A look at dim sum order forms

Dim sum cartIf you’ve ever had dim sum before, you might know that it is at the heart of Cantonese cuisine. Small baskets of food are served at breakfast or lunchtime, all washed down with tea. The most traditional restaurants have push carts that come to your table, a ‘reversed buffet’ if you will. The most common way these days is to fill out an order form. I have collected a few of these over the years.

Dim sum order forms serve several purposes: for customers to see what options are available; for customers to place their order through a waiter; for the kitchen to prepare the food to order; for the cashier to tally up the bill. So the same form has to be designed in a way that serves the needs of at least four different types of users.

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蘋果電腦今天發佈了全新的iOS7操作系統。不出所料,界面設計秉承自Windows Metro後流行的極度扁平化風格。界面的操控,再不倚賴模仿實物機械操作的「擬物化」(skeuomorphic)視覺語言,進而發展至幾乎全無立體感的扁平化設計。這次升級,仿皮革紋理的行事曆不見了,稍微凸起的按鈕消失了,以至半透明的對話框都沒有了。當然,我要討論的,不是風格或潮流,而是這扁平化界面設計的互動體驗和信息設計的關係。

Screen shots of iOS7, from apple.com

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MTR temporary signage

At Tai Koo station, exit C is currently closed for escalator maintenance until August. How does the railway company deal with this temporary closure? Apparently they do not have a system for handling temporary messages. Last week, it looked like this:

MTR Tai Koo station temporary signage

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Your attention, please (book review)

Your attention, please book coverYour attention, please: how to appeal to today’s distracted, disinterested, disengaged, disenchanted and busy consumer
by Paul B Brown and Alison Davis

Written by a journalist and a communication consultant, Your attention, please is a small manual intended to help business professionals to write in a way that holds the audience’s attention and get their main points across. The title did get my attention and it resonates with me as a typographer–information designer: that there is simply too much information around us, and people read ever more quickly and selectively. How does this affect writing (and typography)? There are two chapters that link writing to what typographers typically do: ‘provide easy navigation’ and ‘make it visual’. I tend to agree with what the authors suggest in this book. Most of us are not writing novels or other forms of long linear prose for the enjoyment of others. On a daily basis, we are writing with specific communication purposes in mind: that is, writing for ‘task-based reading’. Simple rules like ‘tell a story’ or ‘stay short and sweet’ seem to work well for this kind of writing. The tone of the book is journalistic and rather jolly, to the point of annoying at times. It does have a tendency to nag a little. If it were’t for the fluff and little anecdotes that do not add to the points that the authors are making, the number of pages could easily have been halved. This is nonetheless a good (short) text for practising graphic designers as well as design students, who have to write project reports and documentations for uninitiated readers.

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To my graduating class

After graduation, it might be likely that you lead a terribly mundane life in order to put bread on the table. No matter what happens, do not forget your passion, and always keep your curiosity and enthusiasm going for the people, things and knowledge around you. Knowing that the world’s expectations and values might be different from yours, never despair. Keep looking for your own values and meanings in life, other than what is commonly defined as success. Do not blindly follow the conventions and so-called norms of the society. Stay humble, and refrain from passing casual judgements on things and people. Embrace everything around you with an open heart and an open mind.

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A set of principles for graphic design? (Paul Stiff remembered)

A little saddle-stitched catalogue came with my order from Hyphen Press last week. In it there is an email exchange between Robin Kinross and the late Paul Stiff, an interesting discussion that draws parallels between the ‘Dogme 95’ manifesto (a Danish avant-garde film movement) and graphic design. Kinross threw the question out to 15 colleagues, and Stiff was the only one responded, with his usual wit as well as seriousness. Paul Stiff passed away in 2011 at the age of 61, and although I’ve only known him briefly, I remember him fondly as someone who had lots of enthusiasm, dedication and rigour in what he did. Paul was an avid advocate of ‘design for reading’ at Reading (was the pun intended?), that is, design in a way that optimises the reading experience, first and foremost. That the designer’s ego should be left out of the picture. ‘Design for reading’ pretty much sums up the Department’s ‘indoctrination’ for most alumni, or at least for me personally. So Paul was responsible, at least in part, for the ideas behind this blog.

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Taikoo Shing schematic map


These schematic maps on totem signs are dotted around the Taikoo Shing and Island East developments. In terms of graphic design they are quite elegantly considered, and the schematic approach is a departure from the more common plan view street maps or floor plans. These maps are like railway network diagrams, abstracting and simplifying the landscape by getting rid of unnecessary details. Only connections between locations are shown, using nodes and branches. These schematics are always shown head-up: what’s ahead of you is shown near the top of the map. These maps are not to scale. The image shows a comparison of the schematic map with an image from Google Earth.

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Token machine at the Star Ferry

Token machine at the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry pier

This is a token machine at the Star Ferry pier. I must commend the ferry company’s good intentions behind the bilingual instructions: they really tried to make it as clear and unambiguous as possible. However, the machine was designed and built without much thinking about how users would interact with it. The instructional graphics couldn’t do much to save the poor interaction design of the machine itself.

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More on MTR signage

Inconsistent directional signage for lines and platforms at Central Station

I wrote about the use of colours to establish line identities in the MTR system last time. This example shows how inconsistent directional signs can be even for one station, in this case Central. Central Station is connected to Hong Kong Station by a pedestrian tunnel, which is a paid area. So effectively the two stations form one large station with four lines: Tsuen Wan, Island, Tung Chung and also the Airport Express. The example here shows two different ways for destination naming: by line (Tsuen Wan Line, Tung Chung Line and Disneyland Resort Line) and by terminus or stop (Sheung Wan, Airport and Asia-World Expo). I don’t know if passengers would wonder why the Tsuen Wan line shows two platforms, while Sheung Wan only shows one, and no platforms are shown at all in the other two signs.

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The state of graphic design?

This type of data graphics have been gaining popularity on the web in the past few years. For better or worse, they have popularised the idea of information design amongst graphic designers. This graphic came through my Facebook news feed this morning, and to me the approach to the design itself and the rather empty and superficial content reflect the sorry state of graphic design these days.

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God (or devil) in the details: text typography

Here are some slides from a lecture I give to my typography students on text typography. It demonstrates the dos and don’ts of detail typography in terms of orthography and typographic style, as well as alignment and hyphenation and justification issues.