Designing A Typeface

For a while now, although I’ve sort of been denying it, but with each chunk of time invested it’s become increasingly harder to do so, I’ve been designing a typeface. It’s called Everyday and it’s based off the “D” glyph in my logo in the upper left on this site. See a sample below.

Examples of letters from the typeface Everyday

I started with the “D” and then I needed to spell out EVERYDAY for the graphic on my About page and I thought it would be neat to draw the letters custom for that. I worked on the “E” and “R” next. Then the “V”, “Y” & “A”. Then I knocked out a few easy ones, like the “H”.

I let it sit for months; but then I got the urge to draw more letters and I came back to it and drew a few more, and then some more. Now I’ve drawn most of the letters and the dashes. It’s far from being finished, but I’m at a point now where I want to publicly say I’m designing a typeface so that I can keep myself motivated!

Drawing letters is a rigorous exercise in micro design. Experienced designers are well aware of the visual corrections you must make to objects and layouts, but designing letters brings this out in full force. The optical corrections must be near perfect because a single letter could be used thousands of times in a project. One small error when magnified that many times will ruin a design.

It’s an absurd affair. In order for the letters to be uniform in appearance they must be stuffed full of irregularities. What is more real — the perception or the geometry? No matter the answer in theory, in the world they must look right to the eye. The geometry must serve the perception.

The end goal of course is a harmony of micro forms to make, yes, something greater than the sum. Jean Anthem Brillat-Savarin calls harmony a “celestial science” and I do believe that it’s one of the high arts of humanity, setting us apart from the animals, fully embracing our being made in God’s image.

And on this note of harmony, I do believe a bane of great design, and the fastest way to mediocrity, is a blind adherence to consistency over harmony.

A Generalist’s Delimna

I’m a generalist and I’m okay with this. But there’s a problem with being a generalist. One of the things you want to be generally good at is being a specialist. You see people who are the expert in a certain field and you think “hey, that’s nice, I’d like that.” But you never pursue being the expert because you’re a generalist and the whole affair lingers, a cognitive dissonance to return to when you need to brood.

I’ve spent about an hour writing follow-up and conclusion paragraphs for this post. But they weren’t that great so I cut them. I thought about posting it as a single paragraph post but that would be too incomplete even for a blog. So now you get this qualifying paragraph to give it some sort of conclusion. The end.

A Long Row of Candles

C. L. Sulzberger

p. xii

The current theory is that anyone who can describe a fire in Kansas City can analyze a crisis in Yugoslavia. Language, experience, knowledge and what used to be called culture are being sacrificed to speed.C. L. Sulzberger

This prescient observation of all things good being sacrificed to speed was written in the late 1960s. I have neither a broad nor deep enough view of the world to know if it’s gotten any better. My feeling is “no.” The local nightly news brags about being there first. Facebook’s now famous though now retired motto. And I know personally the affects on quality work when speed is the lone value.

At some point you must stop and ask yourself “for what?” The world is gray but it’s better to be self-aware than to follow everyone else uncritically.

C. L. Sulzberger passed away in 1993. The book A Long Row of Candles, his memoirs and diaries from 1934-1954, is indeed very long and was an unhurried reading companion in the evenings for several months.

A Necessary, Useful & Beautiful Framework

Note: I originally posted this on my old site, Design Intellection. Those posts are no longer accessible so I’m occasionally reposting some of them here. The post below has been edited a bit from its original.

You’re likely familiar with the Shakers because of their philosophy on design and making:

Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.

In Pleasant Hill, KY, there is a preserved Shaker village where you can stroll along the grounds and through the buildings where they once lived. The architecture, landscape and furniture is — as you would expect — simple and beautiful.

What I found most fascinating though was a straightforward framework they had integrated into all of their living spaces. Spanning the walls in each room, at approximately the same height, was a strip of dark wood with evenly spaced pegs.

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Logo for Everyday

I created the logo for Everyday (see directly below) in about ten minutes. And this isn’t the designer lie where it actually took three days, it was literally about 10 minutes. Okay, fine, perhaps we should count the other literal 15 minutes for the first logo I made that was before this one. So about 30 minutes then.

E+D, Everyday Logo

I wanted to do something to reflect days of the week, like a calendar or something, hence the grid. I was also inspired by a new year’s card made in 1958 at the Hochschule für Gestating Ulm (HfG). HfG was a highly influential college of design based in Ulm, Germany. The card was a student exercise demonstrating “changes in tone-value by deformation of a grid,” as described on the backside of the card. The author of the book where I came across this piece, Robin Kinross (the book is Unjustified texts: perspectives on typography), thinks that Anthony Froshaug was the teacher overseeing the piece.

Anyways, that’s the short history of the piece as found on p. 32 of Unjustified texts, so unless you think I’m aiming for pretentiousness, I just read a paragraph and looked up some links, but that said I am trying to learn more design history to add to my cumulative professional knowledge. A picture of the poster is below.

HfG New Year’s Greeting Card from 1958

The Everyday logo is rough, but I’m thrilled with how it came together in such a short amount of time. I’m going to keep tweaking it — perhaps rounding some of the corners or transforming the squares in various ways. I think it could also lend itself well to some sort of transformative animation. We’ll see.

Hello, This Is New & Took A Year

I started this design in January of 2014, of course it looked a lot different then, but throughout the year little by little I got it to a place where I had nothing left to do. I spent a lot of time on the reading experience, working out various responsive design patterns and just figuring out what kind of stuff to put here. I had a lot of fun picking out the fonts and I’m happy with how it turned out. I did sort of launch this site in phases, the first draft I pushed live around July sometime and then let it sit there until the new year when I finally pushed live the rest of it and started writing blog posts again.

As someone who took a year to design and build a personal site, I can say that waiting is highly frustrating in the present. “I’m just going to launch this today” ran through my mind more than a few times. Mostly what I’ve learned is you have to make time your ally, it’s the only way when you don’t have much of it. For me that involves patience, hard work, and wise choices. The first two are forced on you, the third is much harder and is a true skill. Anyways, I’ve written about a few things I spent time on for this site and I’ll walk through them quickly if you’re interested.

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The Social History of Bourbon

Gerald Carson

p. xi

Distilled from our own native maize, given character by limestone water and yeasts from the salubrious air of the bourbon belt, cradled during a long slumber in barrels of charred white oak, bourbon whiskey is the distinctive spirit of the United States. With its fruity bouquet, its rich color suggesting the golds and russets of our autumn foliage, a well-finished bourbon worthily holds place among the classic spirituous beverages of the world.

This is the best writing on bourbon I’ve encountered and I haven’t even made it past the foreword. Granted it’s the first book I’ve picked up on the subject, so I say that with practically no authority at all, but compared with what I’ve read online — which generally devolves into how many nouns can be crammed into what someone tastes — it’s a breath of fresh, metaphorical air. Related, Heather Greene’s book Whiskey Distilled seems like a good one too.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway

p. 59

There was no wind, and, outside now of the warm air of the cave, heavy with smoke of both tobacco and charcoal, with the odor of cooked rice and meat, saffron, pimentos, and oil, the tarry, wine-spilled smell of the big skin hung beside the door, hung by the neck and the four legs extended, wine drawn from a plug fitted in one leg, wine that spilled a little onto the earth of the floor, settling the dust smell; out now from the odors of different herbs whose names he did not know that hung in bunches from the ceiling, with long ropes of garlic, away now from the copper-penny, red wine and garlic, horse sweat and man sweat dried in the clothing (acrid and gray the man sweat, sweet and sickly the dried brushed-off lather of horse sweat), of the men at the table, Robert Jordan breathed deeply of the clear night air of the mountains that smelled of the pines and of the dew on the grass in the meadow by the stream.

There is beauty in how great writing can capture a fleeting moment; the way it identifies and enumerates each neighboring detail and constructs it to where you can step-by-step recreate the same experience in your mind. Also a helpful reminder that Hemingway didn’t write only short, declarative sentences.

This is from For Whom the Bell Tolls, my favorite Hemingway book. It’s the story of an American in the International Brigades sent on a mission to civil war Spain. It’s a treat to read.

Living in a Rough Draft World

Last year, in the New York Times Book Review there was a story of a pen pal correspondence between poet Laura Sims and the experimental-fiction writer David Markson. Markson died in 2010 at the age of 82. As the NY Times noted, he “lived on the cutting edge of fictional technique, but he happily lagged behind in the world of technology.”

Sims at one point in their correspondence offered to send print outs of blog posts others wrote praising Markson’s work. Markson didn’t know what blogs were but agreed to read them.

His response back to her after reading them:

“Hey, thank you for all that blog stuff, but forgive me if after a nine-minute glance I have torn it all up.”

He continued:

“In spite of the lost conveniences, I am all the more glad I don’t have a computer. HOW CAN PEOPLE LIVE IN THAT FIRST-DRAFT WORLD?”

There’s a lot of value in blogs for someone who is in the throes of learning a new subject. They were invaluable for me in my early years of professional web design. Following someone who blogs regularly and is a few years ahead of you in their field is about as close as some of us will get to the master-apprentice model. Of course it’s no substitute for actually working under someone, but whether introversion is a handicap or you live in a place where there’s no other option, following a blog is a worthy substitute.

But at some point the rough draft nature of the outfit begins to wear out and you need to find richer material. Deep conversations with other professionals and friends, and the tried-and-true book is where I turn. Here you’ll find distilled knowledge and learned guidance that when combined with your own life experience can make you wise.

Of course then there’s me, here, writing this blog — for the most part adding to the noise. This is inescapable. Writing is growing, learning and thinking and you have to slog through it to reap the benefits. Rhythmic writing is a discipline I’ve wanted to hone for quite some time but it has always fallen by the wayside. It’s hard and it’s time consuming. But I’m not willing to give up yet — this blog post is my kick off to a year of regular writing. There will be rough drafts and bad writing (sorry!) yet there will be consistency, and that’s what will be most valued for me at first.

Going back to Markson, referring to the blog printouts he had previously ripped up and thrown away, he added: “I have just taken the sheets out of the trash basket and torn them into even smaller pieces.”

Standing by Words

Wendell Berry

p. 181

Nothing is meaningful or valuable alone; to assign meaning and value to anything alone is, I believe, what used to be understood as “idolatry.” Nothing can be its own context. Meaning and value are not generated by parts, but are conferred by the whole.

Standing by Words

Wendell Berry

p. 138

Reason is good only insofar as it serves good and is subordinate to it.

Daily Details, Part 1

With the 7-day forecast and home screen more or less set, I focused on implementing the details of the secondary view. As detailed in Sketched Views, I decided to combine the screen that showed current conditions and the one that showed hourly conditions into one view.

I landed on a double tap as the best way to access it. Mainly due to my beginners lack of knowledge on how to implement any other way.

Update: I made the decision to stop posting these articles on Everyday Weather. Their worth to me and to others was not high enough to continue to justify the effort involved in writing them.

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Standing by Words

Wendell Berry

pp. 21-22

Perhaps the time has come to say that there is, in reality, no such choice as Yeats’s “Perfection of the life, or of the work.” The division implied by this proposed choice is not only destructive; it is based upon a shallow understanding of the relation between work and life. The conflicts of life and work, like those of rest and work, would ideally be resolved in balance: enough of each. In practice, however, they probably can be resolved (if that is the word) only in tension, in a principled unwillingness to let go of either, or to sacrifice either to the other. But it is a necessary tension, the grief in it both inescapable and necessary. One would like, one longs in fact, to be perfect family man and a perfect workman. And one suffers from the inevitable conflicts. But whatever one does, one is not going to be perfect at either, and it is better to suffer the imperfection of both than to gamble the total failure of one against an illusory hope of perfection in the other. The real values of art and life are perhaps best defined and felt in the tension between them.

Wendell Berry is a prolific author who lives about an hour northeast of Louisville. His writings are critical and prophetic of the way we live and their consequences. Mr. Berry writes beautifully about what he’s for as well: “sustainable agriculture, a connection to place, the miracle of life, and the interconnectedness of all things.”¹

The above excerpt is at the end of an essay about the specialization of poetry (written in 1974) and is one of the most elegant and true descriptions of the balance between work and life that I’ve ever read.

  1. Quote from the publisher — Counterpoint Press.

Everyday Weather Release

The weather app I’ve been working on, Everyday Weather, is now available in the app store. I’m happy with the end result and I think you will be too.

I will continue to add entries to the app journal until it’s finished. The pace of writing couldn’t match the development, but I didn’t want to wait for the journal to catch up before launching the app because with some other commitments beginning I’m not sure when it will be complete. I have 30 planned entries total to write, and right now I’m at 17.

For readers of this blog who don’t have the app, or if you just happened to stumble across this page, I’ve generated 30 promo codes to get it for free. They are listed below. And if you don’t know how to use promo codes it’s very easy, just go to the Featured tab in the App Store app and scroll to the bottom. There you’ll find a Redeem button that you can tap and enter the promo code manually. You may have to try a few as I don’t know when they’ve been used and there’s no official way to track their use.

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°F & °C

I knew version 1.0 of this app was going to be pretty bare-bones — the essentials if you will. But one feature I felt it would be arrogant to leave out is the ability to view temperatures in degrees Celsius. Being from the U.S. I take my temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit, but most of the world does not. I like how the default weather app handles switching between the two, and if I had the programming chops I would have done it the same way. But alas I do not, so I went with the more heavy-handed approach of adding an entry for Everyday Weather in the Settings app. Within this entry is a toggle option to choose between Fahrenheit and Celsius, with Fahrenheit being the default option.

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Naming the App

When I first started sketching the weather app idea, the name I had in mind was Forecast. For all intents and purposes this was the perfect name. It described exactly what the app did and, to my utter surprise, it seemed like it wasn’t being used in the app store.

There was one problem though – the API I was using was also called Forecast. This is a legal problem because it would not be clear to customers that the app was separate from the API, and therefore would imply an affiliation when of course there was not one.

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Weather Alerts

Part of Forecast’s API includes weather alerts from the National Weather Service. I decided that this should be a core feature of the app and therefore included as part of the 1.0 release.

I broke it into two parts. The first is a UIButton that is created if weather alerts are present in the returned API. Though “button” is a bit of a misnomer, it’s more of a banner that tells you weather alerts are available and how many.

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App Update

This is just a quick note to let everyone know I’m still working on the app, just a bit delayed. My original plan was to submit the weather app before Brooklyn Beta started but a few things came up in the month prior that put me off schedule by about two weeks. And polishing the macro experience is taking a bit longer than anticipated. Not a huge deal, I’m hoping to submit by the end of this month.

Speaking of Brooklyn Beta, it was a fun time. I’ll be looking to attend next year as well. The overarching takeaway from the conference — I think — is do work that matters. For me, the quotable quote came from Tim O’Reilly’s talk: Create more value than you capture. That’s an area lacking in my work lately and something I want to rectify.

Attributed Strings

For an evening past there were two things on the todo list for the app: (1) anchor the current date label at the bottom of the screen no matter the dimensions (either 480 pt or 568 pt tall), and (2) style the date label to where the day name is all-caps and bold and the rest of the date is regular weight with no text transformation.

For the first step all I needed to do was programmatically set the main view’s height relative to the screen’s bounds. I had already done this for the root view and the scroll view, see the gist at the end of Day 11.

I didn’t do it for the main view because I had copied the code over from the details view, and in that view I had left the set height in the XIB as the default height. So when I ported this code to the main view controller, it used the 568pt height of the XIB’s 4” screen layout. Even when I changed the Simulated Metrics Size drop down to be None the XIB still had the measured height of 568pt because that was its view dimensions.

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One key need for the app was the ability to refresh the data. The Objective-C wrapper I’m using to connect to Forecast’s API automatically caches data, which is great. But that means if you pull the app up an hour later it’s likely you’ll still see the same data from before. But really I don’t have to explain this to you. Pull to refresh has become a de facto design pattern for any app that displays timely data.

Long ago I starred Sam Soffes’ SSPullToRefresh on GitHub as a hopeful resource one day. Well the time finally came. Like many other unknown Objective-C tasks, I expected frustration and many lost hours and as such I approached with dread. To my surprise it took me a little over an hour to implement it. This was highly encouraging. Progress!

As a whole I feel like I’m starting to finally get a grip on things. Opening up Xcode each night no longer feels like groping around in the dark. Patterns are emerging, Stack Overflow answers are making more and more sense, and I’m starting to tackle little code problems on my own. In a sense I feel like I’m starting to understand the language.

There are so many resources out there now for learning Objective-C, for every problem I’ve encountered, no matter how obscure — and trust me they have pushed the bounds of obscurity, I was copying and pasting native C code at one point to fix a bug — there’s been a helping hand somewhere.

Not to mention the level of sophistication for code support that exists. I used CocoaPods to install the supporting frameworks I needed to connect to the weather service with an ease that should be illegal. The API and Objective-C wrapper (and AFNetworking) were so well done I basically just pasted my API key in there and was delivered a mountain of structured, polished data.

I’m not finished yet, nor am I anywhere near the level to where I can blaze through making apps, but I am at a point where I can encourage you to jump in and learn it because I did and I know you can too.

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