14 FEBRUARY, 2013

Play at Play: Happy Valentine’s Day!

If love was a train I’d throw my body right down on her tracks. —Michelle Shocked

Our most recent labor of love features two hearts with targets juxtaposed with a bolt. We drew the heart glyph; the bolt was lifted from a warning sticker marking high voltage on a Canadian ferry. As we love ink on paper, we screen printed our design on hefty chipboard to render the ephemeral greeting a bit less so.

Kevin Giffen from Wranch Studio in Santa Monica, California, printed the art: two hits (wet on wet) of fluorescent pink followed by one hit of black. Mark worked with Kevin at Wasserman Silk Screen Co. thirty years ago, and we are thrilled to be working with him again. Angie set the Michelle Shocked lyric on the back of the card in Marian Black, a monoline blackletter that we customized for readibility.

21 JANUARY, 2013

Site Updates

We recently added some work to our site—some new, some old—including the web site we designed for Anson Mills; two art books, one featuring the work of Ed Ruscha and the second featuring the work of Gerhard Richter; and some examples of hand-inked trademarks and typography.

We hope you enjoy!

29 OCTOBER, 2012

Dogpatch Boulders Identity

Touchstone Climbing is at it again, this time adding a new bouldering gym in the Dogpatch section of San Francisco, south of downtown. Slated to open in early 2013, the gym will feature prefabricated walls manufactured by the Bulgarian company Walltopia.

Our design is a conceptual no-brainer: dog + “eyepatch” = dogpatch. The colored X behind the dog was created with climbing tape, and reinforces the cruciform design of the dog’s face. Touchstone wanted the new identity to feel “urban.”

See other trademarks we have designed for similar clients under Design is Play Studio Symbols Trademarks Sports and Entertainment.

23 APRIL, 2012

March Pantry Identity and Packaging System Application

We recently completed a section on our site featuring our identity and packaging system for March Pantry. Hearth and home are central to the store’s concept, and the shop stocks seasonal jams made especially for March by LouLou’s Garden, select spices from Le Sanctuaire, pots and pans from Brooklyn Copper Cookware, and handmade butcher block tables from Union Studio.

Our hand-lettered wordmark is printed and embossed on die cut labels with a laid finish; it is screen printed when applied to apothecary jars. The design is understated but invitational. (So far the system has won awards for typography from both Communication Arts and the Type Directors Club.) Photographer Kirk Amyx documented the work.

See our work to date for March Pantry under Design is Play Studio Systems.

21 NOVEMBER, 2011

Studio Climbing Identity

Touchstone Climbing is opening yet another gym, this time in downtown San Jose, California. Located in a former movie theater called Studio, the building features a classic 1950 channel lettering neon sign. As part of our visual research, we took photographs of the signage while atop an electric scissor lift 30 feet above the street so we could capture the images without distortion. These photographs ultimately became the basis of hand-inked studies with which we created custom lettering.

The eye and gear symbol we designed references the history of the building as a theater, and is inspired by ideas of projection and seeing. The art was meticulously crafted to optically pulsate: it both radiates outward as it simultaneously contracts inward to the center. Noted speed climber Hans Florine summarizes the new Studio identity on Facebook with the phrase “I got my eye on your gear.”

7 NOVEMBER, 2011

March Trunk Show Invitation

Our friends at March asked us to design an invitation to a trunk show of apparel conceived by interior designer Sam Hamilton of March and textile and clothing designer Matt Dick of Mato Creative. Inspired by a mid-century photograph of a newspaper seller wearing a white paper apron with oversize headlines (i.e. “Football Results”), the invitation is screen printed on Tyvek. Matt transformed the flat piece into an apron by adding metal grommets and cotton ties, and then folding it.

Our original intention was to hand set the invitation text with xeroxes of hot metal type from an old Linotype specimen book, pasting it up one letter at a time. As sometimes happens, though, March fell in love with Angie’s rough sketch, and this became the basis of the final art. (The rough sketch is 3 1/2 inches wide—we enlarged it 1000% to the final width of 35 inches.) We like the contrast between the warmth and imprecision of Angie’s hand-traced type and the machined quality of Tyvek.

See examples of earlier work for March Workshop under Design is Play Studio Systems.

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!

19 SEPTEMBER, 2011

March Pantry Identity and Packaging System

We recently designed an identity and packaging system for March Pantry in San Francisco, a new venture from retail store March. Mark created the original identity for March in 2003, one year after Tobias Frere-Jones’ Gotham became available to the public. Eight years later, Gotham has become so ubiquitous as to be invisible; as a result, we needed to create an identity for March Pantry that related to March’s use of Gotham Light, but that varied enough to be distinctive.

The ensuing type treatment is built on Gotham’s bones, but it deviates in significant ways. Foremost among the changes: we eliminated variations in stroke weight, redrawing the letters as monoline forms. In addition, we gave the leg of the R a modest lilt, and we rounded all of the external corners and terminals to soften the typographic “voice.” Finally, the implied geometry (and symmetry) of the original are fully realized: the letter C is based on a perfect circle, and the M is absolutely symmetrical. The net effect, in some sense, is to “de-design” the face, returning it to its vernacular roots. At least that’s how we think of it.

The tactility of embossed lettering on the printed label—as well as Angie’s handwriting—provides a warm contrast to the set type. Offset lithography and registered embossing by Oscar Printing; photography by Kirk Amyx. We will show more applications in due course….

29 AUGUST, 2011

New Work: Cengage Learning Book Covers

We recently updated the section on our site featuring textbook covers we designed for Cengage Learning. Covers in this genre tend toward the literal, and rely heavily on stock photography. We aim to be metaphorical in our design approach, and to author our own images whenever possible. Each cover in this section features original photography, iconography, or typography.

See more examples of recent cover designs for Cengage Learning under Design is Play Studio Covers.

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.

21 MARCH, 2011

MetalMark Naming and Identity

Touchstone Climbing is opening a gym in Fresno, California, and we were asked to develop its name and visual identity. We named the new gym MetalMark after a native California butterfly with distinctive, metallic markings. We were inspired by the simple idea of metamorphosis, by the physical and mental changes we undergo as rock climbers. The form of our butterfly symbol is transformed as well: it is modeled on the engineered aluminum cams used in outdoor rock climbing.

The MetalMark logotype is set in Rockwell Antique, a slab serif typeface issued in 1931. As a cast-metal typeface, we like the connection between the materiality of the original type (metal) and the name MetalMark. The typeface is not available commercially, so we redrew the letters by hand before creating the art digitally.

See a proposed application of the MetalMark identity under Design is Play Studio Systems. (More applications to come….)

14 MARCH, 2011

Play at the Pasadena Museum of California Art

Curator Amos Klausner charged twenty-six designers with re-imagining one letter from the alphabet, using the illegibility and deconstructive nature of graffiti as their starting point. (We chose the letter A.) The ensuing exhibition, Getting Upper, will open at the Pasadena Museum of California Art on May 15, 2011.

Our lowercase letter a is derived from Albrecht Dürer’s schema for blackletter construction published in 1538. Dürer’s line drawing breaks down the letter into component parts to reveal its design. We subvert this intent by reversing the diagram, flipping the negative spaces to positive ones. The resulting segments are then printed in a palette of modulated colors that further fragment (and deconstruct) the constructed letter. Our poster layout utilizes Jan Tschichold’s non-arbitrary page proportioning system to suggest a book page with the image area as the text block.

Each of the twenty-six letters will be published as a screen printed poster by Bloom Screen Printing Co. and made available for sale at the museum and online.

See more examples of our poster designs under Design is Play Studio Posters.

2 FEBRUARY, 2011

Play at Play

To announce the launch of the Design is Play website, we created a mailing based on the idea of play. Playing card backs are overprinted with an LCD grid to suggest infinite possibilities: depending on which portions of the grid are “lit,” any letter or number can be constructed. The LCD grid as a programmable system is an apt analogy for our studio as well as the web.

Card fronts are overprinted with a “window” which both frames and reframes the original design, forcing the viewer to reconsider the familiar schema. Like the LCD grid, the window suggests a larger idea: a screen with an infinite number of views. The playing cards were foil stamped by Oscar Printing, San Francisco. (Photos by Mark Serr.)

See more playing cards under Design is Play Studio Systems.

24 JANUARY, 2011

Minniti McMurtrie Identity

We designed this identity for San Francisco fashion designer Jennifer Minniti and architect Darren McMurtrie. The letterforms are modeled on Banjo, a titling face released by the French foundry Deberny & Peignot in 1930. The wide versions of the letters provide cues to the pronunciation of their names as they roughly correspond to the stresses. (For example, the first R is held longer than the second R in McMurtrie.)

See more examples of our identity designs under Design is Play Studio Trademarks.

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….)

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.

23 AUGUST, 2010

Intel AppUp Center Identity

We recently worked with Razorfish San Francisco to conceive a new identity for Intel's AppUp center, a web initiative devoted to enhancing the functionality of Intel netbooks. Our identity features a star pattern and custom typography whose forms are based on the rounded square found in app icon silhouettes. The pattern is endlessly repeatable in a reference to the extensive range of apps available as well as to the idea of “cloud” computing.

See more examples of our proposed AppUp center identity under Design is Play Studio Systems.

09 AUGUST, 2010

Cengage Learning Book Cover

We designed the cover for the latest edition of Concepts of Chemical Dependency, a text for undergraduate and graduate counseling classes. Prior cover designs for this title tended to be literal and almost encyclopedic in their attempt to illustrate myriad drugs. Our approach is metaphorical and minimal, and relies on our photograph of a single, iconic hook. The image is both seductive and dangerous, not unlike some addictive substances.

See more examples of recent cover designs for Cengage Learning under Design is Play Studio Covers.

19 JULY, 2010

Anson Mills Identity and Packaging System

Anson Mills of Columbia, South Carolina, is unique in contemporary food culture: they specialize in cold milling organic heirloom grains—all of them dating from the antebellum South and bred exclusively for flavor. They are zealously committed to regional authenticity and, as a result, have garnered a devoted following among America’s best chefs.

Grain is life: our logo is derived from the merging of the Hopi breath glyph with a stylized seed (the enclosed diamond). Our approach to Anson Mills’ packaging labels is similarly direct: the type-only design is flexible enough to accommodate twenty-eight separate products in varying sizes.

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.

08 FEBRUARY, 2010

Play Press: TDC Typography 30

Our hand-lettered identity for One Catering is featured in the 30th Annual of The Type Directors Club. Drawing from the flavors of eight distinct restaurants, One Catering is the E pluribus unum of Charlotte, North Carolina. Different numeral ones are grafted together to form an identity that is both singular—one—and diverse.














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