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Long live print design, no matter the platform

24 Feb

Above: a sample page from The Daily. And I still love Portlandia, btw.

I was really interested to read this article over lunch today, as I’ve been craving to read more about what happens when we take traditional typography and layout techniques and apply them to digital media. I wish it was longer, but it’s a good general overview. Regardless of what you think of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, The Daily, his new iPad-only publication, is an intriguing mix of traditional print design and 21st-Century technology. It’s a little vanilla overall, but  it’s a new new world out there, and legibility should always come first. (Digital Trends has a good review of the user experience.)

“It’s comforting to see the well-tested tropes of print design translating to digital,” writes Ty Fujimura. “Paper itself is doomed to antiquity, but the design theory developed during its reign is effective and just as relevant for other media. Web content has traditionally been restricted to unexciting, homogeneous design by technological limitations. But advancements like HTML5 and devices like the iPad are freeing designers to create imaginative, stimulating interactive design rivaling what they could do in print.”

Since the introduction of the iPad, I’m interested in not only designing for the screen, but reading off of it as well. If I could only control the compulsion to continually click on links….


“It is a book meant for holding and reading, curled up in your favourite chair”

11 Jan

I finally received my copy of Marian Bantjes’ new book, I Wonder, in the mail yesterday. The author writes “it is a book meant for holding and reading, curled up in your favourite chair.” I like that it is smaller and more manageable than most self-indulgent modern design tomes. Not that this one isn’t self-indulgent anyway: how many books these days have gilt-edged pages? Or a purple satin bookmark? Not many.

Bantjes, who lives on an island off the coast of British Columbia, has been one of my favorite designers to watch over the last few years. I think she’s at her best when she’s creating fanciful, ornate typography. Check out her ornament font, Restraint.

My students know that I’m usually a fan of keeping it simple and clean. In critique, I often suggest the removal of clutter: a.k.a. decorations that seem to serve no purpose. Furniture. But if you must have your ornament, take note!

I haven’t finished the book in its entirety. But here are a few of my favorite spreads so far, starting with the endpapers, half-title, and title pages:

I studied the title page above for some time. Well, it is map-like . . . .

Dedications, below:

Made of shredded wheat and granola:

And my favorite section: a diagram describing the actions surrounding the assembly of two Ikea bookcases.

Leo Lionni

2 Dec

We’ve been reading the heck out of Little Blue and Little Yellow at our house lately. The illustrations and the story are so simple. My daughter and I can’t get enough of it, which isn’t always the case (at least on my end) regarding bedtime stories.

A few days ago, one of my advanced students gave an especially good biographical presentation on the author and illustrator of Little Blue and Little Yellow: Lio Lionni. I learned that Lionni actually conceived the book in 1959 while riding on a train with his two young grandchildren, who were starting to act up. Recalling the experience, Lionni wrote: ‘I put my briefcase on my knees to make a table and in a deep voice said, ‘This is Little Blue, and this is Little Yellow,’ as I placed the round pieces of colored paper onto the leather stage.” Once home, he organized the shapes into a simple book structure, and showed it to a publisher friend who agreed to print it on the spot. Lionni went on to write and illustrate an additional 40 children’s books in the next 35 years.

Lionni was a fascinating character: he spoke five languages, was fascinated by nature, displaced by war, designed the iconic catalog cover for MOMA’s Family of Man exhibit, and made influential work as Art Director of Fortune Magazine in the 1950s. But, in the end, he just wanted to explore the potential of doing art and graphic design for good. Steven Heller, in an article for AIGA, wrote that “in word and deed, (Lionni) has been an unfaltering rationalist, a devout humanist and a passionate artist.”

Here are a few of my favorite LB & LY spreads. Goodnight.

This last one is my favorite.

I (Heart) Little Golden Books

22 Nov

I can’t imagine that anyone reading this hasn’t encountered a Little Golden Book at least once in their lifetime. I bought a small stack of vintage titles for Rinn this weekend, and it only renewed my love for this venerable series. Every book features the distinctive golden spine and (in my humble opinion) the best script font ever, as seen in the logo/wordmark.

The first twelve titles were published (during wartime) in the fall of 1942, and new titles have been coming out ever since. Though the parent publisher has changed several times (LGB were started by Simon & Schuster and are now owned by Random House), Golden Books were printed for many years by Western Publishing in Racine. According to Random House, Little Golden Books were designed to be affordable at a time when most children’s books were considered to be a “luxury” for many families. Nearly 70 years later, they remain among the most affordable of children’s titles — especially when you buy them second-hand.

Of course, I also find them to be a fascinating record of recent history. See, for example, the images below. And compare Gordon’s experience as an airline passenger with your own! (And is that a gentle stab at train travel? Hmmm.)

Another entry on the Christmas list.

9 Nov

Dear current typography students,

This coincides perfectly with the book design project. What is it? A box of postcards, each depicting one of 100 classic Penguin book covers! And why does this matter? Because, with its founding in 1935, the British publisher paved the way for high-quality paperback design.

If you would like to know more about Penguin’s rich design history, this is a good place to start.

Yours in design,


Some of the best work ever…

24 Aug

… was intended for children. I just found this great blog dedicated to the rich history of children’s book illustration. Fact: I had a great job as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Children’s Book Collection, where I basically got to spend the whole day cataloging (read: looking at) original children’s book art from the 1950s and 1960s.