Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Ugly is the New Pretty

11 November, 2007

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?

Planet of the Apes

11 November, 2007

Ray Drainville

Richard Strauss: What hath I wrought?

Gotta love that warbly voice-over.

I’m pretty sure that I, or at least friends of mine, had at least half of these items when I was an impressionable youth—it all seems so familiar.

But you have to wonder why the humans just keep getting caught. Is this fun?

On the Glories of Spam

9 September, 2007

Ray Drainville

It’s hardly a controversial position, but I don’t like spam. I really hate it, actually. Past email addresses eventually got so clogged that I had shut shut them down & create news just to regain sanity in my life. This approach is perhaps best called the “Slash and Burn” method.

But… you can’t deny that spam has come up with some wonderful things. Well, specifically, one: the spurious names that are appended to the “from” header. They consist of a combination of a couple of words taken randomly from the dictionary & a “middle initial”, all intended to bypass your spam filters. These random couplings sometimes beget glorious results:

  • Double O Tedious (Irish, perhaps?)
  • Urinate G. Coordinator (this almost sounds like a job title)
  • Omens H. Absolutism
  • Gunshots I. Senatorial (I’ve received this one many times over the years—perhaps these aren’t as random as I thought)
  • Religiously H. Panacea (interesting combination there)
  • Stultifies H. Putrescence
  • Chuvash B. Residue
  • Powering H. Kahlua (for the adolescent alcoholic)
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”.