Friday, January 25, 2008
Graphic design principles

Just published my first post about graphic design for developers:


If you like the series (all future posts will include illustrations), you can recommend it to friends. I hope I can express ideas clearly so that others can learn something useful or interesting. Time will tell.
Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm letting my beard grow. It began between Christmas and New Year's. I'm working as a contractor at Microsoft. I asked another bearded fellow as we walked to the elevators whether he thought having a beard provided extra warmth in the winter. He emphatically answered yes. These Microsoft folks are generally sharp and knowledgeable, but I was skeptical and asked how he knew it. "Because it's uncomfortably warm in the summer," he replied.

My first 30 years were spent in Southern California, so I need to remind myself to be careful in winter. A mantra I'm repeating silently with each four footsteps on cold days is WATCH OUT FOR ICE. WATCH OUT FOR ICE. WATCH OUT FOR ICE...
Friday, January 18, 2008
Both Thumbs Up!

I'm going to pass this tip on to Ebert and Roeper. I think they should have a new category for movie reviews: Both Thumbs Up. This would be an indication of a movie they think the average viewer would enjoy more than once.

There are few movies that the average person wants to watch more than once.  After all, we know what's going to happen.

As an English major, I thought one phrase explained concisely why we enjoy stage dramas or fictional literature.  Samuel Coleridge said we use a willing suspension of disbelief in order to go along with something we know is not real but an imitation, a caricature, of real social interaction. And this makes watching a movie a second time a real strain on our willingness to accept the portrayal of human interactivity as reality.

Usually, I find it's movies where the main character (the hero) is someone I can identify with.  Someone I like.  Someone I can picture myself being and reacting in a similar way to similar circumstances.

It's amazing to me how much is the same from the first dramatic and comedic plays enacted in ancient Greece.  You could still classify the vast majority of Hollywood movies under one of these two masks:


Aristotle wrote a little essay (treatise?)  called The Poetics where he described common features of dramatic tragedy.  It had to have a hero who was basically good but had a flaw -- a tragic weakness -- that led to his or her undoing.  To have a good person walking down the street hit by a meteor would not have any instructive value for the audience.  I think he said this was pathos.

And it's funny how the Greek chorus that commented on action happening onstage is still present in modern movies, where a sidekick might warn the main character "I don't know if that's such a good idea, Sheriff."

All that to say I kind of enjoyed Woody Allen's movie "Mighty Aphrodite".  It has echoes of all the Greek tragedy conventions set in Greek restaurants in New York City.  It's amazing that an actress as wholesome looking as Mira Sorvino is the child of Paul Sorvino, who played Paulie in the chillingly realistic movie Goodfellas (and was very believable as Juliet's father in Romeo + Juliet.  Maybe it was Romeo's father.).

But be aware that there are lots of women who hate Woody Allen.  Consider this before watching this movie on DVD or cable or satellite TV with your significant other.  Something about adopting a Korean orphan and ending his long-term relationship to be with her.  Just a word of warning.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Here is a Web page consisting of text.


Here is an illustration of a child.


Here is an airplane with a fish design (no special effects, BTW).


Here is a drawing (top hat? short Greek column?).


Adding a Gradient as a Design Element

A gradient can add visual interest. The Web page previously shown has just two colors: blue text on a white background.  By adding a gradient at the left side of the page, the page has more visual interest.


The gradient softens the previously monochromatic (one color) design. It acts as a kind of bridge that goes from dark blue (the text color) to white (the background color). The gradient also reinforces the page layout, acting as a vertical column that reinforces the invisible line formed by the left margin of the heading and text lines.

Using a Gradient to Simplify an Image

This was the photo I used as a basis for the illustration.


The piano and power cord distract from the main subject, so I replaced them with a background with a gradient that is brighter on the left and slightly darker to the right.

In this case, the gradient adds a visual hint that the objects are in a realistic space. A solid color background would make the illustration look flat.

Did you notice the gradient in the illustration before I described it?

The original picture of the airplane has a cloudy sky that competes for the viewer's attention, so I replaced it with a simple vertical gradient. This makes the plane more prominent. Addition by subtraction.

Using a Gradient to Give a 3-Dimensional Appearance

I added some rectangles with semicircles to the "side" of the cylinder and a rectangle  with white rectangular dot on the "top" of the cylinder of the geometric drawing shown earlier in this post.


These added rectangles represent indentations for gripping and turning the plastic knob. The rectangle on top of the knob indicates where the knob is pointing.

The effect is convincing because the gradients used on the plain shape shown earlier trick the eye into thinking the graphic represents a three-dimensional shape with light reflected due to its curvature.


We've seen how gradients can be used as an element in page layouts, as a background that adds power to an image by eliminating unnecessary details, and as a visual device that suggests three-dimensional space.

There's lots more to cover. I know I didn't give any how-to directions or even suggest what techniques were used. I'll cover all that and plenty more. Stay tuned.

Words about people and things and ideas that you might find useful, interesting and enjoyable.

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