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What we learned from the phone book

October 27, 2014 by Klaus
Once upon a time, not so long ago, there was a beast of a book called the phone book. We all had one. Some of us even had two.

But have you ever stopped to think about the ink and paper that was needed to print those books?

The manufacturers once did. Long before the word green meant more than just a colour, phone book manufacturers were being eco-friendly, although their actions were actually a side effect of being cost efficient. Much thought and effort was put into determining the best font, smallest point size and tightest kern that would maximize the number of words per page while remaining legible.

A great example of a purpose-designed font is the sans-serif typeface “Bell Centennial” designed by Matthew Carter for AT&T in 1978. In an effort to preserve legibility, ink traps were designed into the letterforms to anticipate spread when being printed at small point sizes. This rendered open counter forms and preserved readability.

Even the type of paper was chosen based on what would best clearly display the tiny settings of letters and phone numbers.

Millions of these books were being printed after all, so every little bit of additional information that could viably be squeezed onto a page, meant fewer pages that needed to be printed over the long run.

From an eco-standpoint, what did we learn from the phone book? That a great way to create environmentally friendly printed products is by maximizing what you put on each page to minimize the number of pages you need. But you’re only doing well if your final product works for your readers. Because if a page is so cluttered with information that no one can read it or the fancy font is too challenging to read in a small point size, then what’s the point?

In this case, font matters. Being truly eco-friendly is more than just about reducing the amount of paper. It’s also about reducing the amount of ink toner.

Another once upon a time ago, a group of eco-friendly font designers in the Netherlands dreamed up the Ecofont. It uses less ink than traditional fonts by replacing some of each letter with tiny holes, thus leaving little white dots and reducing ink/toner usage. But, although it’s still available, the concept never really took off.

In the end, the eco-friendly solution to creating printed products is to choose tried and true fonts that minimize ink use (and yes, some fonts use more ink per letter than others) while ensuring readability. It’s about finding the right balance between being eco-friendly while still being able to convey the client’s brand and effectively communicate their message.

Logos vs. icons: What’s the difference?

October 13, 2014 by Klaus
At first glance, logos and icons appear to be one and the same. They both use a visual vocabulary to make their point, so it can be difficult to figure out what makes them different and why they’re different.

But they are different. Very different.

A logo is the overarching identifier of a brand. The best logos are easily recognizable and memorable. They can be purely graphic symbols (think of Apple), a wordmark of the name of the organization (think of Google), or a combination of both (think of Audi’s Rings and red lettermark or Chevrolet’s bowtie and distinctive, all caps lettering). However a logo is designed, it is the final touch on every product.

Even when a logo is revamped or updated, it still remains instantaneously recognizable and memorable. Remember, the Apple logo wasn’t always the sleek chrome-coloured apple image that it is now – it once was rainbow coloured. But the change in colour didn’t change its representation of the company or the user’s ability to identify the brand.

An icon on the other hand, is a graphical way of identifying sub-levels within an organization or a brand. They’re effective when used for navigating inside a complex website because each icon gives the sub-section a distinct visual identity. (Check out the website for a great example of icons identifying sub-categories that the auction house specializes in.)

Icons are a way of creating an immediate, visual vocabulary between what the creator means and what the user sees without the need to use a lot of words or multiple languages. The best icons use a visual metaphor to convey its message.

In other words, they are there to simplify something that might otherwise be difficult to understand and to give communicators a way of doing their job more efficiently.

In recent years, icons have taken on a more prominent role and have even spilled over into the role of complementing the brand; and logos have even taken on an icon-like style. But the fact remains that they are not the same – an icon serves as an informational tool and a logo emphatically states, “this is who I am.”