Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Guardian colour code fail now sorted

A while back I moaned about the Guardian's use of colour coding in the 'recent form' column of their football league tables.

They have a coded bar for games lost (red), won (green) and drawn (grey). The problem is that the colours are tonally similar and the significant number of males with some degree of red-green colour blindness will struggle to see the difference.


But I looked again recently, and they've now introduced an additional spatial code - a nice example of necessary redundancy.



Picture of a cat

Looking back I've posted rather a lot of wordy stuff over the last week. So here's a picture of our cat.

You are somewhere here

Birmingham New Street station has undergone a massive transformation recently - it's now the Grand Central shopping centre with trains. It's very shiny indeed and is part of the continuing transformation of Birmingham.

But next time I go, I'm taking a supply of You are here stickers for the maps.

Copyright, permissions and information design

Last year Robin Kinross posted a nice account of the common dilemma faced by publishers of books on design – what kind of copyright permission do you need to seek if you want to reproduce a designed page, and from whom?

Robin's perspective is that of a design writer and publisher interested in reproducing fine historical examples of significant design. Mine is a little different – I typically want to show everyday documents as examples of a category, or to critique them (often negatively, for example drawing attention to outrageously small type in a consumer contract).

Copyright law is designed to protect writers, artists, designers and publishers from being ripped off, but there is provision for fair dealing for the purpose of criticism and review.

The problem is that publishers insist on playing it safe and getting permission. This gives you two problems. Most often it is 'who do you call?' if you want to reproduce part of, say, a credit card application form, or a car rental agreement. And secondly, these companies just aren't set up to respond, and even if you can get through they probably don't want you to reproduce it if you are going to knock it.

Robin quotes a famous judgement of Lord Denning about fair use – it's all a matter of context, intention and degree.

So here's my take on how the spirit of fair dealing might apply to reproducing information design: 

Clearly fair dealing
– Showing something you are selling (eg, second-hand book dealer showing a thumbnail of a book cover).
– Showing something because it happens to be in a photo with another purpose (a book lying on a table, a poster on the wall).

The grey area (uses which I think are fair but journal/book publishers may not)
– Showing something as an exemplar of a category (eg, typical covers from romantic novels to illustrate a genre - you could pick any one from thousands).
– Showing an object or design that is ubiquitous (Mars Bar wrapper).
– Showing an object that is freely viewable in public (street sign, shop front).
– Showing something to critique its design or wording, including negative comments.
– Showing something as an exemplar, where you don't know the owner's identity or cannot trace them, or they have not replied.
– Redesigning something as a demonstration of design principles, although using some or all of the original text.

Not fair dealing
– Showing something when you have asked permission but it has been refused (even though it appears to be a fair use).
– Showing something (as an art object) that museums have invested in (as an art object), and need to potentially earn income from.
– Reproducing so much of something that people don't need to buy their own copy.
– Showing something as an example of a designers work, but at full size and in a form that could be used as a design object (eg, as a poster).
– Using the work for its original purpose to save effort (eg, copying the design and wording of a form).
– Using the work in imitation of the original (passing off). Supermarket own label brands cross this line all the time, of course.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Visual design in action: it's here

My copy of the new facsimile edition of Ladislav Sutnar’s Visual design in action arrived a few weeks ago, and there’s a London launch on 26 November at a meeting of the Information Design Association. It’s a beautiful and faithful reproduction of the 1961 classic, down to the multiple stocks and beige buckram binding.

I came to Sutnar very late – around 2008 I think. For someone who has spent his life promoting, teaching, researching and practising information design, it was embarrassing to find I had completely missed this extraordinary designer who had used the term (and pioneered the practice) in the 1940s.

Sutnar didn’t just use information design as a synonym for graphic design (as some early adopters of the term appeared to). In his introduction to the book, he actually distinguishes between the two. While visual design (he seems here to conflate this with graphic design) is about visual patterns and structures that appeal to the mind and the eye… ‘The term “information design” should be understood as the integration of meaning [content] and visualisation [format] into an entity that produces a desired action.’

That’s as good a distinction as you could hope for – there is plenty of graphic design that’s great to look at but that ignores content, users and effects.

Ironically perhaps, in view of this concern for meaning, Visual design in action is easier to look at than to read. The examples are quite stunning and it is inspirational, astonishing even, to see wonderful modernist design (the sort that actually works) applied to a wholesale trouser catalogue, among other things. But the text – somewhat cryptic and set in unsympathetic rectangles of italic type – is quite hard to follow if you are looking for a closely reasoned argument.

Instead, I find it a rich source of quotable quotes to hang on to – nuggets like ‘the memory value of a simple, clear shape to facilitate quick recognition’ or 
‘…text, tables, graphs, drawings and pictures. All these elements must be composed in space in such a way that they work together as smoothly as the gears in a machine.’

This last quote speaks to Sutnar's concern for visual flow, and his pioneering use of double spreads – now being chased out of town by the current obsession with responsive design.

Sutnar’s theory of information design is best expressed here:
‘The performance standards to meet the requirements for functional information flow necessary for fast perception are /1/ to provide visual interest to gain attention and start the eye moving, /2/ to simplify visual representation and organization for speed in reading and understanding, and /3/ to provide visual continuity for clarity in sequence’.

Today we might speak of engaging the user, making information readable and understandable, and supporting navigation. It’s actually quite a rich model once you start thinking through the techniques and skills needed at each stage ­– a combination of graphic design, information design, and UX.

Sutnar's work has that timeless quality you find in the best of modernism: to our eyes the exhibition designs depicted here are completely contemporary, while the adding machines displayed look like museum pieces. 

Visual design in action was published towards the end of Sutnar’s career following an exhibition of his work. He self-published it to exacting standards, and it’s just been reprinted to the same standards by Lars Müller on the initiative of Steven Heller and Reto Caduff, using Kickstarter crowdfunding. Heller’s 1994 article in Eye magazine is the best introduction to Ladislav Sutnar.

Look at it, read it and marvel.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Small print nightmare from 1972

I've been blogging on the Simplification Centre website about the new 2015 Consumer Rights Act, which is supposed to banish the small print (we'll see). I came across this nice example of coverage of this issue from The Guardian, 30 October 1972.

“Intrepid travellers on the cross Channel routes have come up against amazing exclusion clauses in the small print on the tickets that rarely get read. Translating the legalese into practical terms, one such traveller concludes that: ‘The combination of conditions 3, 5, 6, 9 and 11c allow Normandy Ferries to have an incompetent employee stow dangerous cargo insecurely alongside my car and to divert the vessel from Le Havre to, say, Bilbao. If, as a result, the incompetent captain is unable to cope with the rigours of the Bay of Biscay so that the pitching of the unseaworthy ship causes the dangerous cargo to come adrift and if, consequently, it blows up hurling my car into the air and sinks a passing fishing boat with all hands, then not only do I have no claim against Normandy Ferries but I also must indemnify them against all claims made against them”.

I found this quoted in an EU document: "Report on the practical implementation of Directive 93/13/EEC in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland", 1999, by Brian Collins.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

West Drayton's architectural gem

All the services visible at West Drayton station. An early Richard Rogers?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gender and loo signs

I'm intrigued by the choice of colour and icon on this sign at Brunel University. Unfortunately I couldn't find a female sign to compare with and didn't have time to search. Gendered loos are becoming an issue - could this be some kind of a response?

Behind you

This sign at Brunel University is telling me that the Wilfred Brown building is behind my right shoulder. In a different context I'd think it was downstairs.

Here is another 'behind you' arrow I've previously posted, from Helsinki airport.