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Posts Tagged ‘design’

Expanding basic web font stacks

January 25, 2010 Leave a comment

For years now, typography on the web has been pretty simple – unless you could use images for text, or something like sIFR, you were stuck with a very basic font stack: typically Arial, Georgia, Times and Verdana being the most prevalent. Countless great designs have been made with those basic tools, but designers have wanted to broaden their typographic resources for quite some time.

Currently, it’s an exciting time for type on the web. Tools like sIFR are still around, there’s also JS based techniques like Cufon, as well as commercial solutions like Typekit, and even @font-face embedding for modern browsers. Each of these has their positives and negatives, but a simple compromise solution comes in the form of simply expanding the basic font stack.

This has been written about before, but it never seems to have gained traction in the design community. That’s a shame, because there are some great options available.

Quite simply, this is the idea that instead of just choosing fonts that have 100% compatibility (which limits you to the common choices), specifying fonts that are very common (I’ve chosen ~80% or higher, though it’s up to your discretion), and then using traditional fonts as backups if a user doesn’t have the font in question. This is incredibly easy to code, degrades very gracefully, and doesn’t require a download or installation of anything for the user.

You have to be willing to accept that less than 100% of people will see your design with perfect accuracy to the original, but the payoff is that for 8 out of 10 it will be more interesting and offer a richer typographic experience, whereas 2 out of 10 will simply see standard fonts.

There are good lists of fonts available here (Windows) and here (Mac). Keep in mind you can use these together, specifying first a Windows-prevalent font, then a Mac version, then the more standard type after that. One of the most exciting choices is Arial Narrow (~89% on both platforms) which finally gives you an option for condensed type in HTML text. I’m also interested to see Franklin Gothic Medium (a classic in the design world, 97% on Windows), and Palatino/Palatino Linotype (gorgeous serif face, 97% Windows, 80% Mac).

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Design and Usability of the New Fox8.com Homepage

February 25, 2009 1 comment

Watching the morning news a few days ago the anchors kept promoting their new site, Fox8.com formerly MyFoxCleveland.com . I forgot about it for a few days, but I’ve had a chance to visit it several times now and I wanted to give a brief analysis of the new homepage from a design and (basic) usability standpoint. At DigitalDay we’re working on a comprehensive analysis tool for judging the effectiveness and quality of sites, but while that’s still being produced we’ll look at the site on a basic level.

Although not design related, the new URL is a significant improvement. The station brands itself as ‘Fox8’ on nearly all materials I’ve ever seen, so it makes sense that they’ve moved to this shorter and easier to read designation.

Overall Design

Fox8 homepage

Fox8 homepage

When the page loads, a couple things come to mind. The page loads quickly on a decent connection, which is good, and at first glimpse the site doesn’t seem nearly as cluttered as most tv station web sites, especially small to medium market stations. The background graphic is extremely compressed (probably an effort to save bandwidth…but the design could be more abstract so the compression artifacts weren’t so prominent). Unfortunately the site was not built with large monitors in mind.

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The background graphic fades to a solid blue, so they could have easily made the body background the same blue – white gradient for a seamless transition. I realize my monitor is wider than the average users, but it’s the little details that make decent designs good, and good designs great. I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of the deep blue and red color scheme, but that’s their palette and they’ve embraced it fully.

Typography

Fox8.com uses a simple sans-serif typographic system. Lucida Grande is the main font, and while I love Lucida, it’s disappointing to see that they didn’t specify Lucida Sans Unicode as the Windows alternative (Lucida Grande is ubiquitous on Macs but rarely found on Windows machines).

menucomparison1

Instead the font stack moves to Tahoma, which has very tight kerning when bolded and lowers the readability on the main menu in particular. Unfortunately this is the way most users will be seeing the site.

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Section headers are images, but I question if that’s really necessary since they seem to simply be white Arial bold text with a heavy drop shadow. Was the shadow really that necessary? If you’re going to use images for headers, you should get as much aesthetic and branding benefit as possible.

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Fox8’s type has several spacing issues as well. In boxes like the Popular Stories feature, there is not enough spacing between list items to clearly differentiate them. It’s also unnecessary that the text in boxes like Offbeat News extends to the very edge of the box it inhabits (spacing between list items would be very beneficial here as well). A little padding would not only look much better, it’s used in other sections like Featured Links, and would be a consistent style.

Usability

From a basic usability standpoint, there are a couple of red flags on the Fox8 site. First, in the main news section stories are cycled through, but there is no active state. An indicator of which story is currently being featured would be a welcome addition. Similarly, I would avoid relying on a rollover to indicate what is a link. A user should be able to easily determine what’s a link and what is not without having to rollover it. Combine that with the inconstent link styling on the site (sometimes they’re blue, sometimes black, sometimes blue is not a link, but blue/bold is) and you have a confusing system that could be much simpler and more usable.

Conclusion

I struggle when seeing sites like Fox8. It’s a mediocre at best site redesign that could be significantly better. They have made improvements and are headed in the right directions, but in areas like basic usability and typography they could improve so much with such simple changes. I’ll take a look again in a few months and see if things have changed.

CPG Brand Colors – Why is Diet always so boring?

February 10, 2009 4 comments

Head to the soda (pop, whatever) aisle of your local supermarket and take a look around. It makes for a fascinating study in branding, color trends, and CPG marketing in general.

Recently, I noticed something obvious, yet never really discussed. For each brand or flavor of soda, there is a distinct color, logo, and tone in design. With each brand’s diet flavor though every brand I could find did the exact same thing – took the normal style, and made it grey. They took out the color, desaturated the packaging, or just generally swapped neutral colors in for the bright bold colors the regular brands get. Some examples:

Comparison of regular and diet soda cans

Comparison of regular and diet soda cans

Is that really the best that millions of dollars ad budgets and legions of designers, art directors, marketing people, and brand managers can come up with? It gives you the distinct impression that the diet version will be a blander, less fun, less bold version of the regular. I understand you want to retain the value of the original, but surely there’s value in distinguishing the diet flavor as its own product, not simply to be a watered down, less interesting version of the regular?

Let’s see some originality here; there’s no rule (I’ve ever seen at least) that says diet soda has to look and feel just like regular soda. Give it a brand, give it its own personality! From my experience the consumer who regularly purchases diet soda may not even be interested in the regular version. Should they not be engaged and treated as well as the consumer interested in the regular equivalent?

Efficient design starts with efficient fonts

October 14, 2008 Leave a comment

Typography is a huge part of any well-done graphic design. Choosing the perfect set of fonts and styles for any given design should be intentional and informed, and therefore time consuming. Additionally, the size of a designer’s collection of typefaces grows over time. At an established agency like DigitalDay, we have literally thousands of fonts in our collection that are either supplied by clients, purchased for projects, or picked up from various software installs.

The best tool I’ve found for organizing and working with a large font library is FontExplorer X. It also happens to be free, which is a great bonus. The only downside is that there is no Windows version. There are similar tools for Windows, but for now Linotype’s program is Mac only.  Why do I need any font software, you ask? Well, there are several advantages over the built-in tools on either Mac or Windows.

First, if you have say, 1000 fonts, and they are all activated, it becomes very time consuming to select a font from an applications list. If you’re scrolling through, or just browsing within an application, it’s much more friendly to search through say 50-100 fonts than your entire collection. Loading all of your fonts every time also eats tons of memory. And when you have loads of design applications and files open, every little bit helps.

The true killer feature, for me, is the ability to make font sets or “playlists”. There are many times when I know I’m looking for a sans-serif font, or something very ornate, but I don’t know exactly which font I want to use. What I’ve done is break my entire collection down into different categories. I can browse through single categories at a time, which is an incredible time saver.

Additionally, if I have a large project that uses many different typefaces, I can group them together and activate or deactivate all at once. If you’re familiar with playlists in iTunes, the concept should be familiar. Browsing a few specific fonts instead of digging through hundreds of possibilities is a huge help.

Another nice feature is auto activation. Let’s say you’re working on a big style guide in your page layout program and you’re using many different fonts. You want to be prudent and not leave them active all the time, but you might occasionally forget to turn them on, or forget to add a font you use , etc. Not to worry. Font Explorer X will detect what fonts are used in your file and activate them for you.

Font management is an often-overlooked process, but it can be useful and an incredible time saver. Browsing quickly and intelligently will give you more time to find the perfect fonts for a better piece for your agency and the client.

Adobe Creative Suite 4 – Updated design tools

September 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Word has spread that Adobe released the latest version of its flagship design software, the Creative Suite today. CS4 brings a slew of new features and enhancements to ubiquitous applications like Photoshop, Flash, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. For many agencies, DigitalDay included, these are the applications we use for building creative work.

Designers will be clamoring to get their hands on a copy, and we’ll see a ton of new work highlighting the latest gadgets and features. There’s nothing wrong with staying current with software, but it’s easy to get caught up in the hype with any software release.

For those on the client side of agency work, examine what your marketing goals and brand standards are, and see if any of the new features or functionality really benefit you. Sure you can now have your logo in 3d, or with a cool animation…but does it really help your brand? Some of the best work has been done with outdated tools or simple shapes and techniques.

For designers, keep in mind the basics of good design, and don’t jump on bandwagons. There might be fancy new filters and fun brushes, but just dropping these in to every design will give you an almost instantly outdated and clichéd look. Keep in mind the goals of your brands and your projects, and be mindful that good design is not based on effects or trendy features. Be confident in your skills and your designs, and let thoughtful beautiful design do its job for you and the client.

Getting Typecast – A Basic Typographical System

August 26, 2008 Leave a comment

One of the most fundamental elements of any company’s style guidelines, a good basic system of fonts and usage will help you build brand equity, leave a lasting impression, and appear consitent and professional regardless of industry. From print ads to dynamic websites, type is everywhere and it’s important. To that end, we’ve established a simple, but versatile type system we can use for all DigitalDay materials.

Our logo font is (a slightly tweaked) Futura, and that works well for headlines and pieces where it can be a title or section title. It does not lend itself to readability in large blocks of copy though, which brings us to our secondary font choice.


Avenir is a mix between a truly gothic/modernist style like Futura, and a more contemporary sans serif. It is easier to read in multiple sections of copy (like this one), so we use it to accompany Futura in print oriented pieces.

For the web (which is all we do), we obviously need to use different fonts for browsers and compatibility.

Our main web font is Lucida Grande / Lucida Sans. It is clear and clean, and we use it for copy and web-safe headlines. It’s a little more unique than Arial or Verdana, but is widely compatible when correctly specified.

Our accent font, used much more sparingly, is Georgia. Arguably the most attractive web safe font, its serifs and ornate style are a great contrast to the simple shapes of Lucida.

When used together (and per guidelines, a separate post), these fonts give off the sort of impression we’re looking for. Fun, but professional and fresh but still clear and easy to understand. Whether your intent is simple and minimalistic or ornate and lavish, set some basic typeface guidelines early on, and all of your designs and marketing pieces will benefit.

Designing for the Mobile Web

August 12, 2008 1 comment

If you can remember the last time we talked about it, you’ll remember that the Web is moving to, well, people’s pockets. As more and more smart phones become capable of accessing the web, new design issues arise. How do you design a site for a screen with a screen resolution smaller than the eight-year-old 800×600 standard? The answer is very delicately.

It starts with your audience. Who are you trying to reach? Understanding who they are and what they’re looking for is the first step you need to take. As this guy weighs in, there are three types of mobile web user: the casual surfer, the repeat visitor, and the “urgent, now!” visitor.

1.    The casual surfer is looking for nothing in particular. Perhaps he’s playing with his iPhone waiting in the drive-through line, or she’s browsing on her Blackberry before her flight takes off. The point is that no one is that it’s an informal and short site visit—the information should be organized clearly and effectively or the visitor will leave.

2.    The repeat visitor is seeking new content. Regular updates will keep this type of user more interested and involved in checking your mobile site.

3.    The third kind of visitor is looking for information and they want it ASAP. If your information isn’t properly organized, they’ll simply find a better way to find what they’re looking for. It is critical you’re your site is easier to navigate than the sites of your competitors.

Once you’ve planned your site, it’s time for design. It’s best to keep it simple—the mobile Best Buy web site, for example, has just two search fields: one to help find a product and one to find the closest store. When designing for the online web, less is most certainly more.

Ultimately, your design is for your audience and not your portfolio. It is important to remember that in mobile web design form follows function. If your potential customers can’t easily navigate your site they’ll leave to find a site that will work for them.