Monthly Archives: December 2007

Glance Review: Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design

Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design

A few days ago, I received this book from my wonderful friend Angela, to whom I referred to my wish list. Just looking at it up close, I am already excited to be reading it in the next few months. I enjoy that the essay titles are on the cover, much like How to be a graphic designer, without losing your soul by Adrian Shaughnessy.

I also like how they’re all in different typefaces, which makes them fun, and funny. What’s even more cool is that each essay is set in a different typeface as well. And what’s cooler than that is that the appendix, it lists what typefaces they are. That is awesome, because for those who know me, I like to recognize typefaces, and I probably can’t recognize 90% of them in this book, so it’s going to be fun learning about type while learning about design.

I just took another quick look, and saw the title “Graphic Designers, Flush Left?” I remember seeing that for the first time at Borders in Union Square in SF, and that’s when I started considering titling this blog “Flush Left,” which eventually reduced to just “Flush.” I took a quick read of that essay at the Borders, and it turned out to not be about designing flush left, but politics.

So it’s going to be fun reading and re-reading this. I’ll probably discuss a few essays here on Flush if I have something to say.


Blue + Gold = Bright Green [Future]

What if, in the current swing of environmentalism, California as a state begins a campaign to go “green” with some cheesy slogan like: “Be Californian, where Blue and Gold means a bright green future!” As cheesy as that might be, at least it shows states as whole government-based entities are finally actively pushing for better, sustainable living.


Redos for Portfolio

So while I’m busy getting my portfolio and site together and not having much time researching for Flush entries, I might as well keep you all (all four or five of you, haha) updated on my progress.

For the past two or three weeks, I’ve been “redoing” pieces that I’m considering to put in my portfolio. I guess “redo” is not the right word, since I’m not completely doing these pieces from scratch; I’m actually doing a combination of refining and reworking, where I fix anything that I wanted to fix after the projects were due and the critiques were made but didn’t feel like looking at them anymore after they were done.

While reworking on these pieces, I realize that I definitely improved in terms of skills and knowledge about design over time, specifically from junior year to senior year. I don’t know if I would’ve had better pieces if I took the “junior year” classes later in college, but I feel that with my “senior year” pieces, I knew a lot more of what I was doing. Maybe that’s just growth which is inevitable at any stage.

So here are three examples of things that I “reworked,” from teeny tiny details to relatively medium details.

Form Poster

This was from my DES 155A (Form, Pattern, Surface) class, which I sometimes like to refer to as the personal exploratory class. I had to work with the word “pest” for the entire quarter, and this was my piece on the exploration in form.

 Before and After

Before: Just Univers tracing laid right on top of photograph with no editing. After: tracings reworked to include “frayed strands” to complement the photograph per the instructor’s suggestion.

The All-Nighter

This was from my DES 157 (Flash) class, and our first Flash project was to create an opening motion graphic sequence for a fictional movie about some aspect of our lives. I did it about me spending all-nighters working on design projects. This is actually my second rework because the instructor allows us to rework it for a better grade.

 Before and After

Before: The taskbar has somewhat flat shapes that didn’t really look like the real taskbar. Gradients and such were hard to deal with in pre-CS3 Flash. It still kinda is, but I know more Flash now. After: Dimensionality is added to look more like the real deal. You can see the old version on TP107.

Aerospace Museum of California Site Redesign

This was from my DES 153 (HTML/CSS) class, and we had to redesign an existing site. I really like this piece because it’s so clean-looking yet also functional. And as always, table-less layout with CSS, although my CSS back then was somewhat confusing and elaborate. It took me some time to figure out what I did.

 Before and After

Before: The sub-navigation color scheme is different from the main navigation and seems kinda confusing if you don’t know where you are (See TP107 for old version). After: Expanded the highlighted main nav tab one pixel so it connects with the sub-navigation, which makes the relationship between the two immediately stronger.

So last night I was pretty much done with all the redos that I’m going to do for this portfolio season. I had two or three more that I wanted to rework, but they’re going to take a lot more time and aren’t that worth putting into the portfolio.

So the next stage is to get my identity and such materials ready before I get to putting my portfolio pieces together with cohesiveness in design. I did a preliminary schedule a few days ago and it seems that I probably won’t be completely ready to look for a job until the end of January, because I want to get the portfolio, the portfolio site, and my general web site up so employers can have something to look at instead of an “under construction” page.


Busy & GTD Chinese

My lack of serious posting in the past few days is due to my need to get my portfolio completely ready by sometime next month so I can start looking for a job. I am currently fixing little things on my old projects before putting them into an archive bin, ready for me to select and insert into my portfolio.

I have so much left to do that I had to change the text on my home page that promised to have a complete site before the end of Fall of 2007 (which is technically today, according to American calendars) to “early 2008.” I really hate breaking promises but I think right now, getting my portfolio together is the most important thing to do for beginning of my career.

GTD Chinese

Today I got two books in the mail. They’re the same book, but they’re very special because they’re from Hong Kong, I believe. It’s the Chinese version of the Getting Things Done book that I got for my family for Christmas, although out of the two couples whom I’m giving these to, only my mom would probably read it, since my sister has said many times that she doesn’t read. Anywho, I’m giving them the books anyway, because they can give them to other people and I wouldn’t mind; as long as they’re useful to somebody.

“Getting Things Done” Chinese Version

For those who want to find it in a local Chinese bookstore, you should probably 1) look in a Taiwanese bookstore, and 2) look for a red spine instead of a purple spine (see photo), because that’s how I didn’t find it and had to resort to buying them online.


Leap Week

If we made a leap week every seven years and an extra leap week every twenty-eight years, we could spend a lot less money on new calendars every year. There would be exactly 52 weeks every year, 53 every seven, and 54 every twenty-eight years, so that the dates of the week will always be on the same day of the week.

Of course, I’m only speaking from a calendar design point of view. I’m sure we would get warmer winters and cooler summers in the years before a two-leap-weeks year and the equinoxes and solstices will be out of alignment every year, and therefore so will Persian New Year’s and Easter and other things like that. But think of how convenient it would be to know which day of the week May 21 or September 3 would be? (Both are Mondays, assuming January 1 always starts on a Sunday.)

And while we’re at it, let’s make all the months 28 days, and then put together all the extra days into a new month, the thirteenth month, which triskaidekaphobes would just love. That way, we only need to remember only one month, and everyone would know which day of the week the 13th is (Friday, another day that triskaidekaphobes would love every month, especially on Triskaidekaphobember.

I’m sure that is not going to happen, since people’s birthdays and anniversaries will be messed up. Maybe we could do that if/when we ever terraform and start living on Mars, just so our lives won’t be any more complicated that it needs to, what with one of Mars’s moons eventually colliding with Mars or that Mars being farther from the Sun and therefore colder all the time and everything.


Those Who Can’t Do

“Those who can’t do, teach. Those who can’t teach, judge.”

The first part is a common saying, and I made up the second part. If this was true, I wonder if those who judge are the public. And is it fitting for design?

Now, of course, those who can do can also teach and judge. It’s one of those category-within-category concepts: Everyone can judge; some can teach; a few can do/design.

This came to me when my family and I were watching this Taiwanese show with an American Idol-derived competition for magic, where the judges were really critical on the contestants’ performances. I’m sure the judges had some experience with performing magic, but what about the judges out there who can’t do whatever task they’re judging?

I often picture situations where a contestant, or student, is being critiqued by judges or teachers for not doing something well, and he or she comes back with, “Why don’t I see you try to do that?” (I know I thought about this many times at swim practices in high school after hearing the coaches’ criticism.)

So is the opening statement valid, in general and in design?


Communication, Visual, Design

As I constantly try to refine the definition of “graphic design” for myself and for my career—because the phrase is becoming more and more vague these days—I recently came up with a more specific phrase to describe what I (want to) do: Communication and Visual Design.

The Reasoning

Over the past few months, I’ve learned more about design by myself via the design blogosphere and podcastland and sans the individual biases and influences of my design friends, I realize that I’m really interested in information design. I mean, I kind of already knew that in school, when I saw and fell in love with Josef Müller-Brockmann’s work. He used only data (information) and turned them into pieces of design that emitted its own formal aesthetic radiance, which completely fascinates me and causes me to ecstasize in the multiplicative product of pure simplicity and beauty—it’s the ultimate, perfect design, at least where communication is concerned.

These days, information graphic design seems to have more exposure in the mainstream, especially online, where data visualization has grown beyond bar graphs and pie charts. The advances in programming and data analysis yields infographics that exhibit three-dimensional displays, millions-hue color gradation, viewer interaction, and/or continuous construction of visualization through live import of data from all over the world, all the while still presenting the original information collected.

That is very exciting. Pure and initially styleless data have a chance to shine now. I cringe when I see too much “pretty” design for the sake of audience attraction and for the sake of being “pretty.” However, I don’t want that part of design to completely disappear, because it’s part of aesthetics, and we need aesthetics. I don’t want to look at tables of black-ink data on bleach-white paper or screen for the rest of my life. Style is important in playing a role to enhance the experience of reading the data. Colors, shapes, photographs, and illustrations can fill that role.

So there originated my defense for coining “Communication and visual design.” I am aware that it’s similar to the emphasis of my major in Davis, “Visual Communication (and Presentation),” but that phrase is not specific enough. Also, it doesn’t say “design”; I don’t want people to get more confused when I tell them I’m a “visual communicator.” I want something that says that I (want to) do communication design, and I (want to) do visual design (which is the aesthetics).

Now, I looked up both terms on Wikipedia (I know it’s not completely a legitimate source, but it’s not about the exact definition), and “Communication design” came up, but “Visual design” didn’t. Communication design was basically said to be similar to graphic design, except it involves more of the message, or the information.

Since I want to participate in both areas of design, and that I value the communication and information part more, I put that term first: Communication and Visual Design. Of course, I’ll still tell people I’m a graphic designer because it’s easier to tell people, but on websites and identity stuff and what not, I want to use “Communication and Visual Design,” at least for this point in my career.

Topic Revisited

While thinking about this topic, I remember that I had two discussions (one on No Name Designers Guild and one on The Collablog) with my design friends earlier this year when Bruce Nussbaum wrote a Businessweek article bashing designers, and I reacted with a claim that maybe he misunderstood the word “design,” which was not surprising since the word’s being thrown around constantly these days. So I suggested calling ourselves something else, something other than “designers.” However, I ended up with a combination of both the clarification and the existing word: “visual communication designers.”

The controversy of this whole shabub (I know, I just made it up) probably won’t go anywhere beyond this blog, but I’m doing this for my own sanity so I know what I do for a living exactly. I know that “communication” and “visual” are just as confusing as “graphic,” so replacing one confusing word with two isn’t that economical and efficient. At least I’ve split up that one word into two manageable categories: data and style, allowing me to get a clearer picture of what I’m for (lots of data with appropriate style) and what I’m not for (lots of fluff and little substance), which ironically is probably the quality of this post.


A Graphic Design Reality Competition?

Seeing bits of shows like Top Design (fashion) [Edit: I meant Project Runway. Notice how I don’t know which show is which, because I don’t watch any of them.] and The Shot (photography) I wonder if there will ever be a reality competition for graphic design. I guess the existing shows are really about the consumerism version of “high art” or something, where the visual aesthetics is so emphasized and the criteria to judge the pieces against are so abstract, whereas in graphic design, communication is more important than the visual, so there’s less of that subjective abstraction to twist around and dramatize for the viewers at home. And no one really wants to see people hover over the computer for most of the show anyway. Plus, the audience probably doesn’t really want to think about typography and Pantone colors anyway.

And of course, pretty much “anyone” can do graphic design, so it’s not that big of a deal. It would still be nice to have a show like that, though, so that graphic design will be somewhat de-mythed and drive away some of the people who only wanted to get into graphic design to design “pretty” and “cute” pieces. (I’m not completely against cute and pretty; there’s just too much of that out there today.)

I knew better to stay away from shows like Top Design Project Runway and The Shot, but like Helvetica, the first widespread movie made about graphic design, I can’t help but see what it’s all about.


Re: Take Back “Intelligent Design”

I was listening to an episode of Design Matters with Debbie Millman yesterday and the guest, Rick Valicenti, mentioned a project that he did called “Intelligent Design: Creating an Evolved Red Vs. Blue State of Mind” which involved the red and blue states with the Coka vs. Pepsi war with binary codes and presentation. I guess that term could be used for situations like this, where both subjects are in the project.

While searching for that project, I also found a related usage of “intelligent design,” where Adobe did some sort of story of Rick Valicenti and his company Thirst. I guess here the term is used to represent computerized visualization and presentation of data.


What Am I Doing? (Dec 2007)

Last night was officially the last exam of my undergraduate days. And no, it doesn’t feel good to say it the second time. Either way, I have no real, long-term commitments scheduled, which means that I don’t have any reason for not looking for a job.

It wasn’t like I haven’t done anything to prepare for my job search, though. I have been looking at listings and taking notes about the whole application and interview process. I’ve done a lot of that soul searching stuff and figuring out what I really want to do right now and in the future.

Here’s a summary list of what I’ve done for my career and my life: I took on the GTD method to begin to organize my life, read a lot of design blogs daily to keep myself updated on what’s out there today and what design is like as a career, read/reread a few books on design, started this blog and worked on my entire web site, and listened to and watched a lot of design podcasts, some related to technical skills (Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcast, Photoshop Killer Tips, and PixelPerfect with Bert Monroy), and others related to design in “real life” (Be A Design Cast and Design Matters with Debbie Millman).

The Attitude on Blogs and Podcasts

I don’t know what the professional attitude among employers and business people out there is on blogs and podcasts, but 1) this is the current trend in our culture so businesses should pay attention to it, and 2) I definitely learned a lot from reading these blogs and listening and watching these podcasts about how to and how not to be a designer in the business world.

The Lesson

One thing I heard repeatedly is to not act like you know everything, because you don’t. That’s great because I don’t know everything, and I admit it! I know that there is a lot of stuff that I need to learn that I didn’t get to in school, and I am ready to learn. Just give it to me, baby. I want to be a sponge and absorb as much knowledge as I can.

So hopefully, potential employers won’t scoff at me when I say that I like to listen to podcasts and read blogs, because while I understand that it sounds so teenage and unprofessional, you learn a lot more than you would think.

Task One

But back to what I’m doing now. Since I’m done with that class with no more studying to get in my way, I am currently putting my portfolio and my web site together. I’m going to rework some of my pieces, and then I’m considering making different versions of the portfolio (not just one print and one web) that suit different needs and different situations. That is my number one task to do.

That leads to my number one-point-five task to do, which is my web site. I’m tired of constantly changing the entire site just because I’m past that style or that layout. I want to create a more permanent but flexible site that is accessible and user-friendly using what I know now, which is simply XHTML, CSS, and a little of JavaScript (and, when appropriate, a little Flash/ActionScript).

I plan on developing a structure where I would keep around for a much longer time than any of the personal sites I’ve done in the past, while still allow it to change as I please and as I know more about different web development languages. CSS is going to be my love-hate friend.

I think that once I’ve gotten my portfolio system and web site under control, I will be ready to just design and experiment and grow and learn.


P.S. I don’t know if I should make this a monthly or a bimonthly update. We’ll see.

On Bantjes’s “Restraint”

Isn’t Marian Bantjes’s new font “Restraint” a bit too unique? I mean, I think that her work is just absolutely gorgeous and beautiful, despite my “eh” on most people’s over-indulgent illustrations (I think her illustrations are probably the only type that I don’t hate), but if someone uses that font, it’s pretty obvious that it’s by Bantjes.

I think that this font should only be used for anything that is related to Bantjes, including illustrations that are kinda like hers. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s going to work. Of course, people can show me otherwise.


Take Back “Intelligent Design”

I think we should take back the term “intelligent design,” even though we didn’t really use it, unless you’re occasionally describing a piece of really good and clever and functional design. Nonetheless, I think this really confuses young designers and non-designers looking up things related to design.

I’m not necessarily pushing for this from a religious platform, but from more of a language/verbal stand point. I know that this term has already been used enough to describe creationism and related subjects, but I think that there’s still time to take this word back (or just take it for the first time) and use it to our advantage. If we use it right, we just might skip over the middle transition point where people get confused as to what “intelligent design” means and why it means what it means, and just claim it as ours (designers) as something that we always strive to reach in our work.

P.S. This suggestion of taking the term back was not originally from me; it was from a guest speaker (whom I’ve mentioned in this blog) when I was still at Davis.


X’s and O’s

The X’s

A few weeks ago I read a post on AIGA’s web site regarding the abundant amount of uses of “X” in our culture yet that wealth of usage reflects extremely poorly in the dictionary. I couldn’t believe how many ways the X is used. The common, traditional “X marks the spot” and the roman numeral for 10 were easily mentioned in the post, while the all-too-frequent substitutions for “ex-” words in marketing culture like “X-treme” were not left out, either.

What I didn’t realize was that X was also used to indicate “experiment” in aerospace: NASA’s X-33 Program and X-15 aircraft. Come to think of it, the letter X just adds some sort of futuristic mysteriousness to new technology that gets your imagination going. Even cars, a modern-era technology, can have names with “X” in it, suddenly making it more “cool”: “Xterra,” “Turbo X,” and “X-Type” (Jaguar has the most amount of cars that I’ve seen with X-names)

If we were to talk about the amount of unique, stand out, unusual uses for a character, I think “X” is the most used character in our culture, after “O,” of course.

And the O’s

As we cruises along the last month of 2007, I couldn’t help but to start thinking about what to do on New Year’s Eve. Then I remember watching people in Times Square on TV, celebrating with their goofy, unoriginal glasses where the two middle zeroes of Two-Thousand-Whatever for the past seven years circled (no pun intended) the eyes. And then it hit me. Next year (or in less than a month), there will be two more circular frames on those glasses, not that they’ll be used to see through, but they are circles nonetheless, zeroes nonetheless, O’s nonetheless.

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t seen any 2008 calendars where they hungrily took advantage of those two extra circles to make some sort of bubbles galore. I mean, that’s where I would go first for design ideas, but I know that as a freshie designer learning the craft, I must resist the most obvious and therefore most unoriginal solution. Still, that shouldn’t stop the amateur calendar designers to get someone to turn that 8 into a designer’s eyesore. I mean, so many people did it for 2000, and they had only three circles! Think of what you can do with four!

2008: The Year of the O

As we get past the New Year’s celebration and the calendar buying frenzy, there are still occasions where the number 2008 will be typographically manipulated to death throughout the year. Think of all the special annual events and conferences and awards shows that will have to incorporate 2008 into the logo. Most people will have thousands of variations of one circle concept, where one or two look decent, while some just don’t even try to dignify that trend with any typographic solution. But there will be that one or two pieces where the circular forms of “2008” will escape expectations and display a composition that no one has thought of, and design will win another battle.

So watch out for the O’s next year; you’ll get tired of round design and then everything will be flat and sharp.


Wish List 2007

I don’t want clothes. I don’t want video games. I want books. Design books. Organize-Your-Life books.

First Choices

Secondary Selections

Still Good to Have


Ugly and High Graphic Design

A few weeks ago, I read a post on Design Observer by Michael Bierut on “how to be ugly.” In it he used the magazine 032c’s recent design to talk about the aesthetics of intentional ugly design by a good designer. He cites sources that more or less declare that ugly is back and it sounded like we’re re-entering a Dark Age of some sort in design aesthetics.

That got me thinking: is there an “upper-class” of graphic design, where only the well-known graphic designers like Bierut and Paula Scher can appreciate and allow, and anything else is just crap? And that the “lower” designers and the general public can’t understand why it’s good except that it’s designed by famous designers?

Analogy to Clothes and Food

I mean, I feel that graphic designers already have this reputation for being an arrogant class that cannot stand the “regular” people using Photoshop filters or outlined type or motion tweens and 0% alphas, so it’s kind of unfortunate to think that within this “class” there’s another hierarchy of judgment that split us up even more. I feel that this exists because the other mainstream arts have this, like fashion and cuisine, for examples. Sometimes I don’t understand some of the wacky colors and materials that models only wear in shows but not on the street, or why there’s a dinky yet expensive piece of steak on a large white plate that certainly won’t get me full. When I see this stuff, I keep telling myself that it’s for the sake of experiment and medium exploration, which I totally support. So in that case, should graphic design be like that too?

But unlike fashion or cuisine, graphic design is so democratic. Yes, even though not everyone can use Photoshop to the best of its abilities, an amateur can still design a crappy flyer and get paid for it. But not everyone can design and mass produce an outfit that people would want to wear outside, nor can he or she cook a multi-course meal and serve to customers without fearing that they might throw up or get food poisoning. With graphic design, everyone can participate, and very rarely will a poorly designed book jacket and poster directly harm the customers. While there is still a certain level of aesthetic rules that good design follows and designers evaluate against, like typography, color harmony, structure, etc., there really isn’t a “high graphic design” class that is supposed to define the trends for all of graphic design for Spring 2008 or whatever. That’s not what graphic design is about.

Ugly Design

“High graphic design” talk aside, I can see what Bierut’s talking about with ugly coming back. As I was a couple of paragraphs into his post, the word ugly began to remind me of the I Knows Me Some Ugly MySpace Showdown competition that Ze Frank hosted on “The Show” in the summer of 2006. The Internet has further spread this democracy that is graphic design onto the public, resulting in a lot more amateur, straight-up ugly design (even in the eyes of non-designers) in the world. (I recently learned that these wonderfully ugly MySpace sites had paid help from entrepreneurs taking advantage of this new medium.)

This Whole Thing with Wolff Olins

To be honest, I was not a fan of the 2012 Olympics logo when it first unveiled. I’m still not a fan now, but at least I understand where Wolff Olins was coming from, to a certain extent. I keep telling myself that this is going to get better as we see more of the supporting branding materials; everything will fall into place when 2011, 2012 come around. We just have to wait and see. Because if this still looks like crap when the time comes, I will probably lose hope on all that is good and pure about humanity, because that’s what the Olympics means to me.

Stretched Type

Based on Wolff Olins’s reasoning behind the 2012 Olympics logo, I can tell that he wanted something really different from the past Olympics logos (which I find good enough for the context of the host city/nation, but whatever) where people are encourage to participate in the conversation, which goes with the current trend of community interaction, especially on the web (or Web 2.0). Despite the “wacky” Wacom identity and the fat NYC logo (which I actually think is not that bad considering the branding possibilities that Olins had pointed out), I want to quietly inform you all that I am a semi-closeted Wolff Olins fan (Armin Vit shares my view, I think, via that “NYC logo” link). “Semi” because I don’t know where exactly he’s going with this, but I can see the potential for something great.

All in all, I think that ugly is inevitable, but it’s not necessary a bad thing. I believe that like almost everything, the world needs balance, and without the ugly, there’s no beautiful. And without the ugly, there’s no need for designers decorators.


I Love Helvetica (The Documentary Film by Gary Hustwit)

On the Friday evening that my relatives concluded their three-week visit to the States, I had received something in the mail. I did not know what it was, for I did not recognize the sender’s origin. Then I felt the bubble-lined yellow envelope and felt the slight crack of a DVD case. Did I order a DVD? On Amazon? No. I don’t think so. Then I remember. Helvetica!

I was already excited the evening, not exactly because my relatives were finally leaving, but that I get to sleep in my bed again. So receiving the two-days-late DVD in the mail on that night just made my day, or night. I opened the envelope and looked at the beautiful white cover through the plastic shrink wrap. Then I discovered two Veer Helvetica pins (the ones that say “I love [or “I hate”] Helvetica.”). Yay! Extras! I happily took photos of them, and neatly put them away that night.

As of now (almost two weeks since receiving the DVD), I still haven’t opened it. I’ve been trying to catch up with everything ever since my relatives left, and I’m waiting for a nice relaxed day to enjoy the movie and soak up inspiration once more and take notes. I saw it on August 6 in San Francisco, which was the day I moved most of my stuff back home from college, and I knew then that I had to buy the DVD when it comes out. I’m also thinking of having a Helvetica viewing among my designer friends, whenever I get around to organizing that.

Quick Review

Anywho, I think that all designers, especially students, need to get this DVD, or at least have watched it at least once, twice or more recommended. It’s not about whether you like Helvetica, because I am certainly not choosing a side on this typeface (hence the clarification in the entry title). It’s that even if you don’t like Helvetica, it still is an important part of graphic design history, and of modern life! You have to watch this film not for the typeface, but for the history, and for the designers who were interviewed. You need to know who they are, so you can figure out what kind of designer you want to be (you’re not required to follow any of their footsteps, but knowing who they are can help you figure out who you don’t want to be, too.) So I recommend all design-passionate people to watch this film, especially my peeps back in Davis.

Buy here.