Although I already wrote about it on the Wildfire Studios website, I wanted to write a quick shout out here on Word Pulo to announce a new venture I'm starting with my friend Adam Haworth from Britain. It's a podcast, and we're calling it Five More Things.
Five More Things is a weekly broadcast about the five things we think you should know about every week. We don't really have any rules about what we talk about, although since we're both geeks there's likely to be some tech talk, but we do try to limit it to things we both think are worth following up on and discussing.
Adam first approached me about it late last year, and I was in right away. This was the kind of podcast I'd thought about making before, and one I hadn't heard yet from the community. I always wanted to see somebody put it out, and sometimes, you have to release products yourself if you're not seeing them from other people.
The first episode is called Amazon Sent My Mother Porn. In it, we talk about everything from Flappy Birds and the new Microsoft CEO to a cool Kickstarter for creative people. Of course, the Super Bowl came up too. I've embedded it below, but would love it if you visited our website. Of course, you can also check us out on iTunes. I hope you like it!
Today is my birthday. I turn 23. For most people, I think, this little note would be one of celebration, a note that the past year has been stupendous and I carry nothing but hope for the next twelve months. Sometimes, I picture the people who write about that kind of thing as staggering drunks, dancing with a half-full bottle of champagne. In reality, I think birthdays, at their best, are more like this:
For me, birthdays are more a chance to reflect than they are to celebrate. My birthday falls close to Christmas and the New Year, which makes it doubly a chance to reflect, especially since so many of us already do during this season. It’s a lot of reflection to do at once, made all the more so by the fact that winter birthdays are notable not for a lack of gifts, but for the fact that so many friends disappear to warmer climates.
I don't wish they'd stay for my birthday alone; they deserve a warmer climate as much as anybody, but it's a fact. It’s not necessarily a lonely birthday, although like many people, I’ve had one or two of those, but it’s almost always a quiet day.
It’s exacerbated a little further because you get to hear songs like Auld Lang Syne on the radio a fair bit, asking “should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?” Not a bad song — an odd Christmas song though, to be sure — but it also adds to the contemplation.
So to the point: what have I done in the past year? I started a company. I finished school. I went on a lot of dates, and I spent a lot of time wreaking havoc. I sprung for a good gym membership. I made some new friends, lost old ones, and burned a few bridges. I’m taking my first vacation in two years. I saw a lot of movies, most of them terrible (anybody else think 2012 wasn't a good year for movies?).
And furthermore to the point: what will I do this year? You know, maybe I would have said that I want to turn a larger profit a couple days ago. I don’t know. But I think I’d like to go hiking. I need to go ice skating before the snow melts. I definitely want to wake up stupidly early so I can go fishing and really just sit and enjoy that time on the water. I want to take pictures of the horizon from the top of a hill during a sunset, which is probably worth doing every year. I want to ride a mountain bike on a real mountain, snowboard during a blizzard, and go camping in the sweltering summer heat. I want to find a piece of fiction that compels me to read and buy the nicest edition I can find of it, and maybe even get a cheap paperback copy for travelling too. I’d like to play more guitar. Maybe fall in love — I don’t want to get married yet or contemplate settling down, but really just experience the rush of it.
We're all people. We're all pretty similar. I don’t want to keep doing the same old things. Like everybody else, I want to try new things. Sometimes, life is better when we do the opposite. Because nobody wants to just survive. We want to live.
For now, I’ve survived another year. For that, I'm very grateful. Cheers.
I had one birthday where I treated myself to McDonald’s and talked with a homeless man for five minutes; apart from a short family visit (also five minutes), that was the most interaction I had all day with people. It wasn't a bad day — it’s just a strange time of year for a birthday. ↩
I don't remember the last time I got truly absorbed in a good fictional story; I'm always reading non-fiction these days. I also usually read on a Kindle, which is often great but just as often not as nice as the real deal. ↩
I was going to wait for the iPad mini with Retina. But then I played with one of these for a couple hours. I always regretted not reviewing my iPad mini after I got it, so this is my chance to make up for it.
The iPad Air comes in packaging that's identical to the packaging Apple has used since the iPad 2 in 2011. Even the front of the box uses the same perspective. With the iPad 2, Apple used this angle to show off how much thinner they had made the device. They did it again last year with the iPad mini.
This year, it's shocking on a whole other level. Again, Apple has shaved the iPad down. This time, it's as thin as a mini. Astonishingly thin. So thin that it's been given a new name. (Side note: Why is Air capitalized while mini is not? Consistency is supposed to be Apple's thing. So strange.)
I went with the white iPad this time. Up until now, I've never owned a white iPhone or iPad. But while iOS 6 was darker and looked much better with a black device, I think that's reversed with iOS 7. Going forward, I think white devices will look better. Unsure of the difference? Check out Matt Gemmell's comparison on Flickr. iOS 7 simply has a lot more white. For the first time, a white iPad or iPhone doesn't feel like a blatant marketing move to make everything pretty on Apple's website.
The only way to really appreciate what Apple has done is to compare the iPad Air to what came before. In terms of pure specs, those only tell part of the story. And it's nearly impossible to properly photograph the difference in a way that properly emphasizes it. This picture does it, because it's comparing the actual thickness of the old iPad with that of the Air, and not just comparing their edges.
The third-generation iPad, or the first one with a Retina display, had an extremely tapered edge. The reasons for this are two-fold: first of all, tapered edges hide the thickness of the device. You can see that the middle of the iPad is much thicker than the edge. So the old iPads generally appeared much thinner than they were. Secondly, a tapered edge creates a fun profile. Compare it to a Microsoft Surface tablet. Those pointed edges on the Surface are aggressive, and frankly, not comfortable to hold.
But the old iPad profile wasn't comfortable, at least not for very long. This is partially because of the tapered edges. The tapered edges hide the device's thickness, but they don't allow its weight to be evenly dispersed. So the old iPad was never truly balanced. The weight was right in the middle, which meant it felt heavy no matter which side you picked it up from.
The iPad Air has none of these problems. It's thin all the way across which a dramatically aggressive, nearly non-existent taper to the edge. It's more comfortable, though, because the iPad Air's weight is more evenly dispersed. So it feels much lighter than it is for the same reason that the old iPads felt much heavier than they were. Ergonomically, this thing is perfect.
Visually, it's just like the iPad mini. It has the same chamfered edges. The white model's edges act like a mirror. Just like before, the Apple logo on the back smudges more easily on the white model (where it's a mirror) and much less easily on the black model (where it feels more like plastic). I like the mirrored look of the white iPad a little more, but tastes can change with the seasons.
There are some other major benefits with going with this mini-inspired design. In my mind, there's two big ones. The first is that the plastic cellular strip is now white, instead of black. It matches the front of the device for the first time on a full-sized iPad.
The second major benefit is the size of the iPad relative to the Lightning connector. For the first time, these devices look like they match. Last year's fourth-generation with the Lightning charger looked hilarious; the Lightning cable was clearly designed for thin devices and didn't match that iPad at all. Here, there's a sense of symmetry that's been sorely lacking for the past year. It's a minor detail, but those minor details really add up.
Also, the anodized aluminum on the back of the iPad Air matches the aluminum colour of the MacBook Pros and Airs. They're not precisely the same colour, I don't think, but they're close enough that they look beautiful together. This white/silver colour combination has a lot going for it.
Of course, the big questions this year are all about whether or not you can hold it with one hand like you can the mini. You can. You can also thumb type in portrait, and if you have medium-sized hands like myself, you'll probably be able to do it quite comfortably.
Of course, you're not going to hold the iPad Air the same you'll hold the iPad mini. I balance the mini with my pinky, while I use the palm of my hand with the Air. It's not as comfortable, but even the iPad mini wasn't as comfortable as people like to pretend it is for one-handed use. Eventually, I'd resort to holding it with two hands, the way I'd hold a paperback. The iPad Air is similar in that sense.
The iPad mini and iPad Air aren't too far apart in size anymore, but I think the Air has a better screen size. I found myself wishing for two things with my mini: buttons that didn't look squished and a Retina screen. While the mini now has the latter, it can never have the former. Both screens are the same resolution, so a perfectly-sized button on a 10" screen is always going to be too small on the 8" screen.
The same thing applies with typography. If you've ever read anything on an iPad mini and thought the text was a little small, there's no way the bump in resolution is going to fix that. The type will still be set small. The iPad Air is exactly the right size for my needs.
Finally, and this is what swayed me back to using the 10" iPad after eleven months with a mini: the size of almost every button and typeface on the mini is nearly identical, proportionately, to the iPhone screen. They're very similar experiences, and the argument that iPads are basically large iPhones is never going to be more true than it is with the mini. Beyond that, the mini doesn't fit in any of my pant, jacket, or sweater pockets. (It does fit in a paperback-sized slot on my favourite camera bag, but that's a different dilemma altogether.) I might be wearing tight, form-fitting clothes, but in the past year, I've yet to see anybody whip an iPad mini out of their pocket. It's just not practical, and it's a compromise in favour of an inadequately small screen.
The only relevant concern then, to me, is weight. The iPad Air properly displaces weight, as I said earlier, so it effectively doesn't feel much heavier than the mini. Don't get me wrong: it is, and eventually you will notice. For most of us, though, unless we're reading for hours at a time, the iPad Air is going to be more than light enough.
The iPad Air's also got the advantage of having more hardware space to play with. Its speakers are larger, which make a tremendous difference in sound. For the first time, they're stereo speakers. They sound a million times better than the old full-sized iPads, and much less tinny than my iPad mini. Voices are richer, which makes TED Talks — my most frequently-watched detours on an iPad — sound very rich. Briefly testing The Avengers revealed some superior dynamics compared to the mini as well.
Finally, the iPad Air's additional space should allow it to stay cooler for longer than the mini. So it's a win-win for people who use it to watch video, listen to music, or even make movies. (And yes, thanks to the new A7 chip and 64-bit computing power, the iPad Air is shockingly fast. Everything you've heard is true. This thing loads apps faster than my muscle memory has trained me to react.)
To appreciate how thin the iPad Air is and how brilliant Apple's engineering team must be, you have to view it next to other products. It's only a hair thicker (0.1mm) than last year's iPad mini. (To accommodate the Retina display, this year's iPad mini becomes a little thicker). Of course, it's obviously thinner than the iPad 3, but that iPad's smart design still makes it appear thinner than the Nexus 7. In fact, the Nexus 7 looks almost twice as thick at first glance. Even my Kindle is thicker than the iPad Air, and not by a trivial amount. My iPhone 5 is actually thicker than the iPad Air by 0.1mm (I had to check the stats to be sure), and the Nexus 4 isn't a match at all.
Without a doubt, even more so than last year's iPad mini, this year's iPads are incredible engineering feats. The only company Apple is competing with right now is itself.
There are some things that haven't changed with the iPad Air, though. The obvious is the screen: it still has the same Retina resolution that it's had for a year and a half. This is a great display. I've heard differing reports on its colour accuracy, thanks to an odd separation between the glass and the LCD. My vision is 20/20 and my colour accuracy is at 99% or so, and I think it looks great. I think the MacBook Pro with Retina display is still the finest display on the market, but the iPad's is as good today as it was on my iPad 3.
That being said, I take some issue with the claim that the human eye can't differentiate pixels on the iPad's Retina display. While I can't see pixels on my MacBook Pro or iPhone 5, I can pretty easily spot them on the iPad Air. I thought I could see them on my iPad 3 as well when I was using that ever day, but iOS 7's heavy use of the thin Helvetica Neue Light and Ultra Family of fonts makes it clear that I was right. It's especially noticeable for me on things like a lower-case e. The bottom line? The display is great, but I'd love to see another uptick in resolution in the next couple years.
Finally, the new iPads don't have Touch ID, the new fingerprint sensor in the iPhone 5S. Honestly, I don't really care, but there's no doubt they'll appear in next year's iPads.
The iPad Air also takes pictures. I took this one from a friend's apartment. I did not edit it. While I don't take many pictures with my iPad (read: this was the first picture I've ever taken with an iPad), it's clearly going to do just fine in a pinch. Let's move along.
After much searching (all my local resellers were sold out and I had to go to an Apple Store in another city), I was finally able to find a Smart Cover. The long and short of it is pretty simple: the mechanical hinge from the old full-sized Smart Covers are gone, and the iPad Air's Smart Cover has a plastic magnetic hinge that's going to be much gentler on your iPad than before. In other words, yes, it's just like the iPad mini's.
Disappointingly, Apple does not make these in leather. I think the red and blue polyurethane colours are the only ones worth considering, but the red looks particular nice. Against the white, you end up with a mid-century Mad Men -esque vibe. I like it.
Actually, I like it a lot more than the mini's Smart Cover. The Smart Cover for the iPad mini was very flimsy and uncomfortable, and I ended up taking it off every time I picked my mini up, thus making it little more than a screen cover. The iPad Air Smart Cover is much more durable and seems to be much firmer. The difference is subtle, but it makes all the difference while typing up a few emails.
If you're wondering, the iPad Air is just slightly too heavy with the Smart Cover on. I take off the Smart Cover if I'm not using it to help me type or balance the iPad.
This time around, I think Apple has made, bar none, the best tablets available on the market. The iPad Air is undoubtedly the best 10" tablet I've had the pleasure of using, and the iPad mini has such a high pixel density that it could be the best-looking tablet screen on the planet.
So the real question is: should you buy an iPad Air over the mini? There's no difference in specs, so the only real differences are weight and screen size. for me, I prefer the larger screen size for most things. If I want to read a book, a Kindle is still better for that anyway (or, hey, I could just read a real paper book).
Apple gets better at making smartphones and tablets every year. With the iPad Air, this finally feels like an iPad that's "good enough," in the same sense that the iPhone 5 was the first iPhone that really felt "good enough" for many of us. It perfects Apple's song-and-dance of hardware and software working together. Without a doubt, it's the best full-sized tablet Apple's ever made, and I don't the competitors are even close. I love it.
There's nothing worse than having a time crunch on creative work. The process takes time. From an idea's conception to the finished product, what seems like a simple task can take hundreds of hours. It gets worse when ideas are few and far between. With the launch of Wildfire Studios, in order to fit the company's launch into some free time away from the firm's regular duties, I had a time crunch of two weeks.
That's two weeks to design a logo, build a website that's responsive on every modern computing device, and write all the copy on the site. Even little decisions, like what typography to build the brand on, had to be made in a very short period of time. In other words, it was a very busy two weeks. I tried something new with it and documented the majority of the visual work on my Instagram account, which has been a fun experiment in open and honest design (one which I plan on continuing with my other projects). In that spirit, I wanted to walk you through the creative process in a longer form.
First of all, I have a couple confessions to make. I have been operating this business under the Wildfire Studios name for a few months now. I spent almost five months contemplating the name for the business, and nearly as long after that just sitting on this domain name. I also need to confess that I didn't hand code this site. The day I sat down to start working on the site's design, Squarespace announced Forte, the template I'm using as a backbone. I couldn't resist. I think it's lovely.
The time saved designing and coding a website (which would have put me way behind schedule) was better spent working on the logo for me. I spent more time on the logo than I did anything else, simply because I wanted a solution that was transferrable across many platforms — digital, print, and even watermarked photo portfolios were considered. All I knew was that I wanted to incorporate W.F.S., my acronym for the studio.
I spent almost a full week doodling different logo designs, both in a Moleskine portfolio and in the Paper app on my iPad. I shared a couple pictures of this process on Instagram, but no picture can do justice to the amount of conceptual work I ended up doing. I filled more pages of my Moleskine portfolio book than I'd care to admit. The answer came from doodling on the iPad one night, when i started messing with circles and watercolours. All of a sudden, I had the basic layout.
Every single designer I know has a very different process. Some of them like to wireframe every detail before they turn on a computer. I like to wireframe and doodle until I come up with a concept I like. After that, I find my creative process is a lot more fun on the computer. Often, I find I'm inspired by happy accidents. Sometimes, it's easier to be informed by the limitations of digital.
The logo quickly reminded me of the limitations of the digital world. The problem was that I couldn't find a font that had the curved f like the one I had drawn, and I started resorting to other options. I even tried creating my own letter f but even after that, I was disappointed by the results. Sometimes, a finished product looks much worse than a doodle.
After going back to the drawing board, I ended up using a font called Manteka. I was a little nervous about it, since it was free, but for the most part I was very pleased. I'm not a fan of the S, so if you're wondering what font I used for that letter in the logo, it's Memphis Std Medium. It took a little fiddling to make sure everything looked properly balanced in the circle, which is one of the reasons the F in the logo is backwards, but I think it turned out really well. This is one of those cases where the limitations of digital typography really aided the design.
Setting up the lettering in the logo ended up taking a couple days and well over 100 different combinations of fonts. Setting them up in a white circle was easy, and I really like how changing the circle's transparency allows it to work well within multiple mediums. The simple "WFS" logo works well in print, as a watermark on a photo, and even in black and white.
But for the brand's purposes, I wanted something a little more colourful. I wanted something that revealed my interests. The watercolours did that for me. That sounds like a bit of an odd design decision — after all, for most people, paint splatter is never going to be more than dolloped flicks of the wrist. But for me, it was a mission statement.
Here's the thing: I love taking pictures. I can't believe people will pay me to go to their weddings with cameras. I love writing, and I'm always shocked people are willing to pay to have me put words to paper. Design is a passion of mine, and I'm thrilled whenever somebody needs my expertise. But my favourite thing in the world is brand development. I love how it presents the opportunity to bring my photography, copy, and design skills together. I love how much focus there is on storytelling in branding. It's a dream-come-true sort of task for me.
And every business, including my own, starts as a blank canvas.
So the paint splatter was the story of brand development itself. At the risk of sounding very pretentious, watercolours, all of them blending together, were symbolic of creative work to me. I thought it was great.
It turns out that it's just a pain in the butt to get that to look right. The process of applying watercolours on top of one another and layering them took over a week. Initially, the design was a little lop-sided in a couple different directions. Later, I think I reacted a little too strongly in the opposite direction.
Now that it's all said and done, I can tell you I have seventeen different watercolour designs on my hard drive right now. I went through a lot of variations, often getting too abstract or too off-balanced. I feel I struck a nice middle ground with my current design. Like most of this site, I was working on it until six in the morning the night before I launched the business.
Part of what happens when you have two weeks to design and develop a brand identity is an extreme lack of sleep. But sometimes, that sleep results in accidental luck. In a moment of total idiocy, I mistakenly used the Paint Bucket tool in my design program and accidentally dumped a huge coat of red all over the background layer. Thanks to the way I was diffusing light through all the watercolours, I ended up with the effect you'll notice on all the different logo variants and colours as you peruse my branding. I got lucky here: There's enough variations for this blog, the About page, business cards, and any print advertising I'll ever need done.
In other words, designing on very little sleep has its advantages.
There's one final aspect I wanted to talk about. A lot of work went into this site, but I imagine most of it is obvious. The copy didn't write itself, and somebody had to put together an assortment of appropriate photos. One thing that isn't obvious, though, is the choices people make behind typography.
A lot of businesses like to pretend that their typography choices are secrets, but I don't see the point. Font geeks will recognize the fonts I'm using right away. But for those of you who aren't font geeks, I'll let you in on a few secrets.
The first is that W is a very difficult letter, especially in headings or titles. Not a lot of fonts have a great capital W, which makes sense if you think about it. It's both an ugly letter and a difficult one. Most w's look like somebody took two v's and stuck them together. The next time you're writing yourself a note, take a look at the way you write the W. I'd wager a guess it's different than the way the letter appears on this page. So that was a problem.
Another problem was that it's hard to choose fonts that look good without choosing boring fonts. Letters haven't changed much recently, so there isn't a lot of room to innovate in this field. As a designer, I run the risk of being either too boring or too absurd every time I select a font.
For the firm's title, I'm using Futura PT, which is a little old-fashioned. But it's geometrical, which I really like. Again, check out that W. Futura PT has what's called an overshoot, which means that the middle of the letter is a little higher than either end of it. I think the effect is subtle, but very nice.
For the headings, I'm using JAF Facit right now. It's well-balanced and I think it looks good, and it's not as typical or humdrum as Helvetica. It also renders really well on every computer in the world, which is a rarity for a font on the Internet. In other words, one of the main reasons I'm using it is because I know it looks good on Windows computers.
Finally, I'm using FF Tisa Pro for the body text right now. I like how Tisa reads well on all the devices I own, but I'm also considering implementing Lapture in the next couple days. Both are very lovely fonts. I don't think I could go wrong with either of them.
Playing with typography is a geeky pastime of mine, and with the exception of the logo, I'm certain you can expect me to make changes to this site semi-regularly in the future. I've got my eye on a few different heading fonts I'm considering, like Stratum. That being said, I haven't quite decided what fonts really reinforce Wildfire Studios as a brand yet.
How long did I spend deciding on these three fonts for Wildfire Studios? Eleven days. If you do the math, that's 3.6 days of thought for each font choice, which means I spent 90 hours thinking about each selection I made. You might tell me that's impossible; after all, I at the very least slept for many of those hours. But I don't think you understand: I was literally dreaming about typography.
Two Weeks Later
Today is precisely two weeks after I started my journey. In those two weeks, I wrote every word on every page of this site. I designed a logo. I experimented with over 100 fonts. I rewrote the About page twelve times and I rewrote my overview about my writing twenty-seven times. I kept track of these things because I've been getting only five hours of sleep (or less) every night, and my eyes feel like they're carrying bricks.
If you want my advice, it's very simple: don't design and develop a brand identity within two weeks. Give yourself much more time than that, and if you're working for a client, make sure you're paid well. These decisions are not made easily, and it will take much longer to do this than you think.
I do have one other very important piece of advice. Designing on a timeline, or doing anything on a timeline really, can be dangerous. The mentality is to ship a product as soon as possible — especially in the digital age, where it's easy to "patch it later." This is dangerous thinking. First of all, it means your initial product or design is going to be subpar, which is damaging to any brand's overall reputation. Trust has to be earned, and it's not just about "fixing it later." Second of all, bad design begins because people make bad, compromised choices under pressure. Bad design affects a lot of people, including the industry itself. I'm not entirely perfect in this regard; my indecisiveness regarding my brand's typography is one major holdout decision that I haven't made yet.
So what's my advice? Take your time, doodle, and spend as much time as you can staring out the window and daydreaming. Don't rush, and take pride in what you do. That's the only way to develop a brand identity.