Blog

Archived posts: Web

See inside Hoxton Street Monster Supplies

HSMS_invisible_3

Thanks to the magic of Google, you can now take a 360° tour of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. The tour shows up whenever you Google the shop, via the ‘See inside’ panel.

The good folks from Aardvark 360 came to photograph the shop on a fantastically sunny morning.

It’s a super slick operation, taking no more than an hour, and the results give you a really clear sense of the how the shop looks, inside and out (though we’d still recommend a visit in real life of course).

While they were doing the shoot, one of the shop’s regular customers, a Mr Griffin, happened to have dropped by, and agreed to be included in the shots.

HSMS_invisible_1

HSMS_invisible_2

HSMS_invisible_4

What a gent.

Dumb quotes

Tony's-Cafe

This is Tony’s Cafe. It’s a lovely little place on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell. They do a really fine create-your-own salad for just £4. We go there often for lunch.

But. Their sign. It’s a problem.

Look at it. Just after the Y. Just before the S. What is that? It thinks it’s an apostrophe. It certainly wants to be an apostrophe. Heck, it downright needs to be an apostrophe.

But it’s not.

And you know what’s to blame for that?

Typewriters. Damn typewriters.

Take a look at this. It’s a full set of the characters available on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter:

olivetti_characters

Rather beautiful right?

Let’s take a look at the punctuation characters along the bottom row.

Right up front there, that character made of two little vertical lines, like a pair of rabbit’s front teeth? That’s what you’d generally have used to mark out a bit of quoted text. It’s a versatile little thing: you could use it both at the beginning and the end of a chunk of quoted text. You could also use it to indicate various units of measurement – a number of inches, or a number of seconds, or even a number of arcseconds if you were a nagivator. It even doubles (if you’ll excuse the pun) as the ditto symbol.

Further along the line, just after the ampersand, sits its singular sibling. You could also have used that to mark out quoted text, but more frequently you’d have used it as an apostrophe. It also did fine work when it came to measurements, denoting numbers of feet, numbers of minutes, and of course, numbers of arcminutes.

So back up to Tony’s Cafe, we can see that little fella doing his job just fine as an apostrophe, right?

Nope. Uh uh. No sir. Not at all.

You see, although those two characters I just mentioned, which we can call typewriter quotes, were fantastically versatile, they were in truth a mashing together of different characters. It made perfect sense to do that back then, because typewriters only had a set number of keys available.

Here’s the layout of the Olivetti Lettera 22.

lettera_keyboard

The characters that got messed with were the single and double Quotation Marks, which come in left and right varieties; the Apostrophe (which is the same as the single right quotation mark), and the Prime, which is the angled mark used for various units of measurement. Those look like this, when set in the Georgia typeface:

prime-examples_2

So, with typewriters, those characters got mashed together. The left and right varieties of the quotation marks were merged, losing their ears and becoming upright verticals, which meant they could also double for primes. They must have felt good about that versatility, but you can’t help but wonder if they looked at the still-curved comma and semicolon with a sense of loss and longing…

Either way, it was a sensible solution in the days of the typewriter, typing in a single typeface at a single size, when stylistic finesse and grammatical accuracy could be ditched in favour of utility.

But, you know, we don’t generally use typewriters now.

We use computers. Which are just a little bit more sophisticated.

So we shouldn’t really need those vertical typewriter quotes anymore.

But, and it’s a fairly sizeable but, when computer keyboards were put together, they were largely based on typewriters. Here’s the current Mac keyboard, with the key with the quotation marks / apostrophe highlighted.

apple-wireless-keyboard

Theoretically, that key should only bring up left and right quotation marks, either single or double.Those should be the default setting right?

But they’re not. The default characters are the straight vertical typewriter quotes. Characters designed specifically for a drastically reduced set of keys on a machine from the last millennium.

So if we go back to Tony’s cafe, and its sign, this is what you get if you type it out, in AG Book (which is a passable approximation for the actual typeface used on the sign):

 

tonys_dumb

 

And of course, that damn typewriter quote is there, happy as Larry.

Or Tony.

Whose salads, as we’ve mentioned, are really quite good.

Now, of course, there are ways around this intolerable situation. Depending on your software set up, you can tell your machine to ignore the typewriter quotes – sometimes (and entirely justifiably) called ‘dumb quotes’ – and replace them with what are called either ‘smart quotation marks’, ‘smart quotes’ or ‘typographer’s quotes’. Those are all software settings – you might also hear the characters referred to as ‘curly quotes’ or ‘inverted commas’ – really, how many terms to these things need? Smart quotations, smart quotes, typographer’s quotes, book quotes, curly quotes, inverted commas – identity crisis much?

In Microsoft Word, where they’re called “smart quotation marks”, and you’ll find the setting in the AutoCorrect tab of the Word Preferences. This is how it looks in the version we’re running:

Word-AutoCorrect-preferences

Using InDesign, as we are with our revision of Tony’s sign, you switch on ‘Typographer’s Quotes’ in the Type section of the Preferences panel.

With that done, this is how Tony’s looks when you type it out, now with a proper apostrophe:

 

tonys_smart

 

How much better is that? Not only is it the correct grammatical character, its weight and form just fit so much better with the word.

So, we can use the correct characters if we tell our software that we want to. But we shouldn’t really have to do that right? These are hardly obscure characters, only used once in a blue moon. Why on earth do those typewriter quotes even still exist? They were ingenious, but they’re a relic from another age. Stick ’em in a museum.

And actually, you know what, the problems don’t really end there anyway.

Because even if you have your smart quotes turned on, you’re not guaranteed to be getting things right.

Have a look at these three examples, set in Georgia again.

The first one uses the default typewriter quotes:

prime-examples_a1

Unpleasant. Deeply unpleasant. And more than a little confusing.

 

The second one uses typographer’s quotes:

prime-examples_a2

Better. But wait – punctuation klaxon! That height measurement? That’s totally wrong. For that you need to use primes, as we have done in the third version. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice that the apostrophe before ’70s is wrong. Despite being called smart, sometimes these quotes can still be a little dumb. When they appear with a space before them, they automatically assume they’re at the beginning of quoted text. But here, we’re using the mark as an apostrophe (marking the absence of 19 from 1970s), so the mark needs to face in the other direction. So in this instance, despite having smart quotes on, we have to use a key command to insert the right character.

So, with all that in place, it should look like this:

prime-examples_b

Peace at last! Typographically and grammatically wonderful.

Headache much?

And it doesn’t even end there. Many contemporary fonts don’t even feature primes in their character set. They’ve just sort of been forgotten about. Instead, those inferior usurpers, the typewriter quotes, have taken their place. You can sort of fudge them, by italicising the dumb quotes, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.

And this isn’t just a problem for purveyors of fine salads.

You’ll notice the problem most online, where typewriter quotes are slung about with a hideous abandon. That’s not a giant problem in body text (though it still irks), but it’s grimly obvious in headings. Here’s a recent post from the very popular tech site Engadget:

Engadget-UK-post

Those typewriter quotes must be laughing it up. Relics they may be, but there they are, in the heading of a post about Google Glass – they could hardly be hanging out anywhere more modern!

This seems to be something to do with the software used for most blog posting, which is less than eager to insert smart quotes.

So, you’re smart people. And you probably know even smarter people. How do we fix this? Surely we can get rid of those dumb typewriter quotes?

Because dumb isn’t clever.

––––––––––

Oh, and if you’re looking to read a little further on any of this, we’d like to highly recommend Matthew Butterick’s wonderful online book, Butterick’s Practical Typography, which is a treasure trove of learning. His article about this very topic is brilliant, and far more concise than this one.

Google Maps – now with added bikes

Google, in collaboration with the transport charity Sustrans, has today added cycling routes to its UK maps - showing ‘Trails’, ‘Dedicated lanes’, and ‘Bicycle friendly roads’.

You can now click on any map to show the available cycle routes, and also ask for turn by turn directions between two places, using what Google considers to be the safest / quietest / flattest route – and it generally offers you several different options.

I just tested this out with my morning ride to work – Google pretty much matched the route I ride, though estimated it at 37 minutes, whereas it usually takes about 25 minutes (and I don’t ride that fast).

Worryingly though, the Google route suggested that I go via the Elephant & Castle roundabout, one of the most dangerous junctions in London for cyclists. It’s certainly the most direct route, but I actively use a different route in order to avoid the roundabout. I can’t quite see how it would be considered a “Bicycle friendly road”.

Also, at the moment there’s no way of searching for the routes of the National Cycle Network individually, which would seem to be a really useful, if not essential, function.

But it’s early days for the service – it’ll be interesting to see how it adapts and flexes over time.

Sustrans and Google have also produced a short film to promote the service:

In the meantime, if you’re looking for something similar in map land, with route elevations, and options for fastest / quietest / somewhere in the middle routes, try Cyclestreets.net. Otherwise, Sustrans also has a useful, if flawed, app which shows the full National Cycle Network.

Six years and counting

On March 6 2006 we decided it might be an idea to start a blog (you can find the remnants of that over here - though we transported nearly all those posts over to this site too).

Things in the digital world were quite different back then – you weren’t on Facebook, you didn’t tweet unless you were a bird (Twitter launched in July that year), and Tumblr wasn’t even on the horizon. You would have still been using buttons on your phone to make calls (though we were looking forward to that all changing), and video calls were still something you only really saw in sci-fi movies. Microsoft was getting excited about something called Zune.

Six full years later, we’re still banging on about design and visual culture and stuff. And according to our slightly temperamental feed counter, over four thousand of you are paying attention on the blog itself, with a thousand or so of you over on Facebook, and around a thousand on Twitter. (Hello! to each and every one of you. You’re lovely.)

So we just wanted to say thanks for reading, and for commenting now and again.

If you’ve really been paying attention, you’ll have noticed that we’ve been posting a bit less recently. That’s partly because of Twitter – there’s a lot of stuff that we would previously have blogged, but now just tweet. But also, you know, we’ve just been busy. Particularly with our work over at the Ministry of Stories and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. (Have you bought anything there yet? You should.)

This coming year, we really want to spend some more time making stuff, rather than blogging about it, so it might get a little quieter still. But we’re not planning on going silent just yet.

So stay tuned. Here’s to the next six.

Hoxton Street Monster Supplies: now online

Ever since it opened its doors a year ago, customers have been clamouring for an online store for Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. And now, thanks to the brilliant work of a team of hugely talented volunteers, the online shop is alive.

And just in time, as we’ve recently created a whole new range of products for the shop*:

These tins of fear are perfect as a top-up for any monster who’s not feeling quite as scary as they should. As well as a batch of fear, each tin also contains an exclusive short story by a top children’s author, so they make rather good presents for kids.

The Night Sweats features a tale by Andy Stanton; The Chills a story by Jeremy Strong; Alarm has a story by Meg Rosoff; the Night Terrors tale is by Eoin Colfer; and Creeping Dread features a story by Charlie Higson.

The boxes of Cubed Earwax are ‘A true delight at any monster’s table’; but we’re more partial to the bars of Impacted Earwax.

The shop is also selling these jars of Daylight – perfect for vampires suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). You simply leave them out in the light during the day, and as soon as dusk falls, they light up. They also come in a Moonlight version for werewolves who don’t want to wait around all month for a full moon:

And just in case you have a really sweet tooth (or fang) there are a couple of new jars of sweets:

You can also pick up some of the original range of products, including T-shirts, Zombie Fresh Mints, Fang Floss, and of course, some of the books written by the kids at the Ministry of Stories, including the new Awfully Bad Guide to Monster Housekeeping.

The site was designed by Gavin and Jason Fox, built by Simon Pearson, project managed by Chris Meachin, user experienced by Mike Towber; and art directed by We Made This.

*Not all the products are available from the online store; and shipping is only available for UK addresses at the time of writing.

Creative Everyone

We’ve just been having a play with Creative Everyone, which is a corker of site, put together by Daniel Howells from Kulor, and Mike Sullivan from Mister. The tagline of the site is ‘Never miss a creative event again’, which sums it up pretty neatly. The site is a collaborative diary of creative events, ranging across the full spectrum of creative disciplines; you can filter the listings according to your own tastes, and also according to your local city. You can add in events you’re planning on going to yourself, see which other site members are going, and export your calendar to Google and iCal.

The design is really elegant and intuitive – at the moment it’s still in Beta phase, and just limited to some major US and UK cities (Boston, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco / Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Manchester), but the boys are promising to do much more when they get the chance. We’d love to see it properly hooked up to Facebook, and to have a customisable alert system, so that you get warned when exhibitions are starting and ending. But we can already see this being a really useful site. Ace.

The Art of War

We were doing a bit of research this morning, and stumbled across a really fantastic archive of wartime poster art and illustration, courtesy of the National Archives’ Art of War online exhibition. There’s a wealth of beautiful stuff on display, featuring a lot of original artwork, including Patrick Keely’s 1940s Road Safety poster (above), a Carless Talk Costs Lives poster by Reeves (below left), and Reginald Mount’s Hawker Hurricane poster (below right).

That then reminded us to post about (and order our own copy of) Paul Rennie’s rather lovely book Modern British Posters, published recently by Black Dog Press, which features a vast range of 20th Century British posters, including the three below.

Mmmm. Posters.

Google: more is less

Google’s homepage has gone all pictorial this morning, with a full-bleed image cluttering up their normally pristine page. You can change the picture, choosing from a range of pre-selected shots (including shots of work by Dale Chihuly, Jeff Koons, Tom Otterness, Polly Apfelbaum, Kengo Kuma (隈研吾), Kwon, Ki-soo (권기수) and Tord Boontje, as well as shots from Yann Arthus-Bertrand and National Geographic.

You can stick in your own images too (that’s one of ours above), choose one from a public gallery, or set it to a single colour (as below), or even back to white (which is actually quite elegant, leaving a shadowed logo, rather than the usual mulitcoloured one).

Except if you’re using Safari, which isn’t playing along at all, just showing the classic Google homepage. Wonder if that’s a tech issue or just a low-level skirmish in the browser wars…

And frankly, as Safari users, we’re happy with the standard page: we don’t want our search window to be anything other than a search window. Less, as ever, is more.

We Made This elsewhere

Wmt_facebook

  

We Made This is pretty much an old-school affair, focusing on printed stuff rather than digital stuff. But we dip our toe into the pixelworld now and again; so we figured it might be time to let you know that you can find us on Facebook and Twitter.

The Facebook page slurps up all the content from this blog, so it's really just a different place to keep an eye on what we're doing. But if you'd like to become a fan, we'd be deeply honoured. (There's also a gallery of some of our work on there for your browsing pleasure.)  

Wmt_twitter
 

The Twitter page features Alistair's varied musings (we make no guarantee of their wisdom or even coherence), as well as showing when we've posted new content on here. (We've got a feeling that there's a way of setting it up on some sort of infinite loop, with the blog feeding the twitter feed feeding the blog feed, ad infinitum. So far we've avoided it, but it's only a matter of time.)

Do come and say howdy.

We Made This Facebook page

@alistairhall Twitter page

Recycled papers

The folks at Arjowiggins got in touch to show us this little video*, which is part of a campaign they're running, pushing their environmentally friendly stocks. 

It put us in mind of a post we ran a couple of years ago about recycled papers, which then made us check out the Lovely as a Tree site, which is perhaps the most useful place to visit, especially as it's been updated fairly recently, and has a comprehensive list of the different recycled papers available.

Interesting to note that Lovely as a Tree also shows you where the papers are manufactured, so you can make sure that you're not mistakenly shipping your stock for an A5 leaflet half way round the world first.

Paperback still seem to be leading the pack when it comes to supplying truly environmentally friendly papers.

*Flatulence is nearly always funny isn't it?