August 21st, 2014

Big typography.

PNB building

Last weekend the Philadelphia type police started removing the large letters atop the PNB building in Philadelphia. These 16-foot high letters once announced the location of the Philadelphia National Bank building. Three letters on each of the four sides guaranteed that no matter how you approached the city, you would always be able to read the PNB initials.

Personally, I won’t miss them.

Anyone with a sense of architecture or design could easily see that these letters were an after-thought. Architecturally, and aesthetically they never appeared “right” for the building – perhaps because the building was originally erected to be the John Wanamaker department store. But alas, it became a bank. So some bank executive with more money than aesthetic sensibility just decided to stick some letters up there.

In contrast, the letters atop the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society just around the corner were designed as part of the structure. This historic landmark building was the first skyscraper of the International Style erected in the United States. The giant PSFS letters meld nicely with the building and add a magnificent typographic element to the Philadelphia skyline. I always think of that brilliant ad slogan that PSFS used back in their heyday – PSFS: People Saving For Something. Nice!

The PNB letters coming down last Sunday shut down streets throughout center city, but the Instagram images that were posted were marvelous. They say that the letters are headed to a scrap yard.

I’d like one of the Ns please. Not for any real reason other than these particular Ns are nice. Besides, the P won’t stand up on it’s own and the B is nothing special.

April 2nd, 2014

Sotheby’s updates it’s brand.

Sotheby's old logo and new logoPentagram has updated the Sotheby’s brand. Or should I say, “re-dated” it.  Pentagram partner Abbott Miller chose Mercury, a font designed by Jonathan Hoefler, to bring back some of the gravitas of this world-renowned auction house that began in 1744.

The Sotheby’s brand was last redone in 2002 when it took on the Gill Sans font. This gave it a somewhat more contemporary look. Obviously Sotheby’s felt the need to re-establish a “connection to their historic lineage”, to paraphrase Mr Miller.

While some may say that the new logo looks rather plain – indistinguishable from an ordinary newspaper font – I have to say that I find the Mercury font to be very distinctive.  Nice strong thick and thin strokes with beautifully chiseled serifs.

I guess Mr Miller also experienced some inner conflicts with that blasted apostrophe. Anyone who’s ever designed a logo with an apostrophe knows that that little dangling bastard will always scream out for attention. I know that when I’ve been confronted with a brand name containing an apostrophe, I can spend hours upon hours trying to make it virtually invisible. In this case, Mr Miller went so far as to change Mr Hoefler’s design of the Mercury apostrophe. Instead of Mercury’s ball with a wispy tail, he chose to render a more severely chiseled triangular shape and lower it between the y and the s where it won’t stick out like a sore thumb. I applaud his efforts here. This allows the required apostrophe to do its job, but it keeps it from becoming the center of attention.

I guess my only complaint is the kerning. Anybody else?

I might have tightened up all the letters just a smidge. But that’s just me.

September 6th, 2013

The signs of Tulum.

It’s the end of the summer as I write this, Labor Day has passed and everyone is looking to the fall as a time for getting back to work, starting up projects and making plans for 2014. For me it was a long hot summer, busy with branding and web projects, each with their own twists and turns.

Now it’s time for a vacation, so we head off to Mexico for some fun and relaxation.

I write this from a palapa on the beach at Soliman Bay with the warm Caribbean breezes caressing my face, a frothy, ice-cold beer at my side.

My wife and I have been coming to this spot on the Yucatan Peninsula with some of our friends for eight years. The house is located just eleven kilometers north of the town of Tulum. Some of you may know Tulum for its famous Mayan ruins. If you’ve not seen them, you should.

Tulum is changing quickly. Eight years ago it seemed to be such a humble village with lots of wonderful Mayan people going about their daily lives with little attention paid to tourists like us. I’ve always enjoyed walking the streets with my camera capturing the primitive architecture that survives splendidly under the bright Mexican sun.

As a designer and a typography nut, the first thing I noticed about Tulum was the amazing proliferation of colorful, hand-painted signs. Though I wasn’t able to understand the meaning of most of them, their artistic achievement is astounding. Although some appear to have been painted by someone knowledgeable of design, typography, layout, and color, none looked to be professionally painted. For me, this was their charm.

Here are just a few of the many colorful hand-painted signs that you’ll find as you wander the streets of Tulum.






June 16th, 2013

Our Inside Oncology logo is recognized by the AIGA Philadelphia Design Awards

InsideOncologyLogoAIGA1The Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts has selected our Inside Oncology logo as one of the 100 best in the 2013 Philadelphia Design Awards competition.

For the last three years, AIGA Philadelphia has sponsored this competition to recognize the work of Philadelphia area designers. If you weren’t able to see the exhibit in Philadelphia, you can take a look at this year’s winners here.

This year’s judges included: Patrick Coyne, Editor and Designer at Communication Arts, the world’s largest journal of visual communication; Mig Reyes, Designer at 37signals in Chicago; Debbie Millman, President, Design at Sterling Brands in New York. Debbie is also Masters in Branding Chair at the School of Visual Arts; and finally Karl Maier, Director at Craig & Karl in New York and London.

We are honored to be among the many talented Philadelphia-based designers selected for this year’s awards.

September 5th, 2012

Ideas and the lost art of drawing.

A recent opinion piece in The New York Times written by the noted architect Michael Graves, laments the lost art of drawing as it applies to architecture. The same can be said about the graphic design field.

As a graphic designer, I too feel that our computers have stolen away a need for drawing. When I was in art school back in the 70s, we drew everything. Drawing was essential to our profession. As I began my career in advertising in the mid seventies, I saw how important drawing was for conveying an idea or a concept. When roughing out a concept for a print ad, I used my drawing skills to render everything from photo images and logos to typography. Yes, we learned the subtleties of type by studying each letter of a font, and then drawing it. The upper-case, the lower-case, the numbers, and even the punctuation were committed to memory. I could draw Helvetica so it wouldn’t be confused with Franklin Gothic. We mastered the exaggerated thick and thin strokes of the elegant Bodoni and chiseled out the heavy serifs of Aachen Bold. Like drawing a portrait, you look to bring out the personality of each font.

Drawing letters was a passion for me. I always believed that simulating the correct typeface for a headline was an important ingredient to selling the concept. A well-rendered headline font could scream out loud or whisper very softly. It could convey humor or provide comfort.

When I began rendering letters in art school, I started to see each letter individually. Each stroke and curve gave a letter its uniqueness. And as you put the letters together to form words, you also mastered the art of kerning. The relationship between each letter was just as important as the shapes of the letters.

But drawing type was just a small part of design drawing. Today, with my computer and the internet, I have instant access to thousands of fonts and no longer need to spend hours drawing the details of Avenir Light Oblique. But I still continue to use my drawing skills to rough out concepts. A concept for an ad, a web site, an email, a trade show booth, or an annual report always starts with a series of sketches.

Like Michael Graves, I too start with quick, rough lines and progress to a more finished sketch, all the while running the concept through my head, refining as I think and draw. I value these moments with pencil and paper. It provides the time needed for ideas to generate and mature. I’ll often do sketches for a few minutes or an hour. Then I close my sketchbook and walk away from it. Later in the day, or perhaps the next day, I pick up the sketchbook and review what I did. Sometimes I love it. Sometimes I feel that I missed the mark.

You see, design is not just about drawing images and type. It’s about solving problems for a client. The sketches help me to focus on the real problem – the client’s goals and the target audience. The drawings force me to put down on paper, a variety of pathways to a final solution. Maybe it’s nothing more than doodling. But those doodles help me visualize a solution.


May 29th, 2012

On becoming the outsider.

My wife and I just returned from a week in Tuscany with a few close friends. Vacations are a time to relax and recharge. But it’s also a time to experience something that you wouldn’t normally experience in your “normal” everyday routine. It’s a chance to play another role. The role of the outsider.

As an outsider, when you visit another country like Italy, you quickly become aware of the cultural differences in every aspect of daily life. Driving, dining, shopping, just about every activity that we know, is done differently. I particularly like the Italian approach to daily meals. They start the day early with an espresso. They go to work or school until noon, then go home to have the large meal of the day with the family until about four in the afternoon. As a result, shops, banks and businesses are closed between noon and 4pm. At four o’clock they go back to school or work, and businesses reopen. The day ends at 8pm when they go home and enjoy some cheese, bread, fruit, light meats, and a bottle of wine. I always enjoy adjusting to that schedule when we travel in France or Italy. It makes more sense than our big evening meal.

Jonah Lehrer in his new book, Imagine, How Creativity Works, points out that creative people should use vacations to search out different experiences. Travel to a place where you can be the outsider. While a foreign country can provide a more drastic difference, even a trip to another U.S. town or city, any place where you are unfamiliar with the surroundings, works just as well. As an outsider you see all the differences that you don’t see as an insider. I’ve even noticed that when we have out-of-town visitors to our home here in Bucks county, they point out things that even I don’t see anymore. An unusual traffic sign, a barn with gingerbread trim, places I pass everyday, but don’t see anymore.

When you’re in a creative profession, you can easily become an insider – you sometimes don’t see the forest for the trees. You gradually lose your creative edge as you become more familiar with the way you approach a creative problem. Taking the same approach, following the “usual” route to a solution isn’t always good. You need to mix it up. Yes, when I’m working on a logo design for example, I have my usual path to a solution. But when I’m not satisfied with my efforts, I will “go back to the drawing board” and seek out inspiration from other sources.

I’m always puzzled by companies who, when looking to fill a marketing position, require that the applicant have multiple years of experience in their industry. If they were smart, they would look for somebody who’s never been in their industry. A person coming from another industry will bring new ideas that may never have been considered in the past.

I’ve always found that the best way to look at any creative problem is to take a step back and put yourself in the place of the target audience. But it requires just a little more. Clearing your head and exploring totally non-related ideas is key. When I travel to Manhattan for a meeting, I usually make some time to stop in at MoMA or visit some of the galleries in Soho. Heck, just walking down the street in New York is an inspirational endeavor.

So being an outsider is something every creative person needs to strive for. When I pitch a new client, and they ask me that same question, “What experience have you had in the _____________ industry?” I like to remind them that I’ve had an excellent record with companies whose industries I knew nothing about. I was able to provide solutions that weren’t obvious. As a matter of fact, more than one of my clients, when I’ve shown them a possible solution, have said, “Wow, we never looked at it that way.” I love hearing that! I believe that providing a different perspective is what I as a designer must bring to the party. I need to be the outsider with an outsider’s solution.