Linked: The Advent Resolution

Just a heads up, really. I've started a little project on the Off Topic section of the site called The Advent Resolution.

The Advent Resolution is simple: Prayerfully prepare for the coming year. 

Because of this, I'll be writing significantly more in Off Topic through Christmas. I'm still planning to write daily, though, and hope to stick to my posting schedule. Follow along and let me know what you think.

Kickstarter: Get your Secret Species children's book!

in honor of Black Friday! My friend Marius Valdes has a Kickstarter for his new Secret Species children's book. It's already funded, but if you want to get an awesome book, you have until Wednesday, December 2 to back the project and get a copy. 

Marius and I have collaborated in the past on many projects including Valdes Clarendon and Valdes Poster Sans. If you love his artwork as much as I do, back the Kickstarter today!

Linked: Dear Design Student

Dear Design Student is a blog over on Medium that offers helpful, honest and occasionally harsh advice to students. I struggle with many of these issues with my students and this is a great resource for student designers and young professionals.

A couple of my favorite recent posts:

Split PDFs in Acrobat by file size

I don’t think I’ve ever posted a tip for Adobe Acrobat, but I found something this week that was amazingly helpful.

I had a large file with many pages that I needed to email. (Dropbox and other sharing services weren’t an option for this client. Only email.) I needed to divide the PDF into several smaller PDFs. There are many ways to do this, but most require some trial and error.

I stumbled across a feature in Acrobat that lets you split a PDF into multiple files and allows you to set a maximum file size for each resulting file.

NOTE: I’m writing this tip about the current version of Acrobat that is included with Creative Cloud. The Adobe Acrobat DC (2015) interface is wacky and a radical departure from everything else Adobe makes.* It’s closer to the current version of Microsoft Office than Creative Cloud.

Open your massive PDF and then click “Tools” at the top of the open window. You’ll come to a page with lots of icons for editing functions. Select “Organize Pages” from the “Create & Edit” grouping.

Select "Organize Pages" from the top row.

Select "Organize Pages" from the top row.

At the top of the window, you will now have an button for “Spilt.” Clicking “Split” opens up a row below with more options. By default, Acrobat will split your document into multiple files with an equal number of pages, but if you select the “Number of Pages” combo box, you get additional options: “File size” and “Top level bookmarks.”

The toolbar for "Organize Pages" has the "Split" command.

The toolbar for "Organize Pages" has the "Split" command.

Choose file size and then set your maximum file size. Click the split button and the separated files will be saved to your desktop.

The options button for the “Split” row gives you complete control of how and where the files are saved. So if you need to use a particular naming convention or have Acrobat save the new file to a specific directory, you can make those changes there.

If you absolutely need to email a PDF and compressing or downsampling the file isn’t an option for you, then “Split” will absolutely save you time.

Every Wednesday, I post a tip for an Adobe app.

* I’ve been told the Acrobat team and the Creative Cloud team are completely separate. It looks like it.

My favorite podcasts

I started walking at lunch most days last January. And while I walk through downtown Columbia, I listen to podcasts. Now I listen to podcasts in the car, too. I have a few favorites and figured I’d share the podcasts that I love.

Before I start working my way though my list, I highly recommend Overcast on iOS. It’s a great way to listen to podcasts on your iPhone and it’s free. Much more capable than the stock Apple Podcast app.

So most weeks, I listen to:

Incomparable (Incomparable Network). The Incomparable was the first podcast I ever listened to, back when I actually had an iPod and the term podcast made sense. Jason Snell and friends cover virtually every sci-fi and pop culture topic imaginable — movies, books, comics, television. Always entertaining. The Incomparable is a gateway for me to lots of other podcasts.

Upgrade (Relay FM). I started to listen to Upgrade near the beginning of its run. It’s mostly Apple tech talk, but the real reason to listen is the great rapport between Jason Snell and Myke Hurley. A great podcast.

Clockwise (Relay FM). Love the format. Jason Snell, Dan Moren and two guests discuss four tech topics in only 30 minutes. With so many podcasts are getting longer and longer, the 30 minute format is refreshing. The format and great guests make this one of my favorites. 

Pen Addict (Relay FM). I was intrigued by the concept of a podcast about pens. But I really liked Myke Hurley on Upgrade and tuned in to see what it was all about. A few months later I had my first fountain pen. And I’m hooked… on pens and the Pen Addict. 

Random Trek (Incomparable Network). A not-so-random guest watches a random episode of Star Trek with Scott McNulty. It’s always random, and always a delight. The show is almost better when the episode is a bad one. I’d love to someday be a guest on Random Trek, but would be terrified that I would draw an episode of first season Voyager. 

Analog(ue) (Relay FM). Another Myke Hurley show, this one with Casey Liss. The whole point of the show is talking about feelings. The topics bounce around from personal goals to technology to relationships. This show feels like Upgrade, only less tech centric.

Flash Flashcast and Speedy Arrowcast (Incomparable Network). Remember the days of watching shows in the evening and then discussing them at work the next day? I watch Flash and Arrow, but I don’t have many people to discuss it with at my office. So I can listen to these podcasts and I feel much more connected to the show. 

St. Michael’s Lutheran Church (Blacksburg, Virginia) Sermon. My brother is a pastor in Virginia and his sermon is posted each week. It’s an awesome opportunity to get to hear him even though I can’t be there in person. (And particularly awesome when he references events from our childhood…)

I have a bunch of other shows that I listen to if I have time. Liftoff airs every other week and covers space related topics. ATP and the Talk Show are great, but really long. It typically takes me a couple of days to get through them, so while I like them, I rarely complete an episode. During the baseball season, I was listening to Ivy Envy, a Cubs podcast. And Unjustly Maligned is great if I’m familiar with the topic of pop culture scorn. (The episode on Monopoly is awesome.)

What I find interesting is that I haven’t found a design podcast that I love. Or one on creative process. They just haven’t clicked as quickly with me as the pop culture and technology podcast have. I also would love an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. podcast, but I haven't found one I like as much as the Flash and Arrow podcasts.

Got any recommendations for a podcast I should be listening to? Let me know on Twitter at @sketchbookb.

The Eric Gill Collection

I’ve long been a fan of the Eric Gill’s designs.* I worked at a company for a few years were Gill Sans was one of the typefaces in the corporate identity. And I later designed an annual report entirely in Joanna. His book, An Essay on Typography, is an interesting look at typography during the industrial revolution and is a great read if you are interested in historical models for typesetting.

Monotype has released new, expanded versions of Gill’s most well known designs. More weights and versions make these designs better fits for modern identity systems.

Gill Sans Nova adds a number of weights and widths without losing the charm of Gill Sans. And it keeps the wackiness of the heavier weights – which I think is a good thing despite the fact that I still hate the lower case, ultra bold i. New alternate characters are a great addition and display versions add inline, shadow and deco versions that look sharp and playful.

But Joanna Nova  gets the most attention and is the most impressive part of this release.** Previously limited to three weights — light, roman and bold, Joanna now boasts 10 weights. The italic versions are beautiful, too. And add to that a new sans serif — Joanna Sans  — to serve as a companion. 

With all this depth and complexity, I think it’s a matter of time before we start to see Joanna used in new identity systems everywhere. Each of the families is $99 for limited time, or you can spend $199 for the entire Eric Gill Collection.

Monotype has a site for the release that lets you look at everything in detail.

* I’ve long been a fan of Eric Gill’s designs, but not a fan of Eric Gill himself. We wasn’t a good man at all.

** I might be biased. Joanna has always been one of my favorite fonts and most people don’t know about it. Joanna has always been my favorite "best typeface you've never heard of" recommendation to young designers.

Moving an InDesign page to a different document

This week, I needed to copy pages from one InDesign file to another. Thankfully, it’s super easy.

Select the page you want to copy from the pages palette. Choose “Move Pages…” from the flyout menu on the pages palette. (Or Layout > Pages > Move pages…)

You can then choose which pages* you want to move and where you want to move it. The default is to move the pages to another spot in the same document, but you can select any document that is open.

Select the destination with the "Move to:" combo box.

Select the destination with the "Move to:" combo box.

* In case you were wondering, it doesn’t matter if the documents you are merging are different page sizes.

Why do we do what we do?

I came across this post about motivation from one of the guys behind Basecamp*. The thrust of the article is that too many people are obsessed with the process of building a business simply to get rich. The post is about the Silicon Valley, but it could just as easily be about art and design.

It seems today that designers have been successful making their side project a full time gig.** And so it seems that every side project is a failure if it doesn’t eventually become a full time job. 

At times, I’ve forgotten why I started Sketchbook B. I’ve started paying too much attention to web traffic and font sales. But the goals for Sketchbook B have never been about building an audience, selling ads or making money. It’s all about experimenting and having fun.

One of the goals for Sketchbook B was to give me a chance to write more, but I wasn’t writing consistently. So recently I started to post daily. I made the decision to try a publishing schedule to force myself into a routine because I wanted to get more disciplined about writing.

After a couple of weeks though, my weekly page views were pretty much unchanged. I wondered if it was worth the effort. No one new was reading. But I came across Matt Gemmell’s post about “blogging” and I remembered that page views aren’t the point. Writing was the point. And I’m enjoying my site more in the last few weeks than I have at any time since I started it in 2008.

I’ve come to the realization that “side project” might be the wrong term for what I do. Maybe “passion project” is a better phase. I write, design type and experiment because I love design and creativity. My typefaces and other random projects were never intended to be a full time job. I’m looking to be creative in ways that I can’t be at work.***

Sketchbook B is simply my creative outlet, and I'm proud of that.

* I’ve used Basecamp for years. And I was a devoted user of Backpack before 37 Signals phased it out. :(

** It probably seems that way because so many people were starting side projects during the recession.

*** I seriously have the best day job.

Frickin' laser beams

I've used Ponoko in the past to laser cut materials for projects. And they've always done a great job. But I'm completely fascinated by Glowforge, a home laser cutting and engraving machine.

Desktop laser cutting.

Desktop laser cutting.

It really is amazing to see how technologies like this are becoming more and more affordable and accessible to designers and makers. And while $2500 is still expensive, it's a lot less expensive than it was 5 or 10 years ago.

Introducing Intermodal

I’ve been fascinated by stenciled type for a while. Stencils started as a practical necessity – an easy and utilitarian way to reproduce type. But the use of stencils has evolved and is now visually representative of industry and military.

A few weeks ago, I quietly rolled out my latest stencil typeface on Creative Market: Intermodal.

Intermodal started as an experiment. I wanted to create a design that had only vertical stencil cuts. I didn’t like how the cuts on other stencil designs didn’t line up cleanly. By only using vertical cuts, I didn’t have to worry about the horizontal alignment.* 

Intermodal is an all cap design, but includes a wide range of foreign language characters, a set of Opentype tabular numerals and an alternate “9.” Intermodal doesn’t have traditional weights. Instead, there are five widths, from A to E. A is more narrow and E is wider. The different versions can be used together to create a utilitarian look. I’ve also got an oblique version of each width for a total of 10 fonts in the family.

For now, the entire Intermodal family — 10 fonts in all — is available exclusively at Creative Market for $29.

Intermodal is one of my favorite creations. I hope you like it.

* After my first set of sketches, I noticed that it was structurally very similar to Power Grid. So I added a stencil version to Power Grid 2.0 and I continued to refine Intermodal. Different look, but similar design approach.

Double Vision

Want to work on something in detail without losing sight of the big picture? InDesign has a solution for that.

In the lower right hand corner of InDesign CC 2015 is a button with two rectangles. Clicking on that button splits the view. (Or if you prefer menus, go to Window > Arrange > Split Window.) So you get you two views of one document in the same window. 

In the lower right hand corner of the window is the split view button.

In the lower right hand corner of the window is the split view button.

You can also easily scroll to different pages and copy and paste from one section to another. Or even work on a master page while you look and the pages in the document.

It comes in handy, especially on a large screen, and saves time when working on complex documents.

Every Wednesday, I post a quick tip on an Adobe app.

I used to read the ads

When I was a kid, I loved magazines. I was curious about everything and in the 80s and 90s – before the internet — there was a magazine for everything. I got magazines about photography, sailing, model railroading, computers, science, cars, bicycling, comics, art, baseball cards and more. If you wanted to learn about a topic, magazines were a cheap and easy way to find out more. In fact, I read MacUser before I could ever afford my first Mac.

I’d read them cover to cover. And that often included the ads. Ads were an integral part of the experience because they were targeted directly at the magazine’s audience. The ads complimented and supplemented the editorial content.

Some of those magazines are still around*, but blogs and online content are much more efficient ways to gather information, especially for beginners.

Today, ads on blogs are more like billboards than the niche, targeted magazine ads. Many of these blogs serve ads that are from a network and most of those ads have no real connection to the blog’s topic. 

Network buys allow advertisers to serve ads only to a target demographic. This seems like a dream situation for many advertisers, but reaching niche audiences is much more difficult. It’s hard to identify from demographics or browsing history who is interested in a topic like cameras or fountain pens.

I’ve been listening to podcasts lately. Podcasts about topics like fountain pens, pencils and space. The ads that run on these podcasts are like the old magazine ads — they support and compliment the editorial content. And as a result, I’ve made purchases based on recommendations from ads on podcasts. I can’t say that I’ve ever made a purchasing decision based on a random banner ad.

Context matters. If I was a media buyer today, I’d look closely at podcasting and tightly curated ad networks. They might be the best fit for online advertising to niche markets.

* Still around, but much harder to find. Newsstands are gone in most parts of the country. Bookstores aren’t as common. Grocery stores have smaller and smaller selections of publications.

Linked: National Novel Writing Month

November is National Novel Writing Month.* I've always been fascinated by the concept of NaNoWriMo and am thinking about participating this year, despite the fact that I don't think I've written something fictional since elementary school. The point of NaNoWriMo isn't necessarily to write something great – it's to give yourself the motivation to write to a goal. 

Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.

Sounds fun. And I've got a couple of ideas rattling around in my brain. We'll see how it goes. I'm going to use my favorite writing app, Ulysses, to manage the writing process and daily goals. And of course, I'll post updates here about how it's going.

Also, I need a new a mug.

* November is also Movember.

The definitive guide to rounding corners in InDesign CC 2015

Over the last two weeks, a 2010 post of mine on rounding corners has suddenly become very popular.* I wrote it for CS4 and posted an updated version for CS5. But I wanted to revisit the tip and update it for Creative Cloud 2015.

The process for rounding corners is actually more complicated than I expected and is different depending on what shape you are working with.


Rounding corners on a square or rectangle

Rounding the corners** on a rectangle is straightforward and there are actually a couple of ways to do it.

The yellow box method: When you click on a rectangle with the selection tool, a yellow box appears near the upper right hand corner. Click the yellow box and diamonds appear at the corners. Drag the corners inward to round the corners equally.

To round only one corner, click the yellow box and then, while holding down shift, click and drag on the corner you want to modify.

(1) Click the yellow box in the upper right hand corner to edit the corners. (2) Drag the diamonds to change the amount of the corner effect. (3) Hold the shift Key to change only one corner.

(1) Click the yellow box in the upper right hand corner to edit the corners. (2) Drag the diamonds to change the amount of the corner effect. (3) Hold the shift Key to change only one corner.

The dialog box method: If you prefer a little more precision, you can go to Object > Corner Options… and set the rounded corner to a specific value. And it’s easy to round one corner.

Set the amount and style of your corner effects with the corner options dialog box. Uncheck the chain icon to set corners independently.

Set the amount and style of your corner effects with the corner options dialog box. Uncheck the chain icon to set corners independently.

The control palette method: You can set a rounded corner value for all four corners in the control palette.

The corner controls are easy to find... It's the only icon in the Control Palette with blue dots.


Rounding all corners on polygons that are not squares or rectangles

So rounding corners on rectangles is easy, but what if you don’t have a rectangle. It’s still easy, but different.

The yellow box method: Doesn't work. The yellow box appears only for rectangles. Triangle, trapezoid, hexagon… no yellow box.

The dialog box method: Works just like it does for the rectangle with one, major exception. You can’t round individual corners.  All of the corners have to be exactly the same.

Try to change the corner size or shape on a shape other than a rectangle and all but one input field is faded out.

Try to change the corner size or shape on a shape other than a rectangle and all but one input field is faded out.

The control palette method: Exactly the same as the rectangle method, with no control over individual corners.


Rounding individual corners on a polygon

So let’s say I want to round selected corners on any polygon. None of the normal methods will work, but thankfully, Adobe provides a script for this.

The scripting panel (Window > Utilities > Scripts) contains an Application folder with sample scripts in Applescript and Javascript. Select the “CornerEffects.applescript” or “CornerEffects.jsx.”

The top part of the dialog box essentially provides the same options as the “Corner Options” dialog box. And the offset box allows you to adjust the size of the corner. The Pattern combo box defaults to “all points,” but take a look at the options available: first point, last point, second point, third point, odd points, even points and more…

When applied to a box, it gives you the ability to round or bevel selected corners. Sometimes, it takes a little trial and error to figure out which point the “first” point is. The first point usually seems to be point in the upper left and then selection moves counterclockwise. 

Pretty much the only way to make these shapes in InDesign is with the Corner Effects Script.

Pretty much the only way to make these shapes in InDesign is with the Corner Effects Script.

You can also use the odd and even points patterns on a star shape. “Odd points” effect the inside points. “Even points” modify the outside points.

That should help you round any corner you need. As an aside, Adobe Illustrator has a completely different and superior corner rounding process. Personally, I hope that Adobe adopts the Illustrator method in InDesign.

Every Wednesday, I post a tip for an Adobe app.

* Google works in mysterious ways.

** You can do more than just round corners. You can bevel them or create several different effects. But most people just want to round them.

New Pencils: Delful and Kuru Toga

Pilot Delful (top) and Uniball Kuru Toga (Bottom)

Pilot Delful (top) and Uniball Kuru Toga (Bottom)

My pen obsession has spread to mechanical pencils. I bought two new pencils recently from Jet Pens. Both are Japanese pencils and you won’t find them at your local Staples.

A couple of things that apply to both pencils. First, the packaging is great – especially for the Delful. I’m used to American packaging that you basically have to destroy to open. This packaging just folds open — no scissors required. Also, both ship with a much higher quality lead than most normal pencils ship with. It makes a big difference. 

Pilot Delful

Love the packaging on the Pilot Delful

Love the packaging on the Pilot Delful

The Pilot Delful is a “double knock” design. You click to extend the point and then shake to advance the lead. (You can also click lightly to advance the lead.) Retracting the point means there is no sharp point to stab you in the leg when you are carrying it in your pocket.

The Delful is attractive and easy to write with. It’s a little bigger than most pencils, with a more substantial grip. You can get several different color options, but it is only available in a 0.5 mm lead size. I opted for a green and blue design.

The shaker mechanism takes some getting used to. I’m used to clicking to advance — so I’m glad you can still do that. But I think the whole shaking thing will eventually become second nature.

The eraser is pretty nice and the cap that covers it is large enough that you shouldn’t lose it.

The Delful is $8.25 from Jet Pens and is available in a range of colors. (I may have to pick up the black/green version, too.)

Uniball Kuru Toga

The UniBall Kuru Toga is a very well regarded mechanical pencil. The unique feature of the Kuru Toga is that the lead rotates every time you pick the pencil up off the page, helping the lead wear evenly. There simply is nothing like it on the market.

I purchased another Kuru Toga — a 0.7 mm American version — a few months ago. In the U.S., the only options are whether you want 0.5 mm or 0.7 mm lead. The Japanese versions come only in 0.3 mm and 0.5 mm, but are offered in a variety of colors. I ordered a green version. The top looks vaguely metallic, but it’s all plastic.

The Kuru Toga feels great and has a subtly knurled grip. My only complaint is that the little cap that covers the eraser is tiny and I feel like I’m going to lose it. (The eraser is tiny, too.*)

I really love my 0.7 mm Kuru Toga** and I’m looking forward to working the 0.5 mm into rotation. 

The Kuru Toga that I purchased is $7.50 at Jet Pens, but Kuru Togas range in price from $4.65 to $16.50.

I’m just starting to use these two pencils on a regular basis, but I really think either of these are a nice choice if you are looking to get something a little better than the run of the mill mechanical pencil that you get from the office supply store. (There is a whole range of pencils out there that I look forward to trying out.***) I also think that better quality lead might be a big part of the improved experience.

* I’m beginning to think the eraser on a mechanical pencil is like the pop up flash on an SLR: usable in a pinch, but if you are serious, buy an external unit. I bought some black polymer erasers to try out.

** My 0.7 mm version now has non-photo blue lead in it. Pretty sweet.

*** Check out this Lamy Scribble and this Rotring 600. Not sure I can justify the expense, but they look awesome.