Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Misspellings, misconceptions and non-sequiturs from Liberal supporters on social media

Indisposed with a small, crying, teething 6-month-old human at home, I am less involved in this election than campaigns past.

But being the agile and innovative entrepreneurial individual I personally myself am, I am utilising technology as my conduit to the outside world.

In that spirit of the zeitgeist, I present my first collection of dazed and confused Liberal supporters on Facebook.

Today, we celebrate our Independance Day.


I don't make the rules, King O'Malley does.

IE GST WTF also punctuation is overrated It was really cold this morning My cats breath smells like cat food

This one's strange, particularly considering s.116 of the Constitution.

Them gona make halal go too funding terrists
More to follow...

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Book Review: NASA Graphics Standards Manual

Graphic designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth have been busy. In addition to their day jobs as associate partners at iconic design firm Pentagram, they have been reprinting and reissuing old and seemingly mundane graphics standards manuals – guides made by designers and issued to clients to establish unity and consistency across visual communications – in sumptuous new editions.

First was the pair’s reissue of the New York City Transit Authority’s Graphics Standards Manual, Massimo Vignelli’s and Bob Noorda’s iconic and comprehensive redesign of the New York subway signage and identity. An original ring binder version of the manual was was found in, of all places, a basement locker at Pentagram. Reed and Smyth immediately recognised its brilliance not only as a functional manual, but as a piece of design in its own right. After scanning the manual page-by-page and presenting it online, they crowdfunded a limited print edition which lovingly (and accurately) reproduced the original manual better than ever. Like many major projects of this scale, the politics behind the project is often just as interesting as the designs themselves. The NYCTA Manual is no exception, with the long, storied history of Vignelli and Noorda’s work the subject of Christopher Bonanos’s fascinating essay included with the crowdfunded print edition.

Now the pair have turned their sights heavenward with a reissue of the NASA Graphics Standards Manual – the source of the famous (or infamous) red “worm” logo. In 1974, Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn of firm Danne & Blackburn responded to a request from NASA for a corporation-wide rebranding. This rebranding was part of an ambitious effort sponsored by the federal government to improve and, importantly, humanise government agencies; a project creatively named the Federal Graphics Improvement Program.

(L–R) NASA Seal 1958–present; NASA insignia (the "meatball") 1958–1975, 1992–present; NASA logotype (the "worm") 1975–1992
Since the late 1950s, NASA used its famous (again, or infamous) “meatball” logo, consisting of heavy serifed letters, a space capsule orbiting the letters, a red arrow and various other symbolic iconography. It was (and remains) complex, difficult to accurately reproduce and was not designed for a technological era where computers were playing a greater part in reproduction of designed elements. Fax machines and photocopiers couldn’t reproduce it properly and it looked terrible at smaller sizes. Design wise, it was a corny mess of comic elements unbefitting of the most forward-looking agency in the world. Such a design would not do; it could not do.

I won’t go into too much detail about the life and times of Danne & Blackburn’s masterful creation – Bonanos’s included essay again does a much better job at that – except to say that while the logo (and associated graphics standards) was and remains a thing of beauty, many at NASA hated it. By 1992, the new administrator Dan Goldin decree that everything old would be new again, and the meatball was reinstated as the official NASA logo. The worm would be nothing more than an experimental interregnum, irrevocably bound up with disasters, like Challenger, of 1980s NASA. The future was now the past and the only way forward was backwards, to hark back to the golden era of NASA and the Apollo programme. Or so it might have remained had our ├╝ber design nerds Reed and Smyth not given the NASA Graphics Standards Manual the same tender, loving and caring reproduction they had done with the NYCTA manual.

Which brings us to the reproduction itself. First off, it is an object of extreme beauty. The book just oozes quality and Reed and Smyth’s passion for not only this manual but for book design in general is evident from every facet of the delivered physical object. The book arrived packaged in a “static shielding” pouch; a shiny sheath that couldn’t be any more “space age” short of being launched on a shuttle and returned to Earth. It’s also a material that would be immediately familiar to anyone who has worked with computer components that come sealed in such a material when new to avoid damage from electrostatic discharge. Very suitable for this book.

Upon removing the book from said shiny pouch, we are treated to the worm in all its red glory. Interestingly, the red is only specified as “solid red plus solid yellow”, but each copy of the original Manual included a page of “NASA Red” perforated swatches to send to printers and designers to match, a page lovingly reproduced in this reprint, although sadly not perforated!

The opening pages are given over to a forward from designer Richard Danne and the aforementioned essay from Christopher Bonanos – both detailed and necessary contributions that add a great deal of context and value to the manual that follows.

Each page of the manual has been reproduced in the best possible quality, but remains unaltered. It is presented exactly as it would have been seen in its original form: recto printed with the hole-punched edges visible on each page. Even the tabbed dividers are reproduced in full. What was most surprising were the fold out pages, the first of which featured a large grid drawing of the worm for large applications. It’s a great throwback to the pre-desktop publishing era when such sheets were indispensable for accurate, reproducible design. It took me back to the lettering books that were all the rage with us kids in the early 1990s, before WordArt came along and destroyed literally everything good about desktop design. There is little I hate more than Microsoft Word and I will curse it with my dying breath.

But I digress, these fold out pages – all ten of them – are quite something. Each provides important details for application of the identity, from an introduction to layout grids, to how building signage should look and even to the worm’s placement on the space shuttle. Sploosh.

The final few pages feature reproductions of the initial presentation given by Richard Danne and Bruce Blackburn to NASA executives in 1974. These pages stand out as they are printed on full-bleed black. The quality of the printing and the stocks is exceptional. This is a striking design choice, evoking the feeling of sitting in a darkened (and probably smoke-filled) room and seeing these 35mm transparencies projected before you. Well played, Reed and Smyth.

As mentioned in Bonanos’s essay, this meeting resulted in Danne & Blackburn winning the job, but also at this very early stage, perhaps revealed hints of NASA management simply not getting the design. When the designers asked for the executives’ feedback, Richard Danne recalls one exchange between NASA administrator Dr. James Fletcher and his deputy Dr. George Low:

Fletcher: “I'm simply not comfortable with those letters. Something is missing.”
Low: “Well, yes, the cross stroke is gone from the letter A.”
Fletcher: “Yes, and that bothers me.”
Low: “Why?”
Fletcher: [Long pause] “I just don't feel we are getting our money's worth!”

And then, a few minutes later:

Fletcher: “And this color, red, it doesn't make much sense to me.”
Low: “What would be better?”
Fletcher: “Blue makes more sense ... Space is blue.”
Low: “No, Dr. Fletcher, space is black!”

Anyone who has presented new ideas to managers would probably recognise an exchange of this sort. Even NASA ain't immune to that shit.

As a visual identity document, the Graphics Standards Manual is comprehensive. It lays out virtually every possible usage of the worm logotype. Most importantly for a document of this sort, it is accessible to the design layperson, even (or especially) if that person is literally a rocket scientist. In fact this is one of the great mysteries of the worm saga: why many at NASA, people who literally built the technology of the future, never took to this futuristic logo.

There was a strong amateur graphic design ethos at NASA: each mission patch was designed by the astronauts themselves and even the original NASA seal and meatball was designed by an amateur, James Modarelli, the head of Lewis Research Center’s Reports Division. To these rocket scientists (and engineers and physicists and chemists and administrators and comptrollers etc.), NASA’s logo isn’t about a consistent corporate identity, in fact such a concept is anathema to such a group. It was about something more human: the NASA family. Sure, the meatball was corny, but it was homely, and had been there through the good times and the bad.

For if you're ever confused where to put your worm on your Hubble Space Telescope
If that’s the case, then this whole Graphics Standards Manual speaks to an even more exciting time, when creating a new identity meant creating a new purpose: reshaping the future. The worm really speaks to the power and the optimism of design that is lost in today’s constant churn in identity and design (ugh...Instagram, what have you done..??!!).

Reed and Smyth have done a tremendous public service by reissuing this manual. It’s not just about good design, it’s about the potential for design to change things for the better. However, design can’t exist in a vacuum (ha), as the restoration of the meatball demonstrates. Design is subject to the whims of humans, just as it is reliant on those same people for its creation and implementation. Design needs humans and even the best design can be brought down by the people who created it.

Pages of typefaces make Richard happy
Interestingly, just as Reed and Smyth were working with Richard Danne to publish their reproduction of the Graphics Standards Manual, NASA released the original in PDF format on their website. Coincidence? I doubt it. Methinks there may be some passionate design nerds at NASA who would dearly love to see the worm back, and this was one way to honour the work of Danne & Blackburn.

Naturally, people inside and outside of NASA have very strong feelings about their logo. NASA is no normal agency – ask me my feelings on ATO or ASIC corporate identity and I will struggle to give you two shits – it is an agency which stokes the imaginations of entire generations around the world. To me, the worm is NASA. It’s what I drew on space shuttles and fantastical spacecraft of the imagination as a kid, even though the worm had been confined to the design dumpster of history a couple of years earlier. It’s the identity of the NASA I saw popular culture growing up: in movies such Flight of the Navigator and Space Camp (don’t judge me); in hours of documentaries, and pages upon pages of books and news stories. I was and remain a gigantic space nerd and there was nothing in my experience more futuristic than the four letters of the worm.

But now everything old is new again, and as comes with so much of today’s thoughtless appropriation of the past, we praise the past with little thought for the future. As the terminator of the worm, administrator Dan Goldin said when reinstating the meatball in 1992, “the magic is back at NASA”. Sadly, I reckon it was on its way out.

The Worm: 1975–1992. Forever in our hearts and imaginations.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual
Published by National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1975
Reproduction by Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth
Published by Standards Manual, LLC, 2015
ISBN: 9780692586532
Extent: 220pp
Hardcover, case-bound, with silver static shielding (plastic polyethylene terephthalate) pouch

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

One Easy Tip for Bringing Down the Liberal Party*

*may not actually bring down the Liberal Party

If you’re enrolled to vote, you may have received a letter in the snail mail containing a postal vote application form. It all looks very official, you fill it in and use the enclosed reply paid envelope to register your details.

Congratulations, your data has just been harvested by the Liberal Party. And you’d probably not even know it. Aside from the letter from the “Malcolm Turnbull Coalition”, there’s no party identification on the included reply paid envelope and barely any on the application form.

The reply paid envelope address that goes straight to Liberal HQ (above) and the actual AEC reply paid address (below)
While the postal vote application form itself is an official AEC form (with a party-political front image), the included reply paid envelope is not. The data on the form is harvested by Party HQ before being forwarded on to the AEC...in theory.

I say “in theory” because parties have been known to sit on the completed forms so you never get the postal application in the mail – illegal disenfranchisement. They’ve even been known to “correct” (p.135) the details on some forms. This all, of course, is illegal. But it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Political parties have proven adept at making sure the same privacy laws that apply to every single business and individual in Australia, do not apply to them.

With up to one third of all votes this election to be cast as absentee ballots, there has never been a more terrifying time to be an Australian voter.

So, what to do? You could of course just ignore the reply paid envelope and send it directly to the AEC via the reply paid address listed on the back of the form – Australian Electoral Commission, Reply Paid 9867, [In Your Capital City] – but that would be boring.

Would you like to cause a tiny bit of mayhem?

Postage is expensive in Australia and every time one of these party political reply paid envelopes is used, the receiver has to pay for them. In this case, the receiver is the Liberal Party of Australia.

From now on, when you get one of these party political flog pieces in the mail, don’t chuck it away, go to your internet browser of choice and search for a humorous image. Print it out and chuck it in the envelope instead.

I chose this one. I think it’s utterly fitting.

The whole thing is wonderful, for you get to send an annoying** image to the people you loathe and they have to pay for the privilege of receiving it. Heck, even if it’s an empty envelope, it still costs them money!

Together, we can help put an end to this potentially illegal data harvesting programme.

**At this point, I’ll ask that you do not use the postal service to send threatening and/or menacing content. You take full responsibility for the content you wish to add to the mail.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Election 2016: So Very Tired

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove regaling Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull about how big the one that got away was (Facebook)

Making predictions about an election and its outcome is a stupid thing to do. So here goes.

Turnbull is toast. There is no other way I can put this, regardless of the outcome of the election, he is gone sooner or later. Why? Well, if the Liberal Party loses, Turnbull loses. Duh. But if the Liberal Party wins, but only does so with a reduced majority (a current likely outcome), whatever authority the PM has left in the party room falls away thanks to the emboldened Abbott delcon (delusional conservative) rump.

These delcons would (delusionally) be able to claim that the switch to Turnbull did nothing to improve the government’s electoral performance. Of course the reality is the switch to Turnbull gave the Liberals a fighting chance when they were heading for almost certain oblivion under Abbott. Everyone else knows this, hence why this rump is termed delusional. These delcons would view a less-than-resounding win for Turnbull as a win for their brand of fringe politics. As they have done for the past eight months, they would continue to make Turnbull’s political life a living hell. On every issue at every opportunity, they’ll be aggressively ensuring Turnbull sticks to the deals he has made with the delcon devils on issues such as marriage equality, sex education and carbon pricing. These compromises, which have perhaps irreparably damaged Turnbull’s public standing (particularly in #QANDAland) have been his price of power. A few months ago, Turnbull could have counted on an increased majority to stifle dissent within the ranks, but barring a major stumble from Labor, such a scenario is difficult to imagine.

For Turnbull, winning is insufficient. He must win and he must do so with a thumping majority. Anything less means a replay of Labor in 2010...and possibly a return to the Mad Monk.

Friday, 6 May 2016

A Magazine from Blurb

In my last post, I spoke about my most recent experience producing a Blurb photo book as a family album. The album was of a very high quality, however the price was on the high side. If you want you photographs in print (which you absolutely should) there is another option.

In addition to photo books, Blurb also offers other book formats including trade paperbacks (best for text) and magazines. While the magazines don't have quite the print quality of the dedicated photo books, they offer a cheaper alternative for getting your photos printed and bound.

This is the option I took at the end of 2015. With the (very) recent arrival of our first son, I knew time and money for gifts would be at a premium for Christmas. So I prepared a magazine with photographs from the previous 12 months to give to family, with space for one very important 6x4 of our new arrival at the back, who came just too late to be included in the magazine proper.

Although the images from 2015 were more fresh in my mind than previous years, it was no less rewarding going through my catalogue, reassessing previously discarded images, and building a good selection of images. Once again, I undertook the magazine layout in Adobe InDesign, affording me much more design flexibility than with Blurb's own in-house software (I must stress though that Blurb's own software is thoroughly decent if you just want to make a basic photo book from a selection of photographs. But if you have any Adobe skillz at all, InDesign is worth the effort).

140 pages later, I had a magazine. 140 pages may stretch the definition of "magazine", but Blurb's print services can handle it and that's all that matters. Oh that and the familial reception. They loved it; it spawned the usual "oh Richard it looks so professional you should do this for a living because it's so professional" question/statements that ignore the practicalities of profitable publishing. My 104-year-old grandmother sits it proudly on her table, telling me every time how much she "thoroughly enjoys" reading it.

It's nice to have an appreciative audience.

And it's nice to have a physical thing. Yada yada yada, DIGITAL DARK AGE, yada yada yada. No shit, you will lose your shit at some point. Shit being your bits and bytes of data. Either through neglect or nefariousness. A physical printed thing is a hedge against that.

Besides, a physical product like this one is pleasurable to read again and again. You don't read them every day, but it's much nicer flicking through them and reminiscing than swiping through 12,397 images on your tablet/smartphone of choice.



A Photo Book from Blurb

It is difficult to overstate the importance of the physical object in the digital age. As a photographer, that means the importance of the print. The ephemeral nature of data means that already many of our memories and much of our information – that used to be physical – have disappeared. Some are already warning of the "digital dark age", an age where there has never been a greater saturation of recording devices and data, yet we have never been at greater risk of losing it all forever.

This is why it has never been more important to print. Print isn't forever, but it's for a damnside longer than data. Data comes and goes, data becomes corrupted, data gets deleted, reformatted, rendered obsolete by the march of progress (and of marketing departments). A print may get torn or creased or scratched or fade, but there is usually still something left to be seen, to be interpreted. A fragment that is not a slave to the technology of the day. All you need is vision and light. That is why I have been making a concerted effort recently to make more physical things, both photographic prints and photo books.

Blurb is a well-known provider of print-on-demand book publishing services, particularly targeted at one-off publications such as family albums and low-volume photo books. I am a regular user of Blurb, having printed my first book with them back in 2011. Since then I've printed books with a variety of papers and bindings for a variety of purposes. Some have been consciously "professional" photo books, others have more family album-oriented in their content.

It has not always been smooth sailing with Blurb, however. Their print quality back when I first started using them left a lot to be desired, and I've had to return two books because of printing blemishes and errors. But when these problems have occurred, the customer service has always been excellent and rectified the problem promptly.

Most recently, I've been taking the time to collate my vast catalogue of digital images and print something of a yearly album. This most recent album covers almost exclusively 2011. I am trying to give each its own personality, reflecting some of the content inside the album. In this most recent publication's case, it was a year spent mostly at home with study occupying most of my time. Hence the Melway-inspired cover (colours and patterns of the 1993 edition, one my dad kept for far too long in his 1981 Ford Laser).

The downside to Blurb is that they are not particularly cheap. Luckily, they have regular vouchers offering up to 40% off. While these offer good value, I would think these vouchers have conditioned customers to wait until the next promo code comes around to upload and order their books.

Book making is a great experience, however you do it. It is particularly rewarding going back through the archives and discovering photographs you don't remember taking. Indeed it's difficult to resist reopening old files and making new edits. Sometimes you look at a photo just shake your head and think to yourself "what was I thinking!?". This tinkering can be good and bad, although even with years more experience, I found myself more often than not keeping the old edits.

The Digital Dark Age is upon us.


Or should I say...REPRINT!

P.S. the book pictured above is not available publicly on Blurb, it's a Richard-only special