Monday, April 28, 2008

A Rather Difficult Font Game

Think you are pretty good at identifying typefaces? We thought we were. But we were recently shamed by our 23/34 score on Kari Pätilä's Rather Difficult Font Game over at the Say It Ain't Slow blog.

Currently the game challenges you with 34 typefaces to identify but the word is out that this may soon expand to an even larger collection of fonts. For our part, every designer we know (well, aside from the habitually font-challenged HTML designers) has reveled in the game. And while your SAT test-taking skills will help you pare down the choices sometimes, ultimately you just need that instinctive ability to discern Rosewood from Copperplate.

As ILoveTypography commented, "this kind of game is more than fun. In attempting to identify type, our sensitivity to type — and our ability to see what distinguishes one typeface from another — is heightened; it’s akin to cultivating a nose for wine."

For our part, we tried the game a second time and crawled kicking and screaming up to 27/34. So much for our uncanny font-recognizing powers...

Play The Rather Difficult Font Game
(iPhone users even get their own flavor of the game)

Enjoy! FB

Monday, April 21, 2008

Custom (Hackable) Tees at

A friend of ours, Carl London, recently brought a great new service to our attention: CNN recently launched a tool that enables users to purchase recent news article titles on t-shirts. This beta service was quietly released today with the sudden appearance of little shirt icons next to the video icons on their homepage.

But you better hurry because the wearable headlines are only available as long as the article is featured as latest news on CNN. Click on a title and you will see the headline on three different American Apparel shirts (gray, black or white), each priced at $15. Once you buy a shirt, you can even share it on Facebook.

"Just t-shirts?" you say (like those nay-sayers over at Wired). Maybe so, but we thinks it's one of the the most surprising, and enjoyable, recent online innovations from a major media outlet. And we're not alone in this opinion. At least one other blogger feels that CNN's new t-shirt service is "the most brilliant Web 2.0 initiative we've seen from stodgy old Time Warner since … since."

As fans of the news – funny news, most of all – we love the idea of people wearing headlines as personal statements (including the t-shirt at right which, we are assured, is a real headline that formerly read "ABC News ****** up the Pennsylvania debate"). But the opportunities for abuse inherent in the CNN t-shirt API open the door for humor even further. You can write their own t-shirt URL and create an "official" CNN tee that says anything you want (though the site appears to block the purchase of illegitimate and outdated headlines). FB

Postscript (4/22/2008, 4:09pm): Looks like CNN has already fixed the URL-hack. So much for my backdoor headline tees!)

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Cost of War – and of Reporting War

We've long had an interest in the way photography and visual editorials can affect the way the public perceives news and conflict. So we took special interest in the way the press and the public marked this past March's bittersweet anniversary of the Iraq War. Most remembrances and acknowledgments focused on the 3,990 American troops that have been killed, and 29,395 that have been wounded, in the five years since the coalition invasion. But the Reuters news agency's interactive project "Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War" expands on our collective remembrance by reminding us of the terrible cost also born by the press corps. This comprehensive and powerful visual compilation of the past five years of war in Iraq includes interviews, a multimedia gallery of photography, video, and fascinating information graphics that combine to put the conflict in a digestible and poignant context.

"Bearing Witness" represents the work of 16 still photographers and video from Reuters Television photojournalists. Most of these images are accessible through the website's "Timeline," a rich gallery of powerful images and a clearly-presented reconstruction of the milestone events of the war. Of the thousands of photographs shot covering the war in five years, the picture editing to bring this particular set of images together in essay in the timeline gallery is especially compelling, exceptionally strong.

Equally impactful, and much more succinct than the photographic timeline, are the project's information graphics. These series of maps and charts graphically chronicle the toll of the war – on the Iraqi people, the coalition and Iraqi militaries, and the international media.

"Iraq has been the most dangerous war in history for journalists," former Iraq bureau chief for Reuters Andrew Marshall says in the multimedia presentation's opening. "But I think it shows value of what we're doing ... covering the news in hostile places is a worthwhile thing, it can bring about change, it can inform the world, and it is worth us risking our lives." Thus, "Bearing Witness" is a fitting tribute to the photographers, camera persons, reporters, and support staff who work under incredibly difficult conditions in war zones. It also serves as a memorial to the 127 journalists – seven from Reuters – who lost their lives reporting on the war in Iraq.

"Bearing Witness" is something of a surprise, emanating as it does from a news service known more for its financial reporting than its war correspondence. But despite Reuters' relatively small investment in news reporting – less than 10% of the company's income comes from non-financial information and reportage – "Bearing Witness" is a welcome reminder that, through half a decade of war, a team of 100 Reuters correspondents, photographers, cameramen, and support staff have strived to bring the world news from the most dangerous country for the press. Worldwide, Reuters has more than 600 photographers and editors working across the globe and distributes up to 1500 pictures each day covering breaking news, features, entertainment, business and sport.

"Bearing Witness: Five Years of the Iraq War," is also the inaugural exhibition for the Idea Generation Gallery in London, running from April 9, 2008 to May 4, 2008. The exhibit stretches throughout two floors of the Gallery, bringing together war photography, video, and information graphics so as to form a narrative concerning the harrowing nature of frontline war journalism. Americans may be familiar with a number of indelible images in the exhibit, but there are other photos included in the show that will be less familiar to an audience habituated to the sanitized version of the Iraq war as presented by mainstream media outlets. FB

Monday, April 7, 2008

How the Right Font Can Make the Candidate

We love fonts – that's no secret. So we were thrilled when Newsweek recently ran an excellent article on the emerging role of fonts in celebrity marketing and campaign politics. Author Jessica Bennett points out that "America has developed a geeky obsession with fonts, the latest instance of our sophistication about design."

Alongside her discussion of Beyonce and Bjork's celebrity typography, Bennett asserts that the "Obama 'brand' the best crafted of any politician's in history." And while this is very likely an overstatement (once upon a time, we did "Like Ike," after all), it is an argument with certain merit. As her video interview with noted designer Roger Black reminds us, well executed fonts can communicate as much, or more, than the words they illustrate.

Steven Heller's recent piece about campaign typography in the New York Times echoes many of Bennett and Black's points. According to branding expert Brian Collins, interviewed for Heller's article, "type is language made visible. Senator Obama has been noted for his eloquence, so it's not surprising that someone so rhetorically gifted would understand how strong typography is and how it helps brings his words–and his campaign's message–to life."

Perhaps it is not too much, then, to suggest that Barack Obama's brand is the "best crafted" of any politician currently seeking the presidency. The Obama campaign has "used a single-minded visual strategy to deliver their campaign's message with greater consistency and, as a result, greater collective impact. The use of typography is the linchpin to the program." Thus, Black's humorous assertion that one might vote for a candidate based on their visual marketing – in much the same way one purchases a bottle of wine based on the design of its label – is a sly but poignant reminder that appearances matter. Just as many Americans turned their backs on a sweating Richard Nixon in favor of a handsome, polished John F. Kennedy for largely cosmetic reasons, so might many Americans, otherwise ignorant of the candidate's platforms, vote based on visual impressions. Many of us don't have time to watch debates, but we do have time to see posters and billboards, well designed or otherwise. And in the visual design debate, Obama is clearly leading the pack.

Read "Just Go To Helvetica" at Newsweek. FB