#31 Searching for the Perfect Page

Jan Tschihold

Jan Tschichold (1902–1974) is a person of interest in the world of graphic design. He worked hard perfecting – or searching for perfection – in various project. One of my favorites was his creation of the Sabon type family in 1964.

Sabon font family includes 6 weights plus italics and Small Caps and Old style.

Tschichold was a typographer, book designer, teacher and writer.

ONE OF THE THINGS I found fascinating about him was his research of ancient books to find how to divide a page in pleasing proportions. He studied the page layout of ancient monks and Gutenberg’s 9×9 layout and eventually demonstrated the geometry and published about his findings.

Gutenberg’s 9×9 layout

 

Tschichold perfect book.

I then did an experiment to see what the “grid” would be for 8.5 x 11 inch pages. The dimensions are shown below.

My Americanized version.

 

Stretchy fluid web page with “perfect” percentages.

So, you may ask, “What good is this esoteric information for what I’m designing?”

If you are attempting to create a historical theme with a “feeling” of being “old, ancient, or spiritual,” – perhaps even wise – this is a good format. It’s great for storybooks and fairy tales. It may be appropriate for a thematic brochure. The idea is the page layout alone creates a subconscious “reminder” of days gone by. In reality, it’s not “perfect” for every application. But trying it out on your page dimensions can give you new perspective.

#71 Solving a color match problem

I and the client company’s marketing manager had to solve a color problem. The company logo was two colors: red and an orangish-yellow with black type set in Franklin Gothic Extrabold.

The company built industrial aluminum molds for casting and forming products or packaging from foam, plastic, and other materials.

1. The company logo was originally designed by the owner’s now ex-wife. No records existed of what colors were used.2. After that time, the logo was printed on letterhead by a subcontract designer, Melisa. She was available by phone. She had no written record of what the colors were but had a good guess.

3. A third designer (an IT guy) put together the website and used what he thought were the right colors in hex code. They didn’t match the print version.

So we had three sets of colors. In addition to this, when I pointed out the inconsistencies, The marketing manager said,

4. “All I really want is the color to match our business card.” That introduced a fourth color combination.

So I dove into analyzing the colors and comparing them. I then made three visual charts to demonstrate to them the results. In the end, I made recommendation of what we should specify for print and web media. I thought I’d share how that “looked” and also a couple of pages of the resulting website style guide.

It was necessary to coach the client and his boss about the differences in RGB, CMYK, and Pantone color gamuts. They actually enjoyed learning this stuff.

Doing this analysis and presentation earned me some extra money and brought in not only the website rework but also a print presentation portfolio for tradeshows. Around $4,900 in time. The moral of this story: Presentation makes a difference. Don’t just tell them. Show them and document your work. It makes you more professional.

Websafe colors were specified but not necessary. I chose those to keep things simple and memorable when designing. Websafe is not a necessary feature.

The story doesn’t have a happy ending. In recent years, after over 25 years in business, the company was forced to close it’s doors permanently because of offshore competition. Sad day in Mudville to see a company die. I still wear my D8 T-shirt they gave me – in their memory.


Those RGB references were either supplied by the previous designer’s “guesses” or from flatbed scans. Neither were super reliable but it was all we had. They were inconsistent. The client was paranoid about color consistency being fixed. But they never realized how all of their colors really were all over the map. This was mainly a method of “opening their eyes”. They thought they had a standard. They didn’t.

Like most machine shops, they were very big into standards. So I was helping them develop those for each medium– web and print. They saw how they couldn’t get exactly the same rendering in each environment but they could get things a lot closer with some adjustment and coaching.

Mainly, this diminished their anxiety of appearing foolish (the owner actually had a 4-year degree in graphic design!). To me, all I wanted was a decision. This presentation made that decision easier for them.

Grayscale differential (contrast) was important in making things work online. It also helped them see why yellow type on white wouldn’t work.

All that mattered was the client get over their stress so we could move on and finish projects.

#70 Calibrating color – don’t even try

I use 4 LCD screens and none of them are calibrated. They all render color differently.

Two of them I bought used and bruised – on purpose. The other two on Cyber-Monday sale. I like it that way because it allows me to see the range of aberration the client may see – whether it’s for print or web projects. And as you know, I’m a cheapskate. Creativity is the inverse of dollars. C=1/$

I only have a letter-size b/w laser printer for business
correspondence (as I said “invoices”). I don’t proof in my studio any more. If I want to see it, for safety sake (rarely), I have it output on a weekly-calibrated digital printer at my favorite shop. I’m comfortable with my methods and know what to expect. Printing is not just an act of faith any more.

Most of the color problem is with the client and not your equipment. It’s cheaper to “fix” the client. It can be as easy as buying and gifting them a Pantone fan for reference. I’ve done that. They love it. It works great for communications.

I see all screen calibration gadgetry as preying on the anxieties of designers. It’s a human problem not a machine problem.

If you are going to spec Pantone and print it in 4-color CMYK then I recommend buying a conversion-shift swatch book (Pantone process color simulator $239 -color bridge). I bought mine used on Ebay. It was missing a few swatches but it only cost me $20. I then, in advance, show the client how the color will change when printed. They are shown side by side for comparison. see image below.

#68 Naming makes a difference


I actually am more diplomatic than I let on. I’m just trying to intimidate with my pretend vastness. But, yes, I do ruffle some feathers. Those are non-clients who I don’t work with. Not everyone who walks in the door is a qualified lead.

But I’m not done yet. Here is an example of where I recommended a name change that made the startup company bucks. I merely told them their company name was boring.

The original name of the company (I can’t even remember now) but it was two multisyllabic words that sounded very academic, presumptuous, and meant nothing to me or their audience. In fact, the goal was to make math exciting. It did the opposite, scary sounding. After my usual lecture on naming, I had them read “Positioning: The battle for the mind.” We then came to a consensus that a better name would be “MathFire.”

They won $10,000 in a business plan competition shortly after where I served as their marketing coach. I didn’t win. They did.

That’s the goal: make the client a winner. If you take on clients who won’t or can’t win, you’re rightly going to get some of the blame. It’s bad for business. So be selective.

#65 Thinking backwards

I’ve been an advocate of author Marty Neumeier’s thinking – but his day in the sun has probably past, I think. You can read about him here. And one of his books I’m going to quote from at slideshare. As with all author’s, I do NOT agree with everything he says. But I’m still a fan-boy. He was the publisher of CRITIQUE magazine.

Anyway. he said in The Brand Gap people need to know three things: “who you are,” “what you do,” and “why I should care.” That’s the basis for a logo, a business card, a trade show booth, or a website home page. You have to answer those questions fast. Pretty simple. The “why I should care” question is the one business people agonize over.

I’ve learned Neumeier has the emphasis backwards.
“Why?” is most important, not last in the hierarchy of thinking. You have to start there and work outwards.

Apple may “think different” – but I think backwards or opposite. Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who I am. I’m never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible. Unconventional. That is why I put up resistance to ideological fads and trends. They’re suspicious to me. Fast buck shortcuts are usually fairy tale.

Trivial note: Apple’s annual R&D expenditure is much lower than industry standards: 2%. That’s what a low-tech company usually spends – not a high-tech one (more like 4% or more.)

The truth be known, I only ask clients “what they want” to be polite. I usually then show them they’re chasing the wrong butterfly. I’m more diplomatic than that. Sort of. My point was their perspective usually has nothing to do with emotion.

I focus a lot on subconscious cuing. This is called “transparent features” in web speak.

Using fear as a motivator with people’s “lizard brain” doesn’t feel right to me. It’s not life-oriented but death.

#64 Business owners don’t get it

I read an article last night that “advertising” is dead. We have to use new labels to let people know we are in this present time and not the past – but the goal is still the same. Increase sales or promote an idea.

Advertising is Dead >

I do not agree with everything in this article. No big surprise, eh?

But I do agree times and methods have changed and we must adapt. The cycles for adaptation seem to come faster. But I suspect this is a matter of perception than actual evidence. Many methods and processes used to be more complex. They have gotten simpler and easier to understand.

So it’s not that problems have gotten harder. My willingness to adapt has shrunk. This is attrition or atrophy of my brain. “I don’t wanna” keeps me from embracing the next idea. Is it possible we’re weary of change and we can’t get off the ride?

When we talk about the client or customer “pain,” we’re exploring positioning strategy. Positioning is the shortcut to the buyer’s motive. Motive is based upon anxiety or pain. Same thing, new label.

I communicate in terms of profit and ROI to my clients. Business owners don’t get the touchy-feely design world I live in (INFP Meyers-Briggs profile.) My whole client presentation is couched in terms of profit and ROI (unless they’re an artist, of course.)

My goal is to convert their goals into a strategy of feeling and emotion – but if I told them that upfront – I’d never get hired. So I secretly work in reverse (backwards again.) Then make my presentation to logic and reason. I attempt justifying why orchestrating design choices -type, colors, symbols, etc– will help them achieve their goals. If I can speak in prejudiced, us-vs-them language, they’re left-brainers – like 51% of the U.S. population. They’re “Guardian” managerial-types (aka suits.)

Emotion (and thus design quality) as a strategy has risen in the awareness of modern businesses – especially based on Google and Apple’s success with user experience. UX is about how people feel when using a product or service. It’s become a way to differentiate a product from the herd (especially when all products look the same when they’re turned off.)

This primal emotional stuff is voodoo to most business men. When I ask them what they’d like me to do for them, the first thing out of their mouth is either “More profit or More sales.” They don’t realize that connecting emotionally is an important part of the solution to that problem. I’m sure you acknowledge the resistance to exploring “feelings” with business owners.

Seth Godin said in a talk earlier this year that Apple’s mission is teaching the world what is “good taste.” This claim about Apple’s “good taste” as a differentiator is mythical or bragging at best. You’ll NOT find that idea mentioned in any of Apple’s annual reports. They’re about profitability and return on investment.

Seth Godin video link >
20 minutes viewing time.

“Rebuttal” by Larry Wall, in 2011. Wall is the creator of the Python computing language:
Apple Tries to Be the Arbiter of Good Taste >
5 minutes viewing time.

But when good taste becomes mandatory, then it’s not really good taste any more—it’s just manners,” says Wall.

 

Good user experience is just good manners and proper etiquette. Politeness and hospitality (aka common sense.)

#63 Controversy as a strategy

Positioning and differentiation are tried-and-true CREATIVE advertising strategies. I can tell you how changing positioning strategies meant making millions for many clients I’ve served. It changed them from confusing to understandable. Positioning is an idea that’s been in existence since 1980 and now taught in every business course in the world.

That doesn’t mean getting noticed and being remarkable isn’t important. Some authors attempt controversy and argument about semantics for the sake of it.

There is an observation about “controversy” as a strategy. It’s endorsed by many professional copywriters. The idea is if you choose to do safe, no-risk advertising you will never upset anyone and you might get the attention of a small fraction of the market.

But if you choose to cause a ruckus and be controversial, you’ll probably alienate 50% of the audience. The other 50% will likely become avid fans. Instead of a mere 5% noticing you, you get 50% followers and 50% haters. That is a risk, of course, since you could alienate 100% of your audience.

Authors try to get us riled up by discrediting “the old way” of thinking. Really it’s the same old stuff. But 50% will be hard-core fans. Positioning is in the “mind” of the buyer. Remarkable is the “eye” of the buyer. Aren’t these both intangible or abstractions?

The real proof is how people vote with their dollars.

#62 Handling client delays

The way I’ve handled this “delay problem” – in my fixed-bid agreement – is instead of a “penalty,” I say the agreement is valid for 90-days. If the project isn’t completed by then, the terms are renegotiated. While this isn’t actually used as a “threat”, it’s a nice incentive or motivator for them to keep the energy on high.

Typically, I’ve found unmonitored client delays increase the project time-to-completion by double or worse. If clients had the foresight of compiling and proofing the photos and copy before beginning the project, it’d be completed in short order. This is pretty common so I frequently have to use good old “patience” to finish and get paid. Since I’ve accepted that tolerating and quelling client panic and crisis are part of my job description –and what I get paid for handling, it helps reduce the ulcer. The unpredictable is pretty predictable.

So there are internal and external things we can do to maintain our sanity.