Thursday, July 30, 2009


I think it’d be most accurate to say that the designers at Coca Cola “got it right” the first time through. Also, their team should be credited, through the years, for having made the decision to stick with the original design. It’s legible and perhaps a bit dated but (I hate to say it) unmistakably that cold, fizzy beverage for a hot summer day... we all turned 21 and drank beer instead, but that’s a different discussion. I remember the Pepsi logos from ’91 and on and feel like they’ve been getting worse with each new design. The 1905 Pepsi looks like a fun bike ride, which is great, but far more ‘old-timey’ than anything else on the chart, and they only kept it for a year before pandering to some cheap, mindless and grammatically incorrect gimmick. (“Drink Pepsi: Cola Delicious” Really?)

There aren’t many traces of when my dad was a student of graphic design — a few charcoal sketches of my oldest brother as a baby, the plans we draw out for home projects and some studies of the timeless Coca-Cola bottle (glass).

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Dordt Alumni in Design: David Ver Meer

Editor — This month we asked Dave Ver Meer to talk about his design work since graduating from Dordt in 2005. As you’ll see Ver Meer is a versatile designer. We want to thank Dave, who writes:

I work at Alpha Omega Publications (AOP), a company in Rock Rapids, Iowa that produces homeschool and Christian school curriculum for grades PreK–12 with paper-based and online-based options. While working at AOP I’ve been blessed to have all the opportunities I could ask for to work on different types of projects and grow as a designer. About a year ago, I was promoted to a senior designer position where I help manage and give art direction to our junior designers. The types of projects I’ve done include the following: product/dvd/multimedia packaging, tradeshow booths, book covers, catalogs, magazine ads, brand identities, brochures, postcards, and e-mails.

In the past few months, I’ve started transitioning from print into web design and in the future most of the work I do will be web design related. A typical week for me lately involves giving art direction to the other designers and designing websites. AOP’s marketing department functions similar to an in-house ad agency. We are staffed with project managers, copy writers, editors, designers, and developers within our group. Many of the projects we do are started internally within the marketing department, but we also do projects for and service all the different departments and divisions within AOP.

I’ve picked out a small sampling of the work I’ve done. A recent magazine ad I did was for AOP’s annual spring sale that they have every April and May. The goals of the ad were to promote awareness of the sale and, most importantly, to have the readers act on the ad by purchasing their homeschool curriculum early to get the best savings. To test the ad, we sent similar variations of the ad out to a group of beta testers we have and received over 400 responses. Overall, the responses was very positive, and it gave us insight into how our customers reacted to the ad design and concept.

The Daily Focus book is a compilation of devotionals for each day of the year. It’s for both homeschool mothers and fathers, but we wanted to appeal primarily to mothers. I choose cooler colors that serve to help draw attention to the warmer colored spots in the design and give a peaceful feel to the cover. I also added subtle floral elements into the design and used a picture on the cover that would draw readers into the design.

The branding identity for GPS AgSystems was a freelance project for a local Trimble dealer that sells and provides precision equipment to farmers. I wanted the logo to be organic in form and also communicate the precision and triangulation aspect of the technology that allows for global positioning. For supporting design elements I choose to use intersecting oval shapes with smaller circles on them to abstractly illustrate orbiting satellites. The brown shapes at the bottom of the business card and letterhead serve to both ground the design and symbolize the farmland.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

attn: Logo Contest

Queries and entries to Alvin Shim at
Subject line: “Logo.”

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

design aficionados

Funny Face (50th anniversary edition DVD package design)

Today, 07.25.09, a regular feature by Eric Baker for Design Observer displayed a series of mid-twentieth century graphic-design for “Today’s” images. The very first image, of a cover, for Harper’s Bazaar reminded me of a post I had waiting-in-the-wings and now it seems timely.

Per my request, Dordt’s library ordered the Funny Face, DVD, a 1957 vintage musical/visual film made in VistaVision Technicolor, which results in a strikingly vibrant, and art directed movie. Leonard Gershe was the writer and Stanley Donen directed the film, which starred Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. However, the main reason I thought it was important to have it in the library is because the lead character, a fashion photographer played by Astaire, is somewhat based on photographer Richard Avedon (1923–2004). The opening title sequence was composed, frame-by-frame, by Avedon who was a consultant for the film—he along with Bill Avery photographed all of the stills.

The film highlights Avedon’s affinity for photographing fashion models in action, full of energy, dexterity, movement, emotion, smiling, and laughing for the camera. A remarkable movie scene is when Hepburn’s character, a fashion model, descends an elegant staircase during a photo shoot. The scene seems to acknowledge, as homage, earlier artistic themes of painting the figure in motion of women descending a staircase. Perhaps this theme is best captured in twentieth-century cubist-futurist work of Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912. But, I was recently reminded of the theme again while at the Art Institute of Chicago—it reoccurs in Gerhard Richter’s painting, Woman Descending the Staircase (Frau die Treppe herabgehend), 1965.

The scene ends with a quick but insightful presentation of Avedon’s inventive color photography print process. Briefly working this sequence into the film is interesting.

Most Dordt art, design, and photo students are aware of Avedon’s very forthright black and white portraits photographed with a large-format 8x10 view camera on white backdrops (like those in the American West photo book). However, Avedon’s international acclaim came while working as chief photographer with Alexey Brodovitch, the art director for the fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar in the late 1940s to early 60s.

This is a fun movie for photo/design aficionados.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

a wider audience

The DC AIGA post about “Eugene Masselink” was recognized on 26 May in an interesting blog: PrairieMod. The piece is titled, Masselink’s Design Mastery.

Also, on 26 May the post about René Clement’s exhibit at Dordt College Campus Center Art Gallery was published by

Additionally, our piece about Rural Minnesota Art Deco was “observed” 11 June by Design Observer’s, Michael Bierut.

Finally, our post about “the Farnsworth House” titled, Austere Transparency was mentioned, 9 July, by the home improvement blog:

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bucky Fuller: from grain bin house to dome house

I’m going by memory, but I once read or heard architect Philip Johnson, who while traveling through farm country, referred to the ubiquitous metal grain bins as “Bucky Fullers.”

Metal grain bins near Morris, Illinois.
Photograph copyright © 2009 David M. Versluis.

Dymaxion Deployment Unit (18-foot diameter), 1941. Diazotype, Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries.

This technical drawing illustrates Fuller’s concept to convert, Butler manufactured, grain bins into low-cost housing units/shelters called DDUs (Dymaxion Deployment Units). During World War II, the U.S. Military would transport, sometimes utilizing helicopters, these “units” for troops in isolated locations. Dymaxion is a neologism constructed from the words dynamic, maximum, and ion, which became a trademark for several Fuller projects. Perhaps the DDU was the precursor to the geodesic dome?

Recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago held the R. Buckminster (Bucky) Fuller (1895–1983) traveling retrospective exhibition, Starting with the Universe. The exhibition brochure states that Fuller was: “…one of the 20th century’s first truly interdisciplinary thinkers, explored a wide range of fields—including architecture, engineering, environmental science, mathematics, navigation, philosophy, and visual art—in his attempt to discover what one person could do to best serve the needs of humanity.” In addition, to disseminate his ideas, Fuller wrote more than twenty books.

Tetrahedra, Sphere and Geodesic Dome

In general, Fuller wanted people to find expression and realization in the space they inhabited and felt this was possible in the geodesic dome. Geodesic comes from the Greek—geo (earth) and daiesthai (to divide). The dome could be thought of as a reduction of architectural form to an engineering solution resulting in a universal structure that allows nature to coexist within it. The dome is also a perfect icon of faith in the machine, which Fuller believed could change the world. The possibilities of the dome or, rather, sphere are compelling because it has no limit to the freedom of uninterrupted interior space. Additionally, the essence of the sphere is utter simplicity and geometric perfection yet expresses infinite variety (the play of light, pattern, etc., but also the contradiction of lightness/strength in contrast to heaviness/weakness).

This is a short film clip about Buckminster Fuller’s dome home. In the clip Bucky is singing part of his ‘Rome Home to a Dome’ song.

Back in 1975 my brother, Steve, brought home a copy of the Last Whole Earth Catalog. What was most interesting, in that issue, was the detailed and illustrated article about the sustainable geodesic domes—I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to live in a dome. In fact, my excitement escalated because, at the same time, somebody about a mile from where I grew up had built a dome from a kit—just as Bucky Fuller did in Carbondale, Illinois in the 1960s.

Photograph of the dome house, near our old place, as it looks today. Copyright © 2009 David M. Versluis.

Wikipedia states the following about the Whole Earth Catalog: “Early editions reflected the considerable influence of Fuller, particularly his teachings about whole systems, synergetics, and efficiency or reducing waste.

Ironically, now with emphasis in architecture and ecology as pertaining to LEED certification Fuller’s ideas seem very current and relevant. However, I wonder about Fuller’s understanding of aesthetics within the context of scientific naturalism. This causes me to try and think past the old nature–freedom issues.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Strategy behind design and branding: a Sol Sender interview

Does your public have an accurate image of your products, information, services, people, and environment? During the last month a couple of students have sent messages asking for advice about brand and identity design because they have been offered freelance projects.

Since then I’ve thought about what is probably the best example of branding in most recent history—that is, the identity program for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. When Dordt College alumnus, Elbert Bakker was here last February, as a visiting designer, he asked me: “Are you familiar with the Obama campaign graphics,” and I said, “Yes, I am.” In fact, last fall, we helped canvass Sioux Center for Obama.

I’ve included a couple of movies of an interview with designer and design strategist, Sol Sender. Sender is credited with the Obama presidential campaign symbol. Actually, he was the principal of a team that designed the symbol.

What I also appreciate about Sender’s expertise is that he seems to allow for flexibility of the identity program and is not overly dogmatic with standards. An example of this, in the movie is Viral, when a public group becomes expressive and responds with baked cupcakes with the Obama symbol frosted on top—not exactly a pristine rendition of the symbol—but very effective and interactive.

The interview with Sender, one of the best design strategists, gives you a very good idea of how designers work. He provides insight about the design of the Obama symbol, which was a fresh, original, and effective branding strategy. I’d suggest that branding is the repetition of appropriate appearance, backed by solid performance and builds a positive reputation. When all your visual and verbal contacts are intelligent, coherent, and consistent, it becomes a memorable reputation.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

good type, bad type, stereotype

Photograph © copyright 2009 David M. Versluis

When driving past this charmingly naive advertising sign I’ve been intrigued by the emblematic illustration, cheerful typographic style and bold symmetrical composition. Then again, maybe it’s the wonderful juxtaposition and pun of the ‘rooster tail’ image with the word ‘cocktails’ that I enjoy. The sign stands as an anomaly, stoically alone, on the edge of a large soybean and corn field at the intersection of L14 blacktop and 160th Street—between Iowa Highways 3 and 10. Perhaps my interest for the antiquity of the sign is not a big deal, however, I wonder why it looks the way it does. Despite numerous bullet holes, from target practice, and attempts to bend it down, the sign still functions to advertise the Golden Pheasant Restaurant on Highway 3 just east of Remsen, Iowa.

Jo the owner, for the last eleven years, of the Golden Pheasant declares the business is ‘older than dirt’ and that it started as a ‘filling station’—she doesn’t seem to know how old the sign is. The restaurant is an example of twentieth century North American automotive culture. It’s about an individual business establishment that survived by changing from gas station to motor inn to roadside eatery.

Typical of many vintage advertising signs from the 1920s to 1950s this double-sided, baked-enamel metal sign was made to last a long time. While we don’t know for sure, I believe the exotic name of the Golden Pheasant was probably the namesake of a well-known wayside inn back east. The use of oriental simulation fonts were obviously selected because of the business name and derived from the imaginative qualities of the colorful Chinese pheasant. The sign displays 1930 to 1940s design elements and a refined brush script font that seems to convey friendliness—not tackiness or pretentiousness and also suggest a special menu—not standard food preparation. The copy line, ‘Fine Foods Cocktails’ utilizes a ‘yellow colored,’ ‘oriental’ brush script typography that conveys Asian, however; the Golden Pheasant is not a Chinese restaurant.

On the other hand, like watching an old Charlie Chan movie and noticing the stereotypes, I realize that today this sign is a typographic cliché—like an Asian accent translated as ‘chopstick’ fonts for Chinese restaurants in the old days.

So, graphic design students, be aware of typographic faux—be thoughtful.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

graphic design news

A dc aiga blog post entitled ‘What Does Compassionate Graphic Design Look Like?’ was recently featured on the Graphic Design News blog for 26 June 2009.

(end of post)

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

austere transparency (a follow-up)

The previous post resulted in a message from Design Observer (thanks to MB). It expands the discussion and I thought you would like to read more, for links — so here’s another post. I appreciated reading the article from the Design Observer Archive titled: Why History? Why Bother by David Cabianca. Mr. Cabianca teaches graphic design at York University in Toronto, Canada.

I enjoyed reading the responses to his short essay as well (some responses very forthright). I wonder how many others have tried to wrestle with an understanding, or responsibly, of the client / designer / icon relationship? Here's the essay:

In addition, here’s a link to the Farnsworth House flooding last September:

Also, a (somewhat fictional) play about building it:

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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Austere Transparency

The Farnsworth House (1951), southeast elevation; Plano, Illinois; architect, Mies van der Rohe. Photograph taken about fifteen feet from the Fox River bank. Photograph courtesy of David Versluis, 2009.

View from the porch looking southeast through the entry doors to the living room. Photograph courtesy of David Versluis, 2009

The Farnsworth House is a self-contained icon of modernist domestic architecture. As early twentieth century German writer, Paul Scheerbart remarked, “Vermin is not neat and clean; in glass houses it’s never seen.”

As a graphic designer working to arrange visual information in two or three-dimensional space—I’ve always learned and looked at the work of architects, particularly Mies van der Rohe. I’m especially inspired by how architects approach proportion and spatial relationships. I also appreciate the refinement and honest expression of revealed structure and materials, including wood, of the Farnsworth House, which I think is still relevant for twenty-first century designers.

The Edith Farnsworth House was designed by Mies in 1946 and built by 1951. The House was built of glass and steel, as a weekend retreat, on the Fox River near Plano, Illinois; a small town about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. The structure rests about five feet above the flood plain on I-beam supports. However, flooding during the last fifteen years has proven that the elevation is inadequate because of excess snow and rainwater drainage due to urban sprawl.

The Farnsworth House (1951), north elevation. The interior space—left of center are the kitchen and bedroom areas. Photograph courtesy of David Versluis, 2009.

Chicago art historian, Franz Schulze explains: “Certainly the house is more nearly temple than dwelling, and it rewards aesthetic contemplation before it fulfills domestic necessity.” He adds, “Most viewers are arrested by their initial perception of the house. The disarmingly simple rectilinear geometry of its white piers and slabs creates an impression, which Mies fully intended, of architectural structure reduced to an abstracted essence, with the resultant image all the more striking as seen against the backdrop of a wooded natural environment”.

In the Encyclopedia of Modern Architecture (1964), contributor, William H. Jordy describes the house:
As three floating slabs—a terrace slab, and behind it floor and roof slabs—are lifted from the ground on metal I-beams supports. The welding of the supports to the sides of the slabs, as though magnetism kept the frame intact, enhances the floating quality of the spreading slabs. Smaller slabs, also seemingly floated, serve as stairs, from the ground to the terrace and from the terrace to the entrance porch of the rectangular glass-box living area. It is so apparently simple that the subtleties of this extraordinarily elegant frame are readily missed on casual inspection, as are the subtleties of a composition in which the evident asymmetry is countered by hidden symmetries.

In his American work especially Mies has repeatedly taken a basic building type—in this instance the open pavilion lightly supported around the perimeter… by suspending the roof slab from exposed girders [forming a wide open, clear-span interior space].
Mies was quintessentially a comprehensive designer for the modern industrial society. Again, as Jordy states: “To create a modern architecture with a neoclassical severity of means, purity of form, perfection of proportions, elegance of detail and dignity of expression is the underlying preoccupation of Mies’s career.”

Interestingly, Dutch art historian, Marty Bax offers this insight about Mies:
… Around 1921, his classic designs changed into towering glass structures based on crystalloid shapes derived from nature.

Presumably Mies’s interest for the utopia of St. Thomas Aquinas evolved at the same time. The approach of this church father to the beauty of daily life and his emphasis on objective, scientific study of nature as a source of all life, served to connect Mies’s religious background with his classic architectural training.… For Mies van der Rohe classical architecture with its universal aesthetics transcended any social, economic or political categorization of society. In practice, however, Mies’s architecture was not accessible to all levels of society.
Perhaps, if one could ask, what would Ms. Farnsworth say about living in a glass house.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Keeping in touch

We thought many of you would be interested in this information. It's from Naomi De Boer who is working this summer at Alpha Omega Publications, which is based in Rock Rapids, Iowa.

Naomi says, "I was just trying to figure out an aspect of in-design when I ran across this website:"

She goes on to say, "It looks like a really great resource if you want to read about the basics of a number of programs in the Adobe Creative Suite, including Flash and Dreamweaver. I thought maybe students who are just learning the programs for the first time, and even more experienced students, would appreciate an online resource. It's nice because if you have a question, it can be accessed while doing homework. Anyway, just thought I would pass that along, since I found it helpful."

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

BLUR follow-up

Image courtesy of thirst / a design collaborative / © 2009.

As a follow-up to the previous post, and an(other) insight — Thirst's, John Pobojewski sent this message:

while michael's/farrah's/billy's ['TV pitchman,' Billy Mays] passing last week dominated the news cycle, we felt it was worthy to share a story with you all that ultimately ended up getting trumped.

the sears tower announced a landmark renovation effort to reduce 80% of the base building’s energy use. for a structure of such staggering size, this means 72,000,000 pounds of CO2 saved every year.

we created 2 video presentations and accompanying supporting graphics to tell the story to the international press. view more on our website:

you can read more about the project here:

it is a wonderfully rewarding story to tell... thanks for listening!


john pobojewski
thirst / a design collaborative /

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