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How to get inspired? (example post)

As with most designers, being sure that we explore and select the most successful, memorable and stimulating designs is a vital aspect that underpins every project we undertake. For us, the beginning of a new challenge has never been as simple as asking ourselves what might be the best avenue to take and then sitting down at a computer and attempting to fulfill that idea.
After researching the subject matter, we will almost always begin with a sheet of paper and pencil and draw out a variety of design options to help bring together and develop the breadth of ideas that are maturing in our minds. In this article, we will explore the use of drawing and mark-making as an integral part of the creative process.

An example of mark-making that helps to formulate design ideas for working with type and image. Note the changes in mark-making that indicate different levels of type. We have found that exploring design options on paper using drawing and mark-making is a great way to ensure that we are moving in the right direction with a project; plus, we don’t think this working process can be beaten for stimulating unexpected solutions that would otherwise have been very unlikely to see the daylight. We‘ll focus on different types of drawing and mark-making as problem-solving tools and skills; they form a vital part of visualizing and exploring design alternatives that involve quantities of type, with or without images.

Letterforms, lines of type and words come together with different tonal values as well as varying characteristics of patterning; depending on the darkness of tone generated, together with the scale and nature of texture, a viewer is attracted to a greater or lesser degree. Some great examples of this can be found by looking at the newspaper and magazine designs of Jacek Utko. Looking at all of the sample pages below, we are struck by the number of dynamic levels of text created by different typefaces, point sizes, weights and measures, as well as the imagery. The changing tonal values especially tempt and guide the reader through the pages in a particular sequence.

Working with art direction from Liudas Parulskis and Vilmas Narecionis, Jacek Utko has designed some captivating pages for the weekend section of Lithuanias Verslo Zinios. The layouts make dramatic use of textural and tonal diversity and also contrast of scale.
The textural and tonal qualities in layouts are used as much to help guide the audience in a particular order as for aesthetics. These qualities should be effectively captured through drawing and mark-making if the visual of a concept is to be sufficiently realistic to enable adequate design judgments to be made. This can be fairly easily achieved by using a relatively speedy design shorthand practiced by and familiar to many designers. Larger type is lettered in, capturing the stylistic essence, weight and proportions of the desired letterforms; text can be lined, or “greeked,” in using a mix of mark-making techniques, pens, pencils and/or varied pressure to indicate textural and tonal differences.

The examples featured in this article go only some of the way to demonstrating and capturing the infinite rhythms and varieties of typographic alternatives and combinations, but they do still demonstrate that even during early-stage drawing of visuals, capturing subtleties and changes of pace is essential. Drawing and mark-making styles can be developed to indicate and capture the textural and tonal difference that are present when working, for example, with all-caps sans-serif letterforms, as opposed to the very different visual “beat” that comes from uppercase and lowercase characters.

In highlighting the refinement of this type of design drawing, we should also briefly comment on the tools that can be used to express these subtle typographic nuances. We work with a smooth lightweight paper that in the UK is called layout paper; the semi-transparent properties of this inexpensive material are great for tracing through from one sheet to another, making for speedy refinement of drawings. Many of the designers we speak to use a mix of mark-making tools, depending on the characteristics they wish to create; some work with marker pens, others prefer fiber-tipped fine-line pens, and some draw with soft pencils. The one aspect that these choices seem to have in common is that they enable the designer to vary the quality of the mark simply by varying the pressure: press hard to create a thicker, darker mark, and press more gently to create a lighter, finer tone.

Returning to the description of this style of visualizing as being “relatively speedy,” in reality, this process can be time-consuming, and while the results are not necessarily great in detail, this is thoughtful work that we certainly find to be the most time-efficient and creative way to work, particularly when confronted by completely new design challenges.

The drawing and mark-making in visuals that we are discussing here function on a number of levels. They capture alternatives of the textural and tonal details of layout; they are also a great way to explore different compositional alternatives; and they can be really helpful when used as templates or patterns to help streamline the process from marking to final design.

Typographic texture and tone will make different facets of a design more or less prominent. Choices of face, color, type size, tint, weight, inter-character spacing, line spacing and overall spatial distribution will affect the density of type and, consequently, the lightness or dark of the work. All of these aspects can be captured well with drawings and mark-making, affecting not only tonal values, but also the subtle textural qualities of type. Too often, visuals capture only the scale and position of type, without showing more detailed characteristics.