CDF 2018 Fall
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CDF 2018 Fall

P3 — Process Documentation

For me, Project 3 was a completely different experience than Project 2. Project 2 involved a significant amount of initial idea brainstorming, and then latching on to a few ideas that worked. But the main theme for Project 3 was the presence of endless iterations. While I did also have my fair share of preliminary ideas for this project, much of my time was devoted to iterating on two main ideas before finally narrowing down to one piece. It was an arduous process, with many a minute tweak, but ultimately, it was a very rewarding process. Here’s how it unfolded!

My final type specimen poster for Avenir.

Part 1: Background Research

The first part of this project was understanding the typeface I had been assigned. My typeface was Avenir, and upon my initial research, my first thoughts were that it was a very simple, easy to read, and clean font. My research on the font reaffirmed these ideas, as it turned out that Avenir was intended to be an optically-corrected version of the geometric sans-serif fonts of years past. The optical correction (“o,” “g” and other round characters are not perfectly circular) are what make Avenir so easy to read. In addition, I discovered that one of Avenir’s primary uses is in company logos; Aol, Nationwide, and Spotify are all examples of companies that use Avenir in their brands.

These two findings were some of the ideas I wanted to convey in my poster, so I did my best to keep them in mind when making my preliminary sketches. However, I also made sure to keep my ideas open, so I made as many different sketch ideas as I could.

Part 2: Initial Sketches

My initial poster idea sketches.

When coming up with all of my different sketch ideas for my poster, I really wanted to explore as many opportunities as possible without limiting myself. I remember that when looking at the examples Suzanne showed us in class, the ones that really stood out where the ones that incorporated a single large letter as well as overlapping text in the background. These were some themes I tried to play around with, as they also built off of my original idea of demonstrating the optically-corrected letters of Avenir.

My first three sketches were all fairly similar, but they each played around with a single large letter. My first thought was using “a,” because “a” stands for Avenir as well as representing the first letter of the alphabet. However, I noticed that “a” wasn’t actually a very round letter, so I wasn’t really able to demonstrate the geometry of Avenir. I then thought of using “g” instead, because the bowl of the “g” is a slightly horizontally-compressed circle. By emphasizing the circularity of the “g,” I would be able to depict how Avenir optimized the geometry of previous fonts.

My other sketches explored using different letters and combinations to portray the structure of Avenir. Some of the characters I experimented with included the “&” symbol and “e,” both characters with strong curves and circular influences. In the end, my three favorite sketches wound up being these ones:

It was time to transfer these sketches to the digital screen!

Part 3: Transferring to Illustrator

When I began transferring my ideas to Illustrator, I immediately noticed a few things.

  1. Big letters look SO much better in digital form than in pencil!
  2. Opacity is a fantastic way to give the appearance of foreground and background.
  3. I couldn’t quite figure out how to make the letters bigger than the default 1296 PX size.

The final point was one that I eventually figured out with the help of Rachel (you have to convert the font to outlines — ah!), but the other two were things that I immediately started playing around with. For the blocks of text I had designated in my initial sketches, I went to my research document and compiled a brief summary of the history of Avenir. I also wanted to include a short quote about Avenir, and I found an excellent one from Adrien Frutiger, the founder of Avenir himself:

“Avenir is intended to be a… clean representation of modern typographical trends.”

I immediately loved this quote. Not only was it short, succinct, and impactful, but it also perfectly represented what Avenir was meant to be. Moreover, it was a statement made by the creator himself, which really tells us all we need to know about how we should interpret Avenir: as a clean, elegant, modernistic typeface.

With my content confirmed, my first drafts on Illustrator thus looked like this:

(Left to Right) Idea 1, Idea 2, and Idea 3

Upon further inspection, I felt that my third design was a bit too rigid, so I chose to work with the first two. I liked how the “g” and the “a” looked in the first one, and I also liked the movement in the “aven” in the second version.

Part 4: Iterations

To put it simply, I had a LOT of iterations.

Iterations, iterations, iterations. This was the absolute theme of this project, and I quickly learned that you can truly never have enough iterations. Because I worked on two ideas at once, I will walk through the multiple iterations I came up with for each idea.

Idea 1: Big Letters

Idea 1 (Iteration 1)

For this idea, I really wanted to focus on having the big letters in the background (a “g” and “a”) convey the essence of the typeface, but I didn’t want them to distract from the text in the foreground. In addition, I wanted to convey a sense of hierarchy, so I chose to make the two letters overlap slightly. For the actual word “avenir” itself, I used all lower-cased letters because I liked their shape and curvature more.

Idea 1 (Iteration 2)

Playing with the opacity was also an enlightening task. I found that by making the “a” slightly more opaque, it would be possible to make it look like it was in front of the “g,” even though they were actually on the same plane! When I asked Suzanne and Rachel for their feedback on this iteration, they also liked how I used variation in the sizes of the “g” and “a,” but they cautioned me to make sure the text was still legible when it was in front of the big letters. So, I decided to add a splash of color in order to make the “g” appear even lighter than before.

Idea 1 (Iteration 3)

I chose a light shade of lavender as my color because I thought it felt playful yet calming, a good way to convey the tone of Avenir. Avenir is meant to be a soothing font to read, and I thought my color choice did a good job conveying this idea. In addition, I really wanted to highlight the “g” because it was a great example of the optical-modifications made by Avenir. The bowl on “g” was not a perfect circle, but rather, a slightly compressed oval. This was exactly what Frutiger was trying to accomplish by altering the structure of his characters. This type of compression makes Avenir much easier to read than fonts like Futura and Erbar.

I felt that this iteration was close to complete, but Suzanne mentioned that we did not need that much text on our poster for it to be successful. So for my final modification, I cut down the two paragraphs of text so that I had one consolidated body of text. In addition, I made the text left justified because the center justify felt a bit too stiff.

Idea 1 (Iteration 4)

As a final touch, I played with the tracking and leading for the block of text so that it was easier to read. The edges of the block were not jagged, but rather, a soothing wave-like structure. In addition, by increasing the leading, the text became much easier to read and decipher. With this idea mainly ready for presentation at the intermediate crit, I diverted my attention to idea 2.

Idea 2: Background Floating Letters

Idea 2 (Iteration 1)

The main premise of this idea was having “avenir” partially spelled out in big letters in the background. I specifically wanted to convey a sense of movement by having the letters in a “V” shape, but I also wanted to establish a clear foreground and background. The big letters would be in the background to complement my foreground text, but they would still ideally show the essence of the typeface with their structure. At this point, however, I still wasn’t sure about how well the balance of the piece worked. So, I fiddled around with the quote I used in the upper right. Would a different example text make it feel more balanced?

Idea 2 (Iteration 2)

Nope. I hated the squareness/rigidness of having the alphabet there. I would need to make that text feel more dynamic to add to the overall movement of the piece. Back to the quote I went!

Idea 2 (Iteration 3)

For this iteration, there were a few main changes:

  1. I structured the quote differently so that it looked more like a diamond rather than a stiff two-lines of text.
  2. I added some color on the “e” to emphasize its structure and form.

The reason I chose to highlight the “e” was similar to the reason I highlighted the “g” in my other idea. The shape of the “e” was also circular by design, but it wasn’t perfectly round; it was also optically-adjusted so that it was easier to read. I liked the light-green color because it was also fairly playful, yet calming. The nice part about reducing opacity is that it also tones down the color, essentially accomplishing the same thing as tinting the color. Because of this tinting effect, the green color catches the eye, but does not detract from the overall piece.

When I asked Rachel to look over my design, she mentioned that perhaps I didn’t even need the “V” shaped text. The “n” seemed weirdly isolated when I elevated it, so I chose to place the entire “aven” on a downward-sloping line instead.

Idea 2 (Iteration 4)

This was the version I ended up presenting during the intermediate crit. I liked the shape of the quote in the upper right, and I consolidated the block of text in the lower left to make it easier to read. I limited the number of words per line and also increased the leading a bit. Finally, I played around with the location of the text so that it didn’t overlap with the background as much. I felt that because I reduced the opacity, I didn’t need to actually have the background letters overlapping with the foreground in order to convey the sense of hierarchy. This was a change also intended to make the poster easier to read and decipher.

Part 5: Intermediate Crit

The two ideas I presented to the class for the intermediate crit.

It was intermediate crit time! I presented both of my ideas to the class (with limited success, as I naively rolled up my posters before bringing them to class… whoops!) in order to hear their opinions on which idea to focus on. The main questions I had for the class were…

  • Was my idea too simplistic?
  • Were my color choices effective?
  • Which idea did they like better?

Thankfully, I received answers to all three of these questions. Regarding the simplicity of my posters, most of the class agreed with my concept of elegance. Avenir is a font that can be portrayed through simplicity, as the sans-serif nature of the font is one that is inherently clean. There did not need to be any additional distractions on my poster for it to still be successful, as this was truly a case in which “less is more.”

My color choices were also met with approval, as most people felt like the lavender and green colors were fun yet calming. Overall though, it seemed like more people favored the lavender color. This, combined with some of the other feedback I received about the aestheticness of the big “g,” made me decide to focus on my first idea for my final draft.

Part 6: Final Draft

The main pieces of feedback I received on my Idea 1 were as follows:

  • I should align the quote to the “avenir” text in order to make it feel more anchored and less out of place.
  • Having “g” and “a” made some people instinctively think of “garamond” instead of “avenir.”
  • The darkness of the “a” made the foreground text a bit hard to read.

So for my final iterations, I set about fixing these issues!

In order to resolve the “ga” issue, I changed the “a” to an “e.” After all, “e” was the other letter I used on my Idea 2, so I knew it would still work well. In addition, I also lowered the opacity of the “e” further so that it would inhibit the foreground text even less. In addition, I aligned the quote with the word “avenir,” and made the quotation marks hanging quotes instead (at the suggestion of Suzanne).

My final concern, however, was one of balance. I didn’t like how the word “avenir” and the quote were too near the bottom of the poster. So, I shifted that text block upwards while also moving the large “e” upwards to counteract the change. And with that, I had my final version!

Idea 1 (Final Iteration)

Crit + Conclusions

I was actually very nervous for the final crit because I still felt somewhat self-conscious about the fact that my poster seemed very bare compared to some of the other posters people made. But, I knew that I had put in a lot of effort to craft my poster, and I felt that simplicity and elegance were the best ways to convey Avenir. So, when it came time to share my work, these were points I wanted to emphasize.

I was delighted to hear the positive feedback people had to say about my work. Many people reaffirmed their liking of my color choice, and others remarked on the effectiveness of my simple design. I felt relieved, elated, and upbeat. I had taken a risk by focusing on a simple design, and thankfully, it had paid off.

I think one of my biggest takeaways from this project was that it’s okay to take a minimalistic approach, as long as it’s something you feel is effective and powerful. I had spent so much time comparing my piece to other people’s posters that I had temporarily forgotten my own vision. I had my own ideas I wanted to convey through my type specimen poster, and ultimately, what mattered most was that I was able to produce a poster I was happy with. Design is about transferring our own ideas to the big screen, and not about creating some extraordinarily complicated piece. I am proud of the final poster I produced for P3, and I am excited to continue infusing my own ideas into the final two projects of the semester.

The final crit!

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