Welcome to the new MVA Studio website

The assignment goes something like this: you need to design an 11x17" flyer for an art exhibition or rock show. You get a short bit of text, no sponsor logos or anything like that and no pictures. And you get the following restrictions: 1 typeface, black type on a white ground, no rule lines, no boxes and no type as decoration (meaning you can’t make a pattern and you can’t build an illustration out of letterforms). Nothing but pure functional typography. You have to limit yourself to 3 sizes of type and only 2 weights (i.e, regular and bold or regular and italic.). The actual design process unfolds like this: all your decisions should be guided by question “how do I make this easier to understand for the reader?”. Trying to make something interesting should take a back seat to trying to make something that is quickly comprehended. Every decision should follow questions like “How should this information be ordered?”; “What pieces should have a closer proximity to each other?”; “How do I de-emphasize essential but non-critical information?”.

I usually label the assignment sheet something like “Reader-centered Typography”.

The theory behind this is that by only thinking about the reader, about comprehension and scannability, the designer will naturally arrive at a solution that is inherently visual and aesthetic (if not always beautiful). In order to emphasize, clarify, and give order to information the designer has to make some elements bigger and others smaller, use white space to separate and frame information (not as a display of elegance), and they line up certain types of data while indenting others. What results is a composition with high levels of contrast and underlying order, i.e., something purposefully designed. When someone inevitably fails at this project I always hear the same reasoning, “I was just trying to do something interesting...”. 

I’ve been working on this website off and on for a year now. I doubt I need to say much more but let’s add that I don’t know how to program and that’s not changing anytime soon. I’m now rebuilding the site on Squarespace 6. I love it but much of the nitpicky type stuff that you could do in-app in Squarespace 5 has been killed and now requires something called a “code injection” which does not sound fun. As I run into these walls, resistance rises up in the form of perfectionism. “Ok, I’ll go into InDesign and lay it all out again, then figure out what CSS stuff I need to hack in order to build it”, or “I’ll hire one of my developer friends to do all the code injections and overrides” but I don’t have the time or resources to go down either of these roads. Right now, I work freelance 4 days a week, teach 2 days a week, and work for the Soap Factory and write when I can. On a side note: my apologies to my family.

I’m always tempted to use the above-mentioned assignment to do my freelance work but I chicken out even though I know the results will be solid if occasionally unsurprising. But, this website needs to be up and running. I have thoughts that I want to share and things I want to sell.

The default settings in the theme we’re currently using on Squarespace are surprisingly similar to the restrictions in my assignment. Black on white; H1, H2, H3 and body text; link color; a couple of other options. I took a freezing cold walk today (A brisk 16° but it “feels like 1°” on February 15th) and realized I should take advantage of these limitations. So, what you are looking at is what I am capable of when restricting myself to the absolute bare bones of visual communication. The goal isn’t to be interesting, the goal is to be clear, easily comprehended, and to sustain your interest in the content. Though, as you know, if I’ve made this clear and easy to read then it should look interesting. We’ll find out in a couple of days.

In my “Reader-Centered Typography” assignment the designer eventually ends at a stopping point where further refinement is purely aesthetic. We then treat the composition as a scaffolding for meaning and begin to introduce secondary concepts and ways to communicate them through typeface selection, color, textures, and images. At the time of this writing on February 15th, the foundation has just barely been dug but I’m going to haul ass over the weekend to get the scaffolding in place.

If its February 17th or later and you’re reading this I must have done it. The scaffolding is in place and its time to focus on content. Later we’ll decide whether to deal with those pesky code injections and if the design needs more meaning.

Welcome to the new MVA Studio website.