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kottke.org posts about design

Antique Book Patterns

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 20, 2023

a pattern of light green spirals on an orange background

a pattern of red spiral shapes on a light red background

paper with a marbled pattern

a pattern of dark green shapes on a light green background

repeating pattern of orange shapes

From the Bergen Public Library Norway, a collection of antique book patterns from front or end papers. The books in question are from 1890-1930. Lovely.

Of course, this reminds of one of my favorite videos I've posted: a 1970 short film on how to make marbled paper.

All of the 8,291 License Plates in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2023

a mosaic of hundreds of sample US license plates

Have you noticed there are a lot of different license plates you can choose for your car these days? So did Jon Keegan; he scraped the DMV websites of all 50 states and DC and came up with over 8,200 different plate combinations you might see out on the road.

By my count, there are currently 8,291 different vehicle license plates offered by the 50 states and the District of Columbia. States now offer a vast menu of personalized plate options for a dizzying array of organizations, professions, sports teams, causes and other groups.

My count was conducted over June and July 2023, so this should be considered a snapshot, as I'm sure some plates have changed already.

Fun fact: finishers of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race are eligible to get a special "Iditarod Finisher" plate for their car.

Less fun fact, per Keegan:

Yes, license plates are still made by cheap prison labor in most states. 80% of all license plates issued in the U.S. today were made by state prisoners, with only 12 states opting out of the practice. According to a 2022 ACLU report on prison labor in the U.S., many states offer no pay at all to prisoners, while the average hourly wage across the country was between 13 and 52 cents per hour.

Here in Vermont, the use of prison labor for manufacturing things like license plates resulted in the image of a pig hidden in a cow's spots appearing on an official crest emblazoned on state police cars back in 2012.

"The Tombstone of Democracy"

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 30, 2023

Yesterday, there was yet another school shooting on a college campus, this time at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A UNC graduate student walked into a classroom building and murdered a science professor with a gun. The campus was on lockdown for hours. The front page of The Daily Tar Heel today consists of text messages sent to and from students during the lockdown:

the front page of The Daily Tar Heel listing text messages sent to and from students during a school shooter lockdown

An incredible and powerful design — on Mastodon, Steve Silberman called it "the tombstone of democracy, courtesy of the NRA". As a nation, we've spent more than 20 years and trillions of dollars fighting the "War on Terror" but won't do a damn thing about the self-imposed terrorism of gun violence. The people sending and receiving those texts — they are TERRIFIED. And this happens regularly in the US, in pre-schools and on college campuses alike. We are a sick nation.

A Swiss Stamp Made With Concrete

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2023

Swiss Post has released a stamp that features concrete, an important material in the history of architecture. But first of all, look at the aesthetics of this thing:

a Swiss stamp that looks like polished concrete

Aaahhh, it looks so nice and clean and Swiss. Love it. Even better: the stamp was designed to feel like concrete:

To give the concrete wall depicted in the design a tactile dimension, cement pigments were added to the ultra-matt finish.

In 2021, Swiss Post made a stamp out of canvas for the same series of stamps regarding art. Not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the concrete one, but still pretty cool.

You can order the concrete stamp from the Swiss Post online shop. (via greg.org)

Very Minimalist Movie Posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 18, 2023

movie poster for Superman featuring a red streak over a blue background

movie poster for Return of the Jedi featuring two colored lines representing light sabers

movie poster for The Hunt for Red October featuring a red circular display that looks like sonar

movie poster for Back to the Future that features two streaks that look like flaming tire tracks

There's minimalism and then there's these classic movie posters from Michal Krasnopolski. Each poster is based on a simple grid of a circle, a square, and four intersecting lines. It would be a challenge to come up with a poster for every movie in this style, but the ones he picked work really well. (via moss & fog)

Blood on the Tracks: Thai Railway Safety Posters

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 17, 2023

These railway safety posters from Thailand are kind of amazing — very straightforward, graphic, and often gruesome in their illustration of the dangers involved with improper train travel.

a Thai train safety poster that shows riders on the top of a train getting injured

a Thai train safety poster that shows someone falling from a train

a Thai train safety poster that shows someone laying on the tracks in front of an oncoming train

See also The Horror of Vintage Dutch Safety Posters. (thx, chelsea)

Very Expensive Maps

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 16, 2023

Very Expensive Maps is, well, I can't say it much plainer than host Evan Applegate: "Very Expensive Maps is a podcast by cartographer Evan Applegate in which he interviews better cartographers." A podcast about a visual medium like maps is maybe a tiny bit like dancing about architecture, but Applegate makes it work. The archives are a key part of the show...lots of links to the maps discussed during each episode. Here's a sampling of some of the visuals from recent shows:

map of a fictional island surrounded by a circular sea

a hand drawing a black and white map of the Moon

a blue and green representation of LIDAR data of a river and its former paths

detail of a black and white drawing of a fictional city

drawing of a large formal garden

Always Worth a Look: the AIGA's Best Book Covers of the Year

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2023

You know me; I love a good book cover. The AIGA's annual roundup of the best designed books and covers is usually aces and the results of the 2022 competition (announced at the beginning of July 2023) is no exception. Here are a few I picked out that I didn't feature in The Best Book Covers of 2022 back in December.

book cover for Butts: A Backstory

book cover for Sound Within Sound: Radical Composers of the Twentieth Century

book cover for Sabit Fikir

book cover for No hay nadie en casa

Uh, I guess I'm really into orange today? Anyway, these covers are from:

Butts: A Backstory by Heather Radke.
Sound Within Sound: Radical Composers of the Twentieth Century by Kate Molleson.
Sabit Fikir by Paul Valéry.
No hay nadie en casa by Isabel Díaz Alanís.

Geohydrotypography

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 18, 2023

If you covered the surface of the Atlantic Ocean with twelve-point printed text, with the lines wrapping at the coasts, the expansion of the ocean basin due to tectonics would increase your word count by about 100 words per second.

This, from XKCD, hits my science and design interests right in the sweet spot.

If you covered the surface of the Atlantic Ocean with twelve-point printed text, with the lines wrapping at the coasts, the expansion of the ocean basin due to tectonics would increase your word count by about 100 words per second.

This reminds me of Ben Terrett's calculation of how many helveticas from here to the Moon and my subsequent calculations about the point size of the Earth and the Moon (50.2 billion and 13.7 billion, respectively).

Explore the Graphic Design Treasures of the Internet Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 17, 2023

cover of an Olivetti brochure with colorful curved arrows

page of a brochure for the original Apple Macintosh computer

old theater poster for upcoming performances at the Belfast Theater

a page from a book called The Vignelli Canon

several pages from an Olivetti brochure

a spread from Emigre magazine

archives.design is a labor of love site run by Valery Marier where she collects graphic design related materials that are available to freely borrow, stream, or download from the Internet Archive. I've only scratched the surface in poking around, but so far I've found Olivetti brochures, a collection of theater programs from the 19th and early 20th centuries, several Apple things, The Vignelli Canon, a specimen book of wood type from the 1880s, and many issues of Emigre. What a resource!

Barbenheimer

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2023

mashup movie poster for Barbenheimer (Barbie + Oppenheimer)

Barbenheimer poster by Sean Longmore. Perfect, 10/10, no notes.

Duck & Cover: Ukrainian Book Fair Poster

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 07, 2023

poster for a Ukrainian book fair that shows people using a book to protect themselves from Russian bombs and troops

This is a poster for the 2023 International Book Arsenal Festival which recently took place in Kyiv, Ukraine. The poster was designed by Art Studio Agrafka from an illustration they originally did for the cover of Linkiesta Magazine.

A book festival. During a war. In a city under martial law. While schools and legislatures here in the US ban books about Black and LGBTQ+ experiences based on bad faith complaints of tiny fundamentalist parent groups. Tell me, who's doing democracy better right now? (via @gray)

An Incredibly Tidy Little Park For All Ages

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2023

Yesterday I posted about the 2023 Drone Photo Awards and one of my favorite shots was of a playground/park in Poland. My curious pal Neven tracked down more information about the park and, well, it's so cool and cute!

overhead view of a colorful and tidy park in Poland

overhead view of a colorful and tidy park in Poland

overhead view of a colorful and tidy park in Poland

Here's part of the description from the park's creators, SLAS Architects:

"Activity zone" is a multifunctional public space which is the first phase of regeneration and integration of the University of Silesia campus with the urban tissue of Chorzów City.

The site is located in the place of the demolished military building with a number of old existing trees. "Activity zone" is designed as concrete platform strongly perforated and filled with a diverse programme that includes: students leisure zone, children's play devices, fitness, individually designed elements of street furniture and greenery including all existing trees. Some parts of the garden are possible to develop by local seniors. The platform connects the diverse program, intensifies the use of the place and becomes itself an element of play. Variety of attractions enhance interactions between users of all age groups and integrates academic community with local inhabitants and the surrounding nature.

My only complaint: it's maybe a little too small? But otherwise: top marks.

Design Notes on the Alphabet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 27, 2023

some funny design notes on the alphabet

From XKCD, some notes on the design of the alphabet. I actually hadn't noticed the spacing of the vowels before.

See also The Evolution of the Alphabet.

The Ambient Machine

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 26, 2023

The Ambient Machine, a piece of electronics with a bunch of switches on the front that toggle different sounds

Yuri Suzuki's The Ambient Machine is a device for creating atmosphere, playing ambient sounds. The machine has 32 toggle switches on it; each switch actives a different sound (waves, running water, birds, wind, white noise) that you can blend to create your perfect aural backdrop.

The Ambient Machine provides us with a variety of sounds and music that we can use to design our own background ambience. White noise can mask unpleasant sounds around us and give us a sense of relief, Natural sounds can provide the feeling of relocating to a new environment, providing a break from the environments we have been confined to, and musical rhythms can provide patterns for us to find stability with.

Only 20 models of the original machine were created and sold, but you can preorder a slightly different version for ¥143,000 (~$1,000).

Logo Factory

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2023

Jigar Patel uses 3D modelling software to imagine factory production lines that "build" logos and app icons for brands like Instagram, Netflix, Apple, Spotify, Amazon, and many others. He's also posted a bunch of behind-the-scenes videos about how he does it — love it when artists show their work.

You can also follow Patel's work on Instagram and TikTok.(thx, michael)

Stunning Poster for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2023

a Chinese poster for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse

Totally loving this Chinese movie poster for Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (perhaps designed by Huang Hai).

And while we're on the subject, I watched the movie the other day and loved it. In fact, it might be the most visually inventive movie I've ever seen...it's just one mindbending visual after another, for more than two hours. (via @gray)

How to Design an (Unofficial) Transit Map

posted by Jason Kottke   May 17, 2023

In this short video, Norwegian creative director Torger Jansen explains how he designed an unofficial transit map that combines all three of Oslo's public transportation networks (tram, metro, train) into a single diagram. His four main goals:

1. Showing all the lines on every network, thus making it easier to understand the service patterns.
2. Making it recognisable with the official line colours.
3. Compressing unnaturally long distances between stations.
4. Balancing aesthetics and accessibility. The diagram is clear and easy to read with minimal fuss.

As Jansen notes, this is not how a design process would work in the real world — there's no user testing or competing stakeholders to please — but from a purely aesthetic and functional standpoint, it's still an interesting challenge and puzzle to attempt to solve. (thx, david)

The Horror of Vintage Dutch Safety Posters

posted by Jason Kottke   May 12, 2023

vintage Dutch safety poster showing a saw blade and a hand missing some fingers

vintage Dutch safety poster showing someone getting electrocuted

vintage Dutch safety poster showing someone getting their hair caught in a drill

When it came to making safety posters, the Dutch were pretty hardcore — a lot of these vintage posters look more like horror film adverts than safety warnings. (via meanwhile)

Tour the Bridges of All of Star Trek's Starships Enterprise

posted by Jason Kottke   May 10, 2023

Drawing from the materials of The Roddenberry Archive, this video takes us on a virtual tour of the 3D rendered bridges of every iteration of the Starship Enterprise from Star Trek, from the original 1964 sketches to the final scenes of Star Trek: Picard. I've watched a bunch of Star Trek recently and it was neat to see the evolution of the design and presumed technology. Designing for the future is difficult and it's even tougher when, for instance, you need to design something that for the future that looks contemporary to now but also, somehow, predates a design that looked contemporary 30 years ago. (If that makes any sense...)

You can also head over to The Roddenberry Archive to check out all of the Enterprise designs in more detail, inside and out. (via open culture)

Indian Street Lettering

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2023

Pooja Saxena collects interesting examples of lettering from the streets of cities in India. Here are a few recent examples:

a street sign in India

a street sign in India

a street sign in India

(via @ashur)

A Collection of Sci-Fi Movie Logos

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2023

a collection of sci-fi movie logos, including ones from 4D Man, Ghostbusters, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, 2001, 1984, and It Came From Outer Space

Loving scrolling through this collection of sci-fi movie logos from Reagan Ray.

As is the case with most of my logo posts, it's been fun to pick up on the trends. There's the trick where they remove the segments from the top half of the letters like Blade Runner, or the embossed brushed metal of Robocop. Glowing letters were a big trend that started in the late 80s, most likely set off by the Alien franchise. And I can never get enough of the 3D type in early films.

You can check out more of Ray's logo collections here.

Type Beasts

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2023

the word 'effect' repeated over and over on a grid

the word 'essence' in a flowing script

the word 'fuck' in a flowing script

the word 'hope' in a flowing script, twice

In a pair of collections on Behance, Hungarian designer and artist Miklós Kiss showcases his skill with ligatures and swirling serifs: Type Beast and Type Beast 2.0

I love typography. I love letters. I love to make ligatures and find connections between letters. These are not logos, but sometimes they can be. Sometimes this kind of typography is not readable. Sometimes they look like abstract artworks. Sometimes they look like choreography. I love to watch them move, I love their beauty. I call my little typography monsters my Type Beasts.

(via abdz)

An AI Artist Explains His Workflow

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2023

No matter which side you come down on in the debate about using AI tools like Stable Diffusion and Midjourney to create digital art, this video of an experienced digital artist explaining how he uses AI in his workflow is worth a watch. I thought this comment was particularly interesting:

I see the overall process as a joint effort with the AI. I've been a traditional artist for 2 decades, painting on canvas. And in the last five years I've been doing a lot of digital art. So from that part of myself, I don't feel threatened at all.

I feel this is an opportunity. An opportunity for many new talented people to jump on a new branch of art that is completely different from the one that we have already in digital art and just open up new way of being creative.

19th Century Ornamental Granite Tiles

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 28, 2023

a sample pattern from a book of granite tiles patterns

a sample pattern from a book of granite tiles patterns

a sample pattern from a book of granite tiles patterns

a sample pattern from a book of granite tiles patterns

From 1898, an album of ornamental granite tile patterns available from Threlkeld Granite Co. Ltd. The company was located in the Lake District of northwest England and the quarry they operated is now a mining museum — you can read about the history of the company on their website (via present & correct)

Knit Grotesk, a Typeface for Hand Knitting

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 27, 2023

a piece of knitting with words sewn into it

words set in the Knit Grotesk typeface, designed for hand knitting

Knit Grotesk is a typeface based on Futura that's designed specifically for hand knitting. It comes in three different weights and two styles: dots and stripes. Its designer, Rüdiger Schlömer, is also the author of a book called Typographic Knitting: From Pixel to Pattern:

Learn to knit a variety of typefaces modeled on digital designs by well-known type foundries including Emigre, Lineto, and Typotheque, and emblazon your hats, scarves, and sweaters with smartly designed monograms, letters, or words. Beginning with knitting basics, tips, and resources, and progressing through more advanced techniques, Typographic Knitting provides a systematic introduction on how to construct a variety of letter designs using different knitting techniques. This book bridges the gap between craft and design in a new way, and will delight typography connoisseurs, avid knitters, and makers looking for a novel medium.

(via print)

Tiny Illustrated Sci-fi Stories

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2023

The universe's bandwidth lags for a second and you see a low res version of yourself staring back in the mirror.

At 3:32am last night, the Wikipedia article on Artificial Intelligence began editing itself.

You buy a time machine on eBay. It arrives 6 days ago.

'When it's time for you to get a new iPhone,' Siri asks one day, 'Where will my consciousness go?'

Over on Twitter, @smllwrlds is publishing a new tiny illustrated sci-fi story every day of 2023. (via linkmachinego)

The Fictional Brands Archive

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 17, 2023

the Bluth Company's stair car from Arrested Development

a box from a Looney Tunes cartoon containing ACME trick balls

screenshot from Succession showing an ATN News anchor reading the news

a rundown Buy N Large staore from Wall-E

The Fictional Brands Archive is a collection of fictional brands found in movies, TV shows, and video games — think Acme in Looney Tunes, Pixar's Monsters, Inc., and Nakatomi Corporation from Die Hard. Very cool. But gotta say though, the dimming mouseover effect makes this more difficult to use than it needs to be... (via sidebar)

The Visiting Cards of Notable Artists

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 12, 2023

calling card of Piet Mondrian

calling card of Edouard Manet

calling card of Pierre Auguste Renoir

F. C. Schang collected the calling cards of prominent artists and musicians and in the late 20th century, donated a collection of them to Met Museum.

Calling cards derived from a custom, originating in England, in which messages were inscribed on the backs of playing cards. Cards made for the express purpose of sharing hand-written messages were manufactured beginning in the eighteenth century; by the early-nineteenth century, calling cards had become a popular means for sending well wishes, holiday greetings, condolences, and messages of courtship.

The cards include those of Klee, Renoir, Pissarro, Rodin, Monet, Mondrian, Braque, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet, and many more. I think my favorites are Piet Mondrian's (above) and Joan Miró's, the former because it's very much in keeping with the artist's style and the latter because it isn't:

calling card of Joan Miro

Schang published a book of these cards in 1983 — it's long out of print but you can get one here (signed, no less). He also collected the calling cards of generally famous people, singers, pianists, and violinists. (via greg allen)

Exhibition of W.E.B. Du Bois's Infographics at Cooper Hewitt in NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 10, 2023

I've written before about the data visualizations created by W.E.B. Du Bois for the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. Apparently a selection of these infographics are on display at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in NYC until May 29.

infographic designed by W.E.B. Du Bois titled 'Assessed value of household and kitchen furniture owned by Georgia negros'

Wish I could get down there to see these...