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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Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger: Alexandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq

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Published in late 2011 but only arriving on my lap the other day, Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger (published by Humanoids) is the second volume of collected issues in the ongoing adventures (or misadventures) of the half indian one armed gunslinger Bouncer, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Francois Boucq.

Bouncer, as his name suggests is the bouncer of the Inferno Saloon in the frontier town of Barro City, and his story is a violent one. The varied cast of characters in this graphic novel include a creepy, freaky trio of Mexican assassins, an aged spooky indian, evil landowners, a loyal three legged dog, a whole array of raggedy outlaws and the odd lynch mob. These characters inhabit a story drenched with violence. All very Sergio Leone, very spaghetti western. Oh, I forgot to mention the opium dens, the revenge obsessed hangwoman, the freaky murderous monkey and the hideously burnt and bedridden owner of the Inferno Saloon. All vital ingredients in this quite epic but exploitive tale. And by exploitive I mean very 70’s, very B movie. Which is a good thing.

Published in late 2011 but only arriving on my lap the other day, Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger (published by Humanoids, US) is the second volume of collected issues in the ongoing adventures (or misadventures) of the half indian one armed gunslinger Bouncer, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Francois Boucq.

Bouncer, as his name suggests is the bouncer of the Inferno Saloon in the frontier town of Barro City, and his story is a violent one. The varied cast of characters in this graphic novel include a creepy, freaky trio of Mexican assassins, an aged spooky indian, evil landowners, a loyal three legged dog, a whole array of raggedy outlaws and the odd lynch mob. These characters inhabit a story drenched with violence. All very Sergio Leone, very spaghetti western. Oh, I forgot to mention the opium dens, the revenge obsessed hangwoman, the freaky murderous monkey and the hideously burnt and bedridden owner of the Inferno Saloon. All vital ingredients in this quite epic but exploitive tale. And by exploitive I mean very 70’s, very B movie. Which is a good thing.

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The story opens with Bouncer becoming the town hangman against his wishes, corralled (contextual verb usage!) into the job by the town’s corrupt officials. Events conspire and he ends up being the reluctant hand that brings about the death of his old lover and her new amour. Both are victims of a set up by evil landowner Clark Cooper, with Bouncer the reluctant hangman. Clarke was previously embarrassed by Bouncer as he was booted out of the Inferno saloon and their mutual hatred fuels much of the plot. As all these shenanigans are going on, a mysterious old indian dude is jumping about the town rooftops knocking off members of the towns ruling elite by the nefarious means of a poisonous green coral snake.

There is much more to this graphic novel, and in particular the old Indian, than what I have described above. There is a flashback sequence that fills in some important backstory, and some heartbreaking plot twists and turns, but revealing more would be adding spoilers so I will resist it.

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As a writer and director Jodorowsky is simply legendary and he is rightly celebrated for his films as well as his comic book writing. I first saw his very tripped out film Holy Mountain a couple of years ago and reading Bouncer reminded me that I really need to watch El Topo, his famously weird western.

My first introduction to Jodorowsky was via comic artist genius Moebius and The Incal, a series of comics with a vaguely parallel plot to that of Holy Mountain, that of a twisted and somewhat surreal journey to spiritual awakening. On the back of the success of The Incal Jodorowsky went on to write some great science fiction, notably Les Technopères (The Technopriests). Bouncer … was my first view of Jodorowsky writing a western, and I was a little reluctant to pick it up as my first – my only exposure to Jodorowsky is through his sci fi writing, but I should not have been worried, after a couple of pages in I was hooked.

The art in Bouncer … is by Francois Boucq. A french comic legend, the only Boucq art I have been exposed to previously is the set of satirical shorts collected as Pioneers of the Human Adventure and featuring his absurd character Jérôme Moucherot (published in 1989 by Catalan Communications and translated by Elisabeth Bell who seems to have translated every foreign language comic I read growing up.)

The art by Boucq is excellent, he has that lovely loose but realistic french style, full of energy and expression, and with the analogue appearance of pens and pencils rather than the sterile computer generated look of many contemporary mainstream comics. His art in Bouncer … has moved along since the eighties and Monsieur Moucherot. The quality of line is less scratchy and urgent, but still fluid and expressive. The colouring more subtle and muted. The colour palette in Bouncer … is especially evocative of seventies westerns, all sepia and beautiful autumnal shades of red and orange.

The exaggerated proportions and features of his characters has been replaced with a much more considered approach, but there is still huge expression and character in the faces of his protagonists. Maybe this is due to the subject matter, I would be interested to check out his other contemporary work, and after reading Bouncer … I certainly will track some down.

 

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Chatting to my comicbook aficionado friend about Bouncer … the other night we both remarked on how painterly some of the panels look, in their composition. Bouncer looks like it has been inspired by the epic westerns of John Ford, and my friend pointed out that Ford himself was influenced by the great american painters of the frontier, painters like Thomas Cole, Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt. Seeing the beautifully composed painterly panels within Bouncer … seems to complete the circle. Bouncer … is a perfect love letter to the Westerns of Ford, but it’s also a note scrawled in blood on the back of a fag packet, addressed to Sergio Leone.

All in all I can’t really fault Bouncer, The One Armed Gunslinger. I am not a huge fan of the western in comic format, Blueberry by Moebius aside. The fact that I enjoyed this so much is a testament to artist and writer. Having always been a fan of Jodorowsky’s writing, I am now on a mission to track down more contemporary English language translations of work by Boucq. Can’t say much more than that really.

 

Wireframing: Why low fidelity rules

Wireframing is a fairly ubiquitous tool used as part of the UX process when building sites, apps and games – anything you would interact with through a screen. Generally used to convey what requirements and features are on each page or screen, and to communicate a rough understanding of layout, grouping and hierarchy, wireframing is a great tool for UX practitioners.

Wireframing

This post is not about whether wireframes are needed or not – sketching out a project in one form or another is never a bad thing even if your canvas of choice is the back of a fag packet … and semantics aside, I see ‘sketching’ as wireframing too; sketching out pages or features is simply wireframing in a very low fidelity manner. This post is my thoughts on why low fidelity wireframing can be a much more useful process than high fidelity wireframing.

I will try to outline my issues with high fidelity wireframes below:

They are costly to produce

Firstly they are time consuming (and therefore costly) to produce – time better spent prototyping and refining features rather than specifying and documenting them with detailed annotations and diagrams.

They can become scope

With full-on bells and whistles wireframing there is a risk that a wireframe document becomes a project scope – other documents should be fulfilling this task, using stories and scenarios is a sensible approach to defining functionality and scope and one that developers can produce and work to.

They can be intimidating

Very detailed annotated wireframes are often cumbersome, can be intimidating to those unused to working with wireframes, and are hard to decipher. They have a very ‘final’ feel to them when they need to be open to amendment and feel ‘live’ – wireframes should be ripped up regularly – the first iteration of your wireframes will never solve every problem, and will always highlight issues that will need fixing.

They are too prescriptive

Probably the most common issue most would have experience with is when wireframes are too ‘designed’. This leads to issues with your client having to separate Information Architecture from design. Again, hard to do if you are not used to working with these kind of documents. I have had very sensible UXDs tell me this ain’t so, clients know the difference. Well, sadly my own experience contradicts this – having once been parachuted halfway through the ‘discovery’ process of a site build, when visual designs were finally presented I had to explain why I wasn’t using the button styles as defined on the wireframes …

… and this leads me to another problem with high fidelity wireframes – the situation where non designers are designing. By choosing that option of beveled corner, that line thickness, design decisions are being made that will be hard to unpick later when a visual designer gets to start the design process. “… but I liked those buttons you had in the previous designs …”

High fidelity wireframes can also be very prescriptive for a designer, and take away the value a good visual designer brings – even for grouping and layout wireframes should not be too prescriptive and need to allow for interpretation – wireframes cannot show how typography, colour, tone, contrast and texture can can all impact upon the hierarchy of information on a page.

The UX community is its own worst enemy with this issue. The amount of high fidelity tools and GUI kits available to create prototypes, diagrams and wireframes is a little scary. Perfect for rapid prototyping but not so good when used for static wireframes.

I understand the temptation to make a wireframe look pretty, resist it. If you can’t resist it, then you’re probably a frustrated graphic designer rather than a UX designer. If you’re worrying how a client will get excited about a load of grey boxes, how you’re going to sell an idea based on a sketched wireframe – well, if you’re asking those kind of questions you just don’t get what wireframing is. You’re a salesman or marketeer and you need other tools.

Your clients need to be able to divorce features and layout from aesthetics – functionality needs to be understood, tested and refined without the influence of style. Coke, for example, are instantly identifiable due to their strong red colourway even though they are currently all about personalisation (buy one with your name on it!). These values inform your concept, your idea. There is no need to to colour your wireframes bright red.

So what makes low fidelity wireframes or sketching any better?

Low fidelity wireframes encourages collaboration

Anyone can draw. The simple physicality of paper and pens lends itself to a more open discussion. Rather than one sole UXD in front a computer screen, diagramming away in Omnigraffle or Axure, UXDs, UI designers, developers – all can have input when sketching around a table. The wireframe does not become a document with one author, to be checked and approved by others, but a collaborative piece of work which can have input from all relevant areas of your business.

Speedy speedy

Sketching and producing low fidelity wireframes is a fast exercise: you fail sooner, which is a very good thing – problems can be identified and solved much quicker. Deal with fail as soon as you can. Speed also means several layouts can quickly be reviewed, refined or discarded. Time less spent on wireframing means more time and budget can be spent prototyping, a much more valuable exercise than creating detailed static wireframes.

Focus

Low fidelity wireframes look just that – lo-fi. Even more so if sketched onto paper. This communicates that the wireframes really are just sketches and not design. By avoiding ‘design’ discussion can focus on features, hierarchy and layout rather than whether your button edges are rounded or not.

Gets your client involved

Around a table, participating in the production of your low fidelity sketches, can sit your client. And this is possibly the greatest advantage of low fidelity wireframes – you can involve client stakeholders from the start – and not in a political exercise, giving client involvement a bit of lip service, but as a way to gather vital opinions, thoughts and insight. Opinions that might pop up to rock the boat unless you can prise them out of your client and deal with them at the earliest possible stage.

So, to sum up – I am definitely a low fidelity fan, but I can see the case for more high fidelity wireframing; for when complex functionality needs defining but is not reliant on visual design. Lists and search results, e-comm functionality and pages based around forms, all examples where more fidelity could be needed. Even in those cases, any high fidelity wireframing is logically an evolution of low fidelity wireframing or sketching. However you look at wireframing, the sooner you are prototyping, seeing and experiencing interactions on a screen, the better.

The best way of knowing if and what wireframes are applicable? Talk to your client. Find out their expectations, where they need help, where they don’t. Don’t have a standard process for every job or client, as not every job or client is the same. Easy!

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Photographs from this years Magazine Library exhibition, Tokyo, Japan

Now In Lemon was featured in this years Magazine Library exhibition, Tokyo, Japan. The organisers very kindly sent me some pictures of the exhibition as we could not get over there ourselves this year.

All photography: (c) Nishio Shinsuke / a Zillion ideas.

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

~ Magazine Library ~

 

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Now in Lemon featuring at the ‘Magazine Library’ exhibition, Tokyo, Japan

Our self published art zine, Now in Lemon has been invited to be featured in the 2012 Magazine Library exhibition, Tokyo. From the exhibition organisers: “Since its launch in March of 2009 the travelling ‘Magazine Library’ exhibitions have featured more than 1000 magazines, art books and independent publications. The past 9 exhibitions welcomed more than 50,000 visitors and more than 30 publications have found new distribution routes in Japan via the Magazine Library”.

We are very pleased to have been invited, only wish we could make it over. Here is a video of the 2010 exhibition:

You can take a look at the 2012 Magazine Library exhibition website here.

We still have some copies of Now in Lemon for sale, check it out here.

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Sketchbook: 20three type

I did do some post production work on this scan from my sketchbook – I made the image grayscale then reversed the colours, making the image white on black. The letters were also generated on the computer then printed out, cut up and glued into my sketchbook.

The font I have thoroughly abused is Futura Book. Paul Renner is probably spinning in his grave, considering that legibility was a fundamental concern when he designed Futura, widly known as the first mass produced geometric sans-serif typeface.

Ah well, destroy your heroes and all that.

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