“Helvetica” [the film]

In class today we watched the film, Helvetica, a documentary that explores the history, use of the typeface, and various stand points of its use from different graphic designers.  The film not only discusses Helvetica, but also opens the discussion about Modernism and Post-Modernism.

Essentially, we were asked to answer two questions: What void did Helvetica fulfill?   And, what are the various stand points of the different graphic designers.

Since I tend to write too much for each of these blog posts (to the point of loosing my poor reader’s interest) I will keep it short, sweet, and simple.

What void did Helvetica fulfill?

  • “Born” in 1957 in Switzerland
    • Post-WWII in war destroyed Europe
  • Need for order, functionality, efficiency, honesty, etc.
    • Designers felt a social responsibility to provide appropriate type and designs
  • Helvetica is successful and embraces negative space and figure ground relationships in a way that had not been explored before
    • Mood: neutral, bold, modern
    • Corporations embrace the neutrality of the typeface and make it a part of the visual identity
  • Now, Helvetica has become a default font
    • therefore, a diminishing return in impact of font

Various Stand Points of Graphic Designers:

  • Massimo Vignelli
    • Modernist
    • Helvetica is good for everything, “spells out Modern”
    • “Type should not be expressive”
  • Erik Spiekermann
    • Post-Modernist
    • Was a good typeface, but has become a default à default for Mac and PC for a while
    • Letters all look too alike, needs more individuality between each letter
  • Paula Scher
    • Post-Modernist
    • Corporate culture of design
    • Helvetica, clean, fascist
    • “Morally opposed to Helvetica” because of corporations support of Vietnam war
    • In her generation, Pushpin Studios was the ideal design firm to work for because the designs were fresh, alive, content-heavy
    • Illustrates type for personality, expressio
  •  1970s
    • Produce vitality (despite Vietnam War), get away from slickness, lack of emotion of Helvetica

While watching the film I was alarmed at how many places Helvetica is used.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that the letters on this very keyboard are Helvetica.  And, I am pretty sure that I can’t un-see Helvetica in my surroundings anymore.  I had never even thought about the impact and over-use of a typeface until it was pointed out to me.

Another part of the film that suck with me was a segment with David Carson where he explains why Helvetica is not always a good font using the example of typography as to how it conveys meaning to nouns, verbs, etc.  My favorite was the word caffeinated to which Carson says, “look at this! There’s nothing caffeinated about it!” I couldn’t agree more with Carson on the point that in an isolated situation, Helvetica is not the best font to demonstrate the meaning or mood associated with the word decaffeinated.

Overall, the film was informative about the history of Helevtica, and made good cases for both pro and con Helvetica.  Yet the film still seemed to be a little more in favor of the positives of Helvetica.


Modernism / Post-Modernism

In terms of guidelines, this project is by far the least strict of any class project to date: create a poster using a quote to represent Modernism, and a poster using a quote to represent Post-Modernism.

After some research both in and out of class I am understand Modernism, but don’t really understand Post-Modernism.  I am also beginning to understand there is a modern-day schism on the subject because people are either a fan of one or the other, but rarely both.  I am of the Modernist camp.  I find it easier to understand of the two and appeals to my OCD much more easily than Post-Modernism.  After a lot of frustration from trying to understand Post-Modernism, someone described it to me in the best way possible: “it is like someone started a project and halfway through decided to start another project but forgot to switch canvases.”  This may be a little insensitive to the art movement, but I think there is a lot of truth to the statement because when I look at Post-Modernism artwork sometimes I have a hard time understanding how all of the pieces fit together and the only explanation is that the artist meant to use another canvas but to start the new project but forgot.

After understanding the art movements, I was better able to look up quotes to describe them.  For Modernism I chose a quote by David Winer: “the easier you make it for people to go, the more likely they are to stay.”  This directly speaks about the minimalism of Modernism.

For Post-Modernism I am going to create a poster with a quote by Albert Camus: : “every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.”

The rebellion part of the quote is how I make sense of Post-Modernism, so I am going to run with that for now.

Brochure – Finished Product

For the second-to-last project we were asked to create three different brochures that looked like a series for the Library of Congress (our client in a way) using images from the Library of Congress‘s website.

To create the unifying component of the project we had to think about color/color scheme, type, underlying grid, topic for each brochure, etc.  Initially, I had decided to use a common topic to unite all of my brochures, but this later proved to be a little more difficult than I had anticipated.  I also decided to use a sort of “formula” for my brochures as well: same type and shapes in particular places of the brochure, same size textboxes, and type.

Brochure 1: Gate Fold

For my first brochure, I chose to research within the Maps collections of the Library of Congress’s website, and was drawn to “Discovery and Exploration“.  When I saw “A map of Lewis and Clark’s track…” I was excited because it is one of my favorite time periods in American history.  Disclaimer:  I found the Library of Congress to be a bit confusing because I had initially researched Maps, but now wanted to find images of Sacagawea, Louis, and Clark, and ended up using Wiki Commons for some free use images.

“Lewis and Clark” brochure outside for the Library of Congress

“Lewis and Clark” brochure inside for the Library of Congress

Allow me to quickly break down this brochure in the easiest way possible:

  • Layout:
    • Tile “Lewis and Clark” is supposed to loosely resemble an important navigational tool: the compass
    • The archway on the cover panel and the flipped archway on the second panel are supposed to add a flowing feature to the brochure once completely flat.  On the inside, I wrapped the text around Sacagawea and her baby for a similar flowing effect.  The reason being that Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea traveled by river for an extent of their journey to the Pacific Coast.  And it looked somewhat interesting.
  • Color scheme: came from the image on the gate fold, but worked really well with the colors of the statue image, and the map.
  • Text:
    • body text is a simple serif text
    • captions are sans-serif
    • title of brochure is a script font (intended to emulate the time period)

Brochure 2: Barrel Fold

For my second brochure I chose another Expansionist theme involving maps.  The map came from the “Railroad Maps, 1828-1900” collection.

“Railroads” brochure outside for the Library of Congress

“Railroads” brochure inside for the Library of Congress

  • Layout:
    • Stretched the image of the locomotive to the front and back of the brochure to help move the viewer around the front and back of the brochure.
    • Unifying elements between the brochures begin to emerge à banner on the front cover with the theme of the brochure, and the footer banner.
  • Color scheme: Dark, rich red and blue to create an antique and patriotic feel to the brochure. Instead of using only plain white, I also used light grey.
  • Text:
    • Title of brochure in a time period appropriate font.
    • Same text for body, caption, and brochure theme

Brochure 3: Double Parallel Fold

For the last brochure I was a little tired of the maps, so I decided to have a different personal connection to the brochure, so I picked a dance related brochure.  The images are from various collections under the subject of Ballet.

“Ballet” brochure outside for the Library of Congress

“Ballet” brochure inside for the Library of Congress

  •  Layout:
    • Going back to the first brochure I liked the different geometry as a framing effect, so I created a slope for the entire back of the brochure to help create some movement and break up the solid color without completely relying on images.
    • I also found it more interesting to wrap the text around silhouetted images rather than a rectangle. Overall, I used more images in this brochure than the other two.
  •  Color scheme:
    • Rich purple in contrast with a sand/gold-like color. The gold color came from a few of the images, but mainly from the cover image.
    • I also used some of the same light grey for the brochure theme type, and captions to help incorporate the black and white images.
  •  Text:
    • Title of brochure in an appropriate font connoting grace and elegance.
    • Same text for body, caption, and brochure theme.

What I learned:

In hind sight, after looking at the rest of the brochures in class I think mine are too text heavy.

And I also made the mistake of always using square images with text wrap because the overall layout is lackluster.  My better brochures are the ones that embrace and follow the curvature of masked images.

Packaging Re-Design – Finished Product

MY DESIGN IS COMPLETE and I couldn’t be happier with my updated look for Pastene Arborio Rice.

After some constructive criticism with my group we talked about the shape of my template (a “milk” carton) and how it resembled a house.  I decided to make am authentic Italian-style building.  After looking at many photos online of tradition Italian street scenes and architecture I was able to take elements from them and incorporate them into my design.  I drew all of my own graphics (except the social media icons).

I was a little worried that my design wasn’t reminiscent enough of Italian architecture and could be mistaken for a Southwestern pueblo or stucco architecture.  I tried to combat that by adding an arched doorway and vines over it, as well as an Italian flag.

After realizing that my design could look Southwestern, I tried to stay away from the burnt siena colors and try some olive greens and burnt umber tones.  I think that doing this fixed my potentially confusing cultural identity issue.

For the logo I looked up many retro old-Italian styled fonts and settled on Atlantic Coast.  I think it is bold and beautiful, as well as a good blend of modern and traditional.  For “Arborio Rice” I decided to contrast the “Pastene” logo by choosing a traditional looking Italian script.  After a lot of tweaking, I think I got the right balance and hierarchy of elements for the two phrases.  The most important being the brand name, then the type of product (Arborio rice).

My design is unique because I added a “window” along the small, right edge of the box for the consumer to see how much rice is left.  The the window is a die cut in which I will cut the rectangle out and adhere a piece of plastic on the inside of the box.

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Pastene Arborio Rice packaging re-design by Lindsey L. Johnson

Poster Peer Review

We were asked to peer review another poster design, so I chose to critique Kayla Molnar‘s poster (better image, and direct link to her poster is here).  What drew me to this poster was just how simple and abstract it is.  It is really reminds me of two things: traditional Asian ink paintings, and the streotypical Psychiatrists abstracts ink blobs (you know, the ones where they hold up the shapes and ask you what you see).  To me it feels like that is where she drew some inspiration–always trying to see art.  I also really like the symmetry of the poster because it feels composed and orderly.  And, I like the color combination; it is very classic and   However, if I were to make changes to this design relating to the font:

  • First, I am not a fan of the all-caps because it is hard to read.
  • In terms of hierarchy of elements, I think that there is not enough emphasis on the title of the show and date and reception information.  If you increased the
  • I also think that I a different font should be used because it is too much like the Martin-Mullen Gallery logo.  In conjunction, the kerning of the logo are perfect for the scale, but the kerning for the title are way too close.  I think splitting the title into two lines and increasing the kerning would increase the read-ability of the important information.
  • I really like the subtile grey line that separates the title from the reception information.  Keep that.  It’s working for you.

Overall, I think the changes that I suggested are minor because you have a really great poster and you should pat yourself on the back, Kayla!

Book Jacket Design — The Forgotten Blog Post

Sooooo I accidentally forgot to read and respond to an article for the book jacket project.  My apologies for breaking the perfect chronology of postings for each project.

Here we go.  I read a few articles from Under the Covers, and not only did I learn a little more about book jacket design, but also got a greater “behind-the-scenes” look at the interaction between designer, editor, and writer.   I read “Five Questions with Paul Buckley, Penguin Art Director” and “Five Questions for Vintage Art Director/Designer, Megan Wilson.”  To start, Wilson openly admits that, “the one thing better than dead authors is living authors who one admires.”  She is referring to designing a book jacket for a memoir and final book for writer Deborah Mitford (who was 90 when Wilson designed the cover).  I think she brings up a great point, here.  Does it make a designers job easier when he/she doesn’t have to please the author?  I think to some extent it must be easier, perhaps for a classic, but maybe not all novels.  And it’s not like the designer has complete freedom to design whatever he/she feels is best for the novel; there is still the fact that the editor and sales market team.  But, Paul Buckley offers a different insight about the delicate relationships between parties.

“Some [editors] truly get the creative process and respect that a great cover can be the first impulse, whereas I have one editor who cannot be satisfied till every angle has been explored, every stone turned over, and until you hate every project you do together. On the author side, you can have authors whose work you just love, but they just don’t enjoy your aesthetic and force you into a cover you are not proud of. And then there are those that love everything you do, so at the end of the day, it all balances out.”

I can’t help but feel as though this is the case more often than not.  I appreciate Buckley (Art Director for Pengiun Books) for stating the unhappy truth and the author for running this in his article.  I think as artists we are given so much power that we forget it comes with a price — trying to make other people like your work as much as you do, and that can be challenging.  Collaboration among artists is hard.  Buckley explains that in some instances “when you see a book where the designer left his or her credit off, that is an example of where the compromises spun out of control.”  That.  Is.  Devastating.

(I realize that this post is somewhat depressing, but I think there is a lot of valuable insight these comments really stuck with me after reading several articles and making them connect.)


Packaging Re-Design – Part I: “Packaging Essentials”

First of all, whoa.  I had no idea HOW much thought REALLY went into packaging design.  This book really illustrates the number of avenues that a designer can explore from when designing or re-designing a product.

This book does a great job of covering ALL bases of packaging design, but my product is very specific in comparison, so I tried to skim through the book to find things that were relevant to convenience packaging of rice and pasta products.  I ended up getting sucked into the book and found myself looking at everything to try and see if it could relate to instant ramen or arborio rice packaging.  Here’s what I’ve taken away:

A product like actual imported arborio rice lends itself to a really home-y, traditional Italian looking design.  I want to make the product have a handwritten, recipe book feel to it.

For the space food — I mean ramen noodles — I really want to have a creative package shape.  I want it to sort of pay homage to the immensely creative and unique Japanese design by having some crazy shaped package.  But I have no idea where to begin other than the book on packaging design templates.

But back to Packaging Essentials.  I paid special attention to several sections of the book: Food, Fonts to Create Mood and Character, and Shelf Impact.  The Food section brought up 3 main considerations for package design: sustainable packing, simplified graphics, and delivery of appetite appeal.  The latter seems to be the most difficult since it plays on the consumer’s ethos; and consumers vary.  Greatly.  So, I am going to have to pick a target audience and appeal to that type of consumer as best I can.

Fonts to Creating Mood and Character was a good follow-up for deciding on how I will appeal to a particular bracket of consumers.  In respect to the product and the purpose of type, selecting the right font is tricky.  Selecting more than one type can be trickier because it opens up some more considerations, like how will they contribute to a hierarchy of elements, do they work together or against one another, do they represent the product well, etc.

Shelf Impact is often taken into an initial observation but quickly forgotten until the product is in the final stages or on the shelf again.  The designer is almost at the mercy of the store vendor in terms of shelf real estate.  This can be tricky since the designer has to make the product stand out against anything that it could be surrounded by.  The design is put up against not only grabbing the consumer’s attention, but also trying to get the consumer to buy the product.  Often times I am in the store and can narrow it down to 2 or 3 products that are identical or nearly identical in what they offer, but ultimately choose one product.

Reading the Packaging Essentials was eye-opening (as a consumer) and insightful (as a designer) for helping me to better understand the realm of packaging design as well as formulating some ideas about my own package design.

Packaging Re-Design – Part I : thedieline.com Product Review

So here are some cool things on one of the best packaging design websites out there, The Die Line.  I looked up some examples of re-designed pasta and rice packaging and was amazed at what I was seeing.  Not only were the shapes of the packages innovative, but some of the materials were innovative.

My favorite shape of the packaging:


The most innovative packaging materials:


But the main focus of my re-design was for convenience packaging.  So here were some better (more suitable for my ability to re-create the actual packaging):


http://www.thedieline.com/blog/2014/6/4/varo-jollof-rice (possibly the closest resemblance to the project).

The last design is not my favorite redesign that I have ever seen, but I think it is still a valuable example for me to look at.  Here is my critique:

  • Packaging
    • it is not clear to me whether or not the package is re-sealable
    • plastic is easily readable — which may or may not hold true under the lights on the shelves of the supermarket
  • Color scheme:
    • love it!
      • the white is refreshing, clean
      • small overlay of pattern adds a subtle textural difference
        • wood grain, and pattern over letter forms
      • greens (with blue) and reds/oranges (with yellow) work well together, and with green logo
  • Type
    • 4 different fonts — but all work well together
      • aid with hierarchy of elements
    • Bold and colorful typeface for “Nigeria”
    • Script fonts have a good balance with sans serif fonts
      • feels handwritten in a way, making a commercial, prepackaged product feel more homemade
  • Images
    • background image of the white wooden table
      • adds to the “hominess” of the slogan “come home to…”
      • it is also a nice alternative background to a solid color
      • it is subtle, like the small designs over the letter forms of “Nigeria”
    • cooked rice dish
      • an “authentic” looking Nigerian bowl for the rice and vegetables for a more cultural reference of the product
        • I am also happy to not see white bowls like a lot of the products on the shelves of Hannaford
  •  Drawbacks
    • I would also like to know other important information about the product that doesn’t appear on the front
      • specific cooking instructions
      • other recipes
      • serving sizes (since there is only one bowl pictured)
      • other promotional features like coupons toward my next purchase, social media icons or places for me to go to learn more about the product

Packaging RE-Design — Part I : The Observations

Yesterday, we took a class trip to Hanaford Supermarkets to do some in-person product research in order to more successfully redesign a consumer good.  My group focused on convenience pasta and rice goods.

Right away I knew that we had to look in the Hispanic, Asian and Italian sections of the aisle — stereotype number 1 — for our products.

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Convenience foods aisle at Hannaford Supermarkets Oneonta, NY

Another general observation that my group made was that all of the brand names were at eye-level (more or less for the average woman), also noticing that the level of convenience-type packaging decreased the farther down the shelves went.  At the eye-lever we noted several commonalities: the use of red in a banner format (except Uncle Ben’s, which was 100% orange), most of the convenience products were in a cardboard box (for non-Asian rice, and pasta), there was a large image of the product either uncooked or cooked, and the overall packing looked cheap (as in in-expensive materials).  The cheapest products came from the cheapest packaging, for example the pasta with “cheese” sauces were in foil-lined packet-like containers and they were $0.88 each, whereas the cardboard packages ranged from $1.00 to upwards of $4.00!  The most expensive products by far were the ones that included a plastic bowl (convenience!).

In terms of design, none of the packages were really innovative in any way.  There were basically 4 types of packing substrates (i.e. materials): cardboard, plastic, foil-lined paper, SOME of it was a combination.  We are familiar with the college-student friendly Kraft mac n cheese microwaveable cup– this is an example of dual packaging because the bowls are stacked and bound together by cardboard.  Of those made of a single substrate there was little to no embellishment.

If there was not a photo on the packaging of the product (cooked or uncooked), then there was a little window for the consumer to be able to see the product.  We really liked this feature, but didn’t feel that it was innovative.

We also felt that some of the materials were harder to read from than others.  The shiny plastic and packet-like products were hardest to read.  I think this has to do with the angle of the fluorescent lights hitting the products, as well as the shapes made form the products (the foil packets are playable and therefore crinkle making them harder to read, etc.).

In terms of typography, there were few variations in typeface; most were an easy-to-read, boring serif font.

Our group wandered down the aisle a bit more to find some packing that we had previously overlooked while doing the initial observations, sop here they are:  Picking up with a little more of the ethnic stereotyping/influence was very apparent with the Ramen noodle section.  Some of the designs look like a direct rip-off of an actual Japanese product, while others had some small hints.  Some of the banners that the logos sat on looked like theory were influenced by traditional architecture.  The more up-scale the product, the more American-ized the packed looked.  The fonts were usually in the style of Japanese characters or calligraphy-like.  Some packages even had Japanese characters on them along with English.

In general, none of the packaging impressed any one because they were all in need of a re-design.

After reading everything that I just said about ALL the other convenience rice and pasta products I would like to point out the ONE exception that we found at the end of our observation.  It was tucked away on the top shelf on one of the edges of our convenience food “territory.”  This package is different from the rest in: color scheme, type, and packaging. The package is great because it’s re-sealabe.  I’m not really sure if I like the black packaging, but I think it works well against all of the red from the competition.  The type and the blue swirl have a sort of whimsy that is inviting at goes against all of the hard angles and straight lines of the boxed packages.  I also LOVED the fact that the back of the package has social media icons.  I just wish it had a QR code to bring you straight to the website.  Overall, this was the best example of a redesigned product.  I googled the Della arborio rice and found the old packaging for comparison.

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The best example of a recognizable re-design of a rice product on the shelves


previous Della arborio rice package

These are the packages that I purchased, but in the end I will just choose one.  On the left is possibly the ugliest packaging that I have ever seen, with that being said, it is a great possibility that I could have great success because how could I possibly make this any uglier?  The right package irritated me because the product is actually vacuum sealed rice inside of a cardboard box.  The box fits the product well, but the fit could be better.  I felt as though, as the actual consumer (because I did buy the product after all in the CONVENIENCE section), it was really INconventient for me to have to deal with my product when I get home.  AND, if you’re going to vacuum seal the product into a perfect brick it might as well fit perfectly as well.  Did I mention that it’s ugly, too?

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The two products that I purchased to develop a re-resigned package for one