Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008 is a publication that's been dropping through letter boxes over the last few days.
Russell and I thought it would be interesting to take some stuff from the internet and print it in a newspaper format. Words as well as pictures. Like a Daily Me, but slower. When we discovered that most newspaper printers will let you do a short run on their press (this was exactly the same spec as the News Of The World) we decided to have some fun.
We only printed 1,000 and they're all individually hand numbered.
In this post I'd like to elaborate on the design of it and explain some things I learned during the process.
From the outset there were two things I wanted to avoid.
Firstly I wanted to avoid a pastiche of a newspaper, complete with a crossword and a weather section. I hate stuff like that.
Secondly I wanted to avoid looking it like a newspaper that a designer had been let loose on. Graphics every-fucking-where. Something you might see from a bad brand. There's one out at the moment from Lush that betrays the format. Horrible and ugly.
But I wanted to make use of the familiarity of the newspaper format and the vernacular.
It's notoriously hard to design something from a complete blank canvas. No house style, no corporate fonts, no brand colours, nothing. So I tried to make life easy for myself wherever possible. We call this reducing the enemies. To me this is what good design is about, reducing the enemies.
The brief was to be able to read it in bed without glasses on. So I wanted the type to biggish and nice and clear. No Ray Gun typography around here. You remember, readable.
I looked around for typographic styles I liked. In the ideal world it would be law that all books have to state what font they're set in on the inside cover. In reality this doesn't happen much. Much less than you imagine. Even design books don't say very often. I settled on Plantin because that's what Monocle use. 9 on 11. Simple, classic and reliable.
I chose a 5 column grid becuase that seems to be the grid used by most good looking European newspapers these days. Although I was tempted by Hayman and Scher's 6 column Khaleej Times.
I wanted one type style across the whole paper for body copy, but I wanted to have some fun with the headlines. On most of these I've tried to add a little typographic humour or cute reference (which is kind of why I chose Monocle's Plantin for the body copy).
For example the headline for Mad Men: Pitch Perfect is set in Futura because that was one of the only fonts around at the time the series was set. (Remember the furore last year when it was pointed out that most of the fonts used in the programme wouldn't have existed at the time?). I set the headline for Matt Jones' article in the Dopplr font, and so on.
The cover is set in Gotham, because that was the font used throughout the Obama campaign and obviously the font of last year. It's in 96pt becuase that was the super size the NYT used when Obama got elected. It folds over to be read as two halves because Russell was speaking at a Guardian conference and I thought it would look cool if he held up the Written On The Internet 2008 half.
I very quickly realised how important ads are to a newspaper. And not just for monetary reasons. They usefully fill all those awkward little spaces where there's no text. Without them the document feels dull and lifeless. Unpunctuated like a copy of Ulysses. Too much text. A lot of the posts had pictures, but where they didn't we used pictures from Flickr or just white space. Again I wanted it to be like a newspaper, without pastiching a newspaper.
Similarly the bit at the top looked very naked without a running header. The printer requires each page to have a folio so I added a keyline and some of our favourite Tweets from the year. It felt better with that furniture.
This Tweet is a quote taken from Michael Bierut's book. It sits above his article.
We didn't edit any posts at all. So they're full of typos and a lot of the columns end in strange places. This is an odd phenomenon. In a real publication the Sub Editor would shout for a few less (or more) words to make it fit just right. No sub editing here. But as Jeremy points out "The result is a tidy but raw blog-like feel that deals with presentation in a very matter-of-fact manner." That's more eloquent than I could have put it, but that's exactly what I was going for.
Given the chance to design something however you want, you've got to have a little fun haven't you? So I made a small list of things I'd like to see. Some great big dirty Helvetica is always a winner.
I wondered what Emigre's Mrs Eaves would feel like in a more humble, less designery scenario. Looks great if you ask me.
All those Mars Phoenix Twitters were crying out to be printed. I added a few little extras in here that no-one has spotted yet.
A great big full bleed picture. Unfortunately you can't do full bleed, but this is good enough. I wanted this to be like a pull out poster.
And I wanted some nice 100/100 red. We took everyone's content without asking, which we were terribly worried about. We put a big disclaimer in there (and sorry again if you're reading this and you're angry with us) and we tried to make sure authors got copies before anyone else (again sorry if you haven't got one yet, drop me a line and I'll chase that up.) But we obviously needed a way a crediting people. So I designed this little device. This isn't the stuff of design legend, but it took a while to get right and it sort of holds the whole thing together. I deliberately only used two colours (reducing the enemies again) so the red added some much needed vibrancy.
The baseline grid. Oh yes, the baseline grid. Let's be honest this is the sort of thing you know you need to know about. And you do know about, you know, sort of. But. Do you really know about it? Of course you do if you work on a magazine or a newspaper, but when was the last time you used one?
I almost re-taught myself how to use a baseline grid. I certainly re-read all about it and it pretty much saved my life.
"Last night a Baseline Grid saved my life". Seriously, it's so important and so useful for a project like this. All that is obvious but I wanted to restate it.
One last thing. When you print one of these you have to go and see it being printed. For all us sufferers of the Design Disease, that's like manna from heaven. Watch.
Good eh? There are loads more pictures in this Flickr set. There's lots more I could say. But you're probably all bored now, so you'll have to catch me in the pub.
People seem to like it. It's appearing all over Flickr. Lots of nice people have described it as beautiful which is more praise than I could have hoped for. I particularly like Jim Coudal's "whip smart and beautiful". I'm very pleased with that.
I should also thank Alex who helped us with a few speads.
So, the Really Interesting Group is the new thing I'm a partner in.
It's an experimental organisational structure, aptly described by Matt from Channel 4 as doing "projects for fun, money, or both". I say experimental as we're trying to make the structure different from a typical creative start up limited company, but that's for another time.
* Title borrowed from Moleitau.