Mystery Meat Icons

Icons are everywhere. As the contexts within which we interpret content become more unpredictable, so does our reliance on iconography to communicate ideas and messages. The use of iconography has exploded as dissemination of information must reach a multitude of user contexts. Icons can summarize universal ideas and complex actions with a few shapes.

Icons undergo intense scrutiny. They clearly “work” or “don’t work”. If someone is confused by a message, icons are often to blame. An icon which is not understood may be assigned the undesirable label of “mystery meat”; the stuff found in the lore of public institutions tasked with filling countless sandwiches to feed cretinous populations.

What we are experiencing is the construction of a new, universal language. But instead of taking millennia to evolve, it’s happening as you read this post. Symbols that best express universal messages are hotly debated, not only regarding what index they carry (see Meggs’ History of Graphic Design), but on whether the style they carry is appropriate (google skeuomorphic design for more on this).

My question is, who has the loudest voice as this language is constructed? The answer may carry insights about who determines what, as well as how, we communicate.

The best cole slaw recipe

I only post recipes that I make up and are simple, easy, and cheap. I’m a terrible cook because I’m impulsive, lazy, and AADHD.
However, this one usually works:

  • Half a cabbage, cut up however you like it. I sliver mine with a razor sharp Global.
  • 1 TBs Sesame Oil
  • 2 TBs Rice Vinegar
  • 1 TBs Black Pepper
  • 1 Ts Salt

Mix it all up and eat it now or wait until it gets even better.

New MacBook OLE Keyboard thing

Finally figured out a reason to like this thing.
I stopped using function keys for years, once it became necessary to hold FN to modify them so you weren’t, like, turning the volume down.
Sure, you could set it up so they would behave normally, but then you had to hold FN to, like, turn the volume down.
The new keyboard settings lets you have them switch automatically. If I’m in Adobe, editing code, or anywhere I use them heavily, they switch on by default. If I’m browsing or doing less work-productivity stuff, it switches back.
Now if I can only muscle-memory my pinking from accidentally resting on that ESC key all the time…

Typography sucks on screen

We’re in an odd place with the whole typography thing.

Most people who look at computers on a daily basis have an idea of what fonts are. They just have no idea about how beautiful they can be.

The reason is that screens suck. They are either too low resolution (we can see the pixels) or too tiny (phones). And everyone reads screens nowadays, not paper.

Screens have sucked forever. Just that word, “screen“, is nasty. It’s like a mesh, or a veil; something you have to look through to see the real thing.

If you want a good screen, you’d better be rich. Which is why typography as an artform still only exists in print. If we remove the barrier of location, which the screen claims to have done, artwork should be look the same to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Put the same printed piece in someone’s hands, regardless of this restriction, and she will see the same thing. Stand in front of a painting, sculpture, heck–even digital art, and you see the same thing as anyone else in the gallery. Share a link to your design on behance, dribbble, or your website? Forget it. Everyone’s seeing something different, and most of them are seeing garbage.

Print is inherently ubiquitous. Physical location and space is definable. Screen is nowhere near being able to make the same claim. Screens suck, and it’s pointless to use it as a forum to discuss typographic merit of any design until screens get better, way better.

Frottage

This was one of the first techniques I learned when I began art school, back in fall ’89.

It was eye-opening. For the first time, I wasn’t responsible for every nuance that came along. The surface dictated what marks were left. Suddenly, I felt a sense of freedom from that burden of decision in art; micromanaging every line, discrediting hours of work based on unsound logic, those things were no longer mandatory.

I never recognized the role this technique played in my development as an image maker. Maybe the school I attended (SUNY Buffalo) was enamored with stuff built with frottage, or maybe it was the current “flavor of the day” in the academic art world. I never stopped using it, though.