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1 APRIL, 2013

Cate and Lukas at Play: Puffoglyphs

A complete showing of the Puffoglyphs by Lukas, 2012.

Cate’s drawing examining the relationship between the “sacred” glyphs O, P and Q, 2012.

Each of the twenty-six upper- and lowercase letters in our alphabet has a distinct structure, but all are comprised of only four elemental strokes: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and curvilinear.

It was the Greeks who created this system of standardization approximately 3,500 years ago. In addition to imposing geometric order on the irregular letterforms they adopted from the Phoenicians, the Greeks established the use of a baseline and uniform letterspacing. (It would be another two millennia before the Frankish king Charlemagne mandated the adoption of three additional guidelines still in use today: ascenders, descenders, and a common x-height.)

As a natural extension of their play, our children Cate (age 11) and Lukas (age 8) created a code for their own use they call the Puffoglyphs. They intuitively broke down the Latin alphabet into its four stroke variants and then recombined the component parts to create new, “encoded” typographic forms.

“Elementary letterforms and signs composed of vertical, horizontal, slanted and curvilinear strokes.” Detail from Typography: Formation + Transformation by Willi Kunz.

American designer Willi Kunz explores the four elemental strokes in his 2003 Typography: Formation + Transformation. Of the illustration we feature from his book, Kunz notes that “Even though the individual forms are abstract, the forms begin to suggest a typographic composition.” The dynamic that Kunz articulates, Cate and Lukas experienced through an act of play. [AW]

11 MARCH, 2013

Angie at Play

Angie Wang’s photographs (1:25)
Amsterdam, Paris, and St. Petersburg, 2004–2007.

Beauty is now underfoot wherever we take the trouble to look. —John Cage

Prior to a trip to Paris in 2004, Mark asked me to return with responses to the following prompts:
The best visual contrast;
The most beautiful piece of type;
The most lush color combination;
The most memorable bite (flavor);
A fifth sensation of note.

These images are the result of what has become an ongoing exercise in my paying attention. Whether with photographs, sketches, or journal entries, I’ve learned to document my travels in an active way because it heightens my awareness of what I see and experience.

Mark and I incorporated a version of this exercise into our 2007 summer study abroad class in Amsterdam. As we stated in our syllabus, “The act of seeing is made more acute by the act of recording.” [AW]

4 MARCH, 2013

Design School Wisdom

Our friend and colleague Brooke Johnson from Chronicle Books in San Francisco is working on a new title with Jennifer Tolo Pierce called Design School Wisdom, a compilation of quotes from teachers and students. Brooke asked us to submit some quotes for possible inclusion in the book which we share below.

(left) Jeff Wasserman outside his studio in Santa Monica, 2009. (right) Mark Fox photographed by Michael Schwab for one of Michael’s posters, 1986.

Being self-taught as a designer, I didn’t attend design school. I did, however, work at a few jobs during and after college that exposed me to some workplace wisdom.

One of my jobs in college—around 1982—was to work for Wasserman Silk Screen Co. in Santa Monica, California. Jeff Wasserman set up the original screen printing shop at Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles, and has printed for a number of well-known artists, including Andy Warhol, Ed Ruscha, Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenberg, Frank Stella, and Billy Al Bengston, among others. His work is extremely precise, and he is a master at what he does. Nonetheless, one of the maxims Jeff often uttered to me was, “Don’t make a religious experience out of it.”

A few years later, in 1985, I worked for the designer and illustrator Michael Schwab in San Francisco who is especially well-regarded for his poster work. Michael has always been successful—or so it seemed to me!—and his oft-repeated advice usually followed negotiations with clients. He would say, “There’s always more time and more money.”

This is my twentieth year teaching courses in graphic design at California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I give my students no end of advice, I’m sure, but the one question I continually ask them that seems worth sharing is this: “Where does your eye go?” If you know where the eye goes when you look at work, and why, then you understand true hierarchy—regardless of the design intention. If you remain unaware of hierarchy, of what the eye sees and in what order, your work will remain indistinct and forgettable. [MF]

(left) Michael Manwaring photographed by Christopher Manwaring. (right) Angie at the RE:DESIGN / Creative Directors Conference in Palm Springs, 2011. The title of our presentation was “Get Back: Working Analog in a Digital World.”

If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer. —Michael Manwaring

Michael Manwaring was my Graphic Design 2 instructor at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. Michael’s pedagogic model seemed to be based on questioning—he deliberately responded to our questions with more questions. While this resulted in a dialogue of evaluation, it didn’t necessary yield a definitive answer—at least not immediately.

Needless to say it was maddening at the time. Ultimately, though, I learned from Michael how to actively—and critically—distill my ideas and formulate my opinions.

Work hard—the rest will come in time. —Steve Reoutt

I entered the CCAC graphic design program in 1993 and had the good fortune of having Steve Reoutt as one of my first instructors. For Steve, the discipline of working steadily and making progress every day was more important than the “success” of our final work. Steve made us sketch in large pads of newsprint every day, whether we felt like it or not. At the end of every assignment he would take the time to meet with us individually to go through our newsprint pad.

Final crits were led by students: we would put our work up and the students would choose which pieces to critique. More often than not my work would be the last to be chosen for discussion—or sometimes, not at all—leaving Steve to monologue about my project. He always managed to tease out some positive aspect (like the thoughtfulness of my approach) despite the awkward final form.

During one of his reviews of my sketch pad he looked at me and said, “You’re a good problem solver and you work hard. I know form-making doesn’t come easily for you, but no one has it all. Work hard, and the rest will come in time.”

His faith—and the rigor of his approach—had a profound impact on me as a student. It encouraged me to be patient and it allowed me to grow as a designer at my own pace. I have been teaching Typography 1 in the graphic design program at CCA for seven years now and, like Steve, I collect and review my students’ process sketches at the end of every assignment. [AW]

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.

26 DECEMBER, 2011

Happy Holidays from our Junior Design Team!

Cate (10), Elias (12), and Lukas (7) contemplating Jan Tschichold’s non-arbitrary page proportioning system at SolBar in Calistoga on Christmas.

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.

20 DECEMBER, 2010

Happy Holidays from our Junior Design Team!

Lukas (6), Cate (9), and Elias (11) show off their kerning. Pax is Latin for peace.

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]

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

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