly just habit.

Yet it also feels like I ought to make some kind of note, here, as I have been “on this story” through two previous redesigns.

Which is mostly all that I can say, perhaps all that usefully can be said, about this latest bit of graphic tail-chasing: DC Comics has now rolled out three logo redesigns in just 11 years. Three. I noted the lameness of the 2005 “swoosh” design on a now-defunct blog, then republished some of those comments in this 2012 post on the “toilet seat” design. I’m not sure what there is to add about the latest revision that I didn’t say about one or other of the previous two. I would say that it’s possibly the worst of all worlds, at once 1) gesturing back toward the pre-2005 “DC bullet” design without actually capturing its nostalgic appeal, 2) lacking the shallow but shiny corporate gloss of the swoosh, and 3) abandoning the overeager conceptual and graphic approach and of the most recent design in favor of a very dull approach on both counts.

Yeah I think that about says enough.

That, and “this company has major things capital-W Wrong going on that no logo should be allowed to distract from.”

Modern Alchemy Turns 10

2016 April 5
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by Matt

Amazing, but true: today marks 10 years since the official incorporation of Modern Alchemy LLC.

It’s difficult to believe. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was celebrating five years. This seems like it should be a much more impressive milestone, but I don’t really have anything in me like the series of reflections I produced five years ago. I think I had more time on my hands, then, plus perhaps I have been there and done that now, and repeating the same kind of hoopla feels a bit tired.

The one feature which I find particularly striking about this 10th anniversary is that Modern Alchemy has now been around as long as my last, brief full-time employer had been when I went to work there. That feels notable, certainly.

It’s also an interesting point of comparison for evaluating what I have to show for 10 years.

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The Pixma iP5000 goeth into the night

2016 March 23
by Matt

Hard to believe it has been several weeks, now. It was the very end of January when an old friend left me…

…i.e., my inkjet printer died after more than 10 years.

Not just pinin' sadly

Canon Pixma iP5000, 2005-2016

Annoying though it is, I can’t help but keep thinking of that Liberty Mutual insurance commercial, because this printer left “Brad” in the dust. I bought it so long ago, I had to spend several minutes digging around through documents just to work out how long ago. The answer was “back in August 2005.” Since then I lost a job, worked in umpteen contracting roles, started a freelance studio, went through a couple of health crises, traveled the world (okay, a bit of Western Europe), moved three times, wrote three books…

All the while, an inkjet printer that I probably bought for a couple of hundred bucks has kept chugging away. I think every computer component around this veteran has been replaced at least once since then. You would expect so, certainly. Ten years!

So I am, even now, saddened a bit to see the iP5000 go.

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El Capitan (2016 edition)

2016 January 25
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I bit the bullet weekend before last and upgraded my production Mac to OS X 10.11, i.e. OS X v11, i.e. “El Capitan.”

I’ve been around long enough that this is my second Apple “El Capitan” product. A bit over 13 years ago* I purchased a G4 PowerMac with the El Capitan case design, which had been introduced a few years earlier in more colorful form. (That particular model was, I notice, codenamed “Yosemite,” so apparently Apple has been on this whole Yosemite National Park kick before… cue mutterings about the company immediately getting stuck in the past since Steve Jobs powered down…)

The El Capitan case was a pretty great design, aside from the fact that it was a giant boat-anchor, like many computers before 2005 or so. How about the El Capitan operating system?

It’s okay. In truth, I think my biggest complaint may be the redesigned Finder icon (which took place in 10.10, actually). It could be that I’ll appreciate this with time, but right now it just seems ugly and stupid:


On the left, my old friend. On the right, ugh.

Seriously, though, that’s my main complaint after a week.

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Lakewood & the biggest pro bono project of my career

2016 January 2
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by Matt

I have spent not quite a year, now, contributing creative services to grassroots campaign Save Lakewood Hospital. The jury is still out on whether or not the campaign succeeds—right now we could really use your help, even one minute’s worth, particularly if you live in Lakewood—but it’s always going to be an effort I recall with pride. As a grassroots organization, the reality has by no means been complete control of every detail, but in a way I have been gratified most by seeing something I designed take on a life entirely its own:

July 4, 2015 parade photo

Lakewood Independence Day parade, 2015

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Chartres Cathedral drawing

2015 December 1
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by Matt

Another little drawing commission. Chartres Cathedral:

Chartres Cathedral

And flowers

This was photo reference, as you might guess. It was not my own photo reference because, when I was here, this face was largely covered in scaffolding. Fortunately Mr. Internet has my back.

Age of Emoji

2015 September 26
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by Matt

This is no more than a faint sketch, but with that disclaimer, a couple of thoughts on what appear to be contemporary trends in graphic communication…

It seems like I get a lot of demands for “a logo” for things that seem like they don’t actually need one—beyond the fact that popular opinion seems to want a logo* for more and more things. Sub-organizations, sub-features of a program, short-term activities, and even more fine-grained components of any of the above.

Starting a whole batch of new graphics, yesterday, I wondered whether there is any connection with what feels like a rising profile of emoji? I’m vague on this, frankly, but I certainly get an impression of efforts to make more and more varied emoji available in more and more contexts… which implies some growing demand for such.

There’s also the related phenomenon of the GIF revival. Browse around more than one irreverent comments section, and you’ll see plenty of messages consisting mainly or even exclusively of a picture. Distinct from picture-sharing, I should emphasize, these are images used as entries in a textual conversation.

Considering all of this, I wonder if it adds up to evidence of growing desire to communicate in pictures? I’m not sure. My instinct is that plenty of objections await such a thesis. I wonder, all the same, how this might appear within a deep history context as viewed from far in the future. Will a 31st century communications scholar observe that, around my own era, specific advances in technology combined with general labor surplus enabled a revival of pictographic communication?

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Ravelin ltd

2015 July 23
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by Matt

This was fun. Newly approved logo for Ravelin, ltd:

Ravelin logo

Both name and design are drawn from an architectural feature of star forts, which are just about as cool as they sound. This one is highly abstracted, but showing only a piece of the larger fort shape while the complete ravelin (that bit at the top) breaks the frame emphasizes that this is Ravelin, ltd not Starfort, ltd.

Granted, I expect it will still be somewhat mysterious to most people—I didn’t know that ravelin was even a word before this commission—but a measured vagueness is probably okay as the client is still working out what Ravelin will do anyway.

I think there’s something to be said for keeping options open, myself.

The short, short version

2015 May 7
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by Matt

To mark 15 years since completing formal graphic design studies and officially beginning a graphic design professional career… I have decided to abbreviate 15 years in 15 seconds. Just because.

15-second career highlight reel GIF

Executive super-summary

I can provide notes for each second, but it feels like this might defeat the purpose. Let me know.

Thanks, all!