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13 April 2013

Meena Kadri: Indo-centric, Typo-centric: Hand-lettered Typography of the Streets of India

Signs on urban streets of India represent a diverse graphical expression. Meena explores the history, influences, and characterists of contemporary typography of streets of India. When encountering the Indian streetscape, one is struck by the diversity of competing signs. India lacks a shared language so the signs are to decoded by a diverse population. Different regional identities are apparent through graphic styles.

Indians love to design and embellish, from temples to taxis. In India’s early history, art and design were reserved to the upper class who commissioned paintings. By the late 19th century, imagery was more widely produced and accessible to serve commercial purposed. What has changed is the canvas, which is now the city itself. Nostalgia is still highly idealized, and idealism contrasts with the harsher realities of Indian life. The collective fondness for escapism should not be misread as kitsch. Religious expression, also reflecting idealism, is highly present in Indian life. Flamboyance of Indian typography is rampant with a desire for customization – people like to belong yet differentiate. Indians crave both novelty and tradition. Cinema impacts visual communication.

Typography is often still hand-lettered. Indian street signage painters are called “sign-wallahs.” They work from the street for the street, and are respected. They even create vehicular signage which serves as moving signage. The trade is often passed on within a family, children work when they are not in school and some aspire to be sign-wallahs. Like anywhere else, changing technology has been a challenge for the trade.

Meena shared handpaintedtype.com, a project dedicated to preserving the typographic practice of sign-wallahs. With the advent of digital publishing, sign-wallahs are going out of business with people switching to vinyl which is cheaper, quicker but uglier. The project documents the typefaces of sign-wallahs and turns it into digital type to serve as a resource for future generations.

-By Diana Banh @dibanh

13 April 2013

Jürg Lehni: Scenarios of Production

Lehri’s work is an intersection of computer science, art, and engineering. He is interested in gestures of production and process. He self taught himself programming at a young age, and is interested in using programming to give things behavior and develop intuition while still maintaining control. He designed, coded, and constructed drawing machines Hektor, Rita, and Viktor that were exhibited around the world including Museum of Modern Art in New York; Design Museum in London, and in China. He enjoys the surprises and Frankenstein moments of seeing his work outside of the screen, and sees poetic potential or “accidental aesthetics” in technological processes and devices. In addition to inventing machines himself, he also reappropriated existing machines and changed their functionality, such as repurposing a vinyl cutter or reappropriating a classic film subtitling machine to create a drawing film in a church in France. Check out his software-based vector drawing tools Paperjs.org and Scriptographer.org.

-By Diana Banh @dibanh

13 April 2013

Rena Tom: Like Work, But Not (aka fast times at Makeshift Society)

Rena opened her talk with, “I love to work but I don’t like to call it work.” She describes herself as a retail consultant (not a designer), as well as an enthusiast. She is enthused by people, and interested in the relationship between people, as well as the relationship between work and creativity. She is a generalist with degrees in engineering and English, and a background in programming, but she left the tech industry to work with her hands such as jewelry and wedding invites. An entrepreneur driven by loneliness, she first opened Rare Device retail store to sell her crafts and work of her designer friends, and recently she opened Makeshift Society, a coworking space in San Francisco for freelancers.

She sees Makeshift as a clubhouse, a place for activity that’s not just work but also a place that fosters a feeling of belonging. Work is different in today’s world. Makeshift is a place for balancing control and agency.

Agency: capacity to act
Agency: make shi(f)t happen for yourself

Coworking is for independent workers who inhabit shared workspace. The three keywords are inhabit, shared, and work.

1. Inhabit: community. By inhabiting a space, you learn etiquette and according to the book A General Theory of Love, empathy is created when you see someone face-to-face.

2. Shared: economy. Shared economy is a trend now and improves efficiency.

3. Word: productivity. Proximity stimulates productivity

Rena, with interior designer Victoria Smith and graphic designer Suzanne Shade, co-founded Makeshift Society, a beautiful space located in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. Victoria designed the space to be inviting, and Suzanne designed the corporate identity and brand. They opened 8 months ago and already have 270 members. Rena has been researching work and coworking to prepare for launching a location in New York. Makeshift society is about society and people, and not about the work. Coworking helps alleviate difficulties of modern work. Work today is different from the past: it’s less expensive to be independent because equipment is smaller and don’t need to maintain office. Workforce is also location independent. Through makeshift, Rena is trying to figure out how to use the space for play, work, and learning. Makeshift influences behavior, is a balance between control and agency and between productivity and sociability, and fosters interaction between people that is unforced and genuine.

Without guidelines of a company, there’s no clear career path, and no one telling you want to do or how to get there. Coworking provides freelancers with a place to learn and practice communicating, getting along, and cooperating with others. For freelancers who normally work alone, coworking is giving up privacy for support, learning to be a good neighbor, and building accountability and trust. Learning to navigate and negotiate the analog world increases serendipity, diversity, trust, and accountability.
-By Diana Banh @dibanh
12 April 2013

Tom Manning: Accepting the Multiplicty of Methods: Comics, Graphic Design, and the American Way

Tom Manning introduced himself as:
1. Hi. I make comic books – a passion that started at age 9 with X-Men 221. He ripped off X-men with his own comic strip, Mega Force, inked and copied it, sold it at school, and even sold ads to cover the production costs – a young entrepreneur! He developed an interest in the vernacular of sharing, communicating, and storytelling strategically culling from different forms, genres and styles.

2. I make graphic design. He was Art Director of Design Mind. His graphic design was in the modernist style, unlike his comic book work. He was conflicted by how the way he works, thinks, and make comics is different from graphic design. He wanted a singular voice but instead felt schizophrenia. He decided to undergo design psychoanalysis, “aka grad school,” and enrolled in Yale Master’s Program hoping to understand and articulate his process. Instead of singularity he found multipicity.

With an art history background, Tom loved the hand-made black and white style of William Morris and the constructivist style of El Lissitzk. He decided to shift from style to intent behind the design. While Morris and Lissitzk style were polar opposites, they both shared the intent of supporting the ideals of communism.Tom decided to shift from a single style to finding various ways to communicate a similar subject.

3. I’m a communication designer. Tom decided to decide on the appropriate voice to use to transmit a message. Designers should reject the idea of finding their “voice” and instead learn to speak in tongues.

4. I’m an American. What is American design/communication (compared to Swiss, Japanese, or German). Multiplicity and flexibility are key and inherent in the American way of communicating which you can see in music from country to hip hop, to film (ie Kubric appropriating Diane Arbus or Hitchcock appropriating Edward Hopper). Redirection is important in graphic design to make engagement memorable. The real challenge is to embrace the multiplicity of methods. As author Michael Rock said in The Designer as Author, it is not who made it but what it does and how it does it. Style needs to be paired with solution, or it’s just putting lipstick on a pig. Learn solutions, not styles. Again, learn to speak in tongues.

-By Diana Banh @dibanh

12 April 2013

Satsuki Shibuya: The Road Not Taken

Satsuki Shibuya shared an inspiring talk about her experiences, insights and thoughts on how a sudden illness completely changed her way of approaching business and life.

Satsuki studied music at USC and graphic design at Otis College of Art and Design and then launched her own design studio. She’s always been an over achiever, always on the go, and always working. One day, she had vertigo, and her doctor advised her to rest and not do anything for two days. For a person who has always been active, she had to stop and could only think about what to do now.  She finally stopped to reevaluate the way she worked, her design process and how she interacted with others. She realized that everything she’s learned and thought up to that point was the opposite of what she felt she should’ve been doing. Here are some lessons that she shared.

1. More is not better, more is just more.

Society teaches that being busy and doing more are more exciting and suggests that one is doing great things. While Satsuki’s vertigo went away, she continues to have head fog and can only concentrate on only so much every day. She realized that the past year was her best year, and she was least busy. While she’d balance 8-10 jobs concurrently before, now she needs to consider each job before taking it as she can only concentrate on 1-2 projects at a time. She evaluates what the project means to her, and only chooses projects which are worth spending her time and energy. She noticed by concentrating more on fewer projects, her client relationships have become better. She’s developed a niche market, and people notice and go to her with work.  By not being busy, she does better work, is paid better, meets better peope, and has more time to live life which leads to lesson two.
2. Take time to live life, really!
Satsuki thought that by doing work she loves, she is living life. However, she wasn’t enjoying the moments or noticing the little things. Living life matters, esp. to creatives, as it lets you gain new perspectives. Creatives rely on storytelling and communication. By living life and learning from others, you develop new ways of seeing and communicating. More importantly, you get to know yourself better and learn how you process, work, and interact with others.
Me-Time: for Satsuki, she takes time every day for walking, meditating, playing with Skippy, reading, and napping. She uses a plant seed metaphor for approaching projects. Instead of executing an idea immediately, she implants it as she takes time to experience life during which the idea becomes a mega idea thanks to other people and experiences.
Take a moment to listen to your intuition/gut/spirit – it already knows the answer. Before Satsuki considered money, fame, and recognition as ingredients for success. Even if her intuition tells her not to take the job, she’d take it. She suspects that she got vertigo when her two halves – intuition vs logic – finally split. She needed to be truthful to her intuition, which is important for branding. With social media, it’s best for everything to come from one source that is genuine.
3. Explore, frolic and follow you passion
What you learn/explore is infused into your work. Exploring brought her to create a home goods line (oldbrandnewblog.com) and brought her back to her old love, music (check out her music track, NEKO). Exploring and being open led her to launching Dream Coop, her current project which is a creative consultancy where she gets to see others grow and achieve their dreams.
4. Run at your own pace.
Out of all things learned the past year, this was her most important lesson. We’re all different; don’t compare your success to others, esp. what others portray online. Success is not following someone else’s path, but braving
“The Road Not Taken” – the title of her talk and the title of Robert Frost’s poem.
- By Diana Banh @dibanh
12 April 2013

Ludovic Balland: The Modern Man Thinks in Contrasts

Kali Nikitas introduced her friend, Ludovic Balland, to the stage, and opened Typo Day 2 with the questions,

“Who likes type? Who likes sex? Who likes sexy type?”

At the end of Ludovic’s talk, Kali commented that in the beginning, the audience might’ve been wondering, who are you, but by the end, we just want to hold you!

And that was exactly how I felt.

Ludovic opened with the quote, “Modern man thinks in contrast” (e.r. 1952) by Emile Ruder, a fellow Swiss graphic designer. With a wonderful sense of humor, Ludovic said that he’s been called the Robert Plant of typography.

He spoke on four topics:

1. typography as corporate identity
2. typography as system
3. typography as sign
4. typography as pleasure

Highlighting the conference’s theme, Ludovic said typography is the highest contrast you can ever produce. Letters are dark; the addition of dots creates images. Type helps us keep our memory in images.

Ludovic said, “I see no colors.” He loved black and white type which offers the highest contrast one can see from far away. For the corporate identity project for Theater Basel in Switzerland, he was asked to not change the design of the logo so he decided to remove the colors and change the type setting to vertical which created a stage. Theaters normally work with images, but he used no images, but the client eventually asked for images. Insisting on not using any stage images, he decided to create his own image language.

For typography as system, Ludovic worked on the communication for the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, and their art and architetural festival Warsaw under Construction. Using the city’s signage which he liked for its failures and mistakes, he redesigned it into a corporate typeface, and inspired by the architecture of Louis Kahn he incorporated the facade of Kahn’s buildings. Creating a strong contrast, the black and white pops up in a landscape of advertisements. Warsaw was known as the “city for sell.”

For typography for sign, for the Bildrausch cinema festival in Basel, Ludovic, who was known for only using black and white type, was asked to use images. They projected movie posters into the type. Again, the very visible,strong contrast allowed the design to be seen from quite a distance.

Ludovic ended with, typography as pleasure, and told us to, “stay sharp” [like a tiger]!

-By Diana Banh @dibanh

12 April 2013

Faythe Levine: It’s Just a Sign, Until it Influences Your Entire Life

photo by Amber Gregory

Faythe Levine’s latest book and documentary film, both titled Sign Painters, explore the trade of hand-painted signage in America today. Since information on sign painting was scarce, Faythe presented her research for her documentary that ranged from hard-to-find books and magazine on the subject to letters from family members of sign painters that were excited about the upcoming documentary.

In one of the books, Signpainters Don’t Read Signs by Syl Ehr (an out-of-print book published in 1957), Ehr wrote that most sign painters can’t spell and see signs as just letters rather than words. Faythe also presented the children’s book Slappy Hooper: The World’s Greatest Sign Painter (1946), and the Outdoor Advertising History and Regulation Book. The books showed how little the trade has changed. In a letter to Faythe, one writer described her father as strong, liking to work outdoors, and a draftsman who later learned to letter when he became a sign painter. They had to hustle to get work while being self employed. Faythe noted that the diversity of background makes it hard to type a sign painter despite Hollywood’s attempt of typing a sign painter in white overalls.

Faythe shared her cheat sheet “The Rampant and Horrible Societal Infection of the Word Typography.” Since the computer replaced the press, it is ok to refer to digital lettering as a typeface. However, hand painting is not typography. Sign painting is not calligraphy. To have the book cover be true to traditional hand painting, Ira Coyne sign painted the cover, and Josh Luke (who started at New Bohemia Signs) sign painted the headlines. Faythe told the TypoSF audience that New Bohemia Signs in San Francisco is one of the best examples of a modern day version of an old-school sign shop. Faythe also presented Doc Guthrie’s work. Doc teaches sign graphics at the Los Angeles Trade-Tech College. Students learn from the beginning from pencil, graduate to brush, and then to computers. When enrollment was low in the 80s, Doc recruited graffiti artists in Venice Beach; today his program is thriving.

The sign painters featured in the documentary said that sign painting is an invisible art and industry that are taken for granted. Sign painting alters and environment; old signs become art. As a backlash to computer-designed, machine-cut vinyl lettering, there is a growing trend and demand for traditional sign painters leading to a renaissance in the trade.

- By Diana Banh @dibanh

12 April 2013

Contrast Session: Monique Jenkinson and Mica Sigourney on Stories of Performance Art and Drag in San Francisco

Mica Sigourney talks about drag and performance art in San Francisco

Mica Sigourney talks about drag and performance art in San Francisco. Photo Credit: Amber Gregory


A Typo first, Monique Jenkinson and Mica Sigourney presented an insightful and illuminating exploration of performance art and explored the role of drag and community in San Francisco.


Drag contrasts, neutralizes or enhances ones given or chosen gender and/or beauty, it’s an exaggeration of gender indicators and it is folk art, tradition and modality of expression specific to queer culture.


“I really like to party, I want everyone to have fun and let’s make some art together,” said Mica Sigourney AKA Vivian Forevermore. But, Sigourney also emphasized how the community and history is integral to the drag culture, and this is one of the greatest strengths of the culture.


Monique Jenkinson presented on “The Image As. The Image Is” where she elaborated on her use of performance collage to celebrate culture and difference, experience and otherness. Her use of paper costumes symbolizes the complexities of people and coming together through difference.


Mica Sigourney gave attendees an amazing quote, saying “We’re all individual threads in a gorgeous fabric.”



12 April 2013

Contrast Sessions: Tonia Bartz, Josh Damon Williams, Toke Nygaard: Experiencing Contrast: Three Different Backgrounds on UX Design

Tonia Bartz discusses her work with UX for the military
Tonia Bartz discusses her work with UX for the U.S. military. Photo Credit: Amber Gregory

Do agency employees or product side designers have better hair? What do blue or red figures convey to our military forces? How does story boarding make you a stronger designer?


Bridging three different backgrounds, professional experiences and perspectives Tonia Bartz, Josh Damon Williams and Toke Nygaard answered the above questions and many more as they illuminated considerations for optimal user experience design.


A self-proclaimed “crazy cat lady,” Tonia Bartz (@tonia) creates user experience for soldiers through her work for General Dynamics. Tonia always had a passion for people watching and today she applies these observations of human social phenomena and communities to her UX design.


Tonia always considers the cultural context (including region, age, education, and organizational backgrounds) when she creates UX design. She also pays close attention to the language she employs in design. For example, the difference between the option to “clear data” or “purge data” implies different levels of finality in the selection.


Similarly, our innate color associations intuitively convey information, as the color green signifies a positive connotation, yellow implies caution, red is a indicator to stop and grays are generally neutral.  In Tonia’s work designing UX for the defense community, the color blue applies to friendly individuals while red is a hostile individual.


Placement of information and windows will impact your UX.  It’s important to consider primary, secondary and tertiary goals of your user when designing the placement of windows, and if information is easily hidden or if chats are needed to maintain the workflow.


Josh Damon Williams (@joshdamon) was a Director at Hot Studio’s and brings a background in film studies to UX design. His experiences in film intuitively lead him to consider the flow of information he waned to convey to users and this naturally lead to creating information architecture.


Although Josh came to UX design through film school, his been an extremely successful designer and is an example that not everyone comes to design through design school. In fact, diverse teams with varied backgrounds tend to make for better teams.


Josh recommends thinking through the story you want your information to tell, which will make you a stronger designer. Not only is your design better tailored to your audience, it allows you to communicate your designs better to teams and clients.


To facilitate your story, Josh highly recommends using storyboards to outline your information and overall he says, “Storyboards are awesome.” In film, storyboarding focuses on an event – the key movement or action you want to convey, the camera cut/fade or dissolve, a camera move and to make your point. You can apply this framework to your UX design. The book “See What I’m Talking About” is a book that exemplifies the concept of using storyboards and comics to convey a message.


Toke Nygaard (@tokenygaard) is the Chief Creative Officer at Zendesk, a customer service software with many of the big name social media companies as clients. Fresh out of design school, an experience he called “extremely crap,” Toke was a founding partner of one of the largest pioneering design communities, K10k. Toke was also co-founder at Cuban Council, a boutique design agency founded in the ruble of the dot com crash that focused on “doing good work” for select clients.


Toke left Cuban Council to become chief creative officer at Zendesk. This experience allowed him to answer the question, “Should I quit my agency to work for a start up or on the product side?”


According to Toke, the differences between working for an agency and the product side can be summed up in different work cycles, focus, coherence, end product and, importantly, hair.


Agency work has short cycles with an emphasis on “getting shit done,” while working on the product side allows for a much slower experience. Agencies have a broad focus and range of clients while working on the product side allow for one focus. Likewise, agency work tends to be directed and there’s not much coherence with the bigger company or mission while working the product side has a lot of coherence. There is no control over the use of the end product with agency work, but with a product, you have a “flotilla” of support.


And, in the all-important question of who rocks the better hair, the clear winner (according to Toke) is in the agency employees.

11 April 2013

Contrast Sessions: Kali Nikitas and Friends

photo by Amber Gregory

Kali Nikitas, Chair of the Communication Arts department at Otis College of Art and Design, introduced the session as the “highlight of the conference.”

She has invited nine friends to speak on what occurs in and outside of school. The speakers represented current faculty, students, and alumni from California College of Arts, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and Otis College.

This session was a quick, energetic lighting-round presentation from three art schools, three presenters each, five minutes each. I enjoyed seeing the different ways of presenting.

1. 1st up was CCA

CCA Senior Adjunct Professor Geoff Kaplan presented the book he designed, edited and coauthored Power to the People: the Graphic Design of the Radical Press and the Rise of the Counter Culture 1964-74, which was published earlier this year. Geoff presented with a mesmerizing animation of flipping pages to show the book’s survey of the daring, original design by radical underground papers of the 60s and 70s.

Student James Edmondson then presented his Woods of Wisdom poster series followed by his typeface Wisdom Script.

Professor John Sueda then presented an exhibition at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts that featured the Walker Art Center. John said that the discipline of graphic design suffers from a lack of diversity in exhibition format. He curated the exhibition which, according to Walker Art Center, “investigates graphic design’s evolving relationship with the practice of exhibition making as it intersects with the visual arts and the work of both artists and curators.”

2. Next up was MCAD

MCAD professor Jan Jancourt spoke on “concord” (shared visual characteristics) instead of the conference theme “contrast.” He presented a visual stack of images of his students’ project in collaboration with MCAD grad and his past student Eric Rieger aka HOTTEA who was known for his beautiful typographic yarn installations on chain-link fences. The project was for his introduction to typography class which had students from different disciplines such as film, not just graphic design. The yarn graffiti project allowed students to learn about letter form, typographic design and systems, and they would also learn about communication—what message to say to the neighborhood with which they were not familiar.

Mike and Elizabeth presented from AgencyCollective.com. They form a great team as Elizabeth finishes nothing and Mike finishes everything. They used typography to show process with every slide having a numerical statistic and a short description – ie 1,700 all-nighters.

Cameron Ewing presented, “how design school saved my life.” He contrasted his personal vs professional practice and the intersection. Cameron melded his passion for beekeeping with his profession. He designed the book So You Want to Be a Beekeeper in 5 Easy Steps and shared the link Beesomebody.wordpress.com.

3. Last was Otis

Ana Llorente (Practitioner and Teacher), Ivana Arellanes (a student at Otis in her last year), and Hazel Mandujano (alumni) presented as a team of three generations of Latino women from Mexico and Cuba, showing how Otis connects students with educators. They presented who they are, where they’re from, an unlikely fact, what it means to have a practice, decision making process, and presented a project. They had a unified message and each dressed in support of a cause.

Ivana is in her senior year at Otis. Her family is from Mexico, and she grew up as a 90s baby in Hollywood. Her work shows her journey of establishing her identity. We received a poster by her upon entering the screening room from her sound art project that aims to push the boundaries of graphic design and music.

Hazel Mandujano is a LA native that grew up in a city once known as the gang capital of USA. It has one high school and one middle school where most people will cross paths. People living in the city had little access to anything, esp. art, and art was a boys club dominated by male graffiti artists. Her peers didn’t go to college because they didn’t think they’d get there. This has led to her mission of activism. Hazel has started a free education program for women by women, strong female mentors.

Ana is a designer, design professor, unlicensed architect, exhibition curator, and motorcycle enthusiast. She is from Venezuela, Cuba and California, which are intertwined in her work. Ana described being a professor as like having a birthday everyday with her students as her gifts. She presented her $1/minute graphic design project – a participatory, inclusive opportunity that was quickly rewarding, suggested design as an unprecious commodity, and helped build community.

They ended the presentation with the inspiring words: “On a white page you are, a poem in hiding”

Kali summed up that we have heard from nine people who were beekeepers, gangsters, motorcycle mamas, survivors, designers, change agents, risk taker, and “most of all we are dreamers.”

- By Diana Banh @dibanh

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