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Trucks and Trains

In sticking with the theme of the Industrial Revolution and modernism, I decided to look at something I have always been fascinated with… trains.  I am aware that this isn’t typical amongst college students, but I can’t help but finding them fascinating. One train I am particularly interested in is the Pioneer Zephyr, a stainless steel diesel 3 car articulated engine.  Aside from being a beautiful train, the Zephyr is the embodiment of the post Industrial Revolution, Pre WWII spirit of form and function.   The Zephyr is one of the first diesel engines, steam being the other major fuel source.  The main reason I am interested in the train is its history, it set a record for fastest travel from Denver to Chicago in honor of the 1934 Chicago World Fair.  The train features many design elements of the time including art deco font, heavy use of steel, and a generally futuristic appearance.  The speed, advanced engineering and aesthetic design of the Zephyr make it a quintessential example of Modernist design.

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Modern Times of Rock N Roll

After what seems like an endless number of literature courses, I feel like I have a pretty solid grasp on modernity, however, this is the first time I have looked at it from a perspective other than that of literary analysis. Looking into the physical-visual elements that came along with modernity (i.e. steel and iron in architecture), and how the idea of society as a well-oiled machine effectively isolates the Subject in a mass of other people in an urban environment.  It is especially interesting to observe how it that feeling of alienation comes from the progress that was meant to improve the lives of those it ends up alienating.

This feeling of alienation is understandable. It is easy to imagine how being immersed in a sea of nondescript faces and cold steel can certainly take a toll on a person.  Something I am interested in is if the nature of the machinery itself, always shown to be large iron constructs running on steam, with burly men in long pants shoveling coal in a fiery mouth, feeding the perpetual turning of massive cogs and gears, has anything to do with these feelings of alienation.  During industrial revolution people became slaves to the large oppressive machinery that was supposed to make their lives better.  However, today there is almost a feeling of connectedness and mutual dependency with machinery, and humans are much more at peace with being surrounded by “progress.”

I feel I must pass judgment on our textbook at this point.  As much as I know that teachers have an emotional attachment to the texts that they assign, this book is pretty awful at explaining most things.  I have read, and reread everything in this book that pertains to the theory of the Gaze, and I still have no idea what they are talking about.  My perception of the Gaze is it is like discourse analysis in a Foucaultian sense (transfer of power), but instead of reading or speaking, one is viewing the exchange.  I would like to set up a hypothetical situation to clear up what I mean.  In an instance of visual discourse there must be an observer (Jim), an observed (a print cologne ad) and a context for the situation in which these two parties converge. Every aspect of the situation must be considered, e.g. Jim’s preconceived notion of the cologne, the desired affect of the ad agency, the periodical in which the advertisement appears, time, place and other facets of the setting, and a slew of other contextual aspects that I simply refuse to go through.  The emotions and desires that are felt by Jim are certainly part of the Gaze, and these emotions and desires are part of the power that the advertisement holds over Jim.

The Technicolor Phase

This is not my first reading into color. We briefly covered some color theory in Kalmbach’s Hypertext course, mostly in the relationship between colors for schemes. I take a particular interest in readings on color in relation to usability because I have red-green deficient colorblindness.

Horton’s Color in Icons is another excellent “applicable use” reading, that outlines some great ways that color can be applied in a real world setting. The 8 uses for color are particularly useful, some of them more than others. While reading through some of his descriptions, I think Horton puts too much emphasis on the colors themselves, as opposed to them in the context.  Aside from a few extremely recognizable colors (Tiffany’s Blue for example) colors often cannot stand on their own, such as in a rankings scale.

There’s a Food Such as I

After the readings on color, and thinking about the applications of color, I started noticing trends in uses of color.  I particularly began focusing on logos, something I very interested in.

One thing I started paying attention, especially driving around in Bloomington-Normal, is fast food restaurant logos.  So many fast food restaurants, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Burger King, Subway, all have one thing in common; they use yellow in their logo.  Now it has been said that yellow is a food that stimulates hunger, and yet the yellow is in each of those logos (taco bell excluded) use the color as a subtle accent.

It’s also interesting how every major sports league in the nation uses the colors of the United States flag to represent their league.  The National Football League, National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and the National Basketball Association are all based in the US, and yet still have teams located in Canada, and MLB and NHL especially are dominated by foreign talent.

Mad World

AMC’s program Mad Men is a critically acclaimed and award winning television show documenting the life and times of the employees of a fictional advertising agency (Sterling-Cooper) in the 1960’s.  The term “Mad Men” is a portmanteau on the the phrase “ad men” and Madison Avenue, the street in New York City where many of the agencies were located. The show is celebrated not only for its deep and entrancing plot and characters but for its accurate portrayal of the period.

The most interesting thing about the show is looking at ads from “the golden age of advertising” and how it relates the sentiments held by the characters on the show.  It is evident from the very first episode how very different the 1960s were from the modern day.  Bosses calling their secretaries “sweetheart” and the prominent sexism and racism throughout the show are examples of this.  There is one particular advertisment that is features a a stewardess in a skirt that is “just half an inch too short” in order to inject subtle sexuality into an ad for an airline, a service used predominantly by men in the 1960s.

Green Typewriters II

This is by far the best thing we have read so far. Discussing the nuts and bolts (I have a dear obsession with nuts and bolts) of readability, and how to make things readable, and how to avoid making things unreadable was incredibly useful. Looking for line thickness, x-height, descender and ascender lengths and flourishes are things I never would have considered as increasing or decreasing readability.

Another interesting section of the text was on the shape of words. I had always just thought of using all caps as method of making things stand out more, but never considered how that actually made words less recognizable.

One thing I found particularly useful was Williams specifically highlighting points about when to do certain things (see When to increase Linespacing).

When I Give the Signal, Run

Font choice is clearly one of the most important aspects of successful design.  As I learned from the two chapters in the reading this week, it can increase readability, functionality and set the mood in a document.  This is rings even truer in a more artistic design forum.  For example, if you were designing a poster for a country music band, it wouldn’t be likely that you would choose a digital font (DS- Digital), you would be more likely  to choose something that replicates the theme (Edmunds).

Combing these to two ideas (readability and artistic design) is important to make truly effective designs.  Something else I’ve found is very useful, not discussed in the text is usability testing.  You may be in a situation where you pick out a font and a color, and then go to print in on a colored paper, or onto a t shirt can yield different results from you had hoped.  Or in the case of a three dimensional sign, it can make letters look like one letter, yielding less than desirable results