All posts by Vadim Litvak

Vadim Litvak walks the fine line of corporate creative on a daily basis. Sometimes, that concrete and wood-paneling calls to him, siren-like, until he finds himself smilingly sipping the lotus juice of fresh-brewed coffee by the flickering light of a CRT monitor (yes, he's requested an upgrade); sometimes he stuffs his ears with headphones and punk rock, letting the hours wash over him until Happy Hour, but he's always there to make sure the postcards get done, the websites get updated, the projectors are plugged in, and the iPods have downloaded the right remix of whatever's hot at the moment. Vadim has spent time freelancing, working in an agency, and designing for big corporate for the past 10 years. He makes his home in San Francisco and buys his lunch in Burlingame.

It’s a Munny World, We All Just Live In It

Kid Robot will hold 3 concurrent Super Amazing Charity Events on November 3rd to benefit the children affected by Hurricane Katrina

Kid Robot MunnyKid Robot: The Munny Show, November 3rd, SF, LA, NYC

Of all the toys holding court on my desk, my favorites have to be the two Pete Fowler designed Monsterism Janitor figures and a Qee Radical Mind Dog tattooed with a homicidal rabbit on the front and a vicious, shark-toothed PacMan on the back. I picked these up at a small vinyl-only toy shop in San Francisco called Kid Robot. With 3 stores (Los Angeles, New York and SF) and an impressive online presence to boot, Kid Robot is one of the best places to scratch that vinyl toy itch you’ve been suffering through.

On November 3, each store will host their own Super Amazing Charity Event, The Munny Show, to help Feed The Children supply displaced kids and families affected by Hurricane Katrina with food and support. The Munny Show will debut of a new line of toys, each customized by the likes of Dalek, Jason Sho Green, Gary Baseman, Metallica, Tim Biskup, Whoopie Goldberg, Uma Thurman, and more. Even you can get your pen in the action by purchasing a blank Munny and customizing it yourself.

Like a FontSmack to the Forehead – Online Typography Made Easier

The site describes itself as “… a repository of sIFR fonts along with TrueType and PostScript fonts,” but it’s much more than simply a place to hold things.

FontSmack Logo

FontSmack is a collection of freely available typefaces all neatly stuffed into individual Flash files for use in your website through sIFR. It’s like having single-serving delicacies, such as American Cheese or Twinkiesâ„¢, to treat your guests with when they come to visit, but more “designer” because these treats actually help elevate the look of your site by allowing you to use whatever typeface you need.

The Technology Within

Scalable Inman Flash Replacement, or sIFR to the acronymically adroit, is a technique used to replace HTML text with a javascript-generated Flash file, or SWF, which formats that text in the typeface of your choice. Normally, you’re limited to whatever fonts are installed on your viewer’s computer to render text or you are required to painstakingly develop text as graphics in order to get the look you want. sIFR makes it easier by generating the graphics on the fly, each time your website is opened in your audience’s browser, and all you need to do is set-up a Flash file, plus add in to some javascript and CSS code to your site, and you’re done. The beauty of FontSmack is that all the Flash work has been done for you, using free fonts from reputable online sources (each cited with fonts provided), and has been organized in an easily accessible database. FontSmack even has customizable previews of each typeface to make selecting the right one that much easier.

Keep an eye on FontSmack for new faces which developer Jonathon Snook adds regularly to the site.

Faith in Design – a lecture by Michael Osborne

As a designer working in the wild, it’s important maintain a dialogue with your peers, whether that’s done through email, by phone, in person at cafés or other establishments, or even through classroom or convention interactions.

AIGA_F_inAIGA F*in Design Lecture Series

One good way to keep up this kind of conversation is by attending the events organizations such as AIGA put on, or by interacting with your peers via social networking sites such as I recently attended one of a series of lectures produced by my local chapter of the AIGA – the F*in Design Lecture Series — which featured Michael Osborne, of M.O.D., speaking to the notion of Faith in our profession.

If fear is temporarily forgetting that everything is really okay, and failure is the first step to succeeding, then faith is the force that powers us through the great unknown.
Michael Osborne

Starting off the evening with a duo singing two gospel songs dedicated to the memory Mr. Tharp — He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands and His Eye is on the Sparrow – Osborne spoke about the importance of designers having faith in themselves, punctuating it with an anecdote and photos of his own leap into the unknown life studio owner. Some eleven years ago, Mr. Osborne told a crowd of over 100 people sitting in the fume-filled back room at Watermark Press, he signed a 10-year lease for the space M.O.D. currently occupies in San Francisco. This action of blind progress, something Osborne emphasized he’d never have done if he really knew what it meant, led the designer and his studio team to create some great projects for national and international clients. His faith in himself led to the belief that he could do it.

Faith = Belief =

As a teacher and student at the Academy of Art University, Osborne found himself doing other projects he wouldn’t have come across on his own. A Calligraphy class allowed him to rediscover his Cherokee background and develop a typeface for the Cherokee language, first written down in the 1800s. Another class presented the opportunity to develop an iconographic marketing message for GAIA, the Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, which was screened onto t-shirts and presented to one of their Youth HIV Prevention Education Programs in Malawi, Africa.

Faith = Belief = Trust = Love

2002_LoveStamp2002 Love Stamp

2003_LoveStamp2003 Love Stamp

Just as many artists and designers collect things, Osborne got into the habit of collecting heart shapes. This turned into a series of innovative Valentine’s Day cards to his clients, a departure from the common holiday shwag most shops send out as promotional material. One of these cards landed on the desk of someone in the United States Postal Service, causing a sensation, and leading Osborne’s being asked to design the 2001 and 2002 Love Stamps.

Faith = Love

Hearing Michael Osborne talk about his craft and present some of his work was truly inspirational. One of the things he said, and I’m paraphrasing, was that “designers are one of the rare kinds of professionals who have a true love for their work. They get exciting about their projects getting printed, even more so when there are no mistakes. How many other professional gloat to their wives that a brochure was printed and the colors came out right!” Aside from a deeper respect and understanding of Mr. Osborne, I came away from the lecture with a better belief in myself as a designer and a stronger trust in my abilities to effectively turn a project around.

Events like this one are available to most designers in their home cities. Organizations like AIGA make it easy and affordable to meet other like-minded artists in the field, to learn from them and grow.

This F*in Design Lecture series continues in San Francisco at Watermark Press at the end of each of the next three months. If you’re in town, you should consider coming stopping in, and if I see you there, I’ll be glad to say Hello!

A Little About the Lecture Series

There are some things we just don’t talk about. In fact, there are a lot of things. We do a lot of looking (mostly at work we’ve already seen), revel in our own greatness, and then go out for cocktails. Well, the cocktails are staying, but business as usual is out the window. AIGA SF invites you to join us for our F*in Design lecture series — three intimate, candid talks about the professional F-words we all struggle with, but seldom truly address: Faith, Fear and Foolishness.

Inspiration on a Budget

Finding the right inspiration doesn’t always have to cost a lot of money, and most of the time you don’t need to leave your office to get it. Without spending a dime on subscriptions or bus fare, here are a couple ways to find it in print or online.

Inspiration on a Budget!

Many designers don’t have the luxury of time to research new projects or refresh old ones. Often, they’re limited by a yolk of deadlines and the whip-like demands of their employers to produce, produce, produce. The lucky few get design periodicals on the company dime or spend time surfing the web for news and ideas, but that all depends on the employer’s understanding of the design process. A good way of keeping up-to-date on trends and techniques, while maintaining a tight time and cash budget is to sign-up for Free trade magazines and email newsletters.

Free Magazines

Graphic Design USA is a Business-to-Business trade publication for creative professionals of all stripes. GD:USA covers the people, trends, ideas, and news that creatives want to know about – the things we talk about around the coffee pot. The June 2005 issue covers the American Inhouse [sic] Design Awards, sponsored by The Creative Group, and their most recent monthly issue, August 2005, announces and analyzes the results of GD:USA’s 19th Annual Stock Visual Survey. Signing up for their Free subscription is simple and can be done online.

Big Idea: Your Connection to the Communication Arts consists of three different monthly regional publications which deal specifically with creatives in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota but also cover a broad range of topics applicable to a National readership. Big Idea covers all aspects of the creative field with contributors from its three main regions. It presents views from the street as well as interviews and discussions with designers on their projects and workspaces. Although it may seem like the advertisers may not apply to your work, the articles speak to all creatives everywhere… and a yearlong subscription is Free. You can sign-up with Big Idea and select your favorite region via their website.

Before & After Magazine is focused on making the design process accessible to everyone, professional designer and amateur alike. Their format takes on both print and PDF, with paid subscribers gaining access to all of their articles and free subscribers only be able access downloadable PDFs from the website. With such great articles online like What typeface goes with that?, How to find the perfect color, Design on a Centerline, Before & After provides a primer for designers who may need some inspiration and suggestions of accomplishing their goal. Though you can subscribe to either the Print or the PDF edition for a fee online, you can also sign-up for their regular email announcements of when new articles available for download.

Free Samples

Another great (sometimes) Free resource available to designers is the promotional materials Paper Mills send out all over the country. Many of your favorite Paper Mills will send you Free samples directly from their websites or you can speak to your print broker or vendor to get samples sent over. These samples are always extremely creative and often produced by well-known designers and agencies from around the world. Some of paper promotions I keep around on my walls have come from the French Paper Company, all produced by Charles S. Anderson Design. Google “paper mills” or contact your print broker or vendor for some great examples of excellent design.

Free Ideas

Designers rely on fresh ideas from their peers. Most don’t get the opportunity to venture outside of their immediate circles of work and friends, that’s why some of these Free resources can come in very handy. There are many other online and offline sources of exceptional practices and executions out there, and if you keep your eyes open you can build a vast library to refer to for your next project.

Communication and the Multi-Tool Designer

In-house designers have the manifold task of dealing with not only developing and implementing solutions to their projects, but also need to be able to communicate these solutions in a way that speaks not only to the problem but to the expectations of their managers.

Designers Often Need to Multi-Task

In-house designers have to act as project managers, art directors, marketing managers, production designers, and traffic managers (and sometimes IT staff) at any given time during the day. In all of these roles, the key to success is communication: keeping strong lines of communication open with all the people you work with means that little should fall by the wayside during any given project.

The absolute cornerstone of successful relationships — business and otherwise — is good communication… Nowhere is this attribute more mission-critical than design, where a professional must not only communicate well to sell their services, but has to sell services fundamentally rooted in communication. – from Building Blocks of In-House Success by Kevin Potts

As project and marketing managers, in-house designers are expected to develop a strong understanding of the needs of the client — usually a part or the whole of the company, depending on the size of the organization. Creatives need to develop strong relationships with their clients and find ways to get all the information they need from those individuals, who often have a “feeling” or sense of their needs but may have difficulty expressing it completely. Creatives need to be like sleuths sometimes, seeking out the truth buried under mounds of short, unconstructive speak like “jazz it up a little” and “something’s not right with that.” Ask pointed questions to help your client further develop their thoughts. Many times, the corporate type has an idea in mind and can’t find the right way articulate her thoughts.

In the art director/designer role, in-house creatives need to be able to transform those marketing discussions into solutions which follow closely to the original intent of the project while maintaining a consistent look-and-feel and communicating the message the client requires. Often this requires the creative to think “outside the box” of their corporate design structure while creating a product that falls well within the limits of that very structure. Though this sounds as maddening as a Rubik’s Cube, it’s an everyday problem and needs to be solved. In a world where it’s often difficult, due to time constraints, to produce multiple options, it helps to do just that until a strong level communication is developed between the creative and the corporate client.

Finally, as production designer and traffic manager the in-house creative responsible for executing the project so that it’s not only printable, to paper or online, but it looks good and is manageable in the future. In-house designers need to be able to communicate with their clients in house and with vendors outside. Knowing common printing techniques, understanding how the web and PowerPoint work, knowing how to do prepress and troubleshoot cross-platform presentations all fall under the expectations of the client for their designers so in-house creatives need to stay current with new trends and techniques. Online forums, magazines, and other creatives are all great sources of information so the in-house designer needs to be able to communicate their own needs to the outside world to find the right answers to their dilemmas.

With all the responsibility in-house designers carry, the best way to be successful is to communicate with the client and the outside world. Many times, listening to your manager closely will provide the tools needed to come up with strong solutions. Finding those answers can mean hunting through the tangled forests of a client’s thoughts or spending time online or in a bookstore to discover the needed answer.

An Old Friend Gets New Clothes

Have you seen Quark’s new corporate identity?

Quark's New LogomarkQuark announced it’s new identity today!

I got an email this morning titled “Be the First to Know” leading me to Quark’s slick new webpage and their new identity. In the top left corner, freshly green and redesigned, sits the new logomark, a stylized letter Q over the company name. I like the new logo, but it struck me as familiar – something I’d seen on the street, in a club, at the mall. Then it struck me: the new Quark mark looks a lot like the hip-hop clothiers Akademiks mark.

Since today is the start of Fashion Week in New York maybe the folks at Quark figured it’d be a good time to launch their new look just as their hip-hop cousin is displaying a new clothing line for the season.

Do you think we can expect to see seasonal changes for Quark from now on? A fall forward line of packaging and Xtensions perhaps? A slimline case for the Installation CD in the Spring? Maybe they’ll next take the Abercrombie & Fitch route by photographing production designers dressed in bikini tops and board shorts at their workstations in the Summer?

I can’t wait!

I am thrilled that QuarkXPress, the aging stalwart of the page layout scene, has donned some new garb and seems to now be looking into a cleaner, prettier, more designer-friendly (both fashion and page layout) future. It’s a good move for them, cleaning out the closet and rebuilding the wardrobe, and I expect more interesting things to come from them soon.

In case you haven’t seen it yet, here the text from the email:

Change is good.

I would like to take this opportunity to present you with an exciting change at Quark. As you can see from this e-mail message, we’ve re-designed our logo and corporate identity to reflect our evolution over the past couple of years.
You’ll see our new look in e-mail messages, on , and on everything we do.
As I’m sure you have noticed recently, our logo and corporate identity are not the only things that have changed at Quark. We have grown into a company that listens and responds, and we’re happy to show off our new look to compliment our new outlook.
Let us know what you think — about our new logo or whatever is on your mind.

Just send an e-mail message to We look forward to hearing from you.

Elisabetta Bruno takes a deeper look into Quark’s current marketing and rebranding efforts in D:Desktop Publishing: Quark’s New Face

In-Source, an Online Home for In-House Creatives

Insource :: An Association of Corporate Creatives, is a great online resource for all of us in-house designers working with a longing eye toward what seems to be the promise land of agency or freelance design.

With largest segment responding to the AIGA/Aquent Survey of Design Salaries 2005 being in-house designers, it seems that what we do is becoming more and more of a recognized role for creatives. Companies are seeing the need to keep their talent within arms reach, which benefits us greatly.

According to the survey, in-house designers at all levels are making about the same, and in some cases more, as their out-of-house siblings. We also benefit from “little” things like relatively consistent schedules, dependable insurance plans, and savings and profit-sharing plans.

With all the information online for creatives of all types, the least represented is the in-house designer, so having a group like In-Source devoted to making our corporate lives better really makes a HUGE difference.

How a Camera and Film Company Changed its Stripes, From the Inside-Out

Paul Giambarba was Polaroid’s in-house Art Director, and later a consultant, from the late-50s through the late-70s. In that time, he helped redevelop their brand to better compete with the likes of Kodak and created a identity recognized the world over. Giambarba, a writer and lecturer with many credits to his name, has chronicled his story in The Branding of Polaroid, 1957 – 1977, a blog devoted to the face of Polaroid many of us have come to know.

About: Designorati:In-House

Established September 2005

Designorati:In-House is intended as a resource and road map for creative professionals working from within the corporate office structure to communicate your company’s message to the outside world. With few direct resources available for the in-house designer, Designorati:In-House will try to fill that gap by collecting and commenting on issues most important to the corporate creative.

In-house designers are hired because of their strong conceptual sense and ability to execute the needs of the company more efficiently than the person requesting the project. Producing effective design on little direction while meeting shortening deadlines can be daunting, so Designorati:In-House will focus on providing or pointing to solid articles which can make the job easier.

Managing your own projects or dealing with micromanagers without losing your cool, finding inspiration between the walls of your cubicle, sharing and learning from your peers online or in the break room, even troubleshooting your computer (or your neighbor’s iPod) are all subjects Designorati:In-House will address.