Categories
Design

The grid is the underwear of the book

“The grid is the underwear of the book”

– Massimo Vignelli

from Dezeen

Legendary New York book designer Massimo Vignelli describes his process when laying out a publication in this movie by design consultancy Pentagram.

Vignelli explains how he begins a book design by laying paper over a simple grid for positioning images and text, which can’t be seen in the finished article. “The grid is the underwear of the book,” he says. “You wear it but it’s not to be exposed.”

He lists different layout options made possible by his grid system, including several pictures per page, one full page image and one smaller opposite, or double-page photos for the “wow” effect.

Vignelli sketches the images by hand when mocking up the layout as he believes it’s faster for him than using a computer.

He compares the design process to making a movie. “The scale and the pacing of the images makes the book, it’s just like a film,” he says. “The scriptwriter is the author of the book, and I’m the director and cinematographer.”

The film was designed by Michael Bierut of Pentagram for paper manufacturer Mohawk’s What Will You Make Today? campaign. It features the publication Richard Meier, Architect: Vol. 3 released in 1999.

Categories
HBR

HBR: How to Improve Your Business Writing

You probably write on the job all the time: proposals to clients, memos to senior executives, a constant flow of emails to colleagues. But how can you ensure that your writing is as clear and effective as possible? How do you make your communications stand out?

What the Experts Say
Overworked managers with little time might think that improving their writing is a tedious or even frivolous exercise. But knowing how to fashion an interesting and intelligent sentence is essential to communicating effectively, winning business, and setting yourself apart. “As Marvin Swift memorably said, clear writing means clear thinking,” said Kara Blackburn, a senior lecturer in managerial communication at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “You can have all the great ideas in the world and if you can’t communicate, nobody will hear them.” Luckily, everyone has the capacity to improve, says Bryan Garner, author of The HBR Guide to Better Business Writing. Effective writing “is not a gift that you’re born with,” he says. “It’s a skill that you cultivate.” Here’s how to write simply, clearly, and precisely.

Think before you write
Before you put pen to paper or hands to keyboard, consider what you want to say. “The mistake that many people make is they start writing prematurely,” says Garner. “They work out the thoughts as they’re writing, which makes their writing less structured, meandering, and repetitive.” Ask yourself: What should my audience know or think after reading this email, proposal, or report? If the answer isn’t immediately clear, you’re moving too quickly. “Step back and spend more time collecting your thoughts,” Blackburn advises.

Be direct
Make your point right up front. Many people find that the writing style and structure they developed in school doesn’t work as well in the business world. “One of the great diseases of business writing is postponing the message to the middle part of the writing,” says Garner. By succinctly presenting your main idea first, you save your reader time and sharpen your argument before diving into the bulk of your writing. When writing longer memos and proposals, Garner suggests stating the issue and proposed solution in “no more than 150 words” at the top of the first page. “Acquire a knack for summarizing,” he says. “If your opener is no good, then the whole piece of writing will be no good.”

Cut the fat
Don’t “use three words when one would do,” says Blackburn. Read your writing through critical eyes, and make sure that each word works toward your larger point. Cut every unnecessary word or sentence. There’s no need to say “general consensus of opinion,” for instance, when “consensus” will do. “The minute readers feel that a piece of writing is verbose they start tuning out,” says Garner. He suggests deleting prepositions (point of view becomes viewpoint); replacing –ion words with action verbs (provided protection to becomes protected); using contractions (don’t instead of do not and we’re instead of we are); and swapping is, are, was and were with stronger verbs (indicates rather than is indicative of).

Avoid jargon and $10 words
Business writing is full of industry-specific buzzwords and acronyms. And while these terms are sometimes unavoidable and can occasionally be helpful as shorthand, they often indicate lazy or cluttered thinking. Throw in too many, and your reader will assume you are on autopilot — or worse, not understand what you’re saying. “Jargon doesn’t add any value,” says Blackburn, but “clarity and conciseness never go out of style.” Garner suggests creating a “buzzword blacklist” of words to avoid, including terms like “actionable,” “core competency,” “impactful,” and “incentivize.” You should also avoid using grandiose language. Writers often mistakenly believe using a big word when a simple one will do is a sign of intelligence. It’s not.

Read what you write
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Is your point clear and well structured? Are the sentences straightforward and concise? Blackburn suggests reading passages out loud. “That’s where those flaws reveal themselves: the gaps in your arguments, the clunky sentence, the section that’s two paragraphs too long,” she says. And don’t be afraid to ask a colleague or friend — or better yet, several colleagues and friends — to edit your work. Welcome their feedback; don’t resent it. “Editing is an act of friendship,” says Garner. “It is not an act of aggression.”

Practice every day
“Writing is a skill,” says Blackburn, “and skills improve with practice.” Garner suggests reading well-written material every day, and being attentive to word choice, sentence structure, and flow. “Start paying attention to the style of The Wall Street Journal,” he says. Invest in a guide to style and grammar for reference — Garner recommends Fowler’s Modern English Usage. Most importantly, build time into your schedule for editing and revising. “Writing and reworking your own writing is where the change happens, and it’s not quick,” says Blackburn. “The time is well spent because good writers distinguish themselves on the job.”

Principles to Remember:

Do:

  • Plan out what you will say to make your writing more direct and effective.
  • Use words sparingly and keep sentences short and to the point.
  • Avoid jargon and “fancy” words. Strive for clarity instead.

Don’t:

  • Argue that you simply can’t write. Anyone can become a better writer with practice.
  • Pretend that your first draft is perfect, or even passable. Every document can be improved.
  • Bury your argument. Present your main idea as soon as possible.

Case study #1: Don’t be afraid to share
When David McCombie began working as a management consultant at McKinsey & Company, he immediately realized that the writing style he’d honed at Harvard Law School wasn’t well suited for executive-level communications. “It was the structure of my arguments,” David says. “I was getting feedback that I needed to get to the point more quickly.”

With legal or academic writing, “you’re going to generally start with building up the case, and put the main point all the way at the end,” he says. “But in business communications, it’s best to start with your conclusion first.”

To make his writing more direct and effective, David asked several senior colleagues for all of their past presentations and reports so that he could mimic key elements of their format and style. He also copied trusted colleagues who were particularly skilled communicators on important emails and asked for their feedback.

David has carried these practices to the private equity firm he founded in Miami, the McCombie Group. “I send anything that’s important to my partner and he reads it over,” David says, adding that he knows better than to take the edits personally. “We talk about whether there is a better way to convey an idea, how we can be more succinct.”

Improving his writing has had a direct effect on David’s ability to become an influential voice in his field. He’s currently writing a book on his private equity firm’s niche market, The Family Office Practitioner’s Guide to Direct Investments.

“Even if I knew good business writing from the get-go, I think continually improving your writing and taking it to the next level is absolutely key to success,” David says. “The more you do it, the easier it becomes.”

Case study #2: Study good writing
Tim Glowa had already built a successful career as a strategic marketing consultant when he decided to set his ambitions a little higher. “I wanted to be perceived as a thought leader,” Tim says, “and to do that, I needed to have a point of view and I needed to put that point of view out in public.”

He knew that crafting smart, digestible op-eds and research papers was key to improving his professional reputation. His writing was already well received by colleagues and peers but much of his experience was rooted in academic writing. So he began reading business publications, like McKinsey Quarterly, for style. “I studied how they communicate,” Tim says, “and made an effort to make my own writing more direct and concise.”

He also incorporated an outlining ritual into his writing. Before writing reports and memos, he now begins with a short outline of the three main objectives. “You can’t just start typing and expect to go somewhere,” he says. “That’s like going for a walk and not knowing where the destination is.”

Tim, now the cofounder of a marketing analytics firm called Bug Insights, believes the efforts have made him a more effective communicator, improving not just his longer writings, but his emails and even his voicemails. “It filters down into virtually all my communication,” he says. And his work is finding an audience. Several of his papers have been downloaded more than 100,000 times, and a Fortune 50 company recently used one of his papers in an internal training and development program.

Tim is gratified at his progress, but says he’s not going to stop putting in the extra effort. “You have to work at it,” he says. “Anytime you develop a new skill, you have to study it.”

Categories
Uncategorized

How to be a Creative Listener

Tim Brown: How to Be a Creative Listener

Listen designed by Rémy Médard from the Noun Project

International design firm IDEO created a four-part podcast series on Creative Listening for the 2014 Aspen Ideas Festival. In a total of 30 minutes, you can learn key habits for better listening:

How to utilize your intuition: Sometimes too much information is just that. It can be overwhelming and logic can only get you so far. That’s when you need to trust your gut and ask, “What’s really important here?” “What’s going on behind the surface, the unsaid versus the said?”

How to hone your interpretation skills: Industry jargon and wordy explanations often mask the true value of something. Learning how to distill a message down to its essence, into simple, understandable language isn’t “dumbing it down,” it’s giving it wings. . .

And finally, learn how to amp up your curiosity: Curiosity pushes us beyond what we know and challenges us to look at long-held beliefs in a new light. Staying curious—always asking “Why?” like an earnest preschooler—is a critical muscle that needs to be continuously flexed if you want to have new, game-changing ideas.

By actively listening, you can find valuable information to inspire new ideas. The podcasts are rich in examples where innovative ideas have come to light because they listened to more than what was being said. As writer G. K. Chesteron noted, “There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”

Categories
Design

Design Tip: Never Use Black

Source: Ian Storm Taylor

Design Tip: Never Use Black

One of the most important color tricks I’ve ever learned was to avoid using the color black in my work. Mrs. Zamula, my childhood art teacher, first warned me about black when I was in middle school. And I heard the same again multiple times at RISD. It sounds weird at first, but it’s good advice.

Problem is, we see dark things and assume they are black things. When, in reality, it’s very hard to find something that is pure black. Roads aren’t black. Your office chair isn’t black. The sidebar in Sparrow isn’t black. Words on web pages aren’t black.

Shadows aren’t black.

In high school, I spent lots of my free time in the art room with a few other art-loving friends. (It was either that or playing Halo, which I did a lot of too.) Mrs. Zamula was constantly showing us different artists’ work. One book she would always bring back out to leaf through was of Wayne Thiebaud’s work. She would excitedly point out the slivers of bright primary color he slips between shadows. And she’d tell us to look at his bright blue shadows!

I probably went through that book ten times. Thiebaud is a perfect example of shadows not being black. (And he’s a painter that anyone living in San Francisco should know.)

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His shadows are some of the most saturated parts of his paintings, and that’s on the screen too. On paper they’d look even nicer. And in real-life nicer still.

Now you might be thinking, “Yeah, but those are paintings. They’re not real.” Well, how real do you think our interfaces are to Thiebaud?

But I must have been thinking the same thing, because one of those days in art class Mrs. Zamula came in with a blue light bulb to prove it. She screwed the bulb into a clamp-light, plugged the light in and clamped it to a stool. Then she got a pure-white ball from her cabinet full of pure-white things (that she kept for figure drawing exercises) and placed it on a pure-white pedestal, under the light. And sure enough, when she turned on the blue light, the shadow cast by the ball was an orange tint, not black.

I was amazed. And now when I walk down the street in San Francisco I love looking for the most saturated shadow I can find. Here’s a photo I took down the street with Path (yes, filters…) that reminded me of Thiebaud in the first place:

asset_uUhLERraThe corner of Chestnut and Polk.

The darkest part of that image? It’s not #000000. It’s #130f30. (That’s 19% brightness and 69% saturation!)

Black overpowers everything else.

When you put pure black next to a set of meticulously picked colors, the black overpowers everything else. It stands out because it’s not natural. All of the “black” everyday objects around you have some amount of light bouncing off of them, which means they aren’t black, they’re dark gray. And that light probably has a tint to it, so they’re not even dark gray, they’re colored-dark gray.

Lots of the apps we use on a daily basis have blacks that aren’t really blacks, but dark grays. Twitter’s sidebar, Sublime Text 2‘s sidebar if you have Soda Dark installed (which you should!), new Photoshop’s background, the calendar widget. Even Twitter Bootstrap. They all use colors close to black, but slightly muted so they don’t overpower the rest of the elements on the screen.

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Here’s a bit of a contrived example… Dribbble has a pretty awesome feature that lets you search for shots by color. If you search for shots with pure black and shots with “real black” which ones feel better? Not the ones with pure black in them.

It’s not only about the brightness (or value) of the color either…

Saturation is just as important.

You can do even better than staying away from pure #000000 black too. Whenever you’re working with grays, add a bit of color to them and they will feel less dull. The amount of color you can add is proportional to how dark the color is. The black from my Path photo had 69%! saturation, whereas a light-gray might only need 3%.

I’ve used that as a general guide when making the color palette for Segment. I mix a small amount of yellow-orange into our grays. Saturation starts at 2% for our lightest gray and steadily increases until it’s at 22% for the darkest gray, forming an arc across the Photoshop color picker.

But don’t take my word for it again—let’s look at Facebook. Why does the Facebook Mobile interface feel so nice? Because all of those grays are pumped full of Facebook Blue.

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It’s been a long time coming.

Mrs. Zamula first warned me about black back in middle school, and others warned me later on, but it’s still taken me a long time to really grok, and to build up the automatic response against it. Even now, I still have trouble choosing grays that set the right mood.

Bottom line is: when you find #000000 in your color picker, ask yourself if you really want pure black. You’re probably better off with something more natural. And if you’re feeling adventurous, try staying away from the left edge of the color picker altogether.

Categories
Design

Creativity is not a process

Creativity is not a process, right? It’s people who care enough to keep thinking about something until they find the simplest way to do it. They keep thinking about something until they find the best way to do it.

 

It’s caring enough to call the person who works over in this other area, because you think the two of you can do something fantastic that hasn’t been thought of before. It’s providing an environment where that feeds off each other and grows.

 

So just to be clear, I wouldn’t call that a process. Creativity and innovation are something you can’t flowchart out. Some things you can, and we do, and we’re very disciplined in those areas. But creativity isn’t one of those. A lot of companies have innovation departments, and this is always a sign that something is wrong when you have a VP of innovation or something. You know, put a for-sale sign on the door

 

– Tim Cook