Coasters, printed letterpress at Accucolor in Chicago.

Coasters, printed letterpress at Accucolor in Chicago.

Su and I just finished a beautiful little identity system for a neighborhood cocktail joint called Billy Sunday. You should visit! The design’s built upon the reasonable idea that a site is a restaurant’s first point of contact, therefore the most likely medium in which to begin its design. Most of Chicago’s weekend warriors spend great amounts of time careening about the city drunk in the backs of taxis, stabbing at their iPhones and Lumias and HTC Ones, looking for the next destination. A mobile-ready site is an absolute must.

This means all the typography would need to look great on mobile browsers first, and follow in all other media. Not unreasonable! But apparently very forward thinking, which is where the fireworks start.

Cards link text after link

Cards link text after link

Our second premise is that the typography should look identical across all media—both web and print. (Video too, if we get that far.) The system is based in a visual language that plays with Prohibition-era Midwestern Protestant values (stuffy, constipated, unamused) and post-Victorian typography (messy, variable, approximated). It’s various widths and weights of Franklin Gothic stuffed into a late-Victorian showbill composition. It’s not authentic at all, as most of Franklin’s weights came later, but authenticity is an unnecessary bore anyway.

site window, this is italicized this is normal

site window, this is italicized this is normal

We set all the typography on the site using a gorgeous jQuery plugin called SlabText, which computes the size of your typography to fit a container. It’s based upon some ported Javascript, which is re-written from some ActionScript 2 from Flash.

When I initially saw the plugin, I thought, “great, no problem. It’s initially based on Adobe code. I can alter the Javascript so that it runs in Adobe Illustrator’s scripting panel, then use it there to automatically size the typography the same way that happens on the website. Easy.”

Wrong. It wouldn’t run, and it turned out there was no analogous way to describe the type composition to Illustrator. Adobe’s tools are predicated on precise control: you create typography first, and scale it by number to fill the a precise measure, visually adjusting it to a particular point size. But I needed the exact opposite of that: here’s a box, fill it up and I don’t care what the number is, scale lines of type to whatever size as long as they fit, I’ll fix it later. Tools for print don’t think that way. It got me to thinking.

The design industry’s mindset on multi-platform publishing seems to be that print comes first, that the problem is getting things from print to other devices—not a design process that may actually start with code—and an oddly oversized emphasis on publishing magazines.

I actually don’t think makers of design tools have considered that there are web-native designers now who literally cannot use traditional (read: Adobe) tools to make their design work in ways that they’ve always been taught. There’s a different mindset for designing objects on the web that should influence how they’re created for print, but can’t—because there just aren’t any tools bridging the two media. As such, the only way to duplicate web-native design in Adobe’s print tools seems to be… rebuild it by hand.

I ended up printing the site to a PDF file, opening the PDF into Illustrator, scaling headlines manually, replacing the version of Franklin available online with the one I own for print (typography industry: get your licensing bullshit figured out already!), then copy/pasting each title into InDesign as embedded image files and finishing typesetting there. I still need to go back in and re-do the typography for easy editability (by hand).

Comp of the menus, printed via inkjet.

Comp of the menus, printed via inkjet.

And once again, I feel like I’m stuck between two disciplines which I love dearly, but which hate each other. Mom and Dad are seeing other people, but remain connected by a bridge of icy hate.

Shouldn’t we be having more of a dialog between the design processes? Seems so. Hopefully we can stimulate one before the two disciplines splinter permanently.