Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Final Project--Alumni Trip Direct Mail

For my final project, I decided to create a high-quality direct mail piece advertising a theoretical PSU alumni trip to Europe. I had seen Emporia State University send out similar direct mail pieces, and I always found them very interesting. However, since I didn't have a limited budget on my project, I decided to do something a bit more elaborate than the other documents I had seen. I added a nifty die cut and some creative artwork to make the direct mail printed piece look like a postcard.

The intention of this piece was to influence people to take the trip and be willing to spend the money to attend a PSU-sponsored trip, which would theoretically earn a bit of money for the university. The target audience for the project was very specific. Since most people aren't out of college and ready to travel until they are at least 25, the age range for this target audience was 25-65, and the education level of every participant would be at least a Bachelors degree, since the advertisement would go out only to PSU graduates.
Rough (Outside)

Rough (Inside)

Folding dummy

To mass produce this project, it would cost $0.48 to print, die cut and score each piece. Considering that the die is not a standard size, this price is very reasonable. To print 500 of these direct mail postcards, it would cost $240. This price includes 4 color printing, double sided printing, die cut and scoring. Pretty decent, I'd say!
Finished product! (Outside, Front)

The die cut is centered directly over a picture of Neuchwanstien castle in Germany. This makes it very interesting to print because the box that will be die cut in front has to line up exactly with the picture inside the printed piece. An extra issue is that the double-sided printing requires some calibration (image shift) to print accurately front-to-back.
Finished Product! (Inside)

Finished Product! (Outside, back)

Overall, this project was a wonderful learning experience. I learned the most about working with printers and how the elements I create in a design often, in turn, create problem-solving for them to do.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Direct Mail Project

For the direct mail project, I chose to design notifications for veterinary vaccinations. Because the variable data class graciously agreed to print our projects, I wanted to make sure that my directions were very clear so that the variable data class could read the Excel "database" that explained exactly which items went in which specific location on the direct mail piece. Since we couldn't easily communicate face-to-face with the students who would be printing our work, I wanted to make certain that my directions wouldn't confuse anyone (easily, at least). Besides, being a tech writing major, writing directions is something at which I am supposed to be skilled. = )
Demographic information

Direct Mail Thumbnail Sketches
In my design, I wanted specifically to keep things balanced, especially on the back side of the design. I chose to use asymmetrical balance in order to lend interest to what otherwise might a rather dull combination of elements. I ended up using a color matched specifically from the four-color raster images on each variable front side of the card, which I managed by using the eyedropper tool to sample a color from each image. This unified the front and back sides of each card. Also, the class suggested that I add a bit of panache to the "Animal Care Center" logo on the reverse side of the card, which I did. Miss Benson suggested that I incorporate a "paw print" graphic as the small "a" in each word, which I did.
Large Animal Rough (front side)
Small Animal Rough (front side)
Rough (back side)

In my design, I had three instances of variable data. One was that, for a certain audience owning large animals, the four-color raster image on the front of the card showed a picture of three horses (quite large animals, especially if you've been stepped on by one)  = ). For the audience of small animal owners (indicated in my Excel database), the image was of a cat.

The other two instances of variable date were (1) the name of the pet's owner and (2) the name of the pet due for vaccinations. The lists of both categories of names were also listed in my Excel document.
Finshed Large Animal (front side)

Finished Back Side

Finished Small Animal (front side)

This project really taught me a lot about how direct mail is printed. I found it fascinating that so much information could be personalized through using a database with information linked to an InDesign file!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Publication Ads project

With this magazine ad, my goal was to create something that would appeal to my audience, which included a very wide age range. I had to try to make something that was appealing to beginning motorcyclists as well as those that had already been in the sport for a while. I chose to let the photo do most of the talking and use short bits of catchy text to accent the ideas I wanted to get across regarding the product.
My next consideration was balance. Even though the picture that I used of the motorcycle was at an angle, I wanted to sort of divide the image in half, which I did by placing two different backgrounds behind it--one of a highway and one of a dirt road. When I created the thumbnail sketches and roughs, I had that divided photo in mind.
Though there were many ways to divide the image and keep the design balanced, I decided to divide the image vertically in the center, which kept the reader's eye drawn to the picture of the motorcycle. One other tactic I used was to create a duo-tone raster from the image and use bright text to draw attention to the company logo I created and to the text describing the product.
Large Ad Rough

Small Ad Rough

For the large ad, the finished product turned out much like the rough. I chose not to alter the concept very visibly. However, I did change the small ad quite a bit. It became just a downsized version of the large ad. I did this to promote unity between the two ads, because they would probably be run fairly close together in the publication. I chose to use a variant of the Helvetica type face to keep the "clean" feeling of the design. I experimented with using different type faces with the logo in the lower right-hand corner, but Helvetica looked the best after all. To make the type look a bit more logo-like, I adjusted the kerning and leading so that the words and individual characters were quite a bit closer to each other than they would be in their normal form.
Finished Large Ad

Finished Small Ad

 Overall, I was very pleased with how each ad turned out. Creating the ad gave me a lot of good practice using Photoshop, and it made me realize all of the neat things I can do to manipulate an image to fill a certain need in a design. I cut out the photo of the motorcycle from one photo, and the background is composed of two other, distinctly different images. Combining all three took some time, but the finished product had the look and feel I wanted to project to my target audience.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Photography--A Review, Going Wild

At the technology conference, I attended Dr. Robert C. Wiseman's presentation on basic photography. Dr. Wiseman presented the audience with basic knowledge on how a camera works and why knowing how to use the manual camera settings in this age of modern automation is so important.

Dr. Wiseman sharing bits of wisdom

Dr. Wiseman showed the audience several samples of his photography work, most of which was done with film cameras and carefully produced in a darkroom. Dr. Wiseman showed us photos done with Kodak high-contrast film, which gives the picture a really neat black and white, textured look.

Near the end of his presentation, Dr. Wiseman showed us how to simulate the look that one gets with using high-contrast film in Photoshop with a digital photograph. One simply must adjust the brightness/contrast levels several times until the desired effect is reached. It was really interesting to see how to create that same effect without spending hours in the darkroom working with physical film. It made me realize how easy we have it today. Photographers in former times had to spend hours upon hours developing techniques that would give their photos a creative edge on the competition. What took them hours and maybe even days takes us a few minutes and a click or two in Photoshop.

While modern technology is wonderful, efficient and often simple to use, Dr. Wiseman's presentation reminded me that, though technological advancements are useful, there is still much that we can learn by examining and learning about the way things were done by photographers of the past. Wiseman mentioned that, to be a good photographer, a person must understand the way the camera works in order to produce creative, effective work.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Collegio Newspaper Ad

After a little thought and a bit of inspiration from my good friends the Beatles, I decided to promote the cover band "Liverpool" with my ad. One problem that I faced while compiling the elements for the design was that I wanted the ad to say "Beatles" without alluding to the connection in a huge way. I wanted the viewer to be able to draw that conclusion from the typography in the headline. So, I proceeded to research and find out what the font was that the Beatles used for their logo. The font (called Bootle) does exist, but I ran into a problem--there is no lower case "B" glyph in the font. Also, I didn't want to run into any licensing or printing issues with using the font because it is so unusual, so I decided to trace the letters I needed with black ink, then scan that image in as my bitmap.

     I carefully outlined the demographic that I wanted to reach, first, as shown below. Since the Beatles' music has a wide appeal, the audience for the demographic proved a challenge as I designed the ad.

Demographic analysis
      I also encountered some difficulty with matching the "font" in the bitmap image with the font I used to type the information in the ad. I ended up using Formata Light, which is a sans serif that looks pretty cold and neutral, but usually works well when paired with a serif font simply because it doesn't compete.

Ad thumbnails
      My other visual cue that pointed to the band's being a Beatles cover band was the Illustrator vector graphic of a Gibson bass. It's a pretty distinctive shape as guitars go, so most of the time when someone sees that bass, that person will immediately connect that image with Beatles bassist Paul McCartney.

Ad rough
     Overall, I wanted to make the ad appealing to a very expansive demographic. I wanted to attract the older people who had, perhaps, listened to the Beatles in the 1960's in their younger years, and also attract the younger audience of listeners still devoted to the music of the British Invasion. Because this was a one-time event, my call to action was simply "show up."

Finished Ad!
          As far as design principles go, the design is fairly symmetrical. Most of the visual weight is on the black bar that extends horizontally all the way across the ad. This draws attention to the information telling the "what, when, where, how much" information concerning the event.

     In conclusion, my goal was to create an ad that would be readable in newsprint, attractive to a wide range of ages and ethnicities, and appear modern with a hint of the nostalgic.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brendan Murphy Presentation

Image source:

When I first heard about the presentation, I didn't really think any of the information would be very applicable to me, since my major is technical writing. I thought the presentation would be solely over topics in graphic design. However, I got a very pleasant surprise.

     Brendan came across very well as a successful person as well as "one of us," a former student. He wasn't uppity or pretentious in the least, which was very refreshing, and it was neat to be inspired by someone who didn't have a sky-high opinion of themselves. He actually mentioned how humbled he felt coming back to Pittsburg because the community helped him through school--he didn't come from a wealthy family. He emphasized the importance of really paying attention in school, because the social and communications skills you learn are very important facets of working with people in the business world.

     One thing that I found particularly inspiring was the amount of time that Brendan said that he doesn't spend designing. He said, "Although my  job is as a designer, I spend 75% of my time writing, and about 5-10% drawing." As a technical writing student, I really don't feel capable or talented as a designer. I was really inspired by the way he emphasized tech writing as an important skill, right alongside design. In fact, he said, "I could kiss the lady who taught me technical writing." He mentioned that his skills as a writer helped him reach the level of success that he has achieved so far as a senior partner at Lippincott in New York.

     Another very inspiring aspect of Brendan's speech was how he used one of his projects to give back to the community. He designed a new handicapped logo with the intention to set the person in the illustration apart as being a person--not a part of the wheelchair. When he was asked about the opposition he encountered to implementing the new logo, he matter-of-factly replied, "Any time there is change, you're going to get opposition."

     One wise piece of advice caught my attention, in particular. Brendan talked about a quote that he had heard from an acquaintance. That quote went something like, "Never fall in love with technology, because technology will change,"--in other words, work on your design skills and ideas, not just technological skills, because the technology will change. It's easy to get caught up in the latest software and other developments, but the real value of a designer is in that person's ideas. I liked the way he emphasized that creative, problem-solving work from the designer's mind is what is being sold--not just technical skills.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gap logo fiasco

     Gap's recent attempt at implementing a new logo is an interesting study in how not to re-design a logo. The company's recent 4-5% loss in sales allegedly prompted the 20-year-old company to re-vamp its traditional logo (blue box, serif font, all caps). Gap reportedly wished to project a more modern feel with their new design. However, it looks as if the effort failed miserably on several levels.

Image source:

     First, the cost of implementing a new logo (let alone the cost of hiring a design team) is numbered in the millions. Surely it is not wise to drastically alter a company's identifying mark, especially in a time of financial uncertainty. The cost of replacing signs, re-tagging garments, re-designing the logo on the website and re-vamping advertisements would seem to be astronomically higher than the cost of a slight dip in sales.

     Second, when re-designing a logo that carries with it a certain amount of charisma, it is generally best to make slight and subtle changes to the image. However, Gap didn't take this route. The traditional Gap logo (which, I might add, is associated by customers with more successful times for the company) is white, serif font on a simple, blue background. The contrast of white type on a dark background is eye-catching and the serif font is comfortable to read.

     In the new logo, the designer chose a sans serif font (Helvetica), did away with the nice light/dark contrast and changed the whole impression of the design upon the reader. Helvetica works well in many designs and uses, but this was not one of them. A font that projects a cold, industrial feel needs to be offset with something softer than the hard-edged square that sits beside the company name in the new logo. The black font contrasts well with the white background, but the tacky-looking blue square that slightly overlaps the black font looks like something that an inexperienced or careless designer came up with, though this is probably not the case.

     When customers immediately began to criticize the new logo, Gap listened and took steps to gather design ideas from the general public. However, the company ended up going back to using its traditional logo. A few lessons learned from this scenario are obvious. First, a time of economic crisis is not a good time to be pouring money into a risky logo and identity overhaul. Second, it is very important to look at a design from the audience's point of view. It sounds as if the company genuinely tried to include elements of the old design in the new, but the changes were so drastic that any feeling of nostalgia was completely lost on viewers. Third, just because a design is created according to the traditional principles of design doesn't mean that it is suitable for the purpose the organization intends. The new Gap logo breaks no laws of design (as far as I know), but it is so plain and ordinary that it immediately bores the viewer.

     My perception of the old logo is a positive one. The white type on the dark blue background provides the reader with a good contrast and an unusual one, especially since the copy isn't lengthy--it's just 3 characters. Also, the traditional serif typeface evokes feelings of trustworthiness and classic elegance. The modern serif has a timeless look that makes it seem traditional without being too stuffy. It's formal, but not snobby; modern, but not too plain.

     In contrast, the new logo design seems harsh, cold, industrial and very boring. Helvetica is good for a lot of things, but the typeface just didn't fit Gap's image. The contrast between the blue square and black type is very poor.

     In short, Gap not only made a big mistake in drastically re-designing their logo in a struggling economy, but also managed to pick a lackluster replacement design.