Obsessions Archive

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By Patric King and Su

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Web Worker Daily recently proposed a simple step toward reducing day-to-day e-mail clutter and the resultant timesuck: make e-mails short rather than nice.

If you listen to the wrong people, you might think music packaging is even more dead than print. Hard Format is a celebration of just how very wrong all those people are.

The iPhone is beginning to grow a healthy community of developers, who are coming up with a wealth of new icon and interface explorations.Walrick, a deviantArt member, has released an interesting series of layered PSD files from which you can begin new icon designs built on templates based on Apple’s original iPhone icon set.Big Cartel is a new online store service for small companies who need to sell on the web with mimimal fuss—and maximum style. Initial signup leads you directly to the free plan, so you can test the site for as long as you want without charge.If you like it, you can easily upgrade to a higher level of service.The plans are very affordable: the highest rate is $20 a month.

You know it’s fun to check out the contents of other people’s supermarket carts. A gallery of mood boards is a little like that for designers—a chance to snoop for inspiration.

February 2008

The International Dada Archive at the University of Iowa is a beautiful collection of original Dada printed material. Its online image library includes a wealth of books, leaflets, periodicals, and posters. sdrc.lib.uiowa.edu/dada/collection.htm

True Appalachian culture is hard to come by. Hillbilly Savants, a group blog originating in Knoxville, Tennessee, presents a massive collection of personal histories, interviews, and a blogroll that’s helping to preserve Appalachian heritage.

Here are two treats for Mac devotees: Music Thing has an interview with the man who designed the Mac’s welcoming startup chime and Peter Merholz of the design and consulting firm Adaptive Path has posted scans of the astutely designed 1984 Mac user manual.

If you use a lot of online services, you need a lot of secure passwords. Code Poetry gives you a small, free application that calls up the password assistant on demand.

Building upon the near-religious following of Manchester club the Hacienda, Y3 has released a pair of sneakers—a collaboration among Peter Saville, Ben Kelly, and Peter Hook. Only available outside the U.S., the shoes retail for about $700 a pair. So, of course, they’re must-haves.

The blog “Faces in Places” indulges us all in that classic designer’s game: finding (or hiding) faces in the inanimate objects around us.

November/December 2007

Remember the lovely iPhone ad that premiered during the Oscars? The one featuring classic Hollywood film clips of phones being answered? It’s almost identical to Telephones, a short film made by artist Christian Marclay in 1995. Marclay’s wry response: “I’m just honored…they thought my work was interesting enough that they felt they could just rip it off.”

Surely you don’t have enough type geek T-shirts on your closet floor! Here are 40 or so more.

Okay, maybe you do have enough type tees. But how about a hoodie that lets you hide behind King Kong? With famous faces hand-printed on their hoods, these sweatshirts are part urban camouflage, part protection from the elements, and all attitude.

HydroSeventyFour makes some of the hottest typographic constructions around. Click through the site, but pay special attention to the “type treatments” section.

The Strunk and White crowd will be happy to hear that blogs tracking grammar misuse are proliferating. If you shudder to see quotation marks out of place or have a horror of apostrophes appearing where they shouldn’t, these are the sites for you.

The concept of the “fold” and what goes above it is a constant irritant in web design. Thankfully, it is being given closer scrutiny and criticism.

At They’re Beautiful!, you can send your loved ones virtual flowers that last forever—provided the recipients log in and water them every few days. Otherwise, the posies die. It’s the gift that keeps on nagging.

September/October 2007

Finally, you can control your fortune—or at least your fortune cookies. Go to the site unFortunate to write a cheeky fortune and download a template to print it; then share (and mock) with friends.

Professional photographers are adept at attaining a stunning palette in their images. Now, with the match color function in Photoshop CS, the rest of us can combine shoddy shots with famous works of art for instant beauty.

You know it’s fun to check out the contents of other people’s supermarket carts. A gallery of mood boards is a little like that for designers—a chance to snoop for inspiration.

Passwords can make multibrowser work daunting: Safari and Firefox each have different methods of storing them, which means the user must remember them twice. Enter the handy password manager 1Passwd, which serves as a bridge between the Mac OS native key­chains and apps that don’t use them. Better still, it protects you from phishing attacks.

At This Day in Type, the date on which you’re viewing the site serves as the subject for user-submitted typographic art. Last June, for instance, two Mondays boasted, respectively, a fetching illus­tration with Frutiger and Robert Bolesta’s wrapped-ground-beef “Meat Alphabet.”

July/August 2007

From the folks at Fontshop, here’s a smart way to weather typography (usually difficult to do with quality results). The tip utilizes a method that respects the contours of the typeface and doesn’t require extra Photoshop plug-ins.

If you’re new to the world of working solo, or if you’ve just begun to build your own clientele, you’ll encounter some interesting personality types, guaranteed. Freelance Switch offers a field guide to several varieties of client, along with advice on how to deal with them. Keep it handy to aid you when the going gets weird during that first meeting with a quirky client.

Several companies make great tools for working with color on a Mac: Painter’s Picker allows you to quickly build a palette of primary, complementary, and clashing colors in an assortment of color-wheel densities.

Shades matches the color you sample with a set of between 9 and 81 related tints.

Surprisingly, the Mac Color Picker has a wide range of palette building tools, neatly documented at Codepoetry.

A stroll through Chris Messina’s Flickr pages could supply much-needed inter-face design inspiration. Messina—a.k.a. “Factory Joe”—has built a growing library of design patterns, application flows, and interface bits.

If you’re not comfortable editing Cascading Style Sheets in order to check type specs, the CSSType site provides a way to prototype on screen, showing several variants of your settings at once.

May/June 2007

History of the Button uses an extremely narrow design lens to study the ways we interact with our world. Henry Petroski would be proud.

Dutch interaction specialist Jeroen Wijering has released an open-source, Flash-based media player licensed through Creative Commons. It’s customizable, easy to install, and beats hosting your media at YouTube. Choose “scripts” and select the version you prefer.

Check your palette’s contrast easily and quickly for color-impaired viewers with Jonathan Snook’s brilliant little web tool. Insert your colors’ hexadecimal values and magically create instant accessibility.

If you want to skirt color-related issues altogether, Microsoft has a wildly helpful hint on how to convert a color photograph into a convincing black-and-white crosshatched line drawing.

Firebug has secured its place as a must-have web development tool for Firefox by allowing you to debug your CSS, Javascript, and even network activity—all in one convenient box.

Clients insist on sending information in all sorts of wrong formats, often requiring extra software and time spent doing conversion. Zamzar is here to save the day with a free online conversion service that tackles more file types than can be listed here, from text to video. Nonprofits, take note: Dreamhost offers you free, business-class hosting. Fax them your nonprofit status after sign-up and you get hosting, a secure server for transaction processing, a secure certificate and unbelievable amounts of disc space.

March/April 2007

Oh, the hoops book typesetters must jump through! India, Ink. presents an entertaining rant detailing the job’s day-to-day tedium. We have a new respect for our typesetter.

From The New Yorker archives: A Hendrik Hertzberg essay has all you need to know about the magazine’s mascot, Eustace Tilley, and his creator, Rea Irvin.

For more recent magazine innovations, explore TYPE, where The Royal’s creative director maintains a blog showcasing new type and design experiments in the magazine’s decorative style.

Even without a fairy godmother to say “Bippity-boppity-boo,” you can become instantly more appealing—on film. “How to be Photogenic,” an article from WikiHow, is full of helpful hints for those of us without an army of stylists.

A website’s beauty is on the screen of the beholder. In his report “Actual Browser Sizes,” Thomas Baekdal presents the results of five months’ research into what size users actually make their browsers’ content areas.Hyperdither is a mini-application for the Mac that reproduces the dithering method used in Apple’s HyperCard, giving an image’s dots a delightful staccato. The algorithm it uses is quite different from the one used in Photoshop, and the results are pleasantly reminiscent of Emigre’s early work created with primitive technology.

Need some new beats to keep you lively as you design into the wee hours? Beatpor think iTunes just for dance music—has a catalog that ranges from classics to new releases in a vast array of genres. Purchase tunes in MP3 format for everyday listening or uncompressed WAV format if you’re moonlighting as a DJ.

January/February 2007

Since 2004, a group of Russian typographers has been posting designs and visual experiments on the site DailyType. Their enthusiasm for the hand-drawn has led to an inspirational gallery of quirky lettering.

Web design showcase sites tend to be largely devoid of
context or commentary. Design Meltdown goes the extra step and curates sets of examples built around specific trends or elements, ranging from simple color usage to atypical navigation.

Among the great gripes of many print designers working online is the current lack of multi-column layout. While the CSS3 specification—which will include properties for doing this—won’t be officially released for some time to come, browser vendors have already begun experimentally implementing some of its features. CSS3.info tracks these developments, as well as developments in the spec itself, and provides working examples for supporting browsers.

Mark Boulton’s Simple Steps series, which recently tackled the subject of typesetting on the web, provides bite-size tutorials on the small, often ignored details that make designs stand out.

Speaking of standing out, Darryl Ohrt of Visual Intelligence Agency observes how some of the most successful brands employ elements of punk-rock philosophy: “Adding ‘X’ to a razor’s name? Just a lame attempt at buying an audience with weak, non-genuine branding. Inventing a razor for shaving heads? Totally punk rock.”

Nothing is more punk than open source. activeCollab is a new, free, and happily, open-source project management system that provides the simplicity of similar tools such as 37Signals’ Basecamp but is installed on your own server.