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?

Fonts in Storybook Apps

I’ve heard that serif fonts exist to help the reader’s eyes move across words, gently guiding us from one letter to the next without us even realising.

I’ve also heard that sans serif fonts are more easily read on a screen, which may explain how Comic Sans ever took off. (I have to remind myself that it did used to be awesome, that font.)

Most storybook apps I’ve seen make use of a form of serif font, regardless of the fact that the reader is reading from a screen. While it may be the case that sans serif fonts are adequate for iPads, if not downright better, there’s an atmosphere conveyed by serif fonts that can’t be achieved with sans: the feeling of paper books and tradition and memories of our childhood favourites. Font choice influences the mood of a piece of work. This is why I have chosen a serif font.

I love fonts, and can easily spend a week finding new ones and seeing how they look. In the end, though, I decided to use an open source font for The Artifacts. It’s from the Dejavu font family. After experimenting with all of them, the condensed bold version looked the best.

What about all those other cool fonts, though, the ones with REAL personality? There are numerous font sites online and I’d love to have made use of one of those.

The problem I have is that someone, somewhere designed those fonts and they rightly expect to be paid. When I look at the end user licence agreements for some of my favourite ‘free’ fonts, they are indeed free for personal use, and sometimes the print run licence is reasonably priced, but once you want to make use of a font in a piece of software, sold internationally, the licence gets really difficult to understand (I understand ‘expensive’) so without a copyright lawyer to advise us, I figured I’d just stick to open source.

Since it took me a good while to find Dejavu, I’ve decided to use it again in Midnight Feast. This time, though, I’m wanting a sketchy, handwritten version of a font. I considered making my own font. There’s an iPad app for that. ¬†(But I can’t remember what it’s called, and I haven’t found an adequate stylus yet.)

So I made my own handwriting font. You can do this online for free at MyScriptFont.com. (There are also plenty of sites that’ll charge about $15 for the same thing, e.g. Your Fonts, but they don’t tell you that until the very end.)

I called my new font Midnight Feast, of course. I used a pen preset that I’d already made in Artrage. I didn’t bother printing out the template, mainly because our printer’s not working, instead making use of the Wacom. (When, exactly, is the Printers’ Strike ending, again?) My font is pretty rough and ready. I wouldn’t want to attempt anything other than a handwriting font without making use of something far more time consuming and powerful like FontStruct (where I technically have an account.) Tutorial on FontStruct can be found at MacLife.

We’ll probably be using our Midnight Feast font only to generate numbers at Dan’s end. But now I have a font called MidnightFeast on my computer! And it was super simple to do.

Experienced and qualified font designers will be turning in their graves.

RELATED

A Handwriting Font For Doctors

The Typography Of Authority — Do Fonts Affect How People Accept Information? from The Scholarly Kitchen. (Hint: That’s a loaded question.)

How To Make Fonts From Your Own Writing With iFontMaker

Pros and Cons of Universal Apps

Most of you are probably already aware of what Universal apps are, but for those who aren’t let me give a brief description:

On the App Store, there are two device categories. iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. Each device category has its own App Store, with its own list of apps.

Universal apps are configured to run in both categories, and should work on all supported devices. Now this is a great deal for consumers buying apps, because you basically get 2 for 1. Buy an app on the iPad, and it is linked to your iTunes account, so that you can then download and use it on your iPhone or iPod Touch at no extra cost. Our first app, The Artifacts, is a Universal app. You can tell a Universal app, by the little ‘+’ plus sign next to it in the App Store.

Ok now that I’ve explained it, lets go through a few pros and cons of this system;

 

Pros

  • Savings: Consumers can use an app on any device that is linked to their account, and they only have to purchase once. Obviously a pro for the consumer, and generally speaking, a happy consumer makes a happy developer.
  • Convenience: You might hear about a great app from someone you know.. but you only have your iPhone on you. You can buy the app on iPhone, and then later download it on the iPad, because it’s linked to your account.

Cons

  • Development time: It takes quite a lot of extra work to be able to support all device types in the one app (different screen resolutions, memory requirements, etc).
  • App size: Because you need to support different device resolutions, you need to have all the device graphics in the one app. This makes for a much larger app, especially for the smaller devices. The Artifacts for example is around 92 MB. It would be reduced to about 40 MB if it only worked on the iPhone/iPod touch. Our next app, Midnight Feast, supports iPad Retina images (2048 x 1536), which are 4 times larger than iPad images. Apple could provide some support in this area. If we could make “custom” versions of universal apps, it would fix this problem. It would work in a similar way to having different device versions of the same app for sale (so you’d have to buy two copies. One for iPhone/iPod touch, and one copy for iPad), but just make it universal instead so you only have to buy one.
  • App Store ranking: Now this is a biggie. Any developer knows that it’s important to get a high ranking in the App Store. The problem is, if the app is universal, it’s effectively ranked by each device. This means that if someone buys an app with the iPhone, it only affects the ranking for the iPhone store. This is clearly a poor solution, because it puts universal apps at a disadvantage. I’d like to see Apple give rankings for Universal apps based on the total downloads, not on downloads from each individual store.

It’s really hard to tell, because Apple do not provide the stats, but from the store rankings alone, we notice that we’ve had quite a few downloads on the iPhone/iPod Touch side of things.

We’ll continue to make universal apps, but I really hope Apple starts to support them in a way that helps the publisher AND consumer.