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Entries in Design (96)


John Topley's Weblog Redesign

weblog1_small.jpgWay back in June 2007, while working at MakaluMedia, a client I'd worked on a logo design for, John Topley contacted me about redesigning his personal weblog.

John has been blogging since 2003 (as long as I have) and was ready for a custom design for the blog software he was in the process of creating with Ruby on Rails.

From John's Putting My Blog On Rails post about the redesign:

"Once I'd taken the decision that I was going to create a new blog from scratch, I emailed Mike Rohde at the end of May 2007 and asked if he would be interested in coming up with a new graphic design for the site.

"I chose Mike because way back in 2005 I read Ian Landsman’s post about working with Mike to create a business logo and I'd been impressed with the end result. I'd also worked with Mike before on a as-yet unrealised design project, so I knew that we were a good fit."

After talking with John about his goals and requirements, I began sketching to get direction, then with John's approval, moved on to mockups in Fireworks. Once the mockups were approved, I worked with Corrie Haffly to prepare the Fireworks files for her to cut-up the design in XHTML and CSS.

You can read about the fully detailed process from John's perspective on his latest blog post Putting My Blog On Rails.

Thanks John for choosing to work with me. The blog looks great and I hope you get many, many years of good use from the design!


Associations Now Magazine: Sketchnote Illustrations

Associations Now Illustration: Cover

I was honored and excited to be interviewed by Mark Athitakis for his Associations Now Magazine article, Are You A Visual Thinker?

Imagine my surprise and excitement at being hired to illustrate the Associations Now Magazine cover and feature spread for the very same article in my signature sketchnote style.

What a great opportunity to share visual thinking in a fun way, to about 20,000 leaders of associations.

The Hand-Drawn Idea

As Mark was writing the article, Associations Now Magazine's art director, Beth Lower, saw and liked my sketchnote of the iPhone 3GS Unboxing. Each issue of the magazine has a different design in context to the feature story, which led Beth to a completely hand-drawn, sketchnote style cover to communicate the visual thinking feature story.

Beth and I chatted about the concept on the phone, and both of us resonated with the concept of a visual thinking collage, comprised of the tools and notes about them in a hand-drawn sketchnote style.

Pencil Sketches

Associations Now Illustration: Concept SketchFor the next step, I sketched out a rough cover design idea using pencil in my Moleskine squared notebook, and scanned it for Beth to review for direction.

Beth liked the the look and feel of my pencil sketch and approved the illustration phase of the project. I prepared for the final sketchnote illustration, though I knew some elements would likely need to be sorted out on the fly.

Inked Illustration

Because I wanted to create the art at 100% actual size, I found a sheet of heavy paper to layout the structure of the cover on. I drew out the full size of the cover and began laying out elements I knew had to be in place — Associations Now logo, headlines and table of contents elements in pencil, etc.

Associations Now Illustration: Type Inking 1Once the main elements were organized, I began inking in the elements, starting with the logo in the top left of the page and working my way down to the main headline on the left side of the page.

I encountered issues with gel ink reacting less than smoothly with my paper and pencil graphite lines, but thankfully, I was able to work through those issues and ink out the cover for production.

Photoshop Production

Once I was pleased with the final illustration, I scanned it into my MacBook and began preparing the final art for production in Photoshop.

Associations Now Illustration: Final Inked ArtI knew Beth wanted to capture the sketchnote style, which meant producing a creamy background color behind the rich black illustration work.

Cream can be a very tough color to capture in the printing process, using standard colors of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK). It's so easy to lean too much toward yellow or red and ruin the creamy feeling you're hoping for.

I found what I felt would reproduce in CMYK as a good cream combo, then imported the final scans in, tweaking the contrast, moving elements around in subtle ways and perfecting the final artwork.

Once the art was finalized, I shipped source artwork off for production.

Inside Feature Illustration

Next up was the two-page feature spread illustration which had to continue a consistent image and feel from the cover, to connect them visually.

Associations Now Illustration: Feature Spread

Beth provided a PDF of the page spread with a headline in place. I used this to trace and ink in the headline and figure out where drawn elements needed to be placed.

I used some elements from the cover for consistency, then began sketching out other elements to fill the remaining space in a balanced way. This is where I built art elements on the fly, allowing the concept of the article and elements already created for the cover to spark new ideas.

Associations Now Illustration: Ryan Coleman QuoteWhen the inner spread was completed to my satisfaction, I created a Photoshop file similar to the cover, with cream background and the elements in their exact locations on the page.

Beth had one more element for me to sketchnote — a quote by Ryan Coleman of VizThink. I sketched out a pencil grid, drew the lettering, scanned and sent the art out to wrap up my illustrations.

Printed Magazines: Wow!

A few weeks later, a package arrived at my door with a package of final, printed copies of the Associations Now August magazine, featuring my illustrations on the cover and feature spread. I'm very pleased with the cream color and how well the illustrations look on the page.

Associations Now Illustration: Cover - Cool StuffThe Associations Now team have been very pleased with the final results, and I'm excited to hear how their subscribers react to this unusual issue of the magazine.

Thank you Mark Athitakis, Beth Lower and Lisa Junker from Associations Now for your faith in me to produce the cover and feature spread illustrations. I'm very honored to have been chosen.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the August issue, let me know. Lisa, the magazine's editor has told me she has limited copies of the magazine available for those who ask nicely. :-)

Related Links:
Associations Now Magazine Illustrations Set
Are You A Visual Thinker?
Download The Associations Now Visual Thinking Feature (2.5MB PDF)


Why Visual Notes Work

Here's an interesting video from TED of Tom Wujec, an information designer and Fellow at Autodesk. I thought it would be an insightful video to share here, as I've been focused on sketchnotes and visual note-taking the last few months.

In his talk, Tom explains the 3 ways our brains make meaning, help us understand words, images, feelings and connections. He also talks about why visual notes resonate so well with humans (sketchnotes for instance) and he shares the techniques Autodesk uses to plan strategically with visual thinking.

More on Tom Wujec from his TED bio:

Tom Wujec is a Fellow at Autodesk, the makers of design software for engineers, filmmakers, designers. At Autodesk, he has worked on software including SketchBook Pro, PortfolioWall and Maya (which won an Academy Award for its contribution to the film industry). As a Fellow, he helps companies work in the emerging field of business visualization, the art of using images, sketches and infographics to help teams solve complex problems as a group.

He's the author of several books, including Five-Star Mind: Games and Puzzles to Stimulate Your Creativity and Imagination.


Maruman Mnemosyne Notebook Video Review

About a month ago I picked up a set of two Maruman Mnemosyne A4 gridded notebooks, curious to see how they worked for wireframing websites.

In the past month I've been impressed with how well the Mnemosyne notebook has performed, so I shot a brief review video of the notebook to share with you:

Maruman Mnemosyne A4 Notebook Video Review from Mike Rohde on Vimeo.

I love the smooth, calendared paper in the book, because it holds pencil so well. Even soft pencil sketches seem to hold in place without smearing like other books that have paper with texture or tooth on them.

The size is also nice, as A4 (210 × 297 mm) provides a little more vertical height than US Letter sized 8.5" x 11" sheets of paper. This gives that little extra on the top and bottom, which works well for site design, which tends to be more vertical.

Lastly, the light gray grid is strong enough to be seen but light enough not to get in the way. The grid is also relatively easy to knock out in Photoshop, convenient for making your wireframe sketches cleaner for presentations.

Maruman Mnemosyne notebooks can be bought at in a set of 2 for $32. They're not the cheapest notebook, but the balance of paper quality, size and grid tonality make them worth the extra cost to me.


SXSW Interactive '09 Tote Bag Design

In October 2008, I was honored when Shawn O'Keefe and the SXSW team asked me to design the 2009 SXSW Interactive canvas tote bag.

I know from my last year at SXSW Interactive that 8,000+ tote bags are given out to SXSW Interactive registrants — so I was driven to come up with an unique design.

In this post I'll explain the tote bag design process, including some of the challenges we faced through that process and how we came up with a winning solution.

Initial Specs and Feedback

In the initial briefing for the tote bag design project, Shawn had a few specs for the bag and a sense of the general direction the team at SXSW wanted to go in for the design. For specs, I had a 10" x 10" space and up to 7 colors to work with.

The SXSW team also mentioned that the past two bag designs had been hand-drawn in a cartoon style, with mostly darker colors. For the 2009 design they wanted something brighter and less cartoon oriented.

For creative direction, the SXSW team wanted to represent the most common tags generated by the Interactive Panel Picker in a creative way. Shawn shared a Wordle word cloud type treatment as a reference, using some of the tags they were seeing:


I wanted to explore some alternate ideas for Shawn to see, so I began by sketching pencil concepts in my trusty Miquelrius gridded sketchbook. I find this is a critical step to working out ideas. It's clear enough that clients can see direction, but open enough that there is still room for adjustment and iteration.

Concept Sketch v1

In the first round, I created a network tree, with SXSW 09 text at the center of the tree with panel picker tags branching out from the center to fill the space:

The SXSW team felt the very structured network idea was a bit too rigid. They wanted the design to have a more random, organic feel than a network structure could offer.

Concept Sketch v2

In my second sketch, you'll see I've returned to the general idea of a tag cloud, but making better use of the square shape I had to work with.

The upper sketch uses actual tags to form an arrow pointing to the SXSW tag in the lower right corner. The lower sketch features four arrows created with tags, point to the 4 corners that spell out S X S W:

We liked the second round of sketches, especially the idea with the single arrow pointing to SXSW in the lower right-hand corner of the design.

Black & White Concepts

At this point I moved to Adobe Illustrator on the Mac to build the tag cloud in black & white with real fonts, to see how actual tags would look in place:

This direction was good — the sizing of the letters, positioning and overall shape felt right. In fact, when I showed this to my friend Brian Artka, it reminded him of the state of Texas. I hadn't intended this, but I really liked the serendipity of it.

Shawn and the SXSW team wanted to see the arrow tags and SXSW pointing to the lower left, so I created a second version, emphasizing the Texas shape a bit more:

Notice the circle-star and AUSTIN text in the middle of the type treatment? I added it once the shape was tweaked to look more like Texas.

Color Concepts

With the structure worked out in black & white, it was time to explore color. I started adding colors to the tags, balancing their placement across the cloud. Then mocked up the color concept on a blank canvas tote bag photo for review:

The brightness of the design was great, but it needed something to separate the tag cloud from the canvas color. I used the type to create a halftone-edged shape in Photoshop, which formed the white shape under the typography in v2:

Facing & Solving Challenges

This design was shaping up! The tag cloud was working well, color was bright and cheerful and the overall feel was mostly positive. But there was a problem — the design was a bit too crisp and mechanical.

The SXSW team wanted a design that was more organic, and even though initially they didn't want another hand-drawn bag design, we started talking about using the Sketchnote style they really loved, mixed in with regular typography.

I replaced some of the tags in the cloud with hand-drawn sketchnote lettering:

It still wasn't noticeable enough, since the crisp typography dominated the design. The hand-drawn words were getting lost in the mix, and looked more like bad reproduction than intentionally hand-drawn typography.

Next I traced the bottom half of the tags in a sketchnote style, scanned and auto-traced the letters using Vector Magic (a wonderful service BTW).

I wanted show a transformation from sketchnote letters to real type — but it still felt wrong. It was too loose for actual type and too mechanical for hand-drawn type:

I was stumped, trying too hard to sneak organic hand-drawn letters into the type.

The Solution: Raw Sketchnote Typography

After a good discussion with Shawn about direction, we decided to shift radically and completely to a sketchnote style for the tag cloud typography. I changed my production method, using actual scans of the sketchnote type, rather than tracing the scans into vectors. The raw scans were much more human and organic:

Yes! This was what we were aiming for! Shawn and the SXSW team liked the new sketchnote direction and I did as well. I had my personality baked in and felt unified and organic — something we didn't feel with the clean typographic approach.

With the design approved, I finalized my Photoshop artwork for printing, and sent it to the SXSW team for production. That was November 17th, because printing 8,000+ canvas tote bags with 7 colors needed lots of lead time. :-)

Final Tote Bags

It was mid-February when Shawn sent word that the bags were back from production. He grabbed a camera and took a few shots of the bag design, so I could see how they turned out and for this blog post:

After having a few months away from the design, the human touch in the sketchnote lettering really feels right for this bag design. I'm very happy with how it's turned out.

I'm hoping attendees to SXSW Interactive for 2009 will enjoy the bags and the design. I'm honored knowing that these bags will be used for years to come, reminding SXSW attendees of their great experience in Austin.

Thank You

Thanks go to Shawn O'Keefe, Hugh Forrest and the entire SXSW team for choosing me to design the tote bag for 2009. Thanks for staying with me through the tough times in the process as we met the challenge together. It's been great fun.

I'm excited to see thousands of tote bags I've designed wandering around Austin!