Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Monthly archives for "January 2009"

OS X Developer Tip: Slim Time Machine Backups

Ray Drainville

If you’re using Mac OS X and you’re a developer and you’re too busy working to think about backing up your work, then Time Machine is fantastic & a lifesaver. Time Machine will automatically back up your work on an hourly basis. Coupled with a Time Capsule—which provides both the storage for those backups and your wireless connection—backing up is seamless, which is as it should be: if it isn’t seamless, you’re not going to back up nearly as often as you should.

However, Time Machine is not without its faults. I found it frustrating to set up initially, as I was setting up individual accounts (with passwords) & the setup for this is not clearly laid out. Worse, however, is that you can’t set up default rules—like ignore any directory named logs (those developing in Rails will know the files in logs can get huge), although you can set directories (or files) to be ignored manually.

Worst is the lack of any idea of what Time Machine is backing up. When you’re a developer, this can be very frustrating, as periodically you’ll find that you’re suddenly backing up gigabytes of data without knowing why. This is bad: when Time Machine runs out of space, it removes the oldest backups, so you can’t go “back in time” as far as you may need to. For instance, my last backup is 4 October when it should be something back in June, when I first bought the Time Capsule. Something was eating up space.

You could adopt a Zen attitude to this: let it do its thing, accept this state of affairs & doubtless you’ll be happier—until your Time Capsule is filled, that is. Or, you could be obsessive-compulsive & make yourself miserable trying to figure out wtf is going on. TimeDog helps you see something of what’s been backed up, but I found it unhelpful as it wasn’t letting me know about the latest backups—in my case at least, it only appears to give you information about the initial backup. Well, that’s not helpful.

Last night, however, the right chain of events occurred that provided the solution—for web developers, at least. I was performing a MySQL sync for one of my clients—in this instance, I also sync the database locally so I can check my work against the client’s actual data. Time Machine started up just after I started syncing locally. At first it was backing up about 2.5MB. Suddenly, however, it was backing up over 2GB worth of files. Strange, I thought—I had excluded the db folder on the Rails project, so the synced YML files shouldn’t be backing up.

And then it hit me: Time Machine was backing up the actual updated MySQL databases. Obvious, really, when you think about it. For Mac developers, your MySQL databases will be in one of two places:

  • If you’re using the default OS X setup, /var/db/mysql;
  • If you’re using MacPorts, /opt/local/var/db/mysql.

All you have to do to remove these from backups is to go to Time Machine preferences, click “Options…” & exclude the above directories.

You may want to prune more selectively, however: for me, the db sync only really affects one particular client. You can go into the mysql directory & merely prune out the database that’s filling up your Time Machine. Please note that this database won’t be backed up, however—you may want to back it up manually at specific intervals.

Constructivism Poster

Ray Drainville


Yonatan Shemmer of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Philosophy contracted us to design a poster for his new AHRC-funded project, “Constructivism in Practical Philosophy”. Because it had to compete with other posters on limited bulletin board space, the design could only be the size of an A4 sheet.

Students of art history won’t be surprised how swiftly we turned to Russian Constructivism for the design. As an art movement, Russian Constructivism was very bold—stark, even, at times. This is ideal for poster design! Particularly when you’re competing against lots of other things clamouring for your interest.

We used a stripe of bold red to differentiate between the activities of the project & its star participants, with smaller stripes to highlight two important items, the link to their blog & information about the conference that’ll be held in in August. We also added a very pale, graded yellow wash over the background—5% yellow up at the top right to white at the bottom. The result is subtle, but when it’s up against other white posters, unmistakable.

More information about the Project can be found on their blog.

Logo Design: WindowKing

Ray Drainville

Earlier this week, I promised that I’d provide some examples of our graphic development process. This is the first in the series.

Simply put, I love logo design. Even though it’s simply the development of corporate identity—and is therefore about as commercially-oriented as anything can be—there’s something actually exciting about defining someone so precisely in a graphical medium. In logo design, your aim is to get to the essence of an organisation—to idenfity not only what it is that they do, but communicate how they do it. They may sell widgets—but are they friendly? Or are they formal? Do they do or sell one thing, or many things? In your design, how specific can you—or should you—be about their work?

The answers to these questions come through a lot of conversation with your client—you’ll pick up on a lot of how they present themselves to the outside world by how they interact with you; but you’ll also need to speak with them about how they want to consciously present themselves. And in any discussion, note that the client may not be certain about how they want to present themselves. So if you’re presenting multiple designs to them, you often want to highlight different aspects to refine how they see themselves.

When we present work to our clients, we do it online, primarily to avoid scheduling conflicts, but also so that the client can think about what we’ve done in their own time. Pursuing design work in a meeting creates groupthink, which is something you want to avoid: no one is satisfied with work designed by a committee.

But as a designer, your job doesn’t end there. Few people are equipped with the vocabulary to discuss the arts. Your clients may completely bypass elements of your design that are blindingly obvious to you. So you have to walk them through your designs.

It’s also a good idea to present “Pros” & “Cons” for your designs—and to be as honest as you can about them. Why would you need, or even want, to do this? Because every design is a compromise between competing requirements. When you’re developing your work, you might think “This’ll look great on a website, but like ass on a printed page” & you’ve got to communicate this to people who, again, don’t necessarily see it. Why can’t they? Because you’ve got more experience of the print & online worlds: they don’t. They usually just type stuff into a Word document. So, ultimately, you’ve got to guide your clients, as honestly as possible, through the implications—both physical & psychological—of any design that you create.

Case Study: WindowKing

As a way of illustrating the above points, I’ve picked some logo design out of the deep archives. This is the work for a company called WindowKing, the first job we created for a favourite client that’s still with us. Back in 2001, this client wanted to create an e-commerce website to sell windows exclusively, through a new name: WindowKing. The logo would be used primarily on the web, but probably on printed invoices as well. The windows were primarily modern designs in PVC & wood, but they had a line in more expensive, sash-based windows as well, which they wanted to eventually also sell online. At the time the client’s company was fairly small, but they were very forward-thinking: they remain one of our most sophisticated & clued-up clients to this day.

I won’t go through the development of the site, as that’s beyond the scope of this post, but also because, visually speaking, everything stems from the logo design. When you’re creating a completely new entity for a client, you’ve got a clean slate to work on. Colours, fonts & stylistic approach all cascade from the logo to any other material, be it letterhead or website.

We very soon hit upon using a little crown in the logo. In addition, the company was informal in their approach, so we wanted to reflect that. But since they also wanted to sell more expensive, classic windows, we needed to create some designs that reflected this future direction. Also, if you focus too closely on cute imagery & fonts, the result can be cheap & cheeerful—which hardly reflected the client’s products.

NB: Keep in mind that these logos were designed in 2001. The colours & fonts employed are very much of a piece with the graphic design you found on the web at the time. We don’t work in a vacuum. Also, I’ll present what I wrote to the client at the time & add commentary to that afterwards. Finally, we hadn’t yet refined our design presentation, so “Pros” & “Cons” don’t make any appearance here.

edwardian_futura_boldThe first design conveys a combination of modernity (the “Window King” text) with traditionalism (the “WK” in the box at left).

Fonts: Aristocrat & Futura Bitstream

Wow, I have no idea what the hell I was thinking of. It just doesn’t work at all. Combining modernity with traditionalism is a tough thing to pull off at any time, but those colours & those fonts? I look back at this & suspect that this was the “ringer”—the design you put in just to round out a presentation, but don’t intend for the client to pick. Beware. I’m now older and wiser & I can state that all too often, the client will pick the fucking ringer. And you’ll have to live with it. So avoid doing this.

edwardian_scriptThis second design also plays with traditionalism with the type, but the gradated background suggests looking out a window at the sky.
Font: Edwardian Script

A fairly cute design, but this would’ve been expensive to print: you’re talking four colour plates. I also think the “looking out the window” idea doesn’t work at all, it just looks like a blue sky with one part chopped off for no reason except for a dodgy attempt at “dynamism”. Despite all these nasty comments, however, I think it would’ve worked well on a website, but ultimately it doesn’t convey anything of the informal atmosphere of the client’s business.


This third design is professional & modern, yet somewhat playful in the use of the crown. This logo would be striking used for either a website or printed material such as letterheads.

Font: Futura Bitstream (Light & Bold)

Now we’re talking! I look back & still think this is the strongest logo of the set. It’s striking, cheap to print (one colour!), nicely balanced & amusing without being over the top. It still betrays my love affair with Futura: the font that wanted to be Helvetica, but couldn’t. The colour dates it to the early 2000s, but otherwise this is still a logo I’d be happy to have in my portfolio.

engravers_gothicThis fourth design is straight & classic, eschewing any gimmicks. It’s a little more run-of-the-mill than many of the other desgns, but such designs convey stability over differentiation.

Font: ITC Stone

Hmm, my notes say “Engraver’s Gothic”, which is the correct font. In any event, when I wrote “it’s a little more run-of-the-mill”, I meant it. You have to present clients with a “safe” choice: some people don’t want to stand out from the crowd, sometimes because they’re a really small company that wants to project the idea that they’re big & established (and boring), sometimes simply because they’re timid. You can interview a company all you want & this is the kind of thing that doesn’t come out of any discussions. And whilst it may seem timid on our part to offer a boring design, it’s important to remember that shouldn’t try to force a design upon your client—what might seem great & bold to you may just look crazy to them.

bodoni_compressedThe fifth design suggests lettering painted upon a window. A caveat on this logo, however: it would not make a good logo for any printed material.

Font: Bodoni Bold Compressed

No, it wouldn’t make for a good printed logo; I look back upon this & cringe a bit. I can instantly see what I was getting at: the font & the “window effect” looks like something out of film noir. WindowKing, private eye, at your service, ma’am. This is far too gimmicky.

laserThe sixth design again emphasises the “royal” aspect of the site’s title, and the colours suggest quality.

Font: Laser

I still think this logo works pretty well, but it’s too generic: the company could’ve been “Bedding King” & it would’ve been equally appropriate. I do remember being struck by the wonderful, repeated diagonals of Laser—it makes a great pattern & really conveys dynamism, which is why I chose it for this company.

tf_queen_didoThe seventh design is bright & cheerful, while still suggesting quality. The blue background suggests that the crown has been set on a window ledge.

Font: TreacyFaces QueenDido ExtraBold

The purple is supposed to convey royalty, but it’s the wrong shade. No matter: that can be repaired. What can’t be repaired is the feeling that this looks like the logo for an airline company. I’ve never been able to get the font into any other design successfully, which is a shame: the contrast between thick & thin is really good.

industryThe eighth design, like #4, is based solely upon the typeface. The colours & choice of typeface however, suggest a more technically-oriented site.

Font: Industry Sans

This was an attempt to get a then-favoured font into a design: such love affairs are usually brief & I can’t fathom what I saw in it, as the lowercase letters aren’t in proportion with the uppercase. I was right, the logo looks like something technically-oriented, but that’s because of the colour & not the font: it looks like a line from a terminal window. A technically-oriented design emphasised the client’s eagerness to put their business online & represented at the time that whole “Bright Future” meme. They didn’t pick this one & I’m glad for it.

thai_tradeThe ninth design is a less formal re-working of [the design that looks like an airline logo]. It would be more successful on a web site than on printed material.

Font: ThaiTrade

The reason why it’d be less successful in printed material is because it would cost rather a lot to print. There’s something interesting about the serif strokes that extend from the bottom of the font’s glyphs, but in larger sizes this can become distracting. Of all the designs, this one most successfully mixes both the “window” & “king” aspects of the company’s name.

The green employed in the design is very much a relic of the early 2000s, however: painfully bright, it was supposed to convey freshness.

mona_lisaThe tenth design relies upon the typeface to denote quality.

Font: Mona Lisa

I think this pairs well with the first design: in other words, it’s a non-starter. By “quality” I may have meant “longevity”, as the font harks back to the 1920s & 1930s. The attempt to slice the design in half doesn’t work because the uppercase is so wildly taller than the lowercase: the “K”hangs, awkwardly, in an arbitrarily divided space.

secretarial_poolThe eleventh, and final, design is the most playful of all; yet the choice of typeface also conveys a more personal touch which might go over well with consumers.

Font: Secretarial Pool

I still think there’s something appealing about this design, but it’s risky: whilst it might make the company appear more approachable to consumers, it conversely might make them not take you seriously. The font’s very much of its time: in the late 1990s & early 2000s, there were several designs that harked back to 1950s advertising.

Lessons Learned

So which did the client pick? Off the bat, they picked the “Thai Trade” design: no tweaking requested. In retrospect, it’s obvious why: as I mentioned, it graphically accorded equal weight to both “window” & “king”.

In terms of what we learned from this exercise, it was primarily: don’t present too many designs. First of all, it might confuse the client: with so many avenues they could choose, how do they decide where to go? Second, as I’ve tried to convey in my comments above, there are a lot of non-starters.

In addition, make the advantages & disadvantages of each design very clear to the client: hence the use of “Pros” & “Cons” in our discussions these days. We go even farther than this these days: each design is presented with a title that differentiates it from the others.

I still mourn that third design, though.


Ray Drainville

Over the Christmas holiday, we had some fairly unusual weather in Sheffield. After a dewy, foggy night, the temperature dipped below freezing—and the area was covered in hoarfrost. It was magical & it was appropriate that we were listening to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.

Whilst my son fell asleep in the car, we went for a drive around the countryside—Loxley (of Robin Hood fame), Ughill & Dungworth (great names, those) and finally Strines (home to a 12th-century pub). Here are some photos I took.