My FIRSTs are often disasters…
My first print design went out with millimetres and centimetres mixed up
– a sticker came back the size of a dinner plate.
My first app, which hit the app store the day of the office Christmas lunch, received such horrendous reviews that no one ate their turkey. Probably deservedly so.
My first website was different. Websites are lovely things you know. Unlike careless printers and incensed iTunes reviewers, they forgive you, they let you learn, experiment, and make as many mistakes as you like. Ctrl-F5. Happiness.
Sick of print.
I was in my lates 20′s at the time (early 2000′s), working as print designer in Covent Garden and desperately want to get into web design. Although I still love the smell of a freshly inked brochure, I come from a long line of neurotics and the fear of making mistakes was making me ill. Every print job I sent to the printers left me in shivering in dread: the terror of the typo, the curse of a bad colour profile.
Some good friends took pity on me and had me over for dinner to teach me the basics of teriyaki chicken and HTML. Right away I loved the naughty magic of using data tables to layout your text and images, forcing something designed for dry information into a funky piece of graphic design. I left with enough knowledge to make my first website, all I needed was a subject for a site to practice on.
You may have heard of Gormenghast, the fictional city-castle from the novel printed in the 1940′s; it’s less likely you would have heard of its author Mervyn Peake, the late writer, poet, playwright, artist, illustrator, and genius.
I’ve been obsessed with the work of Mervyn Peake since my art school days, and I couldn’t think of a better, or wider, subject. I didn’t want to make a “fan-site”, so I contacted the author’s son Sebastian Peake, who ran the family estate’s website and worked tirelessly to promote a wider knowledge of his father’s work, and offered my services for free.
My first website for mervynpeak.org was created using an early version of Macromedia Dreamweaver, and featured a bewildering set of nested tables, which was so convoluted that I had a hard time making even the simplest of changes! You can watch as the spacer.gifs load! For the colour scheme, I went with what was supposed to be a “muted parchment” colour, but due to my diligence with ”websafe” colours, came out pinky-orange. Yum. It even had an “ENTER” welcome page, very 1990!!!
1st iteration – 2003
Looking at it again, I still like the illustrative elements. It’s not bad, even if it is ORANGE!
See the webarchive from 2003
2nd iteration – 2008
The 2nd iteration kept the “parchment” theme, but now was redeveloped in CSS and semantic HTML.
I was into using “found objects” then, the pape was scanned from a real handmade paper.
See the webarchive from 2008
The site was redesigned, redeveloped, converted to <div>’s, and then redesigned again in a friendship that lasted 10 years until Sebastian suddenly passed away in September last year. He will be sorely missed, mervynpeake.org lives on.
As I have just quit my fulltime job to go freelance, I’m hoping a NEW design for mervynpeake.org will be MY FIRST freelance website.
I’ve been updating the Last.fm brand guidelines site to include the new “refined logo”. The site is not open to the public, so here are a few logo usage illustrations from the site.
I worked on the design for the Scrobbler for iOS and I’m very proud of it. The technology powering the app is incredibly cool and this post is to explain why I love it, and why I hope you might give it a try…
1. “Sorry Dave, I don’t know that track”
Knowing what track you want to listen to is easy, but what about the next track, and the one after that? iTunes Genius solved this problem by creating a playlist of similar tracks. The only thing is… it’s not always that smart. For over a decade now Last.fm users have been building the world’s largest music catalogue by sending the artist, album and track name of every song they’ve ever played to their profiles, this is called “scrobbling”. This data is then taken to dark room in the bowels of Last.fm where actual PHD geniuses have been teaching a machine to understand music. This machine goes by various names, I call it the Scrobot. It would take a very obscure song for the Scrobot not to find a similar match to play you.
2. Making lists is boring
I hate making lists, and I’m too lazy to curate my music collection. Scrobbler for iOS does all the work for you by sorting your music into “smart” playlists based on mood and audio features, and “tag” playlists based on genre or theme. Ironically, I really enjoyed making this Spotify playlist called “Boring“.
3. What do you feel like listeing to?
- high energy
- low energy
- punchy dynamics
I have a very varied taste in music, ranging from funk to metal, and indie to electronic. I find listening to one genre gets boring very quickly. When we’ve spoken to Last.fm listeners about how they choose music they would say things like: “depends what I’m in the mood for” or “what I feel like listening too”. They often tells us they make playlists based mood on activity such as: “relaxing’, “working” or “party”. How can an app choose music based on moods or activity? The answer lies in the dark art of “music information retrieval” and the study of “audio feature analysis’. You can tell a lot about the mood of a track by studying it’s rythm, tempo, energy, and dynamic range. The PHDs here at Last.fm have are on the theoretical edge of this study, and the Scrobbler for iOS uses cutting-edge audio analysis. We have added the emotive playlists “happy” and “sad” – although our Scobot doesn’t read the lyrics! So a track may sound happy, but have sad lyrics such as “Pumped Up Kicks by Foster the People.
4. What music are you into?
People I meet often ask me this question when they find out I work for a music service, and I always struggle for an answer – at least an answer that doesn’t make me sound out-of-date or just boring. Scrobbler for iOS visualises your music tatse using millions of artist pictures from Last.fm artist profiles. What does your taste look like?
5. Who is this track by?
Ever been listening to a track you own but can’t recall who it’s buy? Scrobbler for iOS draws on the artist biography, listening stats and a gallery of images.
If you have an iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch please give our little Scrobbler app a try by downloading it here.
In response to consumer demand in the US, Lego have introduced a new “Legos®” logotype. Head of Global Communications, Dumme Mursten-Hjernen explained: “The plural for “Lego” has always been, simply: “Lego”, it’s an irregular plural like ‘sheep’ of ‘fish’. However, despite numerous advertising campaigns, we found the American toy buying public were not capable of retaining this simple fact in memory. Therefore we have taken steps to adapt our brand for the US consumer. In Europe we will continue to use “Lego” plural”.
Rebrands can be costly and re-drawing a logo can take weeks of refinement, but not this one. I was simply asked to “stop the logo being all wonky” (see below).
Pantone: 1797 U
CMYK: 0 / 100 / 99 / 4
RGB: 227 / 27 / 35
The old Last.fm logo
I quite liked the “ticket” logo as it was, but had to admit it was an awkward fit in layouts as it wouldn’t align to anything. Also the fancy gradient and shadow effects meant we needed to offer multiple file types to support different uses (CMYK and 1 colour printing, and RGB). I also increased the height of the red box to make it closer to a square, as I felt the logo looked too oblong when it was rotated back from it’s 12.5 degree angle.
A quick image search in Google for “Last.fm logo” illustrates the problem when you don’t have easy to access brand guidelines and sample logo files. Last.fm is an open-source service with a large community of developers creating their own apps using APIs, each app needs a logo and, without guidance, you get a lot of interpretation.
Designing apps and creating graphic assets that adapt to the bewildering range of devices, sizes, and resolutions can be bewildering. Google tries to help by providing extensive Android user Interface Design Guidelines. However, the screens designers use are typically 72 dpi (written as “Retina MacBooks were launched), whereas mobile screens tend to have a higher density. Therefore Google has come up with the made-up “density pixel” unit of measurement, which makes knowing where to start a design in Photoshop pretty confusing.
Here is how I tackled designing an Android app.
Here’s a clue:
72 dp in MDPI is actually 72 dpi in Photoshop!
1. Start with mobile first
I recommend starting with an average mobile handset size screen first (320 x 480) at the MDPI resolution (see below). Starting with the smallest and most limited screen size first, you can make sure your interface and content will fit, removing any features that aren’t completely necessary to the core purpose of the app. Then you can work out how your app will behave on larger and tablet sized screens. You need to decided if your app is going to stretch to fit larger screens, or if you’re going to have a completely different layout and design for tablet sized screens.
2. Photoshop image size
I choose to start with a small mobile handset and a small 7″ tablet screen as a base for design. You may need to create portrait and landscape versions if you plan on allowing users to change orientation. That means your navigation needs to fit on a bar that is 600px on a 7″ tablet held in a portrait orientation.
Normal handset screen: 320px x 480px – 72dpi
Small tablet screen: 600px x 1024px – 72dpi*
3. Download Android design templates
Android provide these handy UI design templates and icons sets at different DP sizes. Although they don’t provide a screen size for you to work on. You’ll see in the design stencil that the navigation bars they provide are set to either 360px, 600px, and 1280px wide. To fit my recommended 1024px canvas, you stretch the nav bars horizontally to fit, keeping the height as it is.
It is very important to keep the icons at the same size and proportion to maintain the correct “hit” area for the user’s finger.
4. Scale your assets
You can make your life really easy by using the native icons and graphic assets provided, but if you need a custom icon you ill need to provide an asset in the x4 densities of resolution. It is always advisable to create icon art as vectors in “Smart Objects, or as “shapes” in Photoshop so they can be scaled up or down without loosing quality.
As I recommend designing in medium (MDPI) resolution, which is 72dpi in Photoshop, scaling your icons to “extra high”, “high” and “low” is relatively simple.
MDPI - 100% – START HERE!
XHDPI - scale up 200%
HDPI - scale up 150%
LDPI - scale down 75%
When using vectors, you may want to adjust your line art to tighten up any half pixels or it can look blurry at the edges (if you’re a perfectionist like me).
What the frakk is a DP?
Here’s what I discovered after a few hours of scratching my head and moaning…
- All Android icons are 32dp x 32dp
- Android supply sample icons and if you open an icon from the MDPI folder in Photoshop, the icon is 32px x 32px with “image size” set to 72 pixel/inch.
- Android guidelines recommends starting a design at MDPI, then scaling up or down. They supply their Photoshop stencils in MDPI.
- SO, in Photoshop 1dp = 1px @ MDPI.
So why don’t they just tell us that?
Well it turns out that in the “real” world, devices have smaller pixels than standard computer screen pixels. A standard computer screen is 72dpi, whereas the smaller handsets actually have 160dpi screens. Confusing eh! So MDPI is 72dpi on a computer, but 160dpi on a handset – so Google were forced to come up with as “relative” measurement: “dp”.
If you have a better way of getting started designing in Android, or if I’ve made an errors, please let me know.
I’ve had my first play with responsive web design and CSS, which was great fun.
This new site for yoga teacher Sarah Burgess is to provide information and class schedules for her yoga practice. It was designed to be friendly, informal, and uses “in-situ” photography of Sarah doing yoga as a main focal point.
Responsive WordPress theme customisation
I designed the site and customised a theme in WordPress which was used as framework for the content and to make updates easy. I used the theme “Twenty twelve” as a base. It’s a responsive theme created by WordPress’ in-house team and is a great foundation for exploring media queries and getting into designing layouts optimised for mobile, tablet and large screens. It is interesting in that it loads the CSS in the functions.php, rather than in the header.
For the full screen background slideshow I used the excellent MaxImage by Aaron Vanderzwan. I found this to be the most reliable and platform agnostic. This meant that I had to add the slideshow code directly to the .php files rather than using a WordPress plugin, which I found either didn’t work very well or slowed the site down too much.
Design & logo
If a brand is about a person or an individual’s service, it appeals to me to use something personal about them in the design. In this case, Sarah had chosen to wear her favourite colour in the photography, so it was an easy choice to sample that for the colour scheme of the site. For the logo, I know that Sarah has quite unique handwriting, so rather than selecting an impersonal font, I asked her to write her name a few times, then scanned it in and cleaned it up a bit.
Sketches for the “logged out” homepage of Last.fm. The purpose of the page is: to introduce the service, encourgae signup, and offer a taster of the content. In these initial sketches I was exploring the idea of focusing the page on the different use cases: listening to radio, scrobbling listening history, and music recommendations.
- Enhance your music collection on iPad & iPhone
- Smart playlists created for your mood and favourite genres
- Artist galleries and listening stats
- Scrobble* music to your Last.fm profile
- See who’s on tour
*scrobble: skrob·bul (ˈskrɒbəll) [verb]
To automatically add the tracks you play to your Last.fm profile with a piece of software called a Scrobbler
If I’m not scrobbling the music I hear, it doesn’t count!
To mark the 10th anniversary of scrobbling, my colleague
@stefansperber and I created this infographic showing how the top music genres have changed over the last 10 years. Stefan ran the data queries and produced vectors for the stream graph, I did the final infographic.
My dear colleague
@dawhiting had the idea of looking at the scrobble graphs for the top 10 Christmas songs leading up to the 24th Dec. Over the last few years there has been a consistent spike. I did a bit of “pretty” work and now we have this year’s Christmas card design.
The Audioscrobbler software is 10 years old and Last.fm is celebrating this revolutionary innovation.
The logo takes elements from exisiting branding assets.
scrobble: skrob·bul (ˈskrɒbəll) [verb]
To automatically add the tracks you play to your Last.fm profile with a piece of software called a Scrobbler
If I’m not scrobbling the music I hear, it doesn’t count!
Wireflows for the local music library stats and playlists app I’m working on.
Obsessive, fussy… Me?
When designing an appdesigners take great care over the UI and the fine details. Apple provide a lot of built-in UI styling in the SDK for developers to produce apps of a consistent quality. However, when Apple create their own apps they add an extra layer of detail and finish that is not supplied in the SDK, this extra quality is hard to achieve out-of-the-box.
Designers are fussy by trade, and communicating this obsessive level of detail via email or Skype to a remote developer can be challenging. I have great sympathies for developers, espcially when I find myslf sending them the following documents with design revisions…
Kevin was as keen as me to get this right, so I hope doesn’t he hate me too much
I’ve been working with our MIR team (Music Information Retrieval) on the new instant playlisting engine, designed to provide instant playlists from collections of any size.
The guys have created a playlisting demo which you can try out against your Last.fm profile. Please ty it out give us your feedback. You can also read Mark Levy’s background to the technology on the Last.fm blog.
My part in this has been to think about the user experience and ensure that the catagories we choose to create fit with the natural expectation and behaviors that people use when making their own playlists. This engine will form part of a new iOS product I’m designing for Last.fm.
New playable track list UI style for artists and catalogue pages.
- Make a distinction betwen full playable tracks and 30 second previews
- Create a player module to play all tracks avaible
- An expandable ajax panel to get track info, stats and content in position to increase engagement.
- Add improved e-commerce features, including the ability to buy a list of tracks in one.
Continued from my previous post, my data team colleague Mark Levy has adjusted the mood chart to only show the percentage of moods in total music listening per week, removing the scaling that showed how much music a user was listening too. This makes it easier to see the variance in mood.
Helping out @marekventur style up his Last.fm plug in for Chrome. It’s a 10% project (* staffers are given 10% of their time to work on self-driven projects, providing the work is related to music data (I have been told off for spending too much time working on a diorama of Jabba’s palace for my Star Wars figures)