Unlikely Influences

This week we started watching Season Three of The Wire. I was struck by how much my transition page for Midnight Feast resembled the housing depicted in that series. Then I realised that I drew this just after watching seasons one and two, and that I’d no doubt been influenced by the rather depressing backdrop of The Wire as I drew.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how everything you do/see/read/watch/hear during a long-term creative project has an influence, subconscious or not, on your final product. It’s important to keep surrounding yourself with good art, good books and, in my case, good TV. Um, okay!

The Non-Intuitive Rules Of Design

I’ve been blogging with WordPress for about 3 years and only just noticed the text at the bottom of this screen which says, ‘Thank you for creating with WordPress.

Maybe I’m just not that observant. Actually, I know I’m not that observant, but is it also possible that there is a space on every page which is almost guaranteed not to be noticed?

I’m reminded of a staff ‘de-stress’ sheet which the assistant principal used to distribute into everyone’s pigeon hole on a Friday. High schools are some of the most complex organisations that exist, management wise, and this de-stress sheet was vital in that it told everyone what was happening over the coming week. It was an A5 sheet of paper, folded in two (usually with a lewd cartoon on the front, which we were reminded to keep away from students), and the text inside was surrounded by a black border.

It took me about three years to work out that the MOST IMPORTANT THING of to the week existed OUTSIDE that border, right at the top of the page. It was even in a different font, 16 point instead of 10. It had been designed to be noticed. Yet when I asked around, I wasn’t the only staff member to have missed it.

I had never, ever seen it. Once you knew it was there it was impossible to miss. And I’m sure the assistant principal, who’d designed that template, couldn’t believe someone might fail to see it. I can’t begin to imagine how much trouble I would’ve kept out of had I noticed that particular line of text.

I wonder if there are any ‘rules’ of layout that my boss would’ve lead to a better de-stress sheet. If I can take anything away from that:

  • Just because the designer thinks she’s highlighting something, doesn’t mean the end-users will consider it so.
  • The very act of trying to make something obvious may have the opposite effect.
  • There ARE rules of layout, and an experienced designer no doubt knows them intuitively. I don’t know the rules per se, but I’ve learnt from that one example not to position important things too close to the edge.

Do You Look Like Your Dog?

There are some researchers, who’ve been very lucky with their funding, who have studied the ways in which pets resemble their owners. If you’ve ever been to a dog show you’ll probably have noticed the phenomenon yourself. Sure enough, it’s been noted that when shown a random mixture of owner/pet photos, people are able to match those owners with their pets at a higher than random rate.

30 Owners Who Look Like Their Dogs, from Buzzfeed

I sometimes wish I could see photographs of illustrators alongside their pictures. I bet illustrators most naturally draw people look like themselves — similar face shapes and stature, even if they don’t mean to. Indeed, even if they go out of their way. Because we spend a lot of time looking at family members, and they tend to look like ourselves. We must also have a ‘default setting’ for a face, and that default is ourselves.

Do you look like your pet? We own a rather attractive Border collie. Though if I think harder, he hasn’t had a good brush in quite a while, and I have to admit I care about my own coiffure just about exactly as much. Think I’ll duck off to the bathroom and run a comb through my hair…

Related: Stuart Freeborn designed Yoda based on himself. Who else looks like the character they designed?

Literacy Expertise

Dan’s a bit of a stats nerd. He loves to look at graphs. The other day he was looking at a graph attached to the YouTube promotional video we made for The Artifacts. The interesting thing about YouTube, compared to many other websites, is that we can see the basic demographic profile of people looking at our content.

“Hmmm,” he said, sounding slightly surprised. “Guess who are the main kind of person looking at our promo vid.”

“Female,” I said. “Between the ages of 50 and 60.”

“How did you know that?”

It’s not because I’d looked at the stats. (I can never remember that password.) It’s because I’ve worked in schools myself, and I know the sort of person who I’d go to for help in literacy. She’s probably a (smart, academic, research-oriented) woman, and likely approaching the average retirement age.

This makes me worried. I’m not sure if I should be worried. Maybe most of the literacy experts I respect are in their fifties precisely because it takes a lifetime of teaching to become an expert in the first place. I hope this is the case, because the alternative is dire: that there are too few literacy specialists coming through the current educational system.

Children’s Literature: How scary is TOO scary?

I’ve always believed that children, even at a very young age, know their limits, and if a story is too frightening and overwhelms them in some way, they will either fall asleep or walk away.  If you read to your child on a regular basis, it’s easy to navigate this terrain with conversations about each story that help you instinctively calibrate what is appropriate for bedtime reading.  Reading fairy tales may expose children to the dark side, but it also introduces them to survival skills, teaching them to use their heads to outsmart predators.  Shoving the witch into the oven may be a bridge too far, but no reason to be reverent about the words on the page, especially for the younger crowd.

Maria Tatar

 

People say, ‘Your book keeps giving me chills,’ but I don’t know what that feeling is. Horror always makes me laugh. Normal adult things scare me, but not things from a book or a movie.

– R.L. Stine, from an interview with Village Voice

 

What’s the difference between a monster movie and a dark fairy tale?

It’s a very, very, very thin difference. I think that horror stories come from fairy tales, in a way. They share a lot of similarities. I think the difference is tonal. You know, the fairy tale contains a lot more elements of magic and whimsy and the the horror story contains a lot more, sort of, almost existential feelings — sort of dread, and ultimately they are similar melodies, played at a very different key.

– Guillermo del Toro

 

Over time, supernatural and horror fiction that has been targeted to children and young adults has become darker. If we look at books from the early 20th century through to the 1950s or 60s, we see books similar to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz in their mild handling of frightening characters and scenarios. As we move into the 1970s we start to find horror novels targeted towards young adults. Stephen King’s works Salem’s Lot and Firestarter won the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults award in 1978 and 1981 respectively, showing that children and young adults have been quite willing to read scary literature for some time. Neil Gaiman’s books Coraline and The Graveyard Book are also targeted for the tween audience, and could easily be considered scarier than even these specifically labelled horror books from authors such as King and Dean Koontz. In recent years, it appears clear that more and scarier books are being targeted to the child and young adult audience, and as a result, children are reading scarier books than in the past.

Thomas Pynchon

Continue reading “Children’s Literature: How scary is TOO scary?”

Are you a hoarder or a minimalist?

Here’s an article from LiveScience: Inside A Hoarder’s Brain, which caught my attention because I thought of Asaf and his ilk.

I was a hoarder as a kid but these days I’m more inclined to throw things out. I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this:

1. I’m now the one who has to tidy the house, and I’ve noticed that the fewer things you have, the easier it is to keep the place tidy.

2. We’re living in an increasingly throwaway society, in which it’s easier to be of the mindset that even if you throw something out and regret it later, you can always go out and buy a new one. We had a garage sale a couple months back and of course we ended up selling a couple of things I’ve since wish we kept. The regret isn’t as big as you might predict; few functional items are truly irreplaceable, and the space you gain from getting rid more than compensates for the occasional seller’s regret.

3. When you’re a kid you don’t have your own money, so you can’t easily go out and buy a new anything.

Are you a hoarder or a minimalist? 

Is it possible to be a hoarder in some areas but a minimalist in others?

Have you changed your sorting and filing habits over the course of your life?

What about your family members?

Have you ever regretted throwing something away?