Not really a review of 'Helvetica'

Last week, on bed rest, I finally got around to watching Helvetica, the 2007 documentary on the 'oh gosh it's everywhere!' font. And to be honest it was pretty ho-hum. The long stretches of montages just showing the font in the world became so frustrating by the mid-point that I actually pulled out my phone to check twitter.

The other big annoyance I had was how subtitles were clearly needed for the heavily accented German and Swiss type luminaries but not used. It felt like the film makers were worried about offending them. The history of Helvetica was told by those who were there when it was made but I just didn't understand a word of it. Oh well.

In the end, it was the non-helvetica related elements that intrigued me enough to keep me watching. And in this aspect I did learn a lot, mostly about myself. So I'm recapping those points here:

1. You come into design at a point in history without even realising.
Paula Scher said this and in a moment I realised I clearly came into design during the "David Carson is a GOD. A GOD I TELL YOU!" stage in history. My design lecturers wanted to have his babies and screamed about how modernism is as dead as the sparkle in Lindsay Lohan's eyes. I couldn't stand it.

I always reacted in bad gut way against David Carson's work (I'm sure he's a top bloke, this isn't personal) but I couldn't explain why until I saw this documentary. I had just assumed it was because I didn't like my lecturers but now I realise it's because I was forced into loving him without understanding the journey.

When Carson began designing he rebelled against the design norm of his time (modernism), whereas when I began designing Carson was the design norm. I was actually following his example by rebelling against his work. I just didn't know it. (Side note: By rebelling I mean I hated it and did whatever I wanted, it's not like I became some design genius who created a new period of history or anything.)

2. Designers can be wankers
Oh gosh this whole thing was just so self congratulatory and male centric - just like the design industry. My eyes almost entered a permanent state of rolling. If I had to name 5 of the interviewees from 'Least Wanker' to 'Most Wanker' the order would be Michael Beirut, Stefan Sagameister, Wim Crouwel, Erik Speakermann, David Carson. Truly, Michael Beirut looked least likely to be suffering RSI from patting himself on the back.

3. I love design
This is something I've really forgotten after years in the ad industry. In advertising the focus is always the concept (aka the creative), the design is always second. And I get why that's so and don't disagree with it. However, it was nice to spend 90 minutes just thinking about design and not idea. It really reignited something in me.

So at the end of this so called review would I recommend it? No, unless you have a keen interest in design and zero fear of your eyes detaching from their sockets.

Music for Mondayitis

Given my current situation I've been watching a lot of television. I've watched a few documentaries to keep my mind active, a few hollywood comedies to be entertained and a lot of bad television.

On Saturday, however I was treated to Elvis and Ann Margaret in Viva Las Vegas. I've never seen it and the COLOURS blew me away. The music also. So to say cheers to Monday enjoy these rockin songs and beaut dance moves.

What'd I Say. Written by Ray Charles.

Viva Las Vegas. Written by Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman.

 The Climb. Written by Dan Anthony & John Case Schaeffer II. Performed by The Forté Four.

Stealing from Sorkin

Aaron Sorkin is a dynamite screenwriter. In my opinion, his work on The West Wing, Studio 60 and films like A Few Good Men contain some of the best dialogue you'll ever find on screen. The dude does subtext like no other and the way he handles exposition BLOWS MY MIND as you never think of it as exposition.

This week, it became evident that when it comes to Sorkin a speech writer for Anthony Albanese agrees with me. Watch above to see Albanese borrowing lines from Sorkin's political rom-com The American President.

Have a great weekend.

Illustrated maps

How to choose a hand drawn font

If you have any design experience you will know exactly what I mean when I say that somedays you wish you didn't. A designer's brain is very hard to turn off - the infinite number of cafes that think Papyrus means 'coffee', that all-CAPS all-centred type on a made-in-Word watch the step sign, the person you meet at a party that says "I can design because I know how to use photoshop" - all these things can drive you mad! Sometimes you just want to sit and have a coffee and not be blinded by the menu's font.

This isn't design snobbery - that's something else - this is simply I've done at least two semesters of typography and I can tell when it's just plain bad. I repeat, this doesn't make you a snob*, it just makes you aware.

One design trend I've become painfully aware of lately is hand drawn type, specifically hand drawn type that looks hand written. It's hung around a lot longer than many other design trends and I'm sure it will be about for a while still, and that's why I need to address the issue of awful handwriting fonts.

I love the handwritten trend, it makes everything unique and it means that designers really have to think. Bad design however comes from laziness and bad type comes from lazy font choices. There are so many of handwriting fonts available that it's so easy for a designer to pick one and think the job is done. But not all handwritten fonts are created equal, nor do they all communicate the same thing. Choosing to use handwritten type is not the same as choosing a handwritten font.

So here, in this post, is my small contribution to combat bad handwritten font choices with a handful of tips on how to choose the right one for you:

1. DIY
The only way to create something truly spectacular is to do it yourself. Sure it's not a quick but my gosh the results will really have an impact. This should be your first choice when creating your design but alas if you can't spend the time then...

2. Spend the money
The worst thing to do is to spend nothing. Everyone has access to those dodgy 1001 fonts and worst of all it's so obvious when you do use one.

3. Choose the personality first
So you want to add a 'personal' touch to your design, fine, just make sure you choose the right personality. Is the design or the brand shouty, happy, sad, nuanced, delicate? Handwritten fonts should be imbued with traits of the overall design and feel like the person writing it (who isn't you btw, it's the client/brand).

4. Try a handset
Handsets are type that are not fonts. huh? They're fonts that you can't install and type with. huh? So each letter is a single shape and to make a word you must copy and paste each letter into your Photoshop or Illustrator file. why? Because it makes you think and good design is always considered design. Placing each letter in place takes time, but you can get the placement of each letter just right.

5. Buy unique fonts for each project
Reuse is ok a few times but it's just lazy if for different clients you're using the same font. Also it's not as fun. You Work For Them has some amazingly unique hand drawn fonts that are super fun to work with.

So that's just a few, and really quite basic design tips for this hot hot trend. Do you like this trend? Do you have any other tips to offer - please leave a comment. AND if you have a favourite handwritten font please tell!


*Next week I have a sort of review of the film Helvetica, you will hear all about true design snobs then.

More Marilyn

Photo by John Vachon from the book Marilyn, August 1953: The Lost LOOK Photos available here.

I loved the photos of Marilyn in last Wednesday's post and have been inspired to post more. In high school my best friend and I L-O-V-E-D Marilyn and gave each other calendars of her for Christmas presents and swapped cd's of her singing songs from her movies.

My favourite movie of hers was How To Marry A Millionaire. My friend loved Bus Stop. I didn't see The Misfits until I was on a plane last year (I love how planes have a 'classic movie' section) and I cried at just how tragic it was. The horses at the end. Oh My.

Jack Lemmon: Marilyn had an incredible charisma that was so rare, I don't think I've seen anything quite like it. She had a lot of talent as an actress and she used that talent to the best of her ability as well as her skills as a comedienne, which worked out marvelously for her as with that combined, she created that certain magic on film."  

Music for Mondayitis

Goodness gracious this song is everywhere, and I don't mind one bit. So far I've heard it in It's Kind of A Funny Story and Crazy Stupid Love, then on Saturday in the trailer for Jeff, Who Lives At Home. Nice. Happy Monday.

An exercise book

I'm enamoured with this exercise book that was created for kids with chronic illnesses. It was commissioned by Melbourne's Royal Children’s Hospital, written by Kate Parker and designed by Tin&Ed. Have a happy weekend.

7 Snacked Tips: How to dress with a leg cast

Maybe you've broken your ankle, your leg or your foot, ruptured a tendon or had surgery, either way you're stuck in a leg cast. This is not fun. I promise.

Last week, I had surgery to repair my EHL tendon that ruptured after my iMac attacked me. The EHL tendon (aka the extensor hallucis longus tendon) controls the big toe and this apparently is a big deal problem that needed big deal fixing. So here I am stuck in bed and on the couch with my leg all plastered up.

I had a little warning that I'd be having this surgery and that I could expect the be in a cast for 4 months, so like any good procrastinator I spent hours trawling Dr Google for advice on how to take care of myself and what to expect. The one area that was really lacking in information was what to wear. As semi fashion conscious as I am, I knew my one pair of denim shorts that I'd worn everyday this summer just wouldn't work. I needed help and options. I even tweeted @Refinery29 hoping they could do a post, but they ignored me. So a week in, I've learned a few things and thought I'd write the post Refinery29 didn't want to.

1. Stay comfy, stay in bed.
Most of the time you will be laying down, not even sitting down. So get comfy. Way comfy. If no one is coming over or you're not going anywhere then eff fashion. Wear your undies and a t-shirt and be done with it.

2. Dress over your head.
If you do venture out or someone is coming to visit and you don't want to show them your underwear you will have to put some freakin clothes on. Dressing over your head is the easiest way to do this. What does that mean? Choose clothes that you 'pull on' rather than clothes you 'step into'.

When you're in a leg cast you need to quickly accept the fact that you have only one leg and less than 2 arms to work with. When you stand you are not balanced and your arms will be preoccupied by the crutches - you won't be able to 'step into' anything. Even sitting on the bed and pulling up a skirt won't work because when you stand - ahh no arms to finish pulling it up! See? So unless you have someone helping you dress everyday aim for 'pull on'*. Elastic waistbands on skirts are your new bff. So are dresses with elastic waists and no zips.

3. Carry your own stuff (or why pockets rule the world).
I've always been a big fan of dresses with pockets. They're just so practical and if they're cut well they don't add any fabric bulk. Now that I am on crutches I am an even bigger fan because you cannot carry a damn thing with crutches. Ok I fib, I can sort of carry my phone if I have to, but it just slows down the trip and kind of cramps my fingers. So if you're clothes shopping pre-cast keep an eye out for pockets.

(If you don't have pockets, make use of your bra. The only thing I take with me from the bed to the couch is my phone. It travels next to my left breast. TMI?)

Steps 4-7 after the jump.

Music for Mondayitis

Between 2000 and 2004 I was a tad obsessed with Jazz. I was a uni student working away on design projects 24 hours a day listening to three or four 'best of' cd's on repeat. I had no money (this was before $1.99 songs) and listened to a lot of sub-par filler jazz that I LOVED.

The love affair reached a break point when my third year typography project was to create a font. I wanted to make 'Jazz'. I listened for hours to be inspired and drew about a thousand various letters in response. But if you've ever tried to create a typeface you would know it is rip-the-skin-off-your-face frustrating. And when the project was handed in I also surrendered my love of Jazz. It had been killed.

Recently, I got into the Showtime series Homeland. I devoured the first season in 15 days. Oh me oh my is it spectacular. It also reignited the Jazz flame in my heart. Claire Danes' Carrie Mathison is big into jazz and the soundtrack of the show works with it.

In the pilot episode, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk feature heavily along with not-new-but-new-to-me Tomasz Stanko Quintet. The song Terminal 7 really struck me so here it is along with So Nice from the album Dark Eyes.

And if you haven't seen Homeland, Ten is showing it on Australian FTA tv this year. 

This is where I'm a right now

An attack by an iMac left me unable to walk properly for 2 months. The repair surgery will leave me unable to walk at all for 3 months. Oh how one tiny little trip over the computer on the floor can lead to a world of pain and annoyance.

To be creative

I'm missing these two like crazy. New Mad Men should be coming early this year, no?

What I'm not missing is working in an ad agency. I'm not missing working in an office either. I've reached the point of working for myself where I want to shake people by the shoulders and scream "You don't know what you're missing! Get out! Get out now!" This of course would be highly inappropriate - each to their own after all.

But apart from not missing the 'daily grind' of office work, I am specifically not missing creating advertising ideas. (For those that care, I now mostly do design - the clients are much easier to manage.) Before I used to watch every ad, look for every industry and technology innovation, check all the industry  blogs, follow know-it-alls on twitter. It was exhaustingly necessary. My work was about ideas all the time - nuggets of thought that had to be multi-platform but single focussed, innovative yet familiar, targeted but not narrow, complex but not complicated, simple but not boring and most of all had to be explainable and sellable. Over and over again you must explain your idea, to your boss, to the project managers, to the producers and then finally to the client who with one swift raise of an eyebrow could flick your idea out of the room, never to return.  Did I use the word exhausting already?

I was a 'creative'. A noun I always felt should have been left as an adjective. But not so much anymore.

My work is now less 'creative' in the advertising sense but more creative in the literal sense. I'm enjoying the work I do now as the 'sell' has been removed. Sure I'm still conscious of audiences and targets and product awareness in my design work, but it's not the main focus.

This week for example, I am hand painting a website design. PAINTING. Now that's creative.

Floral collage

Happy New Year all. I'm starting the year with a very crafty project and have been inspired by these designs by Sarah Illenberger. How are you starting the new year?