Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Archives filed under "design process"

Henry Sene Yee’s Book Design Blog

Ray Drainville

Happy New Year!

Yet another website for book cover design enthusiasts: …by Henry Sene Yee Design showcases his own work and others as well. I find it particularly illuminating that Yee takes us through the process of designing his covers—and includes rejected designs, some of which are absolutely gorgeous.

It’s inspired me to share some of the design process I’ve gone through for logos, posters & book covers. Watch this space as the year unfolds.

Why I Love Safari Tidy

Ray Drainville

Recently I mentioned that I use Safari Tidy—a plugin for Apple’s Safari browser. I thought I’d shed a little light on why I think it’s so great.

For years now individuals—Jeffrey Zeldman most prominent among them—have been evangelising the use of standards-based (X)HTML. There are vague reasons for supporting standards, like getting the warm & fuzzies for doing so; there are abstract reasons, such as preparing work properly to be handed over to a successor; but a very real & immediate reason is that you have a very firm basis upon which to work. It’s all too easy to make mistakes in the semantic properties of HTML, which can yield disastrous rendering results in browsers. And it’s all too easy to not see the problem until late in your design process.

Safari Tidy is unobtrusive & always on: you’ll see that an error has arisen immediately, so you can go fix it. Other implementations of Tidy aren’t so automatic—you have to physically check your markup’s validity, which often means that you don’t check—this is what makes Safari Tidy so fantastic.

I’ll illustrate with a real-world example (one upon which I’m currently working, in fact):

Many out there will be aware of the generating capabilities of Ruby on Rails. A good explanation of this is beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say you can build the general building-blocks of a web application very quickly, such as setting up a new user in a system. Here’s a rudimentary example of a ready-built form (linked to the users controller). It’s to be rendered in XHTML:

  <% form_for(@user) do |f| %>

    <p>
      Login:<br />
      <%= f.text_field :login %>
    </p>

    <p>
      Email:<br />
      <%= f.text_field :email %>
    </p>

    <p>
      Password:<br />
      <%= f.text_field :password %>
    </p>

    <p>
      <%= submit_tag %>
    </p>

  <% end %>

The result of all that <%= f.text_field :foo %> is to create form tags, such as input. Here’s what the above gets with the Login example:

  <p>
    Login:<br />
    <input id="user_login" name="user[login]" size="30" />
  </p>

So far, so good. But what if the user hasn’t filled out a field & you have to display associated errors? Simple in Ruby on Rails. Assuming validation has been set up in your users controller, just add the following bit in front of your form:

  <%= error_messages_for :users %>

With this in place, if your user doesn’t enter a required field, or enters a required field incorrectly, then Rails will automatically inform the user of what was wrong (in the location of the <%= error_messages_for :users %>). Moreover, it’ll wrap the offending field to highlight the user’s attention to it. It will look like this:

  <p>
    Login:<br />
    <div class="fieldWithErrors">
      <input id="user_login" name="user[login]" size="30" />
    </div>
  </p>

And now we have a problem. A div can contain a p, but cannot be contained within it. This is where Safari Tidy comes in really handy. When you test your error message (as above) by viewing it in Safari, Safari Tidy will inform you of an error in your markup. The error it makes is somewhat cryptic:

  <p>
    Login:<br />
    <div class="fieldWithErrors">
      <input id="user_login" name="user[login]" size="30" type="text" value="" />
    </div>
  </p>
  -----
  Line 85  Warning: inserting implicit <p>
  Line 89  Warning: trimming empty  <p>

What’s going on here? Since a p can’t contain a div, Tidy thinks you’ve not closed your p tag before you started your div. In addition, it thinks you haven’t opened your p after you’ve closed your div tag. Certainly, knowing your XHTML helps in this situation, since the error it throws is otherwise cryptic; but Tidy gives the clue where to find the error. On a form with a lots of fields, this is really helpful.

Safari Tidy helped me note there was a problem before I even realised that there was a problem—and there really was, the error screwed up my pretty design horribly.

Update: What a wally—I got so wrapped up in Safari Tidy that I didn’t explain how to fix the error! There’s a simple solution: convert your p tags to divs throughout. I don’t know why Rails screws this up in the first place—Rails seems to have been designed pretty well & this is a glaring oversight. It’s really bothersome to have to fix every automatically-generated form.

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”.

Excellent commentary on the design process

Ray Drainville

Raja Sandhu has written a FAQ regarding the development of logo — or, more accurately, corporate identity — design.

It’s good to see someone else taking a rational approach to design — or, at least, as rational approach as one can take. Many, if not all of Raja’s comments reflect our own experience of corporate identity design. In fact Raja’s comments can be expanded to cover graphic design in general. A good read!

Virtual Reality creation just got a lot less expensive

Ray Drainville

One of ArDes’ specialities is the creation of virtual reality panoramas. But the major problem in producing virtual reality has been the problem of creating, or “stitching” photographs together: while theoretically you could take just two 180° fisheye images & stitch them together, you in fact couldn’t, because a company called Ipix in the US held the patent for stitching together fisheye images — and they didn’t license their patent to any other companies. You could only legally stitch together VR panoramas if you used their own software, which was frankly terrible — the results were awful & they insisted that they owned the rights to your images. Not a good way to do business. Ipix was known as “Ipox” in the vr community for these reasons.

So we all had to limp along with tedious & ridiculous workarounds to produce our panoramas from fisheye lenses — we’d have to take six fisheye images, convert them into wide-angle images (and thereby lose lots of information per image) and stitch them together. This was frustrating (to say the least) because the more photographs you have to take, the more work you’ll have stitching them together — clouds move & change ambient light, and correcting these effects takes up production time. And that costs our clients more.

Well, it looks like Ipix won’t be a problem for any of us any longer — they just filed for bankruptcy. Immediately, Realviz (makers of Stitcher) shipped an update that helps us make VR panoramas directly from — you guessed it — fisheye lenses. This is a boon for us, but even more so it’s a boon for our clients: the barrier-to-entry — the price of production — will now go way down.

Edit: Name changed from “Argument from Design” to “ArDes”