Archives for category: Graphic Design

Recently, a musician friend of mine asked about alternatives to Photoshop. He’s dabbled in poster design and promo work for his band and can’t afford the Adobe Suite. I’ve colleagues who are far more knowledgable than I with open source software, so I asked them. When I was an early teen, my mom had been laid off from a pulp mill, returned to school (thanks to union dues), and became a graphic designer complete with Photoshop 5, or whatever was the latest in the late 90’s. Point is, from a young age I’ve always known Adobe for design projects. And as far as the profession goes, Adobe is the means. However, it is expensive. And for those who design on an occasional basis, I should be able to reference non-designers or anti-CS types to photo editing alternatives. I know we’re all heavily invested to our beloved Adobe CS, be it for Mac or Windows, but there are solid alternatives that are worth investigating. From what I’ve gathered GIMP, Krita, and Chocoflop are the best freeware options for photo editing on the market. One friend said he often prefers GIMP over photoshop for certain applications. We may not need to know any other software than Adobe to succeed professionally in design, though it can’t hurt looking into other options, especially when they’re free.


On March 9 2012, my wife and I had our daughter Elvira at Vanderbilt Hospital. The baby is incredible. Hospital decor is not. Needless to say, my exhausted brain had plenty of time to wander over two nights of sleeping next to my wife on a convertible-couch-cot thing. I hadn’t been in a hospital for a long time, and Vanderbilt is an impressive compound. I was amazed at the sheer scale and organization necessary to operate a business that’s about saving lives. It’s insane. Being a manager at a hospital must be a daunting task. This got me thinking about a radio show I’d heard a few months back about Hospital layout. 99% Invisible is a brilliant radio show that tells stories about the ingenious design that surrounds us every day and largely goes unnoticed.

This particular episode is about how a hospital in Seattle used a Toyota factory in Japan as a model for redesigning their hospital. It also goes into customer experience and how surgeons sacrificed their large offices with floor to ceiling windows, for the patient. Customer experience and streamlined navigation made the Virgina Mason Medical Facility much more successful in multiple ways. Though this story doesn’t directly relate to anything we’ve been doing in class, it does concern rational design, customer satisfaction, and it obviously resonates with me at the moment. Ah, and it gave me an opportunity to tell you about 99% Invisible. Listen in:

In lieu of this year’s ongoing student ADDY competition, I thought I’d share with you some invaluable advice from Mr. Bierut regarding graphic design competitions. Like my prior Love Life of Your Client post, I reference Michael Bierut’s Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design. The third essay in Bierut’s book is titled, How to Win Graphic Design Competitions and may even help you win next year’s ADDYs. He’s understanding of the imbalance of the many hours devoted to projects, and the seconds with which it is judged for competitions. Here’s the intro; it’s particularly interesting to hear about the judging process itself:

People who enter design competitions, particularly people who enter and lose design competitions, comfort themselves by imaging that something sinister goes on in the tomblike confines of the judges’ chambers.

When you judge a competition yourself, you learn that nothing could be farther from the truth. Behind the closed doors are table after table covered with pieces of graphic design. Like most things in life, only a few of these are really good. Each judge moves along the tables, looking at each piece just long enough to ascertain whether he or she likes it. It takes a long time and a lot of people to produce eve a modest piece of graphic design. The judging process takes less than a second.

The predictability of this ritual, which has all the glamour and sinister aspects of digging a ditch, makes it easy to devise some simple rules that will increase your chances of winning…

The whole book is available on free google books, here. This particular essay starts on page 24. Go see what techniques will help crush opponent designers.

Although I haven’t even finished our resume redesign due Tuesday, I’m fairly burnt out on the subject (though much better educated). As such, I thought I’d share another great resource for public domain imagery. The wonderful people at the Library of Congress have accumulated a massive online collection of public domain images that are free to download and are often of awe-inspiringly high quality. Exhibit A, a poster I did for a friend for a gig he has coming up in Memphis. For that image I simply searched “camel” on their site and, viola, 26 mb copyright-free TIFF of an undeniably cool vintage photo of a camel-riding soldier. A little Photoshop later and you have a compelling high-res poster with a touch of Univers. The only drawbacks I’ve found are that you cannot search by image quality and that you’ll quickly sacrifice many hours to the extensive online library. Go get yourself some Library of Congress, I know I will.

Side note, they also have some pretty incredible recordings of early American music, including a fantastic session with Woody Guthrie and another with Muddy Waters. If you like the old folk and country blues, look into Library of Congress’s Anthology of Folk.

Tin Pan South 2012 Poster

Tuesday night we witnessed the 2012 Nashville Student Addy’s. I was lucky enough to have won two gold Addy’s, one for poster design and another for editorial series. Like many of the victors that night, I was ecstatic, though personally, because my Tin Pan South poster won. As most of you know, the Tin Pan South poster for our Type II class is an actual client based project. Each year the winner gets to have his or her poster as the identity for the Nashville songwriter’s festival Tin Pan South. And you get money. Last semester, when I was given the assignment, I found all of these real client perks particularly tempting and worked my ass off on these posters. I listened to the client’s requests intently. She looked for innovative symbols for songwriting, something that commemorates the 20th anniversary, and maybe something that strays from anything too country or  Hatch Show-ey. Long story short, I spent a long time coming up with atypical songwriting symbols with an eye-catching and simple design. Although my poster does make gratuitous use of Lost Type fonts mashed up with Rockwell, and even if it is simply center-stacked—the easy way out—I think it’s a great poster with a fantastic illustration. I did receive a nice grade for the poster, however it was not picked by the client. Classic client/designer relationship; it wasn’t what the client wanted and that sucked for me. Though I masked it well, I was slightly embittered by the selection.  And Tuesday, at the Nashville Student Addy’s I got myself gratified. Though it wasn’t the client, someone professional thought highly of that damn poster. I’m sure to be let down or compromised by countless clients to come, so if anything, Tuesday was one little victory for the self-righteous, designer-knows-best sentiment in me.

Ha! I found it! I’m pretty sure one of us mentioned a story—hypothetical or not, I can’t remember—of a bakery getting shut down for making birthday cakes with Disney characters depicted on them. Well this TED talk starts with that very tale, and it’s true and crazy! They got in trouble for printing replicated child’s drawing of Mickey Mouse on a cake. A cake with a kid’s drawing of god-damned Mickey Mouse on it is illegal. Big Disney. After this anecdote, speaker Clay Shirky, goes on to tell why SOPA and PIPA is a bad idea and how it aims to “raise the cost of copyright compliance, to the point where people simply get out of the business of offering it as a capability to amateurs.” He also explains the origins of the bills and how it will ultimately fail while causing all sorts of digital censoring problems. He makes a great point about how Americans—and all citizens for that matter— want to produce, not simply consume. And xerox machines, tape recorders, and other new technology scared the hell out of media moguls, because it empowered citizens to copy, edit, and resell intellectual property. Now in the digital era, those means to remix have multiplied and became widely available. SOPA and PIPA are the media companies’ newest attempt to police us. I realize the bills didn’t pass, but something similar will likely reappear in the near future. Media companies stand to gain millions of dollars over a unjustly censored internet, and they have millions of dollars at their expense to lobby for future bills. As Clay says, “Get ready, because more is coming.”


After Tuesday’s conversation on the often touchy requirement of professional relationships in graphic design, I was reminded of an essay from Michael Bierut’s 79 Short Essays on Design. Bierut considers the inevitable relationship of client and designer through anecdotes from heavy-hitters like Tibor Kalman and Milton Glaser, and elegantly explains some faithful insights regarding professional relationships. Bierut draws comparison with the Milgram shock experiments of the 1960’s where subjects willingly shocked victims—in the name of science—due to the experiment head’s persuasion and authority. (It’s really much more complicated than that and I’d urge you to read the essay your self). The idea is that designers often enter the world passionate about their future partnerships with clients, but soon realize they must cater to their client/boss/authority and feel forced to make a crappier logo or uglier ad.

I’ll let Bierut sum it up:

Most of us enter the field of design filled with individual passions and unrealized visions, and learn quickly that the other people know better: first teachers, then bosses, finally even the judges of design competitions and editors of design annuals. We put aside our doubts—non of us want to be prima donnas anyway—and become comfortable professionals in just another service industry. And when we’re roused to our feet by a call to action, second thoughts set it. “That’s easy for him (Tibor, Milton, fill in the blank) to say, but my clients won’t let me do that.” But of course that’s not true. In fact, we don’t know what woudl happen if we tried. We take too much pride in the quality of our “service” to find out. So business as usual remains business as usual.

Who’s in charge here, anyway?

The designer-client relationship can and should be a partnership. It’s time to stop blaming the client when it’s not. Our work can and should serve society. It should serve an audience beyond ourselves, beyond our clients, and beyond the next design annual.

Viva Michael Bierut and design idealism! I highly recommend looking into Bierut’s writing, and our library does carry a copy of his book…hint, hint.

I’m studying graphic design because, of all the arts, it’s the most ubiquitous to our daily lives — and continues to disappoint on many an occasion. Graphic design is visual communication; it’s less an outlet for self-expression, and more a form of visual detective work. You’re given clients, information, graphics, text, links etc. and asked to streamline and organize data into rational, gorgeous layouts whether ending as posters, websites, annual reports, or invitations. It’s the problem solving aspect in graphic design—and perhaps a deep-seeded need for validation—that drew me to graphic design and the often-strange client/artist relationships involved.

I too, appreciate that it’s a very cerebral field of the visual arts how its subject matter knows no bounds. I love Jeopardy and own a copy the original 1980’s Trivial Pursuit. Graphic design caters to the trivia buff in that you’re never bogged down in one subject for too long. From encyclopedia typesetting and New Yorker illustrations to reptile enthusiast websites or corporate infographics, I really appreciate the diversity within graphic design.

Once I graduate I’d appreciate getting a job with a firm or within the design team at a larger corporation. I realize it wouldn’t necessarily allow me the same freedoms as freelancing, but it would give me vital experience as well as security—which shall not be underestimated with student loans and a young family. I wouldn’t mind moving into more conceptual areas of design, such as information design, data analysis, or interface design. Hell, I may even pursue a career in industrial design again. I’m not set on any specific path in the field, however I know I’m happy with design, and know that there will always be a need for better design.