The perils of DIY book cover design

Well, at least they’re trying, I guess.

The worst book covers on AmazonDesign You Trust
Who needs a professional designer when you can save money and make a book cover by yourself, right? Wrong.

But are the professionals doing a better job?

Horror books have lost their identityIn Praise of Shadows

Tasty type

You don’t normally associate McDonald’s with minimalism, but these new billboard ads are pretty cut back, to say the least. No photos, no logos, no branding.

These ads make you think of McDonald’s with just 5 words and 5 coloursDigital Arts
The messaging is equally simple. It isn’t introducing ‘healthy’ options, a new burger, offer or competition – or putting the idea of McDonalds as comfort food in your mind. It’s just designed to catch your eye, bring a moment of delight at the recognition of what you’re seeing and make you think of picking up a McDonalds on the way home or stopping during a long journey.

tasty-type-1

I admit I find these ads quite appealing. The product, not so much.

tasty-type-2

Lorem ipsum, but for images

I wish I had more of a use for this, it’s a cool little resource from Stefan Bohacek.

Generative placeholders
Use generative art as your image placeholders.

There are lots of different styles to choose from.

Keep hitting ‘refresh’ to generate new versions. And in case you were wondering, this is what lorem ipsum means. Possibly.

Lorem ipsum translated: it remains Greek to meThe Guardian
The apparently random Latin placeholder text, used to help design pages, has been translated. Despite the absence of meaning, it’s weirdly mesmerising.

Moving away from paper monitors

Thinking about the old web again, and how different web pages looked back then, compared to now. In a word, tiny.

A short history of body copy sizes on the WebFlorens Verschelde
Ten and 11 pixels may seem puny today, but in the early 2000s that was deemed readable for two reasons:

  1. the 800×600 and 1024×768 screens of the late 1990s and early 2000s had biggish pixels, so the result was on the small side but not as small as it might look today;
  2. designers and their clients were accustomed to 9, 10 and 11 point sizes for body copy in print (books, magazines, leaflets…), and the prospect of using bigger values felt like shouting at readers.

It took quite an effort to pull web designers away from this assumption that screens should be treated the same way as print.

moving-away-from-paper-monitors

In November 2006, iA’s Oliver Reichenstein ran a simple experiment: he compared a magazine’s body copy at arms’ length and a typical site’s body copy at a common, eye-to-desktop-screen distance. The website’s text looked much smaller. Oliver argued for setting the body copy to the browser’s default, or 100%, which by convention is 16px in common browsers. In 2006, and even a few years later, it was a revolutionary proposition. Web designers and clients thought it was extreme. Five years later, we still had to fight for the death of 11px body copy (example, in French).

It’s been interesting to see how text has been treated over the years, not only on the various default WordPress themes but on blogs like Jason Kottke’s, and my own when it was on Blogger. Layouts like Swiss Miss’s look anachronistic now.

Verschelde’s exploration into this aspect of web design is full of links to examples and other articles about typography and layout, including Jeremy Keith’s Resilient web design, a online book that uses CSS to smoothly vary the font size depending on the width of the screen. It’s a great read, especially the opening chapter’s review of the intertwined history of interfaces.

Resilient Web Design – Chapter 1
The hands on a clock face move in a clockwise direction only because that’s the direction that the shadow cast by a sundial moves over the course of a day in the northern hemisphere. Had history turned out differently, with the civilisation of the southern hemisphere in the ascendent, then the hands on our clocks would today move in the opposite direction. […]

These echoes of the past reverberate in the present even when their usefulness has been outlived. You’ll still sometimes see a user interface that displays an icon of a Compact Disc or vinyl record to represent music. That same interface might use the image of a 3½ inch floppy disk to represent the concept of saving data. The reason why floppy disks wound up being 3½ inches in size is because the disk was designed to fit into a shirt pocket. The icons in our software interfaces are whispering stories to us from the history of clothing and fashion.

The quote used in the introduction to that online book seems appropriate here.

We look at the present through a rear‐view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
Marshall McLuhan

Claiming colour

Whilst colours can be strange sometimes, they all have names, right?  From red, green and blue to maroon, mint and midnight. The designers at the paint shop Farrow & Ball come up with some great names: mouse’s back, skimming stone, elephant’s breath. Now you can get in on the act and name your very own colour.

Kolormark – The world’s leading color naming platform
The Kolormark project aims to name all the colors in the world. There are 16,777,216 colors, but only a handful have a name. We believe that every color has its own unique personality and deserves an original name.

This platform is designed for people and colors. We want to allow people to leave a colorful legacy by taking part in the Kolormark project. Participating in the project means more than naming a color. It’s giving a color a loving home.

Sounds a little scammy, though I’m sure it’s legit. It reminds me a little of that million dollar homepage selling off its pixels. Or naming and claiming your very own star. There isn’t a real, physical product for sale, and you don’t really get anything concrete or tangible for your money.

So of course I had to buy one.

claiming-colour

If you’re struggling for inspiration, they have an AI colour matchmaker (because of course they do), “powered by a proprietary set of algorithms fine-tuned to match you with that perfect hue.”

Red and black have already been taken, unfortunately.

Why red means red in almost every languageNautilus
The results revealed two remarkable patterns, which Kay and Berlin laid out in their 1969 monograph, Basic Color Terms. First, almost all of the languages they examined appeared to have color words that drew from the same 11 basic categories: white, black, red, green, yellow, blue, brown, purple, pink, orange, and gray. Second, cultures seemed to build up their color vocabularies in a predictable way. Languages with only two color categories chunked the spectrum into blacks and whites. Languages with three categories also had a word for red. Green or yellow came next. Then blue. Then brown. And so on.

BMW unveils “blackest black” car sprayed with VantablackDezeen
“Internally, we often refer to the BMW X6 as ‘The Beast’,” said Hussein Al Attar, designer of the BMW X6. “The Vantablack VBx2 finish emphasises this aspect and makes it look particularly menacing. We often prefer to talk about silhouettes and proportions rather than surfaces and lines,” he added. “The Vantablack VBx2 coating foregrounds these fundamental aspects of automotive design, without any distraction from light and reflections.”

Hiding behind cuteness

Earlier, I shared an article about the cute infantilization of corporate logos. It seems there’s a corresponding drift towards patronising, cartoony blandness in illustration too.

Don’t worry, these gangly-armed cartoons are here to protect you from big techEye on Design
How do the cheerful, Mastisse-like illustrations that fill up the corners of any given Facebook page temper the expectations of people using these platforms? Their palpable joy is friendly, approachable, inviting, even—all of which translates to trustworthiness. Facebook has of course, proven to be one of the most untrustworthy public-facing companies in the world, repeatedly spying on users and leaking private data with impunity. Between the Cambridge Analytica scandal and other outrageous mishandlings like Facebook’s role in inciting genocidal violence in Burma, the company’s public persona is now more than ever in need of a face-lift. As a quasi-monopoly, Facebook seems to never pay for its sins in terms of usership decline—we’re all still there, staring at pages that have become cuter and bubblier as the company they represent grows more and more powerful.

hiding-behind-cuteness-1

A long time ago, a logo far far away

The reviews for the upcoming Star Wars movie are now appearing, ahead of its general release tomorrow. Will it live up to the hype? Is ‘fan service’ a thing, now? Which spelling of cannon should I be using?

But never mind all that now. Let’s go back to the beginning, and take a look at the evolution of the franchise’s logo (though back in 1977, of course, they probably wouldn’t have used that word), with this wonderful collection of images, care of Alex Jay’s typography blog.

Anatomy of a logo: Star Wars
During the film’s pre-production, a decal was produced. … “It was done as a symbol for the film—to go on film cans and letters. George [Lucas] had had one for American Graffiti, and wanted one for Star Wars.”

long-time-ago-7

Lucas referred to the crawl used in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials. … Dan Perri designed a logo, with a vanishing point, for the opening crawl, but it was not used. Instead, it appeared in print on posters and advertisements.

long-time-ago-3

Suzy Rice, who had just been hired as an art director, remembers the job well. She recalls that the design directive given by Lucas was that the logo should look “very fascist.”

“I’d been reading a book the night before the meeting with George Lucas,” she says, “a book about German type design and the historical origins of some of the popular typefaces used today—how they developed into what we see and use in the present.” After Lucas described the kind of visual element he was seeking, “I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most ‘fascist’ typeface I could think of: Helvetica Black.”

long-time-ago-2

Suzy Rice’s original logo was tweaked a little by another designer, Joe Johnston. You can see that both versions have accidentally made their way onto this book cover; Rice’s original on the back, Johnston’s on the front. (And Luke and Darth Vader are left-handed now?)

long-time-ago-5

Alex has gathered together a fantastic range of 70s and 80s publicity material, for the movies, books, games, comics, posters, calendars etc etc. You must check it all out.

long-time-ago-6

long-time-ago-4

And when you’ve finished, check out what this strange tale would look like if it took place, not long ago in a galaxy far away, but in a 1980s high school.

The sea and the Kroner

The inspiration behind the redesign of the new Norwegian banknotes.

Norwegian banknotes: Original design and main conceptMetric
Norway is a coastal nation. The Norwegian coastline is unique on a world scale; it is Europe’s longest and extends over 13 latitudes. 90% of Norway’s population live within 10 km of the ocean. When it comes to productivity, diversity in species and distinctive character, it is unparalleled throughout the world. The Norwegian livelihood is the ocean – it is the origin of our most important resources. It is our food basket and our major source of income. It is also the origin of our shared history and knowledge – a source to our worldview and our identity.

The banknote motifs are all about how Norwegians use the ocean; about how we combine our access to resources with knowledge and how the ocean affects the Norwegian way of life and social model – both politically and socially.

the-sea-and-the-kroner-1

I love the way black and white photography is used here, to contrast with the macro shots of the notes themselves.

the-sea-and-the-kroner-2

the-sea-and-the-kroner-3

the-sea-and-the-kroner-4

Past and future of gaming

Google’s leapt into gaming with the launch of Stadia.

Why Google Stadia is a ‘leap forward’ for gaming, according to its bossBBC News
“I don’t think what we’re doing is particularly revolutionary when you consider what’s happened in the music, television and film industries,” Google Vice President Phil Harrison tells Radio 1 Newsbeat. “They’ve moved from being packaged goods, discs, CDs, DVDs, blu rays, to almost exclusively an online and streaming experience.” And he believes Google will be just the first of many companies who ditch consoles and discs forever, and make the switch to a browser-led game streaming service.

No launch is ever perfect, though.

Google Stadia review: a terrible but tantalising glimpse of the futureWired UK
So, does it work? Kinda. Or, to be slightly harsher, not as such. At launch, Stadia does not live up to its promise of being able to play anywhere, on any screen, just by connecting a controller and accessing your library. It is utterly, expectedly, beholden to the stability and speed of your internet connection, which means for the great majority of players staying at home – just as they would with a console.

Stadia: Google’s online game streaming service launches to complaints about lagSky News
Gamers are finding that the process of communicating with Google’s servers where the games are being run is adding significant delays between when they press a button and when that action is carried out in-game.

These games might not have those heavy server demands and latency issues.

TweetTweetJam 3: Make a game in 560 characters of codeitch.io
Why 560? Because you don’t always need a ton of code to make something fun. Because sometimes it’s nice to scale back. But mostly because it’s the length of two tweets.

But let’s not lose sight of where we’ve been. Have a stroll down memory lane with this collection of gaming graphic design. It’s just one of several collections of logos Reagan has on his website.

Video game console logosReagan Ray
This list covers the second (1976) through eighth (present) generation consoles. According to Wikipedia, there were 687 first-generation consoles produced, so I decided that was a rabbit hole I didn’t want to enter. I had fun designing the page to look like an old video game ad or one of those posters that came in Nintendo Power. The TV screen borders even made me nostalgic for playing games on an old crappy 19-inch TV.

past-and-future-of-gaming-1

And if you want to learn the dark truth about what’s behind platform games, watch this.

Little Runmo

Book cover comparisons

Further to some previous posts about book cover design, here’s a birds-eye view of a whole load of them.

11 years of top-selling book covers, arranged by visual similarity
An interactive map of over 5,000 book covers, organized by machine learning.

It’s interesting to play around with the filters, to see how samey some of the genres are. It all reminded me of those photomosaic images from the 90s.

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.

minimalist-infantilization-1

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.

video-game-nostalgia-1

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.

2018-in-art-and-design-1

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.