Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Archives filed under "Design"

A Great Start for 24 Ways 2007

Ray Drainville

Since 2005, 24 Ways has been a great collection of web design tips & tricks in an “advent” format (i.e., one article per day in December before Christmas). This year already looks like it’s going to be a great one. Drew McLellan has a great opening article on dealing with transparent PNGs in Internet Explorer 6 & 5.5 (yes, many of us do have to factor in those old browsers in our designs).

This comes at a great time: currently we’re working on a site that uses 24-bit PNGs with alpha transparency, and as Drew says, the common solutions to the issue don’t help you when you want to use that type of PNG as a background image. He also mentions that it’s a big problem to use such PNGs behind a form—because of the way IE6 & earlier deals with the PNGs. IE effectively puts another layer on top of the area you’re looking at—meaning that form inputs are completely inaccessible. This is a problem not simply for forms, but indeed potentially for any design where you’re playing with positioning. For example, we’ve got an organisation’s logo dipping slightly below a masthead, spilling onto the crumbs bar below. Any links that happen to be in that PNG’s area were completely inaccessible, too. Our solution was to set z-index for both the #masthead img & #crumbs. Drew’s solution is better, however—it’s far more set & forget.

Ugly is the New Pretty

Ray Drainville

There’s an interesting article in Design Observer about the fairly recent trend in ugly design—nasty colour combinations, stretched type & a lot of other characteristics considered no-nos of good design.

The development of this style—perhaps we should call it “anti-design”, even though its proponents claim it’s the hardest work they’ve ever done—seems to be a reaction to the prevalence of overly-clean (and potentially overly restrictive) design as covered in the documentary Helvetica.

Michael Bierut makes a good point about negative reactions to the design:

If you’re familiar with art and design, you know the perils of condemning the shock of the new. After all, no one wants to risk being one of the bourgoisie sneering at the unveiling of Les Mademoiselles D’Avignon (sic) or booing at the debut of Le Sacre du Printemps.

I’ve always disliked people who try to paint critics with such a brush—it’s a response calculated just to shut you up, not to provoke any debate. But it’s one thing to be provocative in your work & quite another to be heedless to anything that’s actually attractive.

Time will tell whether this new trend—redolent of the early days of PageMaker & Quark design with its “ransom letter” font choice & squeezed typography—will actually last. I can’t help but wonder why we’re caught in this same spiral of reaction & counter-reaction: restrictive design vs. unfettered, even unschooled, design. We’re stuck learning & un-learning the same lessons: we’re fighting old men’s wars. After all, it’d be nice to create something new, wouldn’t it?

NYT Article on New Highway Font

Ray Drainville

The New York Times has a very interesting article on the development of “Clearview”, the new font being rolled out on the country’s highways (or motorways, if you prefer). The font is designed to combat the effects of phenomenon halation, where the reflective material that’s used to make the signs more legible at night blows out the letters & dazzles drivers. This is particularly an issue for the elderly, an increasingly large segment of the US population, but it also can effect those with common sight defects. The designers, James Meeker & John Montalbano, opened up the counter shapes (the interior shapes of letters) & increased the x-height (size) of lower-case letters while retaining the stroke weight of the letters as they currently are.

An interesting fact from the slideshow (well worth exploring if you’re a font nerd) is that the typeface achieved “approximately 40 percent gain, or 200 feet of added reading distance using a 10-inch heigh letter on the demonstration panel”.

Apologies for Downtime; Some Interesting (and Utterly Random) Links

Ray Drainville

Bloody hell! I pre-posted a few articles in our Typo-based blog & brought the whole blog down. Ian says permissions got munged. Perhaps the pre-dated posts did it, but it’s a bit of a mystery as to why.

I’ve been deep in the middle of fixing CSS bugs on one job & designing another site, so haven’t had much chance to write here. Here are some things which have looked very interesting:

  • Under the hood look at the new Backpack—Interesting-sounding changes afoot for Backpack. Interesting to read about “Hover Observer”, which monitors the user’s mouse movements over a page & appends :hover classes on-the-fly as & when appropriate. A great idea, although I’d be worried about excessive memory usage.
  • Apple’s new .Mac web gallery uses a 408 KB javascript library. Yikes! Apparently it’s based—at least in part—on Sproutcore. And Prototype. And Scriptaculous.
  • “In other words, A = A”—A great Daily Show clip of Bush’s condescending [mis]usage of a stock phrase.

Defence Industry Logos Around the World

Ray Drainville

So we’ve examined terrorist organisation logos from around the world. How about their nemeses, those of defence departments from around the world?

As the author notes, the proposed new logo for the Japanese Ministry of Defence is a bit Web 2.0. But we’re noticing common themes here:

  • Oak leaves (they taste like victory!)
  • Eagles
  • Swords
  • Anchors
  • Creepy associations from the past (Germany)

Now, surely some artist out there can create a tableau of a sword-wielding, oak-leaf-chewing eagle dropping an anchor on a bone-and-gun-laden star. That would be awesome.