How to be a graphic designer

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What you’ll need: at least 2 monitors, Adobe creative suite

Songlist: anything by Bauhaus, Written in Reverse by Spoon

Further reading: um, a graphic novel? No wait, something about graphic design.

McKayla Maroney is not impressed with this logo.

Ok, last post about the Olympics. I swear.

Now, were you surprised at seeing an image as horrifically ugly as the logo above in a post about graphic design? I don’t know a whole lot about graphic design, so I didn’t follow the unveiling of the 2012 London Olympic logo or the subsequent typeface associated with it, and thus wasn’t aware of the outrage that predated my own. Because, for all my love of the Olympics, and for the million hours I spent watching TV over the past 2 weeks, I just could not get over that horrible, clunky, graceless font. (Last time I checked, the Olympics are not exactly a celebration of clunkiness).

Unfortunately, I didn’t rally any of my fellow Olympics-watchers to my cause:

“Isn’t the typography awful?”


“I mean, seriously, doesn’t it just make you angry?”

“Shh, the girls are hitting the ball now.”

To console myself, I tried outlining a logo of my own, and quickly noticed that the first two letters of the host city’s name are quite similar to the current year. With a little work, something interesting could be done with that similarity. My own attempts weren’t great, but you’ll see what I mean in the following logo, created by British graphic designer Richard Voysey:

Ahhh, that’s more like it

I felt vindicated both by the Brits’ selection of Mr. Voysey’s design as the “favourite alternative logo” of the games, as well as this design blog’s list of the 8 worst fonts in the world. The London Olympics typeface, called 2012 Headline, ranks #1, worse than Papyrus, worse than Comic Sans (which didn’t even make the list). It can’t get any worse.

But I don’t just want to be one of those Debbie-downer-negative-Nancy complainers. I’ve become much more interested in graphic design over the last year or so, after a) reading blogs that frequently link to lovely infographics* and typefaces and b) having to do very basic graphic design myself for one of my jobs. On Saturday I lugged home 5 enormous history-of-graphic-design books from the library, and I mean to make a serious dent in them. At least by leafing through the pretty pictures.

Look out, world.

*The best infographics I’ve seen are by Nicholas Felton, who produces his annual Feltron report, and Warby Parker’s annual report. Here’s a sample of Nicholas Felton’s work:

Data done right.

Happily ever after

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The closing ceremonies of the Olympics are almost unbearably sad to me. Unlike the opening ceremonies when everyone dreams of winning a medal–realistically or not–the closing ceremonies are defined by the victories and defeats of the past 2 weeks. But whether or not they got the gold–and the majority of them didn’t–these athletes will be retelling their stories for the rest of their lives.

As I said to friends on Friday night, I feel so bad for most of these athletes who will spend the next 60 years wishing they’d gotten the gold medal. One friend responded, yeah, and we get to spend 80 years wishing we’d gotten a gold. Touché. Psychologically, however, it’s hardest on silver medalists. While bronze medalists are generally happy just to be on the podium, and non-medalists are generally happy to even be a part of the Olympics, silver medalists are those who missed out by a thousandth of a point or a thousandth of a second. Just ask Lashinda Demus, American hurdler who vowed to never quit until she bumped up her silver status to gold, or McKayla Maroney, whose sour expression on the second-tier silver podium spawned the meme McKayla is not impressed.

Not impressed.

And for those who did get the gold? What happens after the end of the fairy tale? What will Michael Phelps and Misty May Treanor do, for goodness sake, without swimming or beach volleyball?

The second half of the musical Into the Woods wonders what happens after “happily ever after,” and the answer is not a rosy picture. The show ends with the Children Will Listen, a song which cautions that wishes do come true, but “sometimes the spell may last / past what you may see / and turn against you.”

Hopefully that won’t be the case for the Olympians now returning to their home countries. Because, even if McKayla isn’t, we are certainly impressed with our fairy tale heroes and heroines, and hope that “happily ever after” really can come true.

The Olympic fairy tale

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More confessions: I love the Olympics. I love them a lot. I get surprisingly emotional during sports that I ordinarily don’t pay attention to. Heck, I even get emotional while watching Olympic-themed commercials.

It’s only day 2 of the games, but already dreams are coming true and dreams are being crushed. After Michael Phelps’s fairy-tale success in Beijing, so far London has only brought disappointment. And after the huge hype around gymnast Jordyn Wieber, today she failed to qualify for the all-around competition. But in their tragedies lies the potential for others’ fairy tale endings to materialize. So far in London there hasn’t been that one moment that will stand out in the record books, but moments from previous Olympic will remain in our memories forever. And, lest we forget, there’s always Morgan Freeman to make the games feel just a little more dreamlike:

The flamenco trend

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A friend of my parents whom I met recently asked if interest in flamenco was on the rise in the United States. I said I wasn’t sure–enrollment seems fairly steady at my flamenco school (some people have been dancing at this studio for decades and there is no overwhelming influx of new dancers)–but that I wouldn’t be surprised if certain events had increased its prominence around the world, such as Franco’s death in 1975 (he was a staunch opponent to Spain’s unique cultures) and the opening ceremonies for Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics in which famed dancer Cristina Hoyos performed:

This past summer while taking flamenco lessons at Carmen de las Cuevas in Granada, I was astonished by the range of countries represented at the school. The group of people I spent the most time with were from Germany, France, Holland, Finland, Iceland, and Spain, but I also met people from Russia, the Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, Mexico, South Africa, Norway, and on and on. I was the only American. For an art form that is so closely tied to one very specific region of the world, it was strange to realize how far its influence has spread. So perhaps my parents’ friend was right to believe that flamenco is far more popular now than ever before. It does show up in unexpected places, like in the following music video by Iron and Wine. I never would have joined Iron and Wine’s folksy music with flamenco, but it fits beautifully:

Your national anthem is playing, you’re on the podium

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So many ways to be awesome!  Flying like a ski jumper, dominating the half-pipe like Shaun White, reenacting the miracle on ice.  What would you do?

How to be an Olympic bobsledder

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The Swiss Bobsled team from Davos, 1910

What you’ll need: a regulation-sized bobsled, a Caribbean nation with lax citizenship rules that desperately desires Olympic representation

Songlist: Ice Ice Baby by Vanilla Ice, The Gold Medal by the Donnas

Further Reading: Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris

In 2002, I fell in love with Apolo Anton Ohno.  Something about that soul patch set my teenaged heart ablaze.  The best way to catch his attention, I decided, was to medal in the 2006 Olympics.  The only problem: I’ve never been very good at sports.

While I watched yet another short-track speed skating event, despair sinking in, Bob Costas announced my ticket to fame (and Apolo’s heart).  Women’s two-person bobsledding would be an exhibition sport in 2006.  I told my friend Hilary about it, and she was in.  As an exhibition sport, we figured the competition wouldn’t be as fierce and if we trained really hard, we were sure to have a good chance.  Of course, we were busy high-schoolers at that point living in a state that specializes in winter but has a serious lack of 1300 meter-long vertical iced tracks.

Time passed without any further research into how we could become bobsled superstars, and when the 2006 Olympics rolled around I was sipping margaritas on a beach in Mexico.  Hope seemed to be lost.  But then Apolo reappeared on television a year later on a much different kind of stage and I switched my career focus.  Next week: how to be a ballroom dancer!