Filed under “Design”

December 19, 2016

How Postage Stamps Are Made

I just completed a nice little mini-documentary about the design of US postage stamps. The US Postal Service has four Art Directors who oversee the stamp designs, and I worked with one of them to make this video, Antonio Alcalá of Studio A in Virginia.

August 25, 2015

Inventor Portrait: Alan Adler (AeroPress; Aerobie)

It’s a new Inventor Portrait! Alan Adler, inventor of the Aerobie Flying Disc and the AeroPress coffee maker, tells the stories behind his famous inventions.

I confess I actually completed this a year ago, but hadn’t posted it for a variety of reason. It’s great to finally share it.

February 21, 2014

House of Cards Season 2 Opening Credits Comparison in Animated GIFs

Are you watching House of Cards Season 2 on Netflix? Did you notice that they changed the opening credits since Season 1? There are still 37 time-lapse shots of Washington DC, and the cuts are in all the same places, but almost half of the shots have been changed. In some cases, the new shot is a slightly different view of the same place. In others, it’s a radically different view, or a different time of year, or a shot of a completely different location altogether. The time-lapses were shot by District 7 Media based just outside DC. They did a beautiful job. Let’s see what’s changed between seasons.

The following are all comparisons of the images. In all cases, the top image is Season 1 and the bottom image is Season 2:

Shot 1:

Shot 2 (are those the same clouds? Same time of day? Same cars? I think this might be the same shot recolored.):

Shot 3:

Shot 4:

Shot 5:

Shot 6:

Shot 7:

Shot 8:

Shot 9:

Shot 10:

Shot 11:

Shot 12:

Shot 13:

Shot 14:

Shot 15:

Shot 16:

Shot 17:

Shot 18:

Shot 19 (looks like a slightly different part of the same clip):

Shot 20:

Shot 21:

Shot 22:

Shot 23:

Shot 24:

Shot 25:

Shot 26:

Shot 27:

Shot 28:

Shot 29:

Shot 30:

Shot 31:

Shot 32:

Shot 33:

Shot 34:

Shot 35:

Shot 36:

Shot 37:

My wife thinks they’re also using a different mix of the opening theme music this year, but my ear isn’t good enough to tell the difference. Has anyone noticed?

July 29, 2013

HeadBlade Inventor Todd Greene

I started losing my hair way back in college. I went through some years that were not very attractive as I tried to figure out what to do about it. But I never shaved my head. If the HeadBlade had been around at the time, I might have given it a try. Todd Greene invented the HeadBlade as a way to make head shaving easier, but has since built the brand into a whole line of head care products. His original HeadShave design is now part of MoMA’s permanent collection. Here’s a video portrait of Todd Greene talking about the origin of his product and the process of bringing it to market:

See more episodes of my PBS INVENTORS series here!

July 3, 2013

Douglas Engelbart (1925-2013)

I’m sad to learn that Douglas Engelbart, father of the computer mouse, passed away today. I spent an afternoon with him and his wife Karen in 2009 photographing him at home and work as part of my inventor portraits project. He was charming, even flirted with my assistant. I will have more thoughts to share, but for now here are a few photos from my shoot with him.

March 21, 2013

An Inventor For Math And Magic Fans

This week’s episode of INVENTORS is about Mark Setteducati, a magician, artist, and one of the founders of the Gathering For Gardner (the biennial festival honoring mathematician and writer Martin Gardner). His clever toys and puzzles incorporate principles of math and magic.

In the video, he talks about hexaflexagons. If you’re at all a curious person, be sure to check out Vi Hart’s fantastic three part series about hexaflexagons on her YouTube channel.

February 11, 2013

Idea: The Movie Poster Alphabet

[This post is part of an idea dump.]

I never posted this idea because I wasn’t able to come up with enough material to finish it. Maybe you can help? Scroll down to the bottom for more about what I’m looking for.

Do you know of any good posters to fill in the gaps? Or better options for the ones I already have? Ideally, I want posters where the letter is featured large and centered. So, for example, “G” above isn’t great because the letter is so small and low. “W” could be better for a similar reason.

Also, it’s okay if there are other letters and words, but I’d like the alphabet letter to be the most prominent thing. That’s why I didn’t use the poster for Blankman, which features a prominent letter “B”, but it’s minor compared to all the distracting words on the poster. And similarly, I struggled with whether to use Malcolm X, seen above, or X-Men: First Class which has a similarly prominent “X” with fewer distractions. I chose Malcolm X for undefinable reasons.

If you have any good suggestions, let me know, and I’ll update the poster.

November 20, 2012

Inventors Episode 2: Batter Blaster

Save some room this Thanksgiving weekend for waffles and pancakes. Or don’t, and just have cold turkey for breakfast. Either way, at least watch Episode Two of my new PBS Digital Studios series “Inventors”, which profiles the man behind Batter Blaster, the pancake batter that comes in a whip cream style can.

Since this new series is just getting started, it would still mean a great deal to me if you could share the video — here’s the direct link — and/or subscribe to the YouTube channel. Thanks so much.

November 8, 2012

“Inventors” series debuts with PBS Digital Studios

I’m very excited to announce that my occasional series of inventor portrait videos is about to get a lot less occasional, as it’s now part of PBS Digital Studios. I will be releasing a new video every two weeks and you can find them at the new Inventors Series YouTube channel.

Here’s the first episode:

[Note to self: I’ve really got to redesign this website to allow for embedding larger video.]

Going forward, a new episode will go up every other Tuesday. They will mostly be new episodes you haven’t seen, but I’ll throw in a few that I’ve posted here in the past, perhaps with some slight changes. They’ll be new to most people.

Oh, also: one of the best things you could do for me today is share the video — here’s the direct link — and/or subscribe to the YouTube channel. Thanks so much.

I hope you like what I’ve got planned!

February 27, 2012

Bob& Carol& Ted& Alice.

Now here’s a timely parody. It combines elements of a popular t-shirt from 2001 that’s already been parodied to death and a movie from 1969 about swingers that you probably haven’t seen.

But it’s been rattling in my head begging to be done, so here it is:

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice

Now, it’s possible this has already been done. I mean, what else in popular culture is already set up as four names with ampersands between them? It’s almost as though the movie title was meant for this parody. But if so, I couldn’t find it. However I’m pretty sure that my other idea for a Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice poster parody hasn’t been done. I couldn’t even bring myself to do it. It was going to be Bobby & Carol & Greg & Alice. Yeah, I know. (Bonus: just as timely!)

Interestingly, the original movie poster for the film was entirely typographical, having no photos or illustrations. Just the title repeated in Cooper Black with the tagline “consider the possibilities.”

November 29, 2011

Keming Revisited

In early 2008, I coined the term keming, defining it as “the result of improper kerning.”

It’s a nerdy graphic design joke, and it became one of my more popular posts. Readers suggested that I create some keming merchandise. So I did. The t-shirts are the most popular items, but my favorites are the mug and spiral notebook (both of which make excellent stocking stuffers).

I began to dream that the word would be widely adopted and become an actual part of graphic design language. How awesome would it be to coin a word that people actually use?

Well, it turns out that the word has caught on in some circles, and has become common enough that it’s somewhat disassociated with me. I occasionally meet people surprised to discover that I coined it. Well, if you weren’t reading this blog four years ago, I guess you wouldn’t know. So I thought I’d reconnect with the word in a follow-up post examining some of the places I’ve seen it used.

A Design Reference Book

In 2009, Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio of the design firm UnderConsideration published a comprehensive reference book on all things design.

It’s called Graphic Design, Referenced: A Visual Guide to the Language, Applications, and History of Graphic Design and it has nothing but 5-star reviews on Amazon. It looks like a pretty nice book. You can see details and sample spreads on their site where they call it “a comprehensive source of information and inspiration by documenting and chronicling the scope of contemporary graphic design, stemming from the middle of the twentieth century to today.”

They reference keming on page 74:

Here’s a detail of the page:

Urban Dictionary

Urban Dictionary, the online resource for made up words, has an entry for keming where three people have submitted examples of the word used in a sentence. They are:

What the helvetica, your kerning has turned into one massive keming fest. What the font were you thinking?

The typographer who worked on that film just pulled a keming by not having equal spacing between each letter in each word in the opening credits.

I ’ mtryingtosetspacing, butIcan ’ tseemtogetthekemingright.

I’m not sure I would say that someone “pulled a keming” but maybe that’s a regional use.

A Whole Blog About Keming

Earlier this year, a designer in the Netherlands named Kilian Valkhof started a tumblr called Fuck Yeah Keming, “a celebration of horrendous kerning all over the internet.” He has some good examples. Check it out.


My old posts don’t usually get that much traffic, but the original keming post still gets hits on a regular basis from one site in particular: reddit.

Redditors have taken a liking to keming, and it comes up often in the comments. Usually the submitted article features some sort of keming, which prompts someone in the comments to say “Nice keming there.” Then someone replies, “WTF is keming?” And then someone else replies with a link to my site.

Update: There’s now a keming subreddit.

So, thanks for keeping keming alive, redditors!


It appears that on three occasions, different people (not me) created Wikipedia pages for keming. All three were later deleted. According to the Wikipedia deletion log the reasons were as follows.

The first time: “Not enough context to identify subject”

The second time: “Patent nonsense, meaningless, or incomprehensible: db|WP is not a dictionary”

The third time: The page was set up to redirect to the entry for kerning, but was deleted after discussion decided that “‘Keming’ is a joke word invented by David Friedman… When the redirect was created the target article referred to the joke, but it’s since been removed due to lack of coverage in any reliable source so the redirect doesn’t serve much purpose any more.”

Indeed, the wikipedia page for kerning has had references to keming written in (not by me) and deleted over the years. According to the revision history, the reference was changed to clarify that “keming is not what ‘improper kerning is called’; it’s a joke” and then removed completely because “the Ironic Sans blog does not appear to be an authoritative source.”

Who, I ask, is a more authoritative source on a word that I made up than me?

Currently, the Wikipedia entry for keming is a disambiguation page, which says “Keming may be… A satirical misspelling of kerning, referring to bad kerning which causes the letter pair ‘rn’ to appear as ‘m’”

If you have to explain it…

Other People’s Products

I occasionally hear from people telling me that they saw keming on someone else’s merchandise. Sometimes people just take my definition and put it on a shirt. That bothers me. But sometimes people come up with other clever uses for keming in joke form. My favorite is the Leam to kem shirt by Able Parris.

What else?

Do you use keming to mean improper kerning? Do you ever see or hear anyone else use it? Where else is it being used that I’ve overlooked?

A note about coining this word.

When I wrote the keming post, I first did a Google search to see whether or not the joke had been done before. All I found were a couple references to people with the name Keming, and other proper nouns (a school called Keming, for example). But it was hard to search because the vast majority of results were actual cases of keming the word kerning! A search result would contain the word “keming” but clicking through to the page would show an article about typography scanned in from a book or magazine and put through OCR. Every instance of the word “kerning” turned up as “keming” in Google. Here’s a typical example.

UPDATE: Here’s another great usage. A reader just wrote to tell me that he named his whole company after keming. It’s a technical design studio called Keming Labs. He says, “I really like the term and I ended up using it in my company name (I hope you don’t mind). We do data visualization stuff on the web, and ‘Keming Labs’ sounds serious enough when we meet with clients. It’s easy to tell clients who get the joke though, because they usually chuckle immediately.”

UPDATE 2: This is perhaps the most awesome keming update ever. I’ve known for a while that Google has a hidden joke in their search engine where, if you search for the word kerning you’ll see the word appear in the search results with too much space between each letter. But it was recently brought to my attention that a Google search for keming has the opposite joke. Everywhere the word appears in the search result listing, the letters are spaced too close together!

@ironicsans Did you see Google’s special formatting for “kerning” and “keming” searches? You changed Google.

— Andy Baio (@waxpancake) June 7, 2012

July 11, 2011

Inventor Portrait: Ernest Nussbaum

[cross-posted from my photography blog]

This is Ernest Nussbaum, inventor of the Practicello.

The Practicello is a full height cello that breaks down to fit in carry-on luggage. It’s not intended to be good enough to play in a concert, but its just meant for cellists who want to practice while they travel without needing to pay for an extra seat on the airplane to bring their instrument. And since it doesn’t resonate as loudly as a cello with a full body, it’s not going to annoy the people in the hotel room next door.

Here are some more photos from our shoot:

April 5, 2011

Idea: A New ‘Save’ Icon

I’m not the first person to suggest replacing the prevalent 3.5” floppy disk save icon. A quick Google search comes up with several discussions on the topic including a lengthy reddit thread with more than 700 comments.

3.5” floppy disks have been out of use for so many years that I wonder if younger computer users even know what that icon is supposed to be. Here is how it appears in the current version of Microsoft Word for OSX:

Not only don’t people use floppy disks anymore, but the options for saving are even more varied now than simple disk format. You might save to your own computer, or a drive on a server somewhere off in the cloud. You might even be using a program that autosaves in certain intervals without you needing to think about it. Even with a program like that, it would still be nice to know how long its been since the last save.

So then the question is, What do we use instead?

Here’s what I propose: instead of thinking of a file as being saved, think of your file as being in one of two states: it’s in danger, or it’s safe. And I can’t think of any icon to better represent being safe than home plate:

Maybe it’s because baseball season just started, but I think this is a good idea. Let’s think about how home plate could be used:

The “safe” icon is pointy on one end like an arrow. This can be used to indicate where your file is saved. If the latest version of your file is saved locally, it points down. If the latest version of your file is saved on a server somewhere, it points up.

Home plate on a baseball field gets progressively dirtier as the game goes on. When it’s too dirty to easily see, the umpire brushes it off. Similarly, the “safe” icon can get progressively dirtier the longer you go between pressing it. At a glance, you can tell if your file is safe or in danger. And if you go too long without pressing it to clean it off, a little animated sweeping brush appears to get your attention. Even if you’re using a program that auto-saves, the dirt metaphor can still tell you at a glance roughly how long its been since the last save.

For bonus fun, every time you press it you can pretend you’re an umpire and shout, “Safe!” That’s way more fun than pressing a floppy disk.

If this catches on, then no longer will people ask if the file is “saved”, and no longer will anyone have to wonder what that little icon is supposed to be. We can just look at the home plate icon and ask, Is it safe?

Update: Well, it didn’t take very long for people to point out the big flaw with this idea: much of the world doesn’t have baseball and has no idea what home plate is. Woops. But I still like some of the basic premises here. It’s a simple icon that tells you at a glance whether your file is saved locally or remotely, and whether your current revisions have been saved. And it still lets you push the button to update the saved file. So it’s not perfect, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Sorry about the oversight, rest-of-the-world.

Update 2: Now that both John and Marco have weighed in, I guess I should acknowledge that I understand they’re both right. I’m not so backwards as to think we’ll be manually saving things for much longer, and sure, the best solution to the floppy disk icon issue might just be to wait it out until it’s obsolete. But I still like my idea and urge it to be adopted by anyone writing software for Americans who are baseball fans without internet access or a modern operating system.

February 22, 2011

Soylent Green is People Magazine!

Soylent Green Magazine

February 11, 2011

I wrote it, you made it: The Make-out Hoodie

Back in August, I envisioned the Make-out Hoodie, a pair of his-and-hers (or whatever combination you’re into) hoodies that form a complete picture when the couple kisses with the hoods up.

This was my concept sketch:

I recently heard from a reader named Nate who said, “Thanks for the idea! My gf and I sewed some simple patches onto some hoodies and they turned out great.”

Here’s their photo:

Thanks, Nate!

January 10, 2011

Idea: The fab key.

The fab key

Macintosh keyboards are typeset in VAG Rounded, a font which happens to have very similar “t” and “f” letterforms. Except for the curve of the “f” they are identical.

The word “tab” on the keyboard is really small. The tallest letter — “b” — is only 3 millimeters tall. Unless you get your eyes really close to the key, it can be hard to see the details of the individual letters.

So I propose that someone should sell novelty replacement keycaps that say “fab” instead of “tab.” It’s pretty easy to swap out keycaps, and you could do it yourself at home in minutes.

Why? Because working at a computer can get monotonous and boring, and this would give you a little secret that only you know, and you could giggle about it in your head every time you press it. Sure, someone else might notice your fab key, but they probably wouldn’t because the letters are so small. And if they do notice, you’ll become known as the person with the quirky keyboard that says “fab” and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

But maybe you don’t have a Mac, and your tab key has the more common capital “T” that doesn’t resemble an “F” at all. Well, then get a fab key for a Mac-using friend. They make excellent gifts for Beatles fans, people who work at Farnborough Airport, those in the Bolivian Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Boliviana), or anyone named Fabrizio.

January 3, 2011

Idea: Crowdfund a mission to put a monolith on the moon

The goal: Erect a monolith on the moon. (See 2001 for reference).

Is there an upper limit to the amount of money you can raise on Kickstarter? Because I guesstimate this project will require about half a billion dollars. So I only need to find 5 million geeks-like-me worldwide who think this is a cool enough idea to donate 100 bucks. That seems pretty doable, especially considering Kickstarter’s rule that nobody has to pay anything if I can’t raise all the money I need, so people can donate with confidence. But maybe my estimate is way off. Here’s my thinking:

Through the power of Google, I found a few estimates on what it would take to get to the moon. They ranged widely. In 2005, a private company estimated that they could send you on a roundtrip fly-by for $100 million, and another private company figured they could land on the moon for $10 billion. My idea doesn’t have to be a manned mission, but it does need to actually land on the moon and erect a monolith. It only has to be a one-way trip, though, which should keep it relatively cheap.

Last year, a kid and his dad in Brooklyn sent their cell phone into space and back on a shoestring budget. Okay, so the moon is about 3,272 times further than the edge of space, but it’s still inspiring.

Nobody would crowdfund a trip to send someone else to the moon, because there’s no incentive. Why should I pay a hundred bucks for you to go to the moon? Why do you get to be the lucky one? But this project is something nerdy folks worldwide could get behind. It’s space exploration and development through private enterprise, and a tribute to great sci-fi. And we can all enjoy the process and the result. Also: Everyone who donates gets a Monolith Project sticker.

So what would be involved in such a project? I have no idea where to begin, except that I know it would cost a lot of money. The money raised would probably be used for engineering, fuel, permits, design, mission control staff, supplies, tools, rent for a place to physically build the thing, other fees and salaries, etc. I’d probably need to start with a project manager, someone to oversee everything. In fact, maybe a lot of the work needs to be done before the fundraising just to figure out how much the whole thing would cost. Maybe I need to have a kickstarter project just to raise the research and development money to figure out how much money I would need for the main project.

Maybe this project should piggyback with some other entity that’s already sending a ship to the moon. Surely there’s a government or private group planning a moon trip that has room for a monolith on board in exchange for some money, right? Maybe that would make this idea less expensive.

What would the design of the monolith be? Aside from having 1:4:9 dimensions, how big should it be? I guess it should be hollow so that it’s light and requires less fuel to carry. I can envision a few monolith designs that pack up flat for transport. Some consideration should be given to how it will be erected. Will it drop down on a parachute and land in one piece? Will it land in a ball and inflate upon landing? Will it require robots to go down and assemble it?

What do you think? If a monolith-on-the-moon project were to be crowdfunded, how would it work? What would need to be considered? What would be the most efficient and effective way to get a monolith on the moon?

Could mankind put a monolith on the moon through micropayments?

Update: A commenter reminds me that parachutes won’t work on the moon because there’s no atmosphere, and I confess that I feel stupid for that oversight. But other than that, this plan should totally work.

Related: Idea: A skyscraper in Tokyo shaped like Godzilla

December 7, 2010

Esoteric Comic #6

What was Deep Throats favorite font? Marker Felt!

August 23, 2010

Idea: Make-out Hoodies

These hoodies are meant to be worn while making out. Only when lips are locked do the images on the sides come together to make a complete picture. They can come in all sorts of designs with different images, scenes, or messages.

For real fun, host a Make-out Hoodie Party. When the guests arrive, they all have to put on a hoodie that has a matching half worn by someone else at the party. When you find the person who has the other half, you make out with them. It’s like a hipster key party.

Previously: Idea: T-Shirts for Hairy-Chested Men

July 26, 2010

How much for lower case?


June 2, 2010

Idea: The Inverse of the Guggenheim

The Guggenheim Museum has locations in New York, Venice, Bilbao, Berlin, and soon Abu Dhabi. The New York location was famously designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, and resembles an upside down wedding cake attached to a more conventional structure:

Looking at the spiral, I realized that the inverse of the building might also be an interesting structure. That is to say, if you put a large box around the Guggenheim, and then you remove the space taken up by Wright’s design, you’re left with another design for a building.

This view is from the opposite corner as the first image above. The cutout area facing us is where the tower was attached in the original design. I’ve made this building’s footprint a little larger than the original museum’s footprint to allow for more art gallery space, since otherwise the bowl (left by the cake’s absence) is so large that there’s not much building left.

While this design loses Wright’s skylight, it gains a colosseum-like courtyard that could be used as a sculpture garden, with windows that look down onto it from every floor. Here’s what it might look like if you’re standing in the garden:

Unfortunately, I have no idea what the interior of this building would be like, and I love the interior of Wright’s Guggenheim. I’ve often thought my ideal layout for a museum would just be one long hallway: you start at one end, finish at the other, and you know you’ve seen everything in between. Wright’s spiral gallery accomplishes that, being basically a hallway that follows a ramp. Visiting the inverted building would probably be a more conventional experience of moving from room to room.

Interestingly, the Guggenheim museum recently ran a competition called Contemplating the Void which invited people to re-imagine the museum’s rotunda. Perhaps I was thinking about it subconsciously when this idea came to me today. You can see the contest entries on Flickr and see the winners here.

December 16, 2009

Radioactive Thread

This spool of thread seems to carry a warning:


December 2, 2009

The Bulbdial Clock is now available!

I’m very excited to announce that the Bulbdial Clock I envisioned almost two years ago is now available in time for the holiday season!

The geniuses at the Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories have done all the hard work to make the Bulbdial Clock available as a kit that you can put together yourself with just basic soldering skills*, or give to a loved one for the holidays. Check out their blog for an article about the kit, showcasing some of its features.

Then head on over to the ordering page for information on availability, styles, accessories, and prices. Here are some of the other styles:

*If you’re not sure you have basic soldering skills, visit this page to learn what tools and knowledge are recommended for assembling this type of kit. There are a few YouTube videos you might find helpful, too. This one covers basic soldering technique, and this short clip demonstrates soldering a component to a printed circuit board like the Bulbdial Clock.

September 29, 2009

Quiz: So you think you can tell Arial from Helvetica?

It seems to be the consensus that Arial is a substandard alternative to Helvetica. But just how bad is it? What if the logos we’re used to seeing in Helvetica were redone in Arial? Would you even notice if the next time you saw the American Airlines logo it was redone in Arial? Here it is in both fonts. At a glance, can you tell which is which?

The top one is Arial. If you know what to look for, it probably jumped right out at you. If not, you may see that they’re different but still not know which is which.

To test your skills, and help you learn to recognize Arial vs Helvetica, I’ve taken 20 Helvetica logos and redone them in Arial. (Blasphemy!) A lot of them are just plain awful in Arial. But a couple of them are actually tough to tell apart.

Take the quiz here!

You’ll get half of them right by just randomly guessing, but if you don’t do much better than that, here are some good resources for you to check out that will teach you the differences between Arial and Helvetica:

Link: How to Spot Arial

Link: Arial and Helvetica overlayed

Link: The Scourge of Arial

September 24, 2009

The Variety of Rubber Mouse Noses

I needed a rubber mouse nose recently for a photo shoot. It turns out there are several style rubber mouse noses available. Since they each cost about $2 to $3, I decided to buy several styles and decide which worked best on the shoot. Now I have leftover mouse noses, so I thought I’d share with you the different styles I found available in case you are in a similar situation one day.

1) I call this one “The Rat.”

Mouse Nose

2) I call this one “Looks More Like A Rabbit Nose.”

Mouse Nose

3) I call this one “If Mickey and Goofy Had a Child.”

Mouse Nose

All of these were sold as mouse noses, even though the second one is awfully rabbit-like (and oddly asymmetrical). The third one is nice because it has whiskers, but the whiskers curl in weird directions. I bought two of them, and they both had whisker issues.

All of them have teeth, which looks nice except for when the person wearing the nose smiles, showing his or her own teeth. Then it looks like the person has two rows of teeth. It’s unsettling.

You can see that the string placement varies from one design to another. Mouse Nose #1 has string attached towards the top. This means that on many head types, the string will be at the bridge of your nose, and will need to practically run across your eyes in order to go over your ears. Mouse Nose #3 does not have this issue. Mouse Nose #2 is somewhere in between, and might be fine if it didn’t look so much like a rabbit.

Previously: Idea: Breed a “Mickey” Mouse

June 1, 2009

The blog post picture from beyond the grave

I don’t know who first asked what chairs would look like if our knees bent the other way, but that old question may have been in the back of my mind a couple years ago when I found myself wondering how things would be designed differently if our middle fingers bent the other way. Would that make life more difficult? Or would it make certain tasks easier? What would musical instruments look like? What about computers, or eating utensils? Is there any way that having a backwards middle finger would be useful?

I considered writing a blog entry pondering this question. As I like to do, I came up with a photo-illustration to accompany the blog entry. I took a couple photos, played around a bit in Photoshop, and accidentally ended up with an image that is so bizarrely disturbing that I can actually feel my brain having trouble making sense of it. I could not in good conscience subject an unsuspecting reader to this photo. So I killed the whole post.

I just came across the file now, and it still disturbs me. But I hate to let a good disturbing image go to waste, so now with the proper context, and a build-up designed to minimize the shock, I present the photo illustration that I killed two years ago. Click on the pixelated version below and get ready to look away:

Backwards Finger

January 23, 2009

The Natural Cure For [Copy Goes Here]

And all this time I thought epsom salt was only useful for relieving sore muscles and constipation.

Lorem Epsom Salt

September 24, 2008

I’d buy that logo for a dollar!

On the left, the logo for the Congressional Budget Office, the federal agency that analyzes economic and budgetary decisions and provides projections on their effects on the national debt.

On the right, the logo for Omni Consumer Products, the megacorporation from the Robocop movies that seeks to make money privatizing government agencies.

The Congressional Budget Office is supposed to be nonpartisan, but I think I get a whiff of corporate interest.

September 8, 2008

Ow, My Eyes!

I don’t know if I’m seeing more and more blogs that use light text on a dark background lately, or if I’m just getting more sensitive to it for some reason, but I don’t think my eyes can take it any more. Sure, some sites look nice with that combination, but only when you first load them up. After reading a paragraph like this, the super high contrast gets to me. And the worst part is when I go to a different site and have the lingering after-image of the high contrast blog still burned in my retinas.

If you know someone whose blog features a lot of light text on a dark background, you can forward this link to the visual offender. It’s a special page demonstrating just how much of an eye strain it can be. Maybe we can eradicate this practice one blogspot site at a time.

For now, I’ll be using this bookmarklet which automatically changes any website into black-on-white in your browser. Drag it to your bookmark toolbar to keep it handy. (found here)

June 30, 2008

Idea: Electric Outlet 2.0

The Problem:

Let’s get rid of these things once and for all.
Here we are in the 21st Century, and we’re still using electric outlets designed way back in the early 20th Century. Back then, Alternating Current beat out Direct Current as the standard in our homes partly because it travels further before losing power. But our needs have changed since then. Sure, we still plug in a bunch of things that require AC, but we also have a few dozen items in each home that require DC. So each of those items has its own power-converting brick taking up precious space on our power strips, and creating eye-sores on our walls.

Some people have gotten around the problem by coming up with creative designs for power strips. But that’s backwards thinking because it just accepts that we have to deal with these bricks and puts a bandage on the problem. We can do better.

I say it’s high time we do away with the whole mess by moving the AC/DC conversion to the other side of the wall.

The Proposal

Today, if you lose an AC adapter, you have to find a new one that converts the AC in your wall to the proper voltage DC for that particular gadget. Or, you can buy a universal AC adapter for just a little more money that you can manually set to provide whatever voltage DC your gadget requires.

I propose a new standard for electric outlets where every outlet in your home has a universal adapter built in, on the other side of the wall, where you will never see it. When you need AC, it gives you AC. And when you need DC, it automatically converts to the proper voltage DC for you. No more ugly bricks. Plugging in your phone charger, computer speakers, or router will be as elegant as plugging in a lamp.

I call this new standard “Outlet 2.0.”

How will Outlet 2.0 know what kind of electricity you need?

Simple. Outlet 2.0 compliant plugs will have key-like notches in the prongs that let the outlet know what kind of electricity is needed. For example, a “Type A” plug will have zero notches. It looks like a standard plug, and it just uses normal AC. “Type B” plugs will have one notch to indicate that they require 1.5v DC. Here are a few sample plugs to illustrate what I mean:

They are given simple letter-based names so that it’s easy to remember in the event that you need to buy a replacement cord. You just look at the bottom of your gadget where it says “Requires Type G Cord” and go to Radio Shack and buy a Type G cord (at a fraction of the cost of buying a new brick). The letter is also embossed on the plug itself, so you don’t need to worry about mixing up your cords.

Won’t this increase the cost of electric outlets?

Yes. But you only need to install your outlets once. However you may otherwise buy a hundred gadgets over your lifetime that include their own transformer brick, and the cost of that brick is built into the price of the gadget. With no brick needed, the cost of the gadget goes down. Also, the weight of the new gadget in its box with all its accessories goes down, which makes it less expensive to ship, which translates to further savings.

What about power strips? How will they work?

Outlet 2.0 compliant power strips will be plugged in with a “Type A” plug so they receive AC as usual. But they will have internal universal converters at each of their outlets so they provide the proper electricity to the devices that are plugged in. Yes, this will make them slightly larger and more expensive. But the savings will come in less expensive devices, and a much neater area under your desk where everything is plugged in.

Is Outlet 2.0 backwards compatible?

Yes. Anything you have that came with a normal plug — including power bricks you got with gadgets before the Outlet 2.0 standard — will still work. They have a normal “Type A” plug, so they will receive the AC they’ve always received.

Will new 2.0 compliant plugs work in old 1.0 outlets?

Well, once the standard is adopted, it should be relatively inexpensive to replace at least some old outlets with new ones, so hopefully it won’t be an issue for long. You’ll start to see even older hotels begin to advertise that they have Outlet 2.0 compliant rooms. But if you are going to visit a home or hotel that hasn’t upgraded yet, you can bring a simple travel-size pass-through converter. You just plug it into any 1.0 outlet, and then you can plug any Outlet 2.0 compliant gadgets into the converter. (Note that any Outlet 2.0 compliant power strip will work properly in a 1.0 outlet, converting the power as needed).

What if a 2.0 plug is plugged into a 1.0 outlet without an adapter?

This could damage your gadget, so there is a feature in the Outlet 2.0 standard that prevents this from happening. It is not shown in the plug renderings above because I haven’t worked out the details yet. It will probably take the form of an extra prong that doesn’t carry electricity, placed off center so as not to be confused with the grounding prong already present on current “three-prong” plugs. At right is a rendering of how it may appear. This not only prevents you from sticking a 2.0 plug in a 1.0 outlet, but makes the different outlets easy to recognize by sight.

Will I have to upgrade my whole house to Outlet 2.0?

No. If you’ve had the lamp in the corner plugged into the same 1.0 outlet for the past 20 years, and you never plug anything else into it, there’s no need to upgrade that outlet. Just upgrade the outlets where you will benefit from having the Outlet 2.0 standard. If you ever sell the house, you may consider a full upgrade then so you can advertise that every room is Outlet 2.0 compliant.


For far too long, we’ve been dealing with heavy, unwieldy, ugly power conversion bricks all over the place, and they don’t seem to be going anywhere soon. But I refuse to believe that a world that sends robots to Mars can’t figure out a way to solve this problem. So this is my proposal. Of course, I’m not an electric engineer, so I may be missing some of the finer issues. Let me know what you think, and tell me how this idea can be improved.

Update: There are few things more frustrating for me than discovering that one of my ideas has already been thought of. But in this case I’m pleased to find via the comments that a similar proposal is already being worked on called The Green Plug. It doesn’t appear that the Green Plug puts the converter on the wall side, but it does create something like the Outlet 2.0 Power Strip, so that all your devices can share the same DC converter. I fully support this.

May 8, 2008

How bold can Darth Vader be?

The above word-cartoon is the end result of that quote rolling around in my head for weeks. I’m not sure how successful it ended up being, but I know there’s a font pun to be made somehow with that line.

I started out trying to literally depict that scene from Star Wars using letterforms, intending to use bold letters for Vader and light letters for Princess Leia. I loved the idea of the @ sign filling in for Leia’s hair bun. But after a few attempts I concluded that I’m no LIDA when it comes to making art from letters. I just couldn’t get the fabric to look like fabric without making the entire thing out of parentheses and tildes of various sizes. And that kind of misses the point. The letter “M” sort of did what I wanted, but not really. It’s too rigid.

Then I wondered if maybe I needed to stop trying to depict the scene from the movie, and just draw Darth Vader alone, made out of bold type. In many ways it’s the most visually striking of the attempts, but I felt like I overlapped the letterforms so much in his helmet that they were becoming mere shapes rather than letters. But here’s how that ended up:

So ultimately I decided to just use different fonts and weights to write their names (seen at the top of this post). But just floating in the frame without a sense of place, I’m not convinced that works, either. And it’s less amazing than pictures made of letters.

May 5, 2008

Idea: Measuring cups that look like tiny pots

Someone who manufactures pots and pans should make a matching set of measuring cups that look just like the pots they make but smaller. And with some creative design tweaks, teaspoons and tablespoons could be made that look like tiny frying pans.

Or, the items could be designed the other way around. They could make pots and pans that look like enormous measuring cups, complete with “1/4 Cup” and “1/2 Cup” written in oversize lettering. And then when you buy the set, you get the matching measuring cups included.

May 1, 2008

Googlyi: An iGoogle Theme

[Update: Googlyi is now an officially listed theme on iGoogle.]

This week, Google debuted a new series of iGoogle themes created by “world-class artists and innovators.” Somehow they managed to miss me when they sent out invitations asking people to create a theme, but I decided to create my own theme anyway.

I present: Googlyi, an animated iGoogle theme.

That’s right. Not only does it change throughout the day, but those googly eyes watch you while you work and generally creep you out.

I’m going to submit it to Google for inclusion in their gallery, but in the meantime you can preview it here [update: use the official listing instead]. Let me know if anything doesn’t work for you throughout the day so I can fix it before I submit.

Note: I think you need to be signed in to Google to see the preview.

March 17, 2008

Idea: The Bulbdial Clock

Update 12/4/09: In conjunction with Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, I’m pleased to announce that you can now buy a kit to actually build Bulbdial Clock! Visit the product page for more information.

I think we can all agree that sundials pretty much suck. They only have an hour hand, they don’t work at night or indoors, their accuracy changes with the seasons, and if you happen to live in the Southern hemisphere they run backwards. And yet, we all would love to be able to tell the time by looking at shadows, right?

That’s why I’ve come up with the Bulbdial Clock.

The Bulbdial Clock has no hands — just one pole in the center of the clock, and three light sources of varying heights which revolve around the pole casting shadows. In the model illustrated above, the light sources are each attached to a ring which rotates around the pole. The innermost ring rotates once per minute, casting a “second hand” shadow. The middle ring rotates once per hour, and casts the “minute hand” shadow. And the outer ring rotates once every 12 hours, casting the “little hand” shadow.

The Bulbdial Clock can be used flat like a traditional sundial, or mounted vertically on a wall. A variation on the design intended for large-scale installation (such as in a museum) involves a pole sticking up in the middle of a room, while the light sources are mounted on the ceiling, shining down on the pole as they rotate around it.

The Bulbdial Clock solves most of the sundial’s problems, but it still has a problem of its own: It doesn’t work in bright light. So the Bulbdial Clock is best suited for dim spaces such as restaurants and nightclubs.

Update: Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has built a working model and posted several photos of the process. (4/7/09)

Previously: An Orange Clockwork

February 19, 2008

Idea: A new typography term

keming. noun. The result of improper kerning.

Update: Now available as a t-shirt.

Update 2: I’m writing this update several years later. Since I coined this term, it has made its way into textbooks, a Google easter egg, and other places. So I’ve written an updated post to catalog all the places people are using keming.

September 19, 2007

Book Trend: A Novel

Sure, I’ve seen book covers that identify the book as “A Novel.” But I never realized just how ubiquitous it is until a recent visit to my local brick and mortar bookstore. It’s on practically every novel! All of the below images are details from the covers of books currently on the New York Times Bestseller Lists for hardcover or trade paperback fiction. You can click on each image to see what book it’s from:

I guess just being a work of fiction isn’t enough anymore. You have to emblazen your book with a category on the cover so the book superstore employees know where it belongs. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha wind up in the religion section.

September 3, 2007

Idea: Celebrity middle finger coat hooks

Middle Finger Coat HooksI think a kitchy home accessories designer should license historic photos of celebrities giving the middle finger and turn them into 3-dimensional coat hooks. At right is an artist’s rendition of how such a coat hook might look using a famous photo of Johnny Cash.

A coat hook like this would be the perfect thing to put in your rebellious high school son’s bedroom. He’ll enjoy it so much you can be sure he won’t come home from school and just drop his jacket on the floor any more!

Other celebrities who have been caught on film giving the middle finger, making them great candidates for the coat hook conversion, include Abbie Hoffman, Willie Nelson, and, um, George W. Bush.

August 30, 2007

The Beetlejuice House


Beetlejuice HouseThe Tim Burton movie Beetlejuice takes place mostly in one location — a house in Connecticut where Adam and Barbara Maitland lived, and which the Deetz family moved into after the Maitlands died in a horrible car accident. The house is also featured prominently on the poster. But a story that takes place in one location doesn’t present very many options for establishing shots throughout the film. How many ways are there to shoot the same house?

It turns out, there are at least ten ways, including the opening shot of the Maitland House as a miniature. A subplot in the movie about a hideous remodeling of the Maitland home by its new residents lends variety to the shots of the house as construction progresses throughout the film.

Here are the 10 different establishing shots, in chronological order:

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

Beetlejuice House

The movie takes place in Connecticut, but was filmed in East Corinth, Vermont. The house shown in these shots is not a real house; it’s just a facade built for the movie.

July 9, 2007

Terrorist organization logos

Terrorism Logos
How am I supposed to know what terrorist group put out this video?
Terrorist groups, like any organization, need brand identities. With so many groups claiming credit for terrorist acts, and so many videotapes being put out featuring men in ski masks, it’s hard to keep track of which group committed what violent act. So terrorist organizations have logos. It recently occurred to me that someone had to actually design those logos. But how did they decide who gets to do it? Did the job go to whichever terrorist had a copy of Adobe Illustrator?

I did some research and rounded up as many logos as I could find from terrorist groups past and present. While I hate to give terrorists any more attention, I still think it’s interesting to see the various approaches they took in their logos, and wonder what considerations went into designing them. Does the logo successfully convey the organization’s message? Is it confusingly similar to another group’s logo? Does it exhibit excessive drop shadows, gradients, or use of whatever font is the Arabic equivalent of Papyrus?

Quick Disclaimer: I picked these terrorist groups from a list of designated terrorist organizations on Wikipedia. Since Wikipedia is a user-edited website, I can’t verify who decided these groups are terrorist organizations. So if it turns out one of these groups is an actual army or a legitimate non-violent organization, don’t blame me.

I decided to group the logos roughly by their dominant design elements:

1) Stars

It occurs to me that “stars inside circles” is a subgroup of this category.


2) One Gun

Notice that there’s a little bit of overlap between this group and the last group. The last two “Stars” logos featured a gun, but I decided that the star motif was strong enough to keep them in the “Star” group. The first logo in this group has a star, too, but it’s small.


The bottom three logos are presented in the order they were designed, each inspired by the one before it.

3) Two guns crossed

Why settle for one gun, when you can have two?


4) Other weapons crossed

Guns are so barbaric. Here are some logos which feature blades instead.


5) Crossbones

White supremacists seem to prefer skulls over swords. Hey, haven’t I seen that Combat 18 logo somewhere before?


6) Animals with multiple heads

The SLA’s seven-headed cobra, below, was apparently taken from an ancient Sri Lankan symbol.


[Note: There is interesting discussion in the comments below over what constitutes a terrorist group, with the Kosovo Liberation Army particularly being called into question, and comments an both sides of the issue. The BBC has an interesting history of the KLA here, explaining why the US urged Kosovo Albanians to regard the KLA as a terrorist group, and why the Kosovo Albanians stopped short of that designation. I intend no offense by this logo’s inclusion.]

7) Other

What to make of the rest? I’m not sure what the Oromo Liberation Front logo is supposed to suggest. And that “EPB” logo doesn’t inspire terror at all. It looks like an Olympic team logo. I’ve never heard of the Creativity Movement before, and now I still have no idea what they stand for. What’s with the “W”?


Note:This weekend, an Al Qaeda suicide bomber killed 150 people in a market north of Baghdad. Another 250 were wounded. When this news broke, I had already begun working on this blog entry, and thinking of those victims made it hard to finish. So I just want to be clear that, although this entry focuses on a relatively trivial aspect of terror organizations, it is in no way intended to make light of terrorism. The guns, the blades, the maps of Israel, and other elements in these logos do effectively communicate with painful clarity what some of these groups intend. While my overview of terrorist logos is meant half-seriously as an examination of graphic design in a place we might not think to look, I don’t want to minimize the devastation these groups have wrought.

July 5, 2007

Idea: The Alien Stapler

I recently rewatched the Alien movies. I must still have Aliens on my mind because today I got a little creeped out by my stapler (it’s the one on the right):

Alien Vs. Stapler

All this leads me to the thought: They should make a stapler shaped like the Alien. And it should have one of those staple trays that reloads by extending outward, instead of having to open the top.

Previously: Yip-Yip Martian Binder Clips

June 25, 2007

She’s a vector girl. I’m a bitmap guy.

David Friedman and Ellen Butters
Photo by Guy Ambrosino
I don’t really write much about my personal life on this site, but I’m going to make a big exception to announce that I recently got married to graphic designer Ellen Butters. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with an album of wedding photos, but I do think there are a few aspects of our wedding that readers might find interesting.

Back in December, when we started planning the wedding, we were interviewed for an episode of Wallstrip, the daily video podcast about stocks which are at an all-time high. This episode was about, a website that helps couples plan their weddings. CBS purchased Wallstrip last month (congrats to them!), and I have a strong suspicion that our participation in that episode helped seal the deal. Here’s the video:

The wedding took place at the Society of Illustrators in New York City, an old carriage house turned gallery that doubles as a sort of clubhouse for illustrators. “Illustration” was the theme of the wedding. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before the wedding where we exchanged rings and vows before our family and friends, we were legally married at City Hall, accompanied by fellow photographer Brian Berman. Brian’s portraits don’t always capture people in their most flattering light, but it’s his photos of people in their awkward moments that are always the most interesting. Here’s his favorite photo of us at City Hall:

David Friedman and Ellen Butters

Don’t worry. He took photos showing how happy we were, too.

The wedding at the Society of Illustrators took place in their third floor gallery, which featured an exhibit of illustrations from the seven women’s magazines that dominated the market in the 1950s. Paintings by artists including J.C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell, James Montgomery Flagg and others provided the perfect setting for the event.

David Friedman and Ellen Butters
Photo by Tim Griffin
For dinner, each table featured a lantern centerpiece (made by Ellen and her mom) featuring a biography of an illustrator plus examples of their work. Instead of being assigned a table number, guests were assigned an illustrator, and they had to look at the lanterns to figure out where to sit. To make it even more interesting for the guests, each illustrator had at least one painting hanging somewhere in the room, to encourage people to walk around and look at the artwork.

Music plays as important a part in our lives as does art, and we were honored to have great talent on hand. Guests arrived to the music of pianist and arts critic Vivien Schweitzer. The procession was accompanied by cellist Yves Dharamraj, and Ellen’s father provided a Piano interlude. At the reception, pianist Kayo Hiraki led a jazz trio in setting the musical tone for the celebration. The whole event went as smoothly as could be imagined, and a great time was had by all.

In a few weeks, we’ll be off to the Galapagos Islands for our honeymoon (with me sporting a fancy You Say You Want An Evolution T-shirt). So I hope everyone is itching to read a post about giant tortoises, because I suspect there will be one coming.

Ellen Butters and David Friedman

May 31, 2007

A Graphic Designer clears his name

Back in November, I wrote an entry suggesting that the publishers of Douglas Preston’s book Tyrannosaur Canyon were trying a bit too hard to associate their book with Jurassic Park. The cover looked just like Jurassic Park and all the blurbs talked about how much better Tyrannosaur Canyon is than Jurassic Park (it isn’t by a longshot).

I recently received an e-mail from Howard Grossman the Graphic Designer who designed the Tyrannosaur Canyon book cover. He wrote:

I was poking around on your (very enjoyable) blog when I came across my name in an entry dated November 20, 2006. As a humble designer of book covers for the last 25 years I am wise enough not to go head-to-head with the enviable talents of Chip Kidd. That is why the actual cover I designed (see attached) makes sure to avoid any such direct “borrowing”. I think the two front covers placed side-by-side prove my innocence.

The original hardcover version (done for Forge books) used my design. I would be curious at who did the edition that you show on your blog. They completely rearranged the elements of my design to do exactly what you argue—that is, create a direct rip-off the Jurassic Park cover. But they didn’t stop there, they decided to “credit” me with the design.

If you’re listening, Chip—I didn’t do it!

Here are the covers in question:

Book Comparison

As a photographer, I know that my profession occasionally shares a similar fate. Photo editors sometimes pick the photographer’s least favorite photo from a shoot, or they crop it in some strange way that fits their layout but completely destroys the carefully crafted composition. Try as we might, I guess we can’t control everything.

Previously: By nobody who brought you Jurassic Park

May 29, 2007

New Delta ad campaign an in-joke for nerds?

Delta Delta Delta
Changes in Delta*
Earlier this month, Delta launched a new ad campaign called “Change,” along with a new logo. Even before the launch, I’d found myself recently appreciating the logo for features I’d never noticed before. Somehow it had never dawned on me that, in addition to being an abstraction of an airplane’s wings, the actual shape of the logo is a triangle — the Greek letter Delta. Maybe it’s not as brilliant as the FedEx arrow but I like it.

The new red version of the logo has been promoted with a new ad campaign by SS & K. The campaign highlights all the changes recently made at Delta. The ads say things like “CHANGE IS: TXTING U UR FLT STATUS” or “CHANGE IS: NEVER BEING BORED ON BOARD.” I saw one ad that summed up the campaign’s theme as simply “CHANGE IS: DELTA.”

And that’s when I realized: Delta really is change. In physics, the Greek letter Delta is used to indicate change. For example, a simple formula for calculating a change in velocity might look like this (taken from this article about deltas in physics):


This would be read as, “The change in velocity is equal to the second velocity measurement minus the first velocity measurement.”

So is this an intentional double entendre meant to be appreciated by science and math nerds only? Or is it just serendipitous that Delta really does mean change, and that happens to be the word they based their campaign around? I’m not sure. But I appreciate it either way.

* I almost captioned this image “Can I help ya help ya help ya?” but thought it might be too obscure.

April 9, 2007

Idea: The Digital Jewel Box

I love having my music on my hard drive or iPod, but one reason I still buy CDs and then rip them is that I enjoy holding the jewel box in my hand and reading the liner notes while the music plays. I just hate how much space all those jewel boxes and liner note inserts take up.

Digital Jewel BoxSo how about making a Digital Jewel Box? Here’s how it would work: The DJB sits next to your stereo or computer in its charging dock. Similar to a digital picture frame, it syncs wirelessly to your home network via WiFi, syncing itself with iTunes or whatever digital player you use. When a new song comes on, the DJB’s screen shows the album cover art for that song.

At any time, you can take the DJB out of its dock, sit on the couch with it, and use the controls on its side to flip through the rest of the liner notes, including track listings, lyrics, song credits, acknowledgments, and whatever else is included in the paper version. The pleasure of flipping through liner notes doesn’t need to go away just because CDs do.

You can also use the DJB as a remote control, as long as your media player supports it. The DJB has an infrared transmitter, and the charging dock has an IR receiver. So if you’re sitting on your couch flipping through your favorite album’s liner notes and you decide you’d rather be listening to a different track, you can skip forward or back by pressing buttons on the DJB itself. If you want to hear a different album entirely, use the DJB’s menu to flip through your music. The songs themselves aren’t stored on the DJB, but the track listings are.

When you’re not playing music, you can set your DJB to turn off completely, or double as a digital picture frame, displaying your personal pictures.

Here’s another mock-up of what the DJB might look like, but probably with fancier transitions than these:

Digital Jewel Box

March 12, 2007

Mauling Helena

The Table CentaurA new mall called The Domain opened this weekend in Austin. The bizarre photo at right has been chosen to represent the mall in advertisements, brochures, and directories. Seriously, this might be one of the strangest photos I’ve seen used for something commercial. Or at all.

Boxing FennWhat has happened to the poor woman in this photo? What story does it tell? Has she had her legs cut off by an obsessed madman who’s keeping her captive on that table, like Sherilyn Fenn in the movie Boxing Helena?

Or maybe she’s one of those exotic mythical table-centaurs, with the body of a woman and the legs of a table. Wasn’t there one of those in The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe, the Desk, and Other Furniture?

Very bizarre. But she does make a lovely centaur-piece.

February 5, 2007

Idea: An Orange Clockwork

An Orange ClockworkHi hi hi there, droogs. This weekend, oh my brothers, I, your humble blogger and narrator, had a thought in my rasoodock to create this orange clockwork. Viddy well this malenky clock which you can hang in your domy for just a little pretty polly. Perhaps your pee and em, or some other veck or soomka you know would find this clock real horrorshow.

Now available in the Ironic Sans store.

January 8, 2007

Idea: Word balloons as quotation marks

I noticed the other day that word balloons have the same basic shape as quotation marks. It’s interesting because both are used to convey that a person is speaking. That got me thinking of an instance where word balloons could be used as quotation marks, as a design element.

Word balloons as quotation marksIt would probably be weird to have them as part of a font set, but maybe it would look neat used for a pull quote in an article about comic books. It seems like every three years or so there’s another article about how graphic novels are finally getting respect as literature, so maybe the next time one of those pieces runs they can try out my idea.

For the example above, I thought it looked weird with open word balloons, so I made them solid black. And double-quotes looked odd to me, too. I decided a solid single-quote word balloon worked best. For actual use, a typographer or graphic designer could probably play around and find other variations that work even better.

January 4, 2007

Celebrity Patents

Harry Houdini patentLast month, Google introduced its new Patent Search feature (in beta), allowing users to dig through 7 million US patents from 1790 to mid-1996. On-line patent searching has already been possible through the US Patent and Trademark Office website, but Google makes it fast and easy using their already familiar interface.

So, inspired by Google’s new easy-to-use patent search, I decided to dig up some of the celebrity patents that have been issued over the years. The following 18 20 patents are all by celebrities not usually known for being inventors. You can follow the links to the actual patents to learn more about each one.

1. Eddie Van Halen, Musician.
Patent #4,656,917 — Musical instrument support

Eddie Van Halen patent

2. Zeppo Marx, Actor/Comedian.
Patent #3,473,526 — Cardiac pulse rate monitor

Zeppo Marx patent

3. Harry Connick, Jr., Musician/Actor.
Patent #6,348,648 — System and method for coordinating music display among players in an orchestra

Harry Connick Jr patent

4. Penn Jillette, Magician.
Patent #5,920,923 — Hydro-therapeutic stimulator (for, um, sexual stimulation)

Penn Jillette patent

5. Michael Jackson, Singer.
Patent #5,255,452 — Method and means for creating anti-gravity illusion

Michael Jackson patent

6. Abraham Lincoln, President.
Patent #6,469 — [Method of] Buoying vessels over shoals

Abraham Lincoln patent

7. Julie Newmar, Actress (“Batman” TV Show).
Patent #3,914,799 — Pantyhose with shaping band for cheeky derriere relief

Julie Newmar patent

8. Marlon Brando, Actor.
Patent #6,812,392 — Drumhead tensioning device and method

Marlon Brando patent

9. Lawrence Welk, Musician/Bandleader.
Patent #D170,898 — Welk ash tray (design)

Lawrence Welk patent

10. Jamie Lee Curtis, Actress.
Patent #4,753,647 — Infant garment

Jamie Lee Curtis patent

11. Gary Burghoff, Actor (Radar on “M*A*S*H” TV Show).
Patent #5,235,774 — Enhanced fish attractor device

Gary Burghoff patent

12. Mark Twain, Author.
Patent #140,245 — Improvement in scrap-books

Mark Twain patent

13. Hedy Lamarr, Actress.
Patent #2,292,387 — Secret communication system

Hedy Lamar patent

14. Walt Disney, Animation Innovator.
Patent #2,201,689 — Art of animation (method of filming animation cells with a shadow on the background)

Walt Disney patent

15. Harry Houdini, Magician.
Patent #1,370,316 — Diver’s suit

Harry Houdini patent

16. Danny Kaye, Actor/Singer/Entertainer.
Patent #D166,807 — Blowout toy or the like (design)

Danny Kaye patent

17. George Lucas, Director.
Patent #D265,754 — Toy figure (design)

George Lucas patent

18. Charles Fleischer, Actor (voice of Roger Rabbit).
Patent #4,219,959 — Toy egg

Charles Fleischer patent

UPDATE: Here are two more celebrity patents, courtesy of comments on this blog and others:

19. Prince, Musician/Singer.
Patent #D349,127 — Portable electronic keyboard musical instrument (design)

Prince patent

20. Paul Winchell, Ventriloquist.
Patent #3,097,366 — Artificial Heart

Prince patent

December 4, 2006

Idea: A building shaped like Godzilla

Godzilla Building
The Godzilla Building - Artist’s Rendition
The people of Tokyo should construct a giant building shaped like Godzilla. Imagine what it would do to the city’s skyline, and to the tourism industry. People would come from all over to take pictures. His eyes could flash red so airplanes don’t hit him. There could be an observatory in his mouth so people could look out over Tokyo. One of his arms could house a bar, and the other arm a restaurant. They could serve drinks called Mothra Martinis and dishes like Grilled Gamera Steaks, with a side of Mashed Potatoes.

Godzilla Building
The Godzilla Building - Artist’s Rendition
Conversations could take place like this one (translated from Japanese):

“Hey, I just got a new job!”

“Oh, really? Where do you work?”

“You know the Godzilla Building? I’m just a couple blocks South of there.”

Or maybe it could be partially residential. And then people could talk about that famous artist who used to live in the Godzilla Building in the apartment right above Godzilla’s left nipple. And then they could argue over whether or not Godzilla even has nipples.

Godzilla Building
The Godzilla Building - Artist’s Rendition
Monster Movie conventions could be held in the building’s grand ballroom. A concert hall could be built between his legs. The Tokyo Philharmonic could call it their home. Season Ticket holders could get discounts at the Godzilla Gift Shop. There could even be a park at the bottom of the building, with Godzilla’s tail circling around it. They would call it Godzilla Park, naturally. And it could have a fountain in the shape of his footprint.

November 20, 2006

By nobody who brought you Jurassic Park

Tyrannosaur CanyonI know, I’m not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But that’s why the cover is there, right? It’s supposed to give me some sense of what the inside will be like. So when I found myself needing something to read on a recent flight, I picked up a book that jumped out at me in the airport terminal bookstore: Tyrannosaur Canyon by Douglas Preston. I remember being terrified by his brother Richard Preston’s non-fiction book The Hot Zone back in 1994, and I was passingly familiar with Douglas’ work with his writing partner Lincoln Childs. I’d read a few of the books they wrote together, and while they weren’t very memorable I don’t think I hated them. So how bad could this be?

It was awful. I would have just left it on the plane, but then someone else might have picked it up thinking it looked good. The worst part is that I should have known better. As it turns out, all the warning signs I needed were right there on the cover the whole time. Had I paid them more attention, I would have realized that this book wants to be Jurassic Park more than any book has ever wanted to be another book. And a book that can’t stand on its own merits is probably not worth the time.

Jurassic ParkLet’s start with the cover, designed by Howard Grossman of 12E Design. Right away, I noticed that it looks astonishingly like the cover of Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park, designed by Chip Kidd. That’s step one in the multi-part plan to appeal to Michael Crichton fans.

Then, right there on the cover, comes step two, in the form of this praise by noted author Stephen Coonts: “If John Grisham had written Jurassic Park, he couldn’t do better than Tyrannosaur Canyon.” I’m not even sure what that’s supposed to mean.

Turn the book over. There’s step three: “The stunning new masterwork from the acclaimed bestselling author, recently hailed by Publishers Weekly as ‘better than Crichton.’”

And right below that, step four: “Michael Crichton wishes he could write half as well. -Library Journal”

Can you guess what all the blurbs inside the front cover say?

Publisher’s Weekly calls it “Crichton-worthy.”

“He has combined the cutting-edge science of Michael Crichton and the thrills and chills of Stephen King…” say authors W. Michael and Kathleen O’Neal Gear.

But this one’s my favorite: “I would put Tyrannosaur Canyon up with the best of Michael Crichton’s novels. This is the book Douglas Preston was born to write: a thriller that irresistibly combines cutting-edge science with night adventure. Whatever you do, don’t miss it!” - Lincoln Child, New York Times bestselling coauthor of Brimstone.

They break up the quote’s credit so it looks like the quote comes from “Lincoln Child, New York Times.” The rest of the credit (“bestselling coauthor of Brimstone”) is on the next line.

Can you guess who Lincoln Child coauthored Brimstone with? His frequent collaborator Douglas Preston! Isn’t your writing partner giving you that sort of praise sort of like your mom saying that she likes your new book?

November 18, 2006

A museum recommendation and a recommendation for the museum

Part I: A Museum Recommendation

On Thursday I had a chance to attend a preview of a new exhibit called Magritte and Contemporary Art which opens tomorrow at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Of course, the art is impressive, including more than 60 works by Magritte, and another 60 or so by artists including Barbara Krueger, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, etc. But the exhibit installation is one of the best examples of museum space enhancing the artwork that I’ve ever seen.

LACMADesigned by John Baldessari, the museum space is transformed into a surreal experience worthy of the artwork it contains. The floor is a carpeted Magritte-esque sky. The ceiling is covered with images of freeways. The guards all wear suits and bowlers, like they’ve stepped out of a Magritte painting. The entrance to the exhibit is a larger-than-life replica of Magritte’s painting The Unexpected Answer. When you enter the exhibit, it’s like walking into Magritte’s world. For a different exhibit, something like this could have been distracting, cheesy, or overbearing. But for this exhibit, it was just right.

Part II: A Recommendation for the Museum

After looking at the wonderful exhibit, I was thinking of buying the museum’s accompanying book. So I went to the gift shop to check it out. I’m sad to say that the paintings in the book are ugly. The colors are all wrong. I have experience photographing fine art for publication, and I know it’s tough to reproduce colors accurately, but we have the technology to at least come pretty close. But these were so far off that even someone unfamiliar with the paintings might wonder if that’s really what the artist intended. Some paintings had weird tints to them. Others were over-saturated. A painting with a deep blue nighttime sky was printed so light that it practically appeared to be daytime. The different colors changed the whole feel of the artwork. It was really unfortunate. I hope they can fix this problem for future print runs.

musuemAlso, LACMA needs to check their cash registers. When I made a purchase, I received a receipt with the name of the museum misspelled. How long has it been like that? Someone should be paying more attention to detail.

Update: The New York Times has a nice video about the exhibit including interview segments with John Baldessari.

October 29, 2006

Designing Ironic Sans

Rummaging through a pile of papers today, I came across some of my original sketches for the design of this website. Before I throw them away, I figured I’d scan them in and post them here, in case anybody might be interested in seeing a little bit of the work that went into designing this website.

At first, I wasn’t really sure what this site would look like. I thought maybe it would have an art deco feel to it. I drew a few sketches before realizing that I am not very good at depicting anything art deco.

Design Concepts

Was my website even going to have a feel that would go with an art deco look? Probably not. So I came up with another idea. I frequently jot notes on pieces of paper — to-do lists, phone numbers, etc. — fold them up, and put them in my pocket. There’s something interesting to me about worn out folded old paper. So what if the website looks like it’s on a folded old piece of paper? Maybe the creases in the paper could act as dividers for the various blog entries. What would that look like?

Design Concepts

You can see two drawings there. The large sketch shows a three-column version, and the small sketch shows a two-column version. Maybe that would work. I decided to flesh it out a bit in a Photoshop mock up to see what it would look like on screen.

Design Concepts

The verdict: It sure looks ugly. I didn’t quite capture what I was hoping to capture. You can see that I was already toying with the idea of classic ads instead of actual advertising. But this design wasn’t quite right. Back to the old drawing board. I decided to forget about the look and feel, and instead think about other issues. Did I want a two column layout? Three columns? Where would the logo go? I sketched a few layout ideas.

Design Concepts

Hmm. Pretty generic layouts. But they could serve as building blocks on which to lay a design. I played around with other aspects of the site in further drawings.

Design Concepts

Actually, I’m not sure what I was trying to depict in those sketches. All of this sketching took place piecemeal over several weeks. I’d do some sketches, take a few days off to think about what works and what doesn’t, and exactly what kind of website Ironic Sans was going to be, and then do some more drawings. Then one day, while I had some down time on a photo shoot, I drew this:

Design Concepts

Hmm, I thought. I’ll have to do a mock-up in Photoshop. But it seems like a good idea on paper. As soon as I had that thought, I realized I had hit on a good slogan that captured what I anticipated would be the tone of my website. And it gave me a direction for my website design. It seemed like a good idea on paper.

So I folded up the paper on which I did that drawing, and put it in my pocket. When I got home, I sat down with paper, pen, and ruler, and drew lots and lots of lines.

Design Concepts

I have several pages with variations on these lines. Thick lines, thin lines, cross-hatched lines, sharp lines, freehand lines, ruler-guided lines, etc.

Design Concepts

Then I drew the lines that would eventually be on the sides of the site:

Design Concepts

I scanned them into Photoshop and repeated those elements in different configurations making blog mock ups in various styles (three column, two column, etc). I don’t have the original Photoshop mock up, but it looked a lot like the drawing. I felt the site was looking a bit too cross-hatch heavy, though. All those lines dominated the page. I wanted the emphasis to be on the content, and not the design. The design should really be secondary. So I worked and re-worked it until I got it looking like you see it now.

I picked a serif font to represent the logo (Baskerville Old Face), printed it out, and used it as a basis for a freehand version of it.

Design Concepts

I liked the logo, but I wasn’t happy with how the slogan looked. So I reworked it, creating the elements that eventually appear at the top of my site.

Design Concepts

I repeated the process for the hand-written elements that appear in the sidebar and elsewhere.

Design Concepts

Then all that was left was making decisions about fonts, link styles, etc. I struggled with the CSS for a couple weeks, trying to figure out why I couldn’t get it to look the same in Firefox and IE and Safari all at the same time, and coming up with workarounds to make everything come together. Finally, after all that, Ironic Sans was born.

October 10, 2006


The art in this airport food court reminded me of Super Mario Brothers:

Mario Cafeteria Mario Cafeteria

October 7, 2006

But they already have their own chairs

Seen yesterday at Dallas Fort Worth airport:


Yes, I know, it’s the universal sign for all sorts of various handicaps, but I still got a chuckle out of the notion that these chairs are reserved for people who pretty much bring their own chair with them wherever they go anyway. Perhaps there should be a different “handicapped” indication for those who aren’t wheelchair-bound. Maybe the same abstracted figure with a cane?

September 25, 2006

Idea: Fiber Optic Streetlights

I can think of several reasons why this would never work. And there are probably more reasons I’m not thinking of. But as a concept, I like it.

What if every streetlight had a corresponding streetlight on the other side of the planet, with fiber optics connecting them to each other? Instead of using lightbulbs, sunlight shining on one streetlight would be gathered through a lens, travel through the Earth along fiber optic cable, and come out its corresponding streetlight on the other end. Like this:

Fiber Optic Streetlight

I’m sure it would be enormously expensive to set up a system like this. But imagine never having to provide electricity for a streetlight ever again. Surely it would pay for itself in the long run, right?

Of course it’s not enough to just have a corresponding streetlight on the opposite East or West hemisphere, but it would have to be on the opposite North/South hemisphere, also. Not just the “other” side of the planet, but the true “opposite” side of the planet. This would make sure that long days on one side of the planet are providing light during the long nights on the other side. But then this presents a new problem because it would require a one-to-one relationship of streetlights on opposite sides of the planet, and I’m pretty sure there’s more need for streetlights on the Northern Hemisphere than Southern Hemisphere, so that wouldn’t work out evenly.

But maybe that problem could be solved with giant “sunlight gathering centers” set up on the sunlit sides of mountains in the middle of nowhere, providing sunlight to the streetlights on the opposite side of the planet via fiber optics.

Another problem: it would be difficult to keep these things maintained, with Earthquakes and other wear and tear that would damage the fiber optic cables. And when new roads are developed, they would need new streetlights, and it’s probably tough to keep setting up fiber optic streetlights every time you build a road.

Yeah, I know. Impractical in reality. But still. I like the idea.

September 23, 2006

Six Feet Dahlia

I haven’t seen the new movie Black Dahlia, but I’ve seen the poster all over town. It finally dawned on me why it looks so familiar.

Six Feet Dahlia Six Feet Dahlia

September 7, 2006

Idea: Pac-Man napkin holder with Ghost salt and pepper shakers

I’ve had this design floating around my head for the past few days:

Napkin Pac-Man

Idea: The iZod

It’s the iZod: an Izod branded series of bendy-style stands for your iPod, in preppy poses, wearing Izod shirts. There could be a Golfer iZod, and a Tennis iZod, and a Country Club iZod, and an iZod for, well, whatever else preppy people do.

The iPod iZod

August 7, 2006

Idea: The Ant Desk

The Ant Desk

What do you get for the eccentric executive who has everything? How about the Ant Desk? It’s part desk, and part Ant Farm. How creepy is it to work at your desk while hundreds of ants scurry all around you? Is it distracting? Fascinating? Did some of them get out? Do you think you feel them crawling on your legs? It’s the ultimate desk for nature lovers, bug lovers, and, well, other people who want a weird desk.

The Ant DeskHow does it work? It begins with a thick layer of glass or clear plastic. This protects you from the ants, and protects the ants from you. Below the glass is an open space with a thick layer of dirt, allowing the ants to crawl in, out, and around their tunnels, caves, and hills. This all rests on top of a sturdy base layer, which doubles as the bottom of the desktop. Small holes around the sides of the desk provide air, while being too small for the ants to escape.

Hundreds of ants will live happily for months, with just a little food and water periodically inserted through the feeding portals. For cleaning, the base layer can be built to slide out on casters like a large drawer, or the glass top may be hinged to open. I haven’t worked that out yet.

And when you get home, you can cuddle up with your loved one in front of the TV and rest your wine glasses on your Ant Coffee Table. The perfect oddity for any living room.

August 6, 2006

Plane in a Snake

Plane in a SnakeRecently announced in partnership with, New Line Cinema is encouraging anyone and everyone to become an official licensee of merchandise for the upcoming movie Snakes on a Plane (which, if you haven’t heard by now, promises to be exactly the sort of movie you think it will be based on that title). Most of the movie’s buzz has already come from movie fans on the internet resulting in a flurry of free publicity for the film, and there are tons of unofficial products already out there. So it makes sense that New Line continues to take advantage of the hype with this promotion that lets you say you’re an “official” licensee.

Well, this weekend I had some blank paper and some art supplies and a little free time, so news of the CafePress deal inspired me to join the bandwagon and come up with my own Snakes on a Plane inspired design. I call the resulting picture “Plane in a Snake.”

I wasn’t sure I would actually do anything with it — I’m not generally a “join the hype” type — but as it turns out I like how it looks on the shirts. I think my favorite product might be the baby bib featuring the Plane in a Snake. But even if you don’t have a baby in need of a bib, check out the store anway, where you can find the drawing on a variety of stylish shirts and other fine products like these:

Plane in a Snake

July 27, 2006

A parallel istaverse

If you live in a major city anywhere in the world, there’s a good chance that there’s an “-ist” website covering your town. Beginning with Gothamist, covering New York City, the “istaverse” as they call it extends to Los Angeles, London, Shanghai, and beyond.

Gothamist logoEach “-ist” website has its own cute logo following the same theme: a few sillhouettes of buildings, other architecture or landmarks, followed by “citynameist.” Each one also features a different colorful background. The original Gothamist logo, above, was designed by Sam Park, of Tiny Factory.

So I got to thinking. What if the “istaverse” people existed in fictional cities? I’m sure they would write about the new Starbucks being built in that up-and-coming neighborhood in Townsville, or some event being put on by that funky art collective in downtown Delta City. And I’m sure is where the Flintstones would point their, um, rockputer to see what the mayor said in his latest news conference about all those layoffs at the quarry.

But what would the website logos look like? I imagine they’d look something like this:



Delta City


Hill Valley

The Island


Orbit City



The Village

Bonus: There are two more that I didn’t think worked quite as well as those above, so I didn’t include them in the list. But you can click to see them anyway: Bonus 1 and Bonus 2

Update: Other -ists that I considered but rejected, partly because I couldn’t really think of any architectural icons to go with them at 2:00 this morning when I wrote this piece included Pleasantvilleist, Mayberryist, Funkytownist, Bumfuckist (oh, crap, I totally forgot — I was going to do a broken-down shack and some tumbleweeds for this one; oh well), CrystalLakeist, Dogpatchist, Grover’sCornersist, TwilightZoneist, and a few others. Was there a name for the town where the Smurfs lived?

Update: I just added Lilliput. I couldn’t resist.

July 23, 2006

Green means stop. Red means go.

Maybe I’m alone in this, but I find the website Rotten Tomatoes to be counterintuitive. Now don’t get me wrong, I find the site quite useful. I’m not highly critical of it in general. But this one thing throws me off every time.

At Rotten Tomatoes, they collect movie reviews from across the internet, and use them to give movies a rating of either “fresh” or “rotten.” But every time I visit the site, I have to retrain my brain to use it properly.

Fresh Tomato If a reviewer likes a particular movie, you see a brief quote from the review along with a picture of a fresh tomato. That’s right, there’s a big red circle, like say a stop sign or stop light, next to reviews that like the movie.

Rotten Tomato If a reviewer doesn’t like a movie, you see a small quote from the review along with a picture of a splattered rotten tomato. So there is a big green asterisk-like star next to reviews that didn’t like the movie.

So red circle means “Good movie” and green star means “Bad movie.”

Okay, it’s not that big a deal, true. But every time I visit, I get thrown off by this.

July 6, 2006

Terrorism makes this ad special

IBM WTC adAm I the only person who looks at this IBM ad and sees a depiction of the World Trade Center after the first tower was hit on the morning of September 11, 2001? This explosive image that I guess is supposed to express creativity or something looks to me more like smoke and flames rising from the tower, just moments before the second tower was struck.

Is it as blatantly obvious as I think it is? Or is it just that I made the association because I saw this ad displayed poster-size and back-lit at my departing gate at the airport?

Update: Wow. Judging by the almost 50 comments so far today, I guess this isn’t going to go down in history as my most successful post ever. sent lots of people my way, and some Farkers can sure be vicious in the comments (welcome to my site, Fark readers — I hope you explore the rest of it while you’re here). Just to be clear, I’m not someone who sees 9/11 imagery everywhere I look (or faces on Mars, etc). And I certainly wasn’t offended by the ad. I too am bothered by people who confuse simply being reminded of a tragedy with actually being offended by whatever triggered that memory. I just thought this particular ad looked so obviously like the twin towers to me that its placement at the airport of all places could have been thought out a bit better. But people see all sorts of things in different ways, and I guess I’m not in the majority with this one. At any rate, you can read on in the comments to see lots and lots of people who disagree with me, and a few who agree. But be warned: Some of the less mature Farkers’ responses may not be suitable for (but perhaps were written by) young children.

July 3, 2006

The Eutats of Ytrebil.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The Eutats of Ytrebil

This bus drove by me on Friday. I think it must have gotten here accidentally from some Parallel Bizarro Earth 2 on the exact opposite side of the sun from us, where everything is just slightly different from our own planet. In this parallel world, uptown means downtown, Rockefeller Plaza has a roller skating rink, the Chrysler Building is taller than the Empire State Building, taxis are purple, and — as shown on the side of this bus — the Statue of Liberty holds her torch in her left hand instead of her right. How it reached our world I’ll never know.

But it got here just in time for Independence Day. Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

June 12, 2006

You got your picture in my logo

I’ve been noticing logos lately that have replaced letters with pictures. I think it’s fascinating how the brain just fills in the blanks, whether or not the pictures actually resemble the letters they replace. Various studies have shown that we don’t look at the letters which make up words as much as we look at the shapes of the words as a whole. In fact, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The brain just takes care of the rest.

Here are examples where the letter isn’t completely gone, but a picture is formed by stylizing and embellishing a letter:

PictureLogo PictureLogo


And here are examples where the letter is totally gone, completely replaced by a picture that resembles the missing letter:

Sopranos Signs
Tarzan Empire
SeaWorld SouperBowl

It probably helps that the picture in the word is often a representation of the word itself. Something like the Stroop Effect may be going on here (or maybe the opposite of the Stroop Effect, whatever that would be called. The Poorts Effect?). Take this example, for instance:


The strawberry doesn’t look anything like the letter “a” but we know what letter is supposed to go there because we recognize the rest of the word, and after all, it is a picture of a strawberry.

This is one of my favorites:


We know it’s supposed to say “CIGARS” even though the picture neither looks like the letter “C” nor depicts a cigar! Perhaps the association with some tobacco product is enough.

And then there are the movie logos that replace letters with numbers:

PictureLogo PictureLogo

And of course movie logos that replace numbers with pictures:

PictureLogo PictureLogo

But Google takes the cake. They frequently swap out their traditional logo with one paying to tribute to a holiday or celebrity birthday. Their substitute logos often replace letters with picture, relying on our familiarity with the Google name and logo. They use color to remind us of the original logo, too.


And the granddaddy of all is this Google logo celebrating the Persian New Year. Only one letter remains as a reminder of the original logo:


May 30, 2006

Is that a Pepsi logo on that Coca-Cola product?

Coke BlakThis weekend I saw a poster advertising the new Coca-Cola Blak, some sort of Coke-and-Coffee hybrid.

I went through what must be the usual response to seeing this new product, an assortment of comments involving the word “gross” and mentions of Pepsi AM and Pepsi Cappuccino.

But then I looked more closely and was shocked at what I saw. Is that a Pepsi logo on the bottle of Coca-Cola Blak?

Coke Blak

Am I seeing things? It is a slightly distorted Pepsi logo, right? I mean, I’m sure it’s supposed to be some sort of riff on the Coca-Cola swooshy ribbon thing, but it sure looks like a stylized Pepsi logo to me. Will this go down in history as another great Cola Packaging Snafu?

May 18, 2006

When Isamu Met Bucky

Noguchi and FullerI had the pleasure this evening of attending the opening of a new exhibit at the Noguchi Museum in Queens highlighting the work of sculptor Isamu Noguchi and his good friend Buckminster Fuller.

Buckminster Fuller, many people will remember, was the man most famous for inventing the geodesic dome, an incredibly strong structure made up of a network of struts. Fuller’s invention was conceived as an extremely lightweight but stable building that could be erected simply and inexpensively. While the dome was a big success, he designed it after a long string of other inventions which Fuller hoped would create a better life for humanity, but which never caught on.

A chrome sculpture of Fuller by Noguchi overlooks several exhibits
Several of those inventions are showcased in the new exhibit. One highlight is a scale model of Fuller’s Dymaxian House, an easy-to-ship and easy-to-assemble home that hangs from wires around a central column (“Dymaxian” is Fuller’s made up contraction of the words Dynamic, Maximum, and Tension). Fuller imagined this as the wave of the future, an ultra-efficient, ultra-affordable, mass-producible home. But only one Dymaxian House was ever built. It was lived in for 30 years before being relocated to the Henry Ford Museum in 2001.

A visitor examines a model of the Dymaxian Car
Fuller’s Utopian vision extended beyond homes. In 1933, he built a prototype Dymaxian Car, a highly efficient vehicle that seated 11, reached 120 miles per hour, got 30 miles per gallon (unheard of at the time) and did it all on only 3 wheels. It was 20 feet long, but barely needed more space than that to do a full 180 degree turn. Sadly, an accident at the 1933 World’s Fair prompted investors to abandon the project, and the car never passed the prototype stage. It’s a shame it never went any further in development. It’s hard not to imagine how automobiles would be different today. For the current exhibit, the Noguchi museum has brought together models, pictures, and video footage of the car in action.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. The exhibit explores many more of Fuller’s projects, but these were my favorites.

The sculpture garden at the Noguchi Museum
The exhibit, called “Best of Friends: R. Buckminster Fuller and Isamu Noguchi,” reflects the friendship and values of two men, each dedicated to improving the lot of the common man, one working through science and the other through art.

The lives of both men are presented nicely through an exhibit designed by graphic designer Tomoko Miho, who the AIGA called “the design world’s best kept secret.” Along one wall, an extensive timeline follows the parallels of both men’s lives, and is included in full as a gatefold in the exhibition brochure, making it a great souvenir.

The exhibit opens this Friday, and continues through October 15.

May 15, 2006

Random Acts of Emphasis

Delta Sky ItalicsI flew Delta this weekend, and found myself LOOKING through their in-flight magazine while waiting to take off. I noticed something in their magazine that I’ve noticed before — they randomly ITALICIZE things for no apparent reason. And sometimes they use all-caps for no apparent REASON.

I suppose they think it adds visual interest. Italics and capitals are treated as design elements. And that’s fine. But it makes for CONFUSING reading when they use it in every headline. When I read, I mentally EMPHASIZE the italicized and capitalized words. I think the Sky Magazine people forget that. At least they DON’T add bold into the mix.

Delta Sky Italics

May 8, 2006


The movie Constantine was on TV this weekend. I tried to watch it but it was so bad I couldn’t make it past the first 15 minutes. But that was long enough to see this in the opening credits:


It looks like someone forgot about kerning. The letters seem to all be monospaced, leaving far too much room around some letters, particularly the “I”. Do I expect too much from multi-million dollar productions? Or do the producers accept too little?

April 12, 2006

Museum store shop for is open inspiration!

Museum BannerI saw this banner outside a museum last week, and I had to take a picture. I haven’t seen such a confusing use of type is a long time.

First I thought it said “museum store shop for is open inspiration!” but of course that makes no sense.

I tried again, separating the small 2D letters from the big 3D letters. This time I ended up with two sentences, “store is open” and “museum shop for inspiration!” I’m pretty sure the first sentence makes sense, but I don’t know about the second one.

Trying again, I attached “museum” to “store is open” to get “museum store is open” which makes sense. But that left me with “shop for inspiration!” which I guess makes sense grammatically but seems overly exuberant for a gift shop.

In the end, I guess I may have figured out what the designers meant, or I may not have figured it out. I’m sure there are other equally-likely ways to parse the sentences that I haven’t even tried. I have no idea. But if it takes more than a couple seconds to figure it out, that can’t really be a sign of a well-designed banner, can it?


One of these is a medicine:


The other is the logo from a bottle of Zephyrhills water that I bought recently. That’s right. It’s a brand of bottled water. But I can’t look at it without thinking it looks like a medicine logo. This label needs a redesign.

Was “Zephyr Hills” too difficult to keep as two words? It looks like someone ran the formula Zyrtec + Syphillis and came up with Zephyrhills. I’ve come to call it Zephyrillin.