Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dear Guests, It's Time to Pack Up

My Dear Guests,

For nearly three years I have enjoyed your company here at my home, The Gray Suite. But due to the failing economy, The Gray Suite has been foreclosed on, and will be closing it's design shutters for good.

Okay, enough with the metaphor. Yup, this will probably be the final post on The Gray Suite. But don't worry! You can still get your almost weekly design ramblings from me, just not here. Ta da! My Portfolio Site included with blog, will now be host to all these posts and all the ones to come in the future. There's even a new Brought to you by the Letter post today! (Psst, it's Silom's lowercase 'x'.)

So, update your RSS feeds or Google reader or whatevers with the new blog address: and then get over there! Cheers and hopefully see you again! Don't be a stranger.

The Lady of the House

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

8Faces Issue 1 Review

I had the luck to purchase a print copy of the new, limited-edition, typography magazine, 8Faces, before it sold out. And I can't tell you how ecstatic I am that I did. After pouring over it for the past 48 hours, I have a few things to say.

First, I think I'm so in love with it, because I received it literally a day after I sketched out the ideas/concepts for my first (three!) typefaces. I was playing around with custom lettering for some thank you cards, and the next thing I know I was swarmed with ideas and sketching letter forms left and right and technical notes as fast I could. So, to receive a typography magazine the next day added much fuel to the fire.

Some really cool things in 8Faces, Issue 1:

- Interview with Jessica Hische who's Daily Drop Caps and hand lettering-style are going to be subject of my Inspiration #2.

- It's incredibly well-written. John Boardly of ilovetypography, wrote a short article "Type Matters," and he compares the invisible technical details of a typeface that go undistinguished by readers to the way a seasoned chef adds salt to a dish to enhance the flavors but without the diner tasting the salt.

- I love that the interviewees had different opinions on the future of web typefaces and how they should be distributed/owned. Many of them had their hands in different projects such as TypeKit, FontShop, League of Moveable Type, etc. It's very unbias journalism that expresses both sides of an issue without taking a side. And everyone was very respect to each other. Ah, civil debate, how I've missed you!

- My favorite quote comes from Ian Coyle's interview. He says, "When a client comes to a designer - to any creative - it's not just the output; it's about the person: the way they think and the way they approach the work. ...And that only comes from thinking." He nailed it perfectly. When I read that, I thought back to myself about all those times when people said I think too much (as a bad thing) and relished that I have this ability.

- Lastly, they also interviewed Brian Willen and Nolen Strals, who to my amazement are here in Baltimore! They teach at MICA and wrote Lettering & Type (which I am familiar with.) So this was exciting, and a happy surprise/nod to the design community of Baltimore. Yea yea.

Essentially, 8Faces interviews 8 different typographers or design-extraordinaires and ultimately, asks them, "If you could you just 8 typefaces for the rest of your life, which would you choose?" I absolutely loved reading this spread after each interview, to see what typefaces overlapped and more interesting what the departures were. The departures were usually ones that achieved a personable sentiment between the designer and the typeface. It definitely opened up my eyes to some typefaces that I had overlooked. Georgia got brought up a lot as the go to web-safe font. I'm not sure how I feel about that!

8Faces, issue #1 is still available for PDF download if you're interested. I have to say I wouldn't want to read this in any other way than in print. Sometimes, when I'm at the airport or Barnes & Noble, I think to myself, I want to support the print industry, I love print, I'll buy some cool design magazines. And so often I am disappointed at the selection! But 8Faces is awesome because it's informative, well-designed and not-pretentious. I particularly like that's it's not pretentious. And there are extra goodies in it besides the 8 interviews, like a featured art piece, a chance to win something, etc etc. I strongly urge all of you - if you have even a slight interest in typography - to get your hands on Issue 2.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Brought to You by the Letter...

Brought to you by the Letter: B
Old Standard TT, Regular, uppercase B

Of all the Google Font Directory typefaces, Lobster has got to be the most wide
ly used so far online. Or maybe it's just so distinct that I notice it more often than say Old Standard TT. Lobster, by Pablo Impallari, is a really fun decorative script font. Something about it feels like summertime. The details - the loops and thick curves, the way the letters run together as there's something a little urgent and exciting. It all feels very vintage to me, maybe the 70s? I want to see the words Psyche! and Chill and Get Down written in Lobster in shades of burnt orange and mustard yellow with thick white strokes. And then it sort of hit me, Lobster reminds me of the typeface for the logo of those colorful Spanish lollipops, Chupa Chups. I can see some resemblance in style:

Extra awesome about the Chupa Chups logo: it was done by Salvador Dali in 1969. Thank you Wikipedia.

But on to the Lobster, regular uppercase B. I started doing some digging and Lobster is not only a very
pretty font, but a very well-made font. I say this because a lot of care was taken into creating alternate versions of the letters (79 ligatures so far) that help finesse the font's handwritten feel. For example, notice the details of the B above: The stem and the curves connect in only one place, both bowls are open. However, notice the differences among the B ligatures below (These are displayed in Photoshop if you want to see it for yourself). The black type shows Contextual Alternates, the red type shows Standard Ligatures, and the blue shows Stylistic Alternates. Notice on the blue type how the bottom bowl connects to the stem. (More changes occur with the other letters, but I want to stay focused on the B.) This attention to detail is what makes Lobster stand out as a well-designed typeface, and it makes sense why everyone is jumping at the chance to use it.Courtesy of Google Font Directory,

Design Foundry: Impallari
Designer: Pablo Impallari
Date: 2010
Classification: Decorative - script

You can find a lengthy and interesting description about Lobster from the creator himself here. An excerpt explaining what I mentioned above about the ligatures more in depth:

"A common problem that affect most script fonts, is that each letter must be draw in a way that connect with the next and previous letters. And that's quite difficult.

By having 26 lowercase character, that gives you more than 600 possible combinations for each letter (and arround 15600 for the whole alphabet). It's next to impossible to make it always connect seamesly whitout compromising the shape that each letter was originally intended to be.

That's why trying to make script fonts works it's like magic."

Impallari also released the typeface at Typophile, and it's interesting watching it develop in this forum here. The one thing I've gathered from the writing about Lobster, is that it is very much a collaborative effort. Although Impallari may have been the only one touching the letters, commentators and typography gurus had a lot of influence on the final design.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Brought to you by the letter...

Brought to you by the Letter:
Old Standard TT, Regular, lowercase d

Old Standard TT is another typeface available in Google's Font Directory. The lowercase 'd' feels particularly timeless, and I don't think the rest of the typeface translates quite as well. Although, the ascender is a little short in proportion with the x-height, which is uncommon (even disliked?) to see today in contemporary typefaces.

To be honest, I don't have strong feeling about this 'd', I just knew that I liked it when I saw it. Mainly, I thought the top and bottom brackets pointing in different directions was sort of funny. Like the hand gestures for that 80's Dance Like an Egyptian song. But after I checked out some other serif typefaces, I see that that's the norm for lowercase ds. Nevertheless, I stick by the Old Standard TT, lowercase d.

Oh, I will add that I think the typeface works better on the web at larger sizes. The smaller sizes start to have anti-aliasing issues and look a little fuzzy. You can see Old Standard TT at different sizes on the Google Font Directory page. (Better information below!)

Courtesy of Font Squirrel, The Salonnica
(You can download the font from Font Squirrel)

Design Foundry: Paratype (?)
Designer: Alexey Kryukov
Date: 2006-2009
Classification: Modern Serif

Old Standard was very common in the late 19th and and early 20th centuries for Biblical, classical and medieval reproductions. This association makes it a particularly good choice for scientific papers (particularly social and humanitarian sciences) because Old Standard's "specific features are closely associated in the people's eyes with old books they learned on." Old Standard is also a good choice for Greek and Cyrillic works, because Greek and Cyrillic lettertypes were based on the same classicist style. (The classification of "Modern" is based on the style, not the time period.) Old Standard includes over 1,400 glyphs to cover Latin, Greek and Cyrillic characters.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Inspiration Series #1: BHoff, Dribble and Website Design

I've been meaning to create a portfolio website for years now. Every summer and winter break during grad school, I would think, yeah, I'll finally get my site done! And sure enough weeks would go by, and it just wouldn't happen. But during the final semester of my grad program--on top of all the other work I had to do to finish--I thought, okay I am going to do it. And after a night's worth of work, I designed my site.

And it was hideous! It was boring, it had obnoxious web 2.0 trends, it was disjointed, and more importantly, it didn't reflect me or my aesthetic. And the only way I came to this realization was through a little inspiration from Brian Hoff's redesign of his blog, The Design Cubicle.

Mr. Hoff (I don't know him, so I just can't call him Brian) posted some of his Dribbble snapshots of his site redesign on Twitter.

[NOTE:Dribbble is an invite-only showcase website for designers to show off their current works in 400x300 px squares. I've yet to receive my invite, ahem, so I've been hanging out and sharing my design snapshots at Forrst instead.]

And I loved them. The color palette was unique and fantastic. The fine details along the content margin.The textures and layers. Every detail was clearly a conscious choice. And I felt like I got a sense of this guy from this design. These tiny snippets made me excited not only for rest of his site, but also about design in general. Here's a guy who thought about the design and the usability, and not once or twice, but so many times until every piece fell into place. And you can see the finished result here: The Design Cubicle And yes, this site looks so good, I want to have sex with it. It is just so spot on.

As a writer, I'm used to rewriting a single sentence ten times to find the perfect word, the perfect rhythm. But I haven't quite taken that same editing mentality to my designs - especially my own branding, and I know I need to.

So I tossed out my old design and started again. I had to address the real crux of my problem: What is my design aesthetic? What do I want my website to say about me? What do I like about design?

Here are some of the things I wrote down:
1. I like type solutions (but need to learn more about typography)
2. I like taking photos (but don't have a voice yet)
3. I like clean, minimal and modern
4. I like fancy, complicated prints (but haven't done any myself)
5. I like writing and editing and critiquing
6. I like things to be thoughtful

And after contemplating what I had written for a while, it started to come together. I wanted something authoritative (#1, #2, #4). I don't know everything yet (and I'm still learning), but I want people to feel confident that I do. I wanted people to land on my website, and think oh, this is put together (#6). And I realized that perhaps a photo solution would be a good solution for me (#2).

I don't want to give away all the surprise about my new site (which should be up soon!), but here's a brief idea of what went into it: Taking photos, editing photos, working them into the site, type choices, type changes, layout choices, layout changes, choosing color palette, reworking the photos, choosing portfolio pieces, finding stock photos, editing stock photos, figuring out hovers, making social media icons, redoing the footer, etc. etc. (Then repeat for the blog design.)

And I know some of you might be rolling your eyes going, sheesh this is what you should be doing for every design concept Heather. And yeah, I know, thanks. But "should" doen't mean I always do, and I doubt you do all the time either. Especially, when it comes to our own work. When it comes to our own branding and identities, some of us get blinded by our own egos, and others throw themselves into client work just to avoid it. Either way, designing for ourselves gets treated differently. And differently shouldn't mean poorly.

For those of you who prefer a visual representation, here's a few Dribbble-esque 400 x 300 px snapshots of my own:

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brought to You by the Letter

Brought to you by the Letter: K

Josefin, Regular, lowercase k

As you may or may not know, web sites are in some ways limited in what sorts of typefaces they can use/display. This handful of fonts are called "web safe fonts." However, with more and more print designers moving to web, a limited number of fonts has just become unacceptable, and there are a few ways to get around using just the web safe fonts and instead using some wicked cool fonts (without saving them as an image).

Google recently got into the game with the Google Font Directory. It currently includes 18 open-source fonts that Google actually gives you the code to embed the font into the site. That way, no matter the browser or computer platform, the font is available through the site and thus loads and displays correctly. Over the next few weeks, I'll be plucking some of the letters from the Google Font Directory.

This week is Josefin's regular, lowercase 'k,' which I am seriously loving as a letter and a typeface. Although, I would make a desperate plea to @sannorozco to please make/finish the bold and italic weights. It's just such a lovely, lovely typeface that additional weights would make it quite versatile.

What I like about Josefin the typeface is how "delicate, yet assertive" it is and "geometric, yet decorative." (the maker's own description.) It's a dressed up sans-serif. Josefin is Futura's date on a Friday night, wearing a little black dress and drinking dirty martinis.

What struck me about this k is it's hard, razor-like angles, and legs going everywhere. It looks the way a 'k' sounds, which to me makes me think of Korean characters, which were designed to look the way the mouth is shaped when pronouncing the letter. (So I can't help but feel like the shape has some Asian influence.) And while the 'k' doesn't look like the tongue's movement or anything, it does look like the sound k-k-k-k-k-k-k. Hard and awkward (and not boring looking). And Josefin's 'k' still manages to be so clean and concise and modern. Is it an abstract house or tree or some ancient hieroglyphic? The 'k' looks like it's from another time. The white space is perplexing and it should be because 'k's are.

Courtesy of

(You can download the font there at the bottom of the page)

Design Foundry: Typemade

Designer: Santiago Orozco

Date: 2010

Classification: Geometric, Decorative Sans-Serif

"The idea for create this typeface was to make it geometric, elegant and kind of vintage, special for titling. It is based on 1927 Rudolf Koch's Kabel, 1930 Rudolf Wolf's Memphis, 1927(?) Paul Renner's Futura.

"My idea was to draw something with good style, specifically that reflects the swedish design and their passion for good lifestyle, and by default all other scandinavian styles."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Inspiration Series

I've noticed that there are a lot of "Inspiration" posts on the web. They're usually just image after image of "inspiration." (Half the times the links are broken and I can't even see the whole image or original site, and it's actually incredibly frustrating - but that's another post.) And while, I like to browse these images, and while I appreciate them, am excited by them, am moved by them, I don't necessarily think of them as inspiring.

Granted, this might just be a case of semantics, but for me, deriving inspiration from something means to A. use one of my five senses to register something into my brain, B. be moved by that something, and most importantly, C. create something new intentionally based off of that original something. This to me is what inspiration is all about. Because we all get 500 ideas a day that are spurred by the things we see and interact with daily, but it's not enough to call it inspiring if it doesn't move you to actual make your idea a reality. I don't think a poet would call the sun an inspiration if they weren't also writing poetry about the sun.

Now you can argue that you could see a flurry of images on one of those design inspiration posts (or even in an art museum) and that they'll subconsciously influence your work from then on. And that's totally true, I agree, but that's more influence than inspiration... ? But there's also something wonderful about creating something that you can pinpoint to a moment of inspiration, a moment of a-ha. I think being influenced by 20th century art is different than being inspired by painting XYZ by author ABC.

Again, I might be running in circles and you might not see the difference, and that's no big deal. To an extent, I'm just rambling here. I'm also introducing a new series to The Gray Suite: The Inspiration Series (great name right?). So be on the look out for these, they won't be weekly, but hopefully at least monthly. I'll create something and discuss my process on how I went from the thing of inspiration to my creation and why.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Brought to you by the letter...

Brought to you by the letter: B
Bauhaus 93, lowercase, regular b

Bauhaus is ones of those typefaces every designer needs to know. I'd even go so far that it's a typeface that everyone should know, but that's a very special classification mainly left to Helvetica, Arial, Times New Roman and Comic Sans, but I digress.

Personally, I don't think Bauhaus is all that pretty or useable. It's round and approachable without being childish. It's a little quirky the way the shape never really connects to itself. It feels simple but it's not. And when used in a certain way, Bauhaus can even feel distinguished. But like my earlier post on the typeface Broadway, Bauhaus is much more than a distinct visual face. Mainly because the typeface is held in esteem as a representation of a larger art movement of the same name.

Bauhaus comes from the German school of Staatliches Bauhaus which combined arts and crafts and fine arts in the early 20th century. The main theme of the school was to include all types of art in one roof (design, architecture, textiles, decor etc.). As a result, the Bauhaus became a movement as thinkers and makers from this time and school proceeded to go and influence many different art disciplines. Modernism played a large part in the Bauhaus school of thought, and I definitely think that's reflected in the Bauhaus typeface.

Courtesy of

I'll skip the regular breakdown of foundry, designer etc. And just give you a timeline instead since it's a bit confusing. In 1925, Herbert Bayer created Universal. Bauhaus is based off of that. There's also Burko Bold which is an unfinished Bauhaus design. Blippo was created in 1969 for Fotostar by Joe Taylor as a black weight to Burko Bold. Bauhaus 93 is a variant of URW Blippo Black. ITC Ronda gave lowercase letters to the family. ITC Bauhaus was finally created in 1975 by Edward Benguiat and Victor Caruso. Not going to lie - none of this is particularly clear to me - or at least the differences among each of these is not clear. But in a nutshell, Bauhaus in some form or another, has been around since the 1920s.

More interesting! Bauhaus was the typeface used for The Jeffersons and Roseanne title sequences. It was also used in Walt Disney World signage. And more recently, it's used sometimes in Homestar Runner titles. Whoa!