Friday, August 25, 2006

Definition of "designer"

I don't know why our field seems so curiously self-obsessive.

From AIGA's Communique newsletter:
Promoting a new standard definition for “designer”
AIGA testified this month before the commission on redefining the standard occupational classifications for “designer” used by the U.S. government in its economic research. This is another step in an effort that AIGA has pursued consistently for ten years. The occupational classification for designer is at least two decades old and captures the functions of a designer prior to the introduction of the Macintosh and securely anchored in the realm of commercial artist.
Stated definition: "Design or create graphics to meet specific commercial or promotional needs, such as packaging, displays, or logos. May use a variety of mediums to achieve artistic or decorative effects." (Last updated in 2003).

Again from AIGA:
The U.S. Department of Labor’s contractor for the Occupational Information Network (O*NET), the government’s database on occupational characteristics, is conducting a survey to gain a sense of the relevance of the current definition. The survey will be sent to 80 opinion leaders within the profession, and their responses will govern the future definition. The definition is important to designers, since it governs both the literature about the profession that the government issues, but also influences the economic data collected about the profession.
Milton Glaser weighed in last year, with a presentation at the AIGA conference, touching on on role and responsibilities as designers. I'm certain he wasn't thinking of a definition the government would use in establishing criteria for economic data.

What is curious is that the US Department of Labor's definition seems much more current on the Bureau of Labor statistics web site. It's broad and inclusive and recognizes many aspects of what a graphic designer does.

All in all, it's a great time in which to be a graphic designer. Don't worry so much about your software skills. Instead, learn how to think. Then it won't matter how you're defined, you'll know how to solve problems, and your clients will recognize that and value you for it.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Behind every [typeface or thing*] there's a story

Fresh back from TypeCon 2006 in Boston, MA (USA): it's the place to hear the stories behind your favorite typeface. Check out the blog and flickr site (1,243 photos) if you're interested.

Major themes in retrospect: type as image(1), combining type and image(2), type in education(3), and some really geeky stuff(4) thrown in to round out the weekend. Please refer to this paragraph as your legend.

Kit Hinrichs of Pentagram opened the sessions on Friday morning, showing slides from the Pentagram archives of Type as Art(1). Many of the examples have been shown in books and exhibitions, but it's always refreshing to hear the stories behind them from a master designer.

Unfortunately Robin Williams couldn't attend due to the state of airline travel, but plenty of copies of her new book, Sweet Swan of Avon were available.

Nick Benson of The John Stevens Shop detailed his involvement in the stone carving on the new World War II memorial.

Friday included some very interesting and engaging speakers, but the beautiful weather encouraged some exploration of the city. Nancy Skolos and Tom Wedell(2) followed some well-received 20-minute type-related presentations, and Font Embedding and the web(4).

Two major figures of 20th (and the present century) type design were highlighted: W.A. Dwiggins and Adrian Frutiger.

the last presentation I was able to attend was by Mark Jamra of TypeCulture.(3) Mark's presentation reminded me of how accidents and experimentation are critical to finding new shapes and forms in every aspect of design work.

For the type-obsessed, whether a lover of type, user of type or creator of type, TypeCon is a must to attend. See you next year in Seattle!

*Tyepfaces are things, not pictures of things

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

The death of the apostrophe

Apostrophe a GoGo (or) Death of the Apostrophe
The Apostrophic Menace

Did you see the original Stars Wars? Did you see the wrong apostrophe in the opening text that receded, in glorious faux perspective, into the distance? It was subtle, and if you did, you can quit reading and go order some type from Altered Ego Fonts. Oh, everything was spelled correctly (I’m certain they proofed that at least) but they became lazy in the punctuation. Need more clues? Think hard, you had to have seen it. Most people are so used to seeing them they overlook them.

What, do you ask, is the “wrong apostrophe?” It’s like the wrong trousers, such as what Wallace was stuck with when he rented a room to a penguin. Missed that one too? Well, go to the video store tonight, and pay attention here now (especially PC users — it’s easier to do this correctly on a Mac). It’s what appears when you type the apostrophe key next to the return key on your keyboard. You weren’t expecting a curly apostrophe (or typographer’s apostrophe) to come out automatically were you? If you’re not careful, or your preferences aren’t set correctly in your layout / drawing/ word processing program of choice, you will see the ASCII apostrophe appear on your screen, and eventually make its way to your final piece.

George Lucas spent over $120 million dollars to create Star Wars: Episode I, yet failed to hire a type director. Even watching VH1, I see a glaring example of inattentiveness to a basic typographic glyph that appears everywhere, namely the apostrophe. You can’t make a contraction, indicate the possessive, or even write rock ’n’ roll without the apostrophe.

Yes, it’s a pet peeve. I’ve seen the ASCII apostrophe on signage in the world-renowned Rainbow Baby and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio; in magazine ads in Graphic Design: USA and Publish, and in TV commercials more times than I can count (Especially Daimler-Chrysler commercials). It’s kind of a game now, to find these incorrectly typeset apostrophes everywhere I go. Even online, typing typographer’s quotes or apostrophe requires HTML code.

Shall I succumb to the irrelevant?

By now you’re thinking that I ought to get a life, but bear with me (We type designers start from the details up). You can make your typography more beautiful (and professional) in the process. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it makes the world a better place. Really. I suspect there are a lot of people that are secretly annoyed by this, but are too embarrassed to admit it.

You don’t have to watch television for very long, or read more than one magazine, without seeing an apostrophe standing rigid in some possessive phrase or contraction.

I suspect much of the problem is due to the use of PCs in typesetting and layout, and the difficulty of typing anything other than what appears in the first two levels of the keyboard. PCs seem to be used in broadcast media, you’ll see a lot of the ASCII apostrophes on television.

Apostrophes from STF Veritas and Trebuchet; Serif apostrophes from AEF Veritas and Adobe Garamond; sans serif apostrophes from AEF Chevron and Azkidenz.

So what to do about it? The obvious solution is to buy a Macintosh computer (I am not kidding). You can achieve this degree of typographic sophistication on either platform. First, study this picture carefully: An ASCII apostrophe bears some resemblance to a tent stake, and in most cases and is rigidly vertical. The proper apostrophe will be tapered and set at a slight angle in a sans serif font, and resemble a period with an angled or curling tail descending from the bottom in a serif font. Type a comma, and you’ll more than likely be looking at something similar to what the apostrophe should look like.

Each font has two apostrophes in character slots (at least the professional fonts do, amateur fonts, the kind you download for free from the one-million-and-one-free-font sites, may be missing one, or both!) There is the ASCII apostrophe, which is set by typing the apostrophe key, and what has become known as the curly apostrophe, or smart quotes. Preferably it is called the “typographer’s apostrophe.” On the Mac, it’s set by typing the option-shift-right bracket key. In Windows, it’s set by typing alt+0146 (on my PC it doesn’t appear until I release the ALT key).

The major drawing and illustration applications, and MS Word offer simple preference settings to ensure that your apostrophe is set correctly. In InDesign, go to Preferences: Type: “Use Typographer’s Quotes.” In Freehand, go to File: Preferences: Text, and there is a check box that allows you to not only use “Curly Quotes,” but to select your preferences for US or European or other country-specific settings. Microsoft Word has a setting under Tools: AutoCorrect: Autoformat. In Quark Xpress you can set the preference for “Smart Quotes.”

It’s a little thing, but simple to correct. After all, for a typographer, the difference between typesetting and fine typography is in the details.

Stand firm. Be free. Make the world a more beautiful place through typography. And above all else, don’t be afraid to admit that that you’re bothered by ASCII apostrophes. The future of typography is in your hands. . .


Disclaimer: Due to the finicky nature of browsers and HTML editors, and ASCII apostrophes in this article are unintended and we will correct them if found!

Thanks to the readers who corrected my grammatical mistakes, which involved of course the apostrophe in the wrong place, rather than the wrong apostrophe.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Saying thank you

When was the last time you wrote someone a thank-you note? I don't mean emailed a thank you, called someone and said thank you -- I mean took out some personal stationery, and wrote a thank you?

I recall hearing Doyald Young mention the things he heas learned in his many years as a design professional, author and instructor. One of them was "the importance of a well-written thank you note." (and BTW, Doyald is the most conscientious and gentlemanly man of letters i have ever met.)

It's an excellent practice to follow in a design business. It's not a ground-breaking marketing technique, but shows clients and those who contribute in any way to a the success of a business that they are appreciated. It also speaks to your character.

With all the hype about marketing, the lifeblood of a small business (ie micro business of under 10 employees) is referrals. Any designer should be sending out thank you notes after any referral. Anyone who interviews should send out a thank you after the interview (Here's an interviewing secret we have. If we don't get a thank you, most likely you will be eliminated as a potential candidate for a position in our firm).

Don't overdo it, or it will be seen as insincere. A well-written and timed thank you is a pause and a breath of fresh air for the recipient in the hectic pace of business.

With that, to those who choose to read this blog out of the millions that are available... thank you.