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Age of Emoji

2015 September 26
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!

The era of homepages

2015 April 26
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by Matt

Twas a good era, for me at any rate. Mostly.

It seems to be very gradually fading out, now. Once or twice per year, another of my go-to news sites redesigns to get rid of the old “big board” homepage, jammed with a few dozen headlines at once. Many switch to a kind of single-column blog format, like and (In the case of the latter, I discovered recently that its current hideous format is shared by other Advance Publications tendrils.)

Then there’s what I think of as the Slate model, which is kind of a bastard hybrid; instead of a single column story feed dominating the homepage, there are many multicolumn sections sort of like the old big board format, except more space and pictures mean that you still only see a handful of headlines “above the fold,” i.e. without scrolling and scrolling. In addition to Slate, its preppier offspring Vox, as well as are examples of this type.

I’ve concluded that this trend is probably now solidly beyond its tipping point, following recently adopting a blog format homepage. This is particularly disappointing, as it was relatively recently that I switched to as my primary sports guide, from its long-time predecessor Sports Illustrated. As has a kind of bottomless Slate-format homepage, these days, I doubt that I will bother switching back.

Instead, it seems like just one more thing toward which to sigh, and then resign myself.

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Japan’s URL alternative (not QR codes)

2015 April 17
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I feel like I had already learned quite a bit about Japan before visiting for the first time, recently. There were, nonetheless, surprises. (Probably either a reminder of how distant Japan is from north Atlantic culture despite surface familiarity, and/or a sign that my knowledge was much more shallow than I thought; Japan disclaimer.)

Two discoveries stand out, from lots of other interesting experiences. In both cases I was mildly shocked, honestly, not only because I had never learned of these seemingly basic cultural practices before, but also because it still took about three days walking around Tokyo before the penny really dropped.

For days, I was surrounded by advertising, signs and other messages that were largely familiar in style and some times in content, even if most of the specific text was lost on me. Throughout those days I grew more and more puzzled by the rarity of URLs; here and there I saw what was obviously an internet address, but the great majority of advertisements, brochures etc., seemed to lack any discernable internet reference.

Then, at last, I figured out (I think) what I had been missing. While relatively few layouts included a URL, nearly all included something like the following:

Web resource… thing… from ad on the back of a Roppongi map

I think this would direct you to… perhaps.

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New portfolio entry, Lumivia

2015 March 28
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Months in the making, I recently completed a new product brochure for DuPont Pioneer. I have added the cover and a sample spread to Modern Alchemy’s online portfolio.

I am rather happy with the appearance of this, from a straightforward standpoint, not to mention in light of various challenging circumstances for all involved.

As usual, I am limited in terms of what I can share, where, and respectful of client wishes. But do click through and have a glance.

Desktop Publishing & “Bring Out Your Dead”

2015 March 17
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I hope most people are familiar with the “bring out your dead” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (And familiar with the whole movie, really.) I’m reminded of it, a bit, by “The 7 Signs That Desktop Publishing is Failing You” by Amelia Salyers, which argument I stumbled upon the other day.

Ms. Salyers’ comments are mostly, and openly, a sales pitch for the offerings of her employer Inkling. Unsurprisingly, there are large holes in many of her assertions. Her overall thesis that “most desktop publishing software has reached the end of its useful life,” meanwhile, seems rather like the villager insisting that the old man slung across his shoulder was fit for the corpse cart, despite the old man’s quite audible protests to the contrary.

I make this comparison not only because it amuses me, however; I think it’s also apt in more ways than one. True, traditional desktop publishing platforms are hardly so near death as someone interested in seeing them off may want you to believe. At the same time, though, I think there is a further resemblance to the old man, who was alive enough to insist that he felt happy and might go for a walk… but was at the same time so feeble that he remained flopped over the younger villager’s shoulder, unable to mount any more vigorous defense.

I confess that at least one or two traditional publishing platforms do seem, like that old man, ready to be put out of their misery. Or at any rate, out of our misery.

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Information Design of the 1950s

2015 February 26
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by Matt

This is one example of why I enjoy historical research: you find all kinds of cool things. Here’s a low-tech but very adequate information graphic from 1954:

From folder 27, box 4, Hilton papers, Iowa State University Special Collections

From folder 27, box 4, Hilton papers, Iowa State University Special Collections

Apparently this was prepared by administrators at dear auld ISU back in the early days of President James H. Hilton.

This object delighted me because, while it’s so charmingly basic, it’s still very like what I do 61 years later. The tools are different today, and the results probably a bit more professional in appearance. But for all of its near-steampunk material origins—apparently colored pencils and a typewriter—this gets the job done in a fairly neat and efficient fashion.

Nowadays, of course, we have so much automatic digital precision that you occasionally see something like this as an effect, to suggest “authenticity” or something. Usually, though, it’s simulated using software filters and textures.

This is the pure stuff, here.

Costume Quest & the uncanny valley

2015 January 20
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So, I’m a bit behind the times. I bought a PlayStation3 after the PS4 came out, and—while the PS3 still sees new titles released—my most recent acquisition for it is from 2010. It’s so old that the promotional web site has apparently expired.* I do think this is kind of chintzy and lazy, actually; you can’t be bothered to pay the pennies it would take to keep this online? I’m planning to keep live, and Costume Quest is probably still more profitable in 2015 than Brilliant Deduction will ever be…

This aside, I commend DoubleFine for a delightful, delicious game.

As much of the gaming community has already recognized this achievement and moved on, however, I’ve decided to direct most of my comments to some aspects of the game’s design. (Which is why this post is here rather than at my personal site.)

Prominent among its merits, Costume Quest is a feast of design. Keen-o costumes, the icon system of “Battle Stamps,” plus the whole set of “Creepy Treats Cards” (presumably inspired by Garbage Pail Kids) which serve negligible function in the game besides ornamentation. The design element that has prompted the most fascination for me, though, is the built landscape.

Costume Quest's Autumn Pines suburb

Screen shot from Costume Quest’s Autumn Pines suburb

Most of Costume Quest takes place in a suburban neighborhood, a shopping mall, and some kind of rural setting that I can’t even describe effectively without going into it at some length… Before getting to that, though, I’ve wondered why I have wondered so much about this scenery, and today I had an idea. I think maybe the locations in Costume Quest hover in some kind of uncanny valley.

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The Cotton library fire comic

2015 January 17
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Time I posted a few notes about this, my most recent comics work.

As regards inspiration, the original idea to create a promotional comic of some sort resulted from a specific opportunity (I thought) to get a little free exposure. That did not pan out, in fact. But I think it was a great idea because I had much fun making it.

Once I began thinking “what if I made a comic,” I had plenty of ideas. The story of the Cotton library is, I (obviously) think, full of entertaining if often tragicomic episodes. Cotton “picking” his collection from any source that wasn’t nailed down… the intrigues of the rival librarians… the frequently exasperated Sir Frederic Madden… but fairly quickly, I settled on the 1731 fire as the best place to begin.

It just seemed to offer both the best “hook” as a promotion—hey, did you know all these amazing documents are part of one collection and that 300 years ago it was nearly incinerated despite being formally entrusted to Parliament by that point?—and multiple opportunities for jokes amid the greater narrative.

Essentially none of which are made up, either. Dr. Bentley attempting to move the shelves outside… tossing volumes out a window when that first idea wasted too much time… and, yes, even Bentley’s bizarre suggestion that the fire was ghostly punishment for the library’s neglect. All drawn from historic accounts. The literal appearance of Cotton’s ghost is invented, obviously, but it felt like he deserved an opportunity for rebuttal. So, voila artistic license…

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