Verandah update

Verandah update

Thought you might be interested in seeing what finally ended up on our front verandah! It’s an odd mixture of items. The bench is new, but the tables are a ‘side of the road’ effort.

We have done a bit more painting since then and I’ve become more confident about deciding what I like and don’t like. I think that maybe when you start to renovate (or in our case, freshen up) you probably should start in a small and inconspicuous place, rather like when you iron a new garment for the first time and you’re not sure if it can actually be ironed. We started at the front of the house and my husband left the colour choices up to me because he said that no matter what colour I chose, I wouldn’t like it when it was done. He was right!

In my case, I wanted nice dove grey paintwork and it ended up being quite purple. It’s not what I intended at all, but I’m getting used to it. I didn’t check what was going into the tint (largely red) and if I had it would have been obvious that it was going to come out purple or blue. But hey, you live and learn.

One of the things I found out in the course of this little experiment is that it’s a largely a matter of trial and error before you get the result you really want. It doesn’t just magically come together without any effort and there will always be some mistakes along the way. I know this sounds really obvious, but I had expected that if I thought about it long enough, I would make perfect choices.

In retrospect I should have realised that when I’m designing a presentation or a brochure I make thousands of changes and tweaks before I’m happy with the result, so choosing colours for the house is no different, it’s just a bigger canvas.

I’m thinking of re-painting my study now. It’s a smaller space and I think it’s going to be fun.

Confusing signs

On our recent trip we were  amused by this road sign exhorting us to drive as quickly as we could.

You sometimes wonder who on earth writes these signs and whether or not anyone actually reads them before they go on display. In this instance I think that most people would work out what the real message was, but sometimes poor signs can have disastrous consequences.

This infographic from the Guardian shows that many people in Britain are more than a little confused about what the various road safety signs actually mean, and I think this would be the case in most countries.

Confusion corner

What makes a good sign?

As with most things, typography is important. The font used in all British road signs was developed specifically for that purpose and is designed to be legible at a distance. Not only does the type have to be very clear (no serifs or curly bits required thank you), but the spacing between the letters needs to be exactly right. Adjusting the spacing between the letters is called kerning.

Diagrams need to be as unambiguous as possible. If you are designing a sign or instructions of any kind you need to make sure that you test them out on as many people as possible to make sure that they are not misinterpreted. In your focus group you should include older and younger people and people from as wide a range of cultural backgrounds as possible.

Your sign needs to contain the minimum amount of information required to make it meaningful and the colours need to be chosen to allow for conditions such as colour-blindness.

I know that not all of you spend your days designing signage, but the same rules apply if you are making instructions for how to get to your house, or how to use the photocopying machine at work. These are not necessarily matters of life and death but people appreciate clarity and will be grateful if you make the effort.

Here is my favourite example of an hilarious sign…

Do not read

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Things organised neatly

In my last post I talked about the fact that people like to see things arranged in an orderly fashion, so I thought that I would share this fun site with you.

Things organized neatly is a Tumbler site where people share their favourite images of (you’ve guessed it), various objects arranged in an orderly fashion.

Even for a not very tidy person like myself, this site has some inspiring, entertaining and oddly appealing images.

Here’s a sample…

A submission from Finland
Things organised neatly


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There’s been a lot of debate in the design world lately about skeuomorphism. You may not be familiar with this term and I have to admit that it was new to me until a few months ago. By the way, it’s pronounced skyoo-a-morf and comes from the Greek words for tool and shape.

Basically, skeuomorphism is when some or all of the elements in a design look like the objects that they represent, rather than having a flat representational design. Skeuomorphic objects have digitally created textures (for example simulated woodgrain or leather stitching) that look just like the real thing.

Probably the best way to explain this is by giving you some examples. The most obvious one that comes to mind is the classic iBook bookshelf.

Classic example of a woodgrain texture

Skeuomorphic design
Just like the real thing.

Skeuomorphic designs are used used to give people the impression that the app or website is friendly and easy to use. Because we are familiar with the object being represented (we all know how buttons work after all),  we unconsciously believe that our interaction will be positive.

So why is there a debate?

Let’s start off by saying that in the design world  there are always debates between minimalists (people who like clean uncluttered design) and those who like more flourishes. I probably fall into the first category as I have quite a fondness for white space. Whilst I think that skeumorphic designs are friendly, (and very clever from a graphic design perspective), I don’t always find the apps on my iPad that easy to use and I often find this quite frustrating. It’s as if someone has put a lot of effort into making something look easy to use, but the reality is that sometimes it’s not really all that obvious how the darned thing works. It’s kind of like the app is saying ‘I’m so easy to use, any fool can work this out’ – except me, apparently. When I try and use an app with a lovely friendly interface, and I can’t figure out how it works, it’s somehow more frustrating than when I try to use an application that looks complicated.

Skeuomorphic design is definitely going out of favour in the graphic design world and flat design is coming back in, however it’s still really big in the e-learning world and it’s finding favour in presentation design lately. I’ve been seeing a fair few blackboards and corkboards popping up in presentations recently, so if you are looking for something to spice up your presentation you could have a play around with skeuomorphism. At least you’ll know how to pronounce it!


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Learning by doing

I received an email from a chap who wanted to let me know that I had made quite a few typographic errors on this site, especially in my post on being creative . He said that the text ran awkwardly into the photo caption and he was right, it did look ugly. I’ve fixed it now, but in future I’ll be a lot more careful to check how the blog entries look on different browsers.

He made it pretty clear that I should not be giving people advice about graphic design when my blog contains so many obvious errors. As you can imagine I was a bit flattened by this and it took me a couple of days and some kind words from my husband before I cheered up again.

It did make me have a long hard look at what I am trying to do on this blog, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts with you…

As I have mentioned before, I started this blog primarily to practise my writing. It can be hard to find something to write about, so I decided to write about things that I’m interested in, these being design, visual communication and writing. I come from a family of grammar pedants and general nitpickers, so I really can’t help being interested in these things. Travel along a highway with any member of my family and you will hear a running commentary on why the roadside signs are unclear or confusing and how they could be improved.

So although I was criticised for being a student giving graphic design advice, I actually write about a whole range of topics and don’t consider myself an expert in the area of graphic design.

Graphic design is only one aspect of clear communication and is no more or less important than knowing what it is that you want to say, and being able to express that as clearly as possible. 

It’s true that I am enrolled in a graphic design course, but this is merely out of interest and not because I have any aspirations to become a graphic designer. I simply don’t have the talent. This doesn’t bother me.

Learning about graphic design helps me do my job better, as does reading about how we absorb information and make sense of the world.

I am very much a learner sharing my learning journey with the world. I’m a staunch advocate of learning by doing, so this naturally means that I’ll be making plenty of mistakes along the way.

I also love to teach and this means that I want to share ideas, insights and information with people like you. My hope is that you will find the content useful and interesting (at least some of the time).

I appreciate that publishing my ideas and opinions leaves me open to criticism and that’s okay. Receiving feedback is just part of the learning process and I really do welcome any comments or questions you have, good or bad.

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