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Don’t scream; eat fruit

Categories: Inspiration, Nice stuff, Useful/interesting

It's mid-1930s in the USA; the Great Depression has taken a huge toll over the last few years, leaving 25% of people out of work. What's a government to do?

The Works Progress Administration (later the Works Projects Administration) was established in 1935 to give unemployed people paid work in the public sector. The WPA's initial budget allocation was $4.9bn and over its lifetime it spent $13.4bn on bridges, public buildings – and various types of public art.

One of the most prolific areas of output resulted from the Federal Art Project which, along with paintings, murals and sculptures, turned out a huge number of public service announcement-style posters throughout its eight year history.

More than 900 of these posters are available to browse on the Library of Congress website.

The subject matter of the posters varies massively – almost laughably so; from promoting pet shows to highlighting the dangers of syphilis, that pesky 'menace to industry'.

I especially like the pre-war 'places' posters, which are not only beautiful but clearly designed to both foster a sense of pride during the low morale of an economic slump, and encourage folks to holiday closer to home. (Sound familiar?)

The style of these posters is clearly appealing and remains an influence to this day – just look at the work of Dorothy for a prime example.

Other recreational activities such as visits to the zoo, exhibitions, expos and concerts also got the artistic treatment; along with career and personal healthcare advice. I told you it was varied.

Taking care of books seemed to be a major concern if the number of reading-related posters is anything to go by.

I don't remember modern history lessons mentioning our cousins across the pond being particularly careless with books, so I guess this must have been related to the dwindling of resources and the need to take care of things, first during the depression, then throughout the war. It's similar in tone to the UK's Make do and mend mantra.

It's fascinating to browse through the posters in chronological order and see the increasing emphasis on wartime messaging; and the subsequent rapid change in these from friendly prompts to preserve resources, to much harsher, more blunt directives. Even including strongly worded appeals to lend equipment.

The WPA was liquidated in June 1943 as a result of low unemployment due to World War II.

Among those who'd been part of the Federal Art Project: Arthur Getz (who subsequently had a half-century career as cover illustrator for The New Yorker magazine), and artists Mark Rothko, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock.

Plug it in

Categories: Learning things, Our work, Useful/interesting

We're always interested in making things better through design, and as technology develops we're increasingly able to improve functional – as well as visual – design 'under the hood' of the websites we build.

A great user experience for admins as well as website visitors? In the web parlance of old; EPIC WIN!!11!!.

Many of these improvements are made possible by judicious use of plugins.

What's that now?

Avoiding too much techy jargon, a plugin is a bit of code that gets added (plugged-in) to an existing software application to help it do more.

Plugins come in all shapes and sizes – some tweak an existing feature to make it work in a slightly different way; others are incredibly involved and drastically extend the capabilities of an application.

As an example of the latter; an off-the-shelf content management system (CMS) won't necessarily come with an integrated shop, so if a website needs to sell something, that functionality needs to be added – in the form of a plugin. (It's either that or build a shop from scratch, which will have a fairly drastic impact on cost and timescales.)

In essence, plugins add specific features to an existing application.

Why we use plugins

Our favoured CMS, Craft – a beautiful, simple, lightweight system – has a good deal of built-in functionality, but sometimes we need it to do more or do something a little differently.

So, we tailor Craft to each project by adding certain plugins – giving the system the precise features to meet a project's needs without it getting weighed-down with superfluous functionality.

I guess the mantra's "Start simple and add only what's needed."

We sometime use plugins made by third parties but when there's nothing out there that does the specific thing we need, that's not a problem; that's when we build it ourselves.

Plugins we've made

Pimp My Matrix
Keeps a complex and long list of design functions neat and easy-to-use.

Button Box
A set of field types for colours, text size, star-ratings, customisable buttons …



Table Maker
Our most recent release is Table Maker which allows website administrators to define their own table columns; something Craft's in-built table function doesn't (yet) do.

This plugin was developed so one of our clients can easily and flexibly create tables of wildly differing datasets, without needing umpteen table templates to choose from – pretty fundamental for a governmental finance organisation.

TL;DR
We build Craft plugins which are freely available for other developers to use – plugins.supercooldesign.co.uk

This post was co-authored by Josh.

A fine vintage?

Categories: Silly, Useful/interesting

Official Pantone image of Color of the Year 2015 – Marsala

Towards the end of each year, Pantone announce their Color of the Year, and for 2015 this honour has been bestowed upon Pantone 18-1438 – named Marsala for descriptive and, potentially, ease-of-copywriting purposes.

The Pantone website describes the colour with words like robust, earthy, full-bodied, rich, elegant – borrowing many an adjective from a sommelier's handbook.

I don't know if it's just me but Marsala seems very 1970's. See what I mean?

Seventies-tastic images of clothing, bike, radio, cars – all 'marsala' coloured

It brings back childhood memories not because I used to drink marsala as a child (I didn't) but because I'd automatically call this colour 'maroon' – a word which as a 4-year old I simply could not pronounce. "Ra-moon." "Raaa-moooon!" Nope.

It's possibly a bit of a weird one for a 4-year old but I had a maroon coat that I loved showing-off, and my parents – sticklers for colour correctness – weren't about to let me call it 'reddish-brown'. (Mum worked in the Dulux paint lab before having me, so knew all the colours.)

Other than its retroness, another immediate reaction I had to this colour is that it's very much in the make-up department; show me a cosmetics counter without this exact shade of blusher, lipstick and nail polish.

But I understand the name Blusher wouldn't really cut it so, for what's essentially a wine-like colour, Marsala is as good a name as any. Especially as a similarly appropriate word is already widely associated with something else …

Ron Burgundy

Give me a minute …

Categories: Silly, Useful/interesting

One Minute Briefs logo

For the past few weeks I've been taking part in a daily Twitter-based thing called One Minute Briefs (OMB).

The idea is simple: every weekday morning @OneMinuteBriefs tweets a 'thing' to advertise, and folks're invited to spend 60 seconds (give or take) coming up with a way of promoting that 'thing'. (We're not talking slick and polished designs here; it's all about the idea.) At the end of the day, all entries are compiled and the winner or winners are decided using a mix of votes and the organisers' favourite/s.

One day you could be tasked with advertising restraining orders, the next it'll be the World Cup, and another day cold sore treatment; it's a mixed bag and no mistake.

Explained more succinctly using their tagline, One Rule. One Minute. Create An Ad – One Minute Briefs is the brainchild of Nick Entwistle and James Clancy, a creative team working at McCann Manchester. I have tonnes of respect for these guys running a daily competition alongside their day job; thinking of a new topic, retweeting all the entries, compiling them into a blog post and then picking a winner every single day must be pretty time-consuming. Hats-off to them.

The concept reminds me of the one-day briefs we used to be given at university. They were always the most fun, frustrating and productive projects – when every second counts, it's an excellent way to get your brain thinking quickly and laterally.

It's pretty interesting to see how other people tackle the same problem too; and there's a really nice sense of community about the whole thing. People are always ready with a compliment for the best solutions; the OMBLEs* are a good bunch.

I tend to use OMB as a little bit of 'punctuation' between projects at work. It acts as a nice, neat break to separate tasks but keeps my brain working in the right way for solving design problems. Plus it's really good fun! Perfect. Mostly a win is purely for the glory but every now and then there are prizes too. (I've won a ticket to a fancy awards shindig, and my design printed on a t-shirt; get me!)

If you're a designer, advertiser, copywriter, or just like coming up with quick-fire ideas, OMB is a fine way to spend a minute (or so) of your day.

*Anyone and everyone who takes part in a One Minute Brief is an OMBLE.

Some of my OMB entries so far …

A selection of my entries for One Minute Briefs