Monday, February 25, 2008

More on Mexic-Arte

After an intensive search for the details of the design and typeface of the Mexic-arte logo, I was finally able to contact and meet with the designer, Tony Romano. Questions about the concept, typeface, and formal decisions of the sign arose in my meeting with him. As an artist, designer and local supporter of the Arts in Austin he would frequently visit Mexico-Arte. At the time, almost 15 years ago, the museum did not have a set logo but simply written text. Tony Romano offered to design a logo for them and the concept was left entirely to him. He looked through some books in the Museum library and was inspired by a particular late nineteenth century/early twentieth century Mexican print artist named Jose Guadalupe Posada. He admitted not doing enough research and focusing just on the formal aspects of the letter type. He took one of Posada’s typefaces and modified it to formally fit the composition of the logo. He explained the decision behind the square shape logo and how it is typically more convenient to use a square form when shrinking and expanding a logo. He drew inspiration from the blocky papel picado Mexican decorations and decided to mimic the stencil quality by separating the text and connecting it to the division bars. He initially wanted the edges of the sign more rough looking, but the budget could not accommodate it. Since the museum was not as well established back then, a logo was not a priority. As a result, this logo depended on practical and financial decisions. Mexic-Arte seems to be a Mesoamerican art museum, but the chic design contradicts its appearance. The logo lacks research, a more in depth study of Mexican culture without just looking at images that are commonly associated with the culture and show one aspect of its traditions. It also lacks representation, an image that speaks about the museum that is cohesive rather than contradictory. Design decisions made according to a budget can ultimately affect its communication. This was the case for Mexic-Arte.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

a new way to wash yourself!

This bathroom design is from UsTogether. They have brought together some of the best designers from Britain and Ireland to create interesting, space-saving bathroom appliances. This particular design includes a shower, bathtub, and a sink. Below I have included the website that contains other innovative designs, ranging from a two-in-one ipod wall and car charger to "Cool free-floating graffiti."

FPO Magazine

A new design magazine, downloadable here

"Without content, there's no form...

...and without form, there's no content. A work of art is realized when form and content are indistinguishable. When form predominates, meaning is blunted. When content predominates, interest lags. But the genius comes in when both of these fuse." -Paul Rand

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Gene Federico

Woman's Day, 1951

Gene Federico followed the idea that "type could be used to emphasize the message."

"Federico's signature was found in the construction of the typographical image."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pricey Tag

File under "Smoothing Space between Peter's Design History Class and Visual Syntax Class"

Check out the graffiti-inspired gate by Herzog and de Meuron, the guys that almost brought us the Blanton Museum. It's like a vernacular version of the Gaudi organic facades we looked at this morning. Word is, they're hiring a security to guard the gates from geetting tagged. (Boo!)

Monday, February 11, 2008

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I'm having a tempestuous affair ...

... with Shigeo Fukuda.

(Poster circa 1975 - done as part of the worldwide anti-Vietnam war protests)

I Like Giulio's Initiative

so here's mine...

The Stenberg Brothers!

"The Stenberg brothers, like their contemporaries Aleksandr Rodchenko and El Lissitzky, were artists of immensely varied interests and eclectic skills. They were sculptors, architects, and stage and costume designers, and were enamored of the film and montage theories developed in the suddenly burgeoning Soviet film industry. As seen in this book's superb colorplates, they brought to film poster design an extraordinary compositional dynamism, originality, and contrast of scale, employing many of the artistic conventions of the Constructivist movement to great effect." (Editorial review from Amazon)

Friday, February 8, 2008

So this is a bit ahead of schedule...

But I've chosen swiss design my historcal movement for the menu project and began my research. I stumbled on this awesome blog. You all should check it out.


Of all the storefront signs on the east side of Austin, Nubian Queen Lola’s is by far one of the best and most interesting signs to look at. It doesn’t have a clean, chic looking typeface like many of the shops on Manor. Nor is the architecture of the building itself very exciting. Rather, it is something more subtle about the hand painted, jostled typeface that draws the viewer in. After considering it for quite some time, I have come to the conclusion that Lola’s sign possesses something that none of the shops on Manor have, and that uniqueness is soul.

So what exactly does that mean? How exactly does one go about injecting “soul” into typography? In the case of Lola’s, it’s the hand-made aspect. As mentioned before, it is not at all a clean looking sign. The typeface seems inconsistent at times, there is no consideration given to the kerning of the letters, and by most, if not all standards, the leading is awful. But still, one can’t help but look at it and feel something of a warm invitation inside. The way there is a crown painted onto the Q of queen and that the v-shape of the Y on the word Sunday is formed by one of the many flying bird silhouettes in the background just make it feel welcoming. It may not seem like the cleanest place from the worn and faded face of the building, but after seeing the sign, the viewer is left with the impression that the food will have uniqueness and character. It will be a meal that cannot be gotten anywhere else in town and will surely be delicious.

After realizing the key to the sign was the hand-made aspect, I immediately decided that my hand would have to be clearly visible somewhere in the stages of making the poster. First, I tried using pencil around a typed and printed version of the sign, but that only gave me a typeface more fit for a haunted house after re-scanning the page and distorting it in Illustrator. There was no soul, just awfulness. Next, using a Helvetica typeface, I tried to change the layout of each line of the sign to make it seem a bit more inviting and playful. In addition, I used pencil and sandpaper to distort and blur the poster in order to give it a more faded, time tested feel. It resulted in something closer to soul, but I wanted James Brown on the set.

For the final iteration, I changed the layout of the text to something less playful and more straight forward and hand painted the letters of each word over the printed text. Also, I again used sandpaper and pencil to give it a faded, more venerable feel. The result was something that finally qualified as soulful. Not James Brown soulful, but still soulful. It didn’t operate on the actual storefront sign’s same level of soulfulness, but it certainly captured the essence of it.

The next phase of this project will be to hang several posters around the east side, pre-worn down of course. Perhaps allowing time to weather the appearance and someone else’s hand to deface the poster will finally elevate the work to the same level of the storefront’s soulfulness. And if not, it should definitely bring it closer, which is just another step in the right direction.

Roland Barthes interview

As requested by Peter, here is a link to the interview regarding Roland Barthes that I mentioned during my presentation this morning: barthy!

Instead of the interview between "some guy and some guy", it's actually between Rupert White, who monitors and keeps the online journal Art Cornwall, and Professor Patrick Ffrench, of King’s College, London University. (yes, his name is actually spelled with 2 Fs)
shown above is a dashing mr. barthes

pizza by the slice

At the precise moment my hunger was about to get the better of me, this sign* conveniently appeared in my path. The hand painted letters resemble Comic Sans, but it could just be an artist with excellent lettering skills. Although this doesn't exactly convey any sort of Italian influence to me, I still get the family owned vibe that is generally characteristic of a good meal. I love the care in which the pepperonis have been excessively plopped on to the pizza. This sign looks good enough to eat!

*found on the intersection of 6th St. and San Jacinto St.

The Signs of The American Highway

Current highway signs are designed specifically to help drivers navigate safely and easily through town but the notion of creating a sign based on its legibility was not so popular in the late 19th century. Thus, the posters from the Industrial Revolution represented the cultural identity of America and less of a corporate one. This redesign of a basic highway sign concludes what defines North America from other countries by eliminating the element of practicality while still adhering to what is recognizable.

Not many people know or care to know about the typefaces used on the highway but there are many laws limiting how signs are made and there are concerned designers attempting to perfect what is seen from the road. Highway Gothic has been the standardized typeface used on U.S roads since the mid-20th century but recently environmental graphic designer, Ron Meeker, has tediously designed Clearview. Clearview has been implemented in many states already because Meeker’s extensive studies were enough to convince the Federal Highway Administration that it was a better alternative to Highway Gothic. His testing included analyzing the problems with Highway Gothic, developing and tweaking a new typeface and, lastly, shining lights on each to compare their luminosities. This seemingly pointless study actually revealed the poor readability of Highway Gothic in a nighttime setting. Meeker received help from James Montalbano who said, “ “The fundamental flaw of Highway Gothic is that the counter shapes are too tiny, like the inside of an “o.” ” (YAFFA) Although the typography of highway signs are highly dependent on what is readable, they are still distinguishable across the globe.  Designer, Graham Clifford, “has mentioned the ubiquity of British transport” and compares its “cultural stamp” in England to Dublin’s expressive, “quirky local script.” (YAFFA) Many designers support these comments on the implications of a country’s transportation signs and if the theory holds true, Clearview will freshen American roads.

The idea that a sign can distinguish a region from the next is attractive yet modern design is so limited to readability and function that the cultural perception is a diluted. With all logic aside, the most “American” typographic signs, arguably, are those from the Industrial Revolution. The printing technology was conveniently developed along with modes of transportation, harboring an advertising frenzy of posters and signs. The railway advertisements would be considered an eyesore today yet, at that time, the public had not seen such flexibility with type. Wood type became very popular for it’s ability to create highly detailed letters and forms. Most posters had straight, and/or curved, lines of varying typefaces piled onto one another in different sizes. The message was dynamic and dominating as most lines were often in all caps and a mixture of serif and san serif typefaces were used side by side with ease. Typographers developed more extravagant typefaces with heavy serifs, stretching out into motifs. Somewhere in the center of all this text, a utopian image would squeeze its way to the front amongst the unreasonable forest of letters. Though the posters of 19th century America were obnoxious and dense, the skill shown was proof of America’s growth and technology.

The functional highway signs of today and the visually active train posters of the past can be connected to communicate the distinct spirit of what America is. To communicate this concept, green and white is used to create a recognizable frame to a modern highway sign. Furthermore, the text is expanded and the style of railway typography is applied. The three different typefaces used are Mesquite, designed by Joy Redick in 1990 Playbill, by Robert Harling in the 30’s, and Rockwell, designed in 1934 by Monotype collaborators, because they all are representations of early American typography. The layout is directly inspired by the scrolling text and odd treatment of punctuation from the past. Ultimately, the highway sign aims to create a conversation about the clues, roadway signs in this case, that express the distinctive culture of America. 

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Revealing Advertising Intent and Suggestions for the Re-Design of a Costume Shop Window Sign

A maladroit mess of a sign currently lurks behind the plate glass windows of Lucy In Disguise, a costume shop (est. 1984) in the boutique and restaurant-lined South Congress area of Austin. The purpose of the sign is primarily to advertise the different types of costumes available at Lucy In Disguise, but also to convey a funky, eclectic feel that Austin oozes (or at least thinks it does) and to project the store's unique brand identity.

Unfortunately, the sign fails to fulfill any of its intended goals. It firstly fails to advertise anything because the lack of a hierarchy for the text renders the message unclear. Without significant variation in font size there seems to be as much emphasis on costume descriptions like 'ethnic' and 'thru' as the word 'COSTUMES' itself, and giving each word or phrase its own decorative font makes each the most important and yet not important at all, because all vie for the viewer's attention with equal gusto. And if that wasn't enough, even the fonts chosen seemingly have nothing to do with the words they form. The movie reel decorating 'ADULT,' spelled out in Times, adds nothing but confusion to what is essentially an informal, yet informational phrase describing costume variety. I am left wondering, "Does a West Coast Choppers style goth font really say "TUXEDO?" The lack of a clear voice ringing out over the clamor turns the jabbering into a visual cacophony that even the most 'visually impaired' will inevitably steer clear of.

Successful and recognizable South Congress establishments create a unique identity mainly through the use of one-of-a-kind, often handmade graphics and artefacts, from hand-painted lettering to bizarre sculptures. Bright, bold, and surreal figures recalling some bygone psychadelic era embellish the Lucy In Disguise marquee directly above the sign. It is a spectacle with a twofold purpose: to draw attention and convey the South Congress kisch aesthetic. It's surprising, then, to find this sign, so obviously made on a computer with little thought given to the unique artistry that makes the hand-painted marquee above it so captivating. Without the handmade aesthetic, it seems that the computer-generated, commercially-produced-and-printed sign is out of place.

In redesigning the sign, my first goal was to create a hierarchy and emphasize the store's most basic function as a costume shop. I put 'COSTUMES' in big bold letters across the bottom, while maintaining the sentence/list of the costume variety from the original. This way, the viewer reads 'COSTUMES,' and suddenly 'PERIOD,' 'ETHNIC' and 'FAIRYTALE' make a lot more sense. Organization of the sentence-list of costumes should correspondingly become more of a dense, slightly less legible entity on the page, to minimize its importance to the main idea ("we sell costumes"). Clustering words together makes words appear to be 'spoken' in rapid succession one after another, encouraging the passerby who pauses to read more than 'COSTUMES' to read what they will quickly, absorbing as much of the message as possible.

The liberal use of color without abandon was clearly a request on behalf of the store's owner. In keeping with these perceived wishes I elected to use all six major colors and a black background. Layered blocks of clean, crisp Helvetica the way only Illustrator could render it pile on top of one another haphazardly, suggesting a conversely restrained and relaxed feel appropriate for an eclectic costume shop with a name and acid trip undertone from the 60s but with 80s roots and a current existence in a post-modern world. The primary colors resonate wildly but never overcome the subduing black on top of them in the costume list text block, and 'COSTUMES' in yellow tops the secondary colors and black, creating a visceral, attention-grabbing, biologically-based response that implores the viewer to read further and remember either loving or hating the loud, rebellious window poster.

Admittedly, the handmade aesthetic is gone in this treatment, but I have found it is ultimately intent and execution in response to context, not method, that renders a sign like this relevant and effective.

CHEMTRAILS Dumping Poison from Airplanes!

This miniscule sticker is found on the backside of a “No Parking- Tow Away zone” sign on the “Drag” at the intersection of 21st Street and Gudalupe Street. The sign speaks of a conspiracy theory about possible toxic chemical substances being released into our atmosphere and our government being responsible for these unusual aerial activities. Chemtrails are argued to be different from regular contrails; they tend not to follow a typical airplane’s singular vapor trail pattern, created by ice crystals in the air from condensation. Instead, chemtrails are found in various crosshatching patterns resembling tic-tac-toe grids and/or “X’s” that thin out and last for hours. The proposed purpose of this chemical pollution is associated with our government’s attempt towards social mind control, biological warfare, military causes, weather control, or research for some other unknown purpose.

One must question the group or person responsible for taking the time to design, print, and post these stickers and whether they are avid believers in this conspiracy. Believe it or not, there are numerous websites, videos, books, and even organizations (such as Blue Skies International) devoted to educating the public about the chemtrail conspiracy. William Thomas is an investigative journalist— turned author and videographer—who specializes in ecological, health, and military matters. He has written a book titled Chemtrails Confirmed 2007 and created a video named “Chemtrails.” In these two works he lists numerous eye-witness accounts of strange aerial activity, where jets flying in the sky suddenly turn around and cross their original path in a perpendicular fashion; the consequence being an “X” shaped contrail. Thomas has also researched chemtrail related operations and has constructed a timeline dating back from 1969, starting with a so called “Operation Cumulus” which was a scientific experiment on the creation of rain that resulted in close to 40 flood-related deaths in Devon, England. The timeline also includes chemtrail educational milestones such as a documentary aired on the Discovery Channel and chemtrails’ recent addition to Wikipedia. Both Wikipedia and William Thomas mention that the term chemtrails was mentioned in the Space Preservation Act of 2001 specifically in House Bill HR 2977 under the foreign weapons category. The foreign weapons category was, however, later removed.

Although the chemtrail conspiracy theory information was printed on a rectangular sticker no larger than 3 by 4 inches and being oddly located on the backside of a road sign— that is usually overlooked by passing pedestrians anyway—the word “LOOK” caught my attention as I walked on the sidewalk down Guadalupe Street. Placing the word in all uppercase, a formal property typically used to express an inflection in someone’s voice, was nicely and appropriately used. The sign itself is simple and well organized, using a hierarchal method. The unknown designer must have felt it was necessary to use various font sizes and weights, including different typefaces: Arial Black, Impact, and Tahoma, to grant certain words more significance.

Arial Black is part of the Arial sans serif family designed by Robin Nicholas and Robin Saunders for Monotype Typography and Monotype Imaging Inc. The typeface includes more humanistic and curved qualities in comparison to some other industrial san serif typefaces designed during the late 20th century.

Arial Black

In 1965 Geoffrey Lee for Stephenson Blake’s design firm, created the Impact typeface. Due to its bold, and slightly elongated, compressed characteristics, it was designed for use in headlines to do just that—make an impact on the reader.


Mathew Carter designed the Tahoma typeface for the Microsoft Corporation in 1994. Like Arial Black, it too has organic, humanist characteristics. Two prominent features that separate it from the other two typefaces used in the chemtrail poster include a slightly narrower body and tighter letter spacing.


Another interesting feature is that the information is broken up into three notable sections similar to an essay. The “LOOK UP IN THE SKY” acts as an introduction meant to grab your attention, “ Chemtrails Dumping Poison from Airplanes” is the body presenting “facts” or the subject matter, and “Geo Engineering or Biowarfare?” is the conclusion, leaving the viewer to question whether or not he/she should take the advice.

The image that has been purposely placed underneath the attention grabber to give the viewer a sense of the topic at hand is a key visual element to the sign’s composition. It would be difficult to describe what a chemtrail is considered to be without a provided photograph to use as a reference.

It was interesting investigating how I could try to capture the true essence of the content in visual form in a reiteration of the chemtrail sign. As I began redesigning the sign on a larger scale with only text, I began to question if I would be able to do justice to the sticker and achieve an implied visual while clearly communicate the information and without actually using an image.

For my first iteration, I knew I wanted to play with the words and bring out the meaning of the information through appropriate typeface and layout. I also wanted to give the sign a feel that one of these conspiracy believers had taken the time to cut out newspaper headlines and paste them together forming this propaganda poster. Thus, I combined seven different typefaces containing a variety of serifs and sans serifs: Arial Black, Book Antiqua, Helvetica, Abadi MT Condensed Extra Bold, Birch Std, Geneva, and Arial. I also included a few visual elements by creating a pointing device with the words “up,” “in,” and “the” to lead your eye upwards toward the word “sky.” I repeated the word “poison” three times, descending across the page to emphasize and help visualize it being “dumped” from airplanes.

As I began designing my final iteration of the chemtrail poster, I discovered more challenges in trying describe and give meaning to the term chemtrails. In keeping with using text to provide both a message and a visual, I created an image of an airplane and its chemtrails with only text. Although the concept was good, the final result was not as clear as the original chemtrail sticker. Thus, I decided drawing an actual airplane would effectively help the viewer understand how a chemtrail is produced.

For my final iteration, I used two different typfaces: Arial Black and Abadi MT Condensed Extra Bold. I followed the original sticker’s hierarchal technique and chose appropriate size fonts for each section. I kept the color palette simple, using three colors on the typography: yellow, yellow-green, and white, and decided a black background would capture the mysterious and dark qualities the message evoked. The dark gray airplane helps define its eeriness and makes you question who is flying it and for what purpose.

A Damn Good Post about a Killer Sign with Some Killer Tacos

Whether it is the yummy aroma of Torchy’s killer fried avocado tacos or the bright comical sign painted on the side of a trailer, it is hard to drive down West 6th Street without noticing Torchy’s Tacos. With a line of customers backed up to the street, it is evident that combination of the great food and the friendly quirky sign, really work together in attracting curious, hungry customers.
Not only is it Torchy’s vibrantly colored and friendly sign that make it inevitable to not notice it when walking down sixth street, but it also has a lot to do with it’s location. It is found in a little trailer in between big restaurants and 6th street clubs. These places have chic, ritzy signs with very simplistic names. They are nothing like Torchy's, which looks, very local and fun with its outside bar and Bring Your Own Beer option.
I was sparked with curiosity to find out what makes a certain taco place boom with customers and I thought what better way to find out then to ask the customers themselves. When questioning some of these taco eaters, I discovered that the two most common characteristics taco fanatics look for in their taco places is: convenience and a friendly setting. A lot of these people crave tacos when they want to relax; the last thing they look for is an uptight fancy place. After gathering a list of some of the most popular taco venues, I looked at the signs of these places. They all inhabited close to the same characteristics of Torchy’s. They were all very quirky, friendly, and really out there in the setting in which they were located. Therefore, I knew when recreating Torchy’s sign these were characteristics I could not lose.
Torchy’s was trying to embrace their friendly character through the typography used in the sign. Although this typography has somewhat of a friendly character, it also has strange jagged edges thrown in with awkward letters such as the “S”. It looks as though the font was trying to mimic the characteristics and style of fire; unfortunately, this was not very successful. The type would have been better if they would have went ahead and left off the jagged edges all together or pushed the idea of “letters on fire” even further. When looking online at all of the marvelously fiery hot fonts that existed, I knew I wanted to find the perfect one for Torchy’s. In fact, there are tons and tons of different “fire” fonts. Blazed, Char BB, Firestarter, and Flame are examples of some of my favorites that I found when researching.

When redesigning this sign, I wanted capture the friendly aspect of Torchy’s, but also embrace a more Mexican feel, considering it is a Taco Bar. I decided to go with Char BB as the typography to portray the name “Torchy’s Tacos”. I thought this was a good choice because it embraces the quirky feel of a taco place being located in a little trailer in between several big nice restaurants and clubs, and the proportions of the letters gives it a more authentic feel. I also wanted to use the “Damn Good” on the sign to create a second voice, as if an after thought—something you just cannot keep in after trying one of Torchy’s Tacos. The tacos are so overwhelming with amazing flavor that it is impossible not to let everyone around know that that taco is “Damn good!” After trying “Damn Good” in several different fonts, I realized that the best font for the job was Stencil. I decided to portray it as a stamp- like a stamp of approval- over Torchy’s Tacos. This really was effective in creating that second voice I was looking for because it held a different character, a different attitude than the font chosen for the “Torchy’s Tacos” part of the sign.
It is wonderful to have one’s eyes opened up to see all of the amazing details and facts behind one small sign. It is now hard to look past any other sign and not wonder, “why it was designed that way? “ or “what is it’s history?” It is amazing thee things you can learn from literally one sign, for example the wonderful fire fonts that have been designed or what really attracts customers to hole in the wall taco shacks. The more and more one thinks about it the more one craves a killer fried taco.


Mexic-Arte was founded in 1984 and since then it has showcased traditional and contemporary artists from the United States, Mexico, and Latin America. Its mission is to continue to bring tribute to established artists and feature the work of new talent. The museum’s outreach programs educate and enrich the public about Mexican and Latin American Culture and Art. Mexic-Arte is one of the few Mexican Art Museums in Texas. Its location in downtown Austin on Congress Street makes it accessible and visible to visitors. As a non-profit organization, it also offers educational workshops and classes for young children. This is a great opportunity for children to expand their creativity and gain exposure to different artists. This allows children to be aware of other cultures and traditions. Mexic-Arte shows great dedication and appreciation for Mexican art and the importance of representing Mexican Culture in the United States.

For most artists, history and culture is very much prominent in their work. The design of Mexic-Arte should illustrate and become a preview of the museum and what it displays. Much like an artist represents his or her aesthetic and style in his or her work, the sign should be representative of Mexic-Arte. When I first saw the sign I was immediately drawn to the content, not necessarily how it was represented. The typeface as well as the composition is very linear and blocky. The name Mexic-Arte, originally Galería México, is informative and illustrates the fundamental nature of the museum. The original name was too general, unoriginal, and with little commercial appeal. Mexic-Arte is a shorter and more direct name that combines the words Mexica and arte. Mexica was an indigenous culture of the Valley of México during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The blocked segmentation of the sign emphasizes the combination of words but it is not effective because the words are too confined. The letters are evenly spaced on each row but then the letters connect with the bars on the top and bottom. I disagree with the vertical lines connecting to all the letterforms. It visually it creates tension and disorder. The kerning is done well on each row of the sign but that does not help the organization.

I chose to work with this sign in order to experiment with the typeface, letter spacing, and layout. First, I turned the text into Helvetica and simply laid it out vertically with only capitalizing the M and A in Mexic-Arte. I thought this was a simple solution to distinguish between the two combined words. I placed museum in a smaller font size directly below Arte and aligned it on both sides to emphasize that it is an art museum. My experimentation with Helvetica gave a clean and sophisticated look but it did not add character or culture to the words. My second attempt to redesign the sign was to separate both Mexic and Arte in rows as it was in the original. I used a san serif font called Lithos Pro so that it could reference the original font but keep sufficient spacing in between the lines. Lithos Pro Regular font was released in 2000 and was inspired by ancient Greek inscriptions and it consists of linear and geometric letterforms. I was drawn to this typeface because of its ancient and culture rich undertones that mimicked the connection to Mesoamerican civilizations that I felt from the logo. Finally, by keeping the text right aligned, it adds the organization that was needed in the original sign.

As guests walk through the large wooden doors of the art museum they are directed to the information desk, located in the art store. Although small, the store is full of Mexican Folk Art, pottery, carved wooden animals, and jewelry. Viewers first get a glimpse of older more traditional decorative pieces of art and then continue on to see more recent and modern day art. The gallery space is composed of two main rooms that are structured to give the visitor a full view of the exhibit. Guests can easily maneuver through the simple floor plan. The gallery space is small and humble, and the logo does not seem to fit its modesty.

After an intensive search for the details of the design and typeface of the Mexic-arte logo, I was finally able to contact and meet with the designer, Tony Romano. Questions about the concept, typeface, and formal decisions of the sign arose in my meeting with him. As an artist, designer and local supporter of the Arts in Austin he would frequently visit Mexico-Arte. At the time, almost 15 years ago, the museum did not have a set logo but simply written text. Tony Romano offered to design a logo for them and the concept was left entirely to him. He looked through some books in the Museum library and was inspired by a particular late nineteenth century/early twentieth century Mexican print artist named Jose Guadalupe Posada. He admitted not doing enough research and focusing just on the formal aspects of the letter type. He took one of Posada’s typefaces and modified it to formally fit the composition of the logo. He explained the decision behind the square shape logo and how it is typically more convenient to use a square form when shrinking and expanding a logo. He drew inspiration from the blocky papel picado Mexican decorations and decided to mimic the stencil quality by separating the text and connecting it to the division bars. He initially wanted the edges of the sign more rough looking, but the budget could not accommodate it.

Since the museum was not as well established back then, a logo was not a priority. As a result, this logo depended on practical and financial decisions. Mexic-Arte seems to be a Mesoamerican art museum, but the chic design contradicts its appearance. The logo lacks research, a more in depth study of Mexican culture without just looking at images that are commonly associated with the culture and show one aspect of its traditions. It also lacks representation, an image that speaks about the museum that is cohesive rather than contradictory. Design decisions made according to a budget can ultimately affect its communication. This was the case for Mexic-Arte.


light switch in Jester W0256

The contemp
orary world we live in gives rise to an abundance of typographic and graphic signs in our visual landscape. However, this proliferation becomes a muddle that often makes it difficult for us to distinguish the importance of one sign from another. A poorly designed sign with an important message might get overlooked as another attractive but less substantial sign gets noticed. The issue at hand is not just how to make a substantial sign stand out, but how to clarify its message as well as make an impact on the viewer.

One sign in need of redesign sits on the light switch plate in each room in Jester, an on-campus residence hall at UT Austin. Measuring at about three inches wide and two inches tall, this small sticker boldly states “HELP CONSERVE ENERGY, Please…TURN OFF LIGHTS.” The heading is entirely in red capital letters in Impact typeface, while the instructional text consists of white capital letters in a Helvetica typeface. A small illustration of a pointing finger turning off a light adds to the complexity of the sign. While these design decisions were most likely made to draw attention, the sticker ends up looking more obnoxious than engaging. The use of bright red and stark white results in a contrast that hurts the eyes. This color combination also references public signs that generally have a negative and restrictive connotation, like generic Stop or Do Not Enter signs. Furthermore, the overbearing feeling brought on by the bold Impact type, as well as the use of capital letters in general, is inconsistent with the idea of modest conservation. Rather than reading as a reminder, the message is now reading as a shout, which certainly does not bring the reader to any respectful attention.

a comparison between the color schemes

All these issues with the design take away from the essential reason for the sign’s existence. Looking at the purpose of the sign, the context in which it was created, and the location where it is found gives a new importance to its redesign. The president of the university is essentially the initiator of the energy conservation project that was created due to the increased prices and scarcity of natural gas in our w
orld. Its purpose is to have the students in the dorms help the effort to reduce both the environmental and financial cost of energy use. The importance of conserving energy on campus cannot be emphasized enough to students, who for the most part do not consider the negative consequences that are directly related back to them. An announcement on the university’s website state that tuition costs are expected to increase by up to $150 each semester for the upcoming 2008-2009 school year. These tuition increases are projected to total around $13.6 million dollars, most of which will go to maintaining energy costs. The 2008 College Sustainability Report Card created by the Endowment Institute mentions that several conservation efforts have been and are currently being made. These endeavors include replacing 3,200 incandescent light bulbs with florescent bulbs and switching appliances and fixtures to EnergyStar products. Turning off the lights in one room when unoccupied is a simple gesture that takes little to no effort to do. However, according to an estimate by Scottish Gas, that action alone could save up to $85 a year, which could add up to millions altogether. Thus, to improve the current signs with attention-grabbing and action-inducing signs could make a significant impact on both the student body and the environment.

In order for the sign to be changed for the better, the first adjustment should be to replace the unnatural red and white colors with a calmer color scheme. More muted and natural colors relate better to the meaning of the message. The size of the sticker should also interact and engage with the space it resides, which in this case is the light switch power outlet plate. Rather than only covering one third of the plate, the sticker should cover more, if not the entire plate. While doing so, an integration of the fixed components of the switch and outlet with the typography would nicely tie the elements together. Typographic choices should not be the heavy Impact or the neutral Helvetica, but it should be something more hip (to appeal to college students) and playful (to act as a friendly reminder). One suitable typeface that comes to mind is Futura. It is a clean looking type with unwavering line thickness, round forms, and a little more character than Helvetica. The text should be in lowercase letters to avoid the disconcerting and unnecessary shouting result of the original capital letters. After an actual attempt to reconstruct this sign for a class assignment, a few challenges prevented me from resolving the design. The most difficult aspect was the integration of the sign with the space it occupies. The two large gaps needed for the outlet and switch took up the majority of the space, leaving an oddly shaped and incredibly reduced area to work with. Questions of whether or not to include a graphic element and how to attract without being obnoxious also posed as obstacles.

my unsuccessful attempts at redesigning

The difficulties I realized in attempting to recreate
the sticker similarly relates to the difficulties of trying to make an impact on the student body for energy conservation at UT. The more ineffective the sign, the less likely the sign will be able to successfully engage students in the delivery of the message. With further exploration into this design dilemma, the end result should attract the attention of the viewer without distracting from the essential message. With good design, this little sticker could eventually be a significant agent in reducing costs not only to the university, but also to the student body and to the environment.

Sex, Drugs & Rock Posters

The nineteen sixties were wedged in an era of radical social revolution. The decade was bursting with a liberal counter-culture, which caused a rebellion that lead to the “hippie” attitude and with it grew a dangerous love affair with sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. The sixties are now synonymous with liberals, non-conformists, and the psychedelic music genre. Here in Austin, a city known for its eclectic culture, diverse music scene and that quirky slogan, “Keep Austin Weird”, it’s obvious how we can draw numerous ties to the ideas and general notion of the 1960’s. So it came as no surprise to find a sixties style concert poster pinned in the window of a local pizza joint.

A stylized block typeface combined with playful warping of the text make it hard not to notice the poster immediately, but unfortunately make it very hard to read as well. The flyer is for a concert at Emo’s Lounge, a small venue for alternative music which, on their website, half-jokingly encourages patrons to come out and “support the bands, or, if that ain’t enough, come down and support the long standing, though somewhat ambiguous, history of drunkenness and/or debauchery.” This attitude, faintly reminiscent of sixties culture, and the apparent psychedelic musical influence over the featured bands clearly called for an event poster of a similar nature. Austin based Christian Bland, twenty-seven and owner of Bland Designs, created the poster for the club. The screen printing and graphic design company features many similar designs and typography- all arguably enticing but often illegible.

Butterfield is the font that has been manipulated for this poster. The typeface has bold block lettering with decorative embellishments that help to convey that psychedelic effect. It was officially designed in 1993 by David Nalle, founder of the type foundry, the Scriptorium, which bases the majority of its typefaces on hand lettering from old magazine titles, signs, and maps. Butterfield, however, was specifically influenced by Wes Wilson’s hand-painted lettering from popular concert posters in the 1960’s. Wilson was self-taught and, through a series of fortunate coincidences, found himself redefining the idea of what an event poster should look like. He ignored prior convention of simplicity and disregarded legibility, concerning himself solely with beauty that can be found in the art form.

Sixties concert posters came to define a style for that psychedelic counter-culture, incorporating hand-painted typefaces with bold color choices and a strong incorporation of art nouveau elements. Art Nouveau is a style of art that was popular at the beginning of the 20th century, characterized by highly stylized, flowing designs that seem to grow into plant inspired forms. The Art Nouveau inspiration is even evident in this poster for the “Winter Full Moon Party” but seems to be relying too heavily on the manipulation of the text to carry the air of sixties poster art.

This poster for Emo’s Lounge conveys some of the sixties spirit but is largely unsuccessful in a modern setting because of its illegibility. In my own experimentation with the text I found it difficult to balance legibility with stylized design, especially because of the quantity of text on the poster. I decided it would be best to combine the bold colors of prominent sixties design with modern edges and a legible sans serif typeface but then felt limited by the constraints of computer programs. In response to this, I decided to write out the text in Helvetica by hand which actually corresponded to the process of sixties hand-painted typefaces even more. In the end I felt as though I had not simply redesigned a concert poster but had brought the psychedelic design associated with the hippie era into the 21st century.
(I still need to scan in my redesign with the hand done lettering)


Located in the back of Lucky Lizard Curios and Gifts, the Museum of the Weird is a humorously tacky peek into the the world of traveling sideshows. Curator Steve Busti describes it as "an homage to the dime museums of American culture," which were made popular by P.T. Barnum in the late 19th century. The Museum's "ballyhoo" takes the form of a flamboyantly painted wooden sign next to the gift shop entrance. It is just as delightfully tacky as the museum itself.

I had observed this sign on several occasions prior to beginning this project, each encounter warranting a mental nod of approval. Although I had no typographic experience on which to base my judgement, everything about the sign just seemed somehow "right." So after experiencing first hand the challenge of communicating effectively with typography, I made it my assignment to figure out exactly what makes this sign such a masterwork.

Amidst the jumble of bars, nightclubs, and pizza joints that comprise 6th Street, this sign is surprisingly eye-catching. Lucky Lizard is by no means the only business to take the low-budget alternative of hand-painted signage, but in this case the unknown artist seems to have been exceptionally well-informed. He has expertly employed a mix of historical influences to evoke a simplified version of the circus sideshow aesthetic.

A key element in this aesthetic is the prominent use of the Tuscan Egyptian typeface. A revival of the popular wooden type fonts of the 19th century, like those of William Hamilton Page, this type of lettering has become associated with circus posters and the old west. The Tuscan style has a long, often overlooked history. Early examples have been traced back to ancient Rome, but most Italian connotations belonging to this letterform have long since disappeared. In the 19th century, foundries began releasing a variety of decorated ornamental letters based on the Tuscan letterform. They were so popular, they eventually came to represent the extravagance of Victorian design. The Egyptian fonts originated in late 18th-century sign painting, and also gained immense popularity. Egyptian letterforms came more naturally to the brush, and were more suitable than most letterforms to be cut in wood or cast for shop fronts.

(country store)

Another interesting letter style is the ghostly font that animates the word "weird." This lettering uses as its inspiration the poster typography that characterizes old horror films. It is the perfect choice to give a creepy intonation to the advertisement. The majority of this type of lettering was originally hand-painted, but today there are many standardized typefaces (ex: GateKeeper AOE) that employ this stylization.


After researching the typographical history of this sign, what most intrigues me is the idea that there exist certain archetypes in typography: certain aesthetic elements that have become associated with a particular use, time period, or emotion (a typeface with slab serifs and center spurs now embodies the spirit of the wild west, amusement parks, and circuses). This sign is an excellent example of the way we have developed a subconscious familiarity with these archetypes through our visual culture. It is for this reason that someone with no typographic training would immediately recognize the historical influences of this sign, or at least appreciate their effect.

Come On In Everybody

Signs appear everywhere we go and each of them has its own unique characteristic that try to catch our eye. These attention hungry signs like the Chuck E Cheese’s, Gatti’s Pizza, McDonald’s and CoCo’s Café banners flood our cities competing for business. Coco’s Café in particular presents a colorful and “poppy” sign that is both catchy and inviting. The banner for CoCo’s Café can certainly grab ones attention, but it can also make you feel overwhelmed.

While I was walking down Guadalupe Street, CoCo’s Café’s vibrant, loopy, bold, and enticing logo had caught my eye. A font similar to the Allinea sans was used in this banner that was designed by Thierry Puyfoulhoux in 1995. There are no serifs in this font; and it is appropriate because serifs connote a sense of restriction and professionalism, which is completely the opposite of what CoCo’s Café, is trying to convey. The purple, round, and curvy letters along with the yellow swirling sun on the upper right corner all gave me the impression that this café is a warm, inviting, and fun place to dine. According to the employee, the store was named after the owner’s dog which indicates that the owner was aiming for a humorous and friendly title. Furthermore, in order to give the viewers the impression that they do indeed sell pearl drinks, there are six circles on the lower left corner that replicates the tapioca pearls, which are used in the drinks. The description “pearl drinks and Taiwanese food” is literally spelled out in orange underneath the word CoCo’s. When I entered the café I was greeted with bright purple and orange walls and childlike décor that hang along the walls. The menu is written in pink and white chalk that further emphasizes that this café is aimed towards a young and cheerful audience.

I personally enjoy the positive energy that CoCo’s Café unravels in their logo and in their interior decorations. However, I can imagine someone arguing that signs like this along with signs like Chuck E Chesse’s, Gatti’s Pizza, and McDonald’s banners fill our already highly populated and polluted cities with even more discomfort, by presenting new ways to litter our streets with lights and wacky logos. For instance, the Chuck E Cheese’s sign uses hues of red and yellow that spell out the words along with a picture of their mascot centered on the title. The C, E, and S are oddly stretched longer than the rest of the letters and present a sense of hierarchy even though it was probably not intentional. The Gatti’s Pizza sign is obnoxious with its wavy characters that are outlined in orange and teal. Lastly, how can anyone miss the super sized, vivid, and bright yellow McDonald’s arches that beg drivers to look at and drive through the drive-thru? Signs are meant to have a simple purpose, which is to present information with clarity and legibility. However, the restaurants that I have mentioned make us wonder how life would be without these complex signs that clutter and perhaps even distort the messages. Is it truly necessary to have banners with cartoon characters attached to them? Or signs that are bolded and stretched to the point where they look like string cheese, obscuring the words and the message itself? But then again, it could be argued that these signs or all commercial signs focus their attention more so on bringing in customers just to stay in business.

There are a few possible solutions to this problem. One is to have a standard font for all commercial businesses to use, such as Helvetica. Helvetica is the cleanest and simplest font that could be used by anyone without jeopardizing and complicating their message. However, this could be problematic because if everyone were to use the same font then we wouldn’t be able to distinguish signs from one another and nothing would stand out and catch our attention. To solve the repetitive use of Helvetica, there should be a set of fonts set aside for the sole purpose of advertising that are clean, precise, and direct. For instance, Universe and Arial are both san-serif fonts that provide simplicity and legibility. The other is to minimize the use of excessive materials such as form, color, and unnecessary icons. I created a poster to best convey the CoCo’s banner by minimizing the extra components. I deleted the swirling sun and the circles that the original banner has and created a poster that conveys the essence of a pearl tea cup. I outlined what appears to be a cup with a softer purple and mimicked the illusion of a straw by spelling out “pearl drinks and Taiwanese food”. Furthermore, I used the font Helvetica rounded to play off the idea of pearls being round. There are many different ways to modify signs that exist but it is difficult to do so without taking away its originality.

It is difficult to go anywhere in public without being bombarded with signs that try to lure people in. Some are pleasing to view but some are nothing but an eyesore. Personally, I have a positive reaction towards CoCo’s Café; however, one may disagree due to its flashy design. As you can see, there are numerous problems with having an extravagant sign but it is also difficult to stand out without embellishing them as well.

Designing for Greater Heights

There is a unique energy that surrounds the ever changing and ever growing metropolis of Austin, Texas. Its urban developments are constantly expanding and giving Austin more recognition as a city. When I saw the “” sign, I was automatically attracted to it because it illustrates the eccentric side of Austin quite well while still maintaining its professional look as a company. is basically an urban real estate company with the hopes of extending Austin’s modern building complexes, which range from condos to highrises. The firm is located in the heart of downtown on Congress and 6th street, surrounded by a diverse plethora of urban buildings such as the famous Frost Bank (2003) and traditional buildings that date back to when Austin was still developing such as the Little Field Building (1910).

I chose this sign to research and explore mainly because of how it is oriented: both horizontally and vertically. chose to orient the sign vertically without making it illegible since type that is set vertically can be difficult to read at times. Although the read from top to bottom, the letters are laying on their sides. However, that wasn’t all that caught my attention. The designer was clever enough to place the beginning letters of the each of the words “Austin”, “Urban”, and “Digs” vertically, which offers a perfect way of separating the letters (since it is one long web address) while also still achieving legibility. The sign’s verticality as a whole reminded me of a tall building, which is very appropriate since it is a company that manages real estate throughout Austin.

As far as the typeface goes, I’m not exactly its greatest fan. Eurostile was developed around 1962 by Aldo Novarese, an Italian designer and typographer. His earlier version of Eurostile was Microgramma, which is more wide set and only contained capital letters. Developed in 1952, Microgramma was a hugely successful typeface, so a decade later, Novarese designed Eurostile, which consisted of lowercase and capital letters., a well known website that provides brief histories of typefaces, further explains how both typefaces were influenced by rectangular and oval shapes with rounded edges. Eurostile has a very mechanical and retro feel, expressive of design from that time period. Using a simple geometric typeface for this particular company helps to resemble the shapes of houses and buildings.

(On a side note, this typeface kept reminding me of Star Trek’s logo for some reason. Both Star Trek’s logo and Eurostile have similar geometric letters with rounded edges and both debuted in the 60s. Of course, Star Trek’s is more stylized. However, after I did some research on Star Trek’s original logo and various other logos, they were in fact all based on Microgramma, the typeface that influenced Eurostile. I found this to be quite interesting.)

As much as I love how the sign was oriented, I felt it could be improved and pushed further as far as logotype design goes. Although it is a simple and legible sign, it's only just that. The viewer would have to know what the company was prior to seeing the sign to actually interpret why it was designed that way. Thus, I wanted to redesign the sign to give a glimpse of what it was just from looking at the sign. As I experimented with various typefaces, I kept in mind that I wanted something that would give a cleaner and even more modern look while still keeping the simple geometric elements of the typeface. Futura was one sans serif typeface that caught my attention because of its sharp corners and very geometric style. It was developed in the late 1920s by Paul Renner during the Bauhaus period. While Eurostile has blunt and rounded edges, Futura has very crisp, sharp “A”s and flawlessly round “O”s which seem to fit more with the firm’s name and what it does.

Real estate firms want to expand cities, but many of them tend to take on the image of greedy people who want to sell as much overpriced property as possible since people are willing to invest in property with the hopes that prices will rise later on. However, in a recent article in the Austin Business Journal, Austin has experienced “a 31 percent drop in new home starts in 2007”. Thus, I’m sure firms are trying their best to maintain the demand of real estate. So, to help better advertise the company, a catchy and new logo could attract more consumers. As I explored’s website, it contained links to explore some of their marketed properties, many of them using Futura and some using modified Eurostile. Since these individual websites are visually pleasing to look at, AustinUrbanDigs, the promoter of these properties should also deserve a better designed logo. So, then I started with how I interpreted AustinUrbanDigs: a real estate firm that is trying to expose and extend some of the newest developments in the urban Austin area and introduce some future projects that haven’t yet been built. Also, I wanted to keep playing with the mixture of vertical and horizontal words. Thus, I stacked “Austin”, “Urban”, and “Digs” vertically on top of “.com” symbolizing skyscrapers while still maintaining the verticality of the sign. However, just the words themselves did not seem to clearly represent Austin’s urban environment. Thus, I placed buildings in between the “AustinUrbanDigs” and “.com”. In addition, I placed columns of dots representative of lights or windows trickling down some of the buildings to connect the words. The huge words “AustinUrbanDigs” placed on top of the city to reinforce one of the company’s goal: to expand the city of Austin.

First attempt at redesigning:
Final Attempt:’s sign shows the play on verticality while still staying simple and professional. For my attempt at redesigning the sign, I wanted to give the viewer an idea of what the company does. The unconventional and distinctive air of the city of Austin in a state like Texas is one that is bound to attract people from all places. Austin’s youth and energy is one thing wants to keep alive as it expands Austin's urban environment to its greatest heights.