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11 DECEMBER, 2012

Play Press: University of California monogram

When the general public became aware that a new UC monogram had been launched to represent the University of California and its ten campuses, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Carolyn Jones contacted me for an opinion.

Both Angie and I earned degrees from the University of California: Angie has a degree in Japanese from UC Berkeley, and I have a degree in Fine Arts from UCLA. As alumni of the UC system, the new monogram represented us—as well as hundreds of thousands of other alumni, current students, and faculty.

While I understand that the University of California needs a new symbol separate from its historic “seal,” the proposed monogram was not the appropriate solution. Branding statements or strategy documents become moot when the resulting visual identity doesn’t accurately reflect the company or institution, or “speaks” in the wrong “voice.”

The pedagogic approach of the Graphic Design department at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco where we teach is predicated on the idea of critique. Work is judged, publicly. I encourage my students to ask the following questions so that they can determine for themselves the merits of their work. For example:
Who is the audience?
What is the intended message?
Is it the right message?
How successfully does the piece communicate the intended message?
What elements contribute to the piece’s successful communication?
What elements detract from it?
Are there unintended messages?

The San Francisco Chronicle article ran on the front page on Tuesday, December 11, 2012. My comments were offered from the perspective of an instructor who believes that informed, perceptive critique can only sharpen—and thus benefit—the practice of graphic design in our culture. My quotes from the article are below. [MF]

“Utterly forgettable”

Mark Fox, a graphic design professor at California College of the Arts who designed that school’s logo and has done work for UC in the past, panned the new effort.

“The visual language is generic, commercial and utterly forgettable,” he said. “It is a complete mismatch for the university's history and reputation. (It) has no visual or conceptual gravitas.”

A good logo should be distinct and memorable, create positive associations, reflect well on the company and work easily and inexpensively in all media, he said.

“The new UC logo,” Fox said, “fails in most of the above criteria.”

The entire article by Carolyn Jones can be found here. Three days after the article ran the University of California withdrew its support for the new symbol.

26 SEPTEMBER, 2011

Play at RE:DESIGN / Creative Directors, 11.07.2011

We have been invited to speak at the RE:DESIGN / Creative Directors Conference in Palm Springs this November. The conference will open with a keynote conversation with Paula Scher; other presenters include a number of our friends and colleagues from California College of the Arts in San Francisco. The topic of our conversation will be “Get Back: Working Analog in a Digital World.” Don’t forget to bring pens and paper!

30 MAY, 2011

CCA Craft Forward Symposium 2011 Applications

We recently completed a section on our site featuring applications of the Craft Forward identity. To create variation within the system, we utilized a range of reproduction methods. We combined foil stamping, letterpress printing, offset lithography on a web press, laser printing, and screen printing with a mix of substrates, including chipboard, newsprint, DayGlo paper, and cotton organza. Photographer Mark Serr documented the work for us.

See the complete Craft Forward project under Design is Play Studio Systems.

31 JANUARY, 2011

Fox on Designers and Books

Launching February 1, Designers and Books is a new website “devoted to publishing lists of books that esteemed members of the design community identify as personally important, meaningful, and formative—books that have shaped their values, their worldview, and their ideas about design.” The site is launching with 678 books recommended by 50 designers; Mark is honored to be among them. His book list includes titles about typography, symbols, comics, and social critique. (Illustration by Ben Shahn from Ounce, Dice, Trice.)

Designers and Books was created by Steve Kroeter who also acts as its Editor-in-Chief. The site was designed by Pentagram.

5 JANUARY, 2011

CCA Craft Forward Symposium 2011 Identity

Craft Forward is a forthcoming symposium at California College of the Arts that will explore the boundaries between craft, art, design, architecture, and writing. We were engaged to create the identity for the symposium and to design its promotional materials.

Our solution juxtaposes two square glyphs: a circa 1909 typographer’s ornament (symbolizing craft), and a QR code (symbolizing forward). The QR (or Quick Response) code can be scanned with a smart phone which then directs the user to the Craft Forward website. In this context the QR code functions as a modern ornament, but one with embedded content.

See the Craft Forward identity applied to a foil stamped postcard under Design is Play Studio Systems. (More applications to come….)

8 NOVEMBER, 2010

Advice for Designers, Extrapolated

Marcel Duchamp wrote, “as a painter it was much better to be influenced by a writer than by another painter,” the idea being that one should look outside of one’s creative profession for inspiration to avoid direct emulation. It is in this spirit that I enjoy considering the practice of graphic design through the lenses of other creative practices, in particular the craft of writing.

We are fans of Roald Dahl in the Fox & Wang abode, and have read a number of his books to our (collective) three children. Not long ago we read Dahl’s 1977 memoir “Lucky Break—How I Became a Writer” for the first time. On the second page he offers seven tips to would-be fiction writers that, perhaps not surprisingly, are relevant to would-be graphic designers.

Number one on that list: You should have a lively imagination.

One immediately thinks: Isn’t this obvious, for fiction writers as well as graphic designers? (Perhaps Dahl thought so, because this is the only piece of advice he doesn’t elaborate on.) After a moment, though, I have to ask: What does it mean to “have a lively imagination,” anyway?

Marcel Proust observed that “The essence of the writer’s task is the perception of connections among unlike things.” Whether writing or designing, I believe it is through seeing, through forming surprising or illuminating linkages, that one puts a lively imagination to work. It is being, in a word, playful.

A later book-length piece of advice, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994) contains a number of insightful suggestions for graphic designers thinly veiled as advice to writers. In the chapters “Shitty First Drafts” and “Perfectionism,” Lamott explores the messy process of writing and the creative dangers of not allowing that process to be messy. She warns that “Perfectionism will ruin your writing, blocking inventiveness and playfulness.” And: “Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation, while writing [read: design] needs to breathe and move.”

It is interesting to weigh Lamott’s point of view against Roald Dahl’s, especially because his fourth tip—You must be a perfectionist—appears antithetical to hers. In truth, though, I think this particular issue is more about timing, about when to seek perfection in one’s craft rather than whether to seek it at all. Lamott allows for more detours along the way, I suspect, but both she and Dahl are intent on arriving at the same destination sooner or later. [MF]

18 OCTOBER, 2010

Steve Lyons at Play

“For this net neutrality mark I made for CREDO Action, I was attempting to take a geeky tech policy issue and make it playful. The essential idea behind net neutrality is one of keeping the internet open and free from corporate control. (For more on the topic I suggest you visit Save The Internet). How better to convey freedom than to give the internet some wings? Lightning bolts add a little zap to the composition and complete the labor union retro feel. CREDO took the playfulness a little farther and made temporary tattoos as a giveaway at the progressive blogger conference Netroots Nation.

Steve Lyons is Design Director of CREDO Mobile. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

11 OCTOBER, 2010

Play at Carbon Five, 10.06.2010

In October we were invited to present our work to Carbon Five, an agile software development company. Our presentation was notably analog, and involved a number of small scraps of paper. (Yes, we still use paper at Play!) Our design of an identity for the startup BO.LT provided a vehicle for us to discuss our process of form development and refinement.

Our preferred method of creating imagery is to draw by hand—without the “aid” of computer software. We find this allows us great freedom and, surprisingly, speed. Repeatedly drawing the same forms also forces us to look at those forms closely—to become conscious of their physical qualities in relation to each other. After creating a rough sketch we like, we make a tight inking of it using a Rapidograph technical pen. (You can see one of our BO.LT icon inkings above.)

As Angie notes, “the computer shouldn’t dictate our manner of thinking and working, nor should it displace our ability to pick up a pen and make marks on paper.” Although we use the computer to generate final art in a digital format, we relish the opportunity to work by hand in the earlier stages of our projects.

3 SEPTEMBER, 2010

Bob Aufuldish at Play

"With the poster I was trying to solve the formal problem of making type read on top of an image. One classic rule of typography is to never put a stroke on the type. But what happens if you specify a huge stroke? All kinds of interesting bumpy shapes result. I made the bumpy shapes silver and set them to partially overprint the image underneath so the silver acts as a connector between the image and the type.

"Photos of three speakers were superimposed to create the image. Each photo was assigned one process color: cyan, magenta, yellow. Usually there is an overall theme for the lecture series but this time there wasn't. There was much discussion as to whether or not to show small versions of the individual photos as a way of explaining the source of the images on the poster, but I prefer not to explain anything. I like it much better when you're not sure what you're looking at rather than wondering briefly and then knowing exactly.

"I made the video literally just for fun. I like to make videos where nothing much seems to happen. In this case, there are four videos where nothing much seems to happen, but putting them in a sequence sparks a little narrative."

Bob Aufuldish is a Bay Area designer and educator. We invited him to share a moment of play with us.

Bob Aufuldish on press (2:02)
Printing the Fall 2010 CCA Architecture Lecture Series poster at Howard Quinn in San Francisco.

14 JUNE, 2010

Fox at Landor, 06.03.2010

Courtney Reeser, Managing Director of Landor Associates in San Francisco, invited Mark to exhibit and speak about his work “at Landor.” The exhibit encompassed work from Design is Play and BlackDog, and included logos, identity systems, posters, book covers, prints from Mark’s Erotikon series and, for the first time, seven of Mark's personal sketchbooks. Mark had the honor of being introduced by his friend and colleague Michael Schwab. (Photos by Michael Friel.)

Watch excerpts of Mark Fox’s conversation with Courtney Reeser:

Fox at Landor 1 (2:09)
On Michael Schwab, clubbing baby seals, and perfection as the default.

Fox at Landor 2 (1:49)
On the “filter” of the computer and the homogenization of design.

Fox at Landor 3 (3:37)
On teaching Graphic Design 1 and hand-inking.

03 JUNE, 2010

Wired Magazine iPad App Iconography

Wired Magazine asked us to develop two sets of icons for their groundbreaking iPad app which launched in May, 2010. We designed the app's global user interface icons which function at a size of 20 × 20 pixels; we also created interactive icons to navigate this multisensory edition of Wired. (Interactive icons include Play Video, Play Audio, Swipe Left to Right, and 360° View.) The covers of the first two issues feature our Play Video icon.

Read an interview with Wired's Scott Dadich by Joshua Gorchov from The Loud Cloud. Download Wired's iPad app from Apple.

ANGIE WANG + MARK FOX / STUDIO@DESIGNISPLAY.COM / 415.505.6242 / © 2013 DESIGN IS PLAY

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