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design of stuff

Friday, November 21, 2003

graphic design anal-ysis

I stumbled upon Design Observer: writings about design & culture -- not sure from where, must've been Xplane's xBlog ...

At any rate, while I haven't read very much of this blog yet, the authors (Jessica Helfand and William Drenttel from Winterhouse Studio, Rick Poynor who founded Eye and writes for Print, and Michael Bierut of Pentagram) seem to make it a point to be extremely opinionated going out the gate -- very refreshing. That's not to say I AGREE with everything said (I think Helfand does not understand Tufte's work or sociology or the ultimate futility of an ad hominum attack, for example), but it's clear these people are at least thinking. I don't mind reading graphic design navel gazing rants if they're articulate.

I'm not all that crazy about graphic design as applied to the web these days -- I've yet to see good print graphic designer make the leap to good web graphic design, at least in the corporate communications sphere. They all seem to be straightjacketed by print experience and don't genuinely understand the web as a different medium or the purpose of a corporate website (or almost any website for that matter). Oh how I'd love it if I were given examples showing me that this observation is bullshit. Please.
posted by lee on 11/21/03 at 03:50 PM

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Thursday, May 08, 2003

visual design odds & ends

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about presenting information visually (vs. text, as in "a good chart is worth a thousand words). Part of it has to do with a PowerPoint done recently (how to describe, visually, what a particular software program does without having the presentation look like zillions of other "value proposition" PowerPoints), and part of it has to do with the InfoPulse website redesign (how do I adequately describe a kiosk and what it can be used for?)

So, of course, I headed for the Ask E.T. "forum." Which is great if you want to browse through it and stumble upon gems now and then--but HORRIBLE if you're looking for something specific. I wish Edward Tufte and Dariane Hunt would figure out how to ORGANIZE the site so locating the abundant and wonderful information contained therein would be easy. I guess it's a case of "Do as I say ... " I'm looking forward to receiving his new essay, "The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint." Due off the press on May 12th, I think.

Next, via XPlane (still one of my favorite blogs, both the design blog and the business blog), I headed to, which has a graphics gallery. It's very new, so not too much is there yet though I anticipate it could turn into a rich resource for learning about graphic design for presenting information. Viewers can rate and comment on the graphics that have been uploaded by designers and others.

Then, on the Design/Graphics section of Poynter Online (the Poynter Institute is a journalism school). This is where I got lost: there are SO MANY interesting links in just this section alone!

I'm not too much closer to solving the two problems mentioned above. But that's because I wandered instead of looking for stuff relevant to why I started poking around in the first place.

Another reason I keep thinking about visual displays is because of the Shrub's May Day speech. (Stanley wrote about it today.) About camera angles and how they can alter perceptions (such as making the ship look like it was in the middle of the Pacific instead of offshore from San Diego). About the power of a uniform (the flight suit Shrub wore) and the symbolism behind the choice to wear it. Say what you will about the slimy regime in Washington, they sure know how to manipulate the media. (Of course, the media allows it.)
posted by lee on 05/08/03 at 03:42 PM

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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

a different take on design

Doors of Perception is "a conference and website at the forefront of new thinking on design and innovation."

It's definitely a different take on design issues -- fascinating and there's a ton of stuff here to get through.
posted by lee on 05/07/03 at 09:49 AM

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Monday, February 10, 2003

Poka-yoke: find out what this means

John Grout put up a Mistake-proofing Center, with lots of resources and examples.

Poka is Japanese for "inadvertent mistake". Yokeru is Japanese for "to avoid." It is often used as a synonym for ZQC (Zero Quality Control), error-proofing, or mistake-proofing.

Look, it's not the greatest website design in the world. In fact, the design is definitely not Poka-yoke. But the content is interesting and very much related to usability.
posted by lee on 02/10/03 at 03:53 PM

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Wednesday, February 05, 2003

very useful site for designers

PBDSAMPLE.gifThe Fontscape typeface directory is nicely organized. Brought to you by the same friendly folks who run Identifont. Identifont is pretty good, but not good enough yet to identify a font we need for a client. Do you know this font?

Identifont is a creation of information design company Human-Computer Interface Limited.

I've uploaded the font above in WhatTheFont at Voila! I followed the directions, and found the font. It's Enviro! A Linotype font. Owned by Letraset (which I assumed pretty much since our sample is a printed business card). And has it for $21.00, good. Lemmesee, upper case only, designed by F. Scott Garland. Okay, off I go to buy it ...
posted by lee on 02/05/03 at 09:00 PM

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Sunday, February 02, 2003

alien landscape

"Drive north from Las Vegas for a hundred fifty miles or so. No trees, no towns, no humans or a goddamned bit of greenery to speak of. You call this straight road miserable, but you haven't yet been to Rachel, pop. 100, whose only claim to fame is that it is the closest town to Area 51, America's famously secret experimental military installation."

So begins Eric Gauger's latest issue of Notes from the Road. This issue is a trip through Nevada, specifically southern Nevada, titled "Rocks & Mythology in the Nevada Desert."

This is one of my favorite sites. Besides always being interesting, and always providing good maps and good information, Eric's webpages are beautiful, with oft-times magnificent photography.

After you've read his latest essay, check out the rest of the site.
posted by lee on 02/02/03 at 04:52 PM

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Saturday, February 01, 2003

all about gangs

I stumbled upon this site, GangRule, while looking at Gawker, which I got to via Kottke's portfolio, which I got to via Webword. (Got that?) is a very pretty site. And it's apparent that it's just a beginning and still a very long way from definitive. (Or even substantial--but these things take time.)

And probably the information is very interesting (I went to look at the maps--I'm not particularly interested in gangs except the gangs of Detroit during the Depression). The maps were interesting, but also frustrating since they don't display large enough to actually read.

But I don't have (or couldn't find) a clue as to why the site owner, whom I think is Jon Black, put up this site unless maybe it's to sell used books about gangs? It doesn't really matter, it just interests me--why people build the sites they do.

The navigation on this site is bizarre and extremely confusing. Navs and content switch from side to side. I don't think the navigation is interesting or even serves any kind of a purpose--I just think it's lazy and annoying. [The site was designed by MagnetStudio, whose own website is bizarre and annoying and so two years ago it's kind of spooky and, with so many broken links in the portfolio, sure wouldn't inspire me to hire them.] The font is tiny and very difficult to read (black on dark gray, for the most part, and fixed, of course) and it actually appears as if the people who run the site are doing their damndest to make visitors go away.

There are lots of images, most without attribution of any kind though a big blue box says not to steal them (like they weren't lifted from the Library of Congress and other places like that). The images are small, and the enlargements are, for the most part, so small it's not worth the click to see the larger version. I love old pictures of places I know, so I was kind of disappointed in them.

This site could be very cool, and very interesting, and maybe it'll generate enough interest and contributions to make it worthwhile to improve the navigation and make the words and pictures big enough to see without going blind. Right now the GUI is so anal retentive it's actually funny. Belongs in Web Pages that Suck: The 2nd Generation.
posted by lee on 02/01/03 at 10:38 PM

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Tuesday, December 24, 2002

What is this fetish with lists?

Jakob Nielsen lists his once-in-a-while roll call of things that bug him when he encounters them on the web or in email: Top Ten Web-Design Mistakes of 2002. Nothing new here.

I have to admit: I don't read his Nielsen's Alertbox column very often any more. His stuff has become repetitive, or irrelevent, or more often than not a marketing come-on for one of the reports his company writes that are much too expensive for the vast majority of web designers/developers.

Besides, I'm tired of looking at uglyand hard-to-use sites -- and I don't think his site is ugly because it's supposed to be the embodiment of usability (too many large blocks of ugly type, unorganized lists) -- I think it's ugly because he's either too lazy or too cheap to make a beautiful and usable site -- or maybe he's just unable to put his money where his mouth is.

There is no reason Nielsen can't make a site that embodies the principles he's been blabbing about for years and is also beautiful. Edward Tufte does it with both his site and his books -- maybe that's why he has so many people acitvely applying what he teaches while Nielsen is becoming something of a joke. Tufte demonstrates what he's talking about. Nielsen just blabs.

When Nielsen fixes his site, maybe he'll be relevant again. But until then, yawn.
posted by lee on 12/24/02 at 08:16 AM

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Wednesday, December 18, 2002

WTC Plans—on the bizarre side

Register (it's free) to see the New York Times's slideshow of design proposals for something to replace the World Trade Center: Slide Show. One looks like a pair of number signs (#), others are twisted things. Why does anything have to go there, anyway? Why, if they are replaced, do they have to be so tall?
posted by lee on 12/18/02 at 10:48 AM

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Friday, November 22, 2002

good collection, lousy design

I look at several information design, information architecture, and usability/experience design/whatever the latest buzztitle is these days sites to try to keep up. There are a lot of them since web builders have the ability to take navel gazing to vast heights simply because we know how to make web pages. Some are better than others. I kind of lean toward by John S. Rhodes because he seems to have a better crap detector than most.

But one site, in particular, has been bugging me and I finally nailed down why. Take a look at the navigation on InfoDesign. Once you've figured out the menu (it's those icons in the third row), can you tell me what each of these mystery meat icons is supposed to represent? An Icon that conveys no information is bad information design. Another website/web designer tainted by Razorfish.
posted by lee on 11/22/02 at 10:22 AM

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