Amy

Mad Skillz: Amy on Graphic Design

Amy and Tim are an almost completely unstereotypical highschool romance. I believe Tim once told Amy he would never be interested in her. Or something. I was at school with them – on the sidelines – watching as this resolve disappeared. There are many areas Amy and I disagree on – these probably trace back to sharing so many subjects in high school, where I was no doubt incredibly annoying, and our different personality types. But she is also very intelligent and a worthy foe (though she takes arguments personally) and has (more often than I care to admit) along with the West Wing dragged me to the left more than anybody else.

Despite getting a letter about how good her writing was in Queensland’s Core Skills Test she studied graphic design and now works for the propaganda machine that is the Queensland Government (in a pretty cool and wildly popular area where the propaganda is deserved). Here are her tips on Graphic Design.

While at night, obviously, I am a secretive caped crime fighter, I still need to eat, so by day I’m a graphic designer. Apparently this sounds impressive but I can tell you that if there is glamour and big bucks I must have missed the memo.Saying that, graphic design allows me to be both creative and paid, which is pretty good for an art college graduate (she jokes, mostly).

Pretty much everything you see around you in modern life has been designed by someone – that book you’re reading, your yoghurt packaging, that brochure you picked up. From day to day I’ll work on flyers, logos, signage, posters – with the occasional illustration job or ‘wrinkle-smoothing’ photo manipulation. And while you might think that my job is pretty shallow, just making things look ‘pretty’, good design is about clear communication. Graphic design, if you will, is the visual equivalent of the speech read with verve and passion, rather than a boring monotone.

Graphic Design makes your message clear and accessible.

Most of you aren’t going to be pulling together books and brochures, but all of you will be pulling together some sort of document that could benefit from a few tips and hints to make your message clearer. So, here’s my design 101 course…

  1. Restrain yourself…
    No, not with ropes. This is what I call the ‘no visual vomit’ rule. It is all about not overloading the viewer with 50,000 messages all at once – keeping it simple.

    You know those fantastic fonts you just downloaded from the net? – resist the urge to use all of them in your church newsletter. Pick 2 fonts per document, 3 at most – 1 for all the body copy, and another for your headings (that third one could be for a super special event, or pull-out text that you particularly want to highlight). Resist the urge to fill up all the space available – white space is good, it lets it all breathe and keeps the focus. Don’t go overboard on the colour – we don’t need the Rainbow Express. This approach means your document looks deliberate and consistent, not just a mess of stuff all put together.

  2. Balance
    Think of the page like a see-saw – you don’t want a whole lot of heavy stuff on one side and nothing much on the other. Try and get things to visually balance with each other.
  3. Avoid the amateur cliche tick-boxes
    These are (in no particular order): Comic Sans (just don’t, please) or any of the ‘special’ fonts in word, WordArt, starbursts, rainbow gradients, clip art (I know that this is hard, but with so many sources of good quality free material out there, clip art is a disservice – I have included some links below). If you see it in one of those shouty ads on TV, don’t go there.
  4. Don’t steal
    When I talk about free material above, I am not saying go to google images and just nick off with what you find there. You know… ‘you wouldn’t steal a handbag…’ – well don’t steal someone’s layout or photos or font. Stealing online is still stealing, and I’m pretty sure there is a commandment about that. There are lots of resources online that have ‘free for personal use’ arrangements or creative commons images that you can use with a credit (see below).
  5. Call in the experts
    It can be a little too easy to think that anybody can design something nowadays, but sometimes you really are better off calling in the professionals. Design is a skill, usually the product of years of study and then on-the-job training and involves a huge amount of industry knowledge that will save you time and money. It might seem simpler for your nephew to rig up an awesome logo for you in word, but a designer can show you why you should keep it to two colours, have it ready in different formats, how it would work on different mediums, and how it needs to be set up so it doesn’t print like a big pixelly mess. Otherwise, trust me on this, when you show up at a print shop with that fabulous logo in Word – they are laughing at you behind your back. And then overcharging you.

So there you have it – a crash course in design 101. If you take nothing else away from this I hope at least you agree that Comic Sans should be wiped from the face of the earth. For everyone’s sake.

The End.

Some handy links…

  • www.dafont.com (Lots of free fonts – just check the licence agreements for if they are personal or commercial use)
  • www.fontsquirrel.com (More free fonts – these are all okay for commercial use)
  • www.sxc.hu (online photo resource – you need to sign up but there is a lot of good stuff here. Check the licence agreement before using it and don’t get tricked into clicking through to their paid site which appears at the top of each search result page)
  • www.flickr.com/creativecommons (read the rules first, but this gives you a huge resource of great images that you can use, usually just with a credit acknowledgement)

On Twilight, feminism, and ethics

Back in July Amy gave quite a reasonable point of view on the damage Twilight might do to young girls.

Here’s what she said…

“I am really worried about the worldview this presents to teenage girls (say 13 and 14 year olds). A lot of people in (US) Christian circles are jumping on Twilight as being okay for their kids to read (unlike Harry Potter – but you don’t want to get me started on how shortsighted that is) because they think it supports abstinence (which honestly, it really doesn’t – not having sex because you might kill someone is a lot different to choosing to for moral reasons).”

“Almost as soon as Bella meets Edward, she decides to give up college or any idea of a normal life (including seeing her family), so she can become undead like him. That’s right girls – find the right guy and just get him to look after you. You won’t ever have to think about looking after yourself.”

An opinion writer from the Herald has essentially regurgitated the same point of view.

She celebrates characters from chick literature of the past – like the girls from Little Women and Anne of Green Gables…

For more than a century, Jo March and Anne Shirley have been teaching little girls that there is more to life than hooking up with a rich, handsome bloke. Now, in 2009, we have a heroine who tells them that it’s worth their family, their education and their soul.

But in the same piece presents an interesting ethical dilemma as though it’s a fait accompli…

“They conceive a half-vampire, half-human child. Baby vampires are particularly dangerous, apparently, as they have as little restraint as any baby and have been known to slaughter entire cities when they’re hungry. But with customary thoughtlessness and confused morality, Bella refuses to have an abortion. Her decision puts a lot of people to a lot of trouble.”

Assuming, for a moment, that vampires are real… why is this refusal to have an abortion framed in such black and white terms? It would seem to be more complex than that…

Introducing…

Well, Tim and Amy have a blog. Excellent.

They’ve both had those live journal things for a while – but reading someone’s journal seems so voyeuristic – and Amy informed my of its existence on the down low – so I haven’t given it the kudos it deserves.

I went to school with both of them, and they got married. Those two points are only tangentially related – I had nothing to do with them getting married, or with them going to school together. But that is what happened.

Tim is also responsible for my incredibly diligent work ethic – he scored me the ultimate university job clerking at a law firm. We job shared for a few years. Actually, longer than a few years – we used to reciprocally help each other with delivery runs (he delivered newspapers, me pamphlets)… ahh, nostalgia.

Anyway, now you can get to know them too – courtesy of their blog. So far it’s just Amy. But it bears Tim’s name, so he may be tempted out of the laboratory at some point.

Amy is also the Amy who comments here heaps – and who disagrees with me the fiercest  when I mention things like the environment. So it’s guaranteed to be worth reading.

Protect and serve?

Discussion is ongoing on yesterday’s post about protectionism and misguided “buy local” campaigns. I didn’t mention the “sustainability” side of that debate – which is probably valid. It doesn’t make sense for major grocery stores to ship produce from North Queensland to warehouses in Victoria then back to North Queensland for sale – at that point I will join the brotherhood of sustainability and cry foul (fowl if we’re talking about chickens…). I didn’t mention it because it’s not the problem I have with “buy local” campaigns – which is that they don’t do what they claim to do, namely “protect local jobs”.

Buying local works to protect Australian farmers. There’s no denying that. But the insidious campaigns stretch further than the farm gates But we have plenty of other primary producers whose cause is harmed by drops in demand for our resources overseas (which are in part due to drops in demand for all sorts of product on a global level – particularly from the US).

But that’s just rehashing the point I’d already made yesterday. In a slightly more coherent form.

There were a couple of points raised in the comments that are worth rehashing – particularly if you haven’t read them.

“Buying coffee grown in Australia at a local coffee store, rather than coffee grown in Costa Rica at Starbucks.” – Stuss.

Ahh, a subject close to my heart. The argument I’d make at this point is that Australian made doesn’t necessarily guarantee quality. You might feel nice paying three times the price you’d pay for foreign grown produce for local stuff – but in some cases you’re paying more for an inferior product. Coffee is a great example. If you want premium quality Australian coffee you’ve got to pay a premium price – and it still won’t be as good as stuff grown in the ideal conditions.

Her next point in a subsequent comment touches on the whole fair trade debate.

“There are ethical implications in buying goods made elsewhere. A big reason why companies shift that manufacturing off shore is that it can be done cheaper. Much, much cheaper. Which means the people doing the manufacturing aren’t getting a lot of money for the job. On one hand, it is good that some of these people are getting the employment at all. But on the other hand, sometimes these people are being exploited, and not receiving a fair wage. Or they are coming away from their villages and subsistence farming lifestyle to work in the factories and losing traditional skills. Which one outweighs the other?”

Those sweatshops employing and exploiting workers for the sake of fashion are a different matter, that’s an ethical question not a question of economics – and therefore not within the scope of this rant.

I don’t see how buying local and doing these overseas people out of the jobs they’ve won that are often literally putting food on the table – particularly when following through the argument using coffee farmers as an example – is doing the coffee farmer a service. In the case of agriculture – and particularly for argument sake the case of coffee – we’re not talking about farmers leaving subsistent living, we’re talking about third and fourth generation farmers who have been exporting coffee since coffee exporting began. Aussie Joe who decides to plant his coffee plantation in Atherton – where conditions aren’t as good as conditions elsewhere and thus the coffee flavour isn’t as rich – is doing a disservice both to the palate and to the global coffee market.

The fundamental economic principle of supply and demand means that if there’s an oversupply of a poor quality version of a particular variety of product and a largely uneducated audience the price of the good stuff either has to significantly alter or die out (or become an “exclusive” product for the rich and famous). Throwing in a “buy local” campaign artificially inflates the price of local coffee and punishes the foreign growers. It’s not a level playing field. And it’s an incentive for businesses that should probably fail. Because their product is inferior.

Amy made a similar point about rice but from a sustainability rather than quality standpoint in the comments on the last protectionism post…

“I don’t think it is okay to buy Australian grown rice, because rice is totally unsuited to our environment and therefore needs far more resources than an imported product.”

I wonder what the typical elements in the purchase equation are? You could no doubt express it as a funky Venn diagram – in fact I’m sure it’s already been done somewhere… but I’d say price, sustainability, ethics, and quality are all in the mix. Are there any others?

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