Letraset and Mute Records

Letraset user, 1978

Letraset user, 1978

Some products are inextricably infused with nostalgia. Letraset is one of them. Sheets of film that would be rubbed with the end of a pencil to give way to beautifully formed letters—as long as you had a steady hand and the patience of a saint.

Letraset launched its dry-transfer lettering system in 1961, and graphic designers and architects embraced it with gusto. But so did amateur bedroom publishers, where Letraset became de rigueur for music fanzines and school magazines.

Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type: A Book About Fonts and an early adopter of the technology, writes, “The range included all the standard popular fonts, but there was a sort of anarchic freedom to the wilder designs, something indelibly linked to the 1960s and ’70s, and now much used in retro branding.”

Mute Records first release in 1978 by The Normal, T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette

Mute Records first release in 1978 by The Normal, T.V.O.D. / Warm Leatherette. Image courtesy Discogs.

With their DIY philosophy, young punk rockers embraced Letraset for their gig posters and record sleeves. One interesting example is the 1978 Mute Records logo, its “walking man” plucked from a Letraset sheet of architectural symbols. Daniel Miller formed Mute Records as a vehicle to release his own single, “T.V.O.D.”/”Warm Leatherette,” under the moniker The Normal. The label, once home to Depeche Mode and Erasure, continues today—with Mr. Miller as its executive chairman—under the EMI banner.

Letraset history courtesy BBC News
Mute Records history courtesy Ibiza Voice

10 color tools

Links, books, and tools for designers

Just about every designer has used color wheels. But today there are many other aids available, from hex code palettes, to books, to infographics. What follows are 10 resources crucial to the designer’s arsenal.

01 Flat UI Colors
Simply click on the desired color displayed by this web app, and it will copy the HTML hex code to your device’s clipboard.

10 color tools for designers
02 ColourLovers
Most loved! An oldie but goodie…

10 color tools for designers
03 color.hailpixel.com
Hover your mouse around to select the color, click and it will save it for you.

10 color tools for designers
04 hexu.al
A browser of words formed from HTML hex codes—displays colorful words in action.

10 color tools for designers
05 Mudcube Sphere
An interactive color visualizer. Clear as mud!

10 color tools for designers
06 Color Scheme Designer
Another classic color picker.

10 color tools for designers
07 Color Design Workbook
A real-world guide to using color in graphic design, by Terry Lee Stone, Sean Adams, Noreen Morioka

10 color tools for designers
08 Color
A course in mastering the art of mixing colors, by Betty Edwards. Great guide for teaching kids (and grownups) about color theory.

10 color tools for designers
09 Pantone Color Resource
Color: Messages and Meanings, by Leatrice Eiseman. Explains the suggestive meanings behind color.

10 color tools for designers
10 Pantone Guide
Guide to communicating with color, by Leatrice Eiseman. Stylish, modern, and utterly sophisticated, this vibrant calendar celebrates a classic, charismatic, and undeniably inspiring pairing: fabulous color in combination with great design.

10 color tools for designers

Courtesy Gisele Muller, Web Design Ledger

Glossary for non-designers

Glossary for non-designers

RGB color schemes for the web and their hex codes

We designers often struggle to communicate with our clients, having to parse technical language in order to be understood clearly. Wouldn’t it be terrific if  clients had an understanding of basic design terminology? I stumbled across this brilliant glossary that would be helpful to any business wanting to work with designers. By no means is this glossary complete—but I’ve found it to contain much of today’s design terminology.

Courtesy Ginny Soskey

Salvador Dalí’s lollipop logo

Salvador Dalí's real masterpiece: The logo for Chupa Chups lollipopsSalvador Dalí, the wacky surrealist known for his signature pointy moustache and painting melting clocks, was also graphic designer behind the classic Chupa Chups lollipops—an enduringly sweet, bright rendition of a daisy.

The Catalan lollipop made its first appearance in 1958, when the company founder Enric Bernat hatched the idea of placing a bonbon on a stick. He called the product “GOL,” imagining the candy as a soccer ball and the open mouth a net. It didn’t go over well. So Bernat hired an ad agency that renamed his product “Chupa Chups” (from the Spanish chupar, meaning “to suck”). All that was left was the branding. In 1969, Bernat complained about what he had while having coffee with his artist friend—none other than Salvador Dalí.


Salvador Dalí in 1954


According to lore, the painter went to work immediately, doodling for an hour on newspapers that were laying around. Dalí’s version masterfully integrated the wordmark into the daisy design, and has hardly changed since. And book publisher Phaidon points us to one subtle, extremely smart feature of the design:

Acutely aware of presentation, Dalí insisted that his design be placed on top of the lolly, rather than the side, so that it could always be viewed intact. It’s proved to be one of the most enduring pieces of branding ever and one that’s still used today, four billion sales later.

What would induce the famous artist to take on such a project? Dinero. The guy rarely turned it down, causing surrealist poet André Breton to nickname him “Avida Dollars”—an anagram of Dalí’s name that roughly translates to “eager for cash.”

Image: p4nc0np4n

Courtesy Belinda Lanks, Fast Company

A good match: Pantone and fashion

Pantone spring 2011 colorsGraphic designers and printers have used the Pantone Matching System for ages. But many people don’t often realize how vital Pantone is to the fashion industry. To coincide with New York’s Fashion Week, Pantone released its top 10 color report for spring 2011 women’s fashion. Designers and fashion houses such as Badgley Mischka, Tommy Hilfiger, Adrienne Vittadini, Betsey Johnson, and Project Runway winner Christian Siriano read the report and chimed in with their take on the colors.

One notes at first glance the absence of primary colors. And many of the designers latched on to “Honeysuckle,” a bright red-pink hue dubbed color of the year. But who are the people who select these colors? Answer: as most things are decided—by committee. A top secret committee of 10 people meet in Europe twice a year at the invitation of Pantone, a company based in Carlstadt, New Jersey.

Pantone designer David Shah, who presides over the meeting, said he seeks opinions from a broad range of industries. “I have people who work in the car business, who work with big store groups,” Shah said. “I can’t tell you the names. They’re involved with everything from furniture through to clothing and knitwear.”

Pantone’s main business is color standards. There are 1,925 colors in Pantone’s library of textile colors, each with a unique identifying number, and the familiar swatches. This number is used to communicate color standards so that graphic designers and their printers, or fashion designers and their textile manufacturers, are on the same page.

Why Ginny’s Printing rocks

Ginny's Printing, Austin, TXAs a seasoned graphic designer, I have dealt with a number of different printing companies, even some in Asia (not by my choice but at the client’s insistence). Some printers are routine and faceless, others are reliable, and then there’s Ginny’s Printing. In the past two years, I’ve used Ginny’s for a few different clients. The latest job, however, was a simple poster of a short run for a DJ night. I spoke with Roland, my usual CSR, and he told me about a deal Ginny’s runs for Austin musicians on the front page of its website. Fifty 12 x 18″ full-color posters on heavy stock for $17.99+tax (shipping included), the catch is, there is no bleed and you must order either 50 or 100. No proof, and no CSR involvement. Ordering and file transfer is done through the site, as well as payment by credit card. I used my company credit card, typing my name, followed by the company’s (as it appears on my card). Apparently, this threw a wrench into the works, as there was an error prompting me to contact Ginny’s. I called and spoke with the financial department, and then, something extraordinary. The CFO of the company followed up on my call. She personally shepherded the order through the press department, and expedited the credit card problem. Turns out, my name followed by company name was longer than the online ordering system would allow. Simple database mistake. “Does not compute.”

I received a nice email from the CFO, with just about everyone from Ginny’s CC’d. But the story gets better. Someone from accounts called me Friday afternoon to tell me the job was complete, and that I could pick it up. I told her go ahead and ship it. The job was received FedEx Saturday! (Warning: FedEx shipping may NOT be included with all orders. Please consult before ordering.) I’ll remind you, folks, this was a $19 order!

I am telling everyone I know, shouting from the highest mountaintops, Ginny’s rocks with extra bass! (And besides, Ginny’s founder Michael Martin’s favorite cartoon character is Foghorn Leghorn. Well, DUH…)


Unsuck-It.comA team of graphic designers at San Francisco design studio Mule had had enough of obfuscating corporate jargon, and decided to demystify those annoying phrases, allusions and metaphors commonly heard by anyone working in a “cube farm” (Unsucked: an office containing many cubicles). Unsuck-It.com works like any online dictionary. Enter a phrase, such as “idea shower” (Unsucked: using your imagination), “dog’s breakfast” (mess), or “low-hanging fruit” (easy goal), and it is instantly “unsucked” in simple English.

If your phrase is not in the database, a “you define it” button appears allowing you to be the douchebag jargonist and provide your own definition, and of course, you must use it in a sentence. I searched for “paper tiger,” which is frequently abused by the tech industry. Alas, it was not in the database, so I unsucked it. It means, “something that appears threatening but is not,” or more commonly, “its bark is worse than its bite.” Used in a sentence: “Organizations often make investment decisions on the basis of tight budgets and business cases that are actually paper tigers.”

I urge you to share the Unsuck-It link with all your d-bag friends.