My high-school art teacher Bernie Kite (the famous unicorn poster artist) taught us to keep a “morgue” — a catch-all folder that houses artistic inspiration and things of interest — past, present and future. In graphic design practice, a morgue is where you store all the essential information gathered during project work for later reference.

On these pages you’ll find a collection of inspiration — projects too ancient to show in the Work section, creative that died an early death, things I should really be embarassed about, maybe even a news item or two. Please enjoy.

April 12, 2013

Keep your brain safe from zombies

To make a big spash at the 2010 PAX Prime (Penny Arcade Expo), PopCap Games asked me to create a traffic-cone zombie hat that could be assembled on-site and worn by gamers attending the conference. PAX is the largest gaming festival in North America, so it was a great opportunity for PopCap to promote one of its flagship games, Plants vs. Zombies.

If you’ve never played Plants vs. Zombies, the Zombies gain special powers when they wear a traffic cone on their head and are doubly hard to destroy.

The challenge for a geometry-challenged designer was how to make a paper cone that will sit flat on its base. After multiple frustrating attempts at eyeballing the correct arc, I realized I would have to turn to my longtime nemesis, math.

Fortunately the answer presented itself in the next 30 seconds after a Google search. Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, not only can you find instructions on how to make a perfect cone, but an online calculator will give you the correct formula when you key in the dimensions.

The hats were a hit with the PAX attendees, and thanks to PopCap, we now have more empowered zombies out there threatening to consume our brains.


April 27, 2012

Riveting insights on digital printing

Digital printing technology has evolved to the place where it can be a good alternative to traditional offset under the right circumstances — maybe too good. On a recent project for ImpactAssets, we learned that digital and offset printing can yield different results that become a challenge when color consistency is required.

Business cards are a perfect candidate for digital printing because you can print in full (CMYK) color, and at the lower quantities associated with most business card runs, digital tends to be cheaper than offset. Printing CMYK business cards is somewhat impractical because most 4-color presses are too big for business cards (20 x28 sheet size and up) so unless you have a large number of individual cards to print, CMYK offset doesn’t make economic sense.

Like any good start-up, ImpactAssets needed business cards soon after design was approved, so we finalized the art and got them on the digital press at Star Printing. The results were great; bright, saturated colors, crisp graphics and type. Quantity for each card was 1,000, which is the break point for digital — quantities above that number quickly become more expensive than offset.

When the time came to print letterhead and envelopes, the higher quantities required made printing digitally unfeasible from a cost standpoint.

The problem is that offset and digital inks do not perfectly match. Digital inks are polymer-based, and tend to “sit up” on the substrate instead of absorbing (called dot gain) like soy-based offset inks tend to do. Digital inks print colors with more saturation — which is great — except when your digital business cards need to match your offset-printed letterhead.

The solution was to run a press test with a number of Pantone and CMYK color formulations. Star Printing tested both solid colors and the ImpactAssets logo symbol, which contains a gradient. After 2 press tests and numerous adjustments to the color formulation, we were able to arrive at an acceptable color match.

ImpactAssets press test

Until digital printing technology advances to the place where printing higher quantities are economically feasible, this issue will remain a challenge for anyone involved in managing brand assets. Designers should be aware of the need to print in both digital and offset, adding to an already demanding environment that requires brand standards to perform in all print and screen-based applications.

March 19, 2012

Make-a-Wish Gala 2012

For this year’s Make-a-Wish Foundation Wish Night Gala & Auction, writer Jennie Moore and I teamed with designer Leigh Beach and illustrator Kong Lu, both from PopCap Games. I daresay the results were a hit. Not only did the Foundation raise $1.1 million that night — which we take complete and total credit for — but we also received accolades such as:

“I came into work right now because I was so excited to see the invitation. It is STUNNING! My hands practically shook when I took it out. Every element from the design, illustration, colors, paper and printing are phenomenal. The final piece is amazing.”

And this:

“Oh my gosh…to say that these are lovely is an understatement. They surpassed my already high expectations and better adjectives might be stunning, magnificent and gorgeous. Thank you to our incredible creative team. You guys are simply amazing!”

Okay, they do go a little overboard on the buttering up. But we can take it.

This year’s theme, Destination: Imagination, was expressed in a beautiful invitation suite that included an illustrated map of the Kingdom of Imagination. The multi-piece invitation came wrapped in the map, tied with butcher’s string.

None of this would be possible without the support of our friends at Litho Craft, who have printed the Gala invitation suite for the past 6 years and have given many thousands of dollars in in-kind donations to help make this magical night a possibility.

Make-a-Wish invitation

March 3, 2012

Diary of a serial comma

Serial comma exhibit A

Despite having a university education, I still had a lot to learn about editing, proofing and punctuation on the job. That education was dispensed with a velvet fist by Jann Hattrup, the editor at TeamDesign (now Methodologie). One of the rules I learned governed the use of the serial comma. The serial comma is the comma used immediately before a coordinating conjunction (usually and or or, and sometimes nor) preceding the final item in a list of three or more items (from Wikipedia). For the past 20 years, the standard for commercial editing has been:
Serial commas old school

With no comma before the conjunction. Lately, clients have been insisting that the serial comma be included. So I emailed Jann to find out what the real deal was. Here’s Jann’s report:

Wow — what goes around comes around! That comma before the “and” is called a serial comma — first it was the absolute standard, and then people didn’t use it so much (apparently because newspapers dropped it for space), and now it’s back.

Which for me is just fine — it makes things clearer. Without it, you can get things like this:

“This book is dedicated to my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”


It prevents ambiguities. If you have something like this:

“Rebecca was proud of her new muffin recipes: blueberry, peanut butter and chocolate chip and coconut.”

It’s pretty hard to tell if that’s two recipes or three, and what’s in each one. Personally, I’d like peanut butter and chocolate chip and coconut, but I can’t tell if that’s actually an option.

So I’m all for the serial comma. I just think it lets you read a sentence without having to stop and think about it, which is the whole point of punctuation anyway.

Thanks Jann. Now I’m neither confused, nor ignorant, nor misinformed about the use of serial commas.

February 7, 2012

One of the 3,000 lucky winners

LogoLounge and Brainpath logo

Hot off the press, Logolounge Master Library, Volume 4: 3000 Type & Calligraphy Logos by Catherine Fishel and Bill Gardner is now available for your coffee table book collection.

The Quayside Publishing volume includes a logo I designed for Brainpath, a naming and brand strategy consultancy which was the brainchild of Tyler Cartier, a Seattle area copywriter, brand strategist and thinker of big thoughts.

The fourth in the seven-volume LogoLounge Master Library series, this is a highly organized collection of 3,000 typographic logo designs culled carefully from, the largest online searchable collection of logos in the world. The result is the deepest, densest, and most highly-focused collection of logos organized by category ever created.

February 7, 2012

Saving the world with graphic design

At WONGDOODY, I spent a year of my life working as the design lead on the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation account. One initiative was the re-design of the main foundation brochure, which executive creative director Tracy Wong called “the most important project to ever come through the office.” Why? “Because we’re helping to save the world.” So no pressure.

We had four creative teams working on it and showed them 5 million different concepts. My favorite, naturally, was one that I designed with writing partner-in-crime Steve Malloch. The theme “Challenge — Opportunity” was based on a simple premise: at the intersection of challenge and opportunity lies the real work of finding solutions to the world’s biggest problems.

January 23, 2012

I’m pretty sure that’s not her real name*

Back in the late 90’s, I had the pleasure of designing the packaging for The Art of Body Painting Living Canvas with Linda Love, a how-to video series that teaches the lost art of “body painting.” If you owned an airbrush and could locate a willing human canvas, aspiring body painters could take their work to the highest level with Linda’s help. Although she was no Van Gogh, Linda could body paint a warrior princess, leopard or tigress with the best of them. The check cashed.

*I stand corrected. An anonymous friend of the artist emailed to let me know that Linda Love is indeed her real name.

January 23, 2012

Trucker hats and superyachts

Working for TeamDesign (now Methodologie) under art director and mentor Gary LaComa, I had the opportunity to design for Seattle-based Delta Marine, maker of fiberglass superyachts (yachts over 148 feet). During the course of the project, which included extensive photography, we got to follow the construction of one of these mammoth boats and were on hand to photograph the christening. It was a great experience, though I found it curious that the new owner of a $50 million-dollar boat would wear a polyester trucker’s hat to the launch ceremony. I guess I was expecting Judge Smails from the movie Caddyshack.