Posts about Design inspiration

Redesigns in the open

Two of my favourite designers on the web are writing about the redesign process of their websites, as they’re designing them. The first to do this was Johnnie Hallman, who introduced the concept here. His posts have been enlightening, as always (he’s got me interested in Contentful, which is saying something).1

The second designer to take this on is Frank Chimero. I’ve been reading Frank’s writing religiously since 2013, when he was interviewed in The Great Discontent. It was obvious right away that he had a unique perspective on design, writing, and web development. I’ve read his blog multiple times over, studied every iteration of his website, and read his book several times. Needless to say, I’m a huge fan.

With all that being said, it’s been a delight to read through his thought process as he redesigns his blog. Many of his concerns regard typography, which is something I’m also obsessive about. Frank is sharing images of his process as he designs his website in the browser, and sharing how he approaches his work from the outside in,” as he often says.

Some of my favourite posts from Frank so far:

  • Perfect Trifecta: an examination of the moods and aesthetic Frank considers for his website.
  • Looking at Letters: in which Frank blows up typeface sizes and dissects, at great length, the way he compares the differences between similar typefaces (like Source Sans and National 2, or Scto and Untitled Sans). If you’re into type, or you’re a designer, this is the sort of writing from which we all benefit.
  • Scales and Hierarchy: Frank demonstrates the way he sets font sizes and line heights, and then talks about creating hierarchy with spacing, weight, colour, size, differing typefaces, and design accents.

Frank and Johnnie’s posts have illustrated what’s been missing in contemporary design writing, at least for me: none of us are writing about how we do the work. We’re sharing finished products and listicles. There is a dearth of education design writing that exists to do something other than market ourselves. 

I’m not redesigning my blog (yet), and I just launched a new version of my portfolio, but I’d like to start writing material like this myself.

  1. For those of you who don’t know, Johnnie also makes Cushion, a delightful web app for freelancers that helps them invoice clients and plan their projects. I have been a paying customer for years, and it’s very excellent at what it does.↩︎

Awesome design alert: the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra

I’ve been meaning to talk about the new brand identity of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra for a while. This is absolutely wicked stuff from Bond Agency, a top-notch graphic design studio.

A large version of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra logo

A few years ago, I did the design work for a music magazine called The Modern Producer. (I should really put that case study back up on the website; it was great.) One of the things I had fun with was the idea of using a waveform in the logo. The branding for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra takes that idea so much further. I absolutely adore it.

The branding for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra in use on print materials

I also love the motion that they bring into this identity. It all comes together beautifully, with clean typography and a real sense of energy. I get the feeling convincing people that seeing an orchestra is energetic is a tough sell, and this branding absolute nails it. I love every bit of it.

The branding for the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra is one of the year’s bests, folks. Check it out in all its glorious detail over at Bond Agency’s website. And Bond, if you’re reading this, much respect to you for this incredibly inspiring work.

Cooper Hewitt

One of the projects I’m working on is an identity project for a new Canadian charity. I’ve been trying to find a typeface that’s legible and distinctive, particularly in the regions of the world where they’ll be sending volunteers. I’ve found myself entranced by Cooper Hewitt’s typeface, which is open source and available for unrestricted public use.

In researching the typeface, I stumbled onto Pentagram’s new-ish case study about the project. It’s a very long read, but so incredibly insightful. In truth, I haven’t finished reading it yet. But the case study’s awesome, and I couldn’t wait to share it.

Check out Pentagram’s case study here.

The art design of The Witcher 3

Art design from The Witcher 3. This depicts a witcher finding a lichten, a tree monster who calls on wolves for aid. The wolves are beside the tree monster, and the witcher holds a torch to see in the dark.

Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of The Witcher 3, and have come away nothing less than inspired. Its art design is truly compelling. The world is immersive and the design work is second-to-none, making it one of the most satisfying video game worlds I’ve played in years.

I was looking for a great book on the game’s art when I stumbled on this blog post, which has some of the best concept images from the game I can find. It’s incredible the work that’s gone into this. What I was hoping for was a book in the Design Works series, which are known for their conceptual drawings, renderings, and detailed hand-written notes, but this might do in its stead. (That being said, this peek at what a book like that might have been filled with me makes me what it all the more.)

A number of things stand out to me with these images. Firstly, I love how detailed the art is — most of it is painted! It’s also fascinating to see how much, or how little, the game changed between these images and its final state. And of course, the monster designs are truly fabulous.

Art design for one of The Witcher 3's cities.

The other great thing about The Witcher 3 is that it was made in the era of the internet, so freelancers who worked on the project are sharing their in-progress material in their portfolios (often alongside images from the finished product). A quick Google search makes more material like this easy to find.

All of this has gotten me thinking: as UI and UX designers, I think we have a lot to learn from video games (and the people who make them). They’ve got a lot to tell us about experience design. It’s one of the reasons I admire UsTwo (the folks behind Monument Valley) as much as I do: they’re both digital designers and video game designers, and see the challenges and constraints in both as creative tools. Their work is fascinating, and they have a unique outlook on what games and design can do for us.

All that to say: a lot of ink has been spilled about how video games are destroying minds of generations, but I doubt that’s the case. If anything, video games have a lot to teach us yet — and they’re still in their creative infancy. Designers should watch this space closely.

Check out the original blog post about Witcher 3 here to see more images from this collection.