The Fourth Wall

11.15.11 Old Skool Tools

What the heck is that thing pictured above? If you know, please comment! Personally, I can’t believe I still have this artifact; and that, my friends, lets you in on my pack rat collector tendencies.

Generally speaking, my life as a graphic designer has gone 80% digital. But it hasn’t always been that way. I’m old enough to have been skooled on production processes that involved hands… and tools… some of them so sharp as to cause serious blood-letting accidents/emergencies. Recently, I had the all-too-unusual opportunity to create HANDCRAFTED printed “comps,” or comprehensives, for an upcoming client meeting. This meant I had to drag out all manner of dust-gathering equipment here at the studio. Such as the tape dispenser above which I believe dates to 100 BA (Before Apple). Anyone remember what the black tape was for? Clue: colored gels…

Here is another relic, a life-saving technology for its day, the proportion wheel. Used primarily for “sizing” photos into correct proportion for publication. I used this once recently (although can’t remember why) and was still delighted by its simple effectiveness, not to mention elimination of a need to do math.

A little less old-skool, but truly revolutionary in its day–is the Schaedler Precision Rule–which allows for measuring in a variety of systems from picas to points to metric and agate… while LOOKING THROUGH the translucent plastic. Also, these are flexible enough wrap around a curved object (cool!). Back in the 80’s when these came out ANY professional worth their salt had a set of these super-expensive tools (each ruler now retails for $20+). They sort of separated the pros from the hacks, if you will. I still love and use mine, although some of them are older than… well, dirt.

Ok, this is a little off topic, but I had to include it. This 70’s wooden name thingee has been on my desk since I scored it at Value Village Thriftstore many years ago. I love it because it’s so hilariously UNcorporate. And, it’s not even the right spelling of my name, which makes me laugh every time I see it. Anyone want to name that font?

But back to those comprehensives. Before Apple, we made these all the time! There were no files or pdfs, and in order to show clients design solutions, we purchased lots of colored papers… hand-cutting, taping and folding, to produce a tactile/visual experience of the final printed piece. Rather than just… (wait for it)… a MAGIC MARKER sketch! Yes, young people. Magic freaking Markers, which were not so magic after all.

The day I was making comps, 13 yr old daughter Molly was home and she too joined the fun. Crayons? DEFINITELY old skool.

So, why WAS I making comps again? Well, in the case of this project, I wanted to explore aspects of design and manufacturing that just aren’t visible on-screen. I know, can you believe that?? But the fact is, if aspects of your communication problem-solving rely on the pacing (literally and figuratively) or unfolding of information, or on special techniques such as die-cuts, it’s important to share these ideas with my client fairly early on in the process. Pictured above are 3 of 4 comps produced to show various brochure sizes, folds, and proposed die-cuts. Once we narrow this down, I’ll be able to focus on all of the refinements to typographical, color, and image details.

There are times I  do miss those days of handcrafty goodness in graphic design. And I think this at least partially explains the proliferation of designers-turned-knitters/potters/jewelers… insert-craft-of-choice here. Ultimately though, I love designing on the computer and wouldn’t trade it for the old days of messy wax and tracing out fonts by hand. Still, I welcome the opportunity to sit on the floor and hold an xacto knife… it really is fun.

4.16.09 Chucks Rock Pt. 2 + Good Design Travels

Everyone knows I’m a freak for Chucks (sneakers). I wear ‘em, I blog about ‘em, I love ‘em, and I even found a way to incorporate them into a designfarm project for Friends of the Library, Montgomery County.

This week I received an email from my client at FOL in which she forwarded the following email from Ms. Virginia Hale, President of Friends of Hall County Public Library down in Gainesville, GA:

“I had the pleasure of attending the Friends of Georgia Libraries program last fall which featured much great information about organizing, improving and “growing” Friends groups.

I picked up your beautiful Montgomery Library County Friends’ brochure at the meeting. Now my local Friends’ group is redesigning our brochure, and getting inspiration from many sources. Our brochure committee is very partial to the blurbs on your brochure. May we borrow your verbiage on our new, improved  Friends’ brochure?

Your website is also an inspiration and will soon become a great source of ideas to help our group create its own website. Last May we opened our first ever coffee shop, with merchandise, and are seeing increased profits that go back to helping staff and programming…plus help us pay for the new brochure.

Thanks for what you do, and for how you do it!”

No, THANK you, Virginia!

11.20.08 Let’s Go on a Field Trip!

No, not to some futuristic alien-infested location straight outta your favorite sci-fi novel… in fact, we’re going to take a trip into the Past, the Present, and the Future. Simultaneously. Without a time machine! Designers have dubbed this adventure The Press Inspection, and with increasing rarity in our cost-conscious, hyper-paced profession, I relish these opportunities to visit favorite local print shops where good old-fashioned American industrial manufacturing meets frighteningly cutting-edge digital technology. The alienesque photo above? We’ll get to that in a minute. Or two. But first: How did we end up here on a gray day in November?

Today’s field trip actually begins on the other side of the world in a small children’s residential school called Yemin Orde Youth Village, near Haifa, Israel. Founded in 1953 to accommodate Holocaust orphans during the great immigration waves of the fifties, today the 77-acre campus is home to more than 500 children from war-torn and otherwise devastated countries around the world.

Crossing the ocean quickly to Washington, DC, a small office in an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue, we find one of designfarm‘s longterm clients, Friends of Yemin Orde. The American-based fundraising arm of the Israeli youth village, FYO financially supports the programs, the children, and the graduates of the school, as well as other disenfranchised youth who are served by outreach programs.

Next stop, a small unassuming brick building facade in Baltimore, Maryland, home of one of The Whitmore Group‘s printing plants, Schneidereith & Sons (fine printing since 1849, 5 generations of printers). This will all come together, you’ll see.

Entering the building, the acrid but weirdly pleasant and somehow comforting smell of printer’s ink threatens to potentially knock you out… until your senses adjust. And as soon as you get past the front office, you know that as a designer you are about to enter another world all together, far from your  groovy little office with its cheap-&-chic Ikea furnishings and an Apple computer or two; a world with a rich century-hopping history AND incredibly up-to-the-minute digital technologies. This is where the rubber meets the road the ink hits the paper. Yet, it’s so ultra-sparkling clean you could eat off the floor.

Just down that long shiny hallway and slightly to the left, is housed one of the most monstrous printing presses you’ve ever seen. The Heidleberg Speedmaster XL-105-41 (at a prices topping 3 million dollars, you may want to buy one used here) is just that… a fiercely speedy piece of German engineering, which when fully revved up will put 18,000 6-color impressions of your project onto paper per hour. A run of 750 pocket folders for Friends of Yemin Orde (two sides!) is completed in about half an hour. And I get to watch!

In fact I am invited to climb aboard the beast (I stupidly ask: Do I need a hard hat? Because I’ve always wanted to wear one…) where I am able to witness–close up and personal–the fact that despite the amazing computer technologies running this badboy… it’s still a lot of beautifully messy gloppy wet inks being laid down with perfection onto luscious bright white paper. The image at the top of this post shows the front end of the press where said paper begins its ridiculously fast journey.

The real reason I am there of course, is NOT to climb around the equipment squealing with genuine excitement and taking photos so I can write another endless (but fascinating, right?) blog post. It’s so I can do the job I am paid for by my client, the aforementioned press inspection.

We will look through a magnifying glass called a loop, refer to our Pantone color guides, check our ink draw downs (for this project, we had ink specially mixed and tested because we wanted something we just couldn’t exactly find amongst Pantone’s 6000 choices)… all to make absolutely certain that the end product is drop-dead gorgeous and will perfectly support our client as they approach donors for millions of dollars on behalf of the children of Yemin Orde (we call this full-circle).

But wait, there’s more.

While I’m at Schneidereith & Sons, “on press” as we say, I am treated to a few other eye-popping lessons in modern printing. Lying around the Epson Digital Press (a machine 1/10th the size of that Heidleberg but pretty impressive in its own right) are sheets from another of our projects. At right, designfarm‘s post-move updated business cards, along with former business partner, computer consulting experts MacLab‘s promotional folder inserts… looking so… well, Warholian.

Left, is a lovely water color painting. Do printers paint too?? Maybe. But this in fact is not a painting. It’s a high-end digital reproduction, output on archival canvas. A legal fake! Whoa! How’d they do that?

Turns out, The Whitmore Group has been doing a lot of that lately. Pictured left, the beautiful Hasselblad H3D 39-Megapixel Medium Format Digital camera (German engineering again, and with a price tag of $32,000 this ain’t no Powershot, ok?) with which ancient works of fine art are photographed, including many important corporate and government portraits, in order to create amazingly authentic reproductions on archival canvas. (Memo to self: If graphic design career tanks, think forgery, ebay, &tc. JUST KIDDING!).

Pictured right, Whitmore’s digital reproduction of a painting of Paul Morton, Secretary of the Navy, 1904-1905 with whom my rep, one Joseph Wagner, shares a certain uncanny bald-guy-with-bushy-moustache resemblance. Joe, and his moustache, have been in the industry for 30+ years. Talk about expertise. And in case you don’ t know, printing experts are truly an endangered species of sorts. Which is why we value the partnership with the few and the proud, like Mr. Wagner. And his moustache.

Not to get all sentimental or anything, but there is a definite price–and I’m not talking just monetary–to all of these present and futuristic advances in what was once a vibrant outgrowth of industrial-revolution America. If you are of a certain age (who me?), as you are escorted through the pristine plant, you remember a time when instead of the muted hum of enormous and enormously sophisticated machines, there was a constant deafening noise… and there were people (wearing ear plugs). Lots and lots and lots of people. Whole huge shifts worth of apprentice and master pressmen, plate-makers and strippers (NOT THAT KIND)… to name a few of the profession’s occupational casualties. So although this blogging queen loves watching technology march on, I acknowledge that there are losses. And it does make me sad.

But let’s end on a cheery note. Thank goodness we can still smell that ink in the air. Because baby, when that goes, I am SO outta here.

10.28.08 Play Ball!

It remains to be seen which team is going to win the World Series, an agonizing game-suspension pause-button was pushed last night due to pounding rain. Still, with 3 wins to Tampa Bay’s single success, as of this writing the Phillies stand poised to take home the prize.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that my BF is a sports spectating freakazoid. And, of the big three professional games, baseball is his number one love (hoops coming in second with football a not unenthusiastic third. Pity me, dear readers.). Yet, because he’s the wonderfully strange guy that he is, it’s not just sweat ‘n numbers as they say. His addiction passion also includes history, uniforms, stadium ephemera, the whole gosh darn gontseh megilleh (that’s yiddish for “big deal”).

I’ve blogged about UniWatch in the past, the blog that covers “the obsessive study of athletics aesthetics.” For a great rant that dovetails the BF’s sports mania with my typography nerdism, check out today’s UniWatch post re: the Phillies logo. Pictured above, the actual logo on top, a proposed redesign below. Read the details here.

Now, fair is fair and I don’t want to get in trouble with the BF. So, because we are rooting for Tampa Bay at our house (Why? Because the Phillies kicked the Mets outta the playoffs the last two years, don’t you know anything??), I must give their logo equal blog. To the left, the Rays’ actual logo; to the right their cap insignia. For more info about why a major league (literally) professional corporation with a high-profile national/international presence would want to have two distinct and mostly unrelated brands (neither of which is particularly well-designed)… I can’t answer that. You’ll have to go digging around UniWatch to solve this particular athletic aesthetic mystery. Or ask the BF next time you see him. He probably knows.