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Draw a bad-ass geisha

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 11:04

In this geisha illustration I wanted to capture a grungy, dark, urban vibe, laced with elegant traditional Japanese elements. The idea that kept coming up again and again was to make her ‘bad-ass’. That’s the core essence of Geiko – she's a geisha turned self-serving samurai, a vigilante within a dangerous cyberpunk universe. I got the idea from a competition to design a geisha or samurai character.

Here, I’ll explain how I developed this Geiko illustration, and my whole thought process and approach to the design. You’ll pick up tips on how to push your ideas forward and craft the final details. I want to leave you with concepts and methods you can adapt and use in your own work. So let’s start with the most crucial bit...

1. Visualise the big idea

Geiko is a young geisha doll, driven by anger and revenge, roaming the streets as she takes down all the bad men that hurt people like her (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

The very first step is deciding the look and feel of the character and capturing it all with a rough sketch. The most important thing is knowing exactly how you want your audience to feel about your character, because this will drive your whole thought process from start to finish. My core idea was to design Geiko so that people’s gut reaction to seeing her is: “That’s bad-ass!”

2. Generate thumbnails

Develop initial rough ideas that fit in with the big idea (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

With that clear goal in mind, I jump into SketchBook Pro and use the Triangle brush to sketch my ideas out, exploring and pushing them further while staying true to the original Geiko essence. I keep it loose and gestural at this point, making notes on the ideas that I’d like to take forward. Throughout this process I keep asking myself, “Is she bad-ass enough?”

3. Finalise the idea

Play with your favourite ideas to try out variations (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

This is where I take all my favourite ideas that came out of the thumbnail process and explore how they can better capture Geiko’s essence. I duplicate my favourite thumbnail several times and try out those ideas, mixing more Japanese cultural elements back in with an urban cyberpunk twist. Don’t add too many details just yet. All you want to do here is finalise your big idea.

4. Polish and craft the design

Refine the final character more (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

Everything from this point on is just polishing up. You’ll still be making some design choices, but the core essence shouldn’t change. I usually start with the face, because it’s the most important part of any character. If I get it right, the rest falls into place. There are no secrets here. I sketch with the Triangle brush and Eraser, pressing S to quickly flip between the two brushes.

5. Refine the clothing

Use references to draw realistic clothes (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

The next major element to get right is her kimono. I start by grabbing some references. (But remember: references are just guides, so don’t feel bound by them.) Then I create a new layer and make a rough sketch, focusing on the design and flow of the wrinkles. For the final look, I use the Eraser to follow my initial line work on the black kimono and create the white-on-black effect.

6. Accessories and props

You can build the character's personality through accessories (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

Using references, I work on the swords on her back, making a quick sketch in red to explore the function of the strap, while also playing with the idea of adding kunai knives. I also try to add clues about her personality, like a Totoro charm at the end of one of her swords. It’s subtle, but it helps make the character seem more well-rounded.

7. Bring in detail on her boots

White highlights create the impression of glossy leather-like fabric (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

Next I start cleaning up Geiko’s boots. In a similar way to how I did the clothing, I use the Eraser to create the line work, which is consistent with the style of the image. Her footwear is inspired by a mixture of high-heeled boots with a sporty twist and Japanese ninja sandals. I want to create a glossy type of material for her legs, so I add white highlights to achieve that look.

8. Create the mechanical gauntlet

Tweaking details like this can bring them to life (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

I want to keep the essence of my sketch, so I use the base silhouette of the gauntlet and start cleaning it up, erasing panel lines in, and drawing exposed wires to make it feel more customised instead of being built in a factory. I flick back and forth with the S key throughout, drawing lines in and erasing where necessary. I realise that the silhouetted gauntlet is blending in too much with her kimono, so I opt for a lighter version that helps to create a better read.

9. Stop… it’s paintover time!

A quick paintover puts the character in context (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

Now that I’m almost done with the design, I take a step back and look for any bits I can push further. A quick paintover enables me to explore how I can exaggerate Geiko’s bad-assery. I add a more well-rounded toolset of weapons including samurai gun-swords and a traditional Japanese umbrella. Then I push the storytelling with dripping blood and bullet holes, along with a smoke trail that adds movement, mystery and depth.

10. Detail Geiko’s primary weapon

Build up details that add to the character's story (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

From the loose sketch done in the paintover stage, I begin to finalise the main sword design. I don’t want her weapon to be elegant or well-crafted, but to feel more imposing and threatening, so I choose to go with an exaggerated butcher’s knife. I use the Ruler and Lazy Mouse features in SketchBook Pro to create the long, sweeping arcs in the blade, ensuring the line work feels rough and grungy.

11. Add the finishing touches

Even discreet Japanese writing needs to be accurate (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

Before finishing up the design, I take the time to polish it up. I decide to add more details to her mask and sword, tweak the design of her cross-body strap and give her some branding and tattoos, making sure I use the correct Japanese phrases. Details like these count. I also include a shadow pass to add more depth, as well as the juxtaposition of her red demon eyes and rosy red cheeks.

12. Establish the background

The story becomes more believable with a background for your character (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

With the character done, I jump into Photoshop to create the background and atmosphere to round off the piece. I imagine Geiko in a back alley, fresh from a fight. So I add a floor and wall pattern, making these more sci-fi and grungy looking to enhance the cyberpunk feel. I add a quick gradient to them, which helps pop the character from the background and add more depth to the image.

13. Build background details

Custom brushes and textures push the realism (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

I now add extra details and textures to the environment. Bullet holes, dust particles and dripping blood help tell more of Geiko’s story and push the final illustration. I use masks to blend some of the line work out, and use texture on the background and character with custom brushes to help it appear less digital.

14. Bring in action cues to push the mood

Use quick movements to draw puffs of smoke (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

For even more depth and mood, I add action cues like smoke at Geiko’s feet. I use the Lasso tool to create the shape of the smoke, taking into account the wind direction that may tilt it slightly. I do this quickly to capture the motion, instead of lingering on it too long and making it too refined. Once I fill in my selection, to make it appear more like smoke I reduce the Opacity and use a mask to blend out specific parts even more, letting the background elements pop through.

15. Add a brand to your work

Identify your work as yours (Click the icon in the top-right of the image to enlarge the picture)

Branding, like your logo or signature and website URL, helps make your illustration yours wherever it ends up. People will always know whom to credit and future clients can contact you easily. Don’t forget to give it a title, too. It’ll help finish it off and make the piece feel more considered and complete.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 149. Buy it here!

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Get Computer Arts' Self-Promo issue completely free!

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 10:07

We post reams of articles for artists and designers every week: tutorials, advice, news, features, reviews, and loads more. 

To make things easier, each week we curate a weekly email digest of the best content from Creative Bloq and its associated brands Computer Arts, net, ImagineFX, Paint & Draw, Web Designer, 3D Artist and 3D World.

If you're not already signed up, here's an even better reason to get involved: a completely free digital edition of Computer Arts' Self Promo issue. As sold for £6, its crammed with inspiring ideas to get you and your work in front of clients. And it's yours to keep and read on your Mac, PC or mobile.

So, to get the best of Creative Bloq every week, and your free digital edition of Computer Arts issue 260, just enter your email address into the form below (we promise we won't sell it), and look out for the link in your inbox.

New tool to make GIFs fast

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 09:58

Lots of us use GIFs every day to communicate ideas or feelings more smoothly than words allow. A quick search through your inbox or Slack channel is sure to turf up lots of funny reaction GIFs, but they're capable of more than just oiling the wheels of office banter. For designer and remote worker Steven Fabre, GIFs are an invaluable way to show interactions in designs.

Whereas videos, video calls and screen recordings are relatively time-consuming, Fabre found that GIFs were a straight to the point way of communicating with teams remotely.

"The problem was, creating those GIFs was extremely time-consuming," Fabre explains. "I would design my states in Sketch and export those so I could open them in Photoshop. From there, I would overlay them on top of each other and turn visibility on and off via the timeline. And to make things worse, every time I would make a change in my design, I had to go through this whole cumbersome process all over again."

To this end, Fabre created Gifmock, a simple desktop application for macOS that helps users to create high quality GIFs from their mockups.

Create your perfect mockup GIF with Gifmock

With the Gifmock Sketch plugin, users can design interaction states and instantly turn them into frames. Once the frames and timings are perfected, the GIFs can be easily exported to Slack or wherever your team is based.

Alternatively, animations can be designed in After Effects. Just drag and drop a video to automatically turn it into a GIF without having to worry about a compromise of quality and frame rate. Once it's ready, you can publish the GIF on Dribbble.

Photos and Keynotes slides can also be imported into Gifmock to create engaging GIFs that can be used on Twitter. To get the perfect look, the timing of the frames can be changed, plus you can crop them all at once with a real-time thumbnail preview.

Fancy creating your own mockup GIFs? You can grab Gifmock for $14, with no rolling subscriptions to get locked into. You can even download a free 14 day trial to see if you like it before you buy it.

Some designers are already using it for, er, mainly important work:

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How videogame graphics and movie VFX are converging

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 09:00

Convergence has been a key buzzword across the 3D industry over the last few years. The worlds of game graphics and movie VFX are advancing, and with this change, a natural crossover is happening. We're now seeing that the production methods used in the creation of digital art for movies and games are very similar.

This has been partly triggered by the rise of new technologies such as VR, and with both areas using the same tools such as Maya and ZBrush, but it wasn't that long ago that a single plant in the film Avatar had more polygons than an entire game environment.

Motion capture in games

Motion capture is a big area where we're seeing more and more convergence. I still get excited teaching PBR texturing to my students, knowing I am using implementations of the Disney GGX shader in real-time engines. 

Motion capture in games has allowed a more complex world of storytelling to evolve, with technology allowing game makers to create characters who are relatable and human in their facial expressions and physical mannerisms. 

Just look at the work of Imaginarium on Squadron 42, Naughty Dog's The Last of Us and Guerrilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn. With the development of characters in games using motion capture, this allows the exploration of wider human themes.

Real-time rendering technology

Game developer DICE recreated the Star Wars universe with great effect for Battlefront

One of the other big developments that's occurred in this space – which we've seen most recently at events such as the Games Developers Conference (GDC) – is the power of real-time rendering.

Epic's Unreal Engine has really stolen a march on this, and it has recently teamed up with The Mill and Chevrolet to demonstrate the engine's potential with the short film Human Race. Merging live action storytelling with real-time visual effects, the film showcases how these technologies are pushing the limits by using real-time rendering in a game engine.

The fact that a similar approach was used for some of the scenes in Star Wars: Rogue One by ILM, using a tweaked version of Unreal Engine 4, just adds to its credentials. The team used this technology to bring the droid K-2SO to life in real time. 

While at the moment this technique is predominately being used for hard surfaces, it's surely only a matter of time before it supports more diverse objects. 

We're also seeing companies such as performance capture studio Imaginarium expanding to adapt to this change, with Andy Serkis' recently unveiling Imaginati Studios, a game developing studio with a focus on real-time solutions using Unreal Engine 4.

Photogrammetry in games

Another area where there is a real convergence and crossover of talent is in the use of photogrammetry, which involves taking photographic data of an object from many angles and converting it into stunningly realistic fully textured digital models. 

Creating game assets from photographs may not be new, but the process has now reached the kind of standards we are used to seeing in film production. 

From the incredibly realistic recreation of the Star Wars universe by DICE in Star Wars Battlefront to Crytek's Ryse: Son of Rome, the bar of video game graphics is getting higher and higher. It might be hyperbolic to suggest the visuals of Ryse are parallel to the classic film Gladiator, but it is nevertheless a stunning realisation of ancient Rome. 

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is another game that uses photogrammetry to great effect. Epic Games' Paragon, where photoshoots were used to capture HDR lighting on hair and skin, is another fantastic example. 

Some of the most compelling-looking graphics in games were created with photographic processes, and photogrammetry has played a huge part in driving games graphics forward.

Photogrammetry was used heavily in horror adventure game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Epic Games used Agisoft PhotoScan to capture its images, but there are many issues native to the photogrammetry process that need to be solved. Dealing with reflections in photos of objects and poor lighting can be a real challenge, and can reduce the realism of the final output. 

But this is where the marriage of technology and artistry come together. In the fantastic blog Imperfection for Perfection, technical artist Min Oh outlines Epic Games' process, detailing the use of colour checkers and capturing lighting conditions using VFX standard grey and chrome balls. 

Other inspiration comes from the team at DICE, who overcame lighting issues when capturing Darth Vader's helmet by removing light information from source images. 

Famed VFX supervisor Kim Libreri, who is now CTO at Epic Games, predicted that graphics would be indistinguishable from reality in a decade in 2012. And a few years on, it seems like we're well on our way.

Simon Fenton is head of games at Escape Studios, which runs courses including game art and VFX.

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 223. Buy it here!

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How to be an award-winning illustrator

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 08:00

What did you do when you turned 30? Award-winning creative Yuko Shimizu saved up, swapped her corporate job in Japan for art school and became a globally acclaimed illustrator.

It didn't happen overnight. In fact it took three years to get the cash together. But as Shimizu – who counts Microsoft, The New York Times and iconic designer Stefan Sagmeister amongst her many collaborators – points out, you're never too old to achieve your dream.

"If America has a glass ceiling, Japan has a glass table," she begins, before explaining that a mentally abusive boss finally gave her the push she needed to abandon the safety of a regular pay cheque and study art for the first time, aged 34. "I was wearing jeans with 18-year-olds and faking it," she laughs.

Shimizu illustrated the DVD cover and products for popular Japanese metal band Maximum the Hormone

Pursuing a creative career was a life-changing decision, but over the last decade and more Shimizu has built an inspirational illustration portfolio.

Her work lives on Gap T-shirts, Pepsi cans, Visa billboards, Penguin covers and the pages of New Yorker, Rolling Stone and Time. She's been profiled in Computer Arts magazine, published a monograph and more.

What has she learned in that time? Primarily that it's never too late to do what you want to do, whether you're 19 or 90.

"We never get younger than who we are today," she urges. "Start working on that dream today."

Here are seven of Shimizu's best tips for making it as an illustrator...

01. Take at least one small risk every day

Yuko Shimizu's portrait of The Clash for soccer magazine 8 by 8

"I'm not talking about jay-walking or stopping the bus where there's no stop," laughs Shimizu. "Some people have a signature style and every job is a variation of that. But repeating the same things over and over drove me nuts – that's why I quit my corporate job."

"However, clients do have a timeline. So, every time I get a new project I throw in maybe 10-25 per cent of something I haven't done before. It might be a new colour scheme, or just something I haven't drawn: something that makes me a bit nervous but really excited."

"If it's 50 per cent new I'll freak out and my client won't call again. But I do lots of small jobs. If I do 10, I can grow without taking too much risk. I know I'm on the right track."

02. It's ok to turn down a job…

Batman Detective Comics #52 variant cover for DC Universe

Why? "Because there are always others who want to do it. When I turn down a job I always suggest someone else," she explains.

"When I moved from Japan, there were so many people who helped me along the way. Some of my professors gave me contacts, and said mention my name and they'll call you back. I don't know the way to thank all those who helped me, so I try to help those who need it now."

03. Always draw something a photo can't do

Cover image for a short science fiction story written by Charlie Jane Anders for TOR.com

"Now that photography is good again, I've been finding that clients want photography," she says. "I sometimes seem to only get jobs when art directors think that photography won't work, so I always try and do something a photo can't do."

04. Avoid projects that will prevent a good night's sleep

NY Times Book Review cover for the highly anticipated US release of the new book by Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

Shimizu isn't referring to the all-nighters: "I mean things I'll be ashamed of," she clarifies. "Oil. Gambling. Everyone has something that's important to them – a job that means they won't be able to sleep at night. Don't do it."

05. A project isn't a success unless the client thinks so

Illustration for The Nation's 150th anniversary issue

Not all of her projects are showcased on her website. There are some projects where Shimizu feels both "proud and embarrassed" at the same time.

"But the bottom line is I worked hard and the client loved it. You can't make a personal masterpiece that the client doesn't want," she reasons.

06. Never work for free: it undercuts others

Illustration by Shimizu for Men’s Health Magazine

"As a professional you make mistakes, and learn and get better," says Shimizu. "But there are mistakes you don't need to make because other people made them for you already. In this case, me," she added, explaining that she once gave a persistent start-up a pre-existing illustration for free.

"They said I'd get exposure. Sometimes you do; sometimes you don't. This time I did – a lot. And then I forgot about it, until another illustrator contacted me saying she'd been asked to provide an image for free and asking what the deal was."

Shimizu realised she'd essentially told the client it never had to pay for art. "Artists are always willing to give their art for exposure. You get tricked into doing it. You feel like you're winning but you're actually losing. That's my story of shame. Don't ever do this. Artwork is called work because it's work."

07. Some things are more rewarding than money

One of two Dumbo 80-foot wide murals created with Sagmeister & Walsh

"Whenever I have time I try and do charity work," says Shimizu. "It's a great feeling being an artist. If you're a professional and making a living, it's nice to take time off and do charity work. But if you're not, don't worry," she smiles. "Keep yourself on track for where you want to go and work your way there. Then you'll be able to make time for charity work."

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Adaptive Web Design author shares his accessibility quest

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 07:00

Aaron Gustafson, web standards and accessibility advocate and author of Adaptive Web Design, will present a keynote at Generate London on 22 September about adaptive interfaces. This will include an introduction to a battle-tested tool for planning, discussing, building and testing adaptive interfaces.

"Hiya," a voice says as Skype begins to wake and warm up. The image clears to reveal Aaron Gustafson – bearded, smiling and reclining in his chair. He starts telling his story by explaining his here and now.

"I'm probably best known for being a big advocate of progressive enhancement," he says. "I've been singing its praises since 2004 and that work has become much more relevant in the world of mobile and responsive web design... with all these devices with different configurations, capabilities and – in some cases – liabilities. Beyond that, I'm pretty involved with the Open Device Lab."

Rather modestly, Gustafson glosses over his achievements. He's a regular speaker on the web circuit, web standards and accessibility advocate at Microsoft, runs web development consultancy Easy Designs, spearheaded Web Standards Sherpa and has written a book entitled Adaptive Web Design.

At Generate London, Aaron Gustafson will demonstrate how adaptive interfaces smartly morph to meet their users’ needs
Late web design starter

Casting his mind back however, Gustafson admits his love affair with computers was a slow-burner. "I wasn't a prodigy in high school. I had friends who had email accounts but that always seemed too geeky for me. I didn't take any computer science classes," he recalls. 

"I first went on the web in 1995. I was an avid music fan and the first site I went to was Sony.com. All I saw was this black screen with white words that said 'Image' with square brackets in various positions. I thought: this web thing is bullshit!"

Thankfully, a Jurassic-era Mosaic browser rode to the rescue and Gustafson finally 'saw the web'. "There were lots of table layouts, marble backgrounds with gold lettering and giant Times New Roman text," he laughs.

Learning to code with book and floppy disks

Gustafson remembers the early days of web design

"I started out doing web stuff in 1996. I was an aspiring journalist and magazine publisher back in college, and I was running a music and entertainment magazine and learned from a friend how to make a web page. I wanted to learn more, so taught myself using a book called Creating and Enhancing Netscape Web Pages by Andrew Shafran. 

"It's funny to think back now... It was all hand-coding. I also had a copy of Photoshop 3 on 3.5-inch floppy disks. That's how I got into web design."

In 1999, Gustafson landed his first paying web job – working for the Bradenton Herald newspaper. "Back then," he laughs, "I was the content management system. This was way back before we had CMSes and XML was 'the future'. 

"I went into the Herald at 11 o'clock at night and worked until seven in the morning, and I picked which stories went out on the site. I'd pull the stories out of Quark, drop them into Dreamweaver and use Fetch to get them out on our server."

"Work hard, stay humble" is the designer's mantra

After a few years freelancing and a few full-time jobs, Gustafson ended up working for an advertising company called Cronin & Co. "I came on as their lead web guy – I was the middleman between the design team and the web folks. 

"I had taught myself PHP and MySQL and knew quite a bit about frontend development... HTML, JavaScript and CSS. Coming from a print background, I was able to bridge the gap and make sure the designers weren't designing anything the developers couldn't make and vice versa."

Working on the Web Standards Project

Beyond progressive enhancement – a sphere which we can safely say he has made his own – Gustafson is also a prominent member of the web community. 

He was one of the managers of the Web Standards Project (WaSP), a grassroots group founded in 1988. At that time, Netscape and Microsoft split the browser market between themselves and produced platforms that weren't compatible. 

With designers and developers fighting on two fronts, the web had become fragmented and WaSP – a pack of volunteers and visionaries from around the world – set out to heal it. They advocated open source, consistency, accessibility and portability. We've got a lot to thank them for.

A screen print of Erin Crocombe's design for Gustafson's Adaptive Web Design poster contest

So, what attracted Gustafson to the church of web standards? Back in the early 2000s, Gustafson read an article entitled 'CSS Design: Going to Print' by Eric Meyer on A List Apart. Meyer detailed how to create and design print style sheets that would format web content for off-screen reading and printing.

"Back then, I'd become quite the master of table layouts. That was the way we built things, but it always felt weird. So I read Eric's article and thought: there's a lot more to this CSS stuff. I started to read everything I could, and I immediately understood that web standards was a way forward. 

"I saw how fragile the web we were building was... If you had an error in your code and something went wrong, the entire thing could fall apart.

He recalls his time freelancing at Gartner, where there were separate style sheets for each browser, and the team used JavaScript to decide which sheet to serve. "I remember all of the heinous JavaScript we were writing and editing. It was so painful. Then, a lightbulb went on in my head – I thought, 'This web standards thing makes a lot of sense!' If we're able to establish standards, it creates a solid foundation upon which we can build better experiences."

From there, by his own admission, Gustafson was like a sponge, absorbing anything and everything he could find about web standards. Writing about the topic was followed by speaking about it, and in 2006 Gustafson joined WaSP himself. 

He spent his early days working on "some pretty cool stuff" , including collaborating with the team at Internet Explorer to improve the JavaScript interpreter and to adopt the W3C's Event Model.

Another winner from the poster contest, by Guus van Zeeland. "The lines are proposed fold marks to 'adapt' the poster," Gustafson explains

Quite soon Gustafson was invited to become a manager at WaSP. "After Glenda Sims, Derek Featherstone and I took over, we worked with Microsoft a bit more to improve Internet Explorer, launched Web Standards Sherpa and began our small business outreach campaign... but eventually we decided it was time to shut down WaSP."

The mission, he says, to a degree, was over too. "The web standards war – trying to get interoperable standards across browsers – was won at that point. There's still work to be done, but we're in a much better place than we were 10 or 15 years ago."

The standards war might be won but Gustafson doesn't seem like a man ready to turn off his Mac and go fishing. Rather, he explains, there are still many risks to the web's apparent wellbeing. 

"The app mentality is a threat. This idea of creating walled gardens which are 'of the web', but not the web itself. They use web technologies and rely on the fundamentals of HTTP, but the resources they provide access to aren't addressable from the web. That scares me. Having indicators about where you can find content is a huge part of the web's power."

Inside the bubble

The second edition of Gustafson's book Adaptive Web Design

Another big fear for Gustafson is to do with equal access. "Those of us building websites are technically savvy and tend to have more income to spend, so we have more expensive devices like iPhones and high-end Androids. That leads us to have a very myopic view of what the 'mobile web' is, and what web access on a mobile device needs to be."

To underline his point, he explains he's consulting with a store that's begun selling cheap tablets. "I asked the web team if they're testing on the devices they sell. There was stunned silence on the phone. We're surrounded by high-end devices and get into the mindset that this is the mobile web. We miss the low-end devices with Android, a bad processor and a crappy screen."

This brings us to Gustafson's primary hunting ground: adaptive design. "Progressive enhancement underpins everything I do," Gustafson says. "The entire idea is that you're creating sites, content, web pages, whatever it is, without placing any technological restrictions on the users. 

"With progressive enhancement, you focus on the content and the key tasks of the page, and build up the experience from there, layering on different technologies. The experience is more of a continuum from a basic one that might just be text with links, right up to a fully interactive one."

Gustafson has written and contributed to a number of web design books

Gustafson's philosophy centres around giving different people – or more correctly, different devices – different experiences. "It's all about recognising that it's okay for people to have different experiences of an interface as long as those experiences are positive and as long as they can accomplish the tasks they set out to," he says.

"The name of my book, Adaptive Web Design, came about because 'Progressive Enhancement' has a very sterile sound to it. We liked the idea of a web experience that could adapt to the user." Little did Gustafson know, the book version of Ethan Marcotte's 'Responsive Web Design' article would be launching at around the same time, prompting a flurry of 'adaptive versus responsive' discussions.

"Ultimately the two approaches are very much aligned," says Gustafson. "According to Ethan, responsive design is three things: media queries, fluid grids and flexible images. Those three things absolutely should be part of a page's progressive enhancement. 

"That said, you can build a desktop-first responsive site and work from the largest size down to the smallest. The lowest common denominator devices don't have media query support... So, if you were to flip it the other way and practice responsive web design from a mobile-first perspective, that aligns perfectly with progressive enhancement. For me, responsive is a technique that comes under the umbrella of progressive enhancement."

Gustafson is at pains to point out that building with progressive enhancement doesn't necessarily mean sites cost more to make. "When you get into this mindset of progressive enhancement, it adds very little. You start to realise how browsers work. An underlying feature in HTML and CSS is fault tolerance... The system can cope with problems without throwing errors to the user."

In HTML and CSS, he points out, browsers ignore what they don't understand. Recognising this is key to writing HTML5 such that browsers that don't even understand HTML4 will still render the content. "The browser will expose any text inside the element, it'll just ignore the element," he explains. 

"So, you have the brilliant system of fallbacks within HTML and within CSS that empower you to drive a baseline of support for older devices whilst, at the same time, being able to reach for the stars."

Photography: Chloe Wright

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 256 (August 2014).

Aaron Gustafson will appear at Generate London in September, alongside 16 other great speakers, including Anton & Irene, Steve Fisher, Seb Lee-Delisle, Léonie Watson, Zell Liew and more. They'll cover a whole range of topics from prototyping at Netflix via UX strategy to web performance. Also, make sure to check out the workshops. If you opt for a combined workshop and conference pass, you can save £95!

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iOS 11 preview for designers: release date, news and specs

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 06:00

iOS 11 has now been released in beta for iPads, iPad Pros and iPhones, so what key features does Apple's new mobile OS bring for creative professionals? This roundup aims to bring you the latest news, rumours, full release dates and specs of iOS 11 for designers, to help you know what to expect.

Apple's iPad Pro has brought designers, artists and motion pros a brilliant mix of power and portability, with the excellent Apple Pencil also offering a way to sketch out ideas with a huge amount of precision. But its original iOS still felt like an operating system for phones and tablets – not for serious professional work. Does Apple's new iOS overcome these workflow hurdles? What can we expect from iOS 11, and how and when can we get it?

When is iOS 11 released?

iOS 11 is now available as a public beta – so you can download it right now to your iPad or iPhone. To do this, you’ll need to sign up to the (free) Apple Beta Software Program. Once you’ve done this, you install a profile to your device and download the beta. 

You should back up your device first using iCloud or iTunes – but don’t worry, you can go back to iOS 10 at any point if you need to (although you will need to reset your device first).

If you’re not into early adoption, Apple says iOS 11's final release date will be some time this autumn (rumoured to be in September, along with the anticipated iPhone 8) and will presumably be pushed out as an update in the usual way.

What’s great about iOS 11 for designers?

Work across several devices with ease in iOS 11

iOS 11 transforms the iPad into a serious productivity tool for creative professionals through a number of very cool features. 

Files app for working across devices and apps

Possibly the most interesting of these is the new Files app. Yep, it sounds a tad dull, but it means you now can easily save, browse and manage all of your files on your iPad – plus those in apps, on your other iOS devices, on iCloud Drive and cloud services such as Dropbox and, most excellently, Adobe Creative Cloud. 

The latter means you have access to your work, wherever you are, without even having to launch Adobe’s mobile apps. You can tag your files and folders as well – just like on macOS.

Better multitasking

The next great thing is multitasking. Yes, there has been multitasking functionality in previous versions of iOS, but iOS 11 takes it up to, er, 11! You can still run a couple of apps at once using the Split View (two apps running side-by-side) and Slide Over (two apps running with one in a floating window), as introduced in iOS 9. There are slightly different ways of launching these, and you can now add a third app on an iPad Pro.

Drag and drop images into emails for easy sharing with colleagues and client

Drag and drop

But the introduction of drag and drop is a real game-changer for creatives. We know, it sounds so simple, but drag and drop is what the iPad has been missing for so long. So now when you have two apps open you can drag say, an image from one of your creative apps to your email easily. This used to be a matter of sharing from your creative app. It’s much easier now – and the new Dock, now available from any screen – echoes that in macOS.

Many apps will be updated to support iOS 11's drag and drop functionality, including Adobe’s mobile apps, the ace Procreate and Morpholio Trace. 

Essentially, with this release, iOS is closer to macOS than ever before. And that’s obviously a great thing (maybe we’re one step closer to a Surface Book-like Apple laptop – we can dream, can’t we?).

What’s new with Apple Pencil?

iOS 11 gives Apple Pencil greater functionality

If you’ve got an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil (after all, the Apple Pencil won’t work with other iPad models), iOS 11 brings some interesting new updates to the sublime stylus's abilities. 

For example, Instant Notes gives you the ability to simply start drawing on your lock screen, with the sketch or note automatically then appearing in the Notes app – great if you need to quickly capture an idea. 

And marking up PDF files is just as easy – you don’t need to select any kind of tools, just start drawing. The same goes for sketching within emails. 

The Apple Pencil hardware remains the same, but the way iOS 11 works with it has been greatly improved.

What else is new in iOS 11?

There’s a few other things that designers may use – including the built-in document scanner (good for contracts) and a better keyboard. But the most exciting other introduction is ARKit.

What is ARKit?

ARKit is Apple's new platform for developers to help them bring high-quality augmented reality (AR) experiences to iPhone and iPad using the built-in camera, processors, and motion sensors in iOS devices.

According to Apple, ARKit enables developers to tap into the latest computer vision technologies to build detailed and compelling virtual content on top of real-world scenes for interactive gaming, immersive shopping experiences, industrial design and more.

We’re yet to see what it can do properly, but it’s a hugely exciting development that could open up a new world – literally – for apps and how they interact with the world around us.

What about for my iPhone?

The new loops tool is a fun addition to the Camera app in iOS 11

Aside from the Apple Pencil functionality, pretty much everything else is the same on iPhone as it is on iPad. But you obviously use your devices in different ways. 

For photography nuts, the new pro filters in the Camera app will more than suffice, and Live Photos get a bit of a revamp as well. As well as being able to create a short motion clip with Live Photos, you can now create a loop effect, a bounce effect – making your photos rock back-and-forth – and a Long Exposure. The latter will be brilliant for capturing night time inspiration, we reckon.

What do I need to run iOS 11?

You’ll need a relatively new iPad or iPhone to get the most out of iOS 11. Apple says you’ll need at least an iPad Mini 2 or iPhone 5s. Of course, anything newer than this will make the OS run a lot smoother. 

And to use Apple Pencil you’ll need an iPad Pro 9.7-, 10.5- or 12.9-inch. If the rumours are true then the iPhone 8 and iPad Pro 2 could be announced before the official release date of iOS 11.

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Start your web dev career with this massive bundle

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 04:58

Every web developer gets their start somewhere. If you haven't found yours yet, then why not try the Beginner Web Development Bundle? It has everything you need to start learning to build your own websites, and you can get it now for 96% off the retail price!

For an aspiring web developer, the Beginner Web Development Bundle is the perfect starting place. This collection of professionally taught courses will lay the foundations of how to work with the most important languages in web development – from PHP and JavaScript to HTML5 and CSS3 – to bring your dream sites to life. There are four courses with tons of actionable lessons that will get you up to speed fast.

You can get the Beginner Web Development Bundle on sale for 96% off the retail price, at just $29 (approx £22)! That’s a massive saving on a course that could launch your next career, so grab this deal today!

The 23 best Illustrator brushes

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 02:00

Brushes are a great way to beef up your Adobe Illustrator work. You can go a long way with Illustrator's basic tools, but with the right set of brushes – and the flexible way in which Illustrator allows them to be used on vector shapes – you can quickly and easily add texture and character to any piece of work.

Managing brushes is more straightforward than ever before; with Illustrator CC, you can now save your brushes to your Creative Cloud library for easy access, no matter which machine you're using at the time. 

There's also the handy new Brush CC tool that allows you to define and share artwork in the form of brushes directly from your iOS device. These elements of workflow finessing means it's perhaps time to look again at brushes in Illustrator, so without further ado here are 20 of the best!

01. 8 free stipple shading Illustrator brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Chris Spooner

Build up tone and shade with these brilliant free Illustrator brushes

Designer Chris Spooner – aka Spoongraphics – crafted this free pack of eight stipple shading brushes to help you easily paint grungy details onto your artwork with Illustrator’s brush tool. 

Stippling is a traditional technique that uses lots of dots at different densities to build up tones and shade, and is particularly effective for creating a retro effect in your illustrations.  

02. Free halftone vector brushes

Quickly create halftones with this set of free Illustrator brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Rob Brink

This sample selection of free halftone Illustrator brushes are part of a larger pack of halftone vector brushes. Created by UI/UX designer Rob Brink, they’re perfect for adding old-school texture to your illustrations, without spending a penny.

03. Rodeo

Old rope for no money
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: The Vector Lab

Yee-hah! Rope can be really fiddly to draw, so if you need some in your imagery the go for this easy option instead. Rodeo is a hand-drawn rope brush for Adobe Illustrator CC. You can apply it to any path, as well as change the rope width and colour.

04. Marker pen strokes

These marker pen brushes are magic
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: FudgeGraphics

Get your sharpie on with this set of 64 free marker pen strokes and scribbles, and give your designs a more natural, hand-drawn look. They're high quality and compatible with all versions of Illustrator from CS onwards, and they're free for both personal and commercial work.

05. Smoke

Light up your work with this excellent smoke
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: R2010

This set of smoke-like brushes is perfect for adding a bit of atmosphere to any illustration, whether it's for backgrounds or things that smoke, steam or mist. Play around with the opacity and blend modes in Illustrator to get some really nice effects.

06. Doodle lines

You can use these doodle brushes commercially for a very reasonable price
  • Price: Free (for personal use)
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

If doodling by hand is too much effort for you then achieve the same look with this set of free doodle brushes. It's a varied and versatile selection that allows you to create a hand-drawn sketched look, as well as decorative borders, curls and doodle style illustrations. They're free for personal use, while a licence for commercial use will cost you just £4.

07. Illustrator wedge brushes

 wedge

Create classy designs with this pack of wedge brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

Free for non-commercial use, this pack of Illustrator brushes by freelance illustrator and graphic designer Mels Brushes is perfect for adding swirls, swishes and decorative curls to your designs.

08. Floral vector and brush pack

Best free Illustrator brushes - Floral vector and brush pack

A wider selection of florals than that which ships with Illustrator
  • Price: Free for personal and commercial use
  • Artist/Designer: Stock Graphic Designs

This handy set of floral plate-inspired brushes is also available as a set of EPS assets for those times when you simply want to drop in stock art into your project. 

The quality of the art itself is comparable to the free florals that ship with Illustrator, but there's a wider selection available here, and the fact that they're not part of Illustrator's default arsenal means you're less likely to get instant recognition of the source.

09. Fur Illustrator brushes

 fur

Sometimes you need to add hair...
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

Need to add a furry effect? These eight hairy Illustrator brushes from Mels Brushes work particularly well when you build them up using different tones. They're free for personal use, and you can buy a license for commercial projects.

10. Abstract brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - Abstract brushes

These abstract brushes can be used to create crazy embellishments
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: alethiologie

Deviantart is always a good place to find free-to-use resources and assets, as this example from alethiologie demonstrates. A handy set of brushes that you can use to create abstract shapes and patterns, including some pretty crazy-looking ornaments.

11. Lino cut brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - Lino cut brushes

These free Illustrator brushes give a hand-finished look
  • Price: Free (for personal use)
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

This is another example of digital replicating the natural imperfections of analogue artwork, but for all its irony, these free-for-personal-use brushes have a wonderful quality to them that brings out a lovely hand-finished look in your artwork.

12. Vector Brush toolbox

You get 200 best-selling vector brushes, including sponge and ink splatter brushes, halftone, pencil, charcoal, watercolor and more, in this pack
  • Price: $49
  • Artist/Designer: RetroSupply

We mentioned there were two paid-for options in this list – and you’ll soon see why the Vector Brush Toolbox earns its place in a round-up of the best Illustrator brushes. 

Including six of RetroSupply’s best-selling Illustrator brush packs – that’s over 200 best-selling vector brushes – the Vector Brush Toolbox is the ultimate brush kit for illustrators, giving you every brush you’ll ever need for vector-based drawing. (Plus, you save $41 when you buy the bundle.)

Next: More excellent Illustrator brushes

13. 15 paint brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - 15 paint brushes

These brushes are based on real paint brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Think Design

This set of 15 paintbrush-inspired brushes has been around a while, but the real-media feel they offer means they're still well worth downloading and installing. This is even more the case given they're absolutely free of charge. 

The brushes themselves are each based around a different style of real paint brush, offering a beautiful feeling of paint oozing out under the pressure of the brush. Great for those times when you want something a little less clean and imperfect.

14. Dry paint brush strokes

 dry paint

Produce handdrawn-looking brush strokes with this free pack
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Scorp1

To add a dry brush stroke effect to your designs, try this free pack from Duesseldorf-based designer Scorp1. According to Scorp1, the brushes were created using a dry brush with acrylic color, scanned, vectorised with Streamline and corrected manually where needed.

15. Mycanthus brush pack

 Mycanthus

For some extra flourish, try this pack of art and scatterbrushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: r2010

Mycanthus brush pack 1 contains five ornamental art brushes and five scatter brushes. "I call this pack 'Mycanthus' – since I didn't stick with traditional acanthus leaf designs," says Deviant Art member r2010. The pack is free to use – just send r2010 a link to your work "to make it worthwhile".

16. Doodle Pattern Zentangle Borders

 pattern

These brushes are well-suited to borders
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Mels Brushes

Another from designer Mels Brushes, this pack of 28 doodled zentangle style Illustrator pattern brushes will add a handdrawn feel to your art work – and they're free for personal use.

17. Pattern brushes

 patterns

For stunning patterns, look no further than this set of 15 free Illustrator brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Gina Startup

This set of 15 Illustrator pattern brushes is perfect for creating vector borders and frames. Designed by New York-based digital artist Gina Startup – aka StarwaltDesign – they're all free.

18. Stipple shading brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - stipple shading

These stipple shading and scatter brushes are a great addition
  • Price: Free (for personal use, check with author for commercial use)
  • Artist/Designer: Chris Spooner

Chris Spooner is well known to many designers on the web for his excellent tutorials and free resources. This selection of eight stipple shading and scatter brushes will make a lovely and versatile addition to your brush collection, allowing you to create fantastic half-tone style shading on your artwork with ease. Spooner has even provided a mini-tutorial showing how to get started with the brushes for best effect.

19. 57 multi-colored Illustrator brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - 57 multi-colored brushes

These free Illustrator brushes recreate oil brushes
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Grant Friedman (Colorburned)

This lovely collection of 57 real-media-like brushes recreates the feeling of traditional oil brushes, alongside the vivid colour that medium provides. Created by Grant Friedman specifically as a free download, the brushes are nonetheless of a high quality and very useable in your projects.

20. Free floral brushes for Illustrator

Best free Illustrator brushes - floral brushes

These free floral brushes are beautiful in their simplicity
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Gratiela Dascalu

Created by Romanian web designer, Gratiela Dascalu, this set of twelve beautifully simple floral brushes make short work of crafting flora-based embellishments. The brushes are free for both personal and commercial use, so you can get stuck straight in to using them on client projects too.

21. Grunge

Best Illustrator brushes - Grunge

These mucky brushes will cost you but it's worth it
  • Price: $2.50 per pack
  • Artist/Designer: Seth (TheMeatGrinder)

Another gem from Deviantart, these deliciously mucky brushes come at a price: $2.50 per pack, of which there are two. Despite the (very low) cost, it's difficult to begrudge paying for a bit of grunge, especially when the brushes themselves create such visually gorgeous lines!

22. 3D star scatter brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - 3D star scatter

These free brushes add a retro feel to your vector project
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: brushportal.com

This is a pretty basic set of 24 scatter brushes for Illustrator, but the 3D effect works well for retro artwork and the colours/shading lends itself well to the same. Great if you need to add a little sparkle to some artwork in a hurry, and free!

23. Paper tooth brushes

Best free Illustrator brushes - Paper tooth

Great for adding an authentic torn-paper feel
  • Price: Free
  • Artist/Designer: Equal and Opposite

A paper's tooth is the slight ragged edge or the nooks and crannies you'll inevitably find where the fibres of the medium have knitted together. These brushes create a look of authenticity in your artwork, accentuating and simulating the effect of a paper stock with bite!

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How to convince users your site's faster than it really is

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 10:56

Before getting to the psychological part of performance optimisation, let's answer one question: what is web performance? For the majority of frontend developers, the answer would cover things like page response time, speed of animations, load times. 

Guess what? The world is a cruel place and unfortunately not only web developers have access to the web. So how do regular users gauge web performance? Usually it's 'fast' or 'slow' ("The SpeedIndex of this site isn't as good as of that one. 280 millisecond slower first paint is the reason, I guess" – said no user without DevTools ever).

These diverging approaches to performance come from the fact that our estimation of time can be objective (the time we can measure with a stopwatch, the way we developers approach it) or subjective (time as it's perceived by users).

The reason why we should be looking at subjective, or psychological, performance is that unless users perceive the site as fast or faster, whatever we've done to our performance optimisation matters very little. 

Time perception in humans

Mental activity makes waiting barely noticeable

Perception of time by humans is a complex process. We can sense the flow of time, but the exact nature of the mechanism by which this is done remains unclear. The lack of a dedicated brain area for temporal processing makes understanding the process difficult. This does not mean we are out of control. There is enough knowledge about it for the purpose of performance optimisation. Let's start with the basic functional mechanism.

Event in a nutshell

Our memories about some period in time consist of events. Try to remember your last vacation. Probably, you don't recall it as a continuous process but rather as a set of events: dinner with a loved one, trip to mountains, broken leg (maybe that last one is just me, but nevertheless, you get the idea). The same happens on the web, all interactions with a web application are defined by events: loading a site, requesting a page, searching information and so on.

Almost all of such events can be split further into smaller events or phases. For example, the event of loading a page usually consists of the following two phases:

  • User is looking at the white screen
  • User starts consuming the information on the page

Here, the original event (fully loading requested page) is not necessary over and might continue in the background, considering some basic optimisations are in action.

Phases during which our brain is triggered into active state and is forced to output information or process incoming one (typing, reading, etc) are called active. On the other hand phases when our brain is idling (looking at the white screen) are called passive. Multiple research suggests that people have a tendency to significantly (by about 36%) overestimate passive durations while underestimating active durations. Why so?

Sometimes there is a big difference between time measurable with a stopwatch, and time as we perceive it

At any given moment our limited attentional resources are divided between all the concurrent tasks, including timing. As aforementioned, the brain lacks a dedicated temporal processing area, and to build our perception of time, it has to use information from different sensors. During the active phase of an event, mental activity drags attentional resources off the temporal processing, making users consider the wait as a shorter one or not noticeable at all.

Passive phase is not defined only by brain idling. Typical features of it are:

  • Waste of time: The more valuable the customers' time, the more negative their perception of those that waste it
  • Boredom: This is the result of the idling state. Boredom arises when an individual does not get enough interesting information
  • Lack of control: Users either have to wait for the event to be over or cancel the event (close the tab in our case). Lack of perceived control has a significant, negative impact on human physical and psychological well-being

Due to these features, users' complaints about waiting, in most cases, are related exactly to the passive phase. Let's summarise:

  • User's interaction happens discretely: loading a page, returning search results etc
  • Events, even remaining objectively unchanged, can be split into active and passive phases
  • Active phase is well tolerated by users, does not cause troubles and does not need to be treated anyhow. Contrary to active, passive phase is the core of the waiting problem and is the part that should be addressed

Using this knowledge let's proceed to the basics of psychological performance optimisation (PPO).

Reducing perceived waiting time

Psychological performance optimisation does not change the duration of an event; instead it extends the active phase at the cost of the passive one

Here we should make an important note, changing the objective duration of the event is not the aim of PPO even though most of the techniques do reduce objective durations. Instead, it's all about manipulating users perception of time.

So how do we make users perceive an event as a shorter one without changing its objective duration? Simply, within the time limits of an event, we should reduce the harmless passive phase by increasing the tolerable active one. We should either a) start the active phase as soon as possible or b) keep users in the active phase as long as possible. Once this becomes clear, understanding a lot of performance optimisation techniques and their purpose won't be a problem for you.

At first, it might look like an unusual view at performance. But when it comes to the examples of the PPO there is nothing new I could tell. As long as you do performance optimisations, there is a high chance you're already using PPO even, possibly, without realising it. The list of relevant techniques includes but is not limited to:

  • Critical rendering path optimisation: rendering the very first bits of information on the screen as soon as possible. If we speak events, this one is for loading a site or a new page.
  • Optimistic UI: update interface in response to user's actions optimistically, disturbing the user only if something goes wrong. Optimistic UI is useful for any type of non-critical action.
  • Resource hints: rather new specification of special <link> instructions to the browser that speed up communication and connection to external hosts or assets on your own site. Very broad field of application when it comes to events, from faster loading of subsequent pages on the same site to faster loading of the external pages if you need to.
  • PRPL: pattern in general and its separate parts. Again, when it comes to events, PRPL pattern benefits loading the whole site or a newly requested page.
  • Animations: probably the most seductive tool available to our disposal. But it comes with a warning. Animations, removing the boredom of the passive wait, indeed can significantly improve time perception of short events, related to the same page: outputting search results, putting item into cart, requesting additional information etc. It might even be used for cross-page transitions in SPAs. But, animations done badly might significantly harm not only performance, but also accessibility and overall perception of the project.

When we talk about psychological time, unfortunately, there is no way we could universally measure perception. But, are there any metrics we could rely upon in order to know how good our site is perceived by users?

What to measure?

Conventional parameters like an onload event are not very informative for measuring perception as they do not take users into consideration. Instead, we should rely on the new generation of metrics:

  • First Meaningful Paint: this parameter is responsible for triggering your user from passive to active in the phase of the page loading event. But rendering on its own might not be enough. The browser window might still be unresponsive to a user's interactions due to the browser's blocked main thread.
  • Time to Interactive (TTI): this is exactly the parameter that shows when users can actually use the site instead of simply taking a look at it.

Both parameters can be measured with popular monitoring tools like WebPagetest or Lighthouse. It also lands in Chrome DevTools. It goes without saying that these parameters should be as low as possible. You might also want to keep an eye on the Speed Index parameter to know how fast the visual part (not only the first paint) of your page is being output.

Conclusion

We've covered the basic principles of PPO. I would encourage you to keep going, read papers and any materials you can find on time perception. You will be surprised how weird and controversial our brain is. Better understanding of how humans are wired up might give you new opportunities in your work.  

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 293; buy it here!

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How to animate the Disney way

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 09:54

Dan Povenmire and Jeff ‘Swampy’ Marsh are two modern-day heroes of American animation. Their talents span drawing, animating, writing and producing, and they even write their own songs. While they’ve worked on top programmes like The Simpsons on Fox and Rocko’s Modern Life at Nickelodeon, they’ve also created their very own shows for Disney.

We caught up with them at the launch of Milo Murphy’s Law and asked them to share their top animation tips.

01. Photograph all your doodles

Characters in Milo Murphy's Law were based on old drawings

"I doodle all the time, and once I got a phone with a camera on it, I think it helped me a lot, because now I take pictures of every doodle I do," says Povenmire. "I also ‘favourite’ all the ones that I like and go back to them later on. 

"A lot of the characters in Milo Murphy’s Law were drawings that I’d done years earlier, like the character Decker, who is played by Christian Slater in the show. When we found out that he wanted to do a voice, I went back in my phone and found the doodle, and was like: ‘This guy!’"

02. Try to make your characters think

"Watch Nick Park," Marsh advises. "He has mastered the art of making the inanimate object appear to think. The moment things become real is when you can believe that these characters are thinking. It’s not how big they smile or how fluidly they move, it’s when you’ve created the illusion that the character is processing information, and that’s that magic moment.

"I was watching Creature Comforts and just went, ‘Oh, my God, he’s nailed everything.’ You watch the Brazilian Puma, who’s sitting there on the log, he’s like, ‘Where I would like to live, and spend most of my time…’ He’s out there, he’s thinking, he’s imagining, he’s seeing things from the past and the future and you go: That’s alive. That hunk of clay is now totally believable because he’s imagining, he’s remembering, he’s thinking."

03. Explore different emotions in your faces

Candace is happy – until you put her eyebrows in...

"If you do angry eyebrows and a happy face, it looks evil," says Povenmire. "If you do angry eyebrows and a sad face, it looks angry. If you do happy eyebrows and a sad mouth, you get perplexed. If you do sad eyebrows and a happy mouth, it looks like your character is in love.

"You can do all these different things, and then within that you can use the eyelids to change an expression entirely: between wide-open eyes for an evil expression, and half-open eyes for a dopey expression.

"It’s like Candace, the sister in Phineas and Ferb – she’s pretty happy right up until you put the eyebrows in, and then she’s screaming at her brothers. Up until that moment it’s, ‘Aaaah!’ and right then it becomes, ‘You are so busted.’"

04. Think in three dimensions

Working on The Simpsons helped Marsh understand how to make characters instantly believable

"If you think of Bart Simpson, his head is a cylinder, a Coke can," Marsh says. "Draw it, and turn that character in three dimensions. If he turns his head a certain way, you get a bigger circle on the top of his head and a smaller circle where his mouth is.

"If your character turns and moves in three dimensions in a way that feels solid, people believe it a lot quicker. That’s the big thing that I learned when I started working on The Simpsons – how to construct things in a three dimensional way."

05. Use simple geometry

Protagonist Phineas and antagonist Doofenshmirtz share the same geometry

"In Phineas and Ferb, what’s funny is that our protagonist Phineas and antagonist Doofenshmirtz are essentially the same – they’re triangles with two circles for eyes," Povenmire explains. "You can put the hair in and they’re still impossible to tell apart.

"But if you add a crooked nose and a mouth, suddenly, one triangle is Doofenshmirtz, whereas with Phineas, the point of the triangle is his nose and his mouth is behind it. They’re very much the same, just as Minnie Mouse is indistinguishable from Mickey – up to the point where you add features and they diverge."

06. Don't over-exaggerate

The duo have lots of experience animating for prime time shows

"How you handle exaggeration is down to the specific gag, and very much down to your sensibilities." Marsh reveals. "We both have a lot of experience in prime-time animation such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, where it’s all very small reactions, not a lot of exaggeration.

"We’ve also worked on big, cartoony shows like Rocko’s Modern Life and SpongeBob SquarePants. They had big, ridiculous events. We tried to meet somewhere in the middle for our shows Phineas and Ferb, and Milo Murphy’s Law.

"If you’re more in the middle generally, when you do go want to go extreme, it really plays big and that’s when you get the effect you want."

07. Animate the antic

Povenmire learnt a lot by animating big gestures

"There’s a standard thing in animation called ‘the antic’, which is really sort of three drawings, put in the right order," Povenmire continues. "So if I draw Phineas reacting to something, he’s going to go from a normal to an alert position.

"Something big happens, and he’s got to react to it big. If you just draw the normal pose and then upright pose, it will just be OK. But if you give him the opposite action, instead of his head just going up, you have it go down first and then up, it becomes a bigger reaction to something.

"That was something I learned early on when I was trying to animate somebody suddenly running out of frame. It didn’t look good at all until I gave him this whole swing back first – a big, cartoony anticipation of a movement and then have him run off.

"You’ve got to have your characters move in the opposite direction first to give it weight."

08. Don't try to be perfect

Nick Park's Feathers McGraw shows the power of good storytelling

"As much as I believe in the quality of animation, if you’re telling a good story with some strong characters, you don’t need Disney-level resources," adds Marsh.

"You have to define your characters really well and know who they are and believe in them. And then, even a stick figure drawing will do.

"Think of Nick Park’s The Wrong Trousers, and the character Feathers McGraw. He’s a bowling pin! He doesn’t have any expression at all. There’s no smile. He blinks – that’s literally all he can do. But you know when he’s being menacing and evil. You know when he’s discovered something. He changes the pace at which he walks, and he stops and turns."

This article was originally published in Computer Arts magazine issue 266. Buy it here.

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The new traditional art tools you need this July

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 08:00

Whether you're looking to switch disciplines and try something new, or brush up on old skills, there's a ton of cool new art books to help you on your way. This month we've got guides on oil painting, how to draw manga and urban drawing techniques, plus a new and brilliantly named art craze: Zentangle. And not just regular Zentangle, but botanical Zentangle. We've also rounded up some the best tools to help you get started in each of these fields. 

We look at a book that asks questions about creativity – what a good idea looks like, where it comes from – which is perfect for anyone suffering from bout of creative block. We also check in with Somerset House and its Print Club London film poster exhibition, and we've got our eye on a new, limited edition Moleskine collaboration. 

01. Five-Minute Sketching: Landscapes

Get sketching on the move, even when you're short on time

This new book by urban sketcher Virginia Hein contains over 50 exercises to help artists of any level quickly sketch landscapes. "Suitable for both new and aspiring artists," publisher Search Press says, "this easy-to-use handbook will loosen up your creativity and show you how to sketch while outdoors or on the move, even if you have only a few minutes to spare."

02. Posh pencils

These charming pencils each feature an original design

London-based stationery designer Katie Leamon has created a new range of luxury pencils that are perfect for any budding urban sketcher. Traditionally made and inspired by nursery rhymes, fables and fairytales, the pack contains six mixed-grade pencils, each decorated with an original design. They cover everything you need for detail, textures, and tone. 

03. Rolling Stones Moleskine

Choose from silk, denim, velvet or PU leather

This new, limited edition Moleskine collaboration sees the much-loved notebook brand join forces with one of the greatest bands of all time. The hook-up offers a series of covers made from rock'n'roll materials – silk, denim, velvet and PU leather – all of which include the Rolling Stones logo, the iconic tongue-and-lip design, created by English art designer John Pasche.

04. Zentangle

This new drawing craze is supposed to relax you

The Zentangle method is the process of drawing structured, repetitive patterns. Supporters say it increases focus, wellbeing and creativity. "With a focus on simple mark-making as well as drawing with the intention to relax and be creative," Quarto, the publisher of this new book, says, "tangle drawing is a powerful tool for people looking to tap into their inner artist." 

The book contains more than 200 tangle-inspired botanical illustrations, with written instruction on how to draw them. 

05. Summer Screen film prints

Posters on sale include Blow-Up by Lucille Clerc

Print Club London and Somerset House are collaborating on their fifth annual film poster exhibition celebrating the Film4 Summer Screen. The Dalston-based studio is inviting artists and illustrators to create screen-printed posters for the new and classic films shown at the outdoor events taking place in London this summer. The adjoining exhibition runs from 3-23 August. If you can't make it, posters are on sale here

06. Manga for beginners

Learn how to turn basic shapes into expressive characters

In her new book, Edinburgh-based manga artist Yishan Li shows you how to draw manga-style characters and creatures. You'll start with basic shapes, and learn how to turn circles, squares, and rectangles into witches, wizards, and monsters. This guide contains over 130 step-by-step drawings and more than 1,000 individual illustrations.

07. Manga art set

These pens are smooth and smudge-resistant

Faber-Castell offers one of the best manga starter sets around. Its pens use water-based ink that's acid-free, waterproof and fade-resistant. The pens glide smoothly and are smudge-resistant, with the largest pen offering a brush-like line. They are professional-level pens at an entry level price.

08. What's in an idea?

This book might prompt more questions than it answers

If you're suffering from creative block, perhaps you need to go back to basics: What does an idea look like and where does it come from? "Grant Snider’s illustrations will motivate you to explore these questions, inspire you to come up with your own answers and, like all Gordian knots, prompt even more questions,” promises publisher Abrams. 

09. The Encyclopaedia of Oil Techniques

A comprehensive A-Z reference to oils

Search Press is publishing a new, up-to-date edition of Jeremy Galton's popular encyclopaedia of oil painting. This A-Z reference book is split into two sections: the first offers step-by-step demonstrations that guide artists through a variety of techniques, and the second focuses on themes and common subjects, including landscapes, buildings, portraits, still life, skies and water.

10. Oil painting box set

This set is one of the best rated around

Royal & Langnickel's oil painting set for beginners is one of the best-rated around. The UK brand offers everything you need to get started, including brushes, a selection of colours, a beginner's guide to oils, and canvas boards, all housed in a compact, portable and well-made wooden box. 

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Super-minimalist packaging trademarks white space

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 07:00

There's minimalist design, and then there's the new range of products from the appropriately named company, Brandless. Based in San Francisco and Minneapolis, the company claims to be a group of thinkers with big dreams about changing the world. To turn its ideas into reality, Brandless has launched a range of extremely minimalist products.

We say 'extremely minimalist' because Brandless has taken the drastic step of trademarking a white box design for its food and home items. Co-designed with the help of Brooklyn agency Red Antler, each product is made up of a single colour with the white box design dropped on top. The text in the boxes is effectively negative space, and is readable thanks to the colour underneath shining through.

"With Brandless, we wanted to invent something completely fresh and new," say the pair behind the design, Tina Sharkey and Ido Leffler.

"Something that puts purpose into every product and message shared, and models a new kind of relationship between people and the companies built to serve them – directly, with integrity, transparency, authenticity, and democratised access."

So far, so Silicon Valley. But the lack of identity means that the products are dodging a fee known as BrandTax, which in turn has let Brandless set a standardised price across all its items.

Explore the range of products by clicking left or right in the gallery below, and if you live in the US and like what you see, you can order the Brandless goodies online.

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Stunning fan art celebrates return of Game of Thrones

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 06:21

Fans of the epic fantasy drama Game of Thrones have a lot to be happy about recently. Not only has the show returned to our screens for a seventh series, but there's also the promise of a spin off to look forward to. As if that wasn't enough, game artist and illustrator Catherine Unger has created a series of busts based on the main cast.

Unger, who currently works as the lead artist on Nintendo Snipperclips, drew the Game of Thrones busts last year, but recently unearthed them on her Twitter page to celebrate the launch of the new series.

These illustrations stand out from the crowd thanks to Unger's chunky drawing techniques. We particularly like how the blocky forms look like they've been chiselled into life.

Explore all of Unger's Game of Thrones busts by clicking left or right in the gallery below, and if you like what you see, you'll be glad to head that she's open for commissions. Maybe the makers of the show should get in touch to request some official work...

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How to design for millions of new users

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 05:57

Freelance designer and frontend developer Ally Long has a particular interest in designing for novice tech users and people in emerging economies. At Generate London on 21 September, she will give a presentation entitled 'Field-tested interfaces for the next billion'. We caught up with her to find out what it's all about. 

Who are ‘the next billion’ and what kind of devices do they use to access the web?
AL: '
The next billion' refers to the next big wave of people coming online in emerging economies. Most of us here in Europe, and in other developed economies throughout the world, are already online in some form or another. In the UK, for example, over 90 per cent of the population is connected. The deed is done; we’re on the grid. But that’s not the case in many other parts of the world. 

You have far fewer people walking around with their heads in their phones in Lagos than you do in London. Same goes for São Paulo, New Delhi, Kinshasa – hugely populous areas with whole hosts of people who’ve never had access to the internet. This is changing constantly, though, and rapidly. 

The cost of mobile data decreases, and the availability of cheap handsets (think second-hand Blackberry knock-offs) increases. Connected smartphones are bringing computing to many people for the first time, and changing the landscape of the internet in the process. Lagos is becoming quite a tech hub in West Africa – and it’s entirely possible that it could outpace London as a global technology centre in the not-too-distant future.

Ally Long's talk at Generate London will explore how to include millions of new users in your product thinking

How do you design interfaces for people that are learning to use smartphones for the first time?

AL: You need to start with some good research – this is not an area where you can rely on gut feelings, or most of the body of literature around what constitutes good design and UX. 

You can’t even rely on empathy, because it’s hard to even know where to start empathising with people who have such a different experience of technology and their environment than you do.

You’ll also really need to check your ego at the door, because the interfaces that tend to work best for these markets might not be what you think is nice design – we’re talking big font sizes and icons, high contrast, and clicky-looking buttons. You need to always approach this work as a series of problems that need to be solved with good design thinking, and don’t conflate a beautiful-looking interface with something that provides value to people.

And how do you improve the user experience for them?

AL: By making the app or site as lightweight as possible – both in terms of data usage and battery suckage. If someone has to pay a not-insignificant portion of their income to buy data, and perhaps also shell out cash to a charging station to power their device if they don’t have working electricity at home, then you need to treat that constraint with the highest degree of respect. 

You should also regard being offline as the default status, and not an error. Allow users to do as much as possible without a connection, save things locally, and update or sync when the device is online. 

What kind of UX and UI patterns and conventions that we may take for granted do not work for this new audience?

AL: A lot of navigation conventions don’t make much sense if you haven’t been exposed to the evolution of these conventions over time. Hierarchies or tree structures don’t seem to be very intuitive – in terms of navigation it’s better to stick to a linear pattern: forwards and backwards. 

Gesture-based navigation and UIs are hard. People do learn them after some time, but it’s a steep learning curve. The idea of pressing buttons is more instantly understood.

What kind of user research and testing do you do?

AL: The key to good user research is to understand the context and the constraints. So for the public health projects I’ve worked on, I’ve shadowed health or logistics workers as they go about their tasks so we can figure out what will work best in helping them digitise their processes. 

It’s important to get some background information too – I usually also ask them to show me their phones, find out what their favourite apps are, see how they use them, get a sense of their comfort level.

Testing is a bit of a different beast – it’s where you really get into the nitty-gritty of which UI elements present the least amount of cognitive strain. How fast can people get shit done, basically. 

I’m working on a project with Field in Nigeria at the moment, and we have a great group of people we can test with. At the end of every two-week sprint, we release a new beta version of the app and ask our testers to try to complete specific tasks, observe the results, and document it in detail.

Visiting a health facility in northern Nigeria

What are some of the main challenges you’ve witnessed on your field trips?

AL: Just getting from A to B can really test your patience. Whether it’s roads that become lakes in rainy season, an overloaded truck that’s overturned and blocked a main road for a whole day, potholes that’ll swallow a car, fuel shortages, bandits on the highways or other security concerns – it always takes a lot longer than I expect to get anywhere, and the same goes for everyone. 

You’re often either waiting for someone to show up, or they’re waiting for you to show up. These infrastructural problems affect almost everything else too – poor internet connectivity, and lack of reliable electricity to charge devices makes technology slower for everyone.

Sometimes you need to join a motorcycle gang just to get around

What can people expect to take away from your talk at Generate London?

AL: Mainly some very practical tips on how to cater for the next billion users in your designs and processes – how to account for the constrained resources, varying literacy levels, intermittent connectivity. 

But I also hope to convey a sense of excitement, and engender some curiosity about this work – I don’t want people to think it’s all constraints and no fun. It’s fascinating, worthwhile, and rewarding.

Generate London, on 21 and 22 September, will feature 16 great presentations for web and UX designers and is preceded by a full day of workshops on 20 September. Don't miss the opportunity to learn from the likes of Steve Fisher, Leonie Watson, Anton & Irene, Zell Liew, Aaron Gustafson and many more. Reserve your spot today!

These responsive themes are what your website needs

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 05:00

There's no platform better to launch your website with than WordPress. All you need is a professionally designed theme from Visualmodo to give your site style and function right off the bat. Get lifetime access to these themes right now for just $39 (approx. £30)!

Visualmodo's WordPress themes make it easy to streamline any web project. Its library of professionally designed themes are easy to plug in and immediately offer you a wide variety of features. These customisable and flexible themes fit just about any project, but if you're having trouble making yours work for you, the award-winning customer service from Visualmodo can help you get your site up and running.

You can get a lifetime of access to WordPress themes from Visualmodo on sale for 84 per cent off the retail price. That makes your total just $39 (approx. £30). It's a great offer for themes that will make your site even better, so grab this deal today!

25 typography freebies to make your life easier

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 02:17

Typography is one of the most important skills you can develop as a designer. And however long your career lasts, you never really stop learning.

The good news is that there’s a lot of free help and resources out there. So in this post, we gather together the best typography-related ebooks, tools, cheatsheets and games to aid you in your continuing typographical journey. We've separated each category into its own page to help you navigate your way through this whopping roundup.

First up on this page: ebooks. There’s nothing like a good book to really get you diving deep into a subject. And with so many free ebooks around, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to improve your knowledge and skillset. Here are five of our favourites.

01. Type Classification ebook

Learn all about the main type classifications

If you want to learn the fundamentals of typographical classifications, then this 27-page ebook is a good start. Created by Just Creative – the design studio and graphic design blog of Jacob Cass – it’s a reference guide to 10 broad classifications, namely Humanist, Garalde, Didone, Transitional, Lineal, Mechanistic, Blackletter, Decorative, Script and Manual.

02. The Vignelli Canon

The Vignelli Canon sets out Massimo Vignelli’s guidelines for using typography

Massimo Vignelli (1931-2014) was one of the 20th century’s most famous graphic designers. In this classic book, which Vignelli made available in free PDF form in 2009, he sets out his guidelines for using typography in graphic design.

03. Professional Web Typography

Truong's ebook is all about online typography

Anyone who needs to get their head around using typography on the web should make a beeline for this 2016 book by professional web designer Donny Truong, director of design and web services at Antonin Scalia Law School. It sets out an overview of how type works online, and outlines the author’s process for selecting fonts and typesetting on the web.

04. Practical Responsive Typography

Darlo Calonaci's book offers fundamentals and examples of responsive type

Written by Darlo Calonaci and published by Packt, Practical Responsive Typography outlines the fundamentals of web typography and explains how to make it work with responsive web design. Including code examples so you can put what you learn into practice, this is a must-read for web designers. Earlier this year, Packt teamed up with us to offer the ebook version to Creative Bloq readers as a free download: you’ll find full details here.

05. Fontology

Fonts.com is behind this comprehensive workbook of fonts

Many font foundries and font retailers have written their own ebooks to help users get to grips with typography. And one of our favourites is Fontology, from Fonts.com. Structured as a workbook, it covers topics including type history, type families, type anatomy, text typography, web typography, display typography, type choices, numbers, signs and symbols. It's a great self-learning tool for beginners and a handy reference and refresher for professionals. 

Next page: Free typography tools

One thing the global design community is pretty good at is giving back to others. So there are a ton of tools and apps out there on the web, free for you to use to boost your typography prowess. Here are five we heartily recommend.

06. Type Zebra

Type Zebra lets you to test out different fonts by typing on screen

Made by Chilean agency UX Ready, Type Zebra is a browser-based app that allows you to test out different fonts simply by typing on screen. Use the top nav to choose between local fonts, Google fonts and Edge fonts, write your text below (or just use the supplied dummy text) and then choose your font from the left-hand nav. 

07. Font Pair

Pair Google fonts easily

The brainchild of Hayden Mills, a design student at Indiana University, Font Pair aims to help designers pair Google Fonts together quickly and effectively. It basically aggregates a list of the most popular font pairs together in one place, and lets you try them out via editable dummy text. 

The top menu handily groups all the pairs together in six combinations, such as Sans-Serif/Serif, Cursive/Serif, Serif/Serif, and so on. All in all, it’s a lot simpler and quicker than spending hours searching through Google Fonts manually.

08. Try.typography.com

Have fun playing with variations within each typeface

Another font tester, this browser-based app comes from renowned type foundry Hoefler & Co. It basically lets you choose from H&C’s catalogue and see what each font looks like at different sizes, with different line spacing, using a handy set of sliders. You can also really start to drill down by turning on and off specific details such as ‘short-tailed Q’ and ‘unjoined % sign’.

09. Font Flame

Which font pairing will make you swipe right?

It’s easy to spend your whole career relying on the same, safe font pairings. But Font Flame tries to prompt you to expand your horizons and experiment with new and different combinations. Dubbing itself ‘Tinder for font pairing’, it serves you up a continuous stream of font pairings you may not have considered, and asks you to ‘Love’ or ‘Hate’ them. All fonts come from Google Fonts, and you can review your favourites when you’re done. 

10. Fontjoy

Fontjoy is an intelligent free service for font pairing

Fontjoy steps things up a notch, by using deep machine learning to make things more methodical than Font Flame's random pairings. It’s still very easy to use, though. 

Just use the slider to determine what level of contrast you want between the fonts, and click on the Generate button to create a new font pairing. You can also click the ‘lock’ icon to lock fonts you like, edit the text, and choose a font manually. 

Next page: Free font identification services

One of the most common questions you see posted on design forums is “Can anyone identify this font?” But before bothering a human, we’d urge you to first try one of these automated font identification services. They’re by no means infallible, but they should at least provide you with some handy hints to get you further on your way.

11. WhatTheFont

WhatTheFont is a phone app and desktop site

First launched by MyFonts in 2011, WhatTheFont is a free iPhone app for identifying the fonts in a photo, print ad, poster or web graphic. Take a picture with your phone and the app will tell you what font or fonts are being used in it. There’s also a browser version of the app.

12. Matcherator

Drag and drop, upload or paste an image URL to scan its fonts

Font Squirrel offers a free font identification service called Matcherator. Just drag an image onto the box (or add the image URL) and it will ask you to crop in on the area containing the text. Once you’ve done that, Matcherator will identify fonts that match your image, and where you can get them from. 

13. Identifont

Identifont has a huge, free to use, library of fonts

Since its launch in 2000, browser tool Identifont has been allowing you to identify fonts in a huge variety of ways. The world’s largest independent library of digital fonts and font families on the web, it allows you to identify fonts by appearance; to find fonts by name; to discover picture or symbol fonts; and to search for fonts by designer or publisher.

14. WhatFont tool

Just hover and click on web page text to see the font used

Not to be confused with WhatTheFont (number 11 in this list), the WhatFont tool is the creation of Chengyin Liu, an engineer at Airbnb. It’s a quick and easy way to find what fonts are used on a web page without all that tedious mucking about in Firebug or Webkit Inspector. Just install the Chrome or Safari extension and then click the WhatFont button on any web page to find the information you require.

15. Type Sample

Type Sample is a free extension or bookmarklet

Type Sample is a tool for identifying and sampling web fonts that’s currently being built by Justin Van Slembrouck and Paul Barnes-Hoggett. Anyone can use the bookmarklet and save three samples for free, but to save an unlimited number, it's $5 a year. Either drag the bookmarklet up to your bookmarks bar, or install the Chrome extension to get started.

Next page: Free typography cheatsheets

The older we get, the more we learn. But just to keep us on our toes, nature also teases us by making it more difficult to retrieve information from our ageing memories, especially if we're tired. So it can be very handy to have a well-ordered cheatsheet to hand. Here are five great examples.

16. Typewolf typography cheatsheet

The correct use of double and single apostrophes is explained, along with much more

Launched by Colorado designer Jeremiah Shoaf in 2013, Typewolf has grown into a fantastically useful collection of font-related resources for designers. And one of the highlights of the site is this brilliant cheatsheet, which sets out a lot of great info on the proper use of typographic characters. Even seasoned designers will find this a useful reference to keep bookmarked.

17. The State of Web Type

Keep up with which typographic features currently are and aren't supported online

Browser implementation of typographic features is constantly and quickly evolving. So it’s great to be able to keep tabs on the state of play via one central resource. Designed by Jake Giltsoff and maintained by Bram Stein, The State of Web Type offers a comprehensive guide to what’s supported where, from alternative fractions to terminal forms.

18. Type Terms

The Type Terms cheatsheet by Supremo explains the fundamentals of typographical terminology beautifully

Looking for an animated cheatsheet? Us neither. But this creation by Dan Heywood, a designer at Manchester web agency Supremo, is still pretty awesome. Aimed at both typography beginners and more experienced designers looking for a refresher, Type Terms is a brilliantly interactive run-through of the fundamentals of type terminology.

19. The Art of Mixing Typefaces: Google Fonts Edition

The infographic specialises in Google Fonts

As a print company specialising in leaflets and flyers, FastPrint knows a thing about fonts. And so it has produced this great cheat sheet to how well 20 popular Google Fonts work together. It’s based on inspiration from a handout that was created by the International Journal of Typography in 1992.

20. The A-Z of Typographic Terms

This online guide is a great typography jargon buster

Founded in 1997, Fontsmith is a boutique font foundry based in London. And it has created this rather wonderful cheatsheet setting out an A-Z of typography terms. This guide sets out everything you need to know about font-related jargon, from anti-aliasing to x-height.

Next page: Free typography games

Practice makes perfect, and it’s only by constantly pushing our typographic skills forward that we improve them. But if your day job isn’t providing that practice, then why not try one of these fun games; all enjoyable, some even addictive?

21. Kern Type

How did this farcical attempt score 8 marks?

Kerning – the art of adjusting the space between letters – is a skill every designer must master. So why not practise using this fun game made by interaction designer Mark MacKay for his peer-to-peer educational website, Method of Action

You can use the mouse on your computer or your fingers on an iPad to tweak the letters, and the results are compared to those of a skilled typographer and scored accordingly. 

22. Type Connection

Never has type pairing been so attractive

Type Connection is billed as a ‘typographic dating game’. In other words, it’s a fun way to learn how to pair typefaces. Created by Aura Seltzer, a senior product designer for the New York Times, it presents you with a series of familiar workhorse typefaces and asks you determine which work best with which.

23. Shape Type

We did it wrong on purpose, obviously

Shape Type is a game of letter shaping also created by MacKay, the developer behind Kern Type. You’re presented with 10 letterforms, each from well-known typefaces, and your challenge is to reshape them into the correct shape, using either your mouse or finger.

24. Rag Time

Cheers! We like the heady rewards for each effort

Ragged text is an often neglected aspect of good typography, so this game from Boston agency Fathom Information Design attempts to right the balance. You’re challenged you to fix a bad example of ragged text against the clock and, as the title suggests, there’s some glorious ragtime music to chivvy you along. 

25. The Rather Difficult Font Game

A truly tricky type quiz!

One for true type nerds, this fiendishly difficult quiz from the I Love Typography blog will challenge your font-related smarts like nothing else. Created by Finnish designer Kari Pätilä, this is free to play on the web, although the iOS app costs £1.99.

Pixel art: 37 great examples

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 21:10

Pixel art is a type of digital art where artists specify the location of individual pixels, which are built up to create intricate scenes, game backgrounds, characters, and 3D effects – all with a limited colour pallet. Think about those 8-bit graphics first seen with the release of gaming consoles in the early '80s and you'll know what we mean.

Developing this artwork doesn't require expensive photo editing software and a load of other fancy equipment, just a lot of time. Here are 37 top examples of pixel art from some seriously talented, not to mention patient, artists...

01. Diego Sanches

The world's greatest ever minds get handy in Science Kombat

Diego Sanches is a Brazilian illustrator based in São Paulo, who has a great sideline in pixel art. We particularly love the animations he created for Science Kombat, a browser-based beat-em-up game for Superinteressante magazine. 

It features eight playable scientists, including Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Marie Curie and Sir Isaac Newton, each with their own basic and special attacks, plus a final boss: The Divinity, able to take the form of various gods.

02. Pixel Jeff

"I've got a bad feeling about this."

Based in Taipei, Taiwan, Pixel Jeff has been making pixel art since 2013, usually creating work inspired by movies, video games and animation. His Tumblr page is a treasure trove of animated pixel joy; we were drawn there by his reinterpretation of Disney's Moana as a video game, but it's his take on Star Wars: Rogue One that really grabbed our attention.

03. Ivan Dixon

pixel art

Can you spot your favourite Bowie look in this pixel art tribute?

Following the sad news of David Bowie's passing on January 10th, illustrator and gif-extraordinaire Ivan Dixon paid tribute in the only way he knew how. Featuring a range of Bowie's iconic styles, the homage is a wonderful pixel art look at why he was so influential.

04. Gustavo Viselner

pixel art

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope gets a pixel art makeover

It might have been released over a month ago but Star Wars fever is still rife among fans. Graphic designers and illustrators galore have been inspired by the new story, with some harking back to the old favourites – like this pixel art tribute by Gustavo Viselner. The artist has also created pixel art for Back to the Future, Aliens, Lord of the Rings and more.

05. Ben Porter

pixel art

One of Porter's most recent pixel art creations

Ben Porter loves pixel art so much that last year, he embarked on a 365 day challenge, producing pixel art every day for a year. He also launched Pixel Dailies, a twitter account which shares daily pixel art inspiration and new creations by the man himself.

06. Marty Guerero

pixel art

A look into Guerero's latest game design

A game developer and pixel artist, Marty Guerero produces some really incredible pieces. This pixel art is a snapshot into Guerero's latest game design, with the artist also produces homages to Mario and a range of Studio Ghibli characters.

07. William Alexander

pixel art

Some pixel fan art to feast your eyes upon

"Sometimes, I get really hyped about something, and I need to express it. Usually this involves just talking about it or reading more into it. Sometimes I do fanart! I was really hyped for the Witcher 3 earlier this year, and was listening to a lot of synthwave. That inspired this artwork," explains Ohio artist William Alexander.

08. Tom Schreiter

Tom Schreiter created a pixel art interpretation of The Blues Brothers

We can't help but love this pixel art interpretation of the 80's American musical class The Blues Brothers by Tom Schreiter. Pixelling since 1995, and doing so on a daily basis ever since, he's got a ton of brilliant pixel artwork under his belt – but this definitely one of our favourites.

09. Aled Lewis

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost star as 16-bit game sprites in this brilliant piece by Aled Lewis

Hot Fuzz meets Japanese arcade game Final Fight in this epic pixel artwork by designer and illustrator Aled Lewis. This piece forms part of an awe-inspiring portfolio, most of which has been influenced and inspired by his main passions in life; games, comics, film and television.

10. Pixellent

We love this unique Polaroid by Pixellent

You don't often see pixel art go vintage, which is one of the main reasons we like this 'Don't forget to fix your Polariods' piece so much. Created by the artist known as Pixellent, this piece has been executed beautifully, the design featuring gorgeous, detailed pixel art, framed and styled to look like an old Polariod shot.

11. José Eduardo Contreras Moral

"I am your father" – pixel-art style

We've seen many artistic tributes to Darth Vader over the years here on CB, but we particularly like this cool pixel art version by illustrator and pixel artist José Eduardo Contreras Moral. Despite being stripped back to basics, Moral's design of the dark lord still looks incredibly menacing.

12. Nasc

"Make pixel, not war," says Nasc

This brilliant 'Make pixel, not war' piece was developed by the artist known as Nasc. A developer specializing in Flash development, Nasc creates pixel art in his spare time. A minimal, yet expressive and powerful piece, this artwork. Expressive and powerful. This artwork is reminiscent of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

13. Wanella

Wanella produces wonderful pixel-based visual landscapes with fantasy possibilities

Wanella produces these wonderful pixel based visual landscapes with fantasy possibilities. Her love for pixels is evident and original. Adding movement to her work with these vast examples of moving pixel worlds is a great example of how a combination of colour, squares and movement can be combined to great an original dynamic world.

 Next page: 12 more stunning pieces of pixel art 

14. Pixel Pour

Goeller's piece shows how the digital world can work in a different context

Visual artist Kelly Goeller based in Portland took the concept of the pixel and worked around it a real life concept. This original installation is a great alternative to how the digital world can work in a different context. Her water flowing pixels was installed around the city offering citizens a playful visual and imaginary context brining both worlds together.

15. Fine Pixel Art

John O'Hearn is another visual artist that works with the tiny elements to create impressive and live size scale works exploiting the potential of colour, elements and illusion. His examples of portraits is a great example of how he achieves this and exploits the potential of pixel art and design.

16. Metin Seven

Seven's work combines pixel art with 3D elements

The work of Metin Seven combines design and pixel art with 3D elements creating the final artwork into a much more dynamic and detailed result. Along with the Steve Jobs re-interpretation, he has produced a series of characters based on square element combined.

17. Christian Zuzunaga

Christian Zuzunaga creates an original alternative to the use of pixels

Although print and digital designs are the most common when looking at pixel art and pixel artisits or designers. Here is an original alternative to the use of pixels when combined with fashion, textile design and furniture. The beautiful use of colour and pattern with squares inspires great creative possibilities and exploring what is outside comfort zone.

18. Talk to me

The MoMA bridge the gap between design and communication using pixel art

The MoMA took a spin on the pixel world with the use of simple square combinations to create a vivid and interesting pattern mural based on objects from their exhibition. Building the bridge between design and communication. The use of simple black and white strips it down further creating an interesting and dynamic overall feel for the exhibition.

19. Ben Fino-Radin

Ben Fino-Radin shows how pixels can inspire and drive various areas of design

This is a great example of the way in which pixels can inspire and drive various areas of design to create original and innovative pieces of work. This life size hand embroidered piece of design is part of a collection that exploits the ideas of size shape and combination to create these hand life size mouse icons.

20. Jaebum Joo

Jaebum Joo's work combines small squared elements, simple movement and colour

Coming back to more flat designs using pixels Jaebum Joo is a visual designer that combines small squared elements and simple movement and colour. His vivid portraits and landscape are an interesting remark on not only colour combination but also a sense of size and depth within design and its impact.

21. Mario Sifuentes

Mario Sifuentes uses pixel art to create his own interpretation of a pre-hispanic god

Mexican designer Mario Sifuentes created this interesting and beautiful interpretation of a pre-hispanic gods. Inspired by the '90s visual video game style, based on the combination of pixel and simple colour to imagine and re-create a world.

22. Eboy

Pixel art

Introducing the godfathers of pixel art: Eboy

Some of the most well-known creators of pixel art are Kai Vermehr, Steffen Sauerteig and Svend Smital, aka Eboy. These guys create re-usable pixel objects and use them to build complex artwork. Famous for their illustration, web design, fonts, and toys, Eboy has created work for many leading brands, including Adidas, Nike, Pespi and Renault.

23. Paul Robertson

Pixel art

Paul Robertson is a pixel art master

Australian artist Paul Robertson is a pixel art master. His intricate illustrations include everything from family-friendly pieces to some which are really NSFW... Even if you're not familiar with the name, you might recognise his work; he was the lead artist on the 2010 Scott Pilgrim video game and worked on the American animated TV series Gravity Falls.

24. Army of Trolls

Pixel art

Gary Lucken's pixel art is inspired by videogames and more

Army of Trolls is the portfolio of London-born videogame enthusiast and artist Gary J Lucken. Based in Bournemouth, UK, Lucken works from home, surrounded by Japanese toys and piles of old 2D videogames to inspire him. The artwork this talented artist is directly influenced by his love of videogames, toys, and pop culture.

25. Bugpixel

Pixel art

If you like pixel art, you'll like the portfolio of artist Jalonso

Bugpixel is the showcase gallery of skilled pixel artist Jalonso. An advertising art director by trade, Jalonso manages to find time to create numerous illustrations – his awe-inspiring portfolio features work he's developed for various video games, CD, and magazine covers.

Next page: the final 12 examples of pixel art 

26. Rod Hunt

Pixel art

Rod Hunt creates highly detailed pixel art landscapes

Award-winning London-based artist Rod Hunt has built a reputation for detailed character-filled landscapes for everything from book covers and advertising campaigns to iPhone apps and art installations. Hunt is also the illustrator behind the bestselling Where's Stig? books, created for the BBC's TV show Top Gear.

27. Sven Ruthner

Pixel art

Sven Ruthner is a top pixel artist to be inspired by

Freelance pixel artist Sven Ruthner has received international appreciation for his pixel artwork. Based in Germany, Ruthner uses limited colour palettes when developing his work, similar to the offerings of early home computers, such the ZX Spectrum. For example, this particular piece, titled CGA Faces, was created using just 16 colours.

28. Fool

Pixel art

Fool's artwork is highly intricate

The pixel artist known as Fool in the community is a 43-year-old male, originally born in Moscow and currently residing in Ohio. A self-taught artist, Fool has been practising pixel art for over six years. 

29. Tim Wesoly

Pixel art

Tim Wesoly's pixel art Robinson Nerdo character

Tim Wesoly is the lead developer of 3D pixel art modeller Qubicle. When not working on his software, he spends time using it to create awesome pixel art, such as this cool Robinson Nerdo character. The illustration is deceptively complex – you'll find yourself noticing new things each time you look at this piece.

30. Denise Wilton

Pixel art

Pixel artist Denise Wilton has attracted many clients with her detailed style

Currently a creative director at Berg London, artist Denise Wilton has many skills, one of them being the creation of awesome pixel art. Her talent has attracted the attention of many big clients during her career, including The Financial Times, the BBC, Lynx, and Nokia.

31. Simon Anderson

Pixel art

Simon Anderson is known for his pixel art-style work

Simon Anderson, aka Snake in the pixel art community, is a Norwegian game developer and artist by trade. The co-founder of D-Pad Studio, Anderson's fascination with tiny squares began at a young age, drawing pictures and figures using his mum's cross stitch and knitting grid pattern designs.

32. Flip Flop Flyin'

Famous people. But really, really small.

Craig Robinson is an artist from the United Kingdom who now lives in Mexico. Amongst his pixel art is a book called Minipops: Famous People Drawn Really Small, which does exactly what it says on the tim – in pixels.

33. Michael Myers

Michael Myers takes on Sherlock; now there's a film we'd like to see

Instead of putting on a Halloween mask and murdering people, this Michael Myers is an illustrative designer with a sweet sideline in pixel art and animation. He has a great selection of TV, film and game-inspired pixel art on his site; we were particularly taken with this lovely little Sherlock animation.

34. Matt Yee

Matt Yee's ANSI art is a blast from the past

A member of Blocktronics - an international creative network dedicated to the production of ANSI art - Matt Yee is a designer whose more traditional typographic and illustrative work rubs shoulders with gloriously blocky graphics that hark back to the pre-web days of dial-up text-mode bulletin boards.

35. Richard Evans

Totoro and other Ghibli faves get the 8-bit treatment from Richard Evans

Birmingham based designer Richards Evans paid tribute to the work of Studio Ghibli with a set of 8-bit makeovers that we're sure you're going to love. Featuring characters from My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo, Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away, they're beautifully inspiring in their colour and execution.

36. Karina Dehtyar

Pixel art escapes into the real world in Karina Dehtyar's pixels in photo series

Karina is a Moscow-based illustrator and designer who specialises in film and video game inspired pixel art. Our favourite part of her portfolio, though, is the bit where her pixel creations venture into the real world, in her pixels in photo series.

37. Txaber

Peel slowly and see

Spanish designer Txaber has used Pantone modules to produce an array of pixel art images. "The process is to convert the images into colour mosaics, then each colour is replaced one by one by the corresponding Pantone module," he explains. "It is a laborious process, but I think the result is interesting." The pixel artwork include imitations of Mario, Andy Warhol and iconic logos such as The Rolling Stones and Apple.

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Create ornate tiles in Substance Designer

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 11:11

Substance Designer is a great 3D tool for creating realistic tiled floors, as the huge array of noises, patterns and generators available give you lots of creative freedom. 

However, Substance Designer is a program that plays well with others, as height, mask and other texture maps can be easily imported and used to springboard your texturing process, especially if you have something specific in mind.

Over the course of this tutorial, we will show you how to combine mask textures created outside of Substance Designer to generate a modifiable ornate tiled floor. We will show you how to create a striking albedo map, believable tile damage, and how to realistically age your texture through the use of subtle surface details and blends. 

We'll also cover some tips and tricks to help you generate masks and interesting details that will aid you in creating believable, high-quality materials. For a deeper look into the texturing process, head over to my Gumroad page.

01. Gather material references

Find some reference images of your chosen material (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Before creating any Substance material, gather a body of high-resolution reference images of your chosen material, preferably in different lighting conditions. 

For this tiled material, looking on Shutterstock, Google images and Flickr uncovered 10 images that show close and medium distance detail. It can help to create a mood board to refer to, perhaps on a second monitor.

02. Create the input patterns

Create tile patterns in Hexels, then clean them up in Photoshop (Click the image to make it full-screen)

To generate the various tile patterns, use Hexels then clean up in Photoshop. Create three different patterns, each made of solid blocks of colour defining each tile in the texture. It's important to ensure that no two adjacent tiles have the exact same colour, or the Edge Detect node in Substance will merge them together, giving oddly shaped tiles. 

Import the patterns into Substance Designer, where you can swap and replace them with others, which is part of what makes the program so powerful.

03. Combine the input patterns

Combine your inputs to create a new tile pattern (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Combine the patterns using Safe Transform, Transform 2D and Symmetry Slice, plus a few simple blend nodes. Use the cropping and mask functionality of the blend nodes to mask each pattern together. 

The combined patterns are used as the initial base colour for each tile in the albedo map, with a mask for tile Edge Detect and warping of grunge and noise information.

04. Create the tile height

Follow these steps to give your tiles depth (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Make a greyscale version of the images, Edge Detect (to keep the masks' sharpness) then combine them. This gives you a black and white mask of each tile with a black border that you then need to bevel for tile height. 

To vary tile size, use two Histogram Scan nodes with different values then blend the result using a mask generated from a Multi Directional Warped fractal sum pattern.

05. Add tile edge damage

Use the Slope Blur node to rough up the edges of your tiles (Click the image to make it full-screen)

To give the tiles some age and character, add damage to the edges. The Slope Blur node pushes detail from one input down the slopes of a second height input for this. 

Combine some grunge and patterns to generate a heightmap with varied detail, allowing for large and small edge damage. The heightmap also contains areas of solid black where edge damage will not occur.

06. Cause surface damage

Follow up the edge damage with some surface damage (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Now that the tiles have damaged edges, add some surface damage to remove larger chunks. To generate the damage, use a Tile Sampler node scattering Gaussian shapes. To make sure the damage originates from the edges of each tile, use the tile height from earlier in the graph as a mask. 

The other nodes in this step Slope Blur and Warp this data with grunge and noise to get a more detailed damage map. This helps to ensure that each tile looks uniquely worn. 

07. Add tile cracks

The Cells 3 node is a great starting place for adding cracks (Click the image to make it full-screen)

To make the tiles look like they have undergone years of foot traffic, blend in cracks using the Darken blend mode over the unbroken tiles. The Cells 3 node is a great place to start when building cracks, but is too uniform without some modification. 

After Warping the cracks, use consecutive Slope Blurs with Grunge/Noise inputs and a blurred version of the input itself. Slope Blur an input by itself at low intensities to give the effect of the inflated details.

Next: grout and finish off your tiles

08. Create the grout

Don't forget your grouting (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Make the grout by subtracting the tile height you already have from a Slope Blurred and reduced range version of itself. The final Histogram Range node modifies the grout blend with the tiles – the brighter the pixels the closer the grout is to the height of the tiles. 

This works as the tiles and grout are eventually blended together using Lighten (max), so only the brightest pixels show.

09. Create the grout detail

Add detail to your grout to make it look more natural (Click the image to make it full-screen)

To make the grout feel old, use the Clouds 2 node as three inputs on a Multi Directional Warp to get a marbled effect. 

Then combine this with BnW Spots 2, contrast and Slope Blur to add natural detail and multiply onto the base grout height. Make some pebbles and pores using Gauss Spots 2, pass through a Tile Generator and use the Add/Sub blend mode to blend with the grout.

10. Vary the look of each tile

Bring the floor to life by adding some variety to your tiles (Click the image to make it full-screen)

With the heightmap out of the way and the grout looking damaged, you can move on to the albedo/colour map. To darken the tile edges, blend the combined inputs map from step 03 with a darkened version of itself, then use a mask based on the edge bevel to regulate the effect. 

To give the tiles some variation, blend in some hue adjustment using a tile mask generated by Warping the Perlin noise zoom node for added realism.

11. Build the albedo map

Your albedo map will need plenty of layers (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Building up a good albedo/colour map takes many layers. Hairline cracks are a great example of this kind of subtle detail. Although not immediately obvious, they add believability to the tile texture when it's viewed up close. 

Create these as well as a thin layer of surface dirt, using some Warped Perlin noise combined with the pebbles and pores masks that you already made in step 09. This gives the tiles a really lived-on look.

12. Albedo map the grout

Give the grout an albedo map as well (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Create the grout colour by passing the grout height through a gradient map with brown values. Use a saturated version of this grout colour as the interior colour of the broken tiles, and blend with a contrasted heightmap so only the very highest parts of each tile show their tile colour. 

Finally, add some extra edge damage using an inverted Ambient Occlusion generator as a mask.

13. Create a roughness map

The roughness map is made up from previous masks and details (Click the image to make it full-screen)

The roughness map is the last map to create when making a material, as it's mostly made from previous masks and detail. 

Use your tile mask from step 04 and reduce its contrast in the Histogram Range node. Then subtract a surface dirt mask and add in the tile edge mask from step 12. Blend in the grout made from a uniform colour and a mask reused from the pebbles and pores.

14. Finish off

Add some final touches and you're ready to go (Click the image to make it full-screen)

Lastly, apply some finishing touches now. By Non-Uniform blurring the height with the Histogram scan output from step 10 then multiplying this result with the previous height, you get more variation in the heightmap. 

To make the tile surface catch better specular reflections, blend some tweaked normals created with Warped Perlin noise and a gradient map full of tangent space normal colours. Finally, generate and output the Ambient Occlusion and the final height. 

This article originally appeared in 3D World issue 223. Buy it here!

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7 key typographic trends in Marvel movie logos

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 09:58

As Marvel Studios gears up to celebrate its 10th anniversary, we take a look at the typographic trends behind the Marvel movie logos.

With a plethora of superheroes to choose from – The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America and more – Marvel has released a new movie each year since its 2008 release of Iron Man, building the brand into one of the most powerful in the world.

But with great power comes great responsibility, especially when it comes to the logo design of each movie. So what of the typography? How have the film's superhero logos developed over the last decade? And what can designers learn from their evolution? 

Here we pick out seven big type trends from Marvel movie logos, and offer insights from designers.

01. Back to basics

The Inhumans logotype is based on the 1998 comic logo by JG Roshell

One clear typographic trend across Marvel’s 2017 and 2018 movie logos shows many of the designs increasingly returning back to their original comic book roots. 

“From the get-go with the first Iron Man movie, Marvel Studios’ film branding wasn’t necessarily tied too closely to its comic book counterparts – with the exception of the Avengers logo,” explains comic designer and creative director Tom Muller. “This was done in order to establish IP and brands that reached further than comics.”

Another factor is that many older films were licensed out to other studios. Now, that trend appears to be reversing, with many of the newer logotypes giving a nod to their original comics. 

The wordmark for 2018 film Inhumans is modelled closely on the 1998 logo designed by Comicraft’s John ‘JG’ Roshell, while the Captain Marvel logo takes inspiration from comic book letterer Jared K Fletcher’s original design. 

02. Anti-flat design

The next instalments in the Avengers story sport logos that go against flat design

2016 might have been the year of flat design, but simplification of type continues to be a clear logo trend throughout 2017. Which makes it all the more notable that the newer Marvel movie logos are doing things differently – as showcased by the Avengers: Infinity War logo, which boasts blocky 3D type.

“There's been a global design shift towards simpler, cleaner, 'flat' design in recent years so, it's interesting to see this going in the opposite direction,” points out award-winning typographic designer Craig Ward.

“You can make the argument that the titles serve as a nice metaphor for the movies, which themselves have become darker, more mature and deeper.”

03. Textured type

The Black Panther logo shows off a 3D, metallic texture

Earlier Marvel movie logos saw the studio stick to simple typography, with faded hues often serving as the dominant special effect. With the new announcements, Marvel is moving into more textured territory, enabling movie titles to say even more about a film's characters and plot, while also popping from Marvel’s standard black backdrop.

“One thing that I'm noticing now is how the new graphics have more texture,” agrees designer Paolo Grasso. “The initial logo for Thor: Ragnarok evokes a rocky texture, while there’s a metallic shine on the Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 and Black Panther logos."

"The older logos seem to stay with that 'laser on black' effect," he continues, "which reminds me of movie logos of the late '90s, such as Mission: Impossible.”

04. Bolder colour palettes

The use of blue marked the first Marvel movie logo to steer away from the classic red and silver colour scheme

In Marvel’s earlier movies, the logos largely stuck to its standard silver and red colour palette – with a few exceptions. Lately, however, the typography has shifted towards gold and brass tones, which can be seen in the logos for Avengers: Infinity War and Black Panther.

Tom Muller adds that while the typography in the logos of Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 and Thor: Ragnarok are “squarely embracing their four-colour origins”, they’re doing so “with a decidedly bolder colour palette.”

And it’s worth pointing out that the Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 logo was the first Marvel movie to use blue as its main type colour.

05. Rounded edges

The Captain Marvel logotype is based on Jared K Fletcher’s original design

Looking at the upcoming Marvel movie logos together, the typography of one in particular sticks out as noticeably different to the others. While most of the logos feature square-shaped typography, Captain Marvel veers towards the circular. It’s based on Jared K. Fletcher’s original design, but it’s a noticeable shift towards something different. 

A similar style was used recently in Spider-Man: Homecoming, perhaps signalling the way Marvel movies target younger audiences. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a light-hearted film (compared to, say, The Avengers) and the hero himself is one of the youngest in the universe.

This circular geometric type evokes a youthful sense of fun, rather than a distinguished type used for the older heroes.

06. 1980s gaming 

Thor: Ragnarok gets a typographic blast from the past

Speaking of a shift in direction, the latest Thor: Ragnarok typography looks undeniably different to the series’ previous logo outputs. 2011’s Thor saw a thin, metallic design, while 2013’s Thor: The Dark World provided a bold, textured type, similar to the initial Thor: Ragnarok logo.

However, a new movie logo was launched earlier this year and its retro gaming aesthetic marks the series’ change in tone. Director Taika Waititi described Thor: Ragnarok as a "70s/'80s sci-fi fantasy" movie – and the type in the new logo represents the new vision.

It’s clear from the Thor: Ragnarok trailer that the tongue-in-cheek approach that made Guardians of the Galaxy so successful will be taking centre stage in the new instalment. And while we're on the subject of Guardians of the Galaxy, the same effect can be seen in the Vol. 2 logo.

“It’s something of a trend, but adds much more character and gives a nod to the fun heritage of their comic counterparts,” explains designer Kyle Wilkinson. “A focus on the actual type design seems to be coming into focus too, as opposed to hiding some questionable type choices behind a cloak of special effects.”

07. Mismatched fonts

The mismatched fonts in this movie logo ensure an eye-catching design for audiences

A retro and comic book influence can also be seen with the hand-drawn ‘Homecoming’ in the Spider-Man: Homecoming logo, and ‘Vol. 2’ in the Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 logo.

While this mismatched vibe is achieved by using contrasting colours and nontraditional colour palettes, an unusual font pairing can also be an effective way to catch the attention of your audience.

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