Thots and observations about design  2014-2017

A better dog frisbee - easier pickup

If a normal frisbee falls face down, the dog can't grasp the lip to pick it up. A few companies have solved that by molding a cone or knob in the center, thereby not allowing the frisbee to lay flat. The raised side can be easily picked up by the dog. Good idea.

Better logo for the Cowboy Museum in OKC

Existing logo above left. Below left: the text portion of the existing logo. Below right: Improved version, text only, no inappropriate and unnecessary drawing, it's shown above right just to compare the two logotypes. The improved logo has character more fitting for Western Heritage.

How it looks on the website. Also with redesigned info of Hours, Admission, and Location:

More on Logo design.

An easier to read Recycle chart

Left: This letter-size flier denotes recycling pick-up days. Trash is picked up every week, but recycling is picked up every 2 weeks - it's harder to remember which week is a recycle day. Notice all the white space (blank space) in the original flier. Right: A better use of available space to allow the info to be easier to read and comprehend.

The logo for the new Star Wars film includes the familiar original wordmark with the installment title sandwiched between. But, notice the awkward ragged margin lines with the T and S sticking out.
Below: 2 options to address that overhang. Left: decrease kerning and enlarge the point size to stay within the implied box boundary. 2: Exploit the idea that the letters are shooting out past the boundary. More tips for better typography.

A nice concept that got overwhelmed

This identity, for a naberhood coffee house in Austin TX, has too much going on - to make this logo better, it needs to be simplified.
Clever: a flag that is also a 7. The 7th flag. The flag is enhanced by the waving motion providing movement and depth. That's good. But the motion and depth is ruined by placing the flag within a solid black diamond. That just crushes it. The CO. is set smaller and placed inside a circle (like the copyright symbol?) Now, the word, company, stands out as the most important word - it is set differently from the other words and emphasized with a circle outline. And, yet, it is the least important word.
Below: The logo in these iterations show that there is not much design sensitivity associated with 7thFlag Coffee. No day of the week, trendy vertical marks to separate words (that was passe as of about 2012). But the silliest: The flag 7 is supposed to be read as an 'I' (or a '1') in the word 'First'. The education invested in seeing the flag as a 7 is wasted when the reader is now supposed to see it as an I, not a 7. In the example on the right, the craftsmanship is weak in aligning the words to the swashy baselines. And why are there two small hyphens on the Coffee Co. line?

The logo probly needs an entire makeover (keep the 7/Flag concept). But, to show a better version with minimal input, below is a version that is stronger. Now the flag conveys leading a charge, as at Goliad. There is a single primary element, more depth, and much more motion. And the 'Company' abbreviation is not dominant.

Maybe the worst thing about this logo: It was selected for inclusion in the 2015 CA Design Annual as an outstanding trademark. Ouch. A weak logo is shown as one of the best.

Remember those Big Chief tablets?

The cover would make a great case flap for an iPad or other etablet.

The cover flap of the case. The Big Chief notepaper app.

Develop one brand identity and then stick to it. Consistently.

A misleading chart

Nulo is a premium dog food that prides itself on healthful, honest ingredients. But, their promo piece is a bit misleading. Note the strong visuals below comparing carbohydrate content - it makes Nulo appear impressive (almost no carbohydrates).

The left one uses a scale of 30% to 50%, selected out of context to show the red bar more favorably. The company relies on the fact that visuals are more memorable and persuasive than text words. On the right is a fair comparison - using the scale from 0% to 100% - the complete gamut. Now, the red band is not quite as impressive. The red band and the one above it differ by only 5%, almost negligible. But, the visual on the left makes it appear that there is a huge difference between the two.
Makes me wonder - what are they hiding? Why don't they show the complete chart? I am often skeptical of companies who try to trick the consumer.

Ambigram project examples
An ambigram is a word image that can be read the same right side up as upside down or as a left and right mirror image. Samples of student-created ambigrams.

How something appears is always a matter of perspective.

What a weird B

Took a walk to Starbucks for their new drink - Flat White. Saw this painted sign on the parking lot concrete. Why the unusual B? Did the sign painter use a stencil - the A and R suggest so, but the B doesn't look like a stencil. A few feet away, I happened upon this shadow of the gas meter pipes. Aha. That's it.

There is always a better way
Organizing text copy for better comprehension

• Put all time info on one line: 9:00a to 10:30a.
• Abbreviated 'AM' as 'a' (and PM as p, if included).
• Deleted the unnecessary CDT.
• Placed 'Downtown Oklahoma City' on one line.
• Tightened up the initials EK.
• Decreased leading between the two blocks of text copy.
• Increased leading between the map and the copy.
• Increased the blue space in the left margin.

A new look for QSR buildings
Quick Service Restraunts are currently blending into a more homogenous style of building design, characterized by:
• Horizontal rows of slats, often wood.
• Intersecting slabs of masses.
• Eave overhangs.
• Flat roofs, no mansards, gables, or domes.
• Strong horizontals and verticals, fewer curves.

A better game show tv screen layout

We have become so accustomed to seeing web sites and app pages with multiple blocks of info that the linear images on game shows seem primitive. TV screens are wider now (more real estate to use for images) and our home screens are larger and in higher definition. Often, when watching, I wonder what the score is or the amounts of money a contestant has. My desire may not match what the director has chosen to put on the screen. Solution: arrange the Jeopardy (or Family Feud, Millionaire, Wheel of Fortune) blocks of info like a web site to allow the viewer to access info as needed or desired.

Readability of microwave instructions on frozen meals

The two above have their instructions buried in blocks of copy. The Atkins brand at the top is on a side panel, in a small point size, and reversed out of the red background. Maybe that's the Atkins Plan - the dieter can't read how to heat it so they get frustrated and go for ice cream or chocolate. Or chocolate ice cream. That keeps them fat and they keep buying Atkins meals to feel better.
Now look at the brand below. The designer of these packages was considerate of the reader. The heading, Cooking Instructions, is large and easy to find. The most important info (the time) is large, set in a box, and put on a higher contrast background. Users can scan the back of the box easily and quickly find the info they are looking for. Microwave ovens are fast, their instructions should be, also.

The box above has two important steps - Prep and Cook. Both are very clear at a glance. The photo makes sense.

Such a fun idea

At the entrance to the parking lot at the Estonian State Opera. Can you imagine the music in the driver's head as the gates open and close? An innovative mind saw a possibility to transform a standard gate into something festive, appropriate, and animated. Very cool.

A better location for the new West Thames pedestrian bridge

The new bridge connecting Battery Park City and the Financial District in downtown Manhattan is expected to cost $27 million (not including any overcharges). Work is due to begin in the fall of 2014; the bridge would open in late 2016.

Above left: proposed location of the new bridge. Right: a better location. Below: walking patterns:

Full story.

Not sure the sign is any better than the visuals of the implements.

Our minds are conditioned to seek out visuals before words. Here, the visuals are so clear and adequate. Do we really need to label a stack of spoons as 'Spoons'.

Red button for Emergency Information

Walking through the subway station, I noticed this call box mounted on a column. The lettering was easy enough to read, but the buttons weren't quite right. It seemed there might be two options, but it wasn't very clear. Was it one button for Emergency Information or two buttons - one for Emergency and another for Information. As I studied it more closely, I saw the second button below the word Information. Two distinct options. There are 2 problems:
• The Info button does not stand out and can be easily overlooked, especially from a distance or if in panic mode.
• The text word labels are not in proximity to their buttons.
On the right, above, is a revised version with a brighter info button and the word labels moved closer to their respective buttons. Below: side by side comparisons:

Lesson: Proximity is an important design guideline - position related elements in close proximity to each other.

'Designy' - small and subtle graphics, that blow

You've probly seen these in the bathrooms - the airblade, an air dryer by Dyson (of vacuum cleaner fame). The instructions are in a diagram on the top of the machine. Many people have learned how to use these and no longer need instructions. But, if a company is going to include instructions, then make them understandable.
All one really sees is the black hands and arrows. The thin white outline of the units doesn't show up well on the light grey background. To shoot the photo on the right, I had to reflect the image in the light at just the right angle. Even then, the units are barely legible.

An all black diagram might have worked; or a dark grey to be a bit more subtle or the solid white unit, below:

Nice detail of merging old and new

Location: An addition to the back of a shop in SoHo, NYC.

Built in 1818, the 3-story Federal-style building at the corner of Spring and Wooster streets, is likely the oldest building in Soho. Crocs (yes, those shoes) took over the building and put up a brick front facade and new siding on the Wooster side; and replaced a garage in the adjoining Wooster Street plot with a contemporary glass-faced structure.

"It's not going to look like a typical library."

Opened in May 2012, the Patience Latting Northwest Library in Oklahoma City features imagery of the Oklahoma prairie including study areas housed in glass that resemble oil-derricks. Wood-slat walls are reminiscent of the oil-field equipment crates that were historically used as temporary housing. Shelving end-panels feature scenes from the Oklahoma prairie such as wheat fields and windmills. Some facts:
• Architectural firm: Richard-Bauer, Phoenix
• Cost: $8.1 million
• Size: 35,000-square-foot building
• Service area: A three-mile radius of 47,000 residents in northwest Oklahoma City
• Collection: 156,000 books, CDs, DVDs and magazines
• Outdoor art sculptures: saurophaganax dinosaur, collared lizard, raccoon, and cowgirl Lucille Mulhall with shelter dog Wall-E
• Artist: Solomon Bassoff of Faducci Studio
• Sustainability: Northwest Library is the first public library in the state to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified
• LEED elements: drip irrigation system, low-flow faucets/toilets, geothermal heating and cooling system, recycling bins, recycled and regionally sourced materials, sustainably harvested wood, low-emitting finishes and day-lighting for interior spaces

Wisdom from Milton Glaser

A Deco treasure in downtown Tulsa

Tucked into a room off the lobby in the Deco Philcade Building is this extensive collection of Deco graphics, products, photographs, and household objects. Due primarily to oil discoveries in the 1920s and subsequent wealth in Tulsa, there was much new construction and a desire to be more like an Eastern big city. There is an active community of devotees who are keeping that chapter of Tulsa history alive for the rest of us to enjoy. Check the Tulsa Art Deco Museum website for the hours and address. The photo above left is by David Moos.

The shoestring-budget museum is staffed by volunteers, so that may help explain the weak logo. Issues:
• TAD Museum? Do they really want us to call it that? Hope not.
• Consistent-width letterforms are not very indicative of Art Deco.
• The angled stroke ends and notches in the initial letters just don't fit here.
• Vertical stacking of partial words is a bit too clumsy and awkward.

Mandela wisdom for designers
Quotes from Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa and Nobel Peace Prize winner
"It always seems impossible until it's done."
"I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles."
"Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do."
"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."
"A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination."

A more convenient and user-friendly tea box

I toured the Celestial Seasonings factory in Boulder Colorado. After arriving home from a great trip through the mountains of Colorado, I placed all the tea boxes on the counter top. I wanted them to remain open so I could easily access the envelopes of tea bags.To label each box, I ripped off the top flaps and stuck the title flap down in the back of the box. I noticed that if the box had been designed differently, I could have just folded and tucked the top back into the box. Below is an example of retail display packaging with tuck-in top flaps. Something like that would have been pretty nice for the tea boxes on my counter top.

Left: The original box front/top. Right: the redesigned panel with the title name at the bottom so it would still show when folded and tucked in.
The panel with the name of the tea forms a base for the illustration - the image is no longer 'crushed' by the type overhead.
For better visibility, the line of text with the quantity info is moved to the top, and out from obscurity inside the illustration.

Full story

These products don't even have their full names on them

These graphics are so well known that, even when enlarged and cropped, they still communicate clearly.

Lessons in Contrast

Good contrast: Yellow, orange, and red on #7 grey.
Poor contrast: #8 grey on #7 grey.

An everyday problem finally solved

You have probly walked up to the flatware (plasticware) bins in a restraunt and had to look down into the bin or pull up a utensil in order to see if it was a fork or spoon. The ends are identical - no clue as to what is on the other end - the end that is buried down in the bin with the rest of the herd (I assume plasticware comes in herds).
Below: If the utensils were stored handle-down, recognition would be easy. But various health codes don't want customers touching the utile ends so they are pointed down and the handle pointed up.

A beautiful solution from Frank Nichols

Observation: Face up in the bins - we can tell each use immediately. But, when face down, we just see identical ends of the handles.
Concept: The handle end is designed to identify the utensils.

Solution: An identity system incorporating a variety of handle-end communication devices for no extra cost (one-time charge for new molds). The elements that communicate the utensil usage:
    •  Different length of utensil.
    •  Embossed icon at the end of the handle.
    •  Unique identifying shape of handle ends.

The PID system also allows sight-impaired customers the opportunity to recognize a utensil by feeling the shape at the end of the handle.
In 1915, another company wanted users to be able to identify their product by shape only. The design objective was to create a bottle so that it could be recognized in the dark. Inspired by the Hobble Skirt, popular at the time, and the shape of the coca bean pod, Swedish-born glass blower Alexander Samuelson presented the now classic bottle shape.

Two other innovative products (of many) from Frank Nichols, a graphic, package, and product designer.

It is about integrity and trust
This is a new subscription service for dog treats and toys. It seemed like a good idea, so I thought I'd sign up.
I selected $18/month. But, notice in the Summary: $18.25/month. They snuck in another quarter:

Here is the full story and what they did about it.

Well-written billboard message

Right: Be aware when laying out a page in a magazine that is perfect bound - the gutter won't open flat and some of the copy will be obscured in the unseen portion. The designer saw the above red page on his/her screen and it looked just fine - text all the way to the edge. But, they didn't consider how it would look once printed. I assume that editorial layout is for Michael Fassbender, the actor. But, it could be for Dick Assbender, the one-eyed drag queen.

See the dog or the letter N, but not both at once.

You can see a capital N with bumpy lines along two strokes or you can see a silhouette of a dog in a weird white shape - the letter N or the dog, but not both simultaneously. Of course, since your mind can switch back and forth quite fast; it may appear you are seeing both at once.

The clever Fiat campaign draws its concept philosophy from Rubin's vase (the figure-ground vase), famous two-dimensional forms developed around 1915 by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin. The viewer sees two shapes, but only one can be understood at a given moment. The same phenomenon also occurs in the old woman-young woman image below. This one-at-a-time image perception is shared by the Fiat campaign - you can focus either on the conditions outside the car window or on the small screen in your hand; but not both at the same time.

2006-2011  2012-2013