Thursday, 29 December 2011


Designing my own birthday list, showing names, dates and whether to buy a present and whether to send cards, texts and emails , initially seemed fairly straightforward. However, the brief had reminded me that the final design needed to look good as it would be displayed at all times.

Initially I sketched a few traditional-style lists but these were all pretty unremarkable. I decided to think about the idea of birthdays. The image of a birthday cake kept recurring. I set myself the challenge of a list in the shape of a cake and came up with the initial idea below:

Realising my idea was much more difficult. As with the previous exercise I really struggled with getting a group of colours that worked well together. After some experimentation I settled on three colours representing three different types of birthday cake - chocolate, sponge and carrot.

I had already decided on the months around the edge of the cake on a silver tray and decided to add dates as part of the cake slice. Initially I was going to add a key with the names against the dates but this looked messy - and I also wanted the diagram to contain as much of the information as possible. I therefore decided to add a further ring of type with the names of the people whose birthdays were repesented. I went with red type to keep the connection with the numbers on the slices. 

I was almost finished but realised that the key at the bottom of the page was too big and seemed to overwhelm the chart - which should be the main element of the poster. After some resizing I ended up with the poster below:

I think that the poster manages to communicate all of the relevant information in an attractive and original way. If I was marketing this poster I think I would have a rotating chart which the user could turn as the months pass.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tell Me What You See

This exercise was about describing my immediate surroundings using information graphics. I decided to go with an aerial view of my desk and thought that a colour-cooordinated approach would allow me to break down the information effectively, with a key and title to show what the diagram represents.

Given how little is actually said in the image, I'm surprised how much I was able to communicate through a fairly simple layout. I did toy with the idea of annotating each item and providing a second key with more detailed information. However, my aim was to break down the items of my desk into types and categorise and I think I've achieved this with the information provided.

The most difficult aspect of the exercise was actually getting 5/6 colours to work together. I initially went with fairly bold colours ad then remembered something from an earlier module - that putting more subtle colours next to each other works better. I toned down the colours and am pleased with the balance of colours i finally achieved.   

Monday, 19 December 2011

Happiness Is a Warm Gun

This exercise asked me to design a book I was familiar with - one using illustration/photograph and the other using only type. I tried to ensure that the designs communicated tot he reader what the experience of reading the book would be. Catch-22 is a literary book about a group of airmen stationed on an Italian island in the second world war. It is also about the madness of war - and the madness of all large institutions and bureaucracies.

Being limited to type only with my first design gave me the idea of focusing on the part of the book that gives the novel its title. As it's a literary classic I thought it would be a good idea to have a parchment-like background for the type to go on. I chose a readable, classic-looking typeface and typed the relevant passage onto the background. It looked a bit dull so I decided to bring out the title by colouring it red and then provided some contrast with the black by colouring the essence of Catch-22 white. Once I'd gone with red for the title the same colour for the author was obvious. To add the the 'classic' status I decided to go with a red (colour-coordinated) penguin at the top.    

The back cover was great fun and I really enjoyed created a new logo for Penguin 20th Century Classics. The exercise asked me to take into account any house rules but (as discussed in my previous post) the current penguin classics are so poor I decided to go with a complete redesign. I stuck with the red, white and black colour scheme but went with a more canonical Engravers typeface for the logo, title, author and details. For the quotes and book description I kept with Garamond for readability and continuity.

The spine was relatively straightforward. I went with Engravers in capitals and maintained the colour scheme. The only decision was the placing of the author and title. After some playing around I really liked the arrangement I ended up with. It is a bit different yet very classic and stylish. 

Thinking of a illustrative/photographic cover was more difficult. The danger was that a visual image of the novel - a plane, warfare, etc -  wouldn't do justice to the literary depth, humour and universality of the novel. It's a few years since I read the book so I did some research to remind myself of the subject matter and learnt that the airmen fly B-25s. I googled this for images and decided it would be fun to depict the cover in the style of nose art. This would allow me to use humour and at the same time reflect the subject matter.   
I used a green background and added rivets for realism to suggest a plane's fuselage. The name of the pilots is normally written in simple, white lettering and I copied this fir the author's name and changed the opacity to give it a more realistic feel. I then copied some nose art that appealed to me for the title - I also thought the colours of red with yellow outline would sit perfectly with the dark green background. After I'd added the bombs in the top left hand corner I still felt something was missing. I went back to the nose art and decided to add some flailing legs which echoes the humour of the novel. After adding some bullet holes I then moved the title and author slightly off-page to add a touch of both realism and humour

I decided to go with the same theme for the back cover and spine. I didn't want anything too garish as I felt the back cover at least should reflect the book's classic status. White on green looked good so I went with this and I reversed the bullet holes so it looked like they'd passed through the book.

My only job on the spine was to run the rivets so that they linked up. I played around a bit with the opacity of the name and penguin logo to make the title stand out all in white.

I'm pleased with how both covers turned out. I think that the type cover really communicates the essence of the book and its 'classic' status. Although initially I was less enthusiastic about doing the illustrated cover I feel that the strength of it is that it would appeal to a broader range of people. Its front cover is playful and appealing while the back cover communicates the more 'classic' aspect of the book. Aesthetically I think hat the type cover just shades it but that in terms of communicating to the reader what the book is about and appealing to a wide readership, I think that my plane cover is the better design. For these reasons i think that the green cover is the marginally more successful of the two.       

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


I love browsing in bookshops and looking at the various book covers, and have been a fan of Penguin's classics in all their different incarnations. However, I have been really impressed over the past few years with he way in which Random House's imprint 'Vintage' have revolutionised their range of classic ficiton.

The brand has been made stronger by the implementation of some simple but strict rules: matt cover; in top right hand cover thin-typography of the word 'vintage' in capital letters followed without a gap by the surname of the author in thicker type; title of novel placed elsewhere on the cover in type evocative of the era the book is set in or written, or subject matter. All this is set against a single photograph or illustration.

Although these rules are strict, they still leave huge scope for the designer, and I think they have come up with a fantastically diverse yet unified range of covers - which, in itself, is not easy to achieve. I also like the fact the spines of the book are a rich, red colour with the white typography standing out against this background. Cleverly, they look great on a bookshelf and make you want to add to your collection.

I've attached some of my favourites. I think that these novels have been designed almost as CD covers or film posters. They're bold, original, eye-catching, attractive and contemporary - and for me, at the moment, they leave the current Penguins Classics for dead.

A particularly uninspiring Penguin Classic: I have no desire to pick it up, let alone buy it. It's just a drab mess of a cover. Wretched.

Not A Second Time

The last month has involved getting to grips with InDesign and felt very much like Groundhog Day - it was this time last year I was grappling with Illustrator and Photoshop. I was relieved to get on with the first exercise, 'Magazine Pages'. I chose the FT's weekend magazine - it's one I'm familiar with and I like the layout, typography and illustrations used.

Creating a two page spread was fun - and, although I'm new to the program, I was relieved and surprised how much easier it was laying out pages in InDesign compared with the more familiar Photoshop/Illustrator. I developed one of the pages further, altering the typography and layout of the weekend supplement to appeal to a more traditional conservative audience and an trendier, younger left-liberal audience. I tried to limit the variations to these criteria as I was interested to see how subtle differences can completely change the feel of a page.

Although I tried to avoid preconceptions I seemed to end up with very 'Daily Telegraph' and 'Guardian' designs respectively. I think this shows how much design 'speaks' to a certain audience and how difficult it is to break away from these cultural signposts and languages.