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Explaining Quantum Whatever: then

2011 August 29

While I wait for the 2011 Revenge of Print revival issue of Quantum Whatever to finish up at the printer, I should record some notes on where I’m coming from with this publication, particularly the design.

This is, in fact, something that has been on my find for some time now; as I’ve thought about sharing this completed project with people I’ve found myself mentally composing various explanatory remarks. Not only to address 1) what is this thing but also 2) why does it look like this.

Because Quantum Whatever was, in terms of a work of graphic design, a product of my 20-year-old college junior self, in 1999, barely halfway through my three years of actual graphic design coursework. So I feel this compulsion to explain that, well, if it looks a bit unpolished and desktop-publish-y for an experienced design professional in 2011, there’s a reason. I’ve made some adjustments, as I did on every issue really, but for the most part I’ve picked up the same design from the original student-publication run in the penultimate year of the last century.

I’ll go into the adjustments in another post, probably; today I want to provide just a brief background on where Quantum Whatever came from in the first place.

Back, back, way back in the mid-1990s, there was a student-produced newsletter called The Castle, published by the Honors Student Board at dear auld ISU. As I recall it was pretty much a generic organizational newsletter. A couple of clever and ambitious honors students, however, had a vision of something more than a plain old newsletter. With this vision, and a subversive dig at a then-infamous silly comment by the director of career services, The Castle fell and Quantum Whatever was born.

Cover from sample issue of Quantum Whatever, volume I

Yes, very late 1990s

There were four printed issues of Quantum Whatever volume I, as well as a fifth, online-only issue; ironically I actually have and can still access electronic file versions of all these except the online issue. QW v1.0 was, looking back, odd. Really odd. In terms of content it was a strange hybrid thing, half-newsletter and half creative journal. Over the four issues I can open up with InDesign, I find poems, fiction, and drawings alongside administrative news-and-note items, internet bookmarks, and even contests and coupons.

In terms of format, it seems to have begun as more like a traditional newsletter and gradually morphed into something remarkably like a prototype for the volume II Quantum Whatever which succeeded it. The first few issues appear to have been letter-sized documents, designed to fold over again and use one-half of the back cover as a mailing panel. By the third issue, shown above, this format was for whatever reason replaced by the half-legal-size booklet which (with one exception, after I left the publication to go look for a job) has prevailed since.

In terms of layout and design, it wasn’t bad, for a non-designer’s work. It mostly followed a relatively conservative, multi-column newsletter approach; Times was the main text face. As can be seen above, however, it also employed not one but two examples of the “grunge” era’s typographic flowering. “Quantum Whatever” and section headings used “Screwed-up Typewriter,” while Pralltriller Thin was brought in as a kind of header/footer style.

In the spring of 1999, Quantum Whatever was relaunched as a “pure” creative journal, dispensing with its newsletter origins entirely. At this point I came onboard as designer; happily and, I think, as a credit to my good design sense, I also dispensed with all of these typefaces and most of the typography of Volume I.

As for what I replaced it with, well, I was largely on my own without a whole lot of guidance. At that point in my design pre-career I was, thanks largely to the ISU curriculum, very concept-focused and determined to see graphic design as almost more of a logical, problem-solving science than any kind of decorative art. As it happens, Quantum Whatever is a good demonstration of the incompleteness of that outlook; a thoughtful concept is well and good, but there is rarely a direct logical path from a concept to actual visually-appealing typography and graphics, and thus one can’t really make sense of graphic design without accounting for the importance of creativity and intuition. And so with Quantum Whatever, I had a concept, but still ended up with an odd assortment of fairly arbitrary lettering and graphic styles.

In any event, having lettle else to work with, I pursued a design concept inspired by the name, “Quantum Whatever.” I had a loose, pop-science concept of quantum physics and supplemented this with some brief exploration around the early world wide web. In practice, the result was a relatively spartan approach to layout and typography, enlivened with free-form, decorative circular designs, sorta-kinda hinting at scientific diagrams of particles, electron orbits, etc. This concept also informed my first cover:

Front cover, Quantum Whatever, volume II issue 1

Front cover, Quantum Whatever, volume II issue 1

In terms of type, I had to reach a bit further and get a bit more inventive. For the body copy I (stupidly) selected the very delicate Caslon 224, with Myriad for headings and subheadings. For the main title, however, I produced one of the custom lettering solutions I was always turning to in those days.

Table of Contents from Volume II, Issue 2

This table of contents from issue 2:2 is probably a good example

Here, and in the other type I created for Quantum Whatever, I followed a very vague concept of quantum = advanced science = futury science fictionish look thought process. I’m not displeased with the result, though, and in fact I’m a little bit proud of the design for the second word of the title. This was a slight nod toward the Screwed-up Typewriter style of volume I, but also, I think, provided a fitting and welcome counterpoint to the precise, streamlined look of the letters otherwise, preventing the whole thing from taking itself too seriously. “Whatever,” man, basically.

As though this weren’t enough, I created a second lettering style for the interior headings; if it has any concept at all it’s probably as a kind of bridge between the rounded-rectangle shapes of the main title logo, and the circle-based forms of the interior decoration. Any such effect may well have been accidental or, at best, instinctive, though.


What we might call "QWB"

This is, mm, an interesting experiment, at best, I suppose. I think it has an intriguing appearance, although some of the forms fail completely; the “s” was just a disaster. I like the way that I employed alternate versions of two or three letters, both for the specific results this produced and because it fits into the evolving work-in-progress, “make a rule of making an exception to the rules” custom which seemed to find its way into the design of every QW issue, somehow or other.

Beyond that, there isn’t a ton to say about the origins of Quantum Whatever as a design. I preserved the format of a half-legal-sized, saddle-stitched booklet from volume I because, I guess, it seemed as good as anything. Still seems fine now, I think.

For the covers, we were able to get a little bit more extravagant with volume II than volume I, though not a lot more extravagant: single-side coated cardstock, printed with two colors (on the outside; the insides were always left blank). No bleeds, either, something I struggled to reconcile every time out, including this most recent version. I had no consistent approach to the cover aside from duotone printing (I learned Photoshop’s duotone function specifically for this), and including content from the inside; I always made a point of including both images and text, to respect both “halves” of the journal, so every cover design has text from at least one story or poem or something as a background or texture.

I think that should just about set the stage for the 2011 revival, which should be appearing any day now. I’ll be back then with a few additional notes, on what adjustments/innovations I introduced and why, probably.

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