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Super badass hovercraft design

Categories: Silly, Useful/interesting


Illustration: Airfix model by Roy Cross

The Supercool website is number one on Google! Ummm, number one for the search term "super badass hovercraft design". (Thanks to Analytics for informing us that someone found our site via this particularly peculiar phrase.)

It goes to show that with search engines, you never can tell …

It also compels me to wonder (yet again) at the fact that someone out there thinks a search engine associates words with their meanings, and can even make judgments about what is and isn't 'badass'. Let alone 'super badass'.

My thoughts regarding search engine optimisation are that if you write clear, relevant content – and write it often – it gives you the best chance of people finding your website and finding it useful. Trying to shoe-horn too many keywords into content, unless done with skill and panache, makes for very strange reading, looks a bit daft and potentially returns irrelevant search results.

Speaking of which …

By writing this post chock full of the keywords in the title, I'm helping to perpetuate the search engine myth that this website may be useful for someone on the look-out for "super badass hovercraft design" and this makes me feel bad.

So – I'm sorry if you've reached this brief brain-dump on SEO weirdness whilst looking to find out more about the most spectacular and flamboyant of air-cushioned vehicles.

If this is the case, I'd like to make it up to you: wonder no more by having a read of this Wired article. Now that really is super badass hovercraft design.

Out of office

Categories: Events, Learning things, Useful/interesting

It's not often I take time out of the studio to do some proper thinking and learning but last week was different. Last week was Type Writing: a one-day symposium organised and curated by Dr Caroline Archer of The Typographic Hub; a Birmingham City University research centre which works to promote the history, theory and practice of typographic design. An event about typography being held on my doorstep? How could I resist?

 

A total of thirteen speakers from the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, USA and New Zealand explored "the link between typographer and the writer of words", with each person interpreting this deceptively tricky brief in a very different way. This made for a wildly diverse range of topics, presentation styles and trains of thought.

Juliette Kristensen’s take on the subject was immediately intriguing. Entitled “Talking Boards, Writing Machines: Ouija boards, index typewriters and the ventriloquism of agency in the fin-de-siecle”, we were lured back to the late nineteenth century to explore the emergence of the index typewriter. Beautifully complex machines, index typewriters operate by using one hand to select a letter with a pointer while the other hand is used to push a lever, pressing type to the page.

This protracted process was carried out by machinists who acted as intermediaries between the writer and the manifestation of their words. These women (more often than not they were women) were known as amanuenses (meaning servant of the hands), a term also used to refer to spirit mediums who operated Ouija boards; a popular parlour game of the time.

Henrik Birkvig from the School of Media and Journalism in Denmark reveals an obsession with typograms.

In contrast, Henrik Birkvig (above) focused more literally on typography itself, telling us of his search to find the correct name for a design in which one or more letters of a word are replaced with a picture, in an attempt to enhance the word's meaning. Settling on the definition 'typogram' we were drawn into an obsessive yet witty examination of Birkvig's 192-strong typogram collection, including an analysis of which letters are most often modified (the letter 'O' came out at no. 1) and a tally of good vs. bad typogram design – although a picture speaks a thousand words, it has to be the right picture in order for the design to be effective.

And effective design is clearly important to Gregg Bernstein, who's been paying close attention to the things most of us ignore. He's taken it upon himself to redesign the clickwrap End User License Agreement (EULA) used by iTunes, and discussed how use of clear, considered design can turn overwhelming strings of legalese into elegant, useful and understandable pieces of information design. Gregg further highlighted the importance of information design, showing Deborah Adler's award-winning 2005 redesign of Target's medicine bottles (simple labels, now on flat rather than rounded bottles – much easier to read) and the 'hanging chads' fiasco of the US presidential election in 2000.

An accompanying Type Writing exhibition meant that even breaks between lectures were brimming with typographic treats.

Detail of Virginia Woolf Triptych by Nicky McNaney and Tracy Allanson-Smith (Part of the Type Writing exhibition).

So what did I get out of the day?

I learnt loads (including the words 'typogram' and 'clickwrap'), was surprised by the many synchronicities between what was being talked about and my own work, and have subsequently decided that as soon as I can, I need to visit the Amsterdam University Library to get a closer, first-hand glimpse of their vast and impressive-looking typographic collection. (Original Jan Tschichold drawings, anyone? Yes please!)

An original Jan Tschichold sketch of his first published typeface Transito (c.1929) – part of Amsterdam University Library's typographic collection.

As a designer I need to create and produce work for clients but until last week, I'd forgotten the value of simply the taking time to learn new things; unexpected things, unrelated to specific projects. I'd been missing out on the joy of listening to people enthuse about subjects close to their hearts, and I'd lost that sense of freedom you get from simply doing something out of the ordinary.

The biggest impact that Type Writing had on me was perhaps less to do with typography and more about geography. It reminded me that I should get out more; put some extra "out of office" into my working life.

One of the Sentimental Journey series; a collaboration between New Zealand artist and illustrator Sarah Maxey, poet Kate Camp and typographer Kris Sowersby.

I'd like to thank each and every one of the speakers for reminding this designer what 'inspiration' means.

Steven McCarthy (University of Minnesota); Juliette Kristensen (University of Kingston); John Neilson (Letter-carver); Mathieu Lommen (University of Amsterdam);
Kathryn Moore (Landscape architect and writer) and Alex Lazarou (Designer); Henrik Birkvig (School of Media and Journalism, Denmark); Jessica Glaser (University of Wolverhampton); Ben Waddington (Local historian); Sarah Maxey (Artist and illustrator); Gregg Bernstein (Georgia State University); Rachel Marsden (Artist); Borja Goyarrola (Will Alsop RMJM) and Type Writing organiser, Dr Caroline Archer.

Keep an eye on www.typographichub.org where all the Type Writing presentations will be uploaded (in the Articles section, I think) over the coming weeks.

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A professionally tweaked and condensed version of this article appears on the website of Eye, the international journal of graphic design.

Typography and the written word

Categories: Events, Learning things, Useful/interesting

It's just under two weeks until an event which promises to combine two of my favourite things; typography and writing. (Make that three favourite things if you count the fact the event title is a pun. Ahhh, I do like a good pun. But I digress.)

On Wednesday 16th March, Type Writing: A One Day Symposium will "explore the link between the typographer and the writer of words, be their texts literary, commercial, instructional or inspirational; whether they have been produced by a professional writer, graphic auteur or the casual passer-by who has simply given form to his thoughts."

Speakers from the UK, Netherlands, Denmark, USA and New Zealand will cover all manner of curious-sounding topics including 'carving poetry', 'the word as pictures' and 'ouija boards, index typewriters and the ventriloquism of agency in the fin-de-siècle'.

Sounds type-tastic – and highly intriguing. Further details and a booking form can be found over on the Typographic Hub website.
 

Pretty, tickled, shocking

Categories: Inspiration, Useful/interesting

This year, it's all about pink.

Amongst the various Valentine pinks which are no doubt bombarding your eyes at the moment, you may have spotted a very specific shade; Pantone's Colour of 2011, Honeysuckle or PANTONE 18-2120 to give it its technical moniker.

From browsing the interwebs when it was announced last year, there doesn't seem to be all that much love for Honeysuckle – but maybe its dusky hue will grow on folks over the course of the year. The colour pink supposedly stimulates energy, encouraging action and confidence, so perhaps we shouldn't knock it until we've tried it.

What do you reckon then; Pink Panther, Pink Martini and Thomas Pink – all big in 2011?

Hmmm, I'm not sure but if you do happen to be a fan of pink and feel like showing some love this St Valentine's Day, there's always the option to shop pink.

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If you're interested in colour trends, Pantone've put together a complete Honeysuckle palette (I used it to make that hearty image, up yonder) which can be downloaded as an Adobe Swatch Exchange file.