About design

M5 Clock font

I’ve been hard at work on the new graphical interface for the SAPO Messenger project. Since it’s being re-designed from the ground up, almost nothing (if anything, really…), is being used from the previous version.

In keeping with that philosophy, I decided to design a simple bitmap font for the call clock. The call clock is basically a time counter that shows you how long you’ve been in a call. This is important because some calls cost money (although most are free), and it’s in your best interest to keep an eye on the duration.

I designed a very simple square dot-based number set, from 0 to 9, plus a colon to act as a separator. The clock will be placed over a little imitation-LCD display I created in Photoshop and it will be possible to change the background color (more on that closer to launch date…).

I think the font will work well, although I haven’t yet seen it running. Here’s a sample:

M5 Clock Font

About design

A quick and dirty definition of design

I’ve been asked to help with the selection of a new designer for my current project. I’ve never interviewed anyone, but it occurred to me that it would be interesting to ask the candidates to give us a simple and quick definition of what they think design is.
I’ve come up with a sort of ideal answer, for me: “Design is a project-based discipline which uses creativity, research and experimentation in order to find and implement a solution for a problem.”

This sounds about right to me. In fact… I feel like printing it out in big letters and hanging it over my workspace.

About design

Design is not advertising

I like designing things for people. I like it when people enjoy things I’ve designed: either because they enjoy the way it looks, or because they enjoy using it and get a good experience from it.

Fortunately for me, I have a job that allows me to design such things and get some enjoyment from it. Unfortunately, I also have to make ads.

I understand the need for promotion and commercialism in today’s economy, but I really don’t like it. To me, designing ads is a waste of time.

First, advertising is not made for the people, it’s not created to serve or help anyone other than the advertiser wanting more sales. Secondly, the functionality behind advertising is driven by the need to fool people into feeling like they need to obey the ad.

We all know advertising creates false needs in order to increase consumerism and feed the world’s economy as we know it. There’s no need to be naïf about it in order to understand that it is wrong. We don’t have to ignore its existence or pretend not to understand its necessity, to dislike it.

So, creating an ad campaign is painful to me. Especially because at where I work, there is a lack of distinction between a designer and an advertising person (whatever they’re called). Just because I can design a space, illustrate an idea, create an interaction, it doesn’t mean I can come up with clever ads. I’m not an advertiser, I never studied advertising or marketing, and worst of all – I couldn’t care less.

So I come up with ads, they get sent up to marketing, and shot down because they don’t fit the company’s communication. And I get pissed.

I get pissed because, obviously, marketing should have their own ad designers – preferably designers that understand advertising – and their own copywriters, and their own people to do all that stuff. Study the audience, come up with the ads that work and so on and so forth. I can design the products – I cannot sell them, to save my life.

The structure is wrong, and that’s a management mistake – nothing to do with me, really – so I understand I will continue to have to work in advertising and come up with ideas to promote products. I have to strongly resist the temptation to be honest: “look, our product’s ok, but it does crash a bit and you might want to try these other guys as well”; and I’ll have to put aside my personal hate of misused exclamation marks; and I’ll have to take deep breaths and wait and hope that one day I won’t have to make any more annoying ads, that people fight to ignore anyway.

About design

The Apple iPhone

Apple has done it again. Perhaps now even more than ever: the whole world is talking about the iPhone. Some people even want to buy one, not realizing it’s not even going to be on sale for at least six months to a year (depending on where you live).

I’m no Mac nut, nor do I believe in treating companies as if they were religions, but I have always admired Apple’s design-centered products. The iPhone is possibly one of the most clear examples of this practice: it is almost design in physical form.

The whole thing was created with its use in mind, as a central drive for the concept.

Use. Utility. Function. Form. Design.

The thing is logical and intuitive. It looks like it should look: like it works, like you can pick it up and use it, no need to RTFM, unless you really, really want to.

The iPhone is not perfect, for the simple fact that nothing is. But any discussion as to whether or not it is the materialization of a great idea, is purely theoretical: of course it is a great idea; whoever disagrees is merely embarrassed to admit they’re horny just looking at it. People are raving about this product without even having touched it: this is perfect marketing. The product appears so ingenious, so good, so attractive, that it sells itself as an idea, long before it hits the shelves.

Even if the iPhone turns out to be crap, by the time we realize it, we’ll all own one already.

As a designer, it gives me great pleasure to see a product like this being introduced. It helps people see that design is not “doodling”, it is the shaping of ideas into products and solutions. It takes a bit of art, a bit of research, a bit of madness and a lot of freedom. And that, I think, is all behind Apple’s newest gadget.

About design

The three designers

I’ve been thinking about design quality and what it really means and for a while now, I have this notion that divides designers into three categories.

The first kind, are what I call “solid steel”. The solid steel designer’s work is… well, solid steel. It’s impenetrable and indestructible and even if you chip it and bend it, somehow, you are always left with solid steel.

The work is solid, because the designer is solid. It’s someone that takes time to work out the details, to figure out structure, function, form and use. Usually, these people are professional designers – either with a good foundation study, academically speaking, or with good experience, or both. They know their craft well and are prepare to defend their work, not because they’re trying to come up with excuses not to change it, but because they know it so well and understand it fully.

There is reason behind everything a solid steel designer does, things are not random or done “just because”.

The second kind of designer, of course, is the shit designer. This designer’s work stinks, evidently and the problem is even worse: the more you pick at it, the more it comes apart and the more it comes apart… the worse it stinks.

This designer is usually one of three things, or maybe combinations thereof: an amateur, an idiot or a lazy person. Nothing seems right in this guy’s/gal’s work: things are out of place and awkward to use, the message isn’t clear and nothing looks particularly attractive.

The thing with shit, though, it’s that it is widespread. Nobody likes shit but unfortunately, it is everywhere. But we’ve got to admit one thing about shit: shit is honest. It doesn’t deceive you. You clearly identify it, and you only step on it if you want to, or if you’re caught off-guard and distracted. That’s why, I think the last type of designer is the final one.

And that’s the “shit-chromer”. The shit-chromer is, obviously, someone who chromes shit. This designer’s work is poorly thought out, constructed out of random ideas that have no base on reality and exist only in the designer’s ego. This is the guy who thinks he’s the best because his stuff looks good, when in fact, if you look underneath the chrome, all you still got is shit.

So this is shit served on a gold platter. Fake, disguised shit, usually wearing the season’s clothes to please the market and having no other root besides a slight organization of elements and a nice choice of visual bling.

Where the solid steel work, works, no matter how deep you strip it down, and the shit work is just, well… shit; the chromed shit work looks really nice, until you actually pick it up, and that chrome layer comes apart and you’re left, suddenly, with a desperate desire to find a sink and a bar of soap.

About design


SHiFT stands for Social and human ideias for technology; it’s a conference taking place in Lisbon, organized by portuguese people, about technology humanization and its social and comunication components.

I had the privilege to attend SHiFT, yesterday, and witness a well organized and, above all, very interesting event. I was most impressed with the design-centered vision that’s already a reality, especially in the United States; the way in which design is perceived as a complete discipline contrasts with the still prevailing portuguese vision of designers as “those doodling guys”.

Maybe the future can finally bring an appropriate place for design in the value creation process within modern companies. The current internet-based comunication and social interaction technologies represent a unique opportunity for designers to, once again, have a fundamental role, not only in the visual and ergonomic creation, but also in the implementation of production strategies and product and systems optimization.I still nurture the idea that someday, in a product meeting, someone will suggest “let’s have a new idea”, instead of “let’s see what everyone else is doing”. We need to hear a cry of “Eureka” in Portugal.

This post was originally written in portuguese, and published in Macacos sem galho.