Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Recreating Artistic Accidents  

Often when creating graphic designs I pounce on creative accidents. I start with an idea in mind of what I want to create, but as I do so I naturally play around with ideas and variations, creating accidental combinations that often look much better than my original intentions.

The Library of Dresan logo is an example of this: as I recall, I played around with larger logos in varying degrees of transparency and shading but didn't like them. I then made a smaller, shrunken copy of the logo, intending to delete the original once I had the little one positioned. However, I found I liked the small logo superimposed on the larger one so much it became the basis of the logo design you see above. The left-to-right fade is another happy accident I capitalized on - I was trying for a flat fade and hit the wrong setting.

When I was satisfied with this logo and look I then made specialized logos for various areas of the site - most of which you never see because they're off in obscure corners like Research. To make the name of each area stand out, I swapped my name onto the top and the area description to the bottom, requiring the change in the font size you see below in the Research logo. In some respects I liked this logo even better than the original Library logo, but didn't use it on my main site because I thought it made my name too prominent.

But recently as I was redesigning the site I was playing around with a prototype that was in the Research space, and looking at the logo I decided to take the recommendations of all those people who have suggested putting your name prominently on your own site (I know, duh, I shouldn't have needed Jacob Nielsen and Ayn Rand to tell me that, but at least now I've come around). But I had a problem: I no longer had the original source file from which I generated these logos.

Actually, that's not quite true. At first all I thought I had were the finished image files, which had glows which made them hard to edit in Painter or Photoshop. But eventually I dug around and found the original Xara files. But that was a problem: Xara doesn't work on the Mac, unless you're willing to compile it yourself.

So I tried Xara on my Windows Vista partition, and then found I didn't have the fonts I needed - in particular, Caeldera and Papyrus. Oddly, these fonts which I use so much were not embedded in my huge font library I've built up over the years - apparently they were put on some earlier system as part of a program which I didn't install on my Boot Camp Vista partition.

I struggled with the Xara files on Windows Vista for a while, then eventually decided to recreate the logo on the Mac in Corel Painter XI, a program I love but which is no more a vector graphics program than Xara is a natural media program. My results were mixed, as you can see below:

The Mac version of Papyrus had different sized capital letters, making the logo come out the wrong size. Worse, Painter had fewer options for playing with transparencies and glows, making it harder to experiment with the glow around the letters to get it right - causing the background to be too saturated and the black text to come out too blocky. Even worse still, I did this logo on my laptop, only to find out later its color balance was off.

But at home, my wife's computer has Windows Vista with the right version of Papyrus, and I was able to find a free version of Caeldera to fill in for the one in the huge font library I've built up on my primary laptop. Corel Painter is wonderful, I love Photoshop, and Adobe Illustrator is great, but for speed there's nothing like Xara. In less than thirty minutes I had essentially recreated the Research logo and saved it in a happy vector form that I can easily modify in the future. It isn't perfectly what I want, but it is easily modifiable; and so in mere minutes I modified it to serve as a new logo for the site, which you can see below:

The moral of the story? Taking advantage of happy accidents is great ... but make sure you write down the steps that got you there and capture all your dependencies, or recreating your accident later may make you rather sad.

-the Centaur

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