14 December 2009

appearance vs. functionality

I've always been a firm believer that design – print, web, interior, architectural, horticultural, whatever – is nothing without functionality. All the style in the world can't make up for a design that doesn't in some way improve the life of the user.

Here's an example: I just moved into my own office space, a tiny, tiny room (with a window!) in the heart of the city, here in Hong Kong. The rent's a package deal, including high-speed internet, air conditioning and a tabletop and chair. Sweet, right? Except that the chair – the stylish designer chair that's featured in all the ads for this place – is really a lounge chair, designed to be set in front of a coffee table. Not in front of a desk. Sitting in it is worse than anything I've ever experienced, comfort-wise; without the emergency pillows I stole from home, I would have had to raise my hands above shoulder-level in order to reach the keyboard. Yeah.

So needless to say, by the time I was able to order my own real office chair and get it in here, I had complained and moaned to just about everyone I know. And the thing that bothers me the most is that the people who put together this whole office rental package and signed off on the marketing plan KNEW it wasn't an appropriate chair for this setting. But hey, it's much more attractive than a black foam thing that swivels, right? It looks better in the pictures. And here I come to my point: in this case appearance was more important than functionality. And that, my dear readers, drives me absolutely crazy.

So to get to my point of this post, there's a book in the works that I'm really quite excited about. It's called "Cadence & Slang," and it's about interaction design – the art and craft of making technology easier to use. Not something that I have a whole lot to do with as a print designer, necessarily, but something that's fascinating to me nonetheless. And besides, I fully agree with the author when he said in this lovely book review that good design is universal, and that everyone experiences and benefits from it. Here's some more info about the book on kickstarter – which I'm brand new to, but it looks like they've got a really great thing going.

So as I sit in my comfy, well-designed office chair, I am grateful that there are some things in this world that are well thought-out. My sanity (and my back and shoulders) are safe once again.

03 December 2009

poster design series

My bread and butter usually comes from pretty basic, utilitarian projects, but every once in a while I'll get a chance to work on something that's artistic, truly a form of visual expression. And because I'm still working my way up toward the goal of being able to hand-pick my projects, my regular source of inspiration comes from other designers' work. Specifically, posters and book covers.

There's something so pure about the limitations of posters and book covers: all of the meaning, the message and the beauty have to fit into one panel of space. Simplicity is a forced rule. And as a result, the good ones are really, really good.

I came across a beautiful series of posters done by Simon Page, a self-taught graphic designer from the UK with an emphasis on typographic art, illustration and geometric design. His recently published posters are featured on David Airey's blog. Great stuff.

02 December 2009

here we go

Alright, my peeps, after a long summer/fall trip to the States to visit family, including having unexpected knee surgery, I can finally say we've arrived in Hong Kong! Our year in London was great in so many ways, and I'm grateful for that experience, but because my husband was in graduate school during that time, it's nice to finally move on to a place where we can have two incomes again.

That being said, what an amazing city we got to live in for a year... and what an amazing city we get to move back to now. There are certain things I definitely missed about Hong Kong (we had lived here for two years before London), and it's good to be back. And the most exciting thing of all: I now have my very own office space in the city! Hooray for having to commute for an hour and battle the crowded sidewalks and bus exhaust to get to work! No, actually I'm totally serious. I couldn't be more excited about getting out of the house (the kitchen, to be exact) that I've been working in for a while now, and nothing yells importance like your own office space on the fifteenth floor in Causeway Bay. Ask me in a few months' time if I'm still excited about the commute. I bet you I will be.

And... one of my goals for Oratia is to start blogging, on a reg-u-lar basis. (Something, as you can see, that is outside of my comfort zone.) I hope this blog will eventually become a resource for fellow designers out there, in Hong Kong as well as around the world. Not that I'm a great writer or anything – far from it – but there are plenty of great writers out there who have some great things to say, and I'd like to point out the places that I've personally gleaned some knowledge or inspiration from, in the hopes that others will benefit as well.

So stay tuned, and thank you for your support.

05 August 2009

new identity!

So yes. I haven't written ANYthing since the beginning of June. My loyal readership (of approximately two) has had to find some blogging elsewhere to fill their screen time, and for that I do apologize. But I'm happy to finally say that I officially have a new logo!

More about the design process later; for now, let me just re-introduce myself and my little blog, and say thank you for hanging in there.

And yay! New logo! New identity! Our little Oratia is indeed growing up.

02 June 2009

re-branding time

Alright, so as a freelancer in these economic times (yes, we've heard it all before), it's not easy to get new work coming in. Pretty straightforward. And I've never been truly satisfied with my logo/identity for Oratia Design. It's always been on the back burner, for years now, and every once in a while an idea will pop into my head and I'll sketch and/or play around a bit in Illustrator. Well, nothing during this time has stuck. And, to be honest, I already have something, even if it's not what I'm happy with, so it's been pretty easy to let it slide and remain in the background.

Until now. I'm feeling the pressure to get something new out there, some sort of self-promotional piece/printed portfolio that I can send to prospective clients. Really start the promotional push that I've been lacking so far in my business. I've been fortunate, actually, that all my clients have come by word-of-mouth, so I haven't really needed to do any sort of organized self-promotion. But now, it's time. I need a new logo/identity package for my studio, as well as a printed piece that's first of all cheap, and despite the price limitation, well-designed and effective. Because that is always the bottom line, after all, isn't it? Good, cheap and effective.

So lately I've been poring through design annuals, best-of compliations and other design books, spending hours in Borders with my piles of books and Americanos, trying to take it slow and really trying to dissect what other logos are made of – how they became what they are. I'm really inspired by the process that other designers go through, how they get from a blank piece of paper to a printed piece of letterhead, complete with logo, colors, paper choice, printing options, everything.

And through all this, one thing has remained perfectly clear: designing a logo for yourself is probably the most difficult thing of all. I know it is for me.

I'll post more of the process when I have something semi-solidified. And until then, I'm off to make some more coffee. Nose to the grindstone! Off we go!

21 May 2009

grid calculator

I just had my mind blown away. I've heard rumors lately about a grid calculator, a software program that works in tandem with InDesign that saves hours and hours of time (okay, a little exaggeration) at the beginning of a project, during the crucial setting-up-the-grids stage.

This is the part that always takes me longer than I know it should. Partly because at the very beginning of a new project, I'm still warming up to it and I don't know exactly what I want the layout to look like, column- and row-wise. But also because, apparently, I've been doing it all wrong.

I guess, to be fair, "wrong" isn't exactly the right word, since if you end up with a document in which the lines all adhere to the baseline grid, and it somehow works with the leading and all four margins, you must have set it up right – but still, the way I have previously gone about this set-up has almost nothing in common with the way the guy in the demonstration video does it! (Grid calculator or not!)

Let's just say I've found yet another toy that I Simply Must Have. And here's to the hope that I, too, will one day be able to start my new projects just like this. (It's so beautiful!)

Side note: the video is a bit small here, so I'd recommend going to their site to see it normal size: designers bookshop.

24 February 2009

off to a good start

Yes, I know. I am being pretty pathetic at keeping up with my blog here. But I'm a newbie blogger! I'm a freelancer! I have too many other things to do! Yeah.

Basically, what it comes down to is

a. I need to get over the fear that I'll just be one of gazillions contributing their mindless chatter into the nethersphere, adding to the matrix of incomprehensible jibberish that is steadily and exponentially contributing to the downfall of collective humanity's intelligence,


b. I need to stop being lazy about posting, and – as that most famous of branders once said – just do it.

So here's my question for today: what's the "correct" percentage of time in any given week that should be allocated to keeping up with the business side of business? For all you freelancers out there, how important is it for you to keep building the brand image that is, essentially, you?

And why is this so difficult to do?

23 January 2009

the freeze-out

I've finally come up with it: the answer to unlocking that hidden ocean of creativity that's been in hibernation all this time.

1. Make sure the place is relatively clean, so you don't have that stress getting in the way.
2. Get up, make some fresh coffee, turn off the heat, and open up all the windows. Preferably on a cold, rainy, windy day (and if you're in need of those, I suggest moving to London).
3. Stand in front of an open window for a while, staring off and doing nothing.
4. Then go back to your desk, crank up the Radiohead, and let loose, baby.

Works like a charm. Of course, there's a limit to the amount that can be accomplished when the fingers start becoming numb and unable to type, but that's one of the few downsides to the method. Usually the freeze-out works best when there's a space heater available to put under the desk. Now THAT is a thing of beauty right there. Not the most environmental or fiscally conscious, but MAN it's a good kick in the a** to get the flow going.