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Blog posts tagged as 'graphics'

Burtin vs. Ellis/Williams

I presented this comparison at Design Engaged last year. I like it because it talks in a really visceral way about how we read visual material. It deals with looking as an act as opposed to something that just happens to your eye. Comics are often disregarded amongst Graphic Design communities. This irritates me since comics deal with such rich and sophisticated material.

Below are two pieces of work, the first is a spread from Desolation Jones by Warren Ellis and J.H. Willliams III. Without revealing too much of my Ellis/Williams fanboydom, the series is excellent but this page is especially deft. Ellis discusses it in his weblog here.

Look at the way the red line connects the sequence.

The line morphs between road markings, Indiana Jones style aerial map views and back to the light trails from the vehicle. Williams guides your eye through the page, setting the page’s pace and rhythm. Optically it is very clever, it deals with how your eye scans at speed and also stitches the cue into the content of the panels.

Desolation Jones

The second image is by Will Burtin (thanks to James King). It is optically similar to the comic.

Although research material on Burtin is fairly thin, I understand that this image was produced during his time designing for the U.S. Army. This image is taken from a manual, illustrating how to disassemble your rifle.

Burtin has drawn two sets of dotted lines over his work. The lines indicate his expectation of how a readers eye will move over the page. The dotted line represents a quick scan of the page, dealing mostly with just the images and the dashed line represents a detailed read.

Will Burtin

Burtin knows how the page is being read, he acknowledges that the reader will read it at different paces, and presumably this has affected his slightly strange layout. Interesting that he expects people to read along gun barrels.

Burtin and Williams both use letters and images, in a sequence, on the page, and expect them to be read in two different ways: First in overview and then in detail. They deal with arrangement, pace and rhythm with the same sensitivity and same language.

Comics are in everything.

RFID Brief

Last Thursday I began teaching third year graphic design students at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in Holborn, Central London. I’m teaching a group of nine with an old colleague of mine James King. James and I have each written a brief, I’ll post them both here and any exciting results that emerge from the students. The brief is set against an introduction to the technology and is conjunction with Timo Arnall‘s Touch project. Click the image to download the RFID brief as a pdf and the text to follow.

If you have any ideas, solutions or comments yourself, please feel free to add your thoughts to the comments.

rfid brief


To think functionally. To develop a sense of how signs can work across different contexts with specific meaning.


Design an icon or series of icons to communicate the use of RFID technology publicly.


RFID is complex because it is very new and there is no simple metaphor that it easily fits. Explore several elements and think about appropriate representation for those. Think about the following:

The act

Think about how the icon should represent the physical act of activating an RFID tag.

This technology works when the RFID tag is brought near the RFID reader. It is important to show how the RFID tag should be used. One of the ways London Transport manage this is to repeatedly broadcast “remember to always touch in… and out with your Oyster card” over their public address system, their logo also represents an image of the card moving in an arc, the logo being printed on the surface of the reader.

The verb

When you swipe the RFID a transaction will take place. This is true in nearly all situations. I want you to develop icons which represent the verb that takes place when the tag is activated.

Develop icons for the following actions:

  • Purchase. Your account will be deducted when you swipe. Imagine your switch card was a digital wallet, and you could use RFID instead of chip and PIN. How would you communicate, that when you swipe, you will be charged.
  • Identify. If you go through this gate your details will be read and known, you could think about a passport.
  • Enter, but one way. If you pass through this door you will not be permitted to leave by it. Think about security at airports.
  • Download. Imagine your phone had an RFID inside it and when you wave your phone at a reader, a file is downloaded to your phone, perhaps a local map.
  • Phone. Imagine if when you waved your phone at the reader, it phoned someone, perhaps a helpline or someone specific.
  • Destroy. If you used the RFID to store sensitive data, and you wanted to delete the data, like from a memory stick, swiping the RFID will erase the data on the stick.

There might be secondary verbs like Open, or Start. Lifts might require people to identify themselves before they gain access to certain floors. Tickets are often purchased inorder to access certain areas, like with Oyster cards. This is important too, think about how you can combine verbs in the system you develop.


RFID cards often work in closed systems, where particular companies or institutions have ownership over the system. Starbucks have just released a ‘smart card’. Think about how this can be represented alongside the verbs too. You could think about graphic consistency or colour, or perhaps there is a feature of the icon like a character, which appears across the brand. For the branding side, don’t get distracted by a specific brand that already exists. I want you to just think about the kind of business. So think about the following:

  • an international transport company like an airline
  • a money system, like a bank
  • a supermarket

Some points to remember

The icons should be universal as possible, so English language or culturally specific meaning could make the icon obscure to some people. Think about the context of the reader, does this icon go on doors, busses, airports etc?


Design sketches: For Thursday 23rd at 9am bring the following: 40 sketches with assorted ideas for Act, Verb and Brand. The sketches should be good, not widdly little drawings in a sketch book, make sure the drawings can be seen clearly at a distance. Also, the design should be good, not bad. So try to make it good.

Research: Look at signage and icons in the world and think about how they communicate acts and verbs. Bring in some examples that have influenced your work.

Celebration of function

This post is going to be about objects that celebrate their functions. This was an area of research for me during my time at the Royal College of Art. I’m going to follow on from Matt’s post on Disco and intrinsic activities. More show than tell here I think.

Here is my favourite piece of video right now. It is from the film 9 and a Half Weeks (via James Auger), and if you can wade your way through Rourke and Basinger power bonking their way around Manhattan you see this tape deck in his apartment. I’ve looped the video a couple of times and slowed it so you can see clearly.

I’m pretty sure it is a Nakamich RX tape deck. Using a system called UDAR (UniDirectional Auto Reverse) it mechanically flips the tape over at the end of each side. Something to do with aligning the heads. It is a fantastic piece of perfomance, and completely intrinsic to the nature and qualities of tape decks. Whatever it’s functional relevance might be, witnessing a mechanical operation so performative is excellent, the object is so discreetly joyful about what it is doing.

I also came across this video of a Red Raven records vinyl (via Alex Jarvis) on, along with some lovely research on vinyl video. It has two components. One is the vinyl, which has a large area of printed imagery on the larger than normal label; the second is a sixteen sided mirror which sits in the middle of your turn table and works like a zoetrope, reflecting the images on the vinyl as it turns and creating animation.

This a is beautiful response to the intrinsic qualities of vinyl and the mechanism of the record deck. More products should include this sort of wit and performative funtionality.

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