Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Archives filed under "Design"

Sure Is Quiet

Ray Drainville

Is this blog dead? No, it’s not, but other things have taken priority. For one thing, we bought a house & moved in December—with all the disruption that entails. There has been lots of painting, lots of builders, lots of time spent, and a few injuries to boot.

In the meantime, I’ve been in the lengthy process of redesigning the ardes website (the blog will come shortly after). It’s well past time for this redesign. I’ve made a list of criticisms of the old site.

  • The logo is far too busy. I like the idea behind using a bonsai tree as the company’s emblem—it looks natural but it’s very much the product of human intervention, which reinforces the meaning of the company’s name.
  • The site looks seriously dated. What a surprise! It’s really common that a designer’s site will be the most out-of-date site out of his/her entire portfolio. I’m no exception here.
  • It’s a fixed-width design. I’ve been a strong advocate of responsive design for some time now, and I’ve certainly pursued this goal for several clients. Why not for my own site?
  • It’s far too text-heavy. By definition, this reduces the graphic impact, but I think it’s because at the time of its design, I was influenced by what I saw: I read a lot of blogs. It all makes sense, but the text is overkill for the audience.
  • I’ve come away thinking that the case studies organisation was no longer working. For one thing, the three sections weren’t well-balanced, because we don’t do that much work for the enterprise sector. In addition, some of the sites were created a long time ago—and they look it. Finally, some of the site no longer exist! In these days of perpetual recession, even websites will disappear.

This gave me a series of goals:

  • Create a simplified logo, and perhaps get away from the idea of nature. The problem of using natural imagery with the company’’s name is that there are plenty of people out there who use the actual argument from design to “prove” the existence of God. Since I’m in no way religious, I want to move away from any accidental associations. This also frees me up to think of very new logos. I’ve got one I’m pretty pleased with now (you’ll see it soon.)
  • Modernise the site’s look (a no-brainer of a point here).
  • Pursue a responsive design, so it’ll look good on everything from gigantic screens to an iPhone.
  • Significantly reduce the amount of text & let the images tell stories on their own.
  • Remove the case studies’ subdivisions & prune.

So I think I’m close to putting out the new version of the website—there’s just the final bit of testing in various versions of Internet Explorer to do.

How long has this been going on? I’m embarrassed to say. I started thinking about a redesign about two years ago! But I started in earnest in October. I wish it had been shorter, but frankly I was uninspired for a long time. Add to this the fact that some things I really wanted to maintain for a responsive site—multi-column support, for example—had to be removed because of seriously weird layout problems.

What were those problems? Using elastic imagery & multi-column support on a responsive design would make lines of text jump around seemingly at random. Furthermore, the images would sometimes not honour the multicolumn support. It’s made me conclude that full responsive design is still a way off, which I’d define as a fully elastic site with very few layout breakpoints. Instead, you have to create some breakpoints based upon likely viewport sizes & design to them.

Now that it’s finally coming together, though, I’m genuinely excited.

In Praise of Tumblr

Ray Drainville

You’d have to be living under a rock somewhere (or have a life outside of the Internet) if you haven’t heard about the “micro-blogging” platform Tumblr.

I think people call it a “micro-blogging” because posts on most people’s tumblelogs are pretty small: a picture or two, and a handful of words. But it doesn’t have to be: I could easily replace this blog with Tumblr & there would be little difference. It’s fully capable of handling short essays.

Apart from its ease of use, what sets Tumblr apart, really, is the community. There’s a fascinating, obsessive energy containing some wonderfully weird things, like “Selleck, Waterfall, Sandwich”, a tumblelog that shows picture combinations of those three things; that, and that only. They can make you see something in a radically different light, like the previously-praised Big Caption or “Space Trek”:

One of my favourites was “Three Frames”, which took (you guessed it) three frames of various movies, turned them into looped, animated GIFs and presented them to the viewer. Doubtless due to some misguided DMCA takedown, it was briefly offline, but is back! Again, it made you see something in a different way: how much, or little, a movie scene changes in three frames. The same author created Aloha Friday, from someone’s snapshot collection. An interesting chronicle of youth, it feels (to me) like some parallel world of my own early university years in Florida & as such evokes a curious pang of nostalgia, all the more peculiar because these pictures are not from my life.

I’ve seen them dismissively called “single-serving sites”, but I’m not aware of any rule stating that any given website has to be all things to all people. What I am aware of, however, is that browsing tumblelogs has taken up an increasing amount of my viewing. That’s rewarding.

An Expansive View

Ray Drainville

For a series of promotions for the Berlin Philharmonic, art director Björn Ewers created a fantastic series of images playing upon the phrase “Näher an der Klassik” (Closer to the Classics). Each picture is from the inside of a musical instrument (violins, flutes, etc.):

This idea works on so many levels. These images specifically promote chamber music concerts, which are inherently more intimate (“close”) affairs than pieces from the symphonic repertoire, so this concept just spirals back to itself, constantly reinforcing the message.

I’m not sure if this is macro photography or CGI—frankly I can’t see how you could get a high-quality camera into these instruments without destroying them—but no matter. This is a great idea executed perfectly, altering the views inside these rather small instruments into monumental architecture. I would eagerly place these posters on a wall in my home. I can’t think of higher praise than that.

Recent Work

Ray Drainville

I’ve been quiet here because I’ve been rather busy with rather a lot of graphic design. Longtime readers will know that I love book cover & poster design—really, I can’t get enough of it.

Above are two book titles forthcoming from OUP, Lying, Misleading and What is Said & The Pragmatic Maxim. I’m honoured to have designed the covers. The photo for Lying is from iStockphoto, with some significant alteration.

The cover for Lying was surprisingly difficult. I turned towards Pinocchio rather early on in the process, but found that other covers used the same idea. I switched for a while to very abstract covers: a number of phrases that were deceptive or outright lies, including notorious examples from Clinton & Bush, first as a mosaic of words (too busy) and then as a cloud consisting of these sentences, since the distinctions between lying & leading turn out to become somewhat nebulous upon closer examination. The “cloud” idea was appealing and made the design semi-abstract. However, the word clouds I drew ended up looking like masses of hair, which was kind of disturbing. My wife suggested the cloud could be red, but then it looked like a patch of blood smeared on a white floor. Not exactly what I was looking for! So I returned to Pinocchio, with the notion of altering the image: bending the nose to signify not simply outright lying, but the foggier notion of deception.

At the same time, I’ve been designing posters, often using the same, or similar themes, since the posters are rather intimately related to the books:

Recently, a number of the posters I designed for the University of Sheffield, and even some book covers, were collected & are on display in the foyer of Jessop West. It’s probably the closest I’ll get to an exhibition of my work!

Update: I pulled the trigger on the Peirce cover far too soon. It was initially rejected because of the font (Giza) & because of the diagram, the placement of which actually runs contrary to Peirce’s work on how we develop our ideas. Since we were pulling away from the poster (the original inspiration for the design), this gave me further opportunity to change the look.

I’m pushing for the version on the left, but the client is leaning towards the safer version on the right. Undesign!

Shape Type

Ray Drainville

Hot on the heels of Kern Me is Shape Type—by the same people, incidentally. This type, you test your abilities to design type as well as the masters who made the fonts in the first place:


My mind is thoroughly blown by this. It’s another tour-de-force of HTML5 programming. Like Kern Me, Shape Type is an amazing use of the canvas element. Who knew that you’d be able to replicate Illustrator’s vector-editing environment in a web browser? Not me.