This website is so frustrating!

You must check this website out, it’s so bad it’s good.

Behold, the most (intentionally) poorly designed website ever created
Sometimes we take Web and user interface design for granted—that’s the point of User Inyerface, a hilariously and deliberately difficult-to-use website created to show just how much we rely on past habits and design conventions to interact with the Web and our digital devices.

We don’t appreciate how many user interface conventions we take for granted, until they catch us out like this. It’s crammed full of twists and jolts and frustrations. It took me an age to get past just the first page!

“Minimalist infantilization”

You don’t need a degree in visual identity to notice a certain amount of homogeneity amongst corporate branding these days. Graphic designer and writer Rachel Hawley investigates this  “creepy cheerfulness of a thousand smiling san serifs.”

The corporate logo singularity
By the time Facebook and Google got in on the fun, of course, this new style was well underway. Motorola, Spotify, Airbnb, PayPal, and Lenovo had all undergone similar redesigns; over the next few years, Dropbox, Mastercard, Pandora, Pinterest, and Uber followed suit, among others. The twenty-first century, it became clear, would be smooth, sleek, and simple.

What we’ve been left with is the unsettling omnipresence of a single corporate aesthetic, its reach rapidly expanding beyond its tech origins. Taken individually, any of these wordmarks might effectively communicate the intended qualities of friendliness and approachability; together, their cheerfulness is downright creepy, like the painted-on smile of a clown’s face.

[…]

Here, the truth is made plain: the childlike nature of corporate branding isn’t a random trend, but part of the mindset that consumers ought to be treated like children. Details are the sinister machinations of faceless authority figures; friendly colors and geometric letters like those on a toddler’s building blocks are comforting by contrast. That each brand looks more or less like the next is only for the better: the world is a little smaller that way, less likely to confuse or frighten. As Jesse Barron wrote for Real Life magazine in 2016, “We’re in the middle of a decade of post-dignity design, whose dogma is cuteness.” Cuteness, employed as these companies do, talks down to you without words.

In related news, Firefox is having a rebrand. And yes, this feels quite ‘cute’ too, after reading Rachel’s article.

Mozilla gives Firefox a new look that goes beyond the logo
Built around four distinct ideological pillars — a radical optimism about the internet, a desire to build better products, a drive towards openness, and a belief in the fundamental importance of being driven by strong convictions — the new look and feel isn’t the end of story, with Mozilla claiming that: “As a living brand, Firefox will never be done. It will continue to evolve as we change and the world changes around us.”

Firefox’s new logo has more fire, less fox
But before you say “What did they do to that poor fox!” know that the logo you see above actually isn’t the browser logo — that’s the brand-new overarching logo for Mozilla’s whole family of Firefox products, with each component (including the browser) having its own logo, too.

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Video game nostalgia

It’s a big week for video games, with E3 2019 in full swing. But never mind all that, let’s look back to the good ol’ days with Sam Dyer, founder and book designer of Bitmap Books.

Bitmap Beauty: Exploring classic video game box art from the 80s and 90s
“Given the limitations the artists had, this pixel art is a real work of art and deserves to be treated as so. However, the box art also hugely influenced which games we purchased before the internet. It really was the cover art that would draw you in, when in a shop.”

The unsung design wonder that is classic video game packaging has been explored by Bitmap Books for five years now, with Sam founding the indie publisher following a decade as design head for brand agency The House. The first release was a visual compendium dedicated to the 1982 Commodore 64, and like all the vintage console-dedicated books on Bitmap, the tome is packed out with game screengrabs, creator interviews and lovingly annotated looks at box art from around the world.

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In a similar vein, here’s a link-filled piece from a pair of academics writing in The Conversation last year.

Finding nostalgia in the pixelated video games of decades past
Every day, it seems, new ultra-high-resolution video games are released, syncing with players’ social media accounts and ready for virtual reality headsets. Yet old games from the 1970s and 1980s are still in high demand. The Nintendo Corporation has moved recently to both quash and exploit that popularity, shutting down websites hosting old games’ code while planning to release its own back catalog on a new platform. […]

Playing old video games is not just a mindless trip down memory lane for lonely and isolated gamers. The average age of a U.S. gamer is 34, and many popular retro game titles have been around for 20 years or more. It seems Generation X-ers could be returning to their cherished childhood properties.

In fact, emerging media psychology research, including our own work, suggests that video game nostalgia can make people feel closer to their past, their friends and family, and even themselves.

Meanwhile.

Comfort food?

Is this a reversal of the phrase, ‘you are what you eat’? Now you can eat what you are.

Burger King trolls McDonald’s while nodding to mental health issues in new campaign
One of the joys of a big brand rivalry must be the chance every now and again to get one over on your nemesis through a catty campaign – or to try to at least. This week Burger King has stepped up to the plate, waving a red rag to its biggest foe McDonald’s with the launch of five “Real Meal” boxes, a cheeky rip of McDonald’s famous Happy Meal. Including Pissed, Blue, Salty Meal, YAAAS and DGAF (that’s “don’t give a f–k” to save you the Urban Dictionary trip), the new boxes allow customers to order a Whopper based on their mood, alluding to the fact that many people ordering a “Happy” Meal are far from it.

See also this other unhappy meal.

That’s better!

The next Marvel film is set in 1990s, and so is its promotional website.

Marvel launched a delightful, retro website to promote Captain Marvel
The result is absolutely delightful. The website taps into the nostalgia for the 1990s that we’ve seen in the film’s trailers, and features a ton of components that were mainstays of the web almost a quarter of a century ago: random animations, zany photo editing, HTML frames, brightly-colored fonts, and of course, a guestbook and hit counter.

Perfect! Now, all we need to do is switch the rest of the web back.

Instagrammable and Amazonable

Remember those cricked necks we used to get, wandering up and down the books shelves in Waterstones, Borders and the rest, head at an awkward angle to read all the spines? Book buying looks different now, with our stiff necks due to staring down at our screens.

Welcome to the bold and blocky Instagram era of book covers
None of these titles is available yet, but anywhere you find them online will likely direct you to preorder on Amazon. In fact, their covers are designed to ensure that you will. At a time when half of all book purchases in the U.S. are made on Amazon — and many of those on mobile — the first job of a book cover, after gesturing at the content inside, is to look great in miniature. That means that where fine details once thrived, splashy prints have taken over, grounding text that’s sturdy enough to be deciphered on screens ranging from medium to miniscule.

Social media has a part to play now, too, in our book-buying habits.

“Instagram is a major tool now in ginning up excitement that we used to see in print magazines,” says Emma Straub, Riverhead-published author and owner of the Brooklyn bookstore Books Are Magic.

She’s referring, of course, to the latte-laden still lifes that influencers post to brag about receiving an advance copy of a book, or the artful arrangements they use to signify literate lifestyles arranged in bold colors.

2018 in art and design

Another late December day, another round-up of what happened this year.

It’s Nice That’s Review of the Year 2018
Well, 2018 was a year, wasn’t it? Between us, we’re quite glad that it’s (nearly) all over. Now’s the perfect time to reflect on creativity flourished in yet another turbulent 12 months on a topsy-turvy planet.

A great collection of articles. I particularly enjoyed reading their summary of 2018’s news stories — as they say, it “might be the only round-up of 2018 that’s (mercifully) free of the twin terrors of Donald Trump and Brexit.”

Review of the Year 2018: Top 25 News
From Burberry getting a new logo courtesy of Peter Saville to Marina Abramović promising to electrify herself with one million volts in the name of art, via Taylor Swift butting heads with Spike Jonze over allegations of copy-catting, and the release of a new typeface that claims to be able to boost your memory, a lot has happened in the creative world since we said hello to January back in, well, January.

Some real gems there. Remember that Damien Hirst exhibition? And the great KFC chicken shortage back in February?

And how about this review of what’s been happening in the colourful, noisy, fast-paced world of video game design.

The best in video game concept art for 2018
My favourite feature here at Kotaku is Fine Art, a daily look at the concept art that goes into our favourite games. With the end of the year fast approaching, I thought it was time to look at some of the best work we’ve been able to showcase this year from some of the biggest games.

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Judging a book cover by its book cover

Another fine 2018 retrospective, another rabbit hole to fall into.

The 75 best book covers of 2018
But it is December, and therefore I am inclined to ask: which book covers were the best? As I did last year and the year before that, I asked the experts: book designers. This year, I asked 27 designers to share their favorite book covers of the year, with a bit about why—and they came back with a whopping 75 different covers of note.

I especially liked reading about the trouble with designing a book when its author is in jail.

Two contrasting technologies

Here are two technologies or tools that couldn’t be more different.

One started out around 1560 or 1795, has no moving parts, needs no manual and is still being sold in their billions…

A sharp look at the surprisingly complex process of pencil manufacturing by photographer Christopher Payne
The photographer, renowned for his cinematic images that show the architectural grace of manufacturing spaces, shares that he has held a lifelong fascination with design, assembly, and industrial processes. “The pencil is so simple and ubiquitous that we take it for granted,” Payne tells Colossal. “But making one is a surprisingly complex process, and when I saw all the steps involved, many of which are done by hand, I knew it would make for a compelling visual narrative.”

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…although for how much longer.

Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say
His mother, Laura, blames herself: “In retrospect, I see that I gave Patrick technology to play with, to the virtual exclusion of the more traditional toys. When he got to school, they contacted me with their concerns: he was gripping his pencil like cavemen held sticks. He just couldn’t hold it in any other way and so couldn’t learn to write because he couldn’t move the pencil with any accuracy.”

The other, a highly complicated technological marvel that spread across the globe, revolutionising society, only to completely disappear within 30 years

VHS tapes
People have been able to consume their choice of music at home for more than a century, but it wasn’t until the mid-1970s that video was truly freed from the constraints of the multiplex and the network broadcast schedule—and not until the 1980s that it really became accessible. That heyday didn’t last long. Just three decades separated the first VHS-format VCR from the last Hollywood hit distributed on video tape. But in that time, a lot of memories were created, and a new template for consuming media was forged.

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… though fans remain.

From ignored ubiquity to design classic: the art of the blank VHS tape
When the company he worked at acquired a commercial printer with a scan bed on top, Jones began to scan tapes. Looking around on Google, he saw hardly any high-resolution images of these little pieces of everyday ephemera. There were plenty of horror and VHS box art scans, “but no love for the lowly home recording tape box that had been part of so many homes and families.” From this realization, the Vault Of VHS was born, a blog dedicated to the design of retail VHS packaging for both home and pre-recorded tapes.

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“The font, art, and tape dirt grey just feel like the gummy carpet of a grimy porn theater.”

Web design through the ages

Ok, not so much ‘through the ages’, as ‘since 1995’, but you get the idea. This online museum is the brainchild of Petr Kovář, a user experience designer from the Czech Republic.

Web Design Museum
At present, Internet Archive keeps the visual form of over 327 billion websites, the oldest of which date back to 1996. This service is undoubtedly a great aid to anyone who would like to look at the internet past. Unfortunately, it does not enable to follow past trends in web design or to go through websites originating only in a certain period. The thing is that Internet Archive is not a museum with carefully sorted exhibits that would give visitors a comprehensive picture of the web design past with the use of selected examples. It is more like a full archive of the internet.

Therefore, Web Design Museum sets the main objective to trace the past web design trends, and to give general public the full picture of the web design past with the use of selected exhibits. At the same time, it seeks to use selected websites to outline the development of websites from the most distant past until present.

Take a look at how our tastes have shifted over the years. It’s strange to think that, however old-fashioned they appear now, all of these designs would have been thought of as bang up-to-date, cutting-edge even, at the time.

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It’s nice to see k10k again, though. That still looks great.

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Whilst we’re on the subject, here’s a post about the Internet Archive and one about Geocities. Ah, those were the days.

Send a smile

Maybe it’s an age thing, maybe I’m just a snob, but I’m still reluctant to include emojis in the texts and messages I write. They’re curious things, though.

Emoji, part 1: in the beginning
Sex! Con­flict! In­ter­na­tional stand­ards bod­ies! The brief his­tory of emoji is far more in­ter­est­ing than it has any right to be, and over the next few months I’ll be tak­ing a look at where the world’s new­est lan­guage came from, how it works and where it’s go­ing.

It star­ted with a heart.

What comes to my mind first, though, is the smiley face. Where did that come from? Read on.

How the smiley face became a counter-cultural symbol
The yellow smiley face as we know it has been around for over half a century, but where did it come from? And how does it continue to grin when the general consensus says there isn’t much to smile about these days? Here, we trace the origins of the iconic graphic, from its corporate beginnings to its counter-cultural adoption.

Now that’s what I used to call music

I was 11 in 1983. I’m now 46. A milestone has been reached.

Now That’s What I Call Music! just turned 100
Phil Collins’ cover of the The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love” is the first song on the very first Now That’s What I Call Music!—or “Now,” as it’s popularly known—released in the UK in 1983. Yesterday (July 20), the 100th UK volume of the series was released; its first song is Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa’s electronic dance hit “One Kiss.” Listen to both tracks and you’ll see that we’ve come a very long way, baby.

As ever, the It’s Nice That team has a great take on it.

Now That’s What I Call an oddly important document of British visual culture: Now releases its 100th CD
As objects, and as ideas, the Nows that litter charity shops and the glove compartments of seen-better-days people carriers up and down the country are primarily functional. End-of and mid-year money savers, they are cheap and cheerful. And they look it, too.

The series is an interesting record of the shifting musical tastes of our young people (including me, once upon a time), but it’s visually important too.

You’ll notice that after rather anodyne first and second editions, the team decided to inject a bit of personality into proceedings. Which, for Now’s three, four, and five they did with a pig. In sunglasses. This, for reasons that are probably best left kept in the matte black confines of a mid-80s record label HQ, was the big idea. This was how they were going to sell yet another chart compilation to the nation. With a pig in sunglasses.

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I’d forgotten all about that pig! Needless to say, it didn’t stick around, and before long the cover we all know and love appeared. And stayed.

Like the Little Chef logo or the Nike swoosh, the solid sameness of Now provides a moment of calm in an epoch marked by hysterical atomisation. You’ll probably never buy another Now compilation again — because why would you —but that isn’t the point. Like cockroaches at Armageddon, Now will always sit there on supermarket shelves.

I, for one, am glad of that. Buying and listening to music these days is getting far too complicated.

How spammers, superstars, and tech giants gamed music
On a website with more than 100 million active daily users, there are plenty of ways to game the system, be it for attention, or, if the streams pile up enough, profit. And the frauds cashing in on the latest hot single are hardly alone. A bevy of unknown artists have found ways to juice their streaming totals, whether it’s covering songs from artists who don’t allow their songs on Spotify, or uploading an album of silent tracks, each precisely long enough to generate a fraction of a cent for the artist.

Iconic icons

Via kottke.org, here’s a great write-up of the contribution Susan Kare made to the success of the Macintosh. She started as a typeface designer but is best remembered for much more iconic work.

The sketchbook of Susan Kare, the artist who gave computing a human face
Inspired by the collaborative intelligence of her fellow software designers, Kare stayed on at Apple to craft the navigational elements for Mac’s GUI. Because an application for designing icons on screen hadn’t been coded yet, she went to the University Art supply store in Palo Alto and picked up a $2.50 sketchbook so she could begin playing around with forms and ideas. In the pages of this sketchbook, which hardly anyone but Kare has seen before now, she created the casual prototypes of a new, radically user-friendly face of computing — each square of graph paper representing a pixel on the screen.

[…]

There was an ineffably disarming and safe quality about her designs. Like their self-effacing creator — who still makes a point of surfing in the ocean several mornings a week — they radiated good vibes. To creative innovators in the ’80s who didn’t see themselves as computer geeks, Kare’s icons said: Stop stressing out about technology. Go ahead, dive in!

All these years later and her designs are still seen as culturally significant.

London’s Design Museum announces 2017 exhibition programme
“‘Designed in California’ is the new ‘Made in Italy’. … This ambitious survey brings together political posters, personal computers and self-driving cars but also looks beyond hardware to explore how user interface designers in the Bay Area are shaping some of our most common daily experiences. The exhibition reveals how this culture of design and technology has made us all Californians.”

Illustrating good mental health

In support of Mental Health Awareness Week earlier this month, several freelance illustrators discussed their own experiences with anxiety, depression and a range of other mental health issues, with the aim of supporting and encouraging others that may be facing similar issues.

‘None of us need to be alone’: Illustrators’ raw and honest accounts of how they’ve coped with mental illness
“My experience is that many creative types often have hermetic tendencies. Working for yourself, by yourself will see you spend perhaps an unhealthy amount of time alone — sometimes this is even fetishised and encouraged with the suggestion that one isn’t really ‘hustling’ unless they have what amount to terrible habits,” says Canadian illustrator, designer, and founder of Poly Studio, Jamie Lawson.

“This is, of course, nonsense. Though it’s an attitude that I see changing in the culture, it still bears repeating that developing healthy social habits is as important for a freelancer as their technique, professional practices or work ethic.”

There are links to a range of resources and suggestions, but I think the interviews with the dozen or so artists on their issues and successes is most inspiring.

Tobias Hall on how mindfulness helped with insomnia and anxiety
What did you find helped your situation? “Mindfulness was and is the single biggest reason behind my recovery. It taught me a completely new way of looking at what happens in the mind. Over time I have learnt to identify the ‘my mind’ and ‘me’ as two separate things – I accept that I’m not always in control of the noise which goes on up there. I understand that behind all of that noise, my mind is only ever looking out for danger, as it’s evolved to do. And as such, it means I buy into thoughts and feelings a lot less than I did in the past. For sure, I still get caught up in negative thought and anxiety is still a part of my life, but my relationship with it has fundamentally changed and it’s no longer a big problem for me day-to-day.

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Illustrator Sharmelan Murugiah on coping with depression
How have these experiences stemmed from, or been tied to, the life of being a freelance illustrator? “I do feel the life of being an illustrator can be quite lonely. I am set up in a solitary home studio. I made my way into this profession via architecture and then design so I have not had those early connections with folks in the industry. The growing effect of social media on my work can also make you feel pressured. Seeing work pour out of other artists social accounts even though I know we use social media generally to present the best of ourselves online.”

Words on the street

From Atlas Obscura, an interview with Jesse Simon about his Berlin Typography project.

Celebrating Berlin’s typography, before it vanishes
“I came across a sign for a shop called Betten-König, an exquisite, yellow, cursive neon sign attached to the façade of what otherwise looked to be a fairly modest shop,” Simon recalls. “Something snapped into focus.” He realized that he’d been thinking about Berlin’s civic and commercial signs only in terms of their function. And yet, “this Betten-König sign, which seemed somehow too grand and too glorious for its purpose, was doing something entirely different. It brought a kind of joyous irreverence to the street,” he says.

There are some wonderful examples of street typography here, with a range of styles unlike anything I’ve seen before, I think.

Something else one finds in Berlin (and in most larger German cities) is a kind of creative tension between Western European and traditional German approaches to typography. Although German uses the Latin alphabet now almost exclusively, blackletter or Fraktur scripts were dominant in the previous centuries, and the influence is still present today. German also has its own orthographic traditions and its particular variations on the Latin alphabet, specifically the umlauted letters and the Eszett (ß). Again, this is not unique to Berlin, but is definitely a part of what makes its urban typography so distinctive.

I’ve heard of Blackletter, at least, but Sütterlin? No idea.

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Sütterlin is a form of handwriting that was prevalent in Germany during the first half of the 20th century; it fell out of common use in the second half of the century but, as with Blackletter, is still used in signage to evoke the values of a previous age. The sign here reads ‘Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus’ although this is not immediately apparent. If you stare at it for long enough (or go to the Sütterlin Wikipedia page) it begins to make sense.

The Atlas Obscura interview covers more examples but check out his Berlin Typography website for his extensive, and growing, collection. Long may they last out there, the streets will look poorer without them.