Archive for Creative

Custom Vinyl – Van Gogh Teddy Trooper

// July 28th, 2010 // No Comments » // Creative

I’ve finally remembered to post a picture of my first custom Teddy Trooper (the vinyl toy created by German graffiti artist Flying Fortress):

The design is based on the famous van Gogh self portrait with the bandaged ear, currently hung in London’s excellent Courtauld gallery – probably the best gallery I’ve ever been to and well worth the token price of admission if you’re ever in London.

I have plans to do a series of them based on famous artist’s styles, though this is moving as slowly as side projects tend to move…

He’s pictured here basking in the late afternoon Tuscan sun at Corzano e Paterno.

Branded Mug Design

// May 5th, 2010 // No Comments » // Creative

One of the hardest aspects of managing fast paced growth in a startup company such as mine is coping with the influx of employees.

One of the principles of interaction design I was taught, based on research done by the psychologist George Miller, is that most people’s cognitive capacity is 7 +/- 2 – in effect, the average individual can remember seven items of information reasonably well, but struggle as soon as they have to remember more.

This becomes a stark problem when the number of employees required to complete a round of tea heads above this – compounded by the fact that each person likes their tea differently, and some odd people even seem to like coffee.  When we reached the point that people would come in early to get the chipped mug, just to have a way of identifying themselves, I figured something had to be done.

Step forward YourDesign, who have the best mug design service I could find in 5 minutes of Googling.  Just knock up a quick design like this, pay £8, and you have a personalised mug:

Masabi mug - template design

Within 2 days I had my prototype back, and within a week the whole company were kitted out with branded mugs.  We’re even considering getting them for regular customers who drop by for design and development iteration meetings…

Slight warning: the print quality is a bit fuzzy, but with a nice bold design it works pretty nicely, and I no longer have to order mugs alphabeitcally whilst they brew, run round the office reminding myself who wanted what, then accidentally pour milk into the wrong mug and have to start again.

NB: shooting white against white on a white background in a lightbox that is slightly too small – harder than it looks :)

Data Visualisation – Global Gender Balance

// February 18th, 2010 // No Comments » // Creative

I’ve spent a few hours playing with Tableau Public, a free version of the rather expensive Tableau data visualisation app, and it’s pretty good. After a random discussion of how Estonia has, according to the Economist world stats book, 84 guys to every 100 girls, I prepared this map in a couple of hours as an exercise in understanding how Tableau works:

Click to see full size - global male:female ratios, scaled by population size

The map shows the male:female ratio of every country as coloured crosses, from red (more women) to blue (more men); the size of the cross is proportional to the country’s population.

Quick Caveats

Tableau Public is a cut-down version of commercial software, with no ability to save files locally. In theory you can publish your diagrams to the web on their site, but that feature was a bit broken when I tried it.

This means that you have to retrieve your diagrams using screenshots, and I have no idea what the legal implications of doing that are if you intend to use them for anything but personal interest and satisfaction! It does constrain the quality a little, too.

Source Data

Being lazy, I didn’t want to type in all of the raw data from the Economist book, so I pulled it from Wikipedia: population data came from here and sex ratio from here. Copying the tables directly into Excel brought a load of unwanted links and images, so I copied into Notepad++ – where it appears as tab separated values – and reloaded as a TSV file via disk.
The country names had a few extra spaces and other characters in them – I pulled these out with the LEFT, MID, LEN etc functions.

Tableau theoretically understands full country names, but I had mixed success getting this to work, so I imported a lookup table of two letter ISO 3166-2 codes, which are also supported and are unambiguous.

I then used VLOOKUP to pull together all this information into a single Excel sheet (remember to turn range lookup – the fourth, optional argument – off); as the data came from diffferent sources, there was a little messing round standardising country names. The finished spreadsheet is here if you want to play with it.

Visualizing in Tableau

It really helps to look at this tutorial video before starting anything – Tableau starts with quite a blank slate!

Open up the XLS in Tableau, and it’ll make a first stab at identifying what is what from the Excel column formats. You’ll see the fields seperated into text and numeric lists down the left hand side.
If you don’t see a globe next to the Country Code field, right click, go to the Geographic Role submenu, and select Country (ISO 3166-2). Tableau can now map this to a geographical location automatically. Also ensure all numeric columns are recognised as numeric with the Change Data Type submenu.

To recreate the map visualisation,  follow these (approximate!) steps:

  1. Select the Country Code and Total fields, and click on the Show Me! button.
  2. Select the map diagram type (near the bottopm of the list). You should see some dots across a map.
  3. Drag the Population column over to the Size box, right click and select Dimension to scale the dots by population.
  4. Drag the Total column to the Colour box and they should become shades of green; further down is a green graduation which you can click on to change, and adjust to a red-blue graduation. Click on Advanced and set the midpoint to 1.0, to make the middle grey represent a 1:1 ratio.

Your left hand panels should look a little like this now:

This is really just a very high speed starter and I’ve barely dipped below the surface – I’ve got some quite complex business plan data that I’ll be dropping in later to experiment further.

Flyer: Bacchus In Rehab

// October 6th, 2009 // No Comments » // Creative

Quick flyer design for my friend Andy‘s new play, Bacchus in Rehab:

It’s a shame to have to spoil the photo with so much text, but on an A5 flyer there’s not much room…

Photo is of SP and Emma, ostensibly naked in the bath, which was a highly amusing shoot to do – colour is from a green gel on a weakly bounced flash (off door to right) contrasting against candlelight.

The bits of the play I’ve heard so far are hilarious, so if you’re near Camden between 24th November and 13th December you’ve really no excuse not to go!

Photoshop Tutorial: Masking Logos from the Web

// August 24th, 2009 // No Comments » // Creative

Often I seem to have a need for a low-res company logo that I want to use against some colour that isn’t their web site’s normal background – eg. when creating mobile interfaces:

Most companies don’t seem to give out vectors of their logos, so if you can’t find one you usually end up in Photoshop trying to cut one out – and it was never 100% obvious to me how to replace the fixed anti-aliassing with nice alpha transparency.

Aside: Powerpoint 2007 does now make a nice attempt at letting you remove picture backgrounds, but it doesn’t fix the anti-aliassing and it breaks down when it encounters JPEG artifacts.

So, finally, I decided to work out how to do it properly.

Step 1 – load the logo into a new Photoshop Document

The original logo, nabbed from the web, which was (inexplicably) a JPEG:
Original logo

Zoomed in to show JPEG artifacts and fixed anti-aliassing to the white background:
Original logo, enlarged

Load into Photoshop, and paste into a new Photoshop document (don’t work within the original JPEG) – this is the layer palette after the import:
Photoshop layer palette with logo

Step 2 – create a new Layer Mask

In the layer palette, click on the “circle inside a rectangle” icon; the layer preview should now show a second empty rectangle to the right of the logo preview itself:
Adding a Layer Mask in Photoshop

Step 3 – Edit the Mask

Select all and Copy the current picture, then shift to the Channels tab:
Select Channels tab

Click on the eye icon next to the Layer Mask channel, and unselect the eye next to the RGB channel:
Show the Layer Mask channel only

The image should be greyscale, looking like this:
Layer Mask preview

Any pixel that is white in the layer mask will be fully opaque in the layer, anything that is black will be fully transparent, and any grey will be translucent. So, with our current mask, the white background will be visible but the logo itself will be almost transparent. Hit ctrl+I to invert the Layer Mask colours:

That’s better, but the logo will still be partially transparent. We need to boost the contrast of the mask, to make the text white on black (with a little grey anti-aliassing round the edge of the text, which will become nice transparency). Go to Edit menu > Adjust Curves:
Adjusting curves to improve Layer Mask contrast

Note that we are deliberately ‘clipping’ – forcing the grey to go fully white, by making the curve hit the top of the box. You can also clip a little on the black end (bottom left) to force JPEG artefacts on the background to disappear (not shown here).
The text now looks good, but the graduation on the right is not so nice – we need to boost the contrast else it’ll disappear completely. Select just that part with the lassoo tool and then Edit > Adjust Contrast:
Adjusting contrast on the graduation

Step 4 – Remove the Old Anti-Aliassing

We now have a logo with a properly transparent background – to see it, reselect the RGB channel and unselect the Layer Mask channel. You should switch back to the Layers tab and select the actual left-hand layer preview – instead of the right-hand mask preview – now:
Layer palette showing mask and preview

Zoom in a bit for the next stage – the image should look like this:
Masked preview

The anti-aliassing is now using alpha blending, but the pixels being blended are still much lighter than the logo itself – so it will still not work properly against different background colours. This is now easily fixed though – select the name like so:
Select the name in the logo

Then select the text colour, choose a large flat paintbrush, and paint over the whole logo. The edges should darken to the text colour, like this:
Name, after colouring in

The name will now blend properly, look a little crisper around the edges, and we have also painted over all the JPEG artefacts to create solid colour – bonus! Next we do the same to the graduation on the right:
Graduation, after colouring in

Step 5 – Export as PNG-24

We now have a crisper cleaner version of the logo. All that remains is to export in a useful format which will actually preserve that alpha blending – which has to be PNG-24. File menu > Save For Web > PNG-24, with transparency. Voila:
The final PNG

For most of my day-to-day purposes, this is “good enough” – though obviously for full high resolution print work, you’re going to have to hassle their marketing department for a vector!

Cameron says “you’re all tw*ts”

// July 29th, 2009 // No Comments » // Creative

David Cameron, leader of the UK Conservative party and future British Prime Minister (bar any serious upsets), tickled my fancy today by declaring (live on radio) that there’s a danger that Twitter users may end up being twats.  Inspired for possibly the first time by Tory policy, I kicked out this t-shirt design:

David Cameron MP says 'you're alltwats' to Twitter users

If you’re not sure what a twat is, the Times says it is a “vulgar synonym for the human vagina”.  Conservative central office’s PR bunnies claim it is technically not a swear word, which is nice. Twats.

I’m in the process of kicking Neil @ Ninja Zoo so I can actually make it available as a t-shirt – sadly his sign-up script appears to have got a bit messed up…