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The Making of Little White Lies

A graphic designer’s trip from Portsmouth to London

Last week, my partner Gemma and I took a trip up from Portsmouth to see the fireworks display at Battersea Park. As these days I seem to have a pervading sense of guilt whenever I take time out from work and don’t utilise it to do something productive, I decided to make a visual diary of the trip from a designer’s perspective. The end result being this blog post.

I’m actually really glad I did it because not only was a good exercise for me to critique the work of others, but it should give you, dear reader, a good insight into how the mind of designer processes the constant stream of stimuli we are all bombarded with everyday. Especially those of course, who live in London.

I hope enjoy reading it.

From Southsea to Fratton

The first piece of design that caught my eye was this beautiful lettering on what I assume is still a pub in Goldsmith’s Avenue. When I think about it, I can’t ever remember seeing the pub open so may be it’s been converted into flats. Regardless of that the building is now used for, I’m really glad the owner has still kept this lovely original sign. Portsmouth is actually blessed with quite a nice array of beautiful examples of signage typography, so perhaps at some point in the future I’ll try and collate a few more pictures for this blog.

South West Train to Clapham

Whilst I usually try to take in the views whenever I travel anywhere, the route from Portsmouth to London is not exactly awash with new and exciting scenery at every turn. Because of this, I figured I’d use the time to make a bit of a dent in my ever-increasing reading pile that sits next to my desk. Having just finished ‘Studio Culture’ (which will form the basis of a new blog post soon), the next book on my list is ‘Just My Type’ by Simon Garfield. I haven’t read that much of it yet, but what I have read is surprisingly revelatory. Without giving too much away, who knew a book about fonts would contain tales of incest, rape and bestiality? Not I, that’s for sure.

.net Magazine and Just My Type by Simon Garfield

Clapham and West Norwood Station

All throughout the day, these ads were everywhere, seemingly taunting me. From what I gather they are adverts for a new newspaper launched by the publishers of The Independant simply called ‘i’. The paper is effectively a scaled down and condensed version of it’s older sibling aimed at busy workers and younger readers who don’t have the time to sit down and read a complete quality broadsheet from front to back cover, but still wish to keep abreast of global news developments. Whilst I think the paper itself is a great idea, I really can’t say the same about these ads.

In many aspects it’s the visual equivalent of the Timbaland song ‘The Way I Are’ – a reasonably witty concept utterly ruined by the fact that the idea itself only works through the use of terrible grammar. In my opinion, that bad grammar makes the concept null and void. If an idea can’t work without the use of proper words then theoretically it doesn’t exist at all.

I find it interesting that this ad is also used for a paper that is aimed at intelligent savvy individuals. The kind of people who would scoff at the poor use of grammar and think less of the paper for stooping to that level of linguistic idoicy. The kind of people like me I guess.

i is all you need for 20p

i is. Are you?

Kingsway Square

After lunch at West Norwood, our next destination was to head for Kingsway Square for a roof-terrace view of the fireworks over in nearby Battersea Park. Whilst the fireworks were amazing, I was probably more impressed with the building itself. From what I gather Kingsway Square used to be a former College that has been completely turned into beautiful modern flats. Whilst walking through the huge corridors reminded me a little bit of the hotel in The Shining, there was the odd bit of beautiful typography to admire and of course, the roof terrace would be worth the (probably quite considerable) rental costs alone.

kingsway square

great hall - kingsway square

Unfortunately I had to take all these pics with my iPhone 3G which is hardly known for it’s crisp photographic images, especially at night. Because of this, I decided to take a few pics of the fireworks through the Hipstamatic app because for some reason dark images come out better through that. Anyway, I hope you can get an idea of just how amazing a view the roof-terrace of the building has.

view from Kingsway Square

battersea park fireworks

The long way home

After a rather sleepy and tipsy train journey journey home, I spotted the advert pictured below and liked the concept. It’s a bit hard to make out but the tagline at the bottom reads “The new Sportage. A little bit more adventurous.” Pictured above it is what I presume is a photo of said car with the clever addition of a couple of unicycles (as opposed to standard bicycles) attached to the bike rack. Yes, ok, the design is not exactly pushing any envelopes and the concept will hardly win them a yellow pencil, but on a day where good advertising appeared to be very thin on the ground, this advert stood as a coherent idea, well executed. For that I think it deserves a bit of praise for that simple premise seems to be beyond many an advertising agency in 2010.

Kia billboard advert

2 points to consider when creating a budget for a new website

couple using retro computers from the 80s

Recently I entered a discussion online on ‘Setting a realistic website budget’ and was particularly intrigued by some of the responses I found on the thread from both design and marketing agencies and potential clients. As a result I’ve decided to post I reply I gave which should help out anyone who has ever asked a similar question.

Just to give you a bit of background information, the original question was posed by Parm a representative from a b2b company specialising in project management. To elaborate on her initial question, she also gave the following information:

“I’m looking at giving my company’s website a complete overhaul within the next 8 months. It’s primarily a brochure site with an aim to increase enquiries for our core software service, whilst also providing a login to our existing clients. I don’t have an infinite amount to spend but would like to do as good a job as possible. What would be a realistic amount to budget for this?”

Of course, many agencies used this thread as an opportunity to pitch their own services but of those posters very few were reluctant to give Parm an actual amount, which I think is understandable (for reasons I will explain below), and one poster question this with the following response:

Funny how no-one seems able to answer this question. You must have hit on a tricky one Parm. I’m amazed there is no-one in the website business prepared to give some benchmark budget ranges. In many companies you need to earmark budget up front in the planning process – without the luxury of sitting down and working through detailed requirements.

To which I replied with the following:

(Poster’s name), there are a couple of fundamental reasons why many people in the website business aren’t prepared to give a straight up estimate on a budget range for the project, which are as follows:

1) As many people have mentioned, a proper project brief is vital in order to give an accurate quote or estimate, as a client’s idea of a ‘simple change here and there’ can differ immensely from a designer’s or developer’s more realistic evaluation. Also, without a proper initial project discussion is it impossible to even gauge whether or not what the client wants for the project is best for their business. A good design agency or freelancer should be able to provide several alternative options for the client’s consideration, some of which have been mentioned (you want CMS? How about Joomla or WordPress? Not fussed about SEO and want something extravagant? Maybe a flash site would work… and so on…). It is impossible to second guess what the best method the client should adopt in order to attract new customers without first learning what the client has a) already tried b) had success with and c) is willing to pay for.

Secondly and most importantly…

2) Design has no set or tangible value. By this I mean, the value of good design is quite often hard to quantify. As a freelancer, more often that not, I calculate my costs based on my hourly or daily rate and may adjust the total amount slightly depending on the client and the project (e.g. is the client prone to dithering? will they be reliable with content delivery? etc.) This works for me as I am starting out in my freelance career and mostly undertake small projects. However many large agencies don’t always work this way and prefer to price a project based on what they believe their services will add to the value of the client’s company.

I believe this is quite valid, because say for example 2 clients want a similar 10 page website built however one of the clients is a window cleaner and the other is a large business with a £10m turnover. Using my method, both sites should cost the same, say £1000. Whilst £1000 website may help go on to help the window cleaner establish a business that earns him £20k a year, the other similar site may help the £10m business go on to make £20m. If that is the case, then does that mean each site should still be worth (or cost) the same? One could argue that in the 2nd case the new website was worth £10m…

To me, that last point is important as design as an industry is suffering from the belief that anyone can do it. It seems some people believe that all you need is a copy of Photoshop and a computer. Whilst I suppose, this is true in a literal sense, you only need type in a random phrase into Google and then click on the first 10 links to see that there are a lot of people out there who may know how to build a website, but have no idea how to make it look good or communicate the intended message effectively to it’s audience. Those last two points are where the true value of design lies.

How to make a Nintendo Gameboy Costume

For a recent fancy-dress party with the theme ‘The Wonderyears’ I opted to go as a Nintendo Gameboy. Below I will detail how I made it using easy to obtain materials. All in all, it took me about 5 hours to make at a cost of next-to-nothing. However I did already own some of the materials required such as the spray paints. I’m pretty certain you can pick these up for approx £1.95 a can, which combined with the box paint and a tiny bit of foam means that a similar costume shouldn’t cost much more than £20.

The Box & Materials

The first thing you need of course is a box. The box I used was originally used for a new mountain bike. I got hold of this by just going into a few bike shops and asking if they had any going spare. Luckily Portsmouth Cycle Exchange gave me the one shown above for nothing (although I did by a new inner tube for my bike at the same time). Mountain bike boxes are a good option because apart from the odd millimetre on the height, the dimensions of the box I obtained were pretty much exactly the exact same scale as those of an original Gameboy.

My first task was to then apply a light grey undercoat to the entire box. I did this by purchasing a couple of small sample tins of Crown Fashion for Walls paint in Sidewalk from B&Q at a cost of about £5. The two 125ml tins were just enough to cover the box entirely with one thick coat. After that I dug out my selection of Monster spray paints and picked out a gunmetal grey, royal blue, khaki green, red, white and black and borrowed a spirit level from my parents. I expect you could use any spray paint from a hardware shop but Monster Colors are specific graffiti paints. They can be purchased here:

The Plan

Gameboy costume sketch
Once I had painted the box, my next task was to create a plan for the spraying of the box features. I did this by initially sourcing a high-res image of a Gameboy from Google which I them imported into Photoshop scaled it up to the dimensions of the box. I then used the selection tools to measure the sizes of all the important parts and sketched out a plan on graph paper. If you have an original Gameboy, a ruler and a good grasp of maths, you can probably do the same thing without having to buy Photoshop, although you could always download GIMP for free which does pretty much the same thing.

The Screen

Gameboy screen stencil - graphic design portsmouth

Having painted the box and sketched up my plans, my next task was to spray paint on the screen and the screen surround. This was done by initially sketching out the shapes using the spirit level, a measuring tape and a pencil. After that I masked out the area to be spray painted with a combination of masking tape and newspaper as shown in the photo above. Using spray paint rather than emulsion paint will give you a quick drying time and allow you sketch and mask out the area to be sprayed for the screen itself within about 15 minutes of doing the surround.

The Logo

gameboy logo stencil freelance designer portsmouth

As I wanted my costume to be realistic, I decided that I wanted to include the logo, however it’s up to you if want to do this step because it is a bit tricky and probably the most time consuming part. If you are as meticulous as I am then what you need to do is search Google for the highest resolution Nintendo logos you can find. Then using Photoshop or GIMP, set up a document the dimensions of the logo as you need it in the box and print out the logos onto 2 pieces of A4 card (the Gameboy logo should fit on one and the Nintendo should fit on the other). After that, then carefully make a stencil using a cutting mat and a sharp scalpel, making sure you reserve any counters, bowls or eyes that you cut out from letters such as A, B, D and O.

The next step is then to secure the stencil tightly to the box using small amounts of Blu-tack and then masking out the rest of the box with newspaper and masking tape as shown in the photo above. At this point as I wanted the spraypainting to be as accurate as possible, I opted to continue making the costume in my parent’s garage rather than outside as the wind was picking up. If you do it inside however, make sure the area is well ventilated or you use a face mask.

I set up and sprayed both the logo stencils separately, but you could spray them both at the same time if you wish. Whilst using Blu-tack will help keep the edges of the stencil as close to the box as possible, I still didn’t manage to obtain entirely crisp edges around all the letters but I still think this method produces effective results. If you really wanted it to be perfect, then you could probably using the stencil to mark out the logo with pencil and then paint in the letters by hand.

Nintendo Gameboy spray paint logo results

Once the logo was done and I filled a small section of the bottom right hand corner with black to emulate the curve of the case, the costume was really starting to take shape.

unfinished Gameboy costume - garage hampshire

The 3D Effect

3D shading nintendo gameboy

Before adding the buttons, for extra realism, I decided to add shading to the areas behind where the buttons would go as on the actual Gameboy these areas are inlaid slightly. I did this by cutting the circle and lozenge shapes out of newspaper to act as stencils and then with them in place sprayed a fine mist of white paint at the bottom of each shape and a fine mist of black at the top.

After that I then masked out the speaker grill and the angled area beneath it and used a combination of the dark grey and black paints until I achieved the desired result.

The Buttons

Gameboy buttons made of out foam - web design portsmouth

Now that the box itself was complete the only thing left to do was add the buttons. Luckily my Mum had a bit of foam kicking about at her house that I could use, but if you can’t get hold of foam then there is nothing stopping you also spraying or painting the button shapes directly on the box. However as I had the foam, I decided to use that for extra realism. I have no idea what type of foam it was, but it looked and felt pretty standard and shouldn’t cost too much to purchase if you can find the right source. I did do a check spray check on a spare piece to see if it would take the paint first though and I would probably advise you to do the same as sometimes spray paint doesn’t dry on some materials and will remain tacky. Once the test piece had dried sufficiently, I then used my plan to sketch out the required shapes on the foam using a pencil and a compass before cutting the shapes out with scissors and spraying them the right colours.

Once each piece had dried, then I just used some high strength PVA glue to stick them to the box and my costume was effectively finished. I did have intentions to carry on and paint a games cartridge on the back, but I opted not to and decided to go and have some well-earned food instead!

complete Gameboy costume - design hampshire

Putting on the Costume

The final stage is really up to you. There are a few different options as to where you can put your arm and head holes, so you just have to go with what’s comfortable for you. I opted for a face through the screen and arms hole out the front. Doing this did mean that the box was resting on my arms all night, but it did allow me to drink at the party! I did try to fashion some shoulder supports inside the box but I couldn’t make them strong enough to support the weight. I also considered putting my head out the top of the box, but then I figured moving around might be a bit tricky. I was also a bit gutted I loaned out my home-made Mario costume from a few years back as that would have been a perfect costume to wear underneath, but nevermind. I got plenty of compliments as it was.

Anyway, so here is me wearing the finished costume. Not bad eh?

graphic designer wearing gameboy costume hampshire

godspeed you! black emperor @ troxy, london

I’m lucky enough to say that today I’ve got conformation that I am going to achieve one of my lifetime ambitions and that is to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor live in concert. Considering they’ve been on an extended hiatus since 2003, I didn’t really hold out hope for this to ever really happen. So to celebrate the purchase of my tickets for the gig on the 14th December at the Troxy in London I’ve decided to post a few Godspeed videos I’ve found on the net.

I’ve you’re not familiar with GY!BE the most likely place you would have heard their music is on the soundtrack of the film 28 Days Later, as the GY!BE track ‘East Hastings’ was used on for the famous deserted London scene. Unfortunately I can’t find this anywhere on the net, but what I did find is this video which uses the same song over a sequence from one of my favourite films of all time, “Apocalypse Now”.

I think I may write another post some other day that details just how beautiful the design of the artwork for GY!BE’s 2nd album ‘Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven’ but for now I’ll just leave you with another video for one of the passages of their first album F#A#∞ titled ‘Kicking Horse on Broken Hill’.

As far as I’m aware GY!BE didn’t make any proper videos as such and as a result this video is another home made effort by a fan that juxtaposes the song with a banned Donald Duck cartoon called the ‘Spirit of 43′. Once again, I think you’ll find that the tone of both suit each other perfectly.

If you want to know anything more about the band then my best recommendation is to get a decent pair of headphones, buy their albums, lock yourself up in a dark room and figure it out for yourself.

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