Category Archives: design

Appy Therapy

Occupational Therapy Website

I’ve recently been working on a website for an occupational therapist in Maryland, who also has a handwriting app and another accessibility app.

The project was a full website rebuild with new e-commerce functionality, all within a responsive design. It took a great deal of time and effort, but the client was ultimately very happy with the finished product. In the process, I was able to sharpen my front-end development skills and learned a lot about handwriting instruction frameworks. There is still a standard that seems to be ubiquitous mainly because it was marketed effectively by the creator. Appy Therapy is, to my untrained eye, a far superior framework that is fighting an uphill battle against an established brand. I hope and believe that my work on this project will expose more children and instructors to an easier way to learn and teach handwriting.


New REI Logo

Word is that REI updated its logo. Unfortunately, it’s awkward and ugly.

Left: Previous logo. Right: New logo. Courtesy of Brand New.

While the company was attempting to reference a vintage version of their logo, this represents a step backward of another kind. A hodgepodge of angles, rounded edges and line thicknesses means that none of it works.

My approach would have been to clean up the “R” and leave it at that. If the inclusion of “co-op” were a requirement (which I’m sure it was), I might have tried something like this instead:



Joshua Howes

Memories of the Past

My great-great-great grandfather wrote his memoir in 1916, the year he died. He called it Memories of the Past, and dropped hints throughout that he would like for it to be published someday. Over the past few years, I’ve edited and annotated Memories of the Past in my spare time, and am ready to publish with the generous assistance of the Dennis Historical Society. The project is being funded through Kickstarter. Please back it and get yourself a copy of this wonderful book.

View Memories of the Past on Kickstarter



Website Redesign

In my day job, I am a project manager for an organization dedicated to fighting childhood obesity. We recently launched a redesigned tool to help schools conduct a school health assessment. It was a challenging and fascinating project, in which I got to work with some great folks internally and at a Minneapolis creative agency. The experience encouraged me to spend a couple of hours reskinning The Cookblog. The main points:

  • Still powered by WordPress, The Cookblog now runs on a child theme of Twenty Fourteen that I’ve christened De Tocqueville.
  • The color palette is still restrained, but with splashes of red (the typographer’s habitual second color, according to Bringhurst).
  • In order to relieve the burden of creating scratch illustrations for each post, the Flickr Commons has helped lend the site a rustic decoration of engravings, etchings and woodcuts.
  • Comments have been turned off. Sorry, spambots!

Based on what everyone tells me, fatherhood should afford me long stretches of uninterrupted time during which to blog. I’m looking forward to it!

The Wire and Wendell Berry

I recently became one of the last people to watch The Wire. That it took so long is partly due to my lack of TV ownership, and partly due to a personality quirk (or flaw?) that often makes me suspicious of things that other people are raving about. This, unfortunately, also happens to be a trait associated with hipsters. I’d like to think that my suspicion of very popular culture is a measured and honest consequence of experience, rather than a thoughtless dismissal; I’m certainly a big fan of The Wire, much like everyone else who has seen it. But I’m also glad that I waited so long to watch it.

There’s plenty to unpack in The Wire, so rich are the storylines, the characters and their environment, but one of the aspects that particularly resonates with me is the cynical treatment of public institutions. The Baltimore Police Department, the political system, the dock workers, the school system, the media and drug organizations are, at best, portrayed as stagnant and incapable of improvement. At their worst, they are dysfunctional and harmful to people within and without. A few months ago, I would have said that those institutions, as essentially a group of people, have human qualities like morality. Instead, I now see institutions as mechanisms that often subvert humanity, allowing people to behave amorally by insulating them from the consequences of their actions. One example from The Wire would be Jimmy McNulty’s fabrication of a serial killer in order to route city funds to the police department, which comes at the expense of the education department (among others). In Bunk Moreland’s silence about McNulty’s transgression, we also see how the members of an institution compromise their personal values in the name of the system.

Somehow, this brings me to Wendell Berry, and particularly his recent Jefferson lecture. Berry is notable for being uncompromising in the best way, living according to his principles while largely opting out of institutions and their pitfalls. His speech, which should be read in full, talks about Wallace Stegner’s “boomers” and “stickers”. “The boomer,” Berry says, “is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property and therefore power. Stickers, on the contrary, are motivated by affection. By such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.” He talks specifically about land and our stewardship of it, but his message is broadly applicable. Boomers need institutions as the means for money, property and power, and they need large institutions. Large institutions can, and perhaps even must, oppress. Berry uses the example of industrialist James B. Duke and the institution that he helmed:

James B. Duke would not necessarily have thought so far of the small growers as even to hold them in contempt. The Duke trust exerted an oppression that was purely economic, involving a mechanical indifference, the indifference of a grinder to what it grinds. It was not, that is to say, a political oppression. It did not intend to victimize its victims. It simply followed its single purpose of the highest possible profit, and ignored the “side effects.”

As The Wire shows, this is not limited to industry. The political system, the police and the schools all share the same problem. Individually, this is called corruption, and it’s tempting to say that an institution can be a worthy and positive force if the quality of the people that comprise it is good enough. But what seems more true is that institutions make people worse, and that corruption is not the result of individual character flaws as much as a broader vulnerability in humans. We are constantly trying to elect better people, surveil people and make people more accountable. Is it working? Or is it time to think more deeply about the institutions that we construct? Is it time to opt out of them if we determine that they are unhealthy? Is it time to live more like Wendell Berry?

When thinking about this, my thoughts race alarmingly to the extreme; walking into the wilderness and carving out a life from the earth seems the only acceptable choice, yet one that I can’t accept. Though I am and continue to be happy, I wonder if I have been living an unexamined life, and what the consequences will be of examining it so closely now.

Hartford Museum Passport News

A little late on this news, but the Hartford Museum Passport was featured on For Print Only. FPO is a division of UnderConsideration, which also produces the highly respected Brand New and Quipsologies sites.

Also, the Hartford Museum Passport was selected as a winner for the 12th biennial AIGA 50, a juried exhibition that showcases 50 of the strongest examples of design produced in the Washington, DC area. It will be recognized on April 25, 2012 in an exhibition and reception in the Atrium of the Corcoran Gallery of Art. If you’d like, you can attend.

Neurath & Arntz

In the 1930’s, Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz developed the International System Of TYpographic Picture Education, or ISOTYPE.

Neurath, a social scientist and philosopher, saw an illiterate proletariat struggling to fully participate in civic life, politically and economically. He conceived of the ISOTYPE as a way to convey information to illiterate or barely literate adults, giving them the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions. In Arntz, Neurath found a designer with the talent and sensibility to express complex ideas through simple pictograms. In addition to pioneering the restrained aesthetic of infographics, both men were rigorously faithful to the accurate display of information and statistics. The degree to which their work still permeates society, particularly in wayfinding, speaks to the brilliance of the design in idea and execution. Seen in transit systems, maps and museums, many symbols are now truly universal.

Unfortunately, the aesthetic is increasingly being co-opted, with innocently inaccurate or intentionally misleading infographics trading on a veneer of scientific rigor. Literate, educated adults are being misinformed or hoodwinked by junk infographics. As a designer, it’s become increasingly important to me to avoid “things that look cool” and focus instead on solving problems through design. I’m trying to focus on substance and function. As a consumer, I’m trying think more analytically about my experience.

In many ways, it’s a frightening time. As with our food, the world in general and the internet in particular seems to be moving toward candy. It’s style instead of substance and entertainment instead of education.

Personally, I’ve been thinking hard about what I want my legacy to be. I previously said that I prefer to create rather than to consume. At this point, I’d like to modify that statement, and say that I prefer to craft rather than to consume.

Folk Taxonomy: A Portfolio

I’ve created a minimalist portfolio of my design work to keep those projects distinct from the more varied and editorial content that appears on this site. I call it “Folk Taxonomy”, which is any sort of vernacular naming system (see Wikipedia). Some items I’m particularly excited to share are:


Hartford Rebranding

Many people, including me, have weighed in on the progress of Cundari’s effort to brand Hartford. Three campaigns with three logo marks were presented, and the feedback seems to be overwhelmingly negative. Comments on Hartford Courant articles aren’t typically worth the pixels they darken, but these include the criticisms I’ve heard most often:

  • Why was a Canadian group hired instead of a local designer?
  • They look like hospital logos.
  • These are generic marks.
  • They don’t do justice to Hartford.
  • They don’t express what Hartford means to me.

Now that I live in Washington DC, I no longer qualify as a local designer. However, I still love the city, have many, many, many friends there and want it to realize its fantastic potential. I’m also deeply interested in graphic and identity design, and the challenge of developing a mark for the city was too appealing to resist. After lots of research on Hartford landmarks, placebrands and the masters of identity creation, I sketched a bunch of ideas and developed a few. Here’s a look at the process:

Unsurprisingly, I quickly honed in on the “H” letterform and what ideas it could incorporate and represent: exclamation points, arrows, hearts, roads, rivers, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch. I wanted to come up with a mark that had multiple points of meaning, but I wanted it to be bold and simple. So began an intensive period of experimentation with shapes and negative space. For that, precision and speed were vital, so it made sense to move from paper to the computer. I came up with a few ideas that were encouraging, but I ended up rejecting them for different reasons.

1. Love Hartford.

I went to a Jolie Holland show this week, and one particularly memorable line of stage banter was that “New York City believes its own hype.” This is embodied in its tagline, I ♥ NY. Hartford is maybe the opposite, in a lot of people don’t realize what’s great about it, even if they live in the city. The “Love Hartford” slogan is a command, a wake-up call, and maybe a plea. Implicit in that is a call to action: show that you love Hartford. Do something.

I discarded this idea since it required more than two colors to set off the heart from the trunks of the H, and I couldn’t get it to work to my satisfaction by changing the size and spacing of the elements.

2. Let’s play.

This was really exciting at first. The shadow very subtly creates the “H” and the Soldiers and Sailors Arch in the negative space. Those same elements, with the shorter left leg, also resolve as the body of running child with arms spread wide, while the old crescent moon outlines the child’s upturned head. Ultimately, I decided that it wasn’t bold enough to be a mark for Hartford. Another designer could probably make it work, but I decided to go in a different direction.

3. Historic Hartford.

My desire to create an energetic and propulsive mark led me to to work a lot with upward-pointing arrows, which brought me back to the peaks of the arch, which in turn brought me back to the “H” letterform. That territory is simply too fecund for a literalist, which is what I am. In this logo, the arch and “H” stand out as the most obvious symbols, while the negative space at the bottom echos the top of the mark and suggests a city skyline viewed at 45 degrees. Every arrow points up in this mark, expressing the trajectory of Hartford. The angles also remind me of Gothic Tuscan woodtypes, a callback to the past. I like this mark for its simplicity and boldness, but felt I came up with something better.

Final: Your Hartford.

This is your city. Whatever you contribute to it will be repaid with interest. Once again, we have the “H” and Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Arch as the primary symbols of the city. Within that container, things start to get even more interesting. The upward arrows are again present, but their paths are traced through the negative space in the mark, suggesting the choice and individuality of the “Your Hartford” campaign. The city can be what you want it to be. The elements are also separated into a stylized “y” and “h” to reinforce that tagline. Finally, a slimmer “H” is contained within the larger “H” and stands out in blue with the two-color variation of the mark.

I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, and I’m happy with the final mark. At the very least, it expresses what Hartford means to me: accessibility, intelligence, sophistication, history, beauty, depth and potential.