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kottke.org posts about design

Noto: A Typeface for the World

posted by Jason Kottke   May 05, 2022

character sample from the Noto typeface

Google has developed a typeface called Noto that seemingly includes every single character and symbol used for writing in the history of the world. I mean, look at all these different options: Korean, Bengali, Emoji, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Coptic, Old Hungarian, Cuneiform, Linear B, Osage, and literally dozens more.

Noto is a collection of high-quality fonts with multiple weights and widths in sans, serif, mono, and other styles. The Noto fonts are perfect for harmonious, aesthetic, and typographically correct global communication, in more than 1,000 languages and over 150 writing systems.

A particular shoutout to Noto Emoji: it supports the latest emoji release (14.0) and includes 3,663 emoji in multiple weights.

Noto Emoji

Perhaps it’s time for a new typeface ‘round these parts…

Update: I got it in my head that Noto was a new typeface, but it was first released in 2013. But Noto’s monochrome emoji font is new — I think that’s where I got confused.

A Custom-Built Moon Motorcycle

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 22, 2022

an electric motorcycle designed to drive on the Moon

an electric motorcycle designed to drive on the Moon

an electric motorcycle designed to drive on the Moon

Based on a digital rendering by Andrew Fabishevskiy, motorcycle design company Hookie Co. built a real-life prototype of an electric motorcycle designed to be driven on the Moon. Named Tardigrade after the hearty micro-animal, the 2-wheeled rover weighs almost 300 pounds, is constructed out of aluminum, Kevlar, carbon fiber, and other materials, has a top speed of 9 mph, and a battery with a range of 62 miles. You can check out how it was built in this video. I want one! Electric motocross on the Moon does sound pretty fun:

Regarding flat track racing on the moon, I would prefer some big gaps and jumps more than turning left around an oval. With almost one-sixth of Earth’s gravity, I’d need only a small bump to jump 10 meters — that would be fun! Maybe the Tardigrade inspires space-addicted people and engineers for upcoming lunar missions, and I would be more than happy to be a tiny part of that.

Comic Helvetic, an Unholy Combo of Comic Sans and Helvetica

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2022

text reads 'this font is good for official documents'

In some workplaces, people use Helvetica to conduct business because it conveys a sense of order and authority. In other workplaces, people use Comic Sans, which conveys a sense of casual chaos. Designer Alexander Pravdin decided to combine the two typefaces into one diabolical font: Comic Helvetic. You can download it here.

the words 'Comic Helvetic' set in three different typefaces

a list of some OpenType features

If you need me for the rest of the day, I’ll be over in the corner trying to decide where these three typefaces fit on the alignment chart. (via print)

Update: See also Comic Neue. (via @DirkOlbrich)

33 Letters for Ukraine: an Alphabet of Solidarity

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 31, 2022

the letter K with sharp teeth

the letter A made from two people hugging

a letterform made from two doves

the letter B made from tiny flowers

a letterform of a character walking, holding a peace offering

A pair of Polish designers have organized a challenge for designers around the world called 33 Letters for Ukraine: to create letterforms of the Ukrainian alphabet “as a sign of solidarity”. Each day until April 6th, a new letter is chosen and featured on their Instagram account — you can see some of the work above. It’s Nice That has a piece on the challenge.

Speaking on the thinking behind 33 Letters, Alina says: “To put it briefly, we have two main goals for the project — promoting the Ukrainian alphabet and encouraging people to donate to organisations helping Ukraine. The Instagram challenge is an essential starting point, and we loved to see so many designers getting involved and expressing their solidarity by drawing the letters. But equally important are tangible results: collecting funds and education.”

To do so, they are hoping to sell original artworks and prints of the letters once the project has finished, and then they plan to exhibit all of the works as part of a fundraiser, though the venue is yet to be confirmed. “There are amazing designers taking part in the challenge, and it would be great to see their work shine also outside of Instagram,” says Alina.

(thx, jackson)

Sheila Bridges’ Harlem Toile

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2022

Toile de Jouy is a fabric, typically featuring “romantic pastoral scenes”, that was popular in France in the 18th century — the wealthy covered their walls in it. Interior designer Sheila Bridges developed her own patterns for her Harlem Toile, inspired by her Harlem and Philadelphia neighborhoods and the African American experience more generally.

As an African American living in Harlem, I have always been intrigued and inspired by the historical narrative of the decorative arts, especially traditional French toile with its pastoral motifs from the late 1700s. I’m entertained by the stories these patterns tell and the questions they sometimes raise. But after searching for many years for the perfect toile for my own home, I decided that it quite simply didn’t exist. I created Harlem Toile de Jouy initially as a wallcovering then expanded the collection to include fabrics, bedding, plates, glassware, umbrellas and clothing. This design (which lampoons some of the stereotypes deeply woven into the African American experience), has been featured in The Studio Museum In Harlem, the Museum of Art and Design in New York City, and the Musée De La Toile De Jouy in Jouy-en Josas, France. I am honored to have my Harlem Toile De Jouy wallpaper included in The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s permanent wallpaper collection.

a variety of scenes featuring Black people on Sheila Bridges' Harlem Toile

Sheila Bridges' Harlem Toile pattern on a tea cup

Sheila Bridges' Harlem Toile pattern on a pillow

Veronica Chambers wrote a great piece about Harlem Toile for the NY Times: The Wallpaper That Is Also a ‘Reminder That My Ancestors Had My Back’.

The wallpaper, which was created by the celebrated interior designer Sheila Bridges in 2006, features beautiful drawings of African Americans in the lush, historical settings that rarely featured them — a couple in 18th-century dress dance under a structure that recalls the Arc de Triomphe to the tunes of a boombox that rests playfully on the grass; women in ball gowns sit under a majestic tree, one combs the other’s hair while yet another woman holds up a fairy-talelike mirror; a courting couple in fashion that now brings to mind the popular series “Bridgerton” feast on a picnic. For a Black girl who grew up loving Jane Austen and Toni Morrison with equal aplomb, Harlem Toile was more than wallpaper. It was a tableau of possibility and belonging.

I’m not doing justice to all of what is being expressed in Bridges’ work and how it’s resonating with Chambers & other members of the Black community, so you should just read the piece. (thx, caroline)

The FBI Guide to Internet Slang

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 21, 2022

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2014, the FBI released their internal 83-page guide to internet slang (most of which are initialisms and acronyms). The quality of the scanned document is very poor, but it’s (just) readable. A few of my favorite phrases gleaned from skipping around the report:

BMUS - beam me up, Scotty
EMFBI - excuse me for butting in
JC - Jesus Christ/just curious/just chilling
MOS - mom over shoulder
PS - photoshop/play station/post script
SMG - sub-machine gun
TOTES FRESH - totally precious
YOYO - you’re on your own
WYLABOCTGWTR - would you like a bowl of cream to go with that remark?

For their annual publication that they send out to their company mailing list, Pentagram recently made a far more legible and well-designed version of the FBI’s guide featuring some of their own favorites.

sample pages from Pentagram's FBI Guide to Slang

sample pages from Pentagram's FBI Guide to Slang with the initialisms BTW, ITII, and LWY

The booklet challenges readers to identify 14 abbreviations of varying difficulty and absurdity, with answers at the back. The acronyms are set in two custom typefaces designed by Pentagram partner Matt Willey, based on the markings that appear on the agency’s uniforms, particularly in popular media. The two fonts are fittingly named Edgar Sans and Clyde Slab in honor of longtime FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and his deputy and alleged lover Clyde Tolson.

Ukrainian Stamp Design Contest

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 14, 2022

After Russia invaded the country, Ukraine’s post office (Ukrposhta) decided to hold a contest to design a stamp that illustrated “Ukrainians’ determination to defend their land”. Out of 500 submissions, Ukrposhta chose 20 designs as the finalists.

design for a Ukrainian stamp featuring a lighthouse as a raised middle finger

design for a Ukrainian stamp featuring a Ukrainian soldier flipping the bird to a Russian warship

design for a Ukrainian stamp featuring a yellow sword cracking a Russian ship in half

(Paweł Jońca’s illustration would also have made an amazing stamp.) Many of the finalists, including the winning entry (middle stamp above), reference the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island who told a Russian warship “Go fuck yourself”. Ukrposhta is now working on getting the winning stamp printed so that people can use it for postage — because, perhaps unbelievably, the post office continues to deliver the mail & packages throughout much of the country. (thx, @jackisnotabird)

Letterpress Prints of Birds Printed Using Lego Bricks

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 15, 2022

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

letterpress print of a bird printed using Lego bricks

Designers Roy Scholten and Martijn van der Blom have created a series of letterpress prints of birds made by using Lego pieces as the stamps (in lieu of lead or wood blocks). Letterpress, birds, Lego…that’s gotta be close to a bingo on many a designer’s card. (via colossal)

An Absurd Double-Wide Cadillac

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 04, 2022

Car builder Jay Ohrberg has constructed many familiar vehicles for TV and movies, including the DeLorean from Back to the Future, KITT for the Knight Rider movie,1 several Batmobiles, and the Duke boys’ General Lee. But the Ohrberg ride I really like is his robin’s egg blue double-wide Cadillac.

a double-wide blue Cadillac, a long pink convertible, and a comically long limousine

My god, the ingenious outlandishness of that car. The other cars in the photo are equally preposterous, but there is something about the squarish proportions of that Caddy that is really satisfying. And it somehow looks massive and miniature at the same time?

  1. There was a Knight Rider movie?! With Star Trek’s James Doohan in it?

An Abecedarium of International Postage Stamps

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 02, 2022

German stamp with the letter D on it

Haitian stamp with the letter H on it

Liberian stamp with the letter L on it

Polish stamp with the letter P on it

Bangladeshi stamp with the number 8 on it

For last year’s 36 Days of Type challenge, artist and type designer Marie Boulanger selected 26 postage stamps from around the world with letters on them (C for Cuba, F for France, K for Kenya, etc.) and 10 stamps with the numerals 0-9 on them. What an amazing array of designs and lettering styles. I’ve included a few of my favorites above — you can see the rest on her Instagram or collected here in miniature.

Medieval Versions of Contemporary Corporate Logos

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 01, 2022

I love these medieval versions of familiar logos by Ilya Stallone, available on his Instagram account.

a medieval-style version of the Microsoft Windows logo

a medieval-style version of the Audi logo

a medieval-style version of the Instagram logo

The best ones cleverly translate the central element in the logo into something more temporally appropriate — e.g. the figurative MS windows into actual stained glass, Instagram’s camera into a colorful painting, Audi’s rings into wagon wheels. (via sidebar)

The Role of Type in Wes Anderson’s Films

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2022

a film still from the French Dispatch showing a magazine scheduling flowchart

In an interview with Creative Boom, type designer Marie Boulanger talks about Wes Anderson’s use of type and typography in his films, specifically The French Dispatch.

I’m just speaking for myself, but I recently rewatched all of his films in chronological order. You can see typography become a more and more prominent component over time — it’s quite fascinating. In later films like Isle of Dogs and the French Dispatch, it almost becomes its own character rather than a visual or narrative flourish. Especially in a story about writers and publishing, every book, every page, every shop sign, every poster.

Even thinking about the three stories contained within the film, graphic design and typography are really at the core of each one: exhibition posters, protest signs and even menus. You piece a lot of key information together just through certain objects from the set, as well as emotional nuance: humour, joy, sadness. With such a huge part of the narration depending on typography, you have to expect a high level of detail.

Some people can be quite dismissive of Anderson’s work as preoccupied with mere aesthetics, so it’s great to hear Boulanger talk about the depth that something that’s ostensibly aesthetic like typography brings to his films. I loved the use of type in The French Dispatch…so much information conveyed with “just” words. (via sidebar)

J Is for Jim Crow - Typography and Racial Stereotypes

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 21, 2022

Ruby Font Jim Crow

For The Believer, Sarah K. Kramer wrote about a typeface called Jim Crow, how it came to be called that (its original name was Gothic Shade), and what its casual use by designers for decades means.

One of Seals’ pet peeves is “stereo-typography” — things like east Asian restaurants with brush-script logos — and in particular, he takes issue with the way designers often use “black weight” (very thick and bold) font to signify African American culture. For example, the Neuland typeface (designed in 1923 by Rudolf Koch) has been used on many covers of books by Black writers, like Richard Wright’s Native Son. One theory on the origin of the association of these black-weight fonts with Black culture is that they evoke woodblock typefaces printed on nineteenth century tobacco ephemera — an industry closely linked with slavery. Needless to say, much of this material featured racist imagery of African Americans. When Seals was contracted by HarperCollins to design a cover for Charles Blow’s The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, he definitely was not going to use a “black weight” font. Instead, he designed the cover with Ruby.

Ruby is a reworked version of Jim Crow from Tré Seals’ type foundry Vocal Type Co, which I covered here a few years ago. (thx, reed)

Cracked Eggshells, Carefully Arranged

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

cracked eggshells carefully arranged

I am in deep like with this image of neatly arranged eggshells by Kristen Meyer. And her saltine arrangement is still extremely satisfying. You can check out more of her work on her website and at Instagram. Ok wait, I really like this one too:

torn book pages carefully arranged

(via colossal)

The Best Book Covers of 2021

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2022

book cover of Outlawed by Anna North

book cover of Dead Souls by Sam Riviere

book cover of Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski

book cover of Orwell's Roses by Rebecca Solnit

book cover of Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin

book cover of Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh

book cover of Nectarine by Chad Campbell

I only read ebooks these days and don’t make it to the one decent bookstore within a 60-minute drive from my house that often, but I still love love book covers. As I do every year, I’ve perused the end-of-year lists of the best covers and pulled out some favorites, which I’ve embedded above.

From top to bottom: Outlawed by Anna North, designed by Rachel Willey; Dead Souls by Sam Riviere, designed by Jamie Keenan; Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryzinski, designed by Daniel Benneworth-Gray; Orwell’s Roses by Rebecca Solnit, designed by Gray318; Laserwriter II by Tamara Shopsin, designed by Tamara Shopsin;1Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh, designed by Jack Smyth; and Nectarine by Chad Campbell, designed by by Dave Drummond.

You can find many more great covers in these lists: The 50 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Print), The Best Book Covers of 2021 (NY Times), The 101 Best Book Covers of 2021 (Literary Hub), Notable Book Covers of 2021 (The Casual Optimist), 8 of the Best Book Covers of 2021 (AIGA Eye on Design), The best book covers of the year 2021 (Creative Review), and The Best Book Covers of 2021 (Book Riot).

See also my lists from past years: 2020, 2019, 2018, 2015, 2014, and 2013.

  1. This is awesome. If I ever write a book with a traditional publisher, I’m going to fight (probably unsuccessfully) to design the cover.

Brik Font: Creating Type with Lego

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2022

Craig Ward has been creating letterforms using Lego bricks and posting the results to Instagram. The ones I really love are the anti-aliased letters — reminds me of zooming all the way in to do detail work in Photoshop back when I was a web designer.

the word 'ok' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 's' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 'f' made out of Lego bricks

the letter 'a' made out of Lego bricks

There is just something so satisfying about meticulously rendering digital artifacts in a physical medium like Lego.

Redesigned Book Spines by Ootje Oxenaar

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 04, 2022

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

some book cover spines redrawn by Ootje Oxenaar

Over a period of 50 years, legendary Dutch designer Ootje Oxenaar drew replacement book cover spines for the books in his library. A selection of his spine replacements are collected in a book called Ootje Oxenaar Spines.

Although renowned for his designs for Dutch banknotes and postage stamps, Oxenaar was a prolific designer of book spines. This wasn’t done for commercial publishers, but for books in his own library. When he didn’t care for what he saw poking out from a shelf (or when he needed to procrastinate) he would make his own spine for a book. The result is a fantastic and fantastical mosaic made of tall-and-skinny strips, hand-lettered and drawn with great skill and great whimsy.

Check out Steven Heller’s post at Print for more examples. (via i love typography)

Decoding Manhattan: Island of Diagrams, Maps, and Graphics

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 23, 2021

pages of a book called Decoding Manhattan with maps, charts, and other graphic representations of the city

Well, I’m not sure this book could be any further up my alley; I mean:

The life and legend of New York City, from the size of its skyscrapers to the ways of its inhabitants, is vividly captured in this lively collection of more than 250 maps, cross sections, flowcharts, tables, board games, cartoons and infographics, and other unique diagrams spanning 150 years. Superstars such as Saul Steinberg, Maira Kalman, Christoph Niemann, Roz Chast, and Milton Glaser butt up against the unsung heroes of the popular press in a book that is made not only for lovers of New York but also for anyone who enjoys or works with information design.

Ghost Signs of London

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 08, 2021

London Ghost Signs.jpeg

From Bloomberg’s CityLab:

Study the buildings flanking London’s older streets closely and you’ll see one soon enough: an old painted sign that, once bright and eye-catching, is now faded into the masonry, the name of the business or product it promoted flaking and faint.

Such “ghost signs” are fixtures of older neighborhoods in many cities around the world, but the U.K. capital, which bustled with competing commercial enterprises in the 19th and early 20th centuries, is unusually well-supplied with them. Ghost signs aren’t always easy to spot, but for sharp-eyed passersby and enthusiasts of urban history, they add an extra dimension to London’s appearance, their florid Victorian or cheerful art deco script and images a spectral reminder that once, not that long ago, these were somebody else’s streets.

London’s ghost signs are merely a fraction of the signage that used to greet 19th city dwellers, an era when cheap paper and a movement towards universal literacy made cities unusually alive with letters. But they are the special project of a new book by Sam Roberts and Roy Reed. From the book’s website:

Ghost signs are fascinating pieces of urban archaeology. Imposing yet hidden in plain sight, these faded advertisements are London’s history written on to the contemporary cityscape. They reveal fascinating stories of everyday life in the capital and each sign has its own tale to tell - not just of the business it represents and the people behind it, but of its own improbably survival.

A feast of history, typography and the urban environment, Ghost Signs: A London Story showcases London’s most impressive and historically significant faded painted signs, located, photographed and presented with archival andother contextual images.

Introduced by Wayne Hemingway MBE, the opening section shares insights into topics such as production techniques, economics and preservation. The themed chapters take on subjects including building, clothing, entertaining, branding and, ultimately, burying the city.

A Collection of Airline Seatback Safety Cards

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2021

Seatback Safety is home to a collection of dozens of seatback safety cards from airlines like Pan Am, United, Continental, Emirates, British Airways, JetBlue, and Air France.

seatback safety card for Pan Am

seatback safety card for British Airways

seatback safety card for Hawaiian Airlines

seatback safety card for Emirates

Here’s the rationale for the site:

As a professional designer, it can be valuable to contemplate how practitioners solved the same problem over time with different fashions and different tools.

Seatback Safety cards have been used since the dawn of commercial flight. While their pamphlet form has remained largely the same for a century, they have significantly evolved in ways that reflected broader social and technological trends.

P.S. Did you remember that Hooters had an airline? (It only lasted three years.)

seatback safety card for Hooters Air

Some Stories About Legendary Designer Paul Rand

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2021

poster with a white oval and black paint splatters on an orange background

Once upon a time, Jayme Odgers was the assistant to Paul Rand, the legendary Modernist designer who designed some of corporate America’s most iconic logos (IBM, Westinghouse, NeXT, UPS, ABC). Odgers recently shared some stories of what it was like to work with Rand.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Paul Rand’s thinking is that he didn’t believe in endlessly coming up with idea after idea, exhausting all possibilities, which typically eats up one-third of a design budget. He believed ideas are virtually endless-where does one stop anyway? He told me all you need is one good idea — and not all ideas have to be award-winners. A graphic designer needs only to be a professional and offer a professional solution. Easier said than done.

On smaller projects like the Bollingen book jacket and the Aspen poster, Paul simply knocked them out in whiz-bang fashion. With larger projects like creating a logo/mark or branding system, Paul would take that “one decent idea,” then spend the next six months and 100% of the budget refining that single idea to its most perfect visual form and content. There were no sketches, no meetings with the client, no midway reviews, just the most serious investigation, development and design resolution of an idea imaginable.

These stories verge on the hagiographic, but they’re still fun & instructive to read. And the idea that obsessives are difficult to work for comes through anyway. (via @drudesign)

How to Make a Bespoke Savile Row Suit

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2021

As part of an online course on fashion and design, MoMA visited the Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard to learn how they go about making one of their bespoke suits.

Behind a drawn curtain, a master cutter takes an initial series of 27 measurements: 20 for the jacket, 7 for the trousers. From these measurements, the cutter fashions a pattern in heavy brown paper. At the cutter’s table, the cloth is cut in using heavy shears, and the many pieces of fabric are rolled for each garment into tiny packages, which await the tailors.

See also $399 Suit Vs $7900 Suit. And you can check out the rest of the MoMA’s online course Fashion as Design in this YouTube playlist.

Sharpie Activism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2021

In 2015, Alex Gino published George, a children’s novel about a trans girl named Melissa — George was the character’s former name. Since its publication, many of the book’s fans have grown to dislike the title, saying that it elevated the deadname of the character instead of her actual name. Earlier this year, Gino and their publishing company announced that the title of the book is officially changing to Melissa.

No matter how many people have come to know it as George, we felt it was important to fix the title. What we call people matters and we all deserve to be referred to in ways that feel good to us. Calling the book Melissa is a way to respect her, as well as all transgender people. The text inside won’t change, so the name George will still appear to reflect the character’s growth within the novel, but Melissa will be the first name readers will know her by.

But even before that, readers began making their own modifications to the cover with Sharpies, crayons, colored pencils, and even entire dust jackets. On their blog, Gino explained why the book was called George in the first place and shared some of the amazing art that fans made to correct the title.

several book covers altered to change the name of a book from 'George' to 'Melissa's Story'

dust jacket for a book called 'Melissa's Story'

two book covers altered to change the name of a book from 'George' to 'Melissa's Story' or 'Melissa'

dust jacket for a book called 'Melissa'

two book covers altered to change the name of a book from 'George' to 'Melissa's Story'

Melissa will be out in April and is available for preorder now. (thx, caroline)

Eames Office Celebrates 80 Years of Iconic Design

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2021

interior of a house with Eames furniture

view of an exhibition celebrating 80 years of Eames design

an elephant made of molded plywood

Eames Office is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its founding by legendary designers Charles & Ray Eames with an exhibition at the Istetan the Space gallery in Japan. Eames Demetrios, the grandson of Charles & Ray, shared a selection of personal highlights from the exhibition with Dezeen. (via moss & fog)

Illustrations from Japanese Fireworks Catalogs (circa 1880s)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 08, 2021

illustrations from Japanese fireworks catalogs

illustrations from Japanese fireworks catalogs

illustrations from Japanese fireworks catalogs

illustrations from Japanese fireworks catalogs

illustrations from Japanese fireworks catalogs

From the excellent Public Domain Review, a collection of illustrations from Japanese fireworks catalogs published in the 1880s.

The spinning saxon, flying pigeons, polka batteries, jumping jacks and firecrackers, squibs and salutes, Aztec Fountains, Bengal Lights, and Egyptian Circlets, bangers or bungers, cakes, crossettes, candles, and a Japanese design known as kamuro (boys haircut), which looks like a bobbed wig teased out across the stratosphere… the language of fireworks has a richness that hints at the explosive payload it references. And yet, anyone who has ever held their camera up to the blazing sky knows that a brilliant firework show can rarely be captured to any satisfying degree. Perhaps this is what makes a nineteenth-century series of catalogue advertisements for Japanese fireworks so mesmerizing: denied the expectations of photorealism, these images are free to evoke a unique sense of visual wonder.

Mid-Century Modern Matchbox Labels From Eastern Bloc Countries (1950s-1980s)

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 05, 2021

Matchbloc 01

Matchbloc 02

Matchbloc 03

Matchbloc 04

Matchbloc 05

Look at how beautiful these mid-century matchbox labels are — they’re from Eastern Bloc countries (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, etc.) from the 1950s to the 1980s. These are part of a collection by Jane McDevitt. Prints of some of these labels are available and there’s also a book.

Fun Algorithmic, Puzzle, and Mathematical Typefaces

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 27, 2021

The father-son duo of Martin and Erik Demaine make typefaces that are algorithmic, mathematical, or puzzle-like in nature. For instance, here’s their Tetris font, where each letter is made up of the seven possible Tetris pieces:

a typeface where each letter is made from Tetris pieces

Or their newest one, Everything, where each letter can be folded into any other letter:

a sample of a typeface where each letter can be 'folded' into any other letter

Everything to everything. This typeface illustrates how to fold any letter into any other letter, or more precisely, how to fold a piece of paper in the shape of any letter into the shape of any other letter. This lets you write one message inside another in a couple of ways. On the one hand, you could present the 6x6 crease patterns whose silhouettes look like one message (first text), and folding them reveals another message (second text). On the other hand, you could present the folded forms (as physical objects) whose silhouettes look like one message (second text), and unfolding them reveals another message (first text).

From a recent-ish profile of the Demaines and their typefaces in the NY Times:

In a 2015 paper, “Fun With Fonts: Algorithmic Typography,” the Demaines explained their motivations: “Scientists use fonts every day to express their research through the written word. But what if the font itself communicated (the spirit of) the research? What if the way text is written, and not just the text itself, engages the reader in the science?”

Inspired by theorems or open problems, the fonts — and the messages they compose — can usually be read only after solving the related puzzle or series of puzzles.

You can check out the rest of their typefaces on their website — they include fonts with infinitely tiling letters, Sudoku puzzle fonts, and a font whose letters are made up of shapes that can be packed into a 6x6 square. So fun!

Fuck Everything, We’re Doing 32 Book Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 21, 2021

Eggers Every Cover 01

Eggers Every Cover 02

Eggers Every Cover 03

Eggers Every Cover 04

Eggers Every Cover 05

For his new book, The Every, Dave Eggers and art director Sunra Thompson are doing 32 separate covers, with more to come “in perpetuity”.

Never one to shy away from pushing boundaries, Eggers teamed up with art director Sunra Thompson for the project, who discovered that the dust jacket printer they were using could run several cover designs on one sheet of paper at once, providing the means to print dozens of different versions at the same time. Thompson decided to exploit this printing feature, enlisting a boatload of artists to design a completely new version of The Every cover.

The hardcover version of the book featuring the 32+ designs will only be available on the McSweeney’s website and in independent bookstores, which doesn’t seem to include Bookshop.org. Amazon, says Eggers, can go pound sand.

“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

The Design of TV Key Art

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 19, 2021

When the TV watching experience moved from checking “your local listings” or TV Guide and surfing channels with your remote to scrolling through visual onscreen menus on streaming services, key art was born. Key art graphics are the images that identify shows in streaming menus — ok here, it’s just easier to show you:

key art for The Americans

key art for Chernobyl

key art for several other TV shows

Like the best movie posters and book covers, these images are bold and simple promotional signifiers of a larger piece of media, but as Rex Sorgatz argues in today’s edition of Why is this interesting?, key art is its own thing with its own set of constraints and challenges.

Good key art is so evocative, so iconic, that it becomes the image that springs to mind whenever you think about a show:

One neglected characteristic ties all these images together: They are all horizontal.

It sounds trivial, but going wide helped differentiate TV key art as its own medium, distinct from book covers and movie posters. And because these images appear on streaming platforms, they are unencumbered by other marketing copy, like taglines, cast and credits, and multifarious blurbs.

There is a simple purity to key art.

Sorgatz maintains an archive of his favorite key art here.

The Most Iconic Book Covers

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 12, 2021

book cover for A Clockwork Orange

book cover for The Great Gatsby

book cover for I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

From Literary Hub, The 25 Most Iconic Book Covers in History. Some good ones shared in the comments as well. (thx, serge)