Design book review #2: Handmade graphics

handmade graphics

This is another book I picked up, this time while procrastinating at the Cornish library. Written by Anna Wray an illustrator whose work is featured in a many English publications.

She devotes each chapter to a different graphic artist, focusing on their preferred method of illustration or design outside of the computer. It was almost like a craft book but showed the professional application of (some rather homespun) hand techniques such as stamping and collaging.ds_IMG_5493

One section I learned a lot from was embellishing photographs which can turn a humdrum image into a unique graphic. Kenneth Do combines his drawing with digital photography and I think this creates fun, lighthearted, layers with a strong personality.

It’s helpful to think of ways to produce images that are outside illustrator or photoshop and consider methods that bring texture and personality to a design piece. Since these 2.5 quarters of design school, I’m noticing trends in design in the things I see around me: event posters on the street, ads on public transit, mass mail pieces. There’s a lot of text inside boxes, lots of cursive faux-handwritten font mixed with sans-serif, crossed arrows, arrows in general, text or logos within polygons, etc. Makes me wonder how to buck a design trend while still catering to a general public aesthetic.

I think adding unexpected and unique, more handcrafted touches are what can possibly set a design above the rest.

Another awesome benefit of this kind of mixed media approach to design is that it can transform a hodgepodge collection of so-so skills and assets into one amazing creation. So while I’m not a talented draftsman or artist, I have a little bit of arty doodler in me.

Two fuzzy pink sticks

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All purpose! Why would that have the most prominence on the packaging? As opposed to the brand name.

There was a pizza place next to my old apartment, “All-purpose Pizza” and it’s true that you could use their pizza for drywall, carpeting, bedding–anything but eating.

Two mini pink paint rollers is what we have for our design and product inspiration. We decided to pick up on the fact that they look like ground control batons turn them into ground control for your love life! What if your love life was like a busy airport and you needed help keeping the traffic flowing? That’s the idea behind our imaginary product, “plus plus” a service that brings more of what you want to your love life.

“Are all your friends in relationships, married, settled down with kids? Every Friday night, you’re at the bar by yourself, without a wingman to help you find weed out the sleezeballs and track down the winners. PLUS PLUS is the best tool for interacting with people in real life, not online. These love traffic controllers will make sure your runway is always clear….for the right one.”


Our logo is a complete embrace of hetero obtusity. It’s fun to design badly intentionally. It’s actually kind of freeing! Bordering on relaxing. I might need to incorporate that into my brainstorming methods.

Tomoko and I drew up a storyboard that showed a young woman getting hit on at the gym, the bar, etc and hating it. PlusPlus basically zapped the unwanted attention away. And then when she found someone she actually was interested in, PlusPlus helped facilitate the connection.

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Gum for worried people

Gum for worried people is gum for everyone. If someone offered you a piece claiming it would help to calm you or relieve any stress, I think 9 out of 10 people would pop it in their mouths without hesitation. If it works, wow fantastic. If it doesn’t, you have some peppermint chew in your mouth and your breath is fresh. This win-win equation is part of what made this design project so much fun. The project: formulating a new line of gum, under the existing Pur gum brand, with ingredients that could help with stress relief. Create three flavors environmentally conscious packaging.

Pur gum’s website is clean and fun with and straightforward. The main takeaway is that they are aspartame-free, a synthetic sweetener that has documented side effects. Pur as in natural. With a dash of cheeky humor: their tagline is, “Kick aspartame” and their logo has the u with umlaut over it (the two dots placed precisely over the curved up ends of the letter “u”) that conveys to me a decision to be very bold and affected with the European vowel.

I brainstormed some main methods of stress relief or belief systems that aid in calming outlook such as zen meditation and nature and yoga. I found an interesting post be a designer who highlighted three key factors of successful gum packaging design: sophisticated in-use experience, feels good in-hand, and intimate in-use whisper.


Idea #1: CLINICAL. Uses psuedo scientific notation for the ingredients. Possibly has a mandala design for focusing the eyes and calming the mind.

Idea #2: BOTANICAL. Emphasizes the all-natural ingredients with line drawings of herbs and flowers used in the gum.

Idea #3: ZEN GARDENS. Using patterns reminiscent of sand patterns in zen gardens.

qi2 qi3

I imagined the buyer to be someone who prefers alternative medicine, acupuncture, herbal tinctures, enjoys health foods and considers herself at least a little anti-establishment.

I thought a line of stress relief gum should be named after a soothing and very centered philosophy so I debated between prana and qi, both of which are roughly the same concent of life-force, energy, or breath. I played with some letter forms and logos:


I incorporated the leaves and fruits/berries to tie in with the idea or all-natural ingredients that Pur gum abides by. Since prana is so closely associated with yoga and overutilized in that commercial space, I decided to choose the sub-brand name or line name of Qi (pronounced “CHI”).

inmikim_gum1 inmikim_gum2

My teacher didn’t think the four bars of the chevron pattern were necessary and maybe even detracted from the design. I can see what she’s saying and respect her opinion. I think I chose to include it because I feel it contributes to the folk herbal aesthetic. An alternative I could try would be to change the shape or number of the bars. I might also try it a a subtle, very pale textured pattern for the paper, rather than as an accent.

Also, I need to work more on the typography. The spacing on either side of the “+” is too wide. The kerning of the back label is too tight.


Flush left, ragged. Serious harmony in Swiss Style

It’s so nice to have to follow the rules sometimes! Rules rules rules. It’s all about good direction to get you to your destination–in this case, a poster in the International Typographic Style or Swiss Style. Jill’s latest assignment was to take provided text and design a 15×20 poster with an assigned topic and text. I choice the subject of dance which was the most text-heavy because I thought it had the most obvious potential for movement and motion in the letters and spacing.

Some major pillars of Swiss Style:

— Sans serif typography (Akzidenz Grotesk, Helvetica, Univers)— Flush left, ragged right text alignment— Mathematical grids, often on a tilted axis— Bright, flat areas of color— Objective, black and white photography— Extreme geometric reduction of illustrated images—Asymmetrical compositions

When I see Swiss Style design I think of adjectives like strong, serious, clean, disciplined, and harmonious.

I started by working to get a firm understanding of what makes Swiss Style, and had one or two trips along the way. My first draft was interesting but not really SS:


And there was too much text to make this layout feasible or reasonable! On to the next draft:


This design is better because it is easier to read and has better hierarchy and a clear path for the reader. But It feels so blocky and the 1980s become the focal point of the poster because of that long descending line (and the huge amount of text compared to the other decades). I decided to read some more about Swiss Style and aimed for a more asymmetrical composition with more contrast in size between the image and headline text.

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This also has some readability issues that I personally thought was acceptable (!) but I got feedback from my teacher and some classmates about the awkwardness of the unnatural break in the word “through.” I respected that feedback and drafted other versions without the break, but I kept coming back to this draft and it’s ultimately what I submitted as my final piece. For my, it is the strongest overall design of all the DOZENS of versions I tried because it was the most visually striking. It’s Swiss Style in the strong grid layout, left align right ragged, objective photography, and the small break in grid with the vertical text. I wanted to preserve an area of white space which is my favorite part of this poster.

There are still many ways this design could be improved:  incorporating the logo in a less throw-away manner, improving legibility of the text for each decade (also the hanging widows), a softer more pastel color pallette (same colors, but toned down). This was a challenging project because of the amount of text, but also because I admire Swiss Style so much and want to achieve the same clean and harmonious design.


The library is open! Design book review no. 1

To break up the routine of studying in the classroom every day, I started walking to the public library to park myself at a desk there for a change in view and atmosphere. I can’t help myself from browsing the shelves in a library and wandered into the design section. It felt like a treat to pull beautiful design books down off the shelf and flip through them. Usually, any kind of “research” I do has been through google and doesn’t feel the same at all as thumbing through a gorgeous big, heavy book. It was a completely different way to absorb information. You know what it felt like actually?

There’s a jogging route I take from my house up to a nearby middle school and back. It’s exercise. Feels good sure, but don’t kid yourself, it’s not really a pleasure to do. But if I decide to go for a walk at Kubota Garden, that leisurely stroll through acres of beautiful manicured gardens and ponds is such a luxury.

That’s what looking through piles of design books at the library feels like.

Here is one book that has been really informative and inspirational:

Elegantissima: the Design & Typography of Louise Fili

There’s a kind of video tour of the book here which shows an exhibit setup to display the contents of the book. A quirky little view.


Lousie Fili is an Italian-American designer, graduated from SVA, designed over 2,000 books, lots of products, and maintains her own design studio today. The parts that appealed most to me were the sections that showed her logo redesigns. The old logo is displayed on the same page as the “after” logo, Fili’s new design. It’s so interesting to see them next to each other and think about her choices and reasons and how the small changes make a difference while still keeping a common tone and brand. These aren’t radical logo redesigns, they are more like refreshes, and those new iterations are really fascinating. For example, this Bella Cucina logo. The band with “artful food” running behind the woman’s head is genius to me. When I saw it I tucked it away in my head to use on any future project. Such a simple way to add depth and interest. There’s a lot more dimension to the new logo. The wavy ribbon flowing from her neck and the way the leaves slightly cross the round border are quiet touches that make it feel very sophisticated and lively. But the basic shape of the woman and the info hasn’t changed.



This book also has a section showing the same typeface in different projects. I think the below example uses her handmade letterforms in three different scenariops: book, seafood restaurant, Mediterranean restaurant. She modified the letters for each project, but used the same color palette and type.


I loved this book for its thoughtful presentation of her work. Oftentimes, career retrospectives like this are just catalogues, but this book highlighted her work in context and with very useful comparisons. I would 100% recommend this to you! Especially the sweet foreward written by her husband in which he writes about how he liked her work well before ever even meeting her.

Millenials drank ALL (42%) of the wine


Illustration by Janne Ilvonen for the Wall Street Journal

According to WSJ, 20-somethings consumed 42% of all wine in the US last year.

The design assignment for packaging with Robin was to design two bottles of wine for an existing winery that would appeal to a millenial demographic. I received Waterbrook Winery in Walla Walla, and knowing little about wine, it was hard to determine what was special about this winery, but John Freeman the head winemaker gave great interviews in a few local wine publications that helped push me in a couple directions.

Idea #1: video games. John is a big shooter game player. This ended up a dead end since I couldn’t find a way to add guns and wine in a positive way!  Terrible from the get-go.


Idea #2: “tuesday night” wine. John mentions his intentions to design a wine suitable for any night, just a kind of working-horse wine. This is the idea I went with since I thought it was a total concept that provided direction for the copy and the images.


Idea #3: John’s dog. John has a golden retriever who likes to run around the vineyards with him in his truck. A big golden retriever in the flatbed of a truck?! Great Americana imagery. Felt a little stale or old. Anyway, just felt more drawn to #2.

Now that I’m done with the project, I wonder if I tried to do too much. I think the design would’ve been more successful if I had kept it simpler. I wanted to keep the project as “real” as possible so tried to avoid lifting images from the web or other places so I could be sure of rights of use.

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The wine ended up cute, accessible, and looking like it is in the under $20 range. But, it doesn’t feel… Idk, it doesn’t feel aspirational or impressive..! I think that is design school angst. Maybe a separate issue from the design task.

The food images pop fine, but the type treatment gets lost. I might have tried another lettering style and color. Maybe incorporate a band or sash across the circle that could contain the “tuenite” text.




Sweaty forearm shots

We are making a fundraising video to be shown during the Seattle Community Colleges Foundation gala in May at The Westin. Instead of a literal approach to storytelling–interviewing students and showing the many faces of the school–we are leaning on a strong visual metaphor to affect our audience and lead them to reach deep into their pockets to during the fundraising event.

The theme of the event is The Power of Education. We have drafted a simple story arc of a climber reaching the summit with some help along the way, a parallel to the journey that SC students take to graduate. I had a sudden image of a tight shot on a sweaty forearm, glistening with sweat and shaking with effort to hold on.

We’ll incorporate some statistics (great suggestion from Andrew) that relate to the image. Joe hopes to get some more experience on After Effects to achieve this. The sound will be just ambient sounds, environmental sounds of breathing, pebbles falling, shoes on dirt, etc.

It was a great session with the four of us in the group a couple Fridays ago as we started brainstorming and throwing out ideas. The next time we met last Wednesday, we drew up a shot list and fleshed out our ideas some more. Last Friday, Joe and I worked on the storyboard. Joe’s drawing skills are so facile, he sketched the best storyboard I’ve seen–just enough detail to convey the shot and clear enough to show what the heck’s going on in the frame.Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.41.36 PM

This is such a helpful step, a crucial step as a matter of fact. In all the previous video projects, I’ve just kind of tripped over this storyboard stage and always regretted it. Thinking of the frame in a frame by frame way is the ultimate preparation.

We plan to film tomorrow, Monday, at Frink Park and Seward Park. The weather is supposed to be in the high 70s so I think sweaty forearm shots will be easy to get.

Shotgun or scalpel

Is it better to design with a shotgun or a scalpel?

Our final typography project this quarter is to redesign an album cover for any artist you choose. My choice was easy to make since I’ve been listening to one album repeatedly since school started. It’s tough right now for me because I really hate her latest music, so it’s especially meaningful to design the cover of her her first album, Supa Dupa Fly by Missy Elliot, released in 1997.

I’m sorry to say that her recent music is bad, and that the state of mainstream hip hop is dismal too.

Part of my concept for the redesign is that it’s a 20-year anniversary commemorative special edition re-release. This edition would be a particularly meaningful record for any fan to own who grew up in the 90’s and hopefully would help reintroduce her early music to new fans in their teens and twenties now.

supa dupa fly 1997

To brainstorm, I read many interviews she’s given and was struck by a short quote she gave about singing while standing atop of garbage cans in her neighborhood when she was a kid. I found that image to be powerful, personal, and perfect for the album. That idea relied on some illustrative elements which I actually didn’t want to rely on. I thought this would be a good project to be more graphic than I have been, relying on strong shapes and composition rather than storytelling through drawings, scenes.

missy elliot moodboard

That was my first attempt at  moodboard for this project, which then led to this first draft:

supa dupa fly

It looks extra bad because of the lack of color to hide the mess of ideas this is. Jill summed it up perfectly when she said that I was “going at the design problem with a shotgun rather than with the precision of a surgeon.”

So I collected a new moodboard:

mood board

And have a new draft. This is the four-panel layout of the outside and inside:

supa dupa fly redesign

I think this is better, still needs work with the text layout. I need to think about the front cover on its own and if it works well. I’m not sure if it’s interesting enough right now. I want it to feel regal and lux and convey the exalted status I think her music has had in 90s hip hop when it was just turning mainstream (pop hop). That’s why I chose the gold and red, to impart a feeling of royalty or queenliness. The fly is a strong graphic element that I found great to play with. Flies are gross ( they poop like every 5 seconds through their feet or something like that) but also undeniably beautiful with their iridescent blue-green backs and hairy legs. I drew smaller flies with a Wacom tablet which was the second time I’ve used one. So handy, allowed me to draw flies and create outlines and layers that I’m not sure I would have thought to do otherwise.

What football taught me about design school

I’ve learned some survival skills to live happily with a huge football fan. Mainly, learn to like it too. I don’t call myself a fan, but I have a much deeper appreciation for football now. I think one of the greatest aspects of the game is the stories behind many of the players. ESPN has a cool documentary series called 30 for 30 that focuses on the human struggles of elite athletes that everyone can relate to.

I digress. Another little habit I’ve picked up is listening to sports radio. OMG I know! It’s crazy. But there’s just one local show on 710AM that I like. They talk about a lot of social issues that are spotlighted in current sports, like the role racism played in many people’s reactions to Cam Newton’s style on the field and his comments after the Super Bowl. Recently, they had a short segment on athletes who had suffered gigantic failures at some point in their careers.

The point I want to make is that, in the world of sports, the most legendary athletes have each had an epic failure in their career. Michael Jordan, John Elway, Muhammad Ali, LeBron James. Their reaction to that failure defined their career and subsequently, their legacy. I like to remember this when I feel I’ve experienced a misstep, a failure, or a botched project at school.

I learn a lot from a failed attempt. So I like to remind myself of this occasionally when things aren’t going well. And even when they are, actually.

What’s the worst you can do? Do that

I was looking for new brainstorming exercises to gather ideas for a recent project and found this idea online: Consider the worst possible solution to your problem. What is the most terrible decision or design direction you could make? Then mine that idea for anything valuable.

This is an awesome exercise.

In my case, I was searching for an idea for a packaging design for a box of fruit popsicles targeted at kids. I thought the worst design direction would be to make a disgusting, gross, bloody, scary design that would make it unappetizing. I put a mood board together of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards and fruit zombies with exploding brains. Gross. It was great. Helped me move in a direction that was weird and felt fresh. I was able to go for a cute illustration that had a slight (very slight) edge.

mood board

The popsicle flavor is strawberries and cream. I sketched some zombie milk cows that were really too scary. Eventually, landed on a milk cow sitting in a strawberry patch, chomping away on the fruit and plants. The strawberries are alive with legs and arms. Some of them are trying to stop the cow from eating his friends. Overall, cute and playful. It’s not very clear that the cow is killing the strawberries by eating them. But it you look closely, the horror is there. A little bit.