Excellence in Design: The Look of Jazz

You probably don’t know the name Reid Miles, but you probably know his work. He was the art director for an extensive series of significant Blue Note jazz albums. For those who care about jazz, and design, and typography, and photography, this is a lesson worthy of your time and attention.

You may know the name Francis Wolff. His photographs tell the story of Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson, Tony Williams, Art Blakey, and so many others.

And you may know the name Michael Cuscuna, a jazz record producer and “Blue Note archivist.” His insights bring the visual storytelling to life.

The film is produced by Vox. Nice work!

The Art of Inge

Below, a picture of Inge Druckery with her reducing glass. Why a reducing glass, and not, say, a traditional magnifying glass? Because a reducing glass allows the user to step away from the visual work. By stepping away, the artist/designer can see the whole, and the relationship between the many pieces of a visual presentation.

Inge 1Inge Druckery is one of the world’s truly great teachers of type design, and, more generally, she has provided designers of all kinds with tremendous inspiration, especially in the combinations of typography and graphic design that so dominate our world, our screens, our print materials.

And now, Edward Tufte (one of her students) has executive produced a 37-minute film, available free, about Druckery’s life and work. The images are striking in their simple elegance, and there are plenty of them. You can watch the film by visiting Mr. Tufte’s site, or simply clicking on the video at the top of this article. This is a film to watch full-screen, in a quiet room free from distracting glare, without interruption, with a patience and a keen eye. Do so, and you will be rewarded with an experience very much akin to attending an extremely well-crafted art museum exhibition on an extremely interesting topic. Do not hurry. Do this when your time permits. The images and ideas will stay with your afterwards.

What sorts of things are presented? The extremely precise Roman alphabet, the letterforms that are so solidly architectural in their L, E, T, and V forms, and so much in motion in the S, so beautifully balanced as curves meet straight edges in the B and, especially, the tricky R form. Simple explanation, elegant presentation.


Here’s a progression of the letter R, rendered by hand with a proper broad lettering brush, with each letterform progressing toward an ideal. Here, the most basic of old analog form presages a perfection now commonplace in digital typography. Commonplace, but not common. And in the common hand, perhaps there is greater perfection, more of the Lord’s hand and the human progress toward excellence, than digital allows.

R Progression

Do You Think You Can App?

Think back to the time when you wondered whether you could desktop publish (before you knew what a “font” was), build your own website, or shoot or edit video? All of these were once unavailable to the average person. Now, Apple has filed a patent that could lead to make-your-own apps.

No surprise that message boards are filled with doubt. Making apps is too specialized, too complicated, too much of a commitment for the average person, too demanding in terms of knowledge and training and skills. Doubters point to iWeb, which was a make-your-own website tool that Apple provided, then pulled from the market.

Still, I wouldn’t dismiss the idea too quickly. No, most of us can’t or won’t build our own websites, but technology and invention race around the rocks–so we blog, and post images, and Tweet, and distribute information via tools that weren’t available the day before yesterday.

Do I want my own app? Sure, I guess, but the question suggests a solution chasing a problem.

If we flip the question, and assume, for example, that we (jointly) own an artisanal bread bakery, we might want to make it easy for our customers to know what’s baking, and what’s fresh out of the over, and we might not want to pay someone to build an app. A bake-your-own app might be just the thing for small business, or for authors who want to provide more than an eBook can easily provide, the list of potential problems that a homegrown app could solve is large. What’s more, the interactivity of a good app creates a high level of engagement between the provider and the customer, so apps could be the step beyond blogs and tweeting.

But I think there’s even more to the question. Blogs, tweets, apps–these assume current technology. And yet, we know that current technology lasts only a few years before the whole game changes. By 2015, we’ll be into advanced optical displays, a better cloud that makes the whole idea of local storage and local apps obsolete. Quite likely, we’ll be buying a broader range of devices–and I’m sure I don’t want a circa-2012 app as the my interface with thousands of internet radio stations (I really want easy-to-use internet radio in my car with lots and lots of stations from around the world).

Nothing is standing still–and that’s one of the challenges addressed in the Apple Insider article–how to build apps that easily (and automatically) customize for an increasingly varied range of devices.

Just My Type

US, UK covers - the UK version is more fun.

My dad taught me to appreciate the distinctions between one font and another. Before I finished high school, I knew about serifs, descenders, x-height, and Bodoni Bold. This was secret knowledge exclusive to graphic artists (and their attentive children).

Then, desktop publishing happened, and suddenly, everybody seemed to know about Baskerville, Times New Roman, Optima and Helvetica.

Fonts became cool. A movie was made about Helvetica.

Now, there’s a surpassingly energetic–and fun!–book about fonts, Just My Type, written by Simon Garfield.

In it, you’ll find the unfortunate story of Comic Sans, and the movement to eradicate its use.

I never thought much about the reasons why we have Helvetica, Ariel, Univers and Futura. And why I started to use Frutiger and Gill Sans in place of other sans serif fonts. Or why I never loved Brush Script or Souvenir. Turns out, each of these fonts is part of a story, either about technology’s progress or shifts in public sensibility or the renovation of a mass transit system (which requires signs of every size, plus maps).

Yes, this book is ridiculously geeky. No, there’s no reason why chapters must be read in order. Yes, there are lots of pictures–and examples that reminded me of our graphic past as defined by Gilligan’s Island, Obama’s first presidential campaign, the London underground, Letraset and Dymo tape, Pet Sounds, Penguin Books, Ikea, and T-Rex.

I wish I had the patience to read every story of every type font, designer and context. And I wish there were dozens of visual examples–more and more visuals to tell this very visual story.

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