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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!

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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