Case Study #2: Not Just Numbers

Not Just Numbers™ is an interactive, mystery game series being held across Canada in time for Canada 150 and Ontario 150. Join a diverse group of community members and scholars to uncover the identities and life stories behind the Canadian census. Sift through historical photographs, newspapers, maps and other clues to solve the mysteries behind each entry.”

Not Just Numbers is a new series for the Toronto Ward Museum that examines the representation of immigrants and minorities in the Canadian census. The census is cold and sterile by design, but its data also represents the intricate stories and lives of Canadians. The clash of those two ideals is central to Not Just Numbers and I wanted to make the graphics a visual reminder of the human element involved in the census.

I toyed around with some sketches for cartoony illustrations, but those quickly got canned because they were too goofy and didn’t have enough of the mechanical element to them.  I also considered spoofing the actual census form but I thought that was playing a little too close to the source material. These sketches are about as rough as it gets but from here I can quickly get an idea of where the concept will work or fall short.

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I liked the recurring idea of the sea of numbers from the initial sketches and decided to work with that. After trying out some styles of lettering, I realized that the standardized look of type would be a better fit for the data aspect of the graphic. I created this number grid that at first appears random but is actually made up of all the featured years of the census that are covered in Not Just Numbers.

I still needed a dynamic human element so I created a rip in the numbers as though someone had just torn through the data, revealing the title of the project.

Lastly, to really nerd out on the concept of individuality I took advantage of the alternate characters provided with the Classic Grotesque typeface and made the lower case e’s switch back and forth between styles.
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Design Q&A

I recently received a request for this interview from an aspiring young designer (thanks Dan!) It was a nice chance to think about the ins and outs of the business.

1. Can you tell me about your background and how you got into this field?
In high school I was very much into cartoons and comics but I didn’t have any formal training, so graffiti became a crash course in drawing, colours, painting etc. That led to a lot of mural jobs which pushed me in the direction of art school (there weren’t any backup plans though honestly.) I got my degree at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and throughout school I took on many small jobs for friends, and friends of friends. This continued after university and eventually grew to the point where I could support myself with art without a day job on the side.

2. Tell me about your job. Is what you do different in any way from what others in your occupation do?
From what I can see, my approach is a bit more specialized and sometimes more laborious than other people in my field. Much of my work involves creating custom lettering to suit the client’s needs, so I often make it from scratch rather than using a font. Because of my mural painting background I also have the ability to physically execute artwork on a small or large scale for signage, murals etc. This is a bit of a lost art nowadays, where many people can either design digitally, or paint and draw, but most cannot do both.

3. What training and education is required to work in this field and where did you receive your training?
I got a good foundation of education at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, but most of my learning has been done after school, on the job. I had a desire to learn about different styles of lettering, illustration, and sign painting and a lot of that I learned just by exploring myself. It’s a good idea to start a little collection of books for reference on topics and styles that interest you. If you can, find a good mentor in your field. When I was in school I met a great teacher who had decades of experience in basically everything I wanted to know. He was kind enough to start looking out for me, and we continue a great informal mentorship to this day. I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have someone more knowledgeable than you to demonstrate what kind of standards you should be holding yourself up to!

4. What personal characteristics are required for someone to be successful in this occupation?
You have to be proactive. You have to get good at managing your time and delivering things when you say you will. It will be a big help if you can always maintain relationships with clients, even if a project is rocky. Communication is definitely king. I think some of my success is due in part to being relentlessly critical of myself and my work. If you can view what you’re doing through an honest lens and find your flaws, you can then begin to correct them. Of course this is a never-ending game and as your vision improves, more inconsistencies will appear in your past work. It’s actually kind of cruel now that I think about it! :)

5. What are the biggest challenges in this occupation.
The biggest challenges often come on the business end of things. Unfortunately most art schools do not prepare you to be successfully self-employed and deal with all the challenges that come along with it. Knowing how to price your work, how to protect yourself in business, and how to set boundaries for what clients should and should not expect from you is tricky stuff and I had to develop much of it through trial and error.

6. What are the most satisfying aspects of this occupation.
I love the variety of work I get to do. I get bored very quickly, so to be able to do typesetting and layout one week, and then wacky cartoons the next, and then paint a sign the week after that, for me is the best. It has allowed me to explore almost everything I’m interested in stylistically, and get paid for it.

7. Are there many opportunities in your field? What should people do to get started?
There is a lot of work out there, but it can be mystifying to know how to begin. Start by doing work for your friends, do the best job you can every time, and people will start to notice. I suppose it also doesn’t hurt to have a social media presence.

8. What is the salary range for this occupation?
The sky is the limit, but I think it varies wildly.

9. What do you think the future holds for people in your occupation?
I am hoping that people become more educated on the importance of good design. With the surge in popularity of computers and access to design software, graphic design has never been so popular. Despite this, you need more than a Macbook and Photoshop to be a good designer, and hiring someone who is skilled in their trade makes a big difference.

10. What other jobs could you do with the skills you have gained in the field?
I think I could be a good analyst, I end up picking things apart a lot to see why they work or don’t work. That or a mind reader…often times you have to figure out what a person wants but can’t verbalize. You also deal with so many different personalities in this field; maybe I would be a good therapist!

11. What advice would you give a person entering this field?
Do the best job you can, every time, whether it’s a small gig or a huge gig. When you work with clients, you have to accept that some decisions are out of your hands. If you did your best the whole way through, you can feel good about that no matter what happens. Also, be patient. In our society we have a culture that promises instant gratification and recognition and that isn’t really realistic. Getting good at anything in life is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

12. Who would you recommend I speak in order to gather additional information?
Don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone whose work you admire. Chances are if they’ve been in the business for some time, they’ll have some great insights to share. I have learned a lot through doing the same thing.

Case Study #1: Block By Block

As part of a new series of case studies, I’d like to share my process behind a recent project with The Toronto Ward Museum called ‘Block By Block’. This post will focus on the identity design for the project.

“Block by Block is a participatory, multimedia project. Led by youth, Block by Block seeks to engage the public in a dialogue around the impact local communities have in the lives of newcomers. Through this exchange of personal stories, reflections, testimonies and resources we hope to create a better understanding of the role neighbourhoods play in fostering a more inclusive society.”

I started off by gathering some materials for inspiration to get my head in the right space. Block By Block places great importance on the concept of ‘home’ geographically as well as emotionally so I thought it would be good to start checking out some vintage city maps.

I have always loved old maps. The colours and textures, the typography, slightly wonky print jobs where the colours overlap each other to make unintentional new shades – all of this is stuff that gets me excited.

MapsAlong with my maps, I was referencing old street signs. I had a hunch that the iconic lettering style you see on them could be useful to this project in some way.

StreetSigns

Just as I was starting on some concepts, I got the familiar wake up call from the boss: “It has to be bi-lingual!” For Canadian designers, this is a reality and comes with its own set of challenges. Namely, it’s difficult to create elegant design solutions when one language is much longer than the other and you’re repeating them twice in one space. This was the case here as Block By Block was translated to ‘Quartier Par Quartier.’

My references show up to varying degrees in my finished work. In this case I was playing very closely to the source material. I sent two rough ideas:

1. An illustrative approach where the lettering and its negative space would look streets on a city map
2. A street sign featuring a different language on either side

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The second was chosen and I was quite pleased that I had an idea where the repetition of languages worked naturally with the graphic. I was trying to avoid simply repeating one graphic twice, and that was ultimately where the first concept fell short.

I started with the lettering, which would be the bulk of the work. I could have used a condensed sans serif font and been close to the street sign lettering, but there are quirks in the characters on those signs that I needed to get closer to. I took an old condensed gothic alphabet and re-drew it, rounding off the edges and closing the counters a bit to imitate the way the ink on the street signs bleeds, creating a warmer look.

Lettering

I noted there was a flaw in my original concept that meant the design would be too wide. I instead opted to stack the signs on top of each other, adding some decorative hardware on top. This did two things:

1. Gave me a more ‘square’ layout that would work better at various sizes
2. Allowed me to ‘turn’ the signs and fit the longer French into the same space
Sign

After trying out some background colours that felt too arbitrary, I went back to the maps. I used similar colours and textures from the old maps and created an abstract cross section of blocks from a city. This would also provide me with a motif I could adapt to other materials throughout the project. In the coming months I’ll be sharing some of the ways that these graphics will be used!

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Lufa Farms Updates

Some fun new updates in the Lufa Farms section, including lots of illustration and a whole bunch of icons! A small glimpse of the many things we’ve worked on together over the last couple of years.
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Website Updates

Hi all, and happy new year! I am currently in the process of updating some sections of the site with new work. The King Eddy section has extensive updates with lots of new treats and you can view that here. Stay tuned for further updates!

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Canadian Internet Registration Authority

I created this comic strip and infographics as promotional educational materials for the Canadian Internet Registration Authority. It was great working on a project that was fairly open stylistically as it allowed me to explore some approaches to illustration I don’t typically take. You can see the rest of the project here.

CIRA Comic

Self Sabotage Kit

Just picked up my copy of Herd Magazine issue #10 which features this new piece of mine. Thanks to Isaac at LOG Creative Bureau for having me again.

Self Sabotage

Tiggy Winkles Catalogue

One of my favourite recurring gigs is the Christmas catalogue cover for the toy store chain Mrs. Tiggy Winkles. This year’s edition was a lot of fun with a winter skating scene featuring the characters I designed for the store awhile back. You can see some of the previous work I’ve done for them here.

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Noreast Barber

I recently had the chance to work on some branding for my friend Jesse Resk and his new shop Noreast Barber. You can check out the rest of that work here. Go see them for a fresh cut and shave!

Noreast Lettering

 

Oddfellows Barbershop

While I was visiting Halifax this past August I stopped by to see the boys at Proskates and ran into Joel Martell of Oddfellows Barbershop. I had a chance to hang out and check out his shop and thought it was a pretty amazing setup. I felt inspired to contribute some signage if possible so we talked about it a bit and shortly after I came up with this custom piece for them. It was a real treat to work on, thanks Joel!

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