Category Archives: Uncategorized

GDA-Designed Project “MindTrails” Goes Public

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-25-08-amAre you anxious? MindTrails might be able to help. UVa Psychology Professor Bethany Teachman is heading up an ambitious online project to offer easily-accessible feedback and assistance to those who suffer from anxiety. Gibson Design Associates named the software, gave it a graphic identity, and then designed the program’s user interface as well.

Talented developer Dan Funk invited us to partner with his company Sartography to help turn this promising research into a polished and user-friendly web application for broad public use.

Bethany and her team were a pleasure to work with, and, as usual, Dan beautifully executed everything we came up with.

Great project.

P.S. If you’re feeling anxious … visit MindTrails.


Spam Poetry Appreciation

Screen_Shot_2014-03-24_at_10_34_07_AMOne of the minor inconveniences of managing a blog is comment spam management. If you don’t quarantine incoming comments and review them before making them “live”, you blog will very quickly disappear under a tsunami of bizarre unrelated pitches for unsavory products. It’s mostly an annoying chore. But there is one aspect of this that I find fascinating—fun even.

Behind the scenes the would-be spammers and the white hat enemies of spam are waging a technological and linguistic war for dominance. The good guys use what are called Bayesian Filters to distinguish spam from email of value. This approach goes beyond the simpler approach of comparing email to known lists of “spam” words (such as “Viagra”, or even “enhancement”) and rejecting messages that use those words. Instead it analyzes the linguistic characteristics of a body (corpus, if you want to be all fancy and Latin about it) of messages that you indicate are real email and another that you identify as known spam. It then learns to distinguish the two based on the characteristics of your unique email. If, for example, you are a scientist that is studying Viagra your Bayesian filter will need to work overtime to distinguish the good from the bad, but if you train it well that should be possible.

Anyway, here is where the fun begins for someone who enjoys the outer fringes of  language and meaning. Spammers know all about Bayesian filters and they also know that the best shot they have at defeating them is to create random, machine-generated language that looks very much like real communication. One of the last courses I took when finishing up my BA in 1995 was Tan Lin’s Language Poetry course at UVa. This type of writing downplays what we usually think of as the essential desire of a poet to express him- or herself and instead focuses on language as language, the mechanisms of constructing it, and the reader’s participation in bringing meaning out of it.

Over the years I’ve noticed that spammer’s attempts to defeat Bayesian filters occasionally sidle right up to language poetry. A particularly enjoyable example showed up this morning and I decided to share it with you …

Come about to be crocheted vests.
These cozy vest’s bodily fluid
so that you preserve your chocolate
if you necessity to draw near
an achievement bill of fare,
you can buy or be jewelry.

Pauperization  accepts minor moment single.
So, ratify up for your way prize.
Retributory because
a mate of faddy—your odor
with component embellishments.

If you would be someone salaried
a wash soprano for an endeavor
somebody with the boundary friendship.

This is easier to effort this off;
nonetheless, you can lay aside
your approximately monetary system.
Lone example coupons
about that region of skillfulness
and what it does.

I have to wonder what spammers would think if they knew they were entertaining me in this way. I mean, really, you can ponder a thought like “you can buy or be jewelry” for hours!

A Moment of Recognition

Comparison of two versions of hand drawn "Baseball" type

MLB’s “Baseball” from 2014 (top) and ours from 1989.

When you hand draw type, you become very closely acquainted with that particular piece of language. After spending days with it, you would recognize it anywhere—kind of like how you would instantly recognize one of your own children, even if they were a block away and walking in the opposite direction. I recently had a fun moment like this with the word “Baseball.”

In 1989 (twenty-five years ago!) Mary Parsons and I designed a wonderful book by photographer John Weiss called The Face of Baseball. It contained a stunning collection of portraits of some of the best known players in the game. John Weiss’s photography had a rich, burnished, old-world feel to it and we decided to make the cover typography similarly “old-timey.” After looking at lots of historical uniform typography, we decided to draw our own version of the word “Baseball” that would pay  homage to the history of the game.

So the other day, being a huge baseball fan myself (Go Sawx!), I’m reading the latest news on my MLB At-Bat app when I stumble across a full-screen ad for “RBI Baseball 14.” And that word “Baseball” jumps right out at me as being one of my own.

There’s no question that the designer completely redrew this lettering. And, as you might expect, he or she improved it in a number of interesting ways. But there is also no doubt that the designer had our twenty-five year-old book right there on their desk when they did it. This is the way hand-lettering works, of course. I had countless sources on my desk in 1989 when I drew my version. My version was one of the sources on their desk when they drew theirs.


Buying J.K. Rowling’s new book: is print now ‘just how we did it before we found a better way’?

When the news broke last week that J.K. Rowling was the true author of a title ostensibly written by one Robert Galbraith, it kicked off a scramble by her fans to locate a copy. Since even Robert’s publisher didn’t know his true identity, there were very few copies to be had. The bemused TV stories about the whole furor featured “on-the-street” interviews with Rowling fans in which they bemoaned that there were “no copies available anywhere.”

The Cuckoo's Calling - paper and digital

Paper is scarce and hard to come by. Digital is infinite.

A quick trip to the iBookstore on my iPad revealed that, on the contrary, there were lots of copies available–at $9.99 no less. An infinite number of copies, actually.

It’s hard to imagine a better illustration of the benefits of delivering books as electronic media. Being in the book design business, I am painfully aware of the effort that will go into the production of hundreds of thousands of paper copies of “The Cuckoo’s Calling.” The paper manufacturing alone is a massive task. Printing, warehousing, and shipping, shipping, shipping. Think about how many times this material is physically moved from one place to another. Trees shipped to a paper mill, paper shipped to a printer, books shipped to a warehouse and from there to a bookstore, books carried home, and then likely moved from one home to another for the duration of a lifetime. Apropos just the first step in that process, I’m reminded of this thought from architect and environmental visionary Bill McDonough:

A tree makes oxygen, sequesters carbon, fixes nitrogen, distills water, provides habitat for hundreds of species, accrues solar energy’s fuel, makes complex sugars and food, changes colors with the seasons, creates microclimates and self-replicates. Man looks at that and says ‘let’s knock that down and make paper out of it.’ (paraphrased)

Bill also suggests that it is getting harder and harder to see anything as beautiful if it is complicit in destroying the planet.

Has the time come to fully embrace digital books? Should we be teaching our children to think of the e-book as the default form and those paper-based products as the way we had to do it before we figured out a better way?

For a designer who has spent the bulk of his career focused on perfecting those paper-based forms, this can be a scary thought. Nevertheless it seems both inevitable and in many, many ways, good.

Musing and amusing …

My wife Pam is an avid knitter who has adopted the personal motto “never not knitting.” This is an apt description of what seems to qualify as both a life goal and a moderate compulsion. The results are great, though. She’s happy and our home is gradually filling up with luscious knitted goods.

It doesn’t take much self reflection to realize that I have a similar compulsion that might best be described as “never not thinking” or “never not analyzing.” It can be a useful trait, but it is disturbing to realize that I don’t have the option of dialing it back. What I have learned to do is to sometimes step back and laugh at myself about this trait (and many others).

Thus the name of this blog. (a) it is first and foremost a place to capture part of that constant stream of internal “musing.” I hope it will also be an opportunity to sometimes laugh at my own foibles.

–Jim Gibson