Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Helvetica and the Vignelli Canon: How Typefaces Ought to Be in Graphic Design - You The Designer

Helvetica and the Vignelli Canon: How Typefaces Ought to Be in Graphic Design - You The Designer

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Helvetica and the Vignelli Canon: How Typefaces Ought to Be in Graphic Design

Posted: 28 Mar 2012 01:38 AM PDT

I had my first brush with typography when I had a subject about freehand lettering in high school. In that class I was exposed to lettering and some of typography's history. From there, I began admiring different type designs on printed material, from magazines (Ray Gun, Esquire) to posters (“Your Turn, My Turn” and “International Zeitung” posters) and, later on, films and documentaries featuring typography.
Recently, I watched Helvetica (again), the 2007 documentary about the typeface of the same name. I found it very interesting as it is focused on the rise, effectiveness, and eventual ubiquity of the Helvetica typeface. It also provides, as you watch through the documentary, a guide on how typeface must be applied in graphic design and its related fields, i.e., advertising, marketing, and design in general.
Helvetica approached design in a philosophical and psychological way. The designers interviewed for the film were notable personalities in design and typography. They shared different insights on the beauty of type and the functionality of Helvetica in particular. They explained the idea of the proper typeface: an immovable, firm object that floats in space, like air, infinite and unseen yet right in front of us.

An interesting designer featured in the film is Massimo Vignelli. He's a modernist designer known for his typography-centered designs in different media. His works include American Airline's corporate identity, NYC's subway signage, and DC Metro's way-finding system, among others. Another contribution he made for design is the Vignelli Canon (link goes to a .pdf file).
The Vignelli Canon, a handy guide for pursuing typographic design or any design project, is a collection of personal principles that Massimo Vignelli has used throughout his career. It was initially set as a guideline for his design group, but was published later on to help young designers improve their trade.
As a budding designer, I found the concepts and guidelines presented in the Vignelli Canon helpful with creating my projects. It's a straightforward guidebook that can help designers establish or improve their design foundation. I read through it every now and then for inspiration on my projects.
There are parts of the canon that I think are necessary for all designers. By designers, I mean designers from all industries, from fashion designers to architects. I consider Vignelli's dedication to the purpose, consistency, and practicality of design as important factors for a design to be successful and functional. Just to give you a taste of the awesomeness you can find in the canon, and also to demonstrate how the canon also applies to typography, here's why I personally consider three of the intangibles Vignelli mentioned to be important:


Semantics in design simply pertains to the meaning of the end product. It could be the purpose of its redesign, or an upgrade of an old design. Even though it's applicable to all design disciplines, semantics can easily be applied and seen in typography.

In design, semantics plays a valuable part in sending the message across to a target audience. A commonly used element for design semantics is the application of cultural iconography or symbolism that has strong connections to the target audience. Here, Uncle Sam is used as a patriotic symbol to recruit soldiers into the war effort.
In typography, it's all about the meaning and legibility of the design. How people easily read and understand a typographic design is up to the designer. That's why a designer must first know the history of his project and the people he's working with – from the company's and their design's history, up to their target market and audience. Once a designer learns these, he'll be better able to create a product or graphic design that makes sense.

A great example of semantic design can be found in American Airlines’ branding, which has not changed much since its creation in the late 1960s. It has become an iconic design because of its recognizable elements – the words “American Airlines” used as one word and separated by the colors blue and red. These colors have been used for American Airlines’ branding because of its relevance to the company’s market and as a tribute to the U.S.’s colors.


Syntax, when applied in design, is the overall consistency of the elements throughout a project. In design, syntax is applied to the process to create an overall design that is made up of complementing elements; this is just like how syntax in grammar is the selection and combination of the right words to create a consistent and clear message or thought.

Graphic design acts as a communications framework that involves different elements of design in its creation. It is important that a design must be consistent, legible, and intelligible for it to be fully understood by the target audience. This is why modernists utilize as few elements as they can, which are type and negative space (or background).
Once applied in typography, syntax provides the consistency that a design needs to send a clear and straightforward message to its audience.

Syntax in design can be seen in signages, maps, or navigational tools. A classic example can be found in NYC’s subway system signage. These signages use the Helvetica typeface, which gives the system a streamlined and consistent look. This consistency allows passengers and passerbys to navigate their way through the subway system easily.


In design, pragmatics is considered as the practicality of the design; its usability and functionality. If a design fails to be understood by the consumer or audience, it is useless regardless of the level of syntax or semantics applied to it. This is where the designer must compare his design's intent with the results of his work to see if they have diverged or followed at least similar routes.

Aside from its consistency and purpose, a project must also be capable of standing alone, much like cultural icons, wherein a single part, e.g., weapon, hairstyle, clothing, etc., can be easily identified as part of the whole. Like how the trefoil logo (three stripes) is easily associated with the Adidas brand. The concept of pars pro toto (a part taken for the whole) can be used as an acid test for the pragmatics of the design.
Pragmatics applied in typography transforms the design into a straightforward tool that we see in marketing and advertising. The concept of pragmatics in typography is to get the message across the consumer or audience without confusing them.
Just to demonstrate to you how taken for granted pragmatics in typography is, here’s a completely wrong example of pragmatics in typography and see if it doesn’t make you roll on the floor with laughter:

For more on the topic, you can check out Smashing Magazine’s How to Choose a Typeface.
As a graphic designer, you are entitled to the privilege of creating something that can be monumental and that can move a person to do things – buy something, dispose of garbage properly, cross the street, know where she should go. It's a designer's job to inform the public, from channels like advertising and marketing to simple signs and symbols. It's also a designer's responsibility to create aesthetically pleasing pieces and help prevent visual pollution (a term used by Vignelli).
As Vignelli said in his book, design is a language that must use proper grammar in the construction of phrases. A design, to be able to communicate and function properly, must be well thought of and researched before it can move forward. When creating a project or design solution, a designer must study the design itself and the things that may affect it, from the consumer to the manufacturer – and the designer himself.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Preparing for Earth Hour: Vectors, Icons, Stock Photos, and Inspiration - You The Designer

Preparing for Earth Hour: Vectors, Icons, Stock Photos, and Inspiration - You The Designer

Link to You The Designer

Preparing for Earth Hour: Vectors, Icons, Stock Photos, and Inspiration

Posted: 27 Mar 2012 01:16 AM PDT

This 2012, Earth Hour is happening on Saturday, March 31st from 8:30 to 9:30 PM. Aside from the tools and downloads available on the official website, we thought we’d give you more comprehensive resources if you’d like to contribute with a more design-savvy flair!

For those of you who need some reminding, here’s what Earth Hour is all about from the official website:

“In 2008, the plan was to take Earth Hour to the rest of Australia. But then the City of Toronto, Canada, signed up and it wasn't long before 35 countries and almost 400 cities and towns were part of the event. It said something compelling to the world: that the climate challenges facing our planet are so significant that change needs to be global.

With the invitation to 'switch off' extended to everyone, Earth Hour quickly became an annual global event. It's scheduled on the last Saturday of every March – closely coinciding with the equinox to ensure most cities are in darkness as it rolled out around the Earth.

In 2011, Earth Hour saw hundreds of millions of people across 135 countries switch off for an hour. But it also marked the start of something new – going Beyond the Hour to commit to lasting action on climate change. And with the power of social networks behind the Earth Hour message, we hope to attract even more participation so we can build a truly global community committed to creating a more sustainable planet.”

Vectors and Icons:

Available in a variety of file types, these are some icons and vectors that we thought were most likely to be helpful for Earth Hour-related designs.

Free Set of Vector Globes

Tim’s Freebie Global Warming

Space Vector

Vector Globe

Eco Light Bulb

Free Ecology Vector Icons

Ecology Icons

Ecology Vectors

Vector Switch

Stock Photos:

Going for more realism? Here are some free choice pickings from stock.xchng. Please click through each image to see possible restrictions to each image’s terms of use.

Old Light Switches


World Lamp

World Button


Light Bulb


Here are examples of Earth Hour related posters, for this year as well as the years past.


Earvin Michael

Isabel Roxas

Francois Hoang

Korey Sahan

Hunor Henter

Linh Chi

Catalina Georgescu

Turn the light off! And, for one hour, you can be whoever you want to be.



Creative Projects:

Aside from posters, here are other printed mediums through which people spread awareness about Earth Hour in years past.

Glow in the Dark Stickers by Panadol

T-shirt Concept

Infographic Tees



Video campaigns for Earth Hour, from 2012 below! My favorite is the first one – you get to see Darth Vader’s softer side.
(If you’re reading this post from our RSS feed, please click through to the post page to play the videos)

For once, the Dark Side saves the planet

CHACON wireless interruptors

The Great Switch Off

Vote Earth

Moths / Don’t Be the Only One

Hoped you liked this collection! If you think there are other Earth Hour related resources we’ve missed, feel free to share their links in the comments. If you like this post but aren’t following us regularly yet, subscribe to our feed or follow us on Twitter (@youthedesigner)!

In case you need to get some Earth Hour posters or other materials printed, you may want to check out the 15% discount on posters our printing partner UPrinting has at the moment, as well as 20% off on select print products until April 2, 2012.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Which Makes a Better Logo Design: Typographic or Symbol? - You The Designer

Which Makes a Better Logo Design: Typographic or Symbol? - You The Designer

Link to You The Designer

Which Makes a Better Logo Design: Typographic or Symbol?

Posted: 20 Mar 2012 08:01 PM PDT

A well-designed logo is a unique combination of business and art. With an assortment of well-chosen variables, it conveys the type of business, as well as the corporate philosophy, and is often the first and most essential element of any branding initiative. Why? Because it's the first thing your consumer sees. And it either grabs their attention or it doesn't.
There are three main types of logos: typographic, symbol or a selective combination of the two. And these design choices have a tremendous impact on brand identity. As a result, they represent the starting point for the creation of any effective logo design. But the elements you select are largely determined by the specifics of your organization.

Using Typographic Logos

As the name implies, a typographic logo is comprised solely of letters, numerals or similar font-based characters. Vastly different than type appearing in standard print, these characters are formatted to serve as graphic elements that stand on their own by varying size, color and typeface.

Most often, a typographic logo is used to impart the brand name of an organization. Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Google and Levi's would be prime examples. But to use this type of logo effectively, the company's name should ideally be short and self-explanatory. In these instances, typographic logos are extremely helpful when trying to establish a memorable brand name.

Using Symbolic Logos

The first thing to understand when considering a symbolic logo is the nature of an image. Symbols are used to convey a complex idea in a direct, instantly-translatable way. Often created by mixing graphic images, a symbol can be constructed from basic shapes or specific conceptual representations. For example, you'd be hard-pressed to find people in the world who were unable to describe and instantly replicate the Nike "swoop."
But as with typographic logos, symbols by themselves are not suited to every organization. Typically reserved for companies with brand names that are long, complex or difficult to pronounce, graphics work extremely well to differentiate those products or services in the marketplace. In the same way, symbols can be used to distinguish brands that have a common sounding name or unite a broad portfolio of sub-brands under a single banner, as is the case with Nike.

Image from Jordan Metcalf’s “Nike – 2010″ project on Behance

The one catch with using a symbol is that it requires a larger marketing investment to educate the consumer, defining its specific meaning and, more importantly, fostering a favorable impression.

Combining Typographic and Symbolic

One of the basic requirements for creating an effective logo is simplicity. And this is especially crucial when combining typography and symbols. Ideal for new businesses, this style of logo includes concise text – often boiled down to one or two words – and is paired with a simple, ordinary image or basic shape. But 'basic' doesn't mean 'plain'. The choice of image has to be strong enough to single out the brand among its competitors.

A great example is the Puma logo. Including the brand name and the trademark cat leaping over the typographic elements, this logo is unique in that it's become a known commodity, allowing the logo itself to appear as any of the three types: plain type, symbol or a combination of the two.

About the Author

Dylan Mazeika is an online writer with a background in marketing and small business. He enjoys writing articles and guest posts on the latest business and design trends, and helping business owners with their logo design.

Featured image found on Logo Design Love.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sign Up for YTD’s Newsletter and Win a Wacom Bamboo Create! - You The Designer

Sign Up for YTD’s Newsletter and Win a Wacom Bamboo Create! - You The Designer

Link to You The Designer

Sign Up for YTD’s Newsletter and Win a Wacom Bamboo Create!

Posted: 14 Mar 2012 03:00 AM PDT

Yes, you read it right – we’re raffling off a Wacom Bamboo Create Tablet with a Wireless Kit to the first thousand subscribers we get for You The Designer’s newsletter!

you the designer newsletter bamboo create giveaway

We’re still straightening out the details, but exclusive content you can look forward to inside the newsletter will include featured artists and designs from the UCreative Network, the latest discounts and promos from our printing partner UPrinting, as well as news, contests, features and the like from You The Designer and our partner design networks. If you’re interested in partnering with us to get your content featured on our newsletter too, let me know!
Sign up today and get a chance to be the lucky winner! This giveaway runs until April 15, 2012, 11:59 pm PDT.