Monday, 26 September 2011

LeafLET it be

This is probably one of the most interesting topics for me personally: a take-away publishing and celebration of its design which still hasn't found an equivalent in the e-world. Print wins the leaflet fight, and I couldn't be more glad.

I don't think that any other form or publishing actually goes so closely with life. Free things people can take from all sorts of public places and collect - how amazing is that? I can hardly think of any other form of promotion that would work this way: not only does it stay in your mind longer than that split second you spend on watching an ad in a screen, but often you voluntarily bring it home and let it stay there indefinitely.
If you, the one who made the leaflet, are lucky - or simply clever enough to spend enough time on coming up with great design - you will push a sentiment button and make it to somebody's wall or a scrapbook. I am one of the people who have an endless amount of leaflets, brochures, free magazines etc. And the best ones get stuck on my wall, becoming an inspiration for future work. The funny thing is that there are many, many design-UNrelated people - especially young ones - who collect leaflets just because of their aesthetic value. Or at least they think so. The information on a leaflet definitely makes it to the consumer's mind, even if he's convinced it doesn't.

Whatever happens to the leaflets - whether they stay on a table of a trendy cafe, accidentally get on the floor, are brought to a shop and left there, or forgotten on a bus seat - is a win. It should be noted, of course, that this only applies to good design. NOTHING can help a badly designed leaflet, even if it's distributed in high numbers. If the leaflet doesn't attract the consumer's attraction, it will go to a trash can or end up as a piece of paper to put your chewing gum in. As for the good design, no matter if the service/event or whatever you promote is of no interest for the person who picks up your leaflet, he won't put it back there. This is a very interesting phenomenon, and it especially caught my attention during the London Design Festival. We've all have seen those tables or window sills covered in piles of different leaflets, and we've all seen those sentimental people who spend a few minuted there, choosing which ones to pick up. There are ALWAYS piles that grow smaller faster than others, and piles that stay untouched. I think it is a vital part of a process for each designer or a designer's client to walk around places like this and see what are the key elements that make people grab a few leaflets at once ("I'll take one for Jane and one for Mike too, they're gonna love it").

The key mistakes that can be done when producing the leaflets are:
  • Printing on a simple copy paper. This hardly ever works, and if you want it to work, you have to give 5 times more effort for the actual design. Copy paper-based leaflets are spoiled by the tiniest drop of water or a stain, it gets wrinkled, it doesn't feel like a thing worth keeping. Sorry.
  • Using grayscale. On copy paper. I personally don't even bother taking a look at leaflets like this, ESPECIALLY if they are printed on some pastel green or pink color paper. That makes me think about destruction and all the good paper and ink used to make something so crappy and useless.
  • Using inappropriate format. The best leaflet is the leaflet of a standard 10cm x 15cm size. It's like business cards - we are not prepared to carry something that is not compact. Bigger leaflets may look nicer at a first glance, but a random passer-by may not be carrying a large book or an A4 file, which instantly leads to the leaflet being folded and losing its value. That's a sad truth. The only other format which can be gladly acceptable - and in some cases way better than the standard leaflet - is a bookmark. I like it when the designer is considerate about me always needing something to put into a book I am reading.

    The freedom of brochure design is much more unlimited, but brochures and leaflets serve slightly different roles, and in a way I feel that leaflets have a bigger potential to survive. Even though brochure design offers amazing opportunities and often takes one's breath away with some innovative solutions, it is getting a little old. In a bad way. A leaflet is nothing but a tiny ad, which doesn't necessarily have to provide the consumer with too much information; it serves more as a flashlight: "Look at me look at me! Okay, you've seen me, so now go and see all the info on the internet". Meanwhile, informative brochures hardly make it to one's home, because they offer yet another serving of information. We are getting a little tired of the information overload, so you'd better be careful with that.

Coming back to the leaflet topic, there is one thing that somehow is surprisingly underrated. It's STICKERS. If it were up to me, every second leaflet would be a sticker. I have no idea why people cannot see the pros. First of all, stickers are fun. They have a specific entertaining quality to them, which makes it hard to resist taking a sticker or two when offered to take them for free. Well, unless they are very poorly designed.

Stickers are so much more powerful than leaflets! It's very hard to resist sticking them somewhere. I have a fridge covered with magnets and stickers, I used to stick them on to cupboards. Now I occasionally stick them on my laptop, and know several other people who do the same. Even if you don't bring the sticker home, you stick it on a lamp post, on a bus shelter, on a seat in front of you in a bus. Spreading the message. Stickers are like an infection: you only have to give them away in one spot, and they will be spread all around the area. Staying there long, being noticed and doing their job of promoting your service or your event.

And that's so much more useful than the tiny ad at Gumtree that you could hardly afford.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Skipping the London Design Festival would have felt like a total crime for me. I almost smelled Christmas coming early when I heard about it, and when I finally went to London for a couple of design-flavoured days, it left me with a bucket of things to think about.
LDF logo
Even though I only came for two days in the middle of the festival, I had set up myself an elaborate and diverse itinerary. Despite it not going as smoothly as planned (which, as I've experienced, often turns out to be a good thing), I saw plenty of things that made me gather my thoughts once again and seriously look at my future. I love it, I really do, when events like this make you investigate yourself much deeper than the actual subject may be going.
Luckily, I can allow myself to make a conclusion that design for publishing is not dying out. Examples like those shown in London Design Festival remind you that it's too early to even call it an exotic thing. Festivals like this wouldn't even really have to happen if it was exotic; how long is it before all the publishing goes online and we don't find excuses to get up and have a walk around some galleries to see things we can't yet reach via internet? Thankfully, long enough. I love internet, and yet I'm glad that there are things that still have cannot be transferred online. I love being surprised by a book or a magazine in a gallery or designer's studio, which is still a step further than one click on a computer.
Timber Wave by AL_A installation at the front of V&A
The first destination we went to was V & A Galleries. Now I feel a little embarrassed that I had never been there during my previous visits to London, but I made myself a promise I will pay another visit there next time. There's probably no need to introduce the gallery here, but before making a complaint about it not being too clear about directions to LDF exhibitions (spent a lot of precious time before realizing everything was on the different side from we were), I have to say it's a lovely place to go for a cultural afternoon.
I am not going to be too elaborate about not publishing design-related exhibits, so I'll rather say that there were some really interesting things going on there. I especially enjoyed the 'Brutal Simplicity of Thought: How It Changed the World' exhibition – simplistic but strong, and very thought-provoking. Art and design has to both please and provoke one's mind, otherwise it is rather useless.
Graphic Design Walk poster
I have to praise the Festival's design itself: there was absolutely no lack of free swag to bring back home. My wall is already being decorated with a few samples, ensuring that I won't forget about LDF next year and will also promote it to my friends. Again, I am going to cover the pros of free flyers/brochures/stickers in another blog post later.
One of the things that left me a big impression in the V & A Galleries was the Illustration Award winners' exhibition. I guess, every buyer of an e-reader should once in a while confront the things they are losing by leaving printed books for others.
The most exciting thing – and the one I was looking forward to the most – was the Graphic Design Walk (Bird Watching). It felt a little like an orientation game, hunting for the design studios using the map provided by the organizers (for a symbolic fee), but like a nice one. My heart started to pound when I saw a pile of Coralie Bickford-Smith designed books (the ones I mentioned in the previous blog entry), but due to a limited time I never got to see the designer herself. I will leave this one to the future, when I have a clear idea of what I would like to say to her.
April moustache mania
The first studio we attended was April, where people were posing with chocolate mustaches and seeing some nice ideas being actualized by the designers. It felt great, finally coming in and watching books from a completely different perspective: not for their content, but for the design that was done by the person in the same room. The room where this book actually was designed.
Mia Wallenius (Art Director of Hel Yes!)  was an amazing discovery, and bringing back a free poster designed by her (the pros of great timing!) was a nice symbol of the general effect all this adventure left on me. I might be a little modest and short on words on this entry, but I genuinely was impressed very deeply, and I'm not too sure if today, a couple of days later, I can shake off the remnants of what I heard and saw. 
Another amazing discovery – and definitely the loveliest atmosphere of all – was the one of Catherine Nippe's studio. A very warm atmosphere with a smell of coffee, a friendly designer and examples of Swiss design of the top class. Clean but powerful – those would be the keywords I'd apply to Catherine's work, and even though my work is oh so different from that, strong examples of successful people and their successful work make one think about pushing one's limits. Even if the 'clean' sounds pretty limited, that's something one has to be able to do when there's a need. And after all these interesting conversations and discoveries, the term of 'designer' has gained so much more layers in my mind.
By Catherine Nippe 
What I realized on my way home, is that design for publishing is so much more than satisfying one's desire to create something visually beautiful. It's a very sophisticated form of communication, and the responsibility laid on the designer's shoulders is huge. Amazing design can make huge changes in making world a better place (no cynicism allowed here: we have to believe in order to achieve). And to make amazing design, one also has to cope with their personality. No joke intended - on this trip, seeing loads of interesting and beautiful people, I just figured out how much we have to work with our subconscious to start seeing things as more than just 'natural'. Design is not 'natural' – it comes from hard work and determination of a strong personality. It is very personal, and it has to be shown: if we try to make it clean and sterile, we deprive it of any human touch. The lack of human factor makes communication impossible, or at least very difficult. And as long as we realize that good design does not only follow rules of aesthetics, we are not doomed.
That is the conclusion I came up with, when I realized that my previously lively and highly illustrative work is now often replaced with me trying to come up with something structural and impersonal. I know this is a key part of education and development – learning to follow the rules in order to be able to make your design more powerful later – but if I cannot manage communicating with my own work, so how can I expect anyone else to be attracted by it?
I may be going a little too deep into this matter, but when the real-life press is threatened by the comfort of onscreen publishing, it is useful to stop once in a while and remember we are doing this for people like us, not some cold and heartless audience. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Books #2

David Pearson
For the past few centuries the book industry could be sure about one thing: the format. Despite some worries about magazines or television, one thing could be taken for granted: if people want to read, and they will read books. They will spend money on buying the paperback/hardback you published, or at least go to the library and grab it there. There simply wasn't anything that could replace the paper-based books (audiobooks probably never sounded like too much of a threat).

But hello there, 21st century! The age when the old folks cry over the values they used to believe in and bury their belief in the new generations under the ground of sorrow. Should books be buried there too? I don't think so. And until the end of the paper-based book era, I strongly believe the current situation should be taken as nothing else as a package of new challenges. Everyone deserves a good kick in the ass once in a while, and therefore I made a little list of how book publishers could be helped by the designers (after all, we do tend to judge the book by its cover).

1.Concentrate on what you can offer that they can't.

Barbara DeWilde
 Since I'm analyzing the issue more design-wise than content-wise, I just have to note that there are some features of books as objects, which can't yet be replaced by mere text on screen. Of course, e-books are not standing in one place. As Stephen Brown says in 40KBooks, there’s no stopping them. They’re the way of the future. We’ve only scratched the surface thus far. I think they’ll have very far-reaching effects once publishers / authors / illustrators / designers start to really explore the possibilities (interactivity, hyperlinks, special features, audio-visual aspects, etc., etc.). Some people see them as the “death of the book”. I think they might be the beginning of something truly wonderful. But as for the time being, there are things that can't be replaced by a little plastic box. 

Such as using the book as a shelter from the rain, borrowing them from someone you like, keeping things you don't want to get wrinkled, making notes or decorating your room to make an impression. Or even falling in love just because of a few book titles (I honestly can't see this happening with e-books. Doesn't it even break the whole idea of libraries?): I finally found the short film Rare Books and Manuscripts by Bruce Webb, which I was trying to find for ages since I saw it a few years ago.

Never did that?
When the war (can we actually call it a war?) is on, traditional book publishers have to indulge every single feature that makes them better. So why not introduce a series of books with water-proof covers, special boxes for the owner's phone number, pockets for important things and margins for notes? 

Beegee Tolpa
And another niche which can never be replaced by e-books is the children's books. And not only because parents will soon notice the problem that when given a thing with a screen, a kid will hardly choose to use it for reading; publishers dealing with children's books have long used some particular ways to satisfy kids' needs. Just when you think about all the pop-up, 3D and texture tricks, books with musical boxes or toys installed - you can clearly see that kids enjoy holding on to these. And eventually kids grow to enjoy books with simple illustrations and finally books that don't necessarily have to be stuffed with additional material. Everything happens step by step, and I personally believe that valuing books is a key part of a person's culture.

Beege Tolpa, pop-ups
The onscreen culture has already affected it remarkably. Publishing a children's book and expecting a positive reaction and good sales already takes more than writing the book itself or spending a fortune on its design.  Publishers are trying to entice kids to read books by offering companion Web sites that are graphic-rich and able to plunge young readers into the story. Along with the tale on the page, kids can dip into online videos and games, win prizes, create Internet identities and get into social networking. It is a tricky gamble for publishers, one requiring a deep commitment of time and money, says Stephen Lowman in Washington Post.

Of course, e-books are aware of the additional challenges the kids market throws. It would be naive to believe that things will stay the same and kids will never be hooked by reading onscreen more than physical books. But honestly, I think there's still time for that: as long as the new generations don't completely change the previous ones, the latter will encourage their children and grandchildren to feel what's so special about the physical books.

2.Grab their attention with your uniqueness, make them wanna touch the books, feel it and carry it around and display it in their shelf, proud; prouder than having the latest model of iPad
      Even though I am fascinated by the variety of fiction covers today and could spend HOURS in the library/bookshop exploring them, I feel it to be a crime not to mention another type of books. Books that are literally bought for some desire to indulge one's visual needs, more powerful than coffee or chocolate. I am a victim of this phenomenon myself, and it is amazing how much freedom is given to the designers who deal with these books. 
       I know, there are also thousands of breath-taking books about trains, dogs, landscapes or cars. But I feel obliged to give a little space to the very king of visually lovely books - TASCHEN. Books that make your fingertips tingle as you turn from one page to another, as you take them out of the shelf when researching the subject, or books that you are simply proud to keep. And while I am certain that e-book culture will inspire the designers to create something absolutely magnificent with all this material, there's still a reason to believe some things don't have to disappear too quickly.

3.Push the sentiment button. 
Coralie Bickford-Smith
That's one more thing I don't believe e-books will ever manage to pull off. What kind of sentimentalism or nostalgia can we talk about when we think about things that are safely stored somewhere where real life isn't able to do its job? Just remember your first book, the one you read under the blanket with a torch, the one you lent and never got back, the one you borrowed and never returned, the one you keep because of its cover, the one you keep despite it having no cover any more.  Hardbound and paperback books may never totally disappear, but they could become scary scarce — like eight-track tapes, typewriters and wooden tennis rackets, Linton Weeks says in NPR Books. Will anyone ever be able to attach these sentiments to files on screen? Don't underestimate the power of nostalgia. And that's a thread designers shouldn't cut off. 
Coralie Bickford-Smith
Here's another touching sentimental article on the topic. However, those make me a little irritated, really. Because whenever you stumble upon something like that, you're obliged to feel bad about the time you're living. I don't want that. I want to enjoy the mess I'm in, and be able to brag about this to my children, without making them feel miserable about what they missed.

      What can designers do about it? Well, the first thing should be reissuing some of people's old favorites, applicable in the world of today, and yet remembering to be modest, classical and intelligent. Nostalgia's powerful, and for this reason I hardly believe there is any real threat for Penguin. Just check out my amazing discovery, designer Coralie Bickford-Smith, embodying everything I had in mind. How can one dispose of books when beautiful things like this are created?
 4. Let them be aware that e-books aren't cheaper.
Wordsworth publishing
      This was a bit of a surprise for me, but apparently, physical books are not necessarily more expensive
      Yet another thing to keep in mind: the budget factor. The designer's role, especially in challenging times like this, is to let people know the book you're selling is affordable, but not cheap. I recently bought a budget version of Mrs Dalloway (I was running out of time and library wasn't an option), and I grew to be terribly disappointed. The book is amazing, but owning that particular copy didn't make me proud or happy; and this is not a feeling that would lead to me buying a prettier version of it. Sadly, weak design is not likely to make a reader spend more money on the same book once again. It's a mistake that can't be forgiven now, when every copy sold counts. 

       5.The green factor.
       I only make a note about a promise to make an entire post on this topic. Would be such a shame to squeeze one of the trendiest topics of current times into a mere paragraph.

See you soon. Do yourself a favor and spend the upcoming 30 minutes reading that book you had promised yourself to read.   

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Books. #1

Don't know how about you, but whenever I hear the word “publishing” (and trust me, I stumble upon it fairly often), I instantly think about books. I guess that's a good point to start the journey.

By Seb Lester, personal favourite. 

 (I don't think I can break into anyone's heart by showing them lots of pictures of the old ones – most may feel an unpleasant whiff of a history lesson. In order to illustrate this lengthy entry I have added a few amazing contemporary book design examples. If those don't convince you, I suppose I shouldn't even bother with my writing!)

You may have heard of this too, but books are threatened. There are tons of articles, blogs and, I guess, books themselves, dedicated to the subject. Nobody's claiming they're going to disappear, but the growth of other forms of media have definitely pulled away a large amount of attention. That's what we tend to call progress, and starting to prove myself I can learn a less sceptical approach, I will call it progress too.
See an iPad for a better look

There was one thing, though, which helped the whole book situation out a lot. No drumroll, everyone's aware of ebooks and most have their own opinion about it. I have mine, but in order to avoid being biased and stubborn, I finally installed the eBooks app onto my iPod Touch. I won't lie, I love the way it looks and feels. 

Still, thinking in the shallowest way of all, can a wood texture and a few book icons actually replace a real bookshelf?

Honestly, if you're not that much of a book fan, remember how decorative those bookshelves can be. That's your key to at least looking intelligent. Isn't that just a lovely feeling. I remember laughing at those shelves in Lara's house from Tomb Raider III (you'll have to excuse me – I've never been a video game fan, so I'm guessing the same applies basically in every game like that), where the shelves were only developed enough to serve as a mere wallpaper pattern. I don't even think that was their intention – in those games you just don't stop and read a book, do you - but ever since then I keep remembering the whole concept of a wallpaper with a bookshelf pattern.

Apparently, the idea is as old as the world itself – and it's not at all unpopular.

If you're curious, you can find more examples here.
The point stays - ebooks are better than no books at all. However, there's a story behind every major change like this; doesn't it hurt when you read something like:

A library that would prefer to not be named was found to be thinning their collections and throwing out books based on what had been digitized by Google.“

(This topic is covered in the article here (that's one bad piece of a banner there, ouch)).

Just as the whole concept of my blog claims, I would hate books only remaining in the digital format. Stories like this (“All textbooks to go digital by 2015) is just the beginning of a growing phenomenon, and soon enough this will hardly surprise anyone. But just as Andy Robertson from Wired says, “of course this sort of digitisation of education has many plus points, but I hope we don't totally do away with the way things were. It's worked for a few hundred years so it can't be all bad, can it?”

A Gray318 piece. He's amazing.
My stubborn views may have something to do with the whole romantics of books we were raised to believe in: my Lithuanian friends know about the history of book smugglers, who illegally brought Lithuanian books (printed elsewhere) to the country during the severe Russification process at the very end of the 19th century. Risking their own lives, these people – and the books they carried became a great symbol of resistance. 

With no doubt, there are thousands of reasons why books are a key part of the cultural history, and I'm not too sure if massive refusal of books as physical objects could be its most glorious moment.

Okay, so what about the design?

I would be a big fat liar if I said that the digital deprives designers of the ability to express themselves. Oh yes, the variety of areas to leave one's mark in is absolutely endless.
These covers absolutely made my day.

But you know what? I'm really tired of having everything I need being stuck in my laptop. People have high needs for aesthetics; it's in our consciousness, and thanks for that, all the drawing weirdos like me can get paid for their work. Should we really only be able to admire a beautiful piece of Graphic Design only when our devices are on? Okay, you say, a normal person probably doesn't have a daily thought like “oh, right, now's the high time I find something beautifully designed to look at!”. I am perfectly aware that most of my reasons are absolutely irrational, but as long as I believe in making world a better place to live, I cannot imagine it without books. Beautifully bound, carefully designed and catching one's eye from a mile (like these Kafka ones, which absolutely took my breath away! It's s shame I wasn't able to track the designer down; however, at least I've discovered this beautiful source of book covers collected in one place, the Book Cover Archive). 
It's a must to check them out.

Needless to say, design's not staying in one place. The variety of book types is wider than ever, and the competition has never been that harsh. Consumers should be happy: rising standards only guarantee the quality of the products on offer is considered extremely seriously. Surely, arbitrary design has always existed and will hardly disappear in the future, but let's be fair to ourselves and enjoy what's the best we can find.

I feel it safe to say that book design is becoming way better and harder to resist. Of course, designers play the card of mastering all psychological techniques to attract people's attention – and wit is usually playing a very successful role here. A simple example of a witty idea is the TankBooks decision to publish some classical novels in a shape of cigarette packs. I wouldn't give it much credit for being amazing or outrageous, though; someone just had to come up with sooner or later:

There are hundreds of examples like this, and it's lovely to know that it's quite impossible to exhaust the resources of ideas to use. It would be such a shame if all this beautiful playing with type, photographs, illustration or anything else the designer may come up with would go to only be seen on screen. Ahh. And what will replace that smell of a freshly bought book?

That's not it yet, stay tuned to see what else I can squeeze out of myself on this topic.

Thoughts are kindly welcome.