Helmut Schmid & Otsuka Pharmaceutical

In 1980 graphic designer and typographer Helmut Schmid produced packaging design for Otsuka Pharmaceutical. these examples, featuring Univers, are amazing exercises in typographic clarity and a beautiful example of graphic design boiled down to information and clear communication. Nice colours too.

 


 

There is a great book covering the design of Helmut Schmid, ‘Design Is Attitude’ not sure if it’s still in print, details here. You can check out more of his work in the archive section of his website.

 

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Sketchbook pages 18.07.2013

A few recent sketchbook pages. I have been slow in my sketchbooks recently and after about six years of using Moleskines I have ditched them. Mainly because of the hefty prices Moleskines now charge – I feel I am subject to some kind of hipster tax. Moleskines recent crowd sourcing marketing fail also contributed to me moving on …

So more skulls (again) and Blondie.

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ios7 – a few thoughts on UI design

A small disclaimer. I am an Apple user, and have had an iphone for a number of years now. I get on with the current interface but do find it a little over decorated. With ios7 I was hoping for some toning down of the various visual embellishments. I was excited about the more minimal approach Apple were said to be taking: I was looking forward to the dumping of the leather effect, the stitching and the green felt …

as flat as I could make it

I am using a slightly buggy developer version for this review (7 Beta 2), I will not comment on the really flaky bits as I am sure these will be fixed once the final version is launched. There has been a lot of talk around the interaction detail and I don’t want to add to the noise, but with so much chat over the design – chat all based around the same static images – I wanted to experience the operating system myself, on a device in my hand, interact with it and hopefully offer up a few salient comments.

I guess its a little harsh reviewing the design of a product still in development, I will try to keep this to a critique of the general aesthetic – what it looks like and how it feels to use. it’s difficult to judge what is a know issue and is going to be ironed out, and what are deliberate choices by Apples UI team.

To start there is the obvious talking point – the turning anti-clockwise of the Skeuomorphic dial and the flipping on of the Flat switch (sorry). I feel this whole skeuomorphic vs flat debate is overcooked, a generalization and focusing debate away from more important matters. And as for skeuomorphism, this overused term is one I look forward to seeing the back of (I am guilty of adding to the skeuomorphic noise myself). None of Apples design has even been truly skeuomorphic (can anything digital be skeuomorphic?)  but I guess the word has a new life and a new context … in reality Apples OS has been heavy on the use of metaphors. These metaphors still exist in ios7 no matter how ‘flat’ the design. An example is the dials for setting time on the alarm. exactly the same as they were, a forward facing dial, receding on the top and bottom edges giving a 3D effect. So a metaphor then. Of a real dial. A stylistic change rather than a conceptual one and not exactly ‘flat’ at all.

So onto the ‘flat’ design. There are many instances where the minimal design really does look quite beautiful – the easily accessible settings screens look lovely, and the weather app certainly looks ‘nice’. The calculator, with its simple functionality, really benefits from the minimal aesthetic and the subtle ‘tapped’ animation on the buttons game me one of those nice ‘ahhhh’ moments.

The icons suit this minimal thin lined aesthetic but the thin Helvetica just doesn’t work for me (more on that later). With the weather app, a cloudy day means white thin Helvetica on white clouds renders the text unreadable – hopefully something that will be fixed on the final release.

… And talking of the Weather app, if I swipe down to reveal the overview panel, the weather is shown as a description. Without any visual clues I missed it … and tapping on the description takes me to the weather app – an interaction with absolutely no signposting – a slightly concerning issue.

The calendar, music player and Messages app are examples of how white space and pure typography doesn’t always work, especially for small screens with dense information. For all its cleanliness the reduction of structure makes it all look a little out of focus – with no clear delineation of content the elements on the screen feel a little lost. When looking through the messenger app I was hankering for a little decoration or colour (I never thought  would write this but … ) a little drop shadow to lift the design and separate out the content a little.

The use of colour seems a little haphazard. In places garish colours seem to clash (the horrific Game Center homescreen) within other apps (the music player, Messages app) the lack of colour and predominantly white and grey colorway contribute to the lack of structure evident on these screens.

To be frank, I am not getting along with the thin Helvetica. Retina displays mean the screen resolution can do a good job rendering thin typefaces but just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

I am not sure of the rationale for choosing this typeface – I am guessing that it was because connotations of slickness that Helvetica thin has are values Apple shares and aspires to, but unfortunately there are other connotations. Helvetica thin is the typeface of makeup counters, lipstick ads in fashion magazines, flyers for cheezy house clubnights … not all high flying fashion expensive watches and ‘aspiration’. My initial gut feeling was that it felt too much ‘fashion’, too ‘cheeze’.

I have seen the word ‘Holographic’ used for the subtle animated effect of the homescreen icons and background. again, this could be memory issues, but it was a little glitchy. It also felt a little Flash Parallax effect circa 2003 rather than 2013 cutting edge tech. Overall a little gimmicky. I felt the same about the number pad in the previous Beta version. Tapping a number makes made the numeral and its circular holder become transparent, briefly showing the parallaxing background behind. This should have been one of those lovely tactile moments you associate with a slick Apple Interface or transition but it just came across as a little, well, cheap. In the updated Beta version flat colour is used instead of the background – an improvement, but with a lovely ‘tapped’ animated effect in use for the calculator other conventions are really not needed – I hope these conventions are reduced and Apple go for one effect for each interaction.

There seems to be the addition of depth in the overall design strategy – the animated background that sometimes peeks through the layer above, all hint at navigating through, into, rather just from side to side – when transitioning in and out of apps, scale is part of the animation transition, again, hinting at navigating ‘through’  - this 3D aspect of the navigation is a possible clue for future development into interaction models and is the one genuinely exciting thing I get from i0s7.

In conclusion

The new minimal ‘flat’ (arghhhhhhhh) design almost works, most of the time it looks lovely. There is a slight lack of visual clues for interaction, rather worryingly so. For all the over-embellishment of the previous OS at least thought had gone into wayfaring and signposting. A little more thought needs to go into the design of the more dense screens but from what I have seen so far small tweaks will fix these, and I am confident the final release will have these issues solved.

The thin type just does not work. A bespoke face, designed for screen must surely be in the pipeline if Apple really are claiming to be leaders in mobile design. Culturally and practically, Helvetica Thin is just not suitable or appropriate.

The hints of navigating through a 3D space are intriguing even though it is just a hint, and it will be interesting to see if this ends up being just gimmick instead of a clue for future innovation.

I am looking forward to the final release, my main hope is that the interaction signposting and wayfaring is much clearer, I have confidence this will be so, and that at some future point they dump Helvetica Thin for a bespoke face designed by Apple for Apple devices. The Helvetica fanboys may not like it but it just ain’t right.

 

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The South Downs Links

Twice towards the back end of last year myself and 20three co-collaborator Graham cycled parts of the South Downs link. The first attempt we abandoned at Christs Hospital after a ham, eggs, chips & beer lunch. The second attempt we were a bit more determined, we caught an early train from Brighton to Guilford and cycled back to Brighton (via Shoreham by Sea), this time not stopping for a pub lunch, the ride taking us about three hours or so.

The South Downs link runs along part of the Steyning railway line, discontinued since the 1960′s. As the route is along a disused railway line there a several ‘ghost’ railway stations along the route, pictures below.

There is a PDF guide for the links, detailed, with maps, download it here.

The first set of photos below are taken with a LC-A, cross processed. The second set, taken on our second trip, are all taken on my iphone 4.

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Next set taken on a iphone 4. And filter free.

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Paul Renner, everywhere I look

Unashamedly, and for all it’s perceived flaws, I love Futura. It’s one of those typefaces I often end up returning to. Designed in the 1920′s by Paul Renner, it was one of the first geometric typefaces commercially produced. Renner was a modernist, and shared the principles of the Bauhaus school – Futura was Renners attempt to create a wholly modern typeface.

I often hear and read disparaging things about Futura – It’s the face of the student, its lowercase flawed and cumbersome, the bold and heavy varieties overused, the condensed versions horrific… I have to admit to agreeing with some of these accusations.

I certainly agree with the overuse of the bold varieties. Futura has been around for a while now and unlike the neutral and uniform Helvetica Futura’s shapes are recognisable and distinct. Because of this Futura, from my (subjective) point of view, carries with it a certain amount of cultural baggage. I was an art student in the early nineties and I cannot look at Futura bold oblique without thinking of the conceptual images of Barbra Kruger. Similarly the bold varieties remind me of Absolut Vodka and Stanley Kubrick’s many title sequences and poster art. In the 1980′s the overuse of Futura Extra Bold Condensed even prompted a print campaign against it.

Although other geometric or sans faces have been just as overused, it seems to me that faces such as Frutiger and Helvetica, for all their hegemony melt into the overall visual noise that surrounds us. I guess this is what makes these typefaces so popular. They are versatile, and can be used in volume and for different purposes while staying discreet. They are an element in a design rather than the hero. I have a similar ‘cultural baggage’ problem with Avant Garde, another distinctive geometric face, and for me, another example of a typeface that suffers from a myriad of associations.

Despite all this I still often turn to Futura. I agree that the lowercase can appear disjointed but the capitals are beautiful and considered. And although Renner had nothing to do with the condensed version, and these versions seem to wind up designers the most, I still have a soft spot for them.

I also have to get over my own associations. Typefaces come in and out of style and new generations of designers discover faces discarded by their predecessors – again, Avant Garde is a great example of a face discovering a new life. (in fact there seems to be a whole Herb Lubalin revival going on – you don’t get a £65 monograph published if you are not in fashion.)

The inspiration for this post is a Futura variety which is possibly a little less know. Futura Display, designed by Renner in the mid thirties, was Renner’s attempt at making a sans based on nineteenth century sans serifs rather than the geometric shapes his original Futura was based on. Futura Display has little in common with the original versions of Futura – I would imagine naming this sans face ‘Futura’ nearly a decade on from the release of the original geometric version was as much to do with marketing than anything else.

I had hardly seen any examples of Futura Display apart from the odd gig poster I would come across pasted up around Brighton. After moving into a new flat a few years ago I discovered signage on a nearby office building that used Futura Display. In classic 1970’s styling the signage is brushed metal mounted on a brick facade, hardly doing it justice, but nevertheless, it is nice to see an example so near were I live, and a nice addition to the other variations of Futura I have discovered in near proximity to my home.

 

Futura Display

 

The other night I was up late watching the telly, Death Wish came on, and as I made my decision to turn in the titles came up. Death Wish. Rendered in Futura Display.

 

Futura Display

 

Christopher Burke’s biography of Renner, Paul Renner: the art of typography is a great read and contains all you would want to know about the life of Renner. As well as documenting the creation of Futura which for anyone with a passion for typography is interesting in itself, The book also goes into Renner’s run-in with the Nazi party – Renner was imprisoned by the Nazis for a short time for writing a paper criticizing the National socialists promotion of Blackletter (“Kultur-bolschewismus?” (Cultural Bolshevism?)). Renner saw the promotion of Blackletter as propaganda, promoting a cultural aesthetic that was not only a myth but one that went against Renner’s modernist beliefs.

 

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