That’s Entertainment!

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Ian Lynam is a Tokyo-based dude I love so much, and embarrassingly it’s just now that I’m catching up on the fantastic essay/exhibition he produced earlier this year called “That’s Entertainment!” Get some background through this TypeThursday interview, and then get online and read through the project’s main essay — and that’s also where you can download plenty of digital material to take in the rest of the project, like all of the posters that were part of the exhibition.

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Tee Dee Double You

If Tokyo Design Week takes place and you’re not there, does it really take place?

Apologies for the ridiculous statement, but as this year’s edition of Tokyo Design Week kicks off, it indeed feels incredibly strange to see it happen from afar. Even though in recent years I’d grown a bit disillusioned with a lot of what I’d see on display, there’s no denying that it consistently played a huge part within the evolution of what I did while based in Tokyo.

I got my start by blogging about art and design in Japan (more specifically, Tokyo) and I can indeed recall attending Tokyo Design Week (or rather the collection of design-related events that took place at that time, not specifically under that banner) during my first few years in Tokyo, and how it contributed to my enthusiasm for Japanese design.

Later, as I started carving a path in writing professionally about design – first for a now-defunct site called Tokyo Q, and then for The Japan Times through my monthly “On Design” column – I’m fairly certain that Tokyo Design Week (or more specifically at the time, “Tokyo Designers Week”) was the first major event for which I had a press pass to cover.

It didn’t take long before my desire to place myself more closely inside this scene had me collaborating with my good friend Jesper Larsson on showcases/exhibitions for Swedish design, that were part of the Swedish Style events that used to take place during TDW. It was incredibly exciting and satisfying to play a direct role in helping designers to take part in the week-long design festivities, and it also led to some fantastic connections with all manner of creative people. And who could forget those fantastic parties at the Swedish Embassy during TDW – always the best.

The last phase of my relationship with Tokyo Design Week was the most direct one, and it involved the annual PechaKucha Night that we produced for them in the big dome, which would end up being the biggest event of the week. It still doesn’t feel natural to see posts about this week’s PechaKucha Night at TDW, and not being the one who has to make sure that we have all of the presentations from our presenters, that all the tech is in place for the night itself…

So yeah, this time of the year coming around without a Tokyo Design Week to take in or to take part in is a bigger shock than I expected.

Gym Class Magazine 7 Out Soon

The seventh issue of Steven Gregor’s excellent Gym Class Magazine is about to come out, and I’m very happy to have contributed to it in the form of a short interview with composer Shigeru Umebayashi (In the Mood for Love, House of Flying Daggers, A Single Man).

The cover feature is an interview with legendary Esquire cover art director George Lois by Andrew Losowsky (Magtastic Blogsplosion), and GCM 7’s cover — an homage/wink at a classic Esquire cover — was also Andrew’s idea.

My Design Column for the Japan Times

I haven’t mentioned it in a while, but I do still contribute a monthly design column to The Japan Times newspaper. It’s called “On Design” and it is composed of five products I pick/recommend, and it is always published on the last Thursday of the month, which means that this month’s edition was in today’s paper (and it’s online here). This month I start out with a bit on Tokyo Design Week, and then I recommend Kyouei Design‘s Cube Letter Set, &design‘s Bird Alarm Clock, Shin Azumi‘s AP Stool, and the.‘s Speak-er.

Craig Mod Is Not Anti-Magazine Design

I’d like to follow up my post from earlier today — about how I felt that Craig Mod’s recent pieces on digital publishing don’t really take into account the desire for beautiful magazine layouts — with a few comments that were tweeted to me by Craig in response.

Everyone is conflating my desire (demand? 🙂 for real text with an anti design stance. Not the case at all.

I want layouts just as interesting / unique as today’s magazines. But with more accessibility / respect for digital text.

I’m arguing not for a certain type of book or magazine, but a certain kind of accessibility of text.

Sure, then it does sound like we’re on the same page after all. I think the problem I had with his recent essays — and the latest one in particular — is that he continues to push for a better kind of accessibility of text in digital form, but from all of the examples that he tends to give, some of them just don’t jive with creating an iPad-formatted page (using those dimensions) of a magazine that can’t be affected by user interaction.

There’s no reason why text in iPad magazines can’t be selectable (a few examples have been popping up recently), which could then mean adding text copying/sharing and the like. But part of his “accessibility package” — as far as I can tell — also includes being able to adjust text size, and that just won’t work.

I do have a solution though: For every article in a magazine, include a button that lets you open just the text as a separate “window,” which would be adjustable. It’s similar to what you see in certain magazines on Zinio — instead of having to zoom in and out on each page to read text that is too small, you can read the text separately, at a larger size, on a separate page.

And I said my favorite *reading* experience is Instapaper, not ‘favorite magazine’ 😉

I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt on this one, but I was pretty sure he said “magazine,” which is why it stuck with me.

I want someone to build a magazine that’s as comfortable from a content consumption POV as instapaper. I’d happily read it.

That’s something I can definitely agree with. As I said, I absolutely love what Instapaper has done in terms of making long-form journalism (or essay writing if you will) more accessible. I’d love to see magazines do their own thing to make this happen, just not in the same way.

readability + accessibility + well considered typography != anti-design.

Yes, it certainly is, and it’s what made me want to write that post. I don’t think that a good magazine can really be “anti-design,” and so by promoting all those other things, it sort of contradicts the idea of beautifully designed magazines (in terms of graphic design, layouts) also attaining the pure goals of that trifecta he so holds dear (although I think two of them can easily be achieved).

Wired Is Disoriented

Today finally marked the release of Wired‘s October issue on iPad — as I noted yesterday, it’s later than usual — and I of course have a few things to say. First off, they again go ahead with their trick of making you update the app to get the new issue instead of just using notifications, something I’m assuming is to help them rank again on charts when a new issue comes out. Are they (Conde Nast) going to be doing that with the New Yorker as well, on a weekly basis? Oh, and in the “what’s new” notes they include “issue size improvements” as a feature — the issue download was around 290MB, compared to the 400-500MB of past issues.

But what I really want bring up this time is the question of orientation. It’s a topic Jeremy has been bringing up a lot on MagCulture — most recently in his review of the New Yorker — and it comes down to the hard fact that supporting both of the iPad’s orientations means having to design your magazine twice, which means more work for the design staff.

Since the release of its first issue on iPad, to its credit, Wired has been having some fun with the dual orientation layouts, often using completely different photos to illustrate the same story, like in the example above. That’s all fine and dandy, and it can be a neat little “easter egg” to discover, but I’ve been noticing quite a few errors creeping up in text as well, as it relates to orientation changes.

In the example above, the “FACE-OFF” sidebar, the intro text refers to the chart “below” in both instances. That’s correct when in landscape mode, but not in portrait mode. In some cases, they’re just plain wrong no matter what orientation, which could be a remnant of text referring to the print layout, but that’s not something that should be creeping in the digital edition. As an example, the text in the “Safe House” article (below) refers to the pod shown “below,” even though in both cases it appears in different spots (above, and to the left).

This may be nitpicking, but for me it amounts to having the wrong caption under an image. When I was reading the “Safe House” article in portrait mode and hit on the mention of the “pod shown below,” my immediate reaction was to swipe down to the next page.

But another point to bring up is how all of these double layouts are affecting the text formatting. It’s an important point: Since you have to keep the same amount of text no matter the orientation, it can result in some forced constraints. Look at the text below, the second line of the paragraph — the tracking on it is horrendous. The text is fine if you’re reading in landscape mode.

I’m not sure if I’m siding with Jeremy just yet though. Even though I tend to read in portrait more, I do like having the option, and I do often find that the layout in landscape mode is a tad more attractive (but I do realize this is just subjective). But more care has to be done for it to work properly, or else depending on the orientation you pick, you’re going to end up with a different — and possibly subpar — reading experience.

Let me end with an ad from the issue that I rather liked. I don’t know if the same ad appears in the print edition, but it obviously works very well when seen on an iPad. It’s also in keeping with the theme of this post: You only get it in portrait mode, with the landscape version featuring a different image.

What Do These Colors Mean to You?

Last night I was reading through the latest issue of Rolling Stone — really loved the cover feature on Mad Men, as well as the profile on SNL creator Lorne Michaels — and seeing how they branded the issue’s theme (“Fall Television”) made me wonder just how relevant that particular imagery really is these days. The branding in question is what you see pictured above — it appears with all of the TV-related articles in the issue — and is of course inspired by the TV test patterns of old (pictured below, and technically known as “SMPTE color bars,” as I learned through Wikipedia).

As a retro effect, it works — I certainly remember them — but has anyone under the age of 20 ever seen one? As far as I know — and keep in mind that I’ve been living in Japan for 10+ years — they haven’t been used in at least a decade, and not just because they’re not necessary anymore (in this world of digital sets), but also because we live in a world with 24-hour broadcasts.

I’m just curious as to whether it’s still a good icon or image to use when referring to TV, although I’m the first to admit that I liked how it was used, and I can’t think of anything off-hand that would work better.

Wired Type Missteps

Just over a week ago the latest issue of Wired (September 2010) was released for iPad, and as I’ve done for all issues released for the device so far, I immediately bought it. Yes, despite the less-than-perfect way they’ve handled the digital conversion of the magazine, I’ve been enjoying the magazine, not only because of its nice price — for us Tokyo expats that is, although I still want an even cheaper subscription option — but also because I like the way it reads, and the way the material is presented (and those videos have been quite good too).

BUT, I was pretty surprised at some rather ridiculous flubs in the latest issue, both cases tied to the use of type. First example, pictured above, is an entire story — which also happens to be part of the issue’s cover story, “The Web is Dead,” which means it’s long — presented as white text on a red background. Really? Did anyone at Wired actually try reading the article after it was set in those colors? My eyes were practically in tears by the time I got to the end.

Next up was the use of type too tiny to read. The image above shows said article in landscape mode, and that “Buried” piece is where you encounter the problem — interestingly (if that’s the right word) enough, if you change it to portrait mode, it’s the page’s other article that becomes barely readable.

The big issue here is that these problems are tied to the fact that you can’t change type size in the magazine. So far it hasn’t been an issue for me because all previously issues were formatted in a way that made all text very readable on the iPad screen. I can appreciate that adjustable type size would ruin layouts, and I do like the layouts we’re offered in the magazine, but you can’t sacrifice readability just to make sure a column fits somewhere, or to attain a certain aesthetic (in the case of white type on red).