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80’s Halloween

I know I’m a week early on the Hallow’s Eve thing, but I was playing around with some old skull models for a different reason and had the idea.

My favorite part is the glossy shine running down the orange sunglasses:

Not sure if I’ve posted this before, but I did do some quick Freestyle tests with the same model (which comes to us from the repository) a few months back when that was first revealed:

Typography and Music

People usually roll their eyes upon hearing that a person is into typography. They don’t call it that, of course, they call it “fonts” which doesn’t make any actual sense but is the thing they know and might have even used themselves. It’s akin to saying someone is into MP3s instead of music; fonts are a format container, a bucket for glyphs – sounds – which together make a song. A typeface then, is perhaps one such song in a suite – a family – of compositions. Similar structures or notable features, but with different uses. Maybe bold is one song in a different key or in major rather than minor, changing the mood.

And glyphs themselves are funny to think about individually, as are notes. There are many instruments that can play the same note but it would be inappropriate to use the same instrument for every kind of song, just as it would be inappropriate to use the same type treatment for every kind of word or brand. There are trends in each – an era of intense popularity – and perhaps we could call Helvetica like the Beatles: really popular for a decade or so and then drifting off into recognized but backseat brilliance as other, newer things come up. They are undeniable classics and heralds to new ages, but we can’t keep using them for everything. We still play them sometimes and are still caught up in the melody or the way the square period looks, but people would give us weird, annoyed looks if we interrupted a rave with them. It would be contextually inappropriate.

The shapes themselves are made up and meaningless but have been repeated so many times they form their own standard. Microtonal music sounds off or wrong somehow, just as a Japanese hiragana symbol might to an English writer. Our minds fall into patterns of language, be them visual or audio and we gloss over the individual parts in favor of the overarching melodies. Typographers, then, are like very obsessive luthiers, trying to make that perfect note ring on every fret and then making them all match each other and dance when strummed in chord.

There are words that look good in some font families, just as there are chords that sound good in some keys. To design type, then, is to design a scale structure to accommodate certain types of chords; words. The notes are picked and played individually but the scale is the coherent thread woven through them, where you could play any note in that scale and it would match any other.

What I’m trying to say, really, is that beauty as I see it is the organization of the arbitrary into systems where there are rules for individual interactions to create the whole.

Photos via

Caring for Your New Designer

The following is an excerpt from the guide I’m writing:

Preparing Your Home for Your New Designer

Noting what kind of designer he or she is will be essential for setting up a comfortable environment for them. Is your designer a minimalist? A brutalist? Perhaps removing all furniture and covering every surface with board-formed concrete would be best. Are they a cross species half-artist? Perhaps leaving cords of sticks around for them to use in the construction of their nest would be ideal. No matter what type of designer they are, though, they’ll probably want some area in which to make a mess. This is called “a studio” and is essential for the ownership of any young designer. Although they’ll never admit it, most designers would like a little bit of softness in their life, so large, well worn patchwork quilts are often sold at local shops for them to snuggle with. (Any sort of bedding material will do, however). We suspect this has something to do with their occasional bouts of soul crushing loneliness, which is an ancestral thing left over from the cave dwelling designers of the olden times – around 1998.

Designer Ancestry

It’s believed that they first arrived on North American shores as stowaways on Viking ships. Scientists differ on true origin but we suspect they were either the weakest Vikings who couldn’t make it socially and were outcasted or perhaps very large marsupials who developed opposable thumbs and the ability to draw with Copic markets. In either case, try not to bring this up with your designer! They might relapse into more primal behaviour, listening to the musical stylings of The Skrillexes and/or barricading themselves inside their nest for weeks at a time.

I Think My Designer is Broken

What you’re finding is most likely just the effects of their introverted personality and is completely natural. Leave them alone for a few days and DO NOT attempt to console or cuddle them. Yelling seems ineffective as well, but gosh is it fun to watch them scurry in fear. They will likely retreat to the comforts of social networking to stay connected to people without actually having to deal with the dull and inane personalities of their followers (often mistakenly referred to as “friends”) – this is acceptable as long as the brooding index doesn’t get too high (and we recommend picking up a broodometer – they’re like, $5 and will save you a lot of grief).

My Designer is Filling My Spare Room with Chairs

Oh, you bought a furniture designer. Yes. Well. That is unfortunate. Maybe you should have read our other guide “Choosing the Right Designer” where we explicitly recommend against that. Much like their cousin breed called ‘Architects’, they are adorable when dressed up with those cute little black turtlenecks you can get but are terrible with children and insufferable dinner party guests. If you are looking for a much gentler species of designer, might we suggest a young Modernist?


With some careful attention to the proper care of your young designer, he or she will grow into a life-long companion and with the proper training, if you’re extremely lucky, might make some money to recoup the costs he / she has wreaked on your home. They might seem cute and harmless but trust us – no matter how much they beg – don’t feed them after midnight.

On Quality

As a foreword I want to reference two fantastic books. The first is one I’ve recommended and referenced before: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The second you can read for free and is by Frank Chimero, who you should already be fans of; read it here.

It’s sort of meta in how these two books talk about taking inspirations and adding momentum to get to somewhere new and I’m using them for just that. I’m taking these two dots and drawing a line between them. The first dealing with Quality and the second dealing with How and Why. I’m drawing further lines between these three subcategories, these aspects under Design itself.

I like design philosophy because it allows a lot of things normal ‘real’ philosophy doesn’t and often can’t. I’ve found in both reading and writing ‘real’ philosophy there’s this underlying gap between you thinking about these things and the things themselves. Not to suggest that the conclusions are dead ends but rather like an abrupt ending in the middle of a bridge – you can see the other side (the conclusion) but even if you can convince yourself that it’s there you find this gap in the middle that I would call the nebulousness of self-referencing ideas. The doublethink. We can hold these truths and thoughts and it’s good, but we never actually fully arrive there. It seems to me, anyway. Perhaps I’m just terrible with the existential.

So design philosophy sets up it’s own little sandbox to play in. It’s less concerned with itself. We can read and write it as a vehicle for the understanding of design, not for the understanding of design philosophy. It’s that sort of directness that closes the gap – ‘real’ philosophy gets lost in that loop because it’s inherently meta. Design is a great many things, but they’re still just grounded thoughts about, say, a process or a result. The grander questions just don’t apply in the same way. This reason, as much as any, is why I like it. It’s a practical philosophy.

Okay. So. Quality.

There’s a macro and a micro to each question that I find interesting. We can take individual pieces of, say, a car; someone might ask How this steel is bent and others might ask Why is it bent like that. These are important questions, certainly, on a micro level, but there’s also How it fits into the car and Why it’s required in the car. The Why is where we start seeing lots of soft answers. Maybe it’s aesthetic. Maybe it’s part of the chassis and holds everything together. We would agree that one is more important than the other, but our design focus isn’t always on the important one. Now we bring in economics. The consumer might choose a car based on how the steering wheel fits in the hand – do we focus on making the best steering wheel purely in order to sell cars? Do we focus on that piece of the chassis in order to make cars worth selling? But if we focus on the chassis and no one notices, does that inherently mean we’ve sacrificed on the part that would sell the car? And around and around we go. So on a micro scale we often get caught up in little eddies of thought. We must step out of the frame a bit.

Why do we make cars at all? Bigger.

Why do we make cities the way we do? Better.

Well, we have this mass of people and spaces in between these things we call buildings – which is where the people go to do things – and instead of running everywhere we’d like an easier way to travel. (This, of course, as a personal aside, is where I run into my general dislike for cars: when simplified to this level they make absolutely no sense at all. They only make sense in how they’ve evolved alongside the infrastructure such that to remove them would make for different and perhaps greater problems.) and so we start to see the why in macro sense: we need transportation over distances and cars offer (hopefully) more solution than problem. There must be some scale tipping goodness to them otherwise we wouldn’t continue using them. (This is false logic, just smile and nod; I’ll explain). Isn’t the goodness of something Quality? But we run into a semantic issue here. When we’re on the car lot kicking tires and say “That model is a quality car” we don’t mean that it’s generally more good than it is bad at getting us from building to building (the overarching goal), we mean that the pieces inside are good, are full of Quality. Macro and micro differences. (and this is where Zen fell short, I feel. So close, too. It went over the scale differences with subsets assemblies and how to define them, but never really covered the macro of the macro-micro Quality differences.)

It’s unfortunate that the language is the thing getting in the way. I wish, like Dr. Seuss, we could just make up words and introduce them globally around the community as the accepted new way of describing the subtle differences that get lumped into bigger words like Quality. Alas, we cannot and so I write pieces like these, to try and explain: the quality that something has can be the adjective describing it (say, it’s quality is dirty or red or soft) or it’s state (it’s quality is used or new) or it’s function (it’s quality is aesthetic or mechanical) or – and this is what Zen touched on – it’s intangible, unquantifiable ‘goodness’ (this car has quality – it’s well made or good).

The purpose of this rant is one of frustration, I suppose. I’m sad to see on /r/design or forums or wherever that people actually fight about such semantics. Such useless squabbles, in my opinion. Quality can mean all of these things. It’s just one of those words we haven’t properly broken up in English. A shame, I agree, but more of a shame is how vile people can be. And I know, this is the internet and all and as a citizen of it I’ve come to learn that some of these things are unavoidable (seriously, Youtube?). I just wish we didn’t have to fall to such barbarian measures. I mean, this isn’t religion. We’ve separated design philosophy from real philosophy and while there’s a middle in the venn diagram of overlap, it’s nothing to start wars over. I mean, you’re making posters. Calm down. Quality is both subjective and objective, critique will offend and that’s just as often good. I realize we as artists and designers tend to become personally attached to our work but to say that it’s quality is somehow reflective of your personal quality is not true nor fair.

I say these things as if I’ve been personally involved and I haven’t. I sit merely as a lurker and an armchair critic who seeks to moderate things a bit. I am, I suppose, a design apologist. My format is non-specific and quickly darting (especially in and out of scale), but I do hope that some snippets make sense.

To everyone: do good work. Work with pride but not vanity. Work with high Quality and with good qualities. Take strangers’ criticism as you would from a wise friend. The internet is often harsh, but fires make a forge. Not everyone else is right, but if you find yourself thinking that no one else is right, you probably need to re-evaluate. Be honest but kind, to yourself and everyone else. Hustle.

So go. Ignore the philosophy written by old buzzards like me and make your own work code. Do what you like, not what’s in fashion. Shake the system and ignore the petty semantics. You’ve got better things to do than respond to hate mail.

Acrylo Aerospace

Aerospace, of course, being the coolest word to put after any name.

Soon: sew-on shoulder patches! (heh, not really, though)

Filthy Media Corporate Identity

I’m not sure if it’s just the mix of my favorite things (matte black with gloss black embossing) or that that blue colour happens to be what I’ve been running with lately or what, but this is lovely.


Interview with Max Steenbergen

When I started Twitter a little over a year ago Max was one of the first people to interact with me and it’s been really cool to exchange opinions and comments on each other’s work since then.

So, Max, tell us a bit about yourself
Well, first of all my name’s Max Steenbergen. I’m a 27 year old Dutch guy, working as an in-house UI & graphic designer for a company developing dashboard software for yachts. I’ve studied English for a bit, but quickly dropped out and went on to study photography instead. I’ve got a full-time job but next to that I’ve gone back to school to finally get a proper bachelor’s degree. Two evenings a week I’m back in the school benches following a course called Communication & Multimedia Design. Most stuff of what is taught there I already knew or is horribly outdated, but every now and then I actually pick up something new. When I’m not at work or at college, I’m most likely sweating my ass off and falling to the ground in the most unelegant ways possible playing volleyball.

How did you first get into icon design?
About 10 to 12 years ago I wanted to produce my own wallpapers so I started fiddling with Terragen, a piece of software to render landscapes. I quickly installed Photoshop thereafter to enhance the results Terragen delivered. I was quite happy with what I did back then, but after a few years of browsing the web and seeing all kinds of awesome designs I grew tired of my own limited skill set. I was especially intrigued by icons, like the ones by Louie Mantia and Sebastiaan de With. In the meantime I was hired by a local company (where I still work to this day) as the in-house designer thanks to some web design skills I picked up along the way.
Once there I started making tiny icons for the software we produce, and little by little those icons grew more and more elaborate & detailed. At the same time I got intrigued by UI design and started learning that field at the office. I bought lots of books on the subject, and found some great & inspiring people. What I learned then greatly helped in my job, as I often have to think of different ways to visualize data. It was then that I went from sloppy work to pixel-precise fiddling.

Could you describe your approach and philosophy to design?
Practically everything is done in Photoshop. Every now and then I mock up a very rudimentary mesh in Cinema4D to get the perspective of the icon right, but after that I recreate those shapes with Photoshop. I try to use as much vector shapes as possible, but once I get into the itty bitty details I quickly grab my Wacom and brush it in.
For app icons I try to keep things as realistic as possible. That’s just a personal preference and my way of working towards my other goal of being able to digitally paint and not have it look like crap. For smaller icons though I have no real philosophy. I first figure out what the icon should symbolize before I get to what it should resemble (big difference there). Minding every pixel here is key.

What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Getting the lighting and shadows right is crucial when trying to achieve realism. Unfortunately enough, those two things are what I find hardest to do. You can’t just randomly add highlights or shadows wherever you like, you really have to stop and think just how that shadow or highlight would be shaped in real life (if there would be one at all). I recently made a jacuzzi illustration and had to add a shadow from the pool’s edge in the water. After adding it, it just didn’t look right but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Two days later I finally saw why: the shadow I added was convex when it should’ve been concave.

What’s the part that you love the most?
That’s right at the moment I reach for my Wacom pen to start adding in all the little details (though not every detail is brushed). I’ve learned not to be easily satisfied with my own work after seeing some of the icons I made when I first started doing it “professionally”. With my Guinness illustration I spent ages adding every little drop of condensation on the glass individually. It was a painstakingly tedious process, but the result was worth it.

Do you ever freelance?
I’m not a real freelancer – I’ve got a full-time job – however, every now and then I offer my services (or they are requested) to a client. Working on those projects is done on the evenings and weekends, and are —at the moment— merely for the fun of it. Whatever I earn with it are neat little extra’s that I save up to treat myself (like buying an iPad 3).

I hear rumours of a Dribbble app, care to share?
As I mentioned, I’ve gone back to school. For the semester I’m currently in, we have to design and develop a mobile app using web technologies (meaning HTML5, CSS3 and JS). The premise of the app was free to choose. I’ve always figured Dribbble clients lack 1 specific feature, so I figured I’d write it myself this semester. The app is called Longshot, and is a iPhone 4(s) specific web-app (I might target other devices later, but for now I’m focusing on my own phone). It’s actually nearing completion as far as functionality is concerned, but I still have to spend quite some time to the design. It’s up and running over here and requires to be installed to the homescreen as it needs the space Safari’s toolbars occupy. Still some work to be done, but quite useable already as it is.

What attracts you most to Dribbble in the first place, anyway?
Two things, really. Primarily to look at other people’s work, be in awe of and inspired by it, followed by being bummed at not being at that level. Secondly to post my own work looking for feedback.
Dribbble is a great community with a lot of talented members, and personally I’m always looking for their feedback. As every community it has its share of “elitism” and groupie behavior, but I’m not too sure if that can ever be eradicated. Longshot though is my attempt of giving everyone a fair chance of exposure.

If you had any advice for young designers, what would it be?
My twitter buddy Michiel de Graaf —himself an awesome designer— recently tweeted something that I feel nails it: “As a designer you should be proud of your final result but never satisfied.”

If you could instantly change anything about our society, what would you change?
Ads. Begone with them. I understand why they exist, and don’t mind if there are some ads but literally everything has become infested with ads. Please let me pay for your service if it means I can use it without ads. Also quite related to ads these days is online privacy. I’ve grown quite skeptical when it comes to companies —especially social networks— treating personal data, especially after reading up on some of Facebook’s practices.

Describe your favorite colour using only nouns.
Spring. Sci-fi. Cold. Minimalism. Calm. Peace. Sky. Space. Dabadee Dabada.

Thank you very much,

The pleasure is mine.

Windows 8

It’s nothing new, of course. I’m sure most of you readers have been following this since last June when Microsoft decided they should blog about things in an effort to seem more open.

And I could write entire essays about the various things, from the recent logo debate to the timing of the recent beta release, but I really want to prod about the superficiality of the whole thing.

I don’t like it.

They wanted to make things youthful and fun and I feel like it’s tripped over itself on it’s way there. The tiles idea, from a cross-device cross-media platform view is brilliant. The OS is fundamentally similar between the desktop and phone versions because the tile underpinnings are so fluid and scalable. I like that problem solving. There are other, even better ways for the power user, but I think it’s a good thing what they’ve done trying out this format. I’m also glad that they seem to be running with this. I watched the first look demo from last summer and wondered how much of this would be taken out for the final production, much like concept cars get boring-ized before actually available. Okay, so these are nice things.

But the aesthetics. The raw, easy to change bits like tile colour. Where did they come from? I wanted to compare it to a local kids amusement place thing that we had growing up but it seems like they never had a web presence. Shame. It was garish. I remember thinking that even as a kid when we went there.

I was really excited to see screenshots like these:

Where there is unity and boldness and youth and vibrancy and that useful starkness that works so well for phones. Icons that has to be powerful to minimize language usage. But then they took that and stirred everything all together and made this soup of mismatched colour and style and I feel like the desktop OS end result is worse off for it. It’s just muddled.

The good news is that it should be very customizable (at least, we’ll find a way to force it, if not native) and the changes needed to streamline it aren’t that big of a deal. Icons. That’s easy, given everything else that went into the system.

I hate to say it, but the Vista Ultimate style would actually work perfect here. A nice unobtrusive background with those famous blues and greens popping as tiles? That’d be fun and elegant, bold and restrained. It’d be fresh and young without being childish.

Did I just write all of that to say that they should think about changing a few colours? So it seems. Twitter’s taught brevity might be a valuable thing to learn after all.

TL;DR Just wait and change the tile colours in the options because the default ones are rubbish.

Business Cards

First try, just a haphazard spewing of elements over the page. It’s busy and visually annoying. Simplify:

The new portfolio should be unveiled sometime around the end of the week and you’ll notice a very strong branding similarity between these last two cards and the site itself. Since I’m designing both simultaneously, it’s interesting to see how they draw off each other; I just thought of something while doing these cards that might end up looking really cool on the site.

So, not the final product. Just experimenting and playing. There’s a sale on the cool recycled brown pulp cards which would give it a nice texture. I’m not sure exactly how the ink colours will interact with the brown, but they’re cheap enough to experiment.

I’m definitely drawing inspiration laughs from this guy:

But although his result is ridiculous I do agree with the underlying statement. It’s not about who you are (CEO, grunt worker, etc) but what it is you can do for whoever you hand that card to. Draw crowds? Design things? Awesome. Say that instead.

My cards are sort of different, and this is where I’m skirting the lines of the new media. What is a business card in the days of simple Google searching? I’m fortunate to have a unique name in that SEO-wise I’m sort of automatically there, my problem is that it’s an awkward word to remember. If nothing else my card should have “Letkeman” on it. From there you can find everything else about me. I’ll make it one step easier: a URL.

Contact information I’m debating. For all intents and purposes I don’t have a phone number. Fax machines were outdated before I was born. That leaves email and snail mail. I don’t really have a practical fixed address being a student and no one mails anything anymore anyway. Email. There’s a contact form on the website. Do I include one on the card anyway? I wonder if there’s something psychological about sending an email from their preferred client instead of trusting the internet and it’s forms to send the message for them. Something more personal to have that ‘direct line’ either real or perceived. It’s also a subtle call to action. There’s a card with one option: go to the address. From there the CTA path is learning more then hiring Brennan. But we can bypass all of that with the direct email. Communicate with me, it says.

So, that’s part of what I’m up to this week. It’s a holiday; I’m excited to use all my free time to work and get things knocked off the list.

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