katharine does your holiday shopping

We live in the future—a glorious future wherein you can browse a catalog on a picture box, purchase items from merchants big and small, and have those items delivered to your doorstep all without the hassle of putting on pants. So why would you endanger your sanity or your life to battle with traffic, crowds, and surly store staff this week?

Maybe you’re too smart (or cowardly) to brave crowds to get movie-playing technology for 85% at an hour best used for sleeping or watching the Forever Comfy infomercial. Instead, you’re overwhelmed by options and stumped for ideas to fill your obligatory gift-giving duties. Major retailers and independent merchants are all clamoring for your attention and (more importantly) your dollars. You’re facing an onslaught of sales adverts for Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Pre-Boxing Day Sales, Last Chance Xmas Sales, and What-if-the-Mayans-Are-Right-Do-You-Really-Want-to-Die-Without-Ever-Owning-a-Flat-Screen-TV Sales. So paralyzed are you by the noise of it all that you’ll wind up waiting until the last minute and be stuck giving someone a bottle of perfume that is dusty and sticky because it’s been on the back on the shelf for three years. Nobody wants sticky dusty things in their stockings!

Take a breath. Relax. Let me take care of your holiday gifts this year.

As a maker of things, I’ve got an awful lot of stuff available for sale on the internet that will fulfill most of your gift-giving needs without blowing your budget. Here’s the selection of things I’m offering for sale and some coupons/discount codes/incentives to make those purchases right now.


Two of my books are still available for print this holiday season through Amazon.com.

30 Failures by Age 30 ($7.95) is a micro-memoir perfect for those places where you need a quick read—airports, waiting rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms—and the women’s magazine you picked up has only feature stories on female genital mutilation in third world countries and a heartbreaking recollection of a mother dying of cancer. 30 Failures by Age 30 is light and fluffy and doesn’t discuss genitals or disease (much). Reading 30 Failures by Age 30 is like reading marshmallows!

The Curable Romantic: Advice for the Romance-Impaired ($7.00) is a novelty book about relationships and is perfect for the unlucky-in-love person in your life. It’s not quite self-help and it won’t help anyone get dates but it’s mostly inoffensive, avoids a lot of the traditional romantic cliches and is another quick-and-easy toilet read.

(I should stop promoting my books for the bathroom, but I really want people to stop using their electronic devices in there. Stop dropping your iPhones in the toilet! All that fine Chinese craftsmanship wasted! If you drop my book in the toilet, at least you can dry it off and recycle it.)

The print editions of 30 Failures by Age 30 and The Curable Romantic are both eligible for Amazon’s 4-for-3 promotion (basically buy three, get one free). This quantity also qualifies for free shipping. So, if you go to the Amazon book links above, add four copies of one of the books to your cart, you can get some decent savings. See?

Order Summary for The Curable Romantic

Order Summary for 30 Failures by Age 30

The Curable Romantic averages out at $5.25 per copy. 30 Failures averages out at $5.96 per copy. That’s less than you’d pay if you bought it directly from me! Of course you can browse and find other books and whatnot that fit within the 4-for-3 promotion. Maybe you only want one copy of one of my books and three other things. And then maybe it works out that my book is the cheapest thing in your cart. You get my book for free, I still get a few coins and we all go home happy.


Maybe this is the year you finally shrink your carbon footprint and you’re doing so by giving presents that don’t require manufacturing or shipping. And maybe you’ve already donated money in people’s names for worthy causes but there are some people on your list who bitch about donations not being “real presents.” And you can’t just not give them something because they’re spouses of siblings or your cubicle mate or someone equally unavoidable. You could give them ebooks. (Yes, I know. Anyone who argues over what might or might not constitute a “real present” is perhaps not the target demographic for ebooks.)

Most ebooks can be read on most modern electronic devices. Even a PDA from 2003 (remember PDAs, you guys?). Even a clamshell iBook from 1999. But probably not on that word processor from the early 1990s, because that thing doesn’t have the Internet and only reads floppy disks and you can’t get floppy disks here in the future. You can’t even get video cassette tapes to record things on your VCR anymore. Your VCR also will not read ebooks. But your computer will! And your smartphone!

All of my books, including the Robot of Leisure series, are available in digital format from a variety of ebook retailers. So if you’re locked into buying books from one store because of device limitations or you’re free to download ebooks from any source, you can purchase and read my books.

These pages will lead you to all the retailers selling my ebooks:
Get the 30 Failures by Age 30 ebook
Get the Robot of Leisure ebooks

(Apparently I’ve been lax in my promotion of The Curable Romantic, but it is available everywhere 30 Failures is sold.)

Right now, Kobo books offers a coupon code for 35% off your purchase: thankyou2012. So you can use that to scoop up all the Robot of Leisure ebooks. Keep an eye on Retail Me Not for coupon codes for online stores of any sort (I’m not getting any kickback for mentioning that site, so consider that a friendly tip).

If you’re new to ebooks and want to check them out without investing in a specialty ebook reading device, all of the major ebook retailers (Amazon, B&N’s Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, etc.) offer software to download and access ebooks. Or you can download Adobe Digital Editions or Calibre.


But perhaps books don’t feel like gifts to you. My Etsy shop Peppermint Robot Surprise is full of little doodads that are perfect for Secret Santas, tweenyboppers, or work colleagues. Get a set of weird illustrated prints, a couple of plush monsters, some coasters, some costume jewelry and you’re set for the season.

All items in the Peppermint Robot Surprise shop are handmade by me, constructed from upcycled materials and rescued scraps, and mostly one-of-a-kind. Giving a stuffed monster from PRS is like giving someone a snowflake. Except that the monster won’t melt.

Get 20% off your order today with code: PRS20.

The trouble with Etsy is that you won’t save much on shipping if you make purchases from multiple shops because the individual sellers ship their items. Nothing ships directly from Etsy. It’s like eBay without the adrenaline rush from bidding. But you probably know that because you are not new to the Internet, right?

So maybe you’d like to support a bunch of indie artists without exorbitant shipping rates.

I have some things on Society6, which is like CafePress for hipsters. You can get artwork on prints, iphone cases, shirts, tote bags, and other things. Aside from my Robot of Leisure prints, you can browse art like illustrated pop culture references, mixed media animal collages, outdated cliches printed in whimsical typography, and serious photography. I’m in the process of preparing more art to add the Robot of Leisure Society6 page.

Lastly (but not leastly), if you’re looking for something super original yet super cheap and you know someone who likes robots, you can order a personalized Robot of Leisure micro-commission. For $5, I will draw Boris in a costume or activity relevant to your intended recipient’s interests. Then you’ll get a PDF of the illustration and you can print it, tattoo it, project it on your wall and paint a mural from it…the possibilities are seemingly endless (because you can’t just go and resell the illustration on your own Etsy or Society6 store. Personal use only, please.). See my Boris 366 project for inspiration.


Maybe you’re completely broke. Me too! That’s why I’m giving you these free things to download that you can either keep for yourself or pass along.

Robot of Leisure #1: Boris and the Open House is available for free download from Kobo, iTunes, and directly from the ROL site. Download for yourself. Send the link(s) to friends and family. Post a review/rating if you’re an opinionated sort. You can reward yourself with the other downloadables from Robot of Leisure.


You can also download PDFs of this monster paper doll or Boris paper doll and print out for the youths in your life.

Now you’ve done all your holiday shopping! Hooray! You’ve saved your sanity and maybe a few dollars. You’ve supported an independent artist instead of buying singing Justin Bieber toothbrushes at Walmart. And you didn’t suffer bodily harm in pursuit of a pre-apocalypse television. Wins all around.


katharine gets political (part two): campaign design

Look, I know you’re tired of politics. I’m tired of it. We’re all tired of it. We’re experiencing political fatigue. There’s been non-stop campaigning for what feels like 10 years but has really only been about five. The Republicans have been working tirelessly to boot President Obama out of office since he took the oath. The speculation about who’d replace Bush Jr. began sometime in 2006, if not sooner. The campaigns for 2016 will begin in August 2012. Perhaps by 2016 the existing political structure will implode on itself and the United States will have no more need for a president. But I’m not in the mood to discuss the state of the union, political affiliations, the merits of specific candidates or policies or beliefs or who’s right and who’s wrong. This is about branding and visual identity. This is about advertising.

For funsies, let’s take a look at the presidential campaign logos from the last 25-ish years. Okay, there’s not a lot of real fun to be had because none of these “designs” are fun. Or engaging. Or memorable. In 2004, the insightful and prolific design writer Steven Heller wrote about the The Dreary Art of Presidential Elections. He wrote:

“Regardless of who the candidate is, there appears to be bipartisan consensus that a limited color palette-red, white, and blue-and very few symbols-stars and stripes-are the best way to signal a candidates’ Americanism … when it comes to the buttons, posters, banners, and bumper stickers the platform is clear: Don’t rock the vote.”

Advertising is such a predominate feature in our environment. It is so pervasive and persistent that brand and their agencies are constantly looking new ways to capture our attention, to engage us, and ultimately persuade us buy their products. Products are always changing their package design or trying to tell their brand story in a fresh voice. And it works. We are seduced by the new packaging, we are convinced that these products will improve our lives. (It’s all lies, we come to find out. But c’est la vie.) When it comes to political advertising, the packaging remains the same and the story is always told in the same voice: “Candidate X says he wants nice things for you but here’s a headline from 13 years ago that says he supports baby cannibals and he’s okay with hoodlums setting your house on fire. Do you really want to vote for someone who like baby cannibals and arsonists?” Voters are served the same thing in every election—boring design paired with ludicrous attack ads.

Heller also says THIS:

“…the graphic monotony from campaign to campaign is indicative of the kind of short-sightedness that undermines the American electoral process.”

Obama’s 2008 campaign made a strong visual impact. Regardless of whether the common man understands or will admit to the influence of design, Obama’s logo indicated a fresh approach and a willingness to break out from the same ol’ business as usual design. It was inspired and inspiring. The surrounding typography wasn’t perfect and there were criticisms. (Yes, I can see you squirming in your chair, bursting with rants about broken wha-wha’s and disappointing flibbertigibbets. Put that aside for now.) But baby steps were taken and barriers were broken down.

Mitt Romney’s 2008 logo, with its swooshy striped eagle, gives off that financial institution vibe. He moved away from that for the 2012 election cycle, but, um… I suppose those are people in the R? It’s a weak and non-committal design. The rest of the 2012 players stepped up their design game a smidge, learning from Obama and previous campaigns. Ron Paul opts for a more mature palette but trades the star ‘n’ stripe to Gingrich in favour of some random swoop stroke. Which is still more tasteful than Bachmann’s bacon toothpaste swoosh, but doesn’t mean anything. Adweek gave the GOP candidates’ logos some necessary critique in November 2011.

Wha’ happened, GOP? Why’d you get all John Kerry typography-wise? It’s like you don’t want to win.

Let’s look at the Bush dynasty:

Texas-style slab serif. Boom. Bold sans serif. Boom. Boom. Boom. It’s all “Fuck yeah, Team America. Yee-haw.” It’s bold, it punches you in the face, it’s effective. (Shh. “Airport announcements are still at ‘Threat Level Orange.'” I know. “More like ‘punched America in the face.'” What did I tell you?!) They didn’t mess around with swoops and shooting stars and delicate serifs.

Wait…let’s look at the mish-mash surrounding the Clintons and Gore’s campaigns:

One of these things is not like the other. One of these things beat a Bush. Clinton saw Bush Sr.’s slab serif and raised him a waving flag. Boom. They phoned it in for the 1996 campaign, but everyone else was pretty uninspired that year as well. Hillary tried with the wavy flag but she really needed a sans serif Rodham Clinton punch to secure the win.

Did we just hit on the magical winning design combination for presidential elections?

Bold sans serif + wavy flag graphic = POTUS FTW!

Maybe we’ll find out in 2014. Or maybe design doesn’t influence us as voters as much as it influences us as consumers.

Try thinking of it this way:
Voters = consumers. Politician = product. Votes = dollars. (Note: Dollars are not votes. Corporations are not voters.)

Everybody’s been clamoring for something different for four years. The Tea Baggers (Hey, they started that one.) captured the media’s attention. The Occupiers made some noise. To this point, no one really knows what they want except that something needs to change. And no one really knows how to effectively put change into action. Political campaign advertising seems like a small thing to change, but political campaigns do lead to politicians being elected into a position that could change something. Maybe change is as simple as teaching a campaign volunteer how to use Gimpshop or donating the full font family of Gotham to your favourite candidate. Hoefler + Frere-Jones 2016!

katharine makes patterns

On a dark winter’s day, one of the things I like to do is curl up in my toasty home office, fire up Photoshop, turn on the Goon Show, and zone out with a little pattern designing. There’s something zen about mixing colours and shapes in a safe space. Maybe it hearkens back to childhood—colouring, using building blocks, playing a generic Tetris on the school computer. I often try to make my own argyle patterns to mostly disastrous results. Although I appreciate more organic patterns, I gravitate to the geometric. And that usually leads to punchy retro, mid-century influenced designs. None too surprising given my own preference for retro and vintage mid-century style.

The influx of print-on-demand DIY sites means consumers can customize anything from fabric to stickers to iGadget skins. I’m glad to have the option but I can see the potential for more ugly “design” being thrust into the world. (How long before animated gifs invade fashion and real world applications? City streets and shopping malls will be giant MySpace profile…blingees and spinning pizzas as far as the eye can bleed.) I feel like I’ve developed a personal style and affectations that has not spread to the average consumer. So it’s up to me to fill my own niche (dirty!).

I had the recent good fortune, thanks to my insatiable curiosity about the local publishing scene, to try out a couple of print-on-demand design-your-own-geegaw services. From a panel discussion at Design Exchange, I scored a discount code for Blurb.com. And from BookCampTO—an un-conference focused on the book industry—we got a gift card for GelaSkins. Through either of these sites I could’ve bought something pre-made, supported other designers and whatnot. But I have a chronic illness called Creativity.

What I wound up with was a nifty iPad skin from GelaSkins and a few little notebooks for jotting and doodling from Blurb. I did spent some time angsting over how to use Blurb (Do I create a portfolio? Make a scrapbook of my cats? Do something with Robot of Leisure stuff? Gak!) but settling on the ol’ blank notebook. Someone with greater ambition might chastise me for “wasting” this service but I panicked and was short on time to use the code before the expiry while juggling all the other things I seem to be working on.

Through Blurb and the print-on-demand fabric store Spoonflower, designers have the option to make their creations available for sale to other customers. You bet your bippy I’ll be doing this in the near future. Every little bit helps, right?

katharine hearts eye patches

A few years ago, back when this was a blog dedicated to delightful things I found on the internet, I wrote a quick note about my love for the Man in the Hathaway shirt ads. Back then I’d only seen a handful of the ads including the original. Last week I had the good fortune to locate the book Hathaway Shirts: Their History, Design, and Advertising at the reference library. I spent a rainy afternoon flipping through the 90+ years of advertising history of a small clothing company. For fun.

Hathaway Shirts was founded in 1837 but it was David Ogilvy’s big idea in 1951 that earned the company a spot in advertising history. With “the Man in the Hathaway Shirt,” Ogilvy created an icon. All it took was a cheap eyepatch to take a distinguished gentleman from handsome shirt model to a man of intrigue and mystique. Ogilvy plucked Baron George Wrangell from Russian aristocrat obscurity and molded him into a jet-setting renaissance man of leisure. Each ad told a visual story of a sophisticated man of the world and his adventures. The Man in the Hathaway Shirt as personified by Wrangell was fearless, curious, and cool. The eyepatch contributed to the intrigue—what’s it for? Did he lose the eye in a wrestling match with a tiger? Or was it a fencing accident with a six-fingered man?

Wrangell retired from shirt modeling in 1961 and was replaced by Colin Leslie Fox, a sailor who crossed the Atlantic solo—while wearing Hathaway shirts, coincidentally. Fox brought a rugged, outdoorsy quality to the character and continued the tradition of the sophisticated Man in the Hathaway Shirt. There would be two more official Hathaway Shirt Men—Ned Phillips (c. 1977) and Clark Halstead (c. 1984). Neither fully captured the allure of the aristocratic adventurer. Halstead, a real estate mogul, didn’t even wear the eye patch.

At the end of the ’60s, Hathaway Shirts took a new advertising direction, hoping to capture the attention of the vibrant youths who would undoubtedly need shirts…eventually. Once Green Domatch, Inc. took over the Hathaway campaign, the creative floundered. Ogilvy & Mather had introduced this style icon that seemingly left little room for fresh creative thought. The ads from the 1970-77 era are markedly different from the previous 20+ years. As client and ad agency struggle to appeal to a more youthful demographic and distance themselves from the distinctive ad layout that David Ogilvy helped to perfect, the colour palette changed, the text placement changed, and the models changed.

The once dashing hero ripped from the pages of some epic romantic novel was replaced by a soap opera villain—the one who marries the dimwitted millionairess and whose foes vanish in tragic boating “accidents.” The campaign suffered from inconsistencies in ad layout and with models. Where Ogilvy & Mather placed the focus on one ocularly-challenged Man in the Hathaway Shirt, Green Domatch allowed for multiple uni-eyed men to frolic about in their client’s shirts. The Hathaway men of the 1970s were less sophisticated. The story behind the eyepatch could more believably be attributed to a case of chronic pinkeye or an unfortunate run-in with a lady he’d been stalking.

The eye patch tripped up the creative team. They tried using it on different models, wedging it into the Hathaway logo, and even using a white box with an illustration of an eye patch over a generic male model’s face. Why didn’t Green Domatch scrap the eye patch altogether and go a new direction? They were already running a few other Hathaway campaigns with no sign of vision impairment, including a campaign featuring Jack Nicklaus. Did the client insist on keeping the eye patch around for brand equity? The problem was that they focused on the object and lost sight of the underlying narrative. The story was lost. Gone was the intrigue and mystique. The company was no longer selling a fantasy. It was selling shirts. Even when Ogilvy & Mather reclaimed the Hathaway account, the ads were hollow attempts at recreating the Man in the Hathaway Shirt story.

Whatever your feelings of David Ogilvy or advertising in general, his take on the Hathaway campaign was a creative success that worked as more than just an ad for button-up shirts. The subtle photography and ad composition allowed the reader to engage in a story, a fantasy about a man and his exotic life. The reader can project any fantasy onto this man. This fantasy prompts the reader to rationalize that the fantasy could be attributed to the shirt, as in, “If I wear this Hathaway shirt, I could be just like this man.” The copy supports the fantasy and the rationalization while extolling the practical benefits of the garment. Not enough advertising today encourages the use of imagination. Hell, there isn’t much in any realm of popular culture in the 21st century that encourages imagination. We’re taught in design programs about short attention spans and the urgent need to capture the audience’s eye in three seconds or less. Which has lead to a lot of overwhelming imagery in the general marketplace. David Ogilvy showed us how to create a focal point and capture visual interest with a dime store eyepatch.

katharine hearts design blogs

a lot of my time can be frittered away by looking at various design blogs. if you are newly underemployed and/or have the luxury of spare time, perhaps you’d like to join me:

Swiss Miss: rarely is there a link on this blog that i don’t follow. most of the things Ms. Eisenberg posts are things i wish i’d found first or wind up sharing with others.

Dyna Moe’s Illustrated Mad Men Flickr set. Not a blog. Sometimes better than a screen capture and my second choice for artwork i’d like to live in (first choice is a Shag painting).

Flickrdesign is a nice resource that compiles some of the more interesting posters and graphics that are housed on Flickr. if you’re looking for design inspiration, it’s a nice page to bookmark.

Spacesick: i don’t frequent this one as much, but when i do, i occasionally find something to add to my own inspiration folder. the “I Can Read Movies” series is one of my favourite finds in recent months.

on the other end of the spectrum is Your Logo Makes Me Barf, which is a nice boost for my own ego. after looking at all the amazing work being created, it’s kind of nice to know there’s still bad design in the world that makes my work look a little better.

katharine hearts saul bass

i do not like Saul Bass because he’s  an Important Designer. i like Saul Bass because his style tugs at my nostalgic heartstrings. his designs and illustrations are clever and funny without saying “look at me, i’m clever and funny.” i like his movie titles. especially when combined with jazzy bachelor pad music.
if you’re not familiar with Saul Bass, look up his movie titles on YouTube..
and watch the first five minutes of his film Why Man Creates. i’m hoping to meet and befriend the person who owns a copy of the full film. if you are that person, please contact me posthaste!

katharine hearts typography

i have had a typographical awakening. sometime between mid-may and now, i’ve started noticing typography (and bad kerning) everywhere. as much as i say “that typeface is a friend to my eyes,” i am pointing out the tired and overused. my new hobby to point and shout “Copperplate!” is one that is trying my partner’s nerves.

unfortunately, my pocketbook does not afford me the opportunity to stock up on typefaces with which i am smitten. the best that i can do is pore over type catalogs the way most girls do with bridal magazines. some girls want Vera Wang gowns, i want Hoefler & Frere-Jones typefaces.

i subscribe to a typography podcast, though i haven’t been able to listen to much beyond the first half of H+F-J’s interview. design podcasts are a bit of a downer when they’re audio instead of video.

one of my design instructors liked to throw out names of key people in the design industry to test our knowledge. most of them were met with blank stares and silence. but i looked one of them up (well, more than one as you’ll learn later) and found Lou Dorfsman’s GastroTypographicalAssemblage. i borrowed some inspiration from the installation for my final typography project. i’m hoping to see the wall after it’s reconstruction by Atlanta’s Center for Design Study. mayhaps a trip that might also be combined with a tour of the microcar museum.

on my last trip to Atlanta in August, i saw the Jonathan Adler line of products at Barnes & Noble. i couldn’t resist the umbrella.

for my readers out there who aren’t design aficionados, please stop using comic sans. it makes puppies cry.