Sunday, December 19, 2010

There's a name for everything

User guide to jeans seen in Next.

Graduation 2010

Here are the 2010 MAs doing the hat thing. It was great seeing them back for graduation, and to hear that most have jobs.

In the Simplification Centre we've also spent the last two years piloting a Certificate of Higher Education in Information Design, and the first four students graduated this month. Here are two of them, Preneeta Mann and Anita Nair, with Jenny Waller (who developed the programme) and myself (first time I've worn the academic dressing gown).

Thursday, December 16, 2010

60s coffee bar - in more ways than one

Passing this coffee bar in Liskeard, Cornwall, I couldn't help noticing not only that it was called the 60s coffee bar (think nostalgia, Merseybeat, Mary Quant,), but that most of the customers appeared to be in their 60s.And drinking coffee, obviously.

A personalised user guide

My mother is above the average age for mobile phone users, and has just got one for emergencies. A kind carer or possibly grandson has written out these personalised instructions. From the amendments it looks like they've been user-tested.

Affordances: the evidence mounts

Spotted in Milton Keynes shopping centre, another item for the affordances evidence file.

Is it the handle? Just take it off.
Or does it mean push, don't kick?

George III Ill

In the debate about seriffed versus sans serif type, we often mention the confusion between similar characters in sans serif typefaces: the lower case l, the number 1 and the capital I. Which explains why this line from the 1980s Radio 4 show Radio Active works (based on a spoof incompetent local radio station)

"She's seriously one hundred and eleven. (Pause). She's seriously ill."

Rounded corner boxes - I forgive you

When desk-top publishing first came in (remember that term?) it was easy to draw boxes with rounded corners, something that had previously been very difficult to achieve with Rotring pens, CS10 board and french curves (ask a designer over 40 to translate).

Because they were so hard to do, they weren't in the professionals' repertoire, and therefore a sign of an amateur at work.

In this guide to design for DTP commissioned by Monotype in 1991, rounded corner boxes are a feature of this amateur-hour how-not-to example.

I've changed my mind now, although I'm still not keen on long line lengths, floaty headings in upper case, and needless naff shadows.

It was a dark and stormy night

My last post ended with a quotation from Lord Lytton. Like me, you're probably thinking 'who he?'.

Dictionaries of quotations often drop in names,  assuming you know who they are. Now, of course, we have Wikipedia, and can find out in seconds (although don't tell my university colleagues who affect not to use it, at least when students are around).

If you're interested you could look him up yourself (he was a Victorian novelist and politician). But I thought I'd share one thing I learned there.

"Bulwer-Lytton's name lives on in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in which contestants think-up terrible openings for imaginary novels, inspired by the first seven words of his novel Paul_Clifford:

'It was a dark and stormy night'".

From Heap to Skeleton

Going through some of my late father's books, I found a slim textbook, 'On the writing of English' by George Townsend Warner. It is undated, but published by Blackie & Son after his death in 1916. He was a renowned history teacher at Harrow School, and was the father of Sylvia Townsend Warner, the novelist.

It's a masterpiece of simple explanation - aimed at schoolchildren, it explains how to organise your ideas and write good essays.

His technique is to start by writing down all your thoughts: 'write them all down just as they come'.

This is your Heap, which you have to sort into categories that become a Skeleton. Today we might suggest a brainstorming, followed by a card sort to develop your organising principles, and then your  outline.

For abstract concepts he proposes another familiar technique: 'Try this. Say to yourself: What? Where? When? How? Why? and take a piece of paper.' I wonder if he was the first to come up with this formulation.

And he demonstrates how this works for three different essay topics. Looks like a template to me.

He moves on to talk engagingly about style, and rhetoric. His own style has something of a Mr Chips twinkle in its eye. His 'two great merits' are:
'1. To have something to say.
2. To say it neatly.'

And a word for academics: 'Another product of the cowardly mind is the desire to qualify'.

Which all reminds me of something I once found in a dictionary of quotations, ascribed to Lord Lytton:
'Do you want to get at new ideas? Read old books.
Do you want to get at old ideas? Read new books.'

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Editors vs designers

Eye magazine's blog features this nice infographic that they in turn credit to Andrew Losowsky of Stack America.